Fort and Sally Forth


I write a lot about frustration. Or at least, I feel like I do.

Inability is what drives me to train constantly. It’s also what shoots my training in the foot, sometimes. Somedays you bust your ass off, and the simplest thing screws you up. That little seed of doubt starts to germinate, and you can have a bad few months. You lose the conviction in yourself, your faith in yourself.

I started training with what I thought was a simple goal. I didn’t want to be just a skinny, short little kid who was really nothing other than a temporary entertainment for bullies. I wanted to be more in life. I wanted to be special…a hero.

A few years later when I hit my mid-teens, and started to show some talent? I got back in touch with my real reasons for training. Really nothing like fresh perspectives on abuse to wake you back up. I had faces to practice against, and they started to morph into one large, shadowy figure. Every single blow I threw in training was directed into that figure, as hard as I could throw it. I trained with the single intent of being able to kill with one blow.

And so every single blow was filled with frustration. Frustration at not being able to defend those who needed defending. Frustration at the constant nagging thought that each blow was not going to be hard enough. Nights and days, punching and kicking. Sparring every chance I could, against everyone I could.

Inability to perform the way you expect you should be able to is frustrating. I get frustrated at my own lack of confidence. When I look out at everyone else training, I think I’m the only one who feels the way I do. It’s not true. I hear enough of people’s doubts to know better than that. But our own doubt is a lonely place, you just can’t get past that.

I suppose some people are driven to practice solo from a feeling of confidence and ever increasing skill, but not me. Frustration and failure make me get up out of a comfy chair to pick my rapier up, and work on disengages. Or throw a few punches, or work a slow double-leg shoot.

My daily practice is less about getting better, and more about getting past that motivation. When frustration motivates you, what will keep you practicing when you succeed? I’ve attained many goals in life. And I’ve felt the emptiness that follows. Draw the way you always wanted to, suddenly you’ve got better things to do than sketch all the time. Finally hit that one riff perfectly, and it’s not so important to pick up the guitar and work scales anymore.

Conviction. Hunter S. Thompson had the right of that. Frustration is inherently an artifact of the past. When you feel it, you are clinging to something that is gone. Conviction is the act of turning your head forward, and taking the next step. I cling to my frustrations because they give me a solid base to measure myself on. If I know how I have failed, if I hold on to that and weigh it constantly, those heavy bricks can be a foundation to build a mighty fortress on.

Fortresses are for hiding in. I’m invested in movement. So I have to teach myself new habits in training. If I pick up a sword for the wrong reason, I put it down. When my mind is free, then I will pick it up and train. The past is a lovely place to look back on dispassionately and dig for lessons. It’s always worth remembering that it is long gone, and a million miles away. The future is just a single breath away.




  1. Huh. Thanks for sharing this, Randy, it made me look a little harder at my own motivation. On the surface, my motivation is the same as yours (and many other people’s) – I want to be able to do that thing. The source of that desire is different, though. At it’s base, I think I chase the great feeling I get when I succeed at something challenging, especially physically challenging. The more difficult something is, the better I feel when I get there. Fortunately, I train with a bunch of people who have been doing this much longer than me and so can do more – there’s no shortage to new goals once I reach a current one. For me, the past adds to my motivation rather than adding to any frustration. I can look back to a year ago and see just how much more I can do now, and wonder how much more I will have improved in another year’s time. Looking at this longer time period helps when I’m having a bad day too – what I see as a bad day now would have been impossible for me then. It also works to alleviate frustration if I look at things in smaller stages, too; I haven’t done a handstand yet after a year of trying, but I’m a hell of a lot closer that I was. Every month I can see how I’ve improved in little ways that I can take pride in, helping to motivate me to continue working towards the “final” goal. My continuing efforts to do a chin-up are a good example of this – going from an uncontrolled drop, to an increasingly controlled reverse, to holding still, to just this past weekend when I got visible upward motion.

    Maybe it’s partly a mind-set thing. For me, something gets frustrating when I think “I should be able to do this”. What with having struggled with depression for so long, I am very familiar with how “should” thinking results in the opposite of motivation – I continue to work at removing the word from my vocabulary. Instead, I think “I will be able to” and celebrate the each of the small steps in getting there. The best feeling is when you find that “I will be able to” has suddenly turned into “I can” when I least expected it.

  2. The perfect writing for the moment. Thanks for it, it make my night less miserable. 🙂

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