A Relentless Life
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. — Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
The world is a complicated place with a variety of problems that people face. As much as I would like to, I am not able to pick when I face a problem. It makes sense for me to try to be competent in a variety of things.
We have all heard the old saw: “A jack of all trades is a master of none.” As students of multiple martial systems, people try to apply this to us. If we were just boxing in a street fight, that might be so. If we were just grappling that might be so. Physical encounters, outside of ring sports, have multiple components that we might have to be good at. We may have to verbally confront/deflect before deciding that we are getting ready to be punched and enter the clinch while just at that moment seeing that they have a knife in their hand. We need skill sets in all these areas. This doesn’t excuse us from seeking mastery in one or more of these areas but we need to be able to realistically train for the possibility of all the above.
While I am seeking at least base competency in all these areas, I might get beat in competition against a specialist in one of these arenas. I might lose a BJJ match. I might lose rounds to a boxer. If what I am seeking is resilience in life and the myriad of problems it can throw against me, I accept this as a possibility. I take the competition loss as a learning experience and move on. I know I am looking for competence first and mastery second.
There are studies that show that this approach leads to being not just better in a fight but less injury prone in athletics. I want you to read that as “less injury prone.” Life is an athletic endeavor. We use our bodies to move us around this world and do the fantastic things we want to talk about. Challenge the instrument that you play in the symphony we call “Life.”
A study commissioned by the National Federation of State High School Associations showed that single sport athletes are 70% more likely to suffer an injury that are multi-sport athletes. Multi-sport athletes enjoy better performance success and see lower injury rates than single sport athletes. In the 2018 NFL draft, 29 out of 32 first round picks were multi-sport high school athletes. These studies imply that our mixing of arts isn’t just better for our self-defense but for the development of our young athletes as well.
We need to move in a variety of directions with a combination of pushing and pulling to have a capable body. The variety of movements that our arts provide includes striking in multiple disciplines using different parts of the body to controlling/pulling motions from Muay Thai, Silat and grappling. It includes the circular motions from the use of weapons and the groundwork of Silat and the grappling arts. The range of motions and strengths that we develop resemble the broad spectrum of problems that we could face in our day to day lives as well as in a personal protection encounter.
I want to do what I want for as long as I want. This requires that I move my body in as many different ways as possible - pushing motions, pulling motions, hinging motions, aerobic activity and getting up off of the ground. I am thankful to be involved in a multiple discipline study of martial arts that involves all of these things.
Specialization helps you succeed within a narrow window. Generalization helps us have more options within the huge array of things that life can throw at us. By learning a broad range of things and becoming competent we become more capable to succeed. Train to thrive and not just survive.
We live in an anxious world. While you may not be anxious (if so, you are in a growing minority) most of the world is. It seems that the 24-hour news cycle, instantly available wherever you are due to smartphones, is driven to introduce a new unsolvable crisis to us minute by minute. This background emotion of anxiety affects not just us, but our kids. A study published in Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics in April 2018, found that in just five years, anxiety-disorder diagnoses among young people had increased 17 percent. Anxiety is also shown to be one of the major contributors to more serious psychological problems.
The question becomes: What can we do about it?
A major contributor to anxiety is a feeling of lack of control. We need to build in ourselves and our children a sense of self-determination. We desire to be in charge.
The Stoics said there are only two things: What we can control and what we can't. Anxiety comes from not knowing which is which. The Stoics were saying our reactions to the world are all we can control for certain. They also advocated making things happen in the world. Here are three things that we can do to help our kids and make us feel like our actions make a difference.
11 1. Progressive resistance
To do 50 pushups in a row is a good physical goal. It is something that all junior black belts must do. Here is the thing - no one starts at 50 pushups. They start with sets of 5. Gradually that becomes sets of 10. Each belt in the kid’s curriculum adds 5 more pushups and leg lifts to the number required. By the time they get to Jr. Black Belt, the pushups are challenging but doable. This same approach works with decision making and life skills. Let's look at how this model is applied.
We have always felt that we want our kids to be “independent people of good character who realize that their decisions affect other people.” How do you make independent kids? You let them be independent a step at a time. You start with small things with little risk and gradually build to bigger things. This helps them move to the things that they will need to do on their own. These approaches are not quick or easy fixes. The following are some examples. You may have different examples. Let me know what your favorite way to do this is.
Grocery store trips are great for this. Have the kids go get something from down the aisle or another aisle. Have them pick the cheapest item or the best item. If they pick the wrong item, tell them why you would like a different choice. Be as positive as you can with them. Affirm good choices. Your goal is to build confidence. This will also help when they turn of driving age, and you send them for the thing you forgot for dinner. They know where things are in the grocery store and can go get them. If possible, send them with cash, so they stay on a budget. This will pay dividends when they make their first trips to Walmart in college and when first setting up a house.
Navigating on the car trip can be a phenomenal skill set that has little cost in time. While coming to the martial arts school, turn your cell phone GPS on with Relentless Martial Arts as the destination. Just have them read it turn by turn. Have them help look for the streets. You don't have to follow their directions if they get turned around or do something silly. You know the way there. Guide them gently and calmly as the GPS re-routes them. Sooner or later have them navigate you there without the GPS. You can also have them use the GPS to take you to a place you are familiar with, but they aren’t. As they get better, they can help navigate on road trips. The ability to navigate with GPS and later with a map will help them for a lifetime.
You may have noticed that we have a lot of student-led activities at RMA. I have led the kids through the exercises that they lead many times when I ask them to teach. They will get immediate feedback from the other kids by inattention or unruly behavior if they stray too far from the formulas. They will get feedback from me as well. They need practice in leadership. It is so low risk to allow them to demonstrate or teach a kickboxing 4 count. I am present if it goes off the rails. I observe their management skills and can praise them. Believe me when I say, that letting them teach is one of the hardest things I do but it pays off.
22 2. Be Realistic
I volunteered at one time to be a school resource officer. One of the jobs was to teach life skills classes to elementary and middle school kids. During my classes, the number of kids that were future NFL/NBA/Pop Stars was enormous. My job was not to crush dreams. The curriculum I used focused on the same progressive resistance model to help kids develop goals. If a kid followed the model we put out, they were bound to be successful whether or not they were a Sportsball star. We started by breaking down that everyone has the same amount of time in their day. There are tasks that they must do. These included school, family activities, chores. We then started comparing how they spent their time to how the stars spent time. Many still wanted to “live a normal life.” Often many kids still insisted that they would do the things required. We then began to ask how many NFL players came from the same middle school class. Often the realization of the difficulty of those careers began to dawn on them. It isn't just the amount of work that separates the great from the not so good.
Passion plus time on task, enabled by progressive goal setting, is a good formula for success.
SMART goals are important - the acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. (Hint: Homework generally follows the above principles.)
If you are not working towards the goals, this may not be what they really want to do. I found that often the kids wanted the money or the prestige (often the love) that they thought the careers would give them. We tried to show kids that there were plenty of jobs that helped them make enough money to reach their real goals of financial security and love from a group of people.
If you want your kid to be a doctor and they want to be a zookeeper, let them be a zookeeper. Your passion for the medical profession is not theirs. Realize that they can have the things that you believe the job provides in a place that feeds their passion and serves their calling. We need to be realistic in goals for our children. That includes not just thinking about their potential but their passion.
This leads into the last point:
3. Let there be "I"
We love our kids. We want the best for them. We cared for their every need when they were infants. One of the hardest things we can do as parents is letting go. We need to let there be “I.”
We aren't applying for college. She is applying for college.
We didn’t make the football team. He made the football team.
She made the A or she made the F. He got a great SAT/ACT or he needs to take it again.
We share in their successes and failures. They are responsible for them. There are only 2 ways to get to this in a way that doesn't break our hearts or kill them. Trust them and let them fail.
Craig Groeschel said that there is only one way to learn to trust someone. He said to be careful to write it down.
Trust them. Give them a goal. Don't give them a task with step by step, micromanaging and helicoptering. Give them a task and let them do it. If they have the skill sets needed, tell them to do whatever it takes to get it done. Tell them you trust them to get it done. Give them feedback. Be as constructive as possible. Let them do it until it is successfully completed.
Wow, this is hard. It might not be as hard as the next thing though.
Let them fail. Let them fail in the small things. Let them fail in something that you don't have the final say in. Homework. Running out of gas in their first car. Not making the cut because they didn’t practice or train enough. Self-taught lessons are often the best ones. The earlier they experience setbacks, the sooner they can learn to deal with them. There is at least one thing all of us taught our kids where we followed the model. When they learned to walk.
We had to watch them struggle. We had to watch them fall. We created an environment where it wouldn't damage or kill them if they fell. We knew instinctively that they had to fall to learn to walk. If we made their life easy by always bringing them things, they would stop trying. We want them to walk and then run. We want them to be successful human beings.
During our last camp out, I asked the kids to individually make a one match fire. I made it a race. They gathered fuel. They could use a knife to make a feather stick or tinder. They had full autonomy to do the task after some guidelines and suggestions. I asked them to play with fire. There was no safer place for them to do it. They could burn themselves, but we would save them from serious injury. They could not get a fire started and fail.
Almost every kid got a fire started with just 1 or two matches. In less than 10 minutes from go. I expected to use cheats like cotton balls with petroleum jelly or alcohol hand sanitizer. No kid needed it. We just trusted them to get the job done after seeing they had made preparations.
The mission statement of Relentless is Building Better Heroes. Heroes overcome obstacles. If we remove their obstacles, we are taking away their chances to grow into the person they can become. Let them fail at the things that they can afford to. Create opportunities to practice being an individual. Let the tasks be difficult but doable. Give them the goal setting skills and the passion to create their own world.
Recently I was asked to go on a combination moose hunt and sightseeing excursion to Palmer Alaska. The moose hunt would require hard four wheel ATV travel for 3 miles and difficult hiking for 3 miles to a hunting camp. We would be required to carry everything we need. That included shelter, water filters, food, clothing and hunting gear. We could be required to shoot and potentially stalk a 1500–2000 pound animal. We would then have to field dress it, and pack the meat and our equipment out. Tuhon Harley Elmore, who invited Lisa and I, described it as very difficult. He had been years previous and while the trips were worthwhile challenges, they had not yet killed a moose. He invited us and then said,” if you come, be ready.”
I speak regularly about the need to challenge ourselves. I talk about the forging power of hardship. I also bring up how shared hardship builds bonds. I couldn’t say no.
It is one thing to prepare for an event that might happen. It is another thing altogether to prepare for something with a date. It is like saying “I will get married someday” versus saying “I will get married on June 19th.” The intensity difference between “I might want to take a Muay Thai match” and “I fight on November 12th” is orders of magnitude. When you place a challenge and a date on an event such as this, it becomes real.
This trip of around one week was amazing. Alaska is a magnificent place to see. The scale of it amazes. That mountain “over there about 500 yards” turns out to be miles away. Things that are normally easy take much more effort because of the isolation of much of the state. It really is like living in a different country. In one of the native tongues, Alaska means “Great Land.” That is not an overstatement.
After a long flight, our team of hunters came together. The team was made of some of Tuhon Harley’s longtime friends. Most of our spouses came to sightsee during our journey and afterward. The hunters were Tuhon Harley, Greg Macpherson, Bobby Nash and me. Although I grew up in the country, I was the least capable hunter of the group. We loaded up mid-morning and headed up the mountain.
Our friend and host, Jonathan Jester, had gotten hurt seriously 2 weeks prior to our trip. This meant he could not do much of the preparation that he had done for the group in years past. He said that the four wheeler portion was the only part that he was concerned with.
Jonathan is so much of an optimist he makes me look like Debbie Downer.
The four wheeler trip up the mountain was challenging. Two men were riding on each four wheeler. Often the passenger would have to dismount in order for the driver to get up the very steep hill or through mud that was of uncertain depth. This portion of the trip was 3 miles.
The next part was the hike. All of us tried to limit the weight of our packs to 40 lbs. I don’t think any of us made that goal. The terrain was like a 70-degree incline in many spots. The trails were like a 50 yard steep river bank. They were composed of slick black mud and silt. Sometimes you would just slide down 5 feet when we had just made it up 4 feet. We started talking about it as if we were running sprints. “Just make it to the next light pole.” “Just make it to the next mailbox.” We would make our next objective and rest some. It was a very demanding hike.
Camping is not hunting. Hunting is not camping. We made a hunters camp. It was not designed for comfort. It was designed to keep us comfortable enough to hunt effectively.
Water was a 30 minute walk down a mountain, 30 minutes of pumping from a mossy bog and 30 minutes walking up the mountain.
If you didn’t have the right gear, the right preparation and the right mindset, the first night could have driven you off. Hard rain, temperatures in the 30s and over 20 mile per hour winds on a mountain top in bear country can keep an Oklahoma boy awake. There were some laughs that first night as Tuhon asks me, “what do you think of this?” We both started laughing.
The next day we struggled to get on the hunt before dawn. Hunting is not a team sport but when a member of your team shoots a moose within two hours of setting up, cleaning, and moving that moose is a team activity. At least for us.
A 1500 pound animal yields 500 pounds of meat after 2 days of skinning, and field dressing the animal. This meat (and its component parts) had to be moved from the site of the kill to an area that was safer from bears but not on top of our camp.
The site of the kill was 600 yards or so in as the crow flies but 1.5 miles of walking up and down hills through scrub brush. So out and back several times for supplies as well as to carry 80-100 pounds of meat to this staging area.
In the two days after we got the moose, there was a time for each of us when we thought we had met our limit. We would look at the group. That look would reset us. It would bolster our hearts.
There were some incredible stories about the trip that I can tell. We were met with challenges at every turn. The more important part, at least for me, is the remarkable men I went with and the bonds that this trip built.
At one of the most critical parts of the trip, Tuhon Harley asked me what I felt like. I said “If none of us go the hospital, this is still an amazing adventure.” And it was.
My wife and I grew up camping and have continued that tradition with our family and friends. We prefer tents, but others like campers, or RVs. There’s not a wrong way to camp, but there are many great reasons to go.
1. Camping changes your focus.
When you are camping, your focus is your family. Not your cell phone, emails, or the next big streaming series.
This frees up time for you and your loved ones to explore the world. You will entertain each other with games that require motion (hiking, tag, swimming) or interaction. Some of our best talks with our kids have been while hiking or sitting in front of a campfire.
2. Camping gives you a new environment.
A new environment, especially being in nature, helps the focus shift. Rules relax and schedules slow down. This may mean it’s okay to let the kids stay up a little bit. It could mean having the second S’mores is not that big a deal. The change of environment also allows for us to learn and reinforce lessons about life. In a smaller space, like a tent, we must keep it cleaner/neater. Because we are in a separate environment, we listen to each other a little differently. We can use this more relaxed time to reinforce lessons from home.
Being in nature, we discover she does not play favorites. Leaving your shoes in the floor at the house is just messy. Leaving your shoes outside the tent in a rainstorm creates a natural consequence of wet shoes. No amount of sweetness and politeness will convince mother nature not to smack you down.
3. Camping is an adventure.
The novelty of being outside for days at a time excites the child and explorer in all of us. If everyone has a reason to go and starts with a positive attitude, the trip can create great bonds. Many times, just being outside and breathing in fresh air can change our attitude. Just give it a few hours.
4. Camping slows the pace.
Because of the change of focus and new environment, families end up spending more quality time during a weekend of camping than many do in a month. The short-term camping experience makes things like a meal outside or game more enjoyable. Remember to relax and give everyone a little breathing room.
The outdoors gives us all room to grow.
5. Camping is a shared hardship.
You won’t have every creature comfort when you go camping – and that’s ok. Our family’s goal is to pack as little as possible when we camp, so we have fewer things to worry about or keep track of. Every camping trip brings the challenge of something being forgotten, something being broken, and learning to deal with each other in tight spaces and in times where there’s nothing else to do. Your kids (and you) learn to improvise and make up new games or activities to share. Boredom breeds creativity.
“Do you remember that time that….”
Think of the stories that you tell when your extended family gathers. There are stories of wonderful summers, incredible ski trips, and great holidays. In my family, most of the stories are about times that were difficult. Times we persevered and pushed through together. These shared hardships bind us together in ways that are unique to our family. These stories become part of the fabric of our history that our children will share with their own families.
People have been living outside for all of creation. Make a list, grab a tent, and go outside. Happy camping.
By most people’s estimation, last year was an unusual year. Distance learning and Zoom meetings were not a “normal part” of most people’s lives just 18 months ago. Most people got a moment to evaluate what they were doing and how important certain meetings and relationships are. This was a time to prioritize ourselves and how we make things happen.
These are the things that I felt that I learned from the situations created by last year:
1) You can’t prepare for an emergency that is happening now. If you remember the toilet paper shortage of 2020, you realize that several thousand people realized all at once, that they had not stockpiled enough supplies for an event that occurs for most people on a pretty regular basis. So if you are not in crisis now, begin budgeting to buy a few more items than you need to run the household. This can be as small as a couple cans and an extra package of toilet paper. Don’t wait until everyone else realizes the need. This also includes training and skills. You don’t learn to pilot a plane when it is crashing. It is possible but hard. You may have learned to cook, or food prep, or harvest food during this pandemic but it would have been easier with a head start.
2) Fitness is important to many and you have to rely on yourself to maintain it. Gyms were closed. Instructors all relied on digital platforms to get information out but there was a different accountability when you could not just meet your friend at the gym or for a run. Home gyms became a serious thing. Some people got serious about fitness and realized that it had strong links to health especially as applied to COVID.
3) Family matters. This is not just the people you are genetically linked to but the people that you choose to be in your closest circle. Family time in the form of walks, hikes, family game night and front porch time became more regular. Is this still happening in your family? Can you sit down for a meal a day to communicate and break bread with the people in your household? Do you talk to the people you love on a regular basis? When there is trouble, they are the ones that stand with you. Actively create those bonds. Don’t leave them to chance.
4) Have an emergency fund: Start now. Save your stimulus check for when you need funds to buy food for the house, the refrigerator goes out or the car breaks down. The stimulus help and other funding will come months after you need them. Start setting aside money to help for the “rainy day.” Crises happen regularly. They are only emergencies if you aren’t prepared for them. Money is a great way to be prepared.
Mostly what I learned was that having the wisdom to prepare for a long term event and the discipline to do it pays off. You must rely on yourself and a close knit group of people to help you through these times. Do you have these people in your life? We work on helping people make these connections and build these skills to prepare them for what life can throw at them. If you want to take steps to being more capable, contact us, because helping people and building them up is what we do.