Get back up.

“It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up.”

George A. Custer (1839-1876);
U.S. Military

I’ve been knocked down a bunch. Especially recently.

Last month, I attended a Krav Maga training where I was the only person out of 8 who had any Krav Maga training. As an experienced teacher, I knew as soon as I heard that, it meant I was about to spend a week with a bunch of people who hadn’t yet developed the skill of self control.

I was proven right on the first afternoon, when I was laying on my back on a plywood floor, and got punched in the nose with a bare fist. And then moments later, got solidly elbowed in the temple. By the same person.

Both times, I stood up, wiped blood off with my sleeve, and fist bumped the guy. “Good shot. Let’s go again.” He seemed a bit baffled that, as the smallest person in the room and the only female, I was tolerant of his lack of control. He turned out to be my favorite training partner for the week.

Later that night, I had two conversations…

First, with my girlfriend. She said, “Wow, he hit you that hard? Where’s the pics of the blood?!” And then she continued on with words of encouragement about how it didn’t really matter how tough I was, but that I was willing to be the training partner who could sustain other people’s need for aggression without objecting to their lack of control. (This is a position she and I find ourselves in quite often, even against each other.)

This was in between conversations about what was happening back at the gym, including who was being what kind of asshole and why we would love to scrap it all and start from scratch.

Somewhere in the middle of our conversation, when I wasn’t nursing my broken nose, I sketched a quick note…”get punched and come back ready for more.”

The other conversation I had that night was with my dad. He said “well, give these guys back what they’re dishing out,” and I explained that wasn’t my responsibility here. He said, “wow…you’re better than me.”

Thanks, Dad. Not always.

I’ve had plenty of sparring partners who have tagged me, which has pushed my “kick their f’ing ass” button and I’ve come up from the quick dizzy stagger swinging for the fences. Many coaches and training partners would tell you that I’m a defensive fighter until someone gets that first good shot in. And then I come up growling and putting them on their heels.

And what I sketched in my notebook that night between bloody noses and chats with my girl, was that my experience getting literally punched in the face is not unlike my recent professional experience.

You hit me, either fair and square or cheaply, and I will come at you with a fierceness you may very well have underestimated.

I’ve said this a bunch over the past year…”I don’t need a pat on the back, but I’m tired of getting punched in the gut.”  I took a week away from running my business to advance my own training. And I got blasted in the face a ton. I sat down every night after training, resolved to do better the next day. With each passing day, I realized I was ready to fight the fight for my business when I got back.

I’m done getting figuratively punched in the gut. Somehow it took getting actually punched in the face to figure out what that meant.

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Arbitrary Ideals

If you’re part of the CrossFit community, you’re no doubt inundated by the incessant posting of your social media friends talking about their predictions, opinion and performance on that dreaded thing called 14.1. It’s annoying, right?

Well, here’s one more.

I told myself at the beginning of the Open, that I would do each workout once, and be satisfied with whatever score I managed to get. After all, way back when I started CrossFit, that’s how this stage of competition operated. It was called Sectionals. It was a one-day event, just like Regionals used to be, and you had to bring your A-game.

And then, I did 14.1 yesterday, and didn’t even come close to the score I got on the same exact workout in 2011.

I was pissed. I double-checked the math and considered calling my previous judge and asking if they lied.

So I did it again today around 4 pm. And I still didn’t beat my old score.

So I did it again today about 20 minutes before the score submission deadline, just 3 hours later.

And then, even though I finally beat my 2011 score, I was disappointed that I didn’t break 200 reps.

Gasping for breath, frustrated over 4 missed reps, cursing the CrossFit website that crashed just after I withdrew my afternoon score but before I managed to submit my evening score, I asked myself, “what happened to ‘do it just once’ ?!?”

And I realized, “doing it just once” was an arbitrary ideal. It’s an idea that sounds righteous and committed and purist in my head, but doesn’t actually ring true with what was important to me. Which was seeing improvement over 3 years of training.  And feeling like I could finally string together double-unders. And finally, that happened. I beat my score by a mere 3 reps, and I did my first set of DUs unbroken in about 35 seconds.

But I didn’t realize any of that meant anything to me until it failed to happen twice.

So, now I know, be cautious of my own arbitrary ideals. Don’t try to stick to something because it sounds cool or because I think people will be like, “wow, I couldn’t do that! Better you than me!” Because really, there’s people who would say, “wow, I couldn’t do the workout three times in under 24 hours. Better you than me!” but that wasn’t ever my inspiration. Turns out, being better than the last version of myself is what’s really important to me in this bizarre worldwide experience.

And, it turns out, I am.

Will belt for a dollar

The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively. –Bob Marley

Integrity is a word that gets kicked around quite a bit, especially in the martial arts community. In fact, I think it’s one of the four words embroidered on many TKD black belts I’ve seen in my travels. But embroidering it on your belt and living it are two completely different things.

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if we all start out on a path of integrity and somehow get swallowed up by a life that demands something less. And I’m just young enough to believe I won’t be swallowed.

When I got my black belt in Krav Maga, I belonged to an organization that had awarded just 8 black belts in 3 years. As it should be, we worked our asses off for that belt. Literal blood, sweat and tears got us there. Plus a few broken bones. And we took pride in the fact that we were part of a small community with integrity. It was hard to get to that level because the bar was set high and remained there. For a while.

In the 3 years since I earned that black belt, that same organization has awarded 9 more black belts and has begun 12-months-or-less-to-black-belt training for at least 20 more. Some of these are people who started Krav Maga 12 months prior to their (scheduled) black belt test date.

Why the shift?

Well, it’s simple: $$$. If you developed a plan where someone who wanted to achieve a certain goal, could do so by attending 3 mandatory trainings (for which they pay $300+ per training) and arrive at that goal in 12 months, regardless of their prior experience or current talent, wouldn’t you put as many people through that plan as possible?

Well, yea. If the greed monster had sucked your integrity out your ass.

This is a beef that many people have with youth martial arts programs, and I think we’re seeing it pervade the adult schools as well. Belt tests are seen as a revenue generator, and the “pay to play” mentality overrides any hint of integrity that once existed in the system. School owners would rather advance someone who is not really ready, than miss out on a belt test fee. What they’re left with is inflated numbers of under-qualified members, and eventually, a severely tarnished reputation for their organization.

So now, I feel obligated to explain that I got one of those first 8 black belts, and not one of the new 30.

I recently distributed black belt invitations to 5 people in my school. I think 3 of them have what it takes to make it this year, and I hope the other two will kick it into high gear and surprise me. Probably next year. Do all of them (and more people in my school) understand the technical curriculum requirements of advancing? Yes. Do they all deserve black belts right this minute? No way in hell.

To me, earning a black belt is about more than demonstrating that you’ve learned some specific curriculum. It’s about your character. It’s about what you bring to the table in my community. It’s about the effort you put in, the attitude you bring to your training, and whether or not I watch what you do (both on and off the mat) and say “s/he gets it!”

Pay to play doesn’t fly here.

When I got my black belt, I was young enough (31) to believe that the people who awarded mine believed that was the case. And jaded as I may now be, I am young enough (34) to believe that will always be the case for my organization.

Some people embroider a word on their belt. That’s not me. Some tattoo it on their skin. Yea, that’s me. And some live the very essence of that word, no matter the cost. Check in with me in 10 years…that’ll still be me.