What fighting taught me about my career

Cross post from my personal blog – this also applies to life and business.

I’d like to start by saying that I’m more of a hobbyist and fight fan than an actual fighter. My record of amateur and pro fights is an impressive 0-0. I have however been training in various martial arts over the past 20 years ranging from Tae Kwon Do, to Judo, to Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, to Muay Thai Kickboxing. In all of these classes I have learned some valuable lessons that I’ve been able to apply to many other facets of my life, most specifically my career.

1 – Belts don’t really matter with few exceptions – just like degrees, certificates and awards

I am kind of embarrassed I didn’t figure this one out earlier. I remember being an athletic 15 year old taking Karate lessons where the “teacher” was a skinny 12 year old black belt. I honestly thought that because the kid had black belt he could kick my ass. I also thought that because I had trained a lot of karate and had won several no contact “point fighting” tournaments I was pretty bad ass.

Let’s just say my world came crashing down when a drunk kid started throwing punches that he actually intended to hit me with.
The honest truth is that most martial arts belts don’t really signify much in terms of fighting ability with a few notable exceptions (e.g. Judo, Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu and a few others).

All that they really mean is the person awarded with the belt has paid enough money to get it and meets some basic knowledge requirements. The same can be said for degrees, certificates and most awards.

What really matters is the person.

2 – You need to have contact, otherwise you might as well be learning to swim on land

Now, you should learn the basic movements first, otherwise you’ll just flail around and tire yourself out first, but you should always have a target of getting into the ring and into live sparring.

Training to fight without contact is like training to swim while on land. Learning some basic movements while on shore is helpful, but you wouldn’t want your first actual swimming experience to be when you were potentially swimming for your life.

In your career you need to push yourself. If you never do, then you won’t be ready for it when someone/something pushes you (e.g. a competitor).

3 – Quit being afraid. With hindsight, few things are as bad as you thought they would be, including getting punched in the face

Now, I’m not talking about real violence here. I’ve been lucky enough to have never been involved in a situation where someone truly wanted to take my life. I think it’s pretty safe to say that a gun fight is something that could easily become much worse than you ever thought possible. I’m talking about getting into the ring with boxing gloves on and sparring with someone full contact. Most people are afraid of this. I was the first time I did it.

It’s really not that bad

I didn’t feel the punches during the session, but I did have a headache that night and the next morning. I was pretty bad at blocking when I first started real contact sparring. Turns out that blocking punches that were never really intending to hit you is easier than blocking ones that are. The only way to get better at it was take a few punches to the face.

Don’t be afraid to jump into new projects, move on from a shitty situation, or change careers. It could be the best thing you ever did, and you shouldn’t ever let fear be the deciding factor as to why you don’t make a positive change for yourself.

4 – Hard work pays off

People starting out at my gym ask me how to kick or punch with a lot of power. They often don’t like the answer, because people often don’t like to put in the time and work. Your kick will become powerful by going through the following process: learn the basic technique, kick the bag a few thousand times (over several days), got pointers to refine technique, kick the bag several thousand more times (over days/weeks), repeat for many years. The more smart work you put in, the better you will become. It really is that simple.

Note that a key part to the process is refining the technique. In your career this equates to working hard and working smart. Having a mentor and/or colleagues who have complementary skill sets which can be cross trained is hugely beneficial to success.

5. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not getting better

You shouldn’t be the best person at everything at your gym unless you’re the instructor and aren’t actively fighting. If you are, you will never learn anything. The best place to train at is a gym where you are the least skilled person there. The first Judo club I tried as an adult had several kids in the class, and I found that I was able to beat most of them based on strength and some rudimentary skills alone. I was a fairly competent striker at this point, was an athletic 22 year old man, and wanted to learn a bit about this grappling stuff I had seen in those early UFC’s.
I thankfully tried another gym that had adult only classes and was thoroughly destroyed by everyone in the class that I went up against.

It was an uncomfortable, frustrating, difficult, and humbling experience, but I have never experienced that level of rapid learning since.

In your career you need to seek out challenges. The fastest way to succeed is by being brave and trying difficult things. You will fail more, but it is well worth the effort.