5 April 2016

Identify and utilise your weaknesses

Everyone has the desire to become more. Some people dream of fortune or fame, others want a sporting career, a healthy body, love, happiness and every other ideal state in existence. Where they usually fail is in the mental conditioning required to achieve their dreams.

The majority of people are lazy, myself included. If I can find an easier way to do something I will. I have procrastinated with the best and talked my way out of doing something I didn't want to. I'm sure you have done similar in your life. That doesn't mean you won't achieve anything.

What will prevent you from your goals, desires and dreams is failing to train your mental capabilities. One of the first and arguably most important skills to tackle this is the ability to discern your weakness and turn it into something positive.

Many of you would have heard something like this before. I've heard it many times and it always annoyed me for the simple fact that those spouting it couldn't explain how, or used it as a line to sell you something. I refuse to be clumped into either set, and thus will share my weaknesses and how I use them for my goals or as motivation.

Things I cannot change
There are many things that can weaken our mental toughness, and they take several forms. Things like genetics, our upbringing, environment and education are out of our control entirely, or for almost two decades since birth.

Genetics may interfere with your goals, not only in your body but also in your mental disposition. We can't change being born with a physical defect or simply a predisposition to certain ailments. We hear about natural athletes, but what about the other end of the spectrum? The human body can be trained to a certain extent but if your genetics are not built around athleticism then you will struggle to reach the pinnacle of any sport. That doesn't me we shouldn't try to improve, we just need to understand that their is an upper limit to our physical abilities. This is called Physical Intelligence (PI).

You can't change your genetics...yet
PI includes co-ordination, reflexes, balance, proprioception etc but also involves understanding when you are hungry, thirsty, tired or in pain. These are very difficult to train and improve. This is the same for your IQ. Training can improve IQ a few points but not in any significant manner.

Our childhood, and again genetics, will alter our mind. There are a large number of psychological conditions that we can be born with and can't alter. They are simply how our brain functions, how we remember, how we learn.

So rather than worrying about all of that, we simply must understand we can't change it and figure out how to get around our issues or use them to our advantage.

I have a mild case of OCD, mixed with some "healthy" paranoia. They come in a few forms but one main example is I assume there are millions of strangers that have no problem breaking into my house and stealing my stuff. In fact they are prowling the street now scoping out my house for weak points. I do my best to make my home a much less ideal target. That in itself is good home security but this is where my OCD kicks in.

Before I go to bed I have to ensure all the doors and windows are locked. I may already know they are locked, generally because I checked them a few minutes ago or watched my wife lock them. Each external door has two locks, eg deadbolt and the normal handle. I have to confirm each of them actually locks before I can trust they are sealed. I understand this is ridiculous as I've tested each lock hundreds of times, but my compulsion makes me do it anyway.

Almost there, now to sort by size.
This continues into things I carry around. Even when sitting at my work desk or driving, I have to check that my phone, wallet and keys are still on me. How often I do this depends on where I am and if I can feel them. I know how much they weigh down my clothing and if that feeling is off I need to check again. When playing games with dice, I have to position all of them so their highest value is topmost. I put pencils and pens in alignment, straighten pictures so they are level. I can control it to some extent, but looking at a crooked picture at the doctor's office annoys the crap out of me.

So how does this relate? Instead of worrying about my paranoid OCD, I use it in my martial arts training. I allow it to take place at the gym by ensuring all repetitions are done as perfectly as possible. I check my body position every step of they way so I understand how it feels when correct. So when it feels off I know I need to adjust. Even when I'm being lazy I aim to be technical.

If a training partner catches me in a precarious position I will allow it to happen repeatedly so I can work out all the variables to prevent it. Much like my home security, I make that position so undesirable to my opponent he will abandon thoughts of attempting it.

My inherent laziness is an asset here too. I will spend hours sitting on my butt researching so I can save physical exertion at a later date. After finding the hole in my game I will ensure I get to it as often as possible in free rolling. In this way I have a good idea on how the roll will progress, meaning I don't have to think too hard. I work on a small area and ensure I understand all vectors such as multiple attacks and escapes, then ensure I can do them on people with the same or better experience than me. This may sound like a lot of work, but my laziness is in physical exertion. Training like this is not physically taxing so it works in well.

Good old dependable Homer 
Knowing I'm lazy is key to ensuring I train at maximum capacity when required. I know I need an external stimulus to push me harder. This comes in the form of my coach John, and a few other students I trust. If I train alone I won't push those last two reps in weights, or push for another few seconds of cardio. With someone I respect pushing me, I will go beyond my limits which is where you make gains. Other students drive me to work hard as I want to be a good training partner for them, and set an example as a senior student.

These aspects are important to me so I work at improving myself. I am introverted and shy, and work damn hard to be sociable. I could write a text book about all the thoughts and mental hurdles I jump every time I meet someone new. I can be seen as withdrawn and hard to know. Once I break through the social barrier and become comfortable with someone, my issues disappear as that person has proven their friendship. Being a senior student means I have an obligation to be approachable and instruct others. I take that seriously and thus work on my issues daily.

Again everything comes back to understanding how you behave or where you are less than ideal. Armed with knowledge, you can make battle plans to compensate. This is why I read a lot. I devour knowledge and if I don't understand something I research the crap out of it until I can explain it to an idiot, and can carry a conversation with an expert. In this way I turn my weakness towards positive outcomes.

Things I can change
It'll hold... I think.
As a society we tend to highlight our own strengths and hide our weaknesses, even to ourselves. This is detrimental to making improvements. If you can bench press a car you'll brag about it, but if you can't bend over and touch your toes you generally gloss over that fact. Improving your strengths is good, but it shouldn't be the focus of your training. Instead we need to train our weak areas as much as possible, and do so in a way that compliments our strengths.

As an example, I have powerful kicks, especially my rear-leg front-kick. I have burst a kick shield with it and when I hit I can end a fight. However actually landing the kick when sparring is problematic. My opponents can avoid the kick or block it. If I only work on improving my kicks I am not going to fix the issue. I need to look at why I can't land my power strikes.

When evaluating fight videos and how you train, you can generally figure out where you are going wrong. If not, your coach will. Sports movement, and body mechanics in general, is a holistic system. If your feet are out of position you can't generate sufficient power. If your head is looking the wrong way you use the incorrect and weaker muscles. Working with your coach, figure out and document your weak areas and set goals around improving them.

Continuing the above example, after evaluating my fights with my coach we can see two issues: I don't use the jab often enough; and my foot work is quite poor. In any striking martial art the jab is the most useful tool as it sets up further strikes and entries. Getting that sorted will offer a tremendous boon to my strong kicks as I can change their focus and rhythm. As for footwork, I tended to stay in front of my target and had little sideways movement. Striking is all about getting an angle and attacking when your opponent is not in the ideal position to counter or block. So correct footwork will keep me in base, provide angles for attack, assist in setting up the jab which in turn sets up my strong kicks.

With sufficient work on my weaknesses I can turn them into strengths. Then I look for further weak areas to improve. The following is a list of general weaknesses almost everyone has to some degree. Improving them will aid in whatever sport you do, reduce injuries and improve your general fitness.

  • Aerobic endurance (ability to sustain large-muscle activity over extended periods)
  • Agility (ability to rapidly change the body's momentum to another direction)
  • Balance (maintenance of position while stationary or in motion on a stable or unstable surface)
  • Flexibility (range of motion a body part can be flexed or extended)
  • Muscular endurance (ability to repeatedly exert a specific amount of force)
  • Power (explosive force exerted. Equals strength times speed)
  • Speed (maximum velocity reached by a body part or the entire body)
  • Strength (consistent, slow exertion of force over time)

Show off.
Attempt to work on either one major weakness or two weaknesses that work well together. Set your greatest weakness as the primary goal to improve, and have a secondary goal that works with it.

Improving strength and muscular endurance at the same time will be hard. The first needs high weight at low reps, where the second needs the opposite. Flexibility and balance can utilise similar exercises, yoga does this very well.

I hope this helps at least one person. If you are still unsure and want to chat, send me a message or hit the comments. Others, please share your own experiences in the comments.

I wish you all the best of luck in adapting your weaknesses.