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11:59 pm: Effort

Becoming strong does not mean that things get any easier. It means that you can accomplish more – but you still have to work your ass off – go home sore – get up tomorrow wondering why you don’t just quit – and then do it again.

The amount of effort one can expend before giving up. Let’s call it willpower. Tenacity. Spirit. Balls.

The brute force one can bring to bear on a task. Let’s call it strength. I’m talking about the martial arts here – so let’s stick with strength. More generally, we might call it talent. Chops.

The manner in which you approach a task. Let’s call it intelligence – though that’s a loaded term. I’m looking for a better one.

The repertoire of skillz that you bring to the table. Let’s call them skillz. Techniques. Level.

What you manage to accomplish is some multipler of these four factors. It’s not that the Olympic athlete finds it *easy* to do what they do. It’s that they combine force, will, intelligence, and skillz to their best advantage. Good coaches get this and tune the formula to maximum effect.

I have limited but growing technique at the martial arts. My raw strength is not great. However, I have a pretty good will and I’m clever. So I get by. I rolled today with men much, much stronger than me. Every single one of them. There was some sort of navy seal pull-up contest after the workout that I don’t even want to talk about.

Many of the white belts don’t have much technique. Some tapped because I got a solid choke or stuffed an elbow in their sternum and let them lean on it. I looked for those moves (on three guys today) because they were bigger than me, stronger than me, but seemed to be relying on strength – which frequently means that they’ve been able to muscle people around in the past. That means their will might be weak and a bit of pain might do to them what *nothing* in the world will do the wiry, leathery dude with a quarter inch of callous on his knuckles and the crooked nose – i.e: make him give up.

Others bested me for the first few rounds – and then I started winning because I had been letting them burn their strength before deploying mine. If I smell smoke coming off your skin, I’m gonna give you a cardeo workout and see how long you last. I may not have built massive strength – but I’ll go all day. Go on. Tire yourself out. That’s intelligence.

Others – I couldn’t find a weakness – and I’ll be thinking about it and replaying our rounds for the next couple of weeks until another opportunity presents itself.

Some are simply monsters across the board – and I was humbled that they worked with me.

The best were doing me a favor – letting me figure out why they kept winning until I changed my game – and then finding another thing to work on until I figured that one out. I used to think that was a jackass move – to beat me the same way five times in a row. Now I know that it’s an opportunity.

The line from the guy running the class was “training is 50% helping your partner and 50% improving yourself.” I believe that. The one, single, standalone, no BS quality of the best martial artists I’ve met is that they know in their gut that by helping me they help themselves.

Strangely, that’s also a truth from the Buddhist teachings I’ve read. It all comes together

I got a minor injury today. Naturally it was from a white belt. The black belts rarely injure you. They have control – and they want that 50% that comes from working with a good partner. I try really hard to be a good partner – and in return I’ve trained with some amazing people.

This is also true in my work – except I’ve got technique – and strength might be better stated as ‘persistence’ or talent. In my domain – I’m better than in this cross-class warrior stuff. I find things easy in my work that most people find quite difficult – so I go further. Perhaps I *am* that guy running the class and letting someone else work their stuff against me.

Einstein said something along the lines of “Do not worry about your problems with mathematics, I assure you mine are far greater.”

So if you look at me and think I’m a wuss on the mat – perhaps I am. I’m training my will. I’m working on strength – and I’m not there because I imagine that I’ll ever compete for a national title. I don’t imagine that my raw talent set will take me to the top of the game – I’m playing to the top of my effort.

If you look at me and think I’m a success in my career – perhaps I am – but I’ve got it level set to “just as difficult as I can stand.” Anything less would be laziness and a waste of the massive good fortune I experience. I found it hard to improve my skillz any more – so I’ve started training willpower.

Core message: If you’re doing it right, it’s not *easy*, ever. If what you’re doing is *easy*, then you’re playing below your level. You’re failing to live up to your potential as a human being. If life is easy – you need to step up. As capital_l says, you’re “killing pigeons.”

Take heart. I don’t think that Obama finds his job easy – but at least he’s playing to his level. If he fails, he will have failed at a level that most people never reach. I know for a fact that Olympic athletes don’t find their competitions easy – those are people who push themselves to their limits – again and again.

The saying written on the wall at the dojo is that a black belt is just a white belt who never quits.

I’m a black belt in karate, and today I earned a white belt in jiu jitsu – from someone I respect. I have no intention of quitting.

Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Play to your level. And help your partner – it’s the only way to improve.

Originally published at chris.dwan.org. You can comment here or there.



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