I’ve been fascinated by two types of fitness since I was a teenager – weight training and the fighting arts. By weight training I mean mainly bodybuilding and power lifting. Fighting arts covers a wide range including the traditional martial arts like karate and kung fu, sport fighting (boxing, kickboxing, and MMA), and tactical military or street self defense. Primarily, like many kids who experienced being bullied and scared, my goal was to gain strength and self confidence.
I started weight training in my home at 14. Once I was old enough to have a car I immediately joined a gym. Two days after seeing a Bruce Lee movie in my late teens I joined an Okinawan karate school then later moved to kickboxing, Muay Thai, boxing and MMA, among more traditional styles. My need to learn was insatiable and I devoured every magazine and book I could find (this was a long time ago so that’s all we had, folks). This passion to learn and try to excel continues to this day as I approach 70 years old.
What I didn’t realize until years later, was that the lessons I learned from both forms of fitness were more subtle and completely changed my life. I mentioned being scared. In addition to this issue, I was completely ungrounded. I drank, watched lots of TV, wrecked cars and ran with a rough crowd. As I spent years around successful bodybuilders, power lifters and fighters my mental conditioning subtly changed to be more and more like them. What developed has many names. The writer Mark Manson calls it anti-fragility. Some call it mental toughness. I call it warrior spirit. It is epitomized by military axioms like “pain is weakness leaving the body’ or “embrace the suck”. It is a combination of many factors.
The first thing that usually develops is discipline. You decide what you want and commit to do whatever it takes to get there – workouts, diets, hours of practice and sparring. Consistency and stubbornness start to displace weakness, fear of pain and laziness. Very quickly after discipline you should develop patience. Gains in strength or proficiency usually come slower that we want. That long term vision and patience combined with discipline get us there.
As discipline becomes more of a lifestyle, higher levels of self control are achieved. You know what you can handle (and it is a lot)! You increase the intensity of your training to get to higher levels – heavier weights, supersets and dropsets, more advanced kicks and longer sparring sessions with tougher opponents. This requires even more discipline and self control. Your ability to withstand pain and discomfort grows. You even look forward to it in a crazy way because you know the end game requires it. You won’t surrender.
This is warrior spirit! Many people that I know and most that I prefer to associate with have it. But in my experience fighters, bodybuilders, power lifters and extreme athletes almost universally possess it. Keep it up my friends!