A friend of mine just posted a Henry Rollins video on Facebook: I loved it.
First of all, I like Henry a lot. Not just his music and movie work but also his work ethic and uncompromising attitude to life. And he likes to lift iron, as do I. So for all those reasons, I think he’s a pretty cool guy. In this video here, he talks about the decision that changed his life. The one thing that altered the course of his life.
Before I go one, take a look at it first:
There are a couple of things that stand out for me and I’ll get to these here below but I’d like to cover the key one first. Henry says:
“I don’t have talent, I have tenacity, I have discipline, I have focus. And I know without any illusion where I come from and what I can go back to.”
I can relate to that.
I’m the same in my field.
I was supposed to suck at martial arts
I wasn’t supposed to be any good at the arts because I really didn’t have the talent for it. When I tell people this, they don’t believe me. They claim I have natural ability. It’s very kind of them to say so but I was there when I started training and they weren’t: I was stiff, slow and uncoordinated:
- I had no natural flexibility. I spent a lot of time stretching both in class, but even more so at home before I managed to pull off high kicks. I spent hours and hours in my room in pain because my leg muscles refused to relax when I stretched. I took every opportunity to stretch just to make some progress, to the point of flipping on the light switches and opening doors with my feet. That eventually gave me functional flexibility but I discovered I had to work hard to maintain it. In the mean time, I saw tons of people with natural flexibility who didn’t need to do all that work. So I know the difference.
- I was slow. One of my training buddies from when I started was quicker than me. We’d often train together during Summer break and one time, we practiced by punching holes in cardboard boxes. Let me rephrase that, he punched holes in them. I only managed to punch the box away from me, much to his amusement. That was a key moment for me: I decided to become faster. I trained hard at it, for a long time, with progress being pretty slow. But eventually, I was faster than him. I held back during sparring because I didn’t want him to feel bad but basically, I could beat him to the punch whenever I wanted. I didn’t stop there though, I decided that I would try to have fast hands forever and never stopped training towards that particular goal.
- I moved like a pregnant yak. I was not well-coordinated when I began training. Forms were difficult for me and whenever I learned a new technique, I had to do hundreds of reps before I understood how to move my body to even begin getting it right. Then it took thousands more reps before I could do it more or less correctly without having to concentrate so much. Many of the other students seemed to pick it all up so much faster than me and I often felt like I’d never be any good at martial arts. More often than not, I felt like everybody saw how much I sucked but was just too kind to tell me.
All things considered, I wasn’t really meant to be any good at the arts.
The only thing I had going for me was strength, due to working in construction as a child. But other than that, I had to earn everything the hard way.
But strangely enough, it never felt like work. I had and still have a passion for the arts that motivated me to try and get better. I would come home after class, dead tired, and repeat what I learned because (being a slow learner) I was afraid to forget it. I trained at night in my room when the rest of the family was sleeping whenever I thought I was close to figuring something out. I trained in the garden and kicked and punched the old apple tree my grandparents had planted because I didn’t have a heavy bag (the tree is still there by the way.)
For more than fifteen years, part of my training schedule was this:
- Monday: 15x 3min + 1 min rest against the heavy bag.
- Round one: 10x jab, 10x jab. Repeat until end of round.
- Round two: 10x cross, 10x cross. Repeat until end of round.
- Etc. for both hooks and uppercuts.
- Round seven: 10x jab-cross, 10x jab-cross. Repeat until end of round.
- Round eight: 10x cross-lead hook, 10x cross-lead hook. Repeat until end of round.
- Etc. until round fifteen.
- Tuesday: 15x 3min + 1 min rest against the heavy bag.
- Round one: 10x lead push kick, 10x lead push kick. Repeat until end of round.
- Round two: 10x rear push kick, 10x rear push kick. Repeat until end of round.
- Etc. for round kicks (low, middle and high, one level per round), side kicks, spinning kicks, etc
- Same for combinations with kicks and punch-kick combinations until round fifteen.
- Wednesday: repeat from Monday.
- Thursday: repeat from Tuesday.
Like I said: for about fifteen years, four to six times a week that’s what I did.
There’s more to my training as this was only one part of it, but this gives you the right context: I didn’t get anything for free; I trained for it, a lot.
Mind you, I have no illusions of grandeur. I have some skill; I better have after all that time and effort. But when I look at my teachers and others who put in the same amount or even lots more work, I can only come to two conclusions:
- I have so much more work to do.
- I’ll never be as good as those guys.
I’m fine with that. That’s just the way it is for me personally. That said, it’s been a pretty good life for me so far, which brings me to the next quote from Henry’s video:
It’s your shot?
I remember people telling me I would never make a living teaching martial arts. They said I was a fool and should “get a real job” instead. That was 30 years ago. Since then and up until now, I’ve been doing what I love as my main job. I don’t see it changing any time soon.
They were right about not getting rich though. Being a martial arts professional has not left me starving but it also didn’t make me a wealthy man. In part, that’s my own fault for not being business savvy enough when I was younger. In part, because of a couple catastrophic financial events that I’m still paying for to this day. But I’m loving that I can still do the same job.
So in many ways, I’m “taking that shot” every single day.
And I’m fortunate to be able to do so.