When I started Jiu Jitsu as a teen, I had the privilege of seeing my brother Steve experience success in the cage as an MMA professional and on the tatami in the sport of BJJ. I remember being so accustomed to seeing him win, it was a almost a shock for him to lose. I was fortunate to be able to witness the fighting spirit that he possessed up close, knowing that not everyone can be blessed with such role models and needless to say it kindled a desire to compete and especially to want to win. Little did I know that although I did desire the gold medal or getting my hand raised, I didn’t understand the essence of competing itself, something that would translate to my life later on as a business professional and community leader. I am instantly reminded of something my older brother Steve used to tell me which was “a lot of people want to win, few people want war”. Steve was the type that if the match went into deep water, he was likely to prevail, and he demonstrated it again and again from blue belt all the way to black belt. In my case however, the explanations for losing always seemed to me, to be technical or strategic, which benefited me in terms of becoming a very well rounded, skilled fighter, but blinded me from the truth of the matter. As humans we tend to avoid the things we underperform at and put our emphasis on the things we do well. While this is not necessarily good or bad, as we do need to focus on having strengths that we can execute at a high level, we stand to benefit greatly from having fewer weaknesses which, plots twist, comes from us working on them obsessively. From my perspective, it took me somewhat over a decade to truly get to a place where I could push myself farther than most people, conceivably because it took me a long time for that truth to finally corner me and deliver the brutal honesty that I wasn’t doing enough of the right things. Even in my colored belt days when I was waking up at 4am to run, where my freezing hands were the most painful part of it, I wasn’t fighting as often as I could have, I wasn’t in a constant state of preparedness, and I was allowing distractions to steal my time and my focus. When this realization finally penetrated my thick skull at black belt, it drove me to change my ways and then the medals just started to pile up. It’s funny how often the answers are right underneath our nose and it took me a painfully long time to realize that what held me back for so long was the fact that I cared what people thought. I felt like if I lost, well I was a loser, when in reality that was true anyway. When you are focused on the wrong things, you are a big fat “L”, no matter what anybody tells you. The results will speak for themselves. I would try to strategize how I was going to win instead of setting my sights on giving every single person in my division hell so they knew what it meant to fight Christopher Hargett. Instead of focusing solely on how I was going to win or get better, I cared about what people thought about me or my performance. Rather than winning a match in an untamed, ugly, raw fashion, I wanted to look good and display perfect technique. When in reality I needed to show up, compete like a fucking savage, and do whatever it takes to win. Over and over and over again. Period. It is easy to get lured into the drama that if you win you’re the best and if you lose you are nothing, but this type of self obsession is not only self-destructive but it is a complete and utter waste of time. In reality, what other people think is none of your business, for one. A majority of people, or the people who matter, will look at you with admiration for the effort you put in and the lifestyle you live. Medals are no indication of how respectable someone is, it is only a fraction of how they live their lives and operate as professionals. We tell the kids in our program that “champions lose but they never quit” and that message holds true. Do you know any quitters in your life you have respect for? No, they are champions even when they lose. They suck it up and get back to work, and they never stop coming. Plus, the people who would look down on you for a loss are not people you care about anyway. So the key is to get over yourself, your image and what people think and wage an all out war to get the most experience, fight the most matches with the most people, keep learning to hustle and repeat the process until the magic starts to happen. Once you are able to stop feeling sorry for yourself after a loss, will you truly begin to fall in love with the process of fighting. The best chefs have been in the kitchen perfecting their routine and adapting to unforeseen challenges for years and years, competing is no different. On the mats, in life or any domain for that matter.
I was listening to one of Kobe’s last interviews in which he was talking about how he had airballed five shots in the last game of his first or second season in the league, playing the Utah Jazz after which his teammates came up to him to ask if he was ok. His reaction was that he was fine because the public opinion didn’t matter, what mattered was what he needed to do to fix his mistakes which he accredited to a lack of a proper strength and conditioning program at the time. He said that the reason he was fine was that he learned to get over himself at a young age, that he wasn’t as big or as important as he thought he was. All that mattered was fixing the errors. Nowadays when aspiring competitors ask me what my best advice to them would be I start with asking them their goals. If their goal is to be a champion they need to recognize that their most important training is competing. Nothing will ever prepare you for fighting another person like the act of it, so if you really want it, forget what everyone thinks and compete as much as you can and fix as much as you can along the way. It really comes down to love because while you may suck, as you should, you will be the person that was in the background at all the tournaments before one day exploding on to the scene, an “overnight success” if you will. But first, you have to harden yourself by accepting the fact that how you feel after a loss doesn’t matter, in practice or in the most important tournament of your life, it’s just your ego struggling to accept where you are at and the sooner you can get over that and focus on the improvements and the adjustments you need to make, the sooner you will reach your goals. Then your performance will be be able to back up your ego which will turn into a deadly blend of confidence and ego which is necessary for competing at the highest level. If you don’t think that you’re not going to step on that mat and crush someone’s spirit and make them quit, you’re not ready, because someone with that mentality who has put in the work is going to take you to school and give you a lesson you will never forget. As Tim Grover says, it’s only arrogant when you’re all talk. People who are accomplished have huge egos because they’ve done a lot and that feeds the belief that they can do the impossible, but if you allow the way people view you to influence any of your actions, you won’t do what you need to do which is take the risks and miss the shots you need to in order to eventually succeed.