Friday, 26 March 2010


The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.
Benjamin Disraeli
This week, as with most, I have been doing a lot of preparation.
I’ve been busy making plans and preparing for lots of events that I have scheduled, some that I am expecting to happen and some that I am hoping will happen in the future months.
In fact, the majority of the things I do are a form of preparation for the future; even writing these articles to offer my thoughts to those who care to read them. I’m preparing them for others to read, but also to help me prepare for and practice my own writing skills so that I may be good enough to get more articles published and even write more books on the subjects I am most passionate about.
In fact, we are all preparing for things, almost all of the time.
Whether it be something mundane such as preparing our meals or preparing our clothes for the next day, to preparing ourselves physically for the demanding lives we lead, right through to preparing ourselves mentally, psychologically and intellectually so that we may progress and be capable to manage the challenges we intend to face throughout our lives.
This thought got me looking at the power of “preparation” and how important this process is for our future growth.
If there is anything that we want to do well, then we first have to make good preparation.Often, this preparation takes the form of practice; practicing a task or action repetitively in order to become more skilled and versed in that action.

For me, this is obviously in the form of practicing martial arts techniques in order to become better at them, more skilled, more experienced and more knowledgeable about them.As my long time instructor Geoff Thompson said on a recent seminar, it’s not just about practice makes perfect, it’s Perfect Practice that makes Perfect.
The only way we get good at anything, is not only to practice it, but to make certain that what we are practising is correct, or better still, perfect.
So seeking out great instruction, finding the best resources, and investing in the absolute best information to allow you to practice perfectly from the very outset, is a real key to rapid success and high level mastery of anything you want to do.
I discovered this to my cost many years ago, when as Geoff’s main training partner and Uke, I spent a lot of my time demonstrating and teaching alongside him.
I became the one who took the throws and the falls in order for Geoff to demonstrate and teach the techniques. What we didn’t realise at the time was that I was actually learning, through this inadvertent practice and repetition, how to be thrown.
I actually became easy to throw and takedown as most of my time was doing that very thing.So, when it came to fighting off with others, I was struggling to win any fights on the ground as I was so used to adopting the weaker positions and offering openings to be thrown more readily.
This was something that I then had to train out of my muscle memory, which took quite some time, but it just went to show how you get what you train for and if you are to practice anything, you need to be practicing it correctly and practicing it in the way you want it to work for you when you need it to.
In simplistic terms, my practicing of martial arts, is not only preparing me to become a more knowledgeable and skilled exponent but also to become a better teacher who has more and more to offer his students.In effect, my practice is preparing me for success.
The beauty is that without much thought, I am also making good preparation and taking the right precautions for events that I intend never to happen, such as a physical attack on the street.
You could say, this is the art of being prepared, or some may argue, this is actually planning for failure – as a confrontational situation could be seen as a failure on my own personal security measures.

For example, my pre-emptive strike is not just a form of preparation for when things go wrong for me on the street. It should also be preparation for me mentally and physically, teaching me how to apply focus, commitment and dedication to learning a single technique or skill in order to eventually gain some mastery over it. This lesson then prepares psychologically to know how to approach other challenges or difficulties that I need to overcome in the future.
However, what I have found, both in my own life and in that of others is that we often get more focused on the “planning for failure” mode and forget to plan for success.
Which brings me nicely on to Planning, another form of preparation.
It is said that Planning and Preparation Prevent Piss Poor Performance, so just as practicing what we want to do is vital to our success, so is making the necessary and correct plans.
We all plan.
We all make decisions and think ahead in order to help run our lives more efficiently. We are certainly in an age where, our high paced lives simply won’t function without good advanced planning skills and strategies.

I am reminded of a documentary I watched many years ago. It was of a team of soldiers performing winter survival training. One of their tasks over the week long period was to demonstrate that they could make fire from the simplest of methods, of rubbing two sticks together.

Each soldier would spend a couple of hours on this task and then, if no progress was made, would crack on with some other duties and drills and return to it again later.

What caught my attention with one particular soldier was that he became totally focused on making fire. With a determination commendable, he forged ahead, rubbing up blisters on top of blisters to make those sticks generate heat worthy of fire.

To his amazement, suddenly he got smoke, then a feint flicker of flame. Sadly, his amazement was quickly followed by absolute crushing defeat when he realised he failed to plan ahead and had no kindling ready to keep the flame alight and grow it into real fire.

The simplest of tasks of planning ahead and preparing for the success of making fire by gather a few sticks would have made all his efforts worthwhile, but for whatever reason, he’d failed to make this preparation.

Possibly he had never expected to have such success, and as a result, gave no thought as to what he would do should his efforts prove fruitful.

So we need to shift our thoughts in order to plan for success and focus less on the planning for failure. Thinking as much, if not more, about what we are going to do and what we intend to happen rather than solely focusing on our contingencies for if things go wrong.
Unfortunately, what happens to all of us from time to time is we plan for the wrong things or we simply fail to plan at all.

How many of us hear the stories of the lottery winners who blow all of their cash in a short space of time.We all play the lottery in the hope that we win a life changing lump sum of money, and yet a lot of us don’t plan ahead and learn how to deal with such large sums of cash. How do we manage and how do we control this sudden wealth. Without planning we are either not really expecting it to happen, or we are simply ill prepared for when it does.

Now the lottery is a bad example as I don’t think you should ever place your future wealth or success into the hands of lady luck, as that means it’s totally out of your control, but you get my point.

Whatever it is you do, make sure you plan ahead, and then make sure your planning; your practice and your preparation is the best you can afford and is focused on the success.

A Final Word of Caution

With this lesson in mind, we can all see the need to plan ahead and prepare well before we embark on anything, however, a final word of caution.

While we’re going about the business of planning and practicing and preparing, we can find ourselves actually never leaving the preparation stage; never putting it all into real practice.
It’s a bit like the student who studies for a degree in the comfort of a campus university, and finding he enjoys the study, continues on to another degree followed by yet another and another, never actually leaving the campus and applying the skills he’s been busy gathering and practicing.

So like the soldier who failed to plan for success by gathering some firewood ready for when he made flame, we conversely need to be careful we don’t just end up gathering lots and lots of logs and never actually get around to lighting the fire.

And without fear of sticking (pardon the pun) to my forestry theme, it was Abraham Lincoln who said

If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first hour sharpening the axe.

But remember, he did leave time to actually start chopping the tree as well.

Practice well. Practice perfectly. Then all of this planning and preparation will go to giving you perfect performance.

After all
Todays preparation determines tomorrow's achievement.

Thank you for reading

Stay Safe and Have Fun

Al x

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Comfy Chair

I’m all for pushing myself, testing myself and putting myself under pressure.
I write a lot about how we must take the tough roads and make the difficult choices. How the power of growth is in restriction and having self control to be able to place ourselves under restriction in order to grow further.
I totally understand the value in taking ourselves out of our comfort zones and facing adversity head on.I have learned my biggest lessons by doing these very things, and I continue to do this on a daily basis.

However, in order for something to feel tough, uncomfortable or restrictive, we need to do it intermittently and not constantly, in my opinion.

Anything we do continuously will become familiar and gradually will become normal. The result will be continually reducing impact and effect on ourselves resulting in ever diminishing returns.
One way to do this is to frequently change what we do to apply the pressure.
For example, Animal Days, the all out fighting I have written about in the past, were ways of adding extreme pressure to our training. The nerves and fear we all felt before and during these sessions was a great test of will and character and a very good way of exposing weaknesses within ourselves.
However, over a prolonged period of time, the effects lessened, to the point where myself and most of the other lads actually looked forward to these session with relish and excitement, rather than paralysing fear.

The real purpose of these Animal Days was then lost and made redundant by our familiarity.
So, the only way to re-kindle that fear is to find it in another way.
I found that fear again when I started doing lots more public speaking and presenting, but again, that fear has reduced over time as I become better, more confident and more comfortable with that arena.
And so I continue on to find other ways to induce the fear and test myself again; new uncomfortable zones; more areas of restriction.

What comes next is the realisation that you are no longer becoming comfortable with each fearful environment, such as the full out fighting, or public speaking, but you are actually becoming comfortable with Fear itself. You start to realise that all of these different stimulus that conjure up fear and anxiety and stress are simply different ways to create the same internal reaction and it is the management of this fearful reaction within, that is the real key.
So the next thing is to find ways to activate other unwanted or non-productive emotions and feelings. For example, restriction training focuses on creating frustration, another negative emotion that can kick start lots of other unhelpful responses.We place ourselves in restrictive situations, whether that be in the gym punching with your back to the wall, or in our home lives with lack of time or money. This restriction will activate frustration as we cannot do what we want or get the results we desire. Learning to deal with this frustration, to replace it with relaxation is the result of this type of test.But again, these different tests are all geared towards exposing the same emotions and feelings and teach us to control them in the same way.
So now to the real reason for this article.

With all of this pressure testing, and self-empowering benchmark testing, we can all get a little bit weakened by it.Too much and it can actually start to have a negative effect.
If we consider our minds as muscles, then just as every body builder knows the value of rest and recuperation time, so our minds and our spirits need the same time to recover from these pressure tests.

It’s true we should all seek the tough path, the rough and hard course that is uncomfortable and challenging, but equally, some days, the comfy chair is good.
The comfy chair is not only a nice place to be, some days it’s actually THE place to be in order to allow yourself to recuperate, recover and recharge from all of these challenges.It’s the place where you can sit, switch off your guard and relax in the knowledge that you can review your recent achievements without worrying about the next fearsome test that lies ahead.
I’m not saying the comfy chair should be your first port of call, it should be a reward for your efforts; a safe harbour after weathering a storm.
Nor am I saying you should stay in it too long, as you’re likely to expand in the wrong directions, if you get what I mean.If anything, the comfy chair becomes a great test in itself as leaving it can be another challenge.

It’s perhaps easier to remain on the tough path continually than it is to have periodic moments of comfort that you know you will have to get up from and leave behind again and again.Kind of like the smoker who has given up but who has the strength of character to know he can still be surrounded by cigarettes and other smokers, or the recovering alcoholic who can still frequent the pubs with his drinking buddies and not partake himself. That’s real strength and real test of character.

So, some days, the comfy chair is great.
Getting on it is great for recuperation and getting off it is simply another challenge.

Enjoy the comfy chair – you deserve it
Thank you for reading

Stay Safe and Have Fun
Al x