Welcome to Episode #63 of the Fight for a Happy Life podcast, “True Confidence.”
The secret to building confidence really isn’t a secret at all. The roots of confidence will always be preparation and experience. But… is that it?
Is it possible to reach an even deeper level of faith in your capabilities… a level beyond confidence?
I say yes!
In this episode, I share my formula to achieve a state of being you might call “true confidence”.
At least, that’s what I call it!
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Thanks for listening! Keep fighting for a happy life!
Today on Fight for a Happy Life… confidence. True confidence.
Back again. This is episode #63 of Fight for a Happy Life, the show that believes a little martial arts makes life a whole lot better. My name is Ando and, as always, I am honored that you clicked play to spend a little time together.
The world can be a lonely place, can’t it? I’m not trying to get dark here, but it’s easy to question who you are, what you do, or whether or not anything matters.
Wait, this is getting even darker. What I mean is life is sure a lot more fun and rewarding when you find other people walking on the same path.
I just got back from a little trip to the East Coast and I spent time with Sifu TW Smith, an old friend of this podcast, and I spent some time connecting with new friends down in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Hey! Big shout out to everyone over at Stevens Family Tae Kwon Do.
When you find great people like those fighting the same fights that you’re fighting, you can’t help but feel more confidence that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And when I look at my statistics for the show and I see a couple thousand or sometimes even a few thousand people like you listening in, it absolutely shines a light into the dark corners of my head. So, thank you for being here.
If you ever find yourself feeling alone, I hope that this show will give you more confidence that you’re on the right path, too. And while we’re on the subject of confidence, I want to tell you little story about the roots of my confidence as a martial artist and a human being. So, let me take a sip coffee and I’ll be right back.
Let me tell you about my Taekwondo instructor. His name was Dan, although I never once called him that.
Dan was a big guy. I’d say at least 260 pounds. But he carried it very well. He was barrel chested, but narrow in the hips, so even though he carried few extra pounds around the middle, he was surprisingly agile.
When a big guy can move like a small guy, it can be terrifying. When that same guy has skills, it’s even more terrifying. And when that same guy has a killer instinct and seems to love fighting more than anything, well, you’ve got a problem.
So, as a young green belt, sparring with Dan was definitely a challenge. I remember one night when I was having a really rough time. Dan wasn’t holding back and was sticking it to me. I’m not complaining here, I probably deserved it.
Either way, my ego at the time didn’t see losing as a learning experience. To me, sparring was a competition and I was the one getting punched, kicked, and pushed around…and I didn’t like it.
In one short round of sparring, my emotions ran through denial, anger, frustration and ultimately, disillusionment. He was the better man and there was nothing I could do about it.
But Dan was a good man. He saw what was going on and after we bowed out, he said something to me that changed everything. He said—
“You know, you’re never going to spar anyone tougher than me. So, if you can survive this, you’ll be fine.”
Huh. Now, at first, that might just sound like bragging. I mean, it’s pretty arrogant to declare that he’s the toughest guy I’ll ever spar. But that’s not what he was saying. He was saying that I was tough just because I was sparring with him.
If I had any success, landed one punch, one kick, blocked anything, stayed on my feet, didn’t run away, or fall down, then I’m actually doing pretty good. I mean, if I can survive a physical attack against someone 100 pounds heavier, armed with 20 years of experience, and a killer instinct, well, then the idea of facing someone my size, without skills, even with a killer instinct, should be a much more manageable situation.
Dan’s comment revealed to me the whole purpose of training in the first place. The point of training is to fail in abnormal situations so that you can succeed in normal situations.
The point is to feel overwhelmed in an unlikely circumstance, so that you’ll feel in control in a likely circumstance.
Which means, my ego wasn’t wrong in approaching sparring as a competition I just made the mistake of thinking that I was competing against Dan instead of myself. The fact that I felt angry, frustrated, and defeated was the proof that my head was in the wrong place.
The challenge wasn’t whether or not I could beat Dan, it was whether or not I would let him beat me. That lesson has stuck with me to this day.
Thank you, Dan. God rest your soul.
In the same way, I remember something mu Kung Fu instructor, Sifu Matt, who you may have seen in a couple of videos, telling me early on in my training that he could tell when someone was a good student because they would laugh in the middle of losing.
I see this myself as a teacher. Some kids and adults tense up when they fall. Or get overwhelmed by strikes. Or get pinned. They tense up and get angry and defeated and frustrated.
But then there are other students who laugh. Or smile. They get up with the spark in their eyes and they say, “What the hell was that?” or “How did you do that?”
They recognize that there’s something they don’t know, there’s something they need to get better at… and it excites them! It makes them want to keep learning and trying.
That is a completely different path than a student who gets frustrated and upset. That guy goes home feeling like a loser. That guy makes excuses. That guy quits.
The other guy, the one who can smile even in defeat, that’s the one who’s going to stick around for a while. They’re going to listen and experiment and come back better. So, I sure hope that’s the kind of student you are!
Dan’s advice that night changed my whole outlook on what I was getting out of class. I wasn’t training to be the best fighter in the room, I was training to figure out how to survive against the best fighter in the room.
Does that make sense? The point of training is to learn and develop, not just repeat old successes. But that development requires partners. Partners who can beat you. It also requires setting up drills where you lose… and lose badly, if possible.
If you want to be winner, you have to be a loser.
Now, I’m not saying that you should be proud of yourself because nothing you do ever works… that’s a problem. What I’m saying is that I want my training to be way harder than any real-life situation will ever be.
I mean, I suppose it’s possible that real-life can throw me into a chaotic nightmare, but that hasn’t happened yet. Which means, as long as I can keep surviving my training, I’m ready for everything else in my real life.
For instance, I recently ran a multiple attacker drill—eight versus one. With weapons. No kidding. Eight people with sticks and knives all attacking at the same time. An unlikely scenario, but a real challenge, wouldn’t you say?
The fact is it’s an impossible challenge! I died multiple times… and quickly. So did everyone else. But that’s the point of the drill.
I can’t remember if I mentioned this before, but years ago, I had a training partner who never understood this kind of training. Even if we set up a drill where it was just two on one or maybe one of the attackers has a knife, he would always say, “Come on, what are the odds that this would ever happen?”
Man, that drove me nuts. I would snap back, “Dude! That’s not the point! The point is to see how much you can handle.”
It’s like lifting weights. When you lift weights, you don’t make estimates of what you think you’ll be lifting in the near future.
“Gee, let’s see… I’m going to the grocery store tonight… I’ll probably fill two bags, maybe each weighing 15 pounds, so I’ll load this bar here at the gym with 30 pounds. Oh, wait, I need a case of water, so I’ll add an extra 24 pounds. Wait a minute, I could make two trips form the car…”
AGH! No, no, no. That’s enough of that. You don’t lift weights thinking of how much you might need to lift, you just lift as much as you can, right? You lift an unlikely amount of weight so that you’ll be able to handle the tasks that are likely to come up in your daily life.
Hopefully, they might even seem easy. That’s the point.
Same with martial arts training. You shouldn’t think, “Well, I never get into fights, so I’ll just stretch. Actually, what are the odds I’ll ever have to do a full split? Forget it. I’ll just play video games tonight.”
Ridiculous, right? I say we should be preparing for all out war. Not just with one drunken idiot in a bar, but against a team of armed assassins. If you can figure out how to survive against a team of armed assassins, then that solo, unarmed, drunken idiot should be much simpler to deal with.
Please note that I said simple there, not easy. I never say easy when it comes to self-defense. I mean, even one drunken idiot can suddenly pull out a knife and stab you in the heart. There’s nothing easy about that. Which is why I don’t want to fight at all… and you shouldn’t, either!
The Secret to True Confidence
So, that’s the reason I feel confident as a martial artist. Not because I’m fast, strong, big, or even tough. I’m none of those things!
It’s because I’ve spent years going out of my way to feel overwhelmed. I’ve purposely put myself in training situations that I can’t win… not all the time, anyway. And because of that, I’ve gained knowledge.
I’ve learned what I can do and what I can’t do. I’ve learned to not take losing personally. I’ve learned that I always have a chance. I’ve learned to keep trying.
So, is setting a goal to be a black belt or earn another black belt worth your time? Sure. But you know what’s even better? Setting a goal to survive against any black belt! Or any person walking the earth. Or any situation on this earth or beyond.
And that starts by gaining experience. The experience of holding your ground in the face of difficult challenges. The experience of failing and not letting your spirit break. The experience of being tough and withstanding discomfort.
It’s a paradox, I suppose, but by setting up training experiences where you can lose, you increase the chances that you’re going to win.
Let me give a quick sidenote for the teachers out there. As I’ve gotten older as a teacher, I’ve come to realize that I really can’t make anybody be good at martial arts. When I was younger, I really thought I could. As a result, my heart has been broken for years by the lackadaisical attitude of most students.
Until I realized that my frustration is no different then being angry at the sky for being blue every day. There’s nothing wrong with the sky. And there’s nothing wrong if most people don’t want to do a deep dive into the world of martial arts training. Or any training for that matter.
Once I accepted that, I changed my focus from technical issues to character issues.
I may not be able to make you fix your punch but I can create a class experience that’s difficult for you. I can make you sweat. I can overwhelm you.
I could push you through discomfort so you realize that you’re braver than you thought. Tougher than you thought. Smarter than you thought.
It was never really about the belt anyway, right? It was always about improving your life by improving yourself.
So, my challenge to you is to find a bigger challenge. If you’re already feeling challenged where you are, great—keep going. Be proud of yourself every time you show up… even when you lose. Especially when you lose.
Because you’re learning something that the people who gave up never figured out. You’re proving to yourself that you can survive. That you can solve problems. And I’ll bet those problems inside your school are far more difficult than any problem you’re going to face outside your school.
That’s the whole reason for showing up. Your dojo is hopefully a safe place to go beyond your normal day. To tap into a deeper level of your commitment, courage, and effort. Like lifting weights, your martial arts training is a chance to do more then you will ever really need to, so that if you do ever need to do something, you’re more than prepared for it.
It’s all about the effort. It’s about going beyond the normal and into the abnormal. The reward for that is confidence and that, my friend, is better than any black belt.
Let’s break this down a little more. The secret to confidence isn’t just doing what you have to do over and over again. For me, the secret is doing more than you have to do over and over again.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the motto of the Boy Scouts of America… Be Prepared. As a young man, I liked that motto. It made sense. It was a cure for anxiety and for incompetence.
But as I grew older, I got the feeling that it didn’t go far enough. Nowadays, my motto, particularly when it comes to martial arts training, has become, Be Over-Prepared. Do more.
The only trick to making that motto work is to recognize that the failure you experience when you put extra stress on yourself is beneficial and not a step backwards.
Meaning if I’m very good at fighting one person at a time, then I feel confident. If I spar two people at a time and get hit more often or get taken down more often, I can’t lose my confidence. I still have to be proud of the successes in my effort.
If I spar eight people at a time and I get hit repeatedly and I end up on the ground getting kicked over and over again and there’s no evidence that I’ve ever trained a day in my life, I still need to see that as a success.
That’s the tricky part. I have to realize that my success was staying on my feet for seven seconds instead of five seconds before I crashed and burned. Or maybe I hit three people instead of just one person. I’m not denying my defeat… I’m just drawing every drop of success out of that defeat that I can.
Now, because I train like that whenever I can, if you ask me to spar one person with no weapon, I’m not just confident, I transcend the very concept of confidence. I’m not worried at all.
It’s not that I possess super human capabilities, it’s not that I’m guaranteed to win, but psychologically, I know I’ve not only succeeded in this situation before, I’ve succeeded in far more difficult situations before. And that sets my mind and my spirit in a very calm, creative state. That state I would call true confidence.
Imagine you’re training for your next belt test. You’ve got butterflies in your stomach, you’ve been cramming as much practice time into your schedule for the last month, you’re worried about that one kick that never feels quite right, but you’re tough. You show up anyway.
Okay. So, you get to the test and your instructor calls you up. Your heart speeds up, your palms are sweaty, you’re wondering why you keep putting yourself through this torture. Then your instructor tells you this, “Today, for your test, I’m only going to ask you to perform one task. I want you to spar my five-year-old nephew, Brandon.”
What? You turn around and sure enough, there’s a five-year-old boy in a tee shirt and shorts sitting on the floor playing with Legos. The instructor stands him up, points him at you, and tells him, “Okay, Brandon, it’s punchy-punch-kick time.”
Now, how does that make you feel? Is there any part of you that is worried about your performance against Brandon?
Would you say that you feel confident in your chances or would you say that your state of mind has transcended confidence?
Isn’t it true that you feel so over-prepared for this task, that you feel free in your body, free in your thinking, and free in your creative spirit?
If you don’t, then I can’t help you. Maybe you should just go bake some cookies. But I think you get what I’m saying here. I don’t want you to just squeak by when you’re confronted with a challenge, I want you to have it so under control that you are free to think about other things.
Again, I don’t want to ever use the term easy when it comes to self-defense, but I do think it’s reasonable to set up training experiences that are so difficult, and so stressful, that a real-life confrontation will seem very clear and simple by comparison. If not physically, at least emotionally.
To be clear, I’m not saying this is the secret formula for never getting stabbed or punched. Hey, I can still be mugged, beaten, and killed like anybody else. But my chances will be better than most people if they’ve never pushed themselves physically and emotionally into situations that are chaotic and dangerous. My chances will always be better if I have been training to build true confidence.
That’s what Dan was telling me right from the beginning.
So, seek confidence, yes… but don’t stop there. I would like you to transcend the very concept of confidence.
I want you to transcend doubt, fear and courage. Ultimately, I don’t want you to think about failure or success at all. The real goal is true confidence.
The real goal is to turn the most difficult tasks into playtime. Brandon plays with Legos. You play with life.
The goal is to move through your world in a state of calm creativity no matter who or what you face. That powerful state only happens two ways, though.
First, if you’re completely indifferent to your health and safety and stop caring about anything. But that’s a dangerous path. If you don’t care about anything, you’ll let people treat you badly and you might stop looking both ways before you cross the street.
If you do care about improving your life and you do care about improving the lives of the people around you, then the second way, the healthy way, is the one for you.
On that path, you don’t just prepare to fight, you over-prepare. You seek out challenges whenever you can. You throw yourself into deep waters. You’re the first to try something new.
Let normal people seek confidence. If they find it, good for them. But remember, you’re not one of them.
You’re not normal. You’re a martial artist.
You’re on a path that the majority of your friends and family think is crazy. Punching, kicking, and choking each other for fun and personal development—that’s not normal. Be we love it anyway!
So, go deeper into the madness. A little martial arts makes life a whole lot better, yes, but a lot of martial arts makes it sublime. Heavenly. Or at least as good as it gets.
So, double down. Dig deeper. Go crazy. That’s where you’re going to find your full power… and that’s where you’re going to find true confidence.
Keep fighting for a happy life!
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