“That’s strange” I thought to myself.
I could hear the sound of the ocean. The rhythmic waves of surf crashing on the shoreline echoed, getting louder by the second.
One huge problem though.
I was 1157 miles to the nearest beach.
The stranger, his face a mask of hellacious intensity, squeezed my neck with everything he had.
I remembered through the haze that hearing the sound of waves crashing was the last thing you heard before blood flow was completely cut off to your brain. I grasped frantically at the leg across my throat, my lungs heaved twice and my world went inky black.
The last thought that went through my mind?
“God I hope I don’t pee my pants.”
I was out for 2, maybe 3 seconds. A foggy color splashed across my eyes as reality returned. The ref was pulling the kids legs off my neck, releasing the triangle choke. I flopped to the mat and the 21 year old kid jumped to his feet, roaring with adrenaline and pumped his arms in the air. The man in the striped shirt grabbed his arm and lifted it in victory.
Crap. I had just lost my first jiu jitsu match.
As I walked dejectedly off the mat at the tournament I scanned the crowd for my loving wife. She was sitting in the bleachers off to the left. She took one look at me and sympathetically asked, “Can we go home now?”.
I had found myself at age 38 in terrible shape. The entrepreneurial dream had seized me by the throat at 19, and I had been running hard for nearly 2 decades. I had what I called “internet body”. You’re both fat and skinny at the same time from the atrophy of being hunched over a computer for 12 hours a day. With a high body fat count and low muscle strength I was aging at a rapid rate. Brushing dill pickle chip dust off my sweatshirt at 9 pm at night lying on the couch watching TV to unwind was a deadly habit.
You know how entrepreneurs are. All or nothing. Fire, aim, ready. Full speed or zero, right?
I decided to make a change.
Martial arts was my mid-life crisis without a doubt. Within a few weeks I went from red-faced, slumped on the mats gasping for life-giving oxygen to making it through the warm-ups without puking. I didn’t just dive in the deep end, I bought a bulldozer and dug the whole pool. Within 6 months I was training 10-15 hours a week with UFC pros. It was an amazing time in my life.
So what’s the #1 most life-changing thing I learned from martial arts?
Yes of course I got in amazing shape. I got to compete at a national level. I won a few medals and had some great times. But the most important lesson I got from martial arts was the destruction of the ego.
Let me explain.
In the 21st century, western man is soft and comfortable. And by “man” I mean both sexes. We can go from cradle to grave avoiding situations that make us uncomfortable. We become either very weak and conflict averse, or super aggressive and ego-driven. Both are terribly unbalanced and detrimental.
Martial arts destroys the ego. I was choked unconscious 14 weeks into my experience at my first tournament by a kid nearly half my age. In practice you routinely will have a man 40 pounds heavier than you sitting on your chest, his jock strap cup grinding against your forehead trying to make you give up. You begin to recognize danger versus discomfort. You learn when to surrender and when to breathe and ride it out.
When you destroy the ego you develop a new kind of patience and a completely new way of viewing the world. It’s as if you have fresh eyes. Or rather, martial arts removes the blindfold that modern man is burdened with.
Trying harder is the opposite of the true secret to success in jiu-jitsu. Just like it is in business.
Working until the wheels come off is a recipe for disaster.
I encourage you to put on your white belt and see the game of business and life with fresh eyes. Mastering a new marketing software will be daunting at first. Take comfort that the growth is rapid once you stick to the daily effort. Trying new strategies to generate leads for your design company will be frustrating at times. Learning from each attempt will be invaluable.
The big takeaway as a business owner is twofold.
First, if you’re to ever truly realize your full potential as an entrepreneur you must nurture yourself and prioritize your health. Leading your company and family is about energy management. Ignore it at your peril.
And second, look for the path to eliminate the ego.
When the ego’s expectation is removed from the equation, the joy is in the attempt not the outcome.
Enjoy the journey.