Tag Archive: Martial Arts

Who Are You, Really?

Although the title of this post was inspired by the Mikky Ekko song of the same name, its content was prompted by a recent piece by Mark Rippetoe on T-Nation entitled CrossFit: The Good, Bad and The Ugly. Don’t worry, I won’t be posting my own thoughts here about the pros and cons of CrossFit – not right now, anyway! 🙂 No, this post is about the question of who – or, perhaps more accurately, what – you perceive yourself to be as it pertains to your approach to fitness.

As Rippetoe explains:

Exercise is physical activity for its own sake, a workout done for the effect it produces today, during the workout or right after you’re through. Training is physical activity done with a longer-term goal in mind, the constituent workouts of which are specifically designed to produce that goal.

“Exercise is fun today. Well, it may not be fun, but you’ve convinced yourself to do it today because you perceive that the effect you produce today is of benefit to you today. You ‘smashed’ or ‘crushed’ or ‘smoked’ that workout… today. Same as the kids in front of the dumbbell rack at the gym catching an arm pump, the workout was about how it made you feel, good or bad, today.

“In contrast, Training is about the process you undertake to generate a specific result later, maybe much later, the workouts of which are merely the constituents of the process. Training may even involve a light day that you perceive to be a waste of time if you only consider today…

“…Different physical tasks require different physical adaptations; running 26.2 miles is obviously a different task than squatting 700 pounds, and the two efforts require completely different physical adaptations. If a program of physical activity is not designed to get you stronger or faster or better conditioned by producing a specific stress to which a specific desirable adaptation can occur, you don’t get to call it training. It is just exercise.”

And here’s the rub, as Rippetoe continues:

“For most people, exercise is perfectly adequate – it’s certainly better than sitting on your ass. For people who perceive themselves as merely housewives, salesmen, or corporate execs, and for most personal training clients… exercise is fine.”

The insinuation, of course, is that training is for those more passionate about their physical condition and athleticism. For those who perceive themselves as something more than just how society sees them in their primary family or career roles, and who have goals they are trying to reach in other endeavors. For those that, when asked “What do you do?”, are just as anxious to talk about their chosen sport as their chosen profession. For those who strive for something beyond mediocrity, beyond the bare minimum of what they “need” to do in order to function in their primary roles, stay healthy, and look good.

I am a husband and a father. I am an executive in a professional services firm. These are indeed my primary and most important responsibilities in life. The only thing I really “need” to accomplish through my fitness routine is to stay slim, toned and healthy. But that is not enough for me. I strive for excellence in all things, including in fitness for its own sake, always looking to transcend the lowest common denominator practices of the mainstream. I am far from successful, but it is the pursuit that is important. Choosing this particular journey means never being content with the status quo.

I perceive myself as something more than a husband, father and business professional. I am a martial artist, a student of Brazilian jiu jitsu. And so I also perceive myself to be an athlete. This may be completely delusional, for I am a rank amateur to be sure, and an aging one on top of that – a “wannabe.” But that’s the crux of the matter: Who do you want to be? I have chosen this pursuit, although there is no requirement that I do so, and I certainly earn no money from it. It is simply an innate desire. So that is just who I am. Really.


BJJ is a journey of highs, lows and plateaus. For me, the lows and plateaus seem to be the more natural state – which is not at all to say I don’t enjoy my training. On the contrary, my BJJ experience – and the instructors and fellow students that have made it possible – have been a tremendous blessing in my life and a source of great joy. But the joy comes from the challenge, and my point about “lows and plateaus” is simply a statement about the sense of struggle and uphill climbing in trying to overcome the challenge. It is never easy, and I am never content with my performance or my progress, but I can be equally self-critical in other areas of life as well. It is characteristic of trying to be the best you can be, never feeling satisfied or complacent.

It is only on the rare occasion that I will actually feel like I am gaining some momentum, and having the opportunity to fit in at least three sessions per week for a few consecutive weeks is a prerequisite for me to feel like I am getting into any kind of groove. But then something comes along to stop the momentum, such as an injury or a scheduling constraint that keeps me out of the academy for a week or so.

Such was the case last week, where a combination of work and family commitments resulted in 11 days of no BJJ training (although I did make sure to get to the gym in the mornings before work to at least keep up my fitness and conditioning). Whenever I miss a week or so of BJJ, it takes me a few classes to feel like I am back in the routine, and I don’t feel like I am rolling very well during those first few classes.

Does a week off really make a difference? Or am I just psyching myself out with a self-fulfilling prophecy by worrying too much about the effect of the week off? The answer is probably yes to both. I think at my level of inexperience, a week off is certainly enough time to accumulate some rust. But I am surely amplifying the effect by thinking too much about how it will manifest itself in my rolls. As in any sparring session, I think the goal has to be to clear your mind, just get in there and let your body do what it is going to do.

I have seen plenty of blog posts about getting “back on the mats” after a long layoff (I liked this one by Georgette Oden). But this was just a week, and there will of course be other weeks off, even if just for vacation. I know everyone hates to miss even a week of training, but I am curious as to others’ thoughts on whether it affects your performance, and if so whether you think it is a physical or mental matter.