Why is getting better a struggle?

It’s a little bullshit mindgame we play on ourselves, that’s why. We set “better” as a goal. When we do that we accept that we are worse than that goal. We make the choice to cut our legs off when we decide to run.

Somewhere along the line we got this idea that we need to torture ourselves mentally and physically before we are worthy of any sort of goal. You have to starve if you want to lose weight, you have to hurt every workout to really get fit. You think those are extremes, but they aren’t. Coaching nutrition and performance, everyone is unsatisfied with the first bit of work I do with them. They don’t feel like they are doing anything productive unless they feel like they are making major sacrifices right away, or feeling agony. They want penance for the sins they feel they have committed, more than they want improvements.

Honestly, do you want to improve your body? Eat three salads a day. Hell, for most of you, start with one salad a day. I don’t know how often I’ve given that advice and had no follow-up happen. It doesn’t seem like a real prescription to anyone. I didn’t tell them to eat no carbs. I didn’t tell them to cut fat. I didn’t tell them to eat tiny meals on a strict schedule. No magic pills or herbs? Not a real diet, obviously. Safe advice to ignore. Too obvious. Not real.

Telling people to up their fish oil intake has slightly better results. At least it’s a pill…therefor magic. It will trickle it’s magic power through them and transform the world! Wait…I didn’t lose weight. Hold on, fish oil is fat, right? Holy shit! That means it has calories! I’m not taking those anymore, I’ll get fat! Dr Oz. said I should huff salt. I’ll try that instead, or the new miracle herb he talked about. Screw you and your slow steady results.

When it comes to exercise, you are seen as a little bit daft if you aren’t a modern day flagellant. It’s painfully obvious to everyone that you can’t truly be fit…or get fitter…if you don’t hate yourself first. It’s so deeply embedded in us that we don’t even think about it anymore. Hmm, we think, my pants are a bit tight. I should get fit. Let’s begin by telling myself how awful I am. I mean, we must, right? We are failures, and must admit it.

Put a sword in hand and failure is right in front of you. It cracks you upside the head every damned training session. It bruises your arms, numbs your fingers, splits your skin and is hammered into your chest over and over. You suck. You failed. You are terrible. You MUST get better. The sword puts failure in our face and mocks us with it. It’s our motivation to get better, to hurt ourselves more. And that’s wrong. To think that way is to deny the gift the sword really offers us.

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains

My favourite song. Simon and Garfunkel hit my soul with that last line, but it took me years to understand. My body, my heart and my soul is covered in the reminders of every blow that landed on me. But I am still here.

Fight one more round. When your feet are so tired that you have to shuffle back to the centre of the ring, fight one more round. When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard, fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round – remembering that the man who always fights one more round is never whipped.”

―James Corbett

And I keep going. Like Corbett says, I’m not whipped. I never will be. That’s the gift the sword gave me. I may not win but I will never truly lose.

There is a difference between punishing yourself and overcoming adversity. There is a difference between learning to hate and despise yourself in the vain hope that it will grant you some kind of reward, and teaching yourself that you already have all the value you will ever need.

Stop believing in tomorrow. You think you can hate yourself today, and get the reward for it tomorrow. It doesn’t even matter that the hate you give to yourself you give out to everyone else in carefully metered doses, making some rank higher than others and forcing others to be lesser. It doesn’t matter because tomorrow you get your reward. Except tomorrow the doctor tells you that you have cancer.

Too bad you gave up loving yourself today. Too bad you didn’t make the most out of what you had before you got out of bed and walked into that stroke. Shit, wasn’t I supposed to get a notice before that happened? I’m pretty sure life is fair and I was supposed to be able to schedule the bad things? At least they were supposed to come with some sort of warning right? Aren’t I supposed to know I’m fat or old or ate the wrong things before this bus hit me? What the hell?

I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

Getting better can happen without the lies and the hate. Make the best out of what you are today. Motivate yourself by embracing what still remains. Fat, skinny, old, broke, rich, sick…the fighter still remains.  To pick up the sword means to be the fighter. Embrace the strength you have and use it.

To become a better fighter, don’t put yourself down. Don’t start out by telling yourself how bad you are. Start by remembering what you enjoy. Recognize what you are capable of. Be better by being more of what you are capable of, more of what you enjoy. There is no real secret to improvement, it just involves doing more. Doing more from a base of joy in what you do can push you farther than you can imagine. In the martial arts world, champions are often the most broken people. But when we think of martial arts masters, it’s usually the smiling old guy.

Aim for mastery.