Last Sunday, I competed for the first time in about sixteen months. I submitted two people and got submitted by two others (who needs fully-functioning shoulders, amirite?). Here are the lessons I learned:
Take Care of Your Body
After starting the slow-carb diet, I decided to focus on pre-habilitation instead of athletic performance. In other words, I asked myself which habits and exercises would minimize my chance of getting injured. To that end, I consistently got eight hours of sleep, ate right, and warmed up properly before competing.
This focus saved me when I got submitted with a shoulder lock. My muscles were warm and strong, taking the brunt of the force instead of my rotator cuff tendons. After a few days of icy-hot patches, I’m 95% recovered.
Many people focus too much on achieving certain athletic goals. It’s equally important to take steps to prevent undesirable outcomes like injuries or burnout. Don’t sacrifice quality of life to hit an artificial life-metric (e.g. money in your bank account).
Have No Ego
The mystery man who submitted me wasn’t a black belt in disguise. He wasn’t even a man. The winner of the tournament (who submitted everyone he faced) was a fifteen year-old green belt.
As a result, my coaches have been making fun of me. Let them say what they want. Part of my passion for martial arts stems from its egoless nature. No amount of money, prestige, or shit talking can save you when you get on the mats to compete. I feel only gratitude that I’m healthy enough to participate.
Some people say that this isn’t the mindset of a champion. I find that many top-level athletes (my coaches Ahmed White and Nate James come to mind) don’t brag. They’re ruthlessly hard on themselves, and won’t let an inflated sense of self-importance get in the way of learning.
Technique is Only One Component
This is very applicable to the real world too. I felt like I was easily the most technical person in the tournament. But I got third place instead of first. Why? Because technical precision and beautiful form doesn’t matter if you don’t bring aggression, grit, and a game plan to the table too. I missed many opportunities to push that extra inch and takedown my opponent. I also neglected to push through my fatigue in the fourth match (even though I ended up securing a submission).
Although I find joy in pursuing the perfect sweep/submission/pin, in competition the move just has to work. Similarly, in real life people wait for the perfect opportunity to change career paths, take an experimental vacation, or ask a love interest out on a date. Don’t. The stars will never align 100%. Trust that by taking the leap, you’ve endowed yourself with the energy and ingenuity to make the life transition work.
Find Comfort in Your Discomfort
The tagline of this blog, yes. But worth repeating. It’s a hard mantra to follow when you’re seeing stars and still getting the life choked out of you.
Remember that thirty minutes of explosive combat unearthed all the insights I mentioned above. It’s simply not possible to be happy and hopelessly out of your depth. Instead, sprinkle uncomfortable life experiences in your schedule to become the person you want to be.
Forget yesterday, your aching pains, your plethora of excuses. At some point you have to take the lessons in these blog posts and apply them to the real world in a sustainable manner. So think before you take a risk. But don’t forget to take the risk!