Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Looking the Fool

The Road Not Taken - by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear

Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.


I’ve started my article with this poem because I think, one of the views of this poem ties in with the theme for this article.
Some have said that, one point Robert Frost was trying to make with this poem was that, when he chose to take the path that was less trodden (more grassy and wanted wear) he was simply taking the decision not to follow the crowd. To not worry what everyone else would say, suggest or think about his decision to go in a different direction to them.

As I sat in the gym the other day, gasping for air after my first set of Push-up – Burpee – Shoulder Press combinations, I glanced at a whiteboard that had been erected in a corner of the gym to record times and scores for a variety of challenges.
As someone had cleverly removed all oxygen from the gym at that time, I was able to spend quite a few minutes whilst gulping in chest aching amounts of in-effective air, to make some observations on the times that had been posted for one particular endurance concept rower challenge.
What impressed me was that there was a wide range of times posted on the board, by various individuals in the gym and, quite clearly, those with the relatively poor times were still prepared to post their names for all to see.

It was quite a refreshing sight and one that made me pay more attention to other activities around the gym.

I point out that this pondering and musing wasn’t just to gain more valuable minutes of recovery time before my next set of killer burpees, honestly!

My observations then moved on to spotting certain individuals who I have noted, return to the gym to carry out the same exercises day in and day out, never varying their routine and only performing the weight lifting feats that are obviously their favourite and the ones that they can impress the other gym-goers with.

I’m sure we’ve all fallen into the trap at one time or another where we avoid the pull-up bar when the gym is busy as we know we can only heave out a disappointing and possibly embarrassing two or three complete reps. Or we favour the benchpress that we’ve been mastering for years and wow the onlookers by lifting up weights that are heavier than small planets.

These two observations couldn’t be farther apart.

On one hand we have people prepared to post their name against a time for all to see, that is most likely the best they can do but in a different league to their competition. Then we have the individuals who will only experiment with their least favourite exercises when no-one else is watching.

I would suggest that the issue here is something of an ego battle that doesn’t want us to look the fool.
“Looking the fool” may be a bit harsh I agree, but my point is this.
The moment we become concerned with what others may think of us in the gym, is the moment we stop learning and stop growing.

I have written in the past about going back to being a white belt in a new martial art and the message is the same. The moment the 5th Dan is not prepared to don a crisp new white belt and get on the mat in a completely new club, with a completely new system and then get thrown around, tapping more times than Michael Flatley, is the moment we stop learning.

If you are terrible at pull-ups and you worry about what people will think of you when you try and fail, then you will never jump up and grab the bar. If you never grab the bar you’ll never get good at it and this applies to everything.

In order to learn, we have to be prepared to fail, and in addition, we have to be prepared to allow others to watch us fail.
NB: I will write more about this in the future as Failure doesn’t actually play a part in the learning process in my opinion

I think this message can be carried – assuming you can lift the weight of course – out of the gym and into every other aspect of our lives.

The moment you worry about what other people think is the moment you will stop doing anything for yourself. You will stop trying new things, you will stop living your own life and you will become a puppet of those around you.

Gertrude Stein said, "let me listen to me and not to them."

The irony is that those around you are too busy getting on with their own lives and worrying what others are thinking of them to really be caring about what you are doing and looking like anyway.
So I say, jump up, grab the bar and give it a go. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be reaching the reps, the times, the scores you aspire to. Letting your perception of what others may think of your initial attempts is just as bad as having them hanging on your legs and stopping you from reaching your dreams.

So if you ever get the feeling that you might look the fool, or you won’t live up to what people expect of you, that is the time to do it. That is the best challenge you can find as the progress in the given exercise will be a mere by-product. The real benefit will be the battle for self-control won over your own ego that was the only real thing standing in your way in the first place.

Thank you for reading
Stay Safe and Have Fun

Al x

Invest in the Process

Q. Why do we train?
“To be able to lead safer lives”

Q. Why do we want that?
“So we can do the things we want without fear or threats, or at least, with an understanding and an ability to deal with these threats”

Q. What is the benefit of this?
“So we can be happy”


Q. Why do we train?
“So we can get good at something we enjoy”

Q. Why do we want that?
“So we can become great at something and excel”

Q. What is the benefit of this?
“So we can be happy”


Q. Why do we train?
“So we can compete and test ourselves”

Q. Why do we want to do that?
“So we can massage our ego and gain more confidence in ourselves”

Q. What is the benefit of this?
“So we can be happy”

I would guess that, whatever your reason for wanting to study martial arts, your ultimate goal is to be happy.
Regardless of whether you want to be able to protect yourself, be great at a fighting art, win competitions, gather skills to a level where you can share this with others and teach, get fit so you can have more energy and enjoy a full life, join you’re your children in a hobby you can all share, etc etc, all of these reasons ultimately lead you back to wanting to be happy.
And it doesn’t have to be Martial Arts, I would suggest you can apply these same questions and direction of thought to anything you do, or choose to do.
We all want to be happy; the key is understanding what it is that makes us happy, or rather, what it is we should focus on to make us happy.

This article has been inspired by the following clip by Srikumar S. Rao, and this gentleman explains it far more eloquently and intelligently than I ever could, so please invest the next 10 minutes and enjoy this clip.

In this clip, Srikumar explains that we should invest in the Process and not the outcome. It’s about enjoying the journey rather than the destination, something I wrote about a long time ago – linked here…
For me, this mirrors directly back to my martial arts and the journey I have gone through and still continue to go through.
The destination is merely something to give a general direction and goal to instil ambition. But it’s the journey and the process that delivers the instant rewards, the fun and the ingredients for happiness.

This works at whatever level you want to look.
If we consider the overall picture of studying martial arts and the journey of studying different arts, gaining skills, learning new processes and principals, discovering new things, the end goal is achieving a high level of proficiency in those arts, but the process is the learning and practising and drilling of techniques on a daily basis.

If you have fun drilling techniques, if you enjoy training each day, hitting the bag or rolling with a friend, your ultimate success in the arts doesn’t really matter, because you’re having fun anyway.

If we consider the other end of the spectrum where we take it down to a single fight with an opponent on the mat. The end goal and destination being the victory in the fight, but the process, the fun bit, being each and every move at any moment in time. Again, if we find fun in the process of rolling from one technique to the next or pitting our skills at any moment in time against a resisting opponent, we don’t really care about the end result of the fight as we’ve had fun along the way.
We write a lot about being in the Now, investing in the moment or the particular move and position at this exact time. Not looking too far ahead into the future or wasting time reviewing what just happened in the previous move.

By being in the Now, you can enjoy exactly what you are currently doing.

By enjoying the process and gaining pleasure from performing each single move to your best ability, you will never have to worry about the result of the fight. Win or lose you will have had fun along the way as you hadn’t invested in the outcome, just the process.

The real twist here though, is that when you invest in the process; when you spend your time enjoying and having fun in each single move or position or technique, you will start to find a lot more end results go in your favour too.

As a friend of mine recently said, "there are only winners and learners", so enjoy the moment, invest in the process and you’ll have a better recipe for fun and happiness, which is always our ultimate goal.

Thank you for reading
Stay Safe and Have Fun

Al x