Lessons From An Inflexible Dude

Under the category of things you probably didn’t know about me, it was only 30 years ago that I accomplished the hardest long-term thing I’ve ever done. Not because it was a challenge physically (although it certainly wasn’t easy). Not because of the emotional stakes. But because it was something that was so far outside of anything I had ever attempted. Something that required willpower and perseverance (which I have always lacked). And yet, I accomplished this thing … and then walked away from it. There’s a lesson in here somewhere.

That ‘thing’ was earning a black belt. To be specific, I have a first degree black belt in Hap Ki Do and a brown belt in Tang Soo Do. It took many, several, where-did-the-time-go years to accomplish … and with just months before I became a father at the ripe old age of 30 … I walked away from it.

But this isn’t a story about martial arts, it’s about fighting inner demons. Both the kind put there by others, and by myself.

The reason it was so physically hard (and why it’s much easier when you’re a kid) is flexibility and motion. You would think a simple kick would be … simple, right? There is so much mechanical movement in each technique and you’re forcing your body to move in ways it has never had to try before. And then to do those movements thousands of times, over and over and over again. Each one being just as horrible as the previous thousand attempts. Human bodies are not supposed to bend this way! Every class finds a voice in your head simply saying “just quit, screw this nonsense”. You go home after and put frozen bags of peas on your knees because … well, just because. You hurt.

The reason it’s so mentally hard is because you have to push through the fact that for years you’re going to suck at something, until one day you suck less. Keeping motivation going for that amount of time with only minimal progress takes willpower. Earning a black belt is 99% an exercise in strengthening your mind.

I mentioned emotional as well. You wouldn’t think that a Hap Ki Do class would force you to face struggle in that realm, would you? And honestly, it didn’t. But my personal life did. And it was my personal life that drove me into martial arts. To escape a marriage.

It took me five years to earn my belt. And I was married all of those years to a woman I have long since divorced. Looking back (hell, I even knew this then!) … I went to class three times a week to get out of the house and try to forget I was married. My willpower came from needing to be elsewhere. So in a way, my earning what I earned has never felt like a grand success. It was a grand escape.

But! I did love it. It was my passion, even if I was only of average skills. (Hey, someone has to be average for others to compare themselves to!). But the moment I earned my belt, I knew I had to give it up. Because in just three months from then, my first child was going to be born. And while I was more than willing to hide away from my then-wife, I was not going to hide from my kid.

OK … enough history. Why in the world would I share this with you? What’s the under-lesson?

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Skip to my second marriage and my then passion. Motorcycles. I won’t bore you with the details, but there was a reason I wanted to be either in my shop wrenching or out riding, and it was similar to the tale I just shared with you. I was struggling with fitting into what many would consider a normal marriage, and instead was hiding from the fact that I wanted to be elsewhere. So I filled myself with something else in order to not have to face anything.

See a pattern yet?

And finally, skip to this very day. I have another passion. Becoming a Content Creator. It’s almost 100% of all I do (or think about). It’s the reason I’m walking away from a four-decade career and pursuing what will almost certainly be just a hobby. And I have to ask myself why. With all of my history of using passions as a barrier from people that I didn’t want in my life, is this passion the same? It’s a question that must be answered.

But here’s the thing, this time it feels different in so many ways. And it’s confusing. I seem to automatically just assume that the people around me have to be the reason for my urges. But what I’m seeing is that it’s really me this time. I want to do this for myself. Which begs the question … do I possess willpower for something that I want, just because I want it? (As opposed to hiding away from something I don’t). I honestly don’t know that answer completely, but it’s really starting to look like a ‘yes’.

Picture yourself walking away from everything you’ve done for 40 years. Taking every safety net underneath you and torching them. And then dropping into a dark void where you can’t see the bottom. It is just a few feet? Or is it enough to kill you? Do you have the willpower to just let go and not try to grab anything as gravity takes you to your next landing splat-zone?

I suspected that I had that willpower. And then it hit me last night that I actually do. This whole ‘pivot’ of mine … wandering the earth like Caine for a year or two … has been something I’ve mostly kept to myself. I don’t discuss it out in the open verbally. And the reason was that I could always just not let go of the rope if I wanted to waffle. It was only a few social media posts about my intentions and I could always un-commit from real people. But last night, I talked. And I talked confidently.

Just like my previous passions, I’m forcing myself to physically, mentally, and emotionally do things I’ve never had to do before. To repeat them over and over until I eventually get them right. It’s a long-game I’m playing, and this time I’m doing it for the sole purpose of … me. Do I have what it takes? I believe so. And I believe that more and more each day. I know in my heart I’m not running away, rather I’m running towards. It’s sometimes hard shedding old dogmas and reasons, but I can feel them sliding away. And it feels damn good.

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