There are a number of keys to being successful in a challenge and they are as follows: 1 - do the planning, the planning makes the event easy. 2 - get your mind right - this makes the final phase the easiest part. 3 - do the right training for the right event. It sounds really simple doesn't it, but all too often people don't do the thinking which makes the event the easiest part. Every type of challenge I've done requires specific training to be successful - the toughest of all was the stick-fighting because there you are at the mercy of the judges as well as your own endeavours. Lets move to training specifics all based on my personal experience.
Marathon training - build the miles up gradually, 3 months would be the optimum time, although it is possible to complete a marathon in 8-10 weeks of training. I used to run between 35-40 miles a week with my longest run of 20 miles two weeks before the event and then taper down to an easy last week. I would also encourage weight training (light weights) to build upper body endurance and I was still training in martial arts three times a week when I ran marathons from 1983 until 1986 - I did 5 with a best time of 3hrs 29 mins.
Stick-fighting - road work is still essential, but much shorter distances of 3 to 5 miles combined with hill work and sprint training in the peak training weeks. Drills are important as is bag work, tyre work and sparring. I never sparred more than 20 rounds (one minute rounds), but would keep up the quality and the intensity ie get good sparring partners and push each other very hard.
3 Peaks Challenge and Hadrian's Wall - this is an easy one. Walk - a lot. It gets your feet ready and your mind for being on your feet for many hours at a time. Hill work is also essential - when I was training for the 3 Peaks I knew I was ready when I could do 8-10 circuits of Rockingham Hill, a local very steep hill which would leave your butt cheeks aching for a couple of days after. When I did the Para's 10 the addition of a 35lb (16kg) pack was added to understand the feel of the challenge.
Tough Mudder - this was a combination of many of the facets of the above challenges. Foremost was running - it is an 11.5 mile challenge after all. I also worked hard on weight training leading up to the event in preparation for the 'Hero Carry', 'Monkey Bars' and 'Log Carry' obstacles. I ran 5 days of week with distances from 3 to 12 miles and weight trained 3 days a week. With hindsight I would reduce running by one day and replace it with swimming once a week. When you fall or jump in the water it won't be such a shock to your system as it was to mine. I didn't have any problems, but wished that I'd had some swimming practice. I would also seek a children's play area and practice for the monkey bars. All the wide grip chins didn't make much difference when you have to wing from one arm to another. The mind is by far the most important area to conquer on any challenge. Accepting the distance, the pain, the discomfort, the obstacles, the mud, being wet, any of it can be achieved once you accept it is going to happen then its a case of having trusted your training and completing the course.
It's been an interesting day. Sir Alex Ferguson announced he was retiring from football at the age of 71, quite against all the expectations of most people who had no thought that he would retire. This afternoon I was going through an old notebook and found my training notes from the European Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do Conference which was held in April 2001. This was an excellent weekend and brought together many of Bruce Lee's original students as well as Linda and Shannon Lee. As I looked through the notes I name checked all those who taught that weekend: Dan Lee, Cass Magda, Chris Kent, Steve Golden, Pete Jacobs, Allen Joe, George Lee, Taky Kimura, Andrew Kimura, Ted Wong, Jesse Glover, Richard Bustillo, Tim Tackett and Bob Bremer. Almost all of these gentlemen had trained with Bruce Lee and knew him as a man and as a friend. I had a brilliant weekend, meeting many of these people for the first time and gaining a really deep understanding of the art that Bruce Lee had developed. What struck me today, looking back over the names was how many of them are no longer with us. Almost half have died in the 12 years since the seminar. Ted Wong, Allen Joe, George Lee, Jesse Glover and Bob Bremer. When you also add in Larry Hartsell and Herb Jackson you realise that now is the time to take careful notice of those that remain.
The most active of the JKD teachers on the seminar circuit remain Richard Bustillo (71) and Dan Inosanto (76), their verve and vigour putting many a younger person to shame. When I first trained with these two they were in their 40's and at the height of their powers; who imagined back then that one day they may consider retirement? Both of these top teachers have flown thousands of miles and taught thousands of students from around the world, but if one thing that Sir Alex's resignation announcement proved today, no-one knows when it will end. As students of the martial arts it is our hunger for knowledge that sets us apart and who has more than these two amazing men? I've trained many times with Inosanto, but Richard has been my teacher since 1990, when I first met him in Nottingham. I am always surprised by him, either a story I haven't heard before, a new drill or a deeper understanding of something that I knew before. At the time of writing this piece I am hosting a seminar with Richard in a couple of days; I have people travelling across the UK, two people from France and one from Poland. Last year I missed a seminar due to illness, my first in 22 years and I felt like I'd missed something important, like the feeling you have when you miss out on a big event that other people get to experience. The feeling of loss, despite being ill, was tangible. That seems to make very little sense, but to me it does.
So my question to you, dear reader, is what are you afraid of missing out on? What did you not have enough money for? What could you not be bothered to get out of bed for? What was the cost of your inertia? What have you decided you no longer needed only for that decision to come back and haunt you? Too many people ask 'What if it goes wrong?" rather than asking "What if it goes right?" Someone else once said "If you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance." For me martial arts, and life, is about learning and applying those lessons. We learn to fight and then spend most of our lives avoiding trouble, we learn new knowledge and grow from those lessons. We are imperfect beings and the process of self development is to become a better person. Through Richard Bustillo being my teacher I have learned many lessons which have improved me in those 23 years. The lessons that he passed on that he learned from Bruce Lee and the other greats that he learned from; I wrote many of them down and read them to absorb the knowledge. The experiences of travelling abroad to Los Angeles, New York, Paris and Norway to learn from him helped me to understand those places as well. The knowledge wasn't just learnt on the mat, but over meals with Richard and my peers. I developed friendships that exist to this day, all for the sake of being a student, taking the time, paying my money and practising daily. It is said that we covert money and love, but the only thing we chase is time. It never comes again and passes too quickly. I like the lesson that Tony Robbins talks about: the rocking chair test. Imagine being 85 years old, sitting in your rocking chair and looking back on your life. What do you regret? Who do you wish you had kissed? What decision should you have made, but fear stopped you from making it? Should you have begun that business? Written that book? Gone on that holiday or taken on that challenge? We're here only once, just like Richard Bustillo and Sir Alex Ferguson, as they grow older it is our job to absorb as much as we can for them, for, as Sir Isaac Newton observed "We grow by standing on the shoulders of giants."
On Monday 2nd July I had the pleasure of speaking to 650 business people at the Hilton Metropole Hotel in Birmingham. The talk I did was my 'World's Only Business Jedi' presentation which includes elements of my stick-fighting career (I got to hit the MD - he had armour on!) and brought together the elements of business, philosophy, martial arts, kinesiology and the different psychological disciplines I have learnt. It's a lot of stuff to pack into a half-an-hour talk. I was the afternoon guest speaker and entertainment. During the morning we had been treated to a presentation by Ben Hunt-Davis. It's doubtful that many of you will have heard of him, but he is a British Gold medal Olympian from Sydney 2000 - he won his gold the same year that Sir Steve Redgrave won his 5th Gold medal. Ben won his gold in the Mens 8's rowing; what was so impressive about his talk was how much failure he'd been through before he'd tasted success.
Ben, and his seven compatriots, had been relatively mediocre for a very long time. Ben competed in 6 World Championships and Sydney was his third Olympic Games. During most of that time the boat he had been part of was consistently 6th or 7th. Some people would be happy with that - to be 6th or 7th in the world. Ben and his team asked themselves one question after the 1998 rowing World Championships; that question became their mantra 'Will it make the boat go faster?' This related to everything in their lives. Was the training right? Was the diet right? Did they need to sort out dynamics within the boat? Imagine eight 6' 4" men with a selfish attitude trying to get along; not an easy thing to get right. They were training 21 times per week and cut that down to 19 sessions per week! Everything they did for 2 years had the same question and the same outcome - 'did it make the boat go faster?' If you watch the video I've attached you'll be able to see part of Ben's talk and the outcome of the race.
During the first week of July I told this story in the classes. I want July to be about physical and emotional conditioning. The Black Belt gradings in June were eye openers; it was pretty obvious who had done the hard work physically and emotionally. Martial arts doesn't just train the body, it trains the mind. It was a major draw to me when I first started training and remains so to this day. My training has got me through more personal upheavals than any other mechanism. Running and making myself so tired I collapsed. Hitting a bag and taking out all of my frustrations of the day. Being pushed in a class so much that I was scared I didn't have it in me to continue to the end; and then being amazed that I was so fit and so mentally strong. Confidence comes not from doing things that are easy, but from things that are difficult. The things that push us not just out of our comfort zone, but way beyond it.
A few weeks ago I shared the billing with another speaker, Andy McMenemy. Many of you won't of heard of Andy, but his tale is amazing, in a completely different way to Ben's. Andy woke up one day and wanted to challenge himself; so he applied for the Marathon des Sables - the toughest foot race in the world. 150 miles across the Sahara in 5 days. He did that and pushed himself harder: completing another African ultra-marathon where he ran 78 miles in temperatures of 46C and higher. He hallucinated during this race; perhaps that's where the idea to run 66 marathons in 66 cities of the UK in 66 days came from. He trained and planned for a year and on the second day stumbled tearing his right Achilles tendon. Oh what a shame, when did he have another go I hear you ask? He didn't. With medical help, lots of body awareness and determination he ran himself back to full fitness in 9 days. I forgot to mention it wasn't 26.2 miles he was running each day, it was 30.1 miles. Every day for 66 days. He also had massive problems with a swollen left leg, but nothing stopped Andy. He completed his task on target raising thousands for charity in the process.
Meeting these two guys has really made me think about my goals, my ambitions and my direction. I might not be asking 'will it make the boat go faster?', but I am asking 'how can I be better? As a teacher, a business person, a friend'. 'What will make my life better?' 'How can I get fitter?' and many other questions. 'Do I waste too much time?' 'Do I pour all my energies into getting the things I want to achieve done?' By using Ben's questioning attitude and Andy's determination as examples, what could you do? What questions could you ask? Where do you want to be at the end of 2012? At the end of 2013 and beyond? Some people don't link sport to life; they don't think it has relevance. I think they're wrong. Sport teaches us many lessons and it's up to the wise, the questioning and the visionaries to ask their questions to become the winners they want to be. A final thought. With all the hype about Andy Murray's much publicised loss to the magnificent Roger Federer spare a thought for Jonathan Marray and his doubles partner Frederik Nielsen. Marray is an Englishman; the first Englishman since 1936 to win a men's doubles title and yet the British press celebrate someone who lost when Marray should be getting all the plaudits. To add to the drama of the event Marray and Nielsen were wild card entries; the first in the history of the tournament to win in such a way. You can bet that they asked plenty of questions to get their win. Time for us to learn from those who improve and scale the heights.
The title for this came from my friend Vince Vasilou, who runs Ultrabodies gym in Finedon, Northamptonshire. The photo of this article is of me, and I really had to think hard before putting it on show. I quite like it as a photo, but it is very 'look at me'. I'm well aware of this. Two years ago (the week before Christmas 2009) I went to see Vince and asked him to put me on a weight-training programme that would build my back, chest, arms and shoulders. Although I've trained for 30 years (in martial arts, running and using weights) I'd never built significant size or shape. Vince is a great guy; very opinionated, but very knowledgeable with a terrific sense of humour. His gym is a fantastic place to work out, full of characters and physiques of all shapes and sizes. Vince was the man to ask about building myself up. What troubled me was that I was starting to look decidedly middle-aged. I was 46 years old with a bit of a belly and no upper body development. I looked crap to be honest.
What triggered this thought was my girlfriend liked a developed physique and mine was developing into an orange shape; not quite what she had in mind. In other words I started the routine to impress her. My first workout was not impressive at all. Vince put me on a chest and back workout, followed by shoulders after a days rest and arms after the same rest period. As he explained a body develops with stimulation, rest and nutrition, in equal measures. For a long time I'd been going to the gym twice a week, pretending to lift weights. I knew in my heart I was looking for the easiest exercises. My running was intermittent; I was too 'busy'. The result was a 40" chest and a 40" belly, with a 36" waist. That first proper workout showed just how pathetic my routines were. I couldn't do one chin up, my bench press was pitiful. At the end of the workout I told Vince that was the hardest workout I've ever done. He laughed and said when I look back you won't believe what I'd just said. That night I woke around 3am with the feeling that my back had grown wings; it literally felt as if my back muscles were expanding as I lay there. I was in agony for nearly a week, but I went back for every session.
That first year was one of weeks of intensity with the odd injury here and there, moving into a new house and other weeks where I didn't go, however, most of the time I trained well. After the first year I'd definitely grown in the chest and back. My arms had improved a little and and my shoulders were stubbornly showing signs of growth. I'd lost some of my belly and a little of my waist. 2011, for all it's faults, has been a great one for training. I learnt more about long distance running in January and that spurred me on. I put more time into longer distances (up to 18 miles) and that affected my strength somewhat. The last few months have been great training months with the running around 3 to 6 miles a session four days a week and weights three days per week. My diet has been mostly very good. As a vegetarian I have to find additional ways of getting protein into my body and I've experimented with various supplements and recipes.
Here then, I am. After two years of work and diligence I'm pleased with the progress I've made. I've put 3.5 inches on my chest and back; taken 2.5 inches off my belly, 1.5 inches off my waist, half an inch off my thigh and added half an inch to my arm. When I started there was no difference between my belly and my chest, now there is 6 inches difference. I've gone from straight up and down (with a pot belly) to angular. What's the point of all of this narcissism? The point is that looking good makes you feel good, inside; it gives you confidence. It's why fat clubs are busy all year long and why people come to see me about losing weight. One, I know what it's like to be overweight and two, I understand that it's a long term thing. You have to put in the work. The rewards are that you feel good, feel more confident, the opposite sex like it, that makes you feel more confident too. Martial arts is about the mind-body connection. So is running and so is weight-training. I'm going to keep on improving and keep working. No drugs, no meat; just good nutrition, proper hydration, the right amount of sleep and good exercise. I want my belly flat and six packed (I have a 3 pack at the moment!), I want bigger arms, better shoulders and maybe a bit more back and chest. In 2012 I want to be more toned, fitter and in better shape than I am now - already the best I've ever been. This has been achieved because of the help I've received at the gym from Vince and Kieran who works there, plus all my buddies at the gym who contribute to the banter that keeps me sane. I've done the work, but no-one improves alone. At the weekend I showed my son the photo I've posted above. He said 'Who's that?'. I said 'me'. He said 'Really?' I said 'yes'. He said 'Dad, you have to buy tighter t-shirts!' Thanks Noah, I'll pass on that, but I was pleased to be able to surprise you.
I'm often asked about my lifestyle choices: why don't you drink? Don't you miss meat? Claims then follow of dying for a bacon sandwich. "I couldn't live without caffeine." I hear all these things a lot. They are usually followed by how boring my life must be. Well, here's the thing. My life is neither boring, nor lacking for not eating meat, drinking caffeine, smoking or drinking alcohol. I've done all these things and at certain times in my life I've made the decision to stop doing them. Equal disbelief is often uttered when I mention some of the challenges I've done - especially the long distance running or walking events. I'm sure we all realise that we're all different - I'm just a little more different than others!
I began running before I started martial arts - by three months. My first run was in April 1981 on a Friday evening. I went out in jeans and a leather jacket with shoes on so that no-one would actually know what I was doing. I slowed down a couple of times as I went past strangers walking towards me so they wouldn't think I was a 'jogger'. Running wasn't done as much back then. When I had completed my mile 'run' I was exhausted. 'Starsky & Hutch' used to be on tv on a Friday evening - when I collapsed in the chair to watch it, the programme had just started - by the time it had finished 50 minutes later I had just about got my breath back. Undeterred I kept going out, feeling a little better each time. Two turning points were getting onto Ventolin to help my asthma and stopping smoking. Can you believe I was asthmatic and smoked? My god, I've made some stupid decisions in my life. Quitting cigarettes and cigars was one of my best. It wasn't too long before I discovered races and began with half marathons, then marathons - I ran 5 in all, with so many shorter races I can't remember how many I did. I did my last marathon in 1986, but continued to run shorter races, on and off, all the way up to today.
This year I learned new things about running; things that amazed me after doing it for such a long time. Things like we are born to run, designed to run with the nuchal ligament (it's in the neck), achilles tendon and muscular buttocks. Animals that don't have these things don't run - like chimpanzees for example, our closest DNA match in the animal kingdom. I've also learnt about Scott Jurek and other ultra distance runners and more importantly I've learnt about the Tarahumara - the running people of Mexico. With members of the tribe who can run 50-60 miles in one go at age 70-80 years old; of the younger members who do 48 hour races and cover, on average, 300 miles at a time. These ideas blew my mind a little and made me think that I can at least do a marathon. As it's turned out work has prevented me from doing the mileage necessary to complete a marathon this year (I did get up to 18 miles in the summer), but I'm still out there 3-4 days per week notching up the miles.
The point about running is what it gives you, other than just muscle tone and good heart and lungs. First of all it raises your serotonin level, this means a gentle feeling that the world is ok; this in turn leads to more positive thoughts so that when you run the ideas that come to you don't tend to be depressing ones. Infact, having just thought about this I have never come back from a run with negative thoughts about a challenge I have been trying to solve. Contrast that with the sadness that can come from a night on the booze, after the initial high. It's not that I'm against drinking, I'm not; it's just not for me. I also feel that when the weekend comes around I get two days of it, not one. How often do I hear, or read Facebook statuses that claim a hangover, or couldn't get up until the afternoon. I thought about this last week when I ran through a park in Antwerp: 8am on a Sunday morning and I found a small castle, complete with moat. It was beautiful and perfect and took me completely by surprise. It's highly unlikely I would ever have seen it if I wasn't a runner; it's just one of the many experiences I've had because of running. I guess then, my thought is, that you live your life how you see fit. For me it's about exercise, health and in particular, running. if your lifestyle choice is Friday and Saturday night out, drinking with your friends, I'm cool with that, I just prefer my way to yours.
Fear comes in many forms and many guises. Do you ever get scared of a particular challenge? Of doing something that will test you physically, emotionally and spiritually? Every year I find a challenge for myself - something that will push me, that will hurt me and which I will overcome. I'm yet to fail a challenge I have set myself, but only because I have planned and been well prepared. Sometimes life doesn't give you those opportunities, but we have to face the pain anyway and move on. When I first saw 'Saving Private Ryan' I sat in the cinema transfixed to the battle scene at the start of the film; I couldn't believe the ferocity and sat asking myself 'what would I have done?' After the film I phoned a friend of mine who served in the first Gulf War and many other campaigns. I asked him 'what do you do in situations like that ? When you are under heavy fire and you are certain you will die'. He said 'you have to move forward, it's the only choice you have. If you stay where you are, you'll die. If you run forward at least you have a chance'.
I learned massively from that conversation. It's true; if you stay where you are, you die. This is true of every sphere of your life. If you don't attack hard when under threat you will lose. If you don't nurture your relationship and make it grow, it will die. If you don't work on your business, other people will work on theirs and your business will die. If you don't strive to improve at work either the company will die or your position in the company will. If you want to progress then you must move forward, you must train harder and smarter and you must face life without fear.
Easier said than done. We worry about what might happen if we take a stand, if we say something we believe in, but many do not. Winston Churchill had this challenge in the 1930's when talking about Hitler. At the time no-one wanted to listen to 'Churchill, the war mongerer'; he was proved right though. Often we believe ourselves to be right about particular issues. We have to be congruent with our convictions and so we move forward. We're not always right though and we can worry that we are going to make a 'bad decision'. You can even see this at a restaurant; people will sit and look at the menu for a few minutes and then ask 'what are you having?' They can't even make a decision about food. What chance do these people have in the real world? It's not about getting it 100% right, it's often good enough to have a go at 50-60% as long as some positive action occurs. people who describe themselves as 'perfectionists' are often too scared to make a decision of any sort. They'll wait until just the right moment, except that rarely are there ever any good moments, we just have to trust our instincts and go with it.
In my last blog I talked about 'consistency'. This comes into play again with the fear of being made to look a fool, or of people looking at you, preventing you from training in martial arts. The truth is you just have to make a good decision. A decision that moves you closer to your ultimate goal - if you don't know what that goal is then it is no wonder you're having problems. Remember, no matter what background you have, some success that you are trying to achieve, everything happens because you faced your fear and made a decision. This spreads across your life: the girl or boy you chose to spend your life with (how long will it last?); the job or career decision you made; the shoes and clothes you wore to your last interview. 80% is enough to become a raging success. If you're only getting it wrong on 20% of the time, you must hit it big, by sheer statistics. The old 80-20 rule. The video I've included this week is a little long; if you want to skip to the truly brave part go to 7.19 and watch it from there. To get the complete metaphor watch how the officer's weak decisions got people killed by watching the whole video.. It is when you are at your lowest point that you will often find how strong you are. Your worst day can often be your best day, when viewed in hindsight. You can also re-examine a mistake from the past to see the way forward as well. Have courage, be brave, be scared and do it anyway.
The biggest challenge to getting good at martial arts, or anything come to think of it, is consistency. The art of turning up. The hardest part of that is getting your butt out of the chair or the sofa. It's no surprise to me that the busiest classes at UFS are usually the early classes. People don't get the chance to sit down, they come straight from work and come to a class. Hey, there are even energy drinks at the centre now if you're feeling a little tired! I've been teaching martial arts for over 24 years now and in that time I've seen really talented people, some really mediocre people and lots of people with a little talent. The same way I was when I began martial arts in 1981. What kept me going, took me to World Championship finals and competing in so many running races was the consistency. I'm a good trainer. I can be the laziest person you've met, but I'm also driven to train hard.
This is even more true when I set myself a clear, defineable goal. In my 20's I ran marathons and many shorter races, even a short triathlon once. My martial arts continued alongside, but the races became my focus. From 1990 to 1996 I competed in stick-fighting tournaments winning a British title and couple of lesser titles and two world championship silver medals. In my 40's I discovered long distance walking and did the 3 Peaks and Hadrian's Wall; this was 5 of us doing the 86 miles (we did 2 extra when we got lost) in 3.5 days, compared to the average of 7. Early this year I rediscovered long distance running again. My longest training run was 18 miles and I ran a 16 mile cross country race in April. I'm planning on a marathon in 2012. The point is I need goals. I need something to aim for. I think the problem that many students have is they don't plan their goals.
In the early days it's easy. Lots of enthusiasm and the first three belts are ripped through quite quickly. At Orange belt (the fourth grading) the material suddenly becomes far more complex and some people are put off by this. They came to 'do kickboxing'. I've never understood this mentality. It's like going to a restaurant and only wanting garlic mushrooms when there is so much more to try. A desire to want to learn is essential, as is the passion for improvement. In life far too many people settle, they do it in their martial arts training too. Too often the most talented don't have the work ethic of someone less talented - and guess who stays the longest? It's always the person with the best work ethic. The person willing to forego the frustration and tedium that happen in training sometimes. It's all about showing up. I included the video of Damian Walters because he demonstrates, so well, just how good you can be with regular, devoted training.
If you're sitting at home reading this and asking yourself why you haven't trained for sometime I can tell you why now. You make excuses. You tell yourself life gets in the way, the truth is training isn't that important to you. I'm not criticising, I'm just telling you the truth. If you want to get good, show up. If you want to improve, do more. If you want to be the best you can be, make it a priority. I recently watched 'The Social Network' - the movie about how Facebook came to be. It's a great movie, but what impressed me the most was Mark Zuckerbergs' work ethic. He worked his butt off to make Facebook the global phenomenon it is. He may have made some unscrupulous decisions, but he put the time in. Martial arts is the same. It's not about talent, it's not about who you know, it's all about who you are. Keep showing up and you're going to get better, there is no other way.