The two words that I have been focused on for the past few months. When I came back to fighting last year I went into the process with a different and new mindset, one I hoped was more dynamic, resilient and could adjust to suit the specific situation. The amount of personal reflection I underwent in that period allowed me to be more honest in both my personal life and in my athletic career, which makes perfect sense considering crossover exists in every area. No skill is developed in a silo, but neither is a deficit.
One of my strengths and weaknesses is that I think, a lot. Too much, in fact. I fixate on risks, consequences and possible opponent strategies. That combined with a healthy dose of empathy – thank you, Mom, I love you for it – lead to some underwhelming performances and a hesitancy to pull the trigger. During my forced reflection I focused on developing a mindset capable of both assessing those strengths/deficiencies and also creating a strategy for optimizing them.
Enter…Playfully Savage. My present moniker and default internal dialogue.
Let’s unpack each part individually as both came to me in very different ways.
In 2008 a gentleman named Chris Ruder created the brand Spikeball, based around a 1980’s Toys R Us version of ‘round net.’ If you have never played -I feel for you- imagine volleyball in 360 degrees. Their website boasts the claim “the greatest game you have ever played” and they might be right.
We love to play at our summer training program, we – meaning the players and coaches, at least those good enough – spend hours jockeying for position, spiking the ball, landing cheeky drop shots and being generally obnoxious to everyone. No apologies, everyone playing loves winning or at least hates losing and we’ll sacrifice our pride and body for a child’s game.
It was in one of these epic rallies that it dawned on me, I was playing with three of my athletes, all three of whom play hockey professionally. This meant every person in the game was paid to participate in a sport, to showcase our skills and athletic prowess for paying fans, something so wonderful! Yet here I was having more fun playing this silly game then I had had on the mat in a long time. Trips to the gym were full of expectations, anxiety regarding performance, and general unease. I was placing so much pressure on myself to perform that I couldn’t enjoy the sport for what it is, the truest blend of intelligence and physicality.
Growing up my brother and I would wake up at 6 am in the middle of February, hop in the car-which wouldn’t have warmed up by the time we arrived at the gym- and go learn jiujitsu with a few other frigid souls from the only purple belt in town. No one forced us to go, there were no repercussions for staying in bed, we just loved it and wanted to be there. It didn’t matter if it was pitch black and minus 25, we didn’t care that our hands were freezing and our toes were blue because the heat hadn’t been on all night. We just wanted to train. We wanted to argue for one more point, one more submission. Laugh when one of us caught the other and embrace at the end of the session.
And so, it was in the car ride home after that epic rally that I made a new promise, one that I’m not perfect at but am trying. To be playful, to remember the early mornings spent in a freezing cold gym because I loved the sport, and to bring that attitude into each and every session. To compete as hard as possible but with a smile on my face, because I’m blessed to have the physical ability to do it.
Jordan Peterson, who is a University of Toronto professor, has gained popularity and criticism over the last 18 months for his stance on several controversial topics. Personally, I’m a fan. Although I don’t agree with everything he says I appreciate a definitive stance in a world full of fence sitters. He was on a podcast discussing the state of parenting and during the segment said something that gave me pause and has stayed with me ever since. I am going to paraphrase but after spending 25 minutes looking for the exact clip it seemed better to focus on writing this article, you will get the gist.
“We do not make strong men by making them weak, we make them strong by making them savage and teaching them discipline”
I am in no position to speak on parenting, but as this statement pertains to competing, martial arts, and life, in general, it couldn’t be more perfect.
When it comes to my competition performance I’ve been hesitant, afraid to injure or upset my training partner, or in some weird way my opponent. As if holding back was somehow valiant and noble, I was being a ‘good guy’. I’ve even noticed this with our athletes, most – not all but most – are terrified to stand out and be different, to be the one who tries too hard or crosses the line. The result is a false confidence for your training partners and a victory for your opponents. You do no favors by not executing to the very best of your abilities and winning by as wide a margin as possible. Our entire system is based on competition, it’s healthy and what we are designed for, to compete within the rules of the game, whatever that game is. In the second phase of my career, I’m committed to savagery, to complete physical and emotional domination in a gentlemanly manner.
This lesson is the same for life, the era of participation ribbons and games without score has made us fearful of competitive dominance. We believe everyone should be included fully and I agree everyone should be included initially but your ability to remain in the game is predicated upon your skills and merit. I am not condoning cheating or foul play as a means of advancement but it a game where all the players understand the rules we should aim to crush. Imagine an Olympic games where no one won or lost, it’s an outrageous idea! Viewership would plummet, there would be no excitement, no emotion, and no escape. We wouldn’t watch! We should want the very best players in the game at every level, in every field to help raise the bar.
My last two fights have exemplified that. The day of the fight I was sitting with one of my coaches talking about the training camp, how I felt, the mantra that I had created and why it was important. I was confident, relaxed, and truly ready to execute to my potential. The result? Exactly that, playful savagery. I dominated my opponent in every single area of the fight and had a great time doing it. I challenge you to do the same, in whatever arena your fight occurs, compete to the very last breath and make no apologies for it. In the words of Marianne Williamson:
“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you.”