Work on a Weakness

Yesterday at Reebok CrossFit Medfield, the warm-up for the day was “work on a weakness.” The idea behind this was to pick something that you weren’t good at and work on it to make it better. Luis, who taught the class, was careful to point out that you didn’t want to pick a whole bunch of things and try to get better at them all at once since that wouldn’t be productive. But one or two skills could be worked on within the space of fifteen minutes that would help with our progression. I worked on double-unders and rope climbs. Double-unders have been a nemesis for me, but they’re coming along gradually. I feel more comfortable with rope climbs, but Luis had some great insights there as well.

The idea of working on a weakness resonated with me because of my martial arts training. Mark Davis, my teacher at the Boston Martial Arts Center has long advocated that students – especially senior students and those who wish to teach – must actively work on their weak points – what we call “sutemi” – in order to improve ourselves and our skills. Many times, the physical skills that we aren’t necessarily good at are dwarfed by the mental and spiritual weak points that can hobble our progress. Working on a physical skill is relatively easy and only demands that the practitioner be willing to work on it over and over and be comfortable with the idea of being critiqued in order to improve.

Mental and spiritual weak points, however, are much harder to work on and are far more demanding. Ninjutsu has an inherent attrition rate to it; if you aren’t comfortable doing something, you can either adapt and evolve until you do become comfortable (prior to moving on to the next challenge) or you can simply give up, remain stagnant, and then eventually watch your skills deteriorate.

In order to work on mental and spiritual weak points, the practitioner must be willing to face their insecurities, their ego, and a host of other things that routinely sabotage our progress. When we are unable to do so, our minds and our perspectives become narrow; cynicism becomes rampant; and bitter divisive behavior is commonplace. In short, we start to devolve. No one is immune to this; even the brightest stars can fade unless they take corrective measures.

True confidence comes from the ability to face our insecurities and our ego; it stems from a willingness to admit that we aren’t perfect but are simultaneously committed to the ideal of seeking perfection in whatever we do. We know that the path before us won’t be an easy one, but our determination to walk it – fully embracing the challenges ahead and what they reveal about our innermost workings – is unswayed. This confident determination to meet challenges head-on leads to an all-encompassing perspective; a mindfulness of action/response; and a level of happiness unmatched by merely living at where we were yesterday. There is a simple and profound excitement embodied each morning when we rise and wonder what we will face on any given day. How will we be tested? How much will we learn about ourselves and others? How much more appreciative will we be of the life we have when we go to bed each night?

Back to CrossFit for a moment…one of my coaches Luis said something recently along the lines of “no one ever got better at double-unders by doing single-unders. If you want to get better at double-unders, you have to do them.” A simple, yet profound statement. And one I’ll paraphrase here: if you want to get better at living your life, you actually have to live your life. Don’t settle for what you did yesterday. Don’t grow complacent with where you were before today. Get out there and seek the challenge of actively embracing who you are as a human being. Set goals, find challenges, and seek the betterment of your mind, body, and spirit. Avoid the narrow confines of “why bother?”

If we fail to address our own weak points as a means of evolving, we are only isolating ourselves in a self-imposed prison with four little walls and a limited view. Break out and embrace the joy of living an unbridled existence full of challenge and reward.

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