Physical and Mental Toughness

I didn’t write an AAR for the noon class yesterday– I came home and slept hard. I’m still not quite used to double training sessions in a day. Still, above all one thing stands out to me: the fact that I took a round off.

I know it shouldn’t be a big deal. I still rolled for 26 minutes yesterday– I tapped white belts and got tapped by blue belts. I played decent guard against a new guy who was very strong and had wrestling experience. Still, in the 20 minutes we had, I sat out for four– and I’m kicking myself for it.

The reason is a quote from Teddy Atlas’ excellent autobiography, Atlas: From the Streets to the Ring: A Son’s Struggle to Become a Man. If you’re not into boxing, Teddy Atlas first hit notoriety as one of Mike Tyson’s first trainers, famously resigning after pulling a gun on Tyson for threatening his family. Since then, he’s trained world champions (Michael Moorer, Alexander Povetkin among others) and served as a color commentator on ESPN. He talks a lot about what makes a fighter, and mental toughness is chief among them. He writes:

“If you don’t train today, it’s not that this one day is gonna make you out of shape physically, it’s gonna make you soft mentally. You duck what you’re supposed to do today, the night of the fight you’ll think it’s okay not to face what you gotta face there. On the other hand, if you do what you’re supposed to do, on that night you’ll know you faced what you had to face every day– and you’ll draw strength from that.”
 Of course, I did train yesterday. Twice. I drilled the hell out of that Kimura with several different partners and rolled to the best of my ability. But I’m still thinking about the “out” that I gave myself. It’s far too easy for us to give ourselves those outs– to seek comfort, to seek relief from pain, to take the easy path out. Part of what I love about martial arts is the ability to seek that difficult path– to get my ass up off the couch and, for an hour and a half a day, to challenge myself. Jiu-jitsu in particular makes that choice easier and easier– no matter what happens, you can always choose to stop by tapping. Knowing when to tap and when to fight has been one of the most enlightening lessons of my BJJ education thus far.
Yesterday, I took the proverbial tap and let myself off the hook. I sought comfort instead of improvement. 
It won’t happen again.

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