Why is everyone looking at me?
I was on my back laying on the mat with a circle of heads looking down on me. We were playing a Tohkon game of capture the flag — meaning that I hold onto a rolled up judo belt while my partner uses his ground skills to try and take it from me. I was a rookie yellow belt, my partner a black belt. Apparently, they told me, I had been choked unconscious. They all gathered around to watch me come back to my senses. Being choked out was one of the worst possible outcomes, and it happened to me. But, in reality, it really wasn’t that bad. The unknown fear of being choked unconscious was now gone. I survived. Plus, when I looked down at my hand, it was still holding the belt — I win!
My martial art path was inspired by The Karate Kid, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Batman. I loved watching Daniel LaRusso stand up to the Cobra Kai bullies; the idea that turtles could be ninjas; and that anyone with enough resources and discipline could be Batman. A common theme was that martial arts training turned normal people (and turtles) into badass fighting machines, but these skills were only to be used for good. In a sense, studying martial arts has fulfilled my childhood goal of becoming a superhero.
The purpose of martial arts — and the reason I think everyone should learn one — is to create better people. I am a better version of myself because of it. Coming from a team sports background, the idea of stepping on the mat alone both scared and excited me. There are no teammates to bail me out, and like many aspects of life, my success and improvement is totally up to me. Mental and physical weaknesses are quickly exposed so it’s important to turn those weaknesses into strengths. I am committed to a lifelong journey of self-improvement through martial arts.
Every class is a test. At some point, either drilling or sparring, I will be partnered with someone better than me: someone with better technique, better commitment, better knowledge. There is a good chance this partner could physically dominate me and make my life hell. They could smash my ears and direct incredible pressure onto specific parts of my body. They could make breathing difficult and the experience will be uncomfortable and gas-tank depleting.
So, the questions are: How do I respond? How do I handle myself under these circumstances? Am I calm or do I panic? Am I going to fight to make this situation better or do I accept the present conditions? Am I in pain or just uncomfortable? How much discomfort can I handle? Should I quit? Am I the kind of person that quits when circumstances are difficult? What type of person am I? All these questions may be asked and answered numerous times in the same 5-minute sparring round. And there may be 10 consecutive sparring rounds.
True character is always revealed on the mat and my character is stronger because of it.
Your Downers Grove South Mustangs are playing the Proviso East Pirates, and it’s a sloppy football game. We are clearly the dominate team but playing down to their level. Somehow, Proviso East is still in the game when we should have put them away sooner. After a change of possession, the offense huddled on the sideline, fired up and ready to take advantage of our opportunity. Coach Mash calls for a toss sweep to our speedy tailback Dan Stringfellow. Right before heading onto the field, Coach Mash says:
“Dan, don’t drop the pitch!”
Don’t drop the pitch? What the hell kind of advice was that? That’s like reminding a baseball player not to strike out. Or telling a basketball player not to miss a free throw. Sure enough, the ball was snapped and as it was pitched to Dan, he dropped the football and Proviso East recovered the fumble. As I jogged back to the sideline, I thought, why the hell did he tell Dan to NOT drop the pitch? Dan has caught the ball hundreds of times in practice and in games. Why did he drop it now? Clearly, Dan knows he needs to catch the pitch, so why even put the thought in his head? Does Dan mentally need to know that dropping the pitch is an option right now? Absolutely not.
From what I have read about sports psychology, telling someone what not to do is very different from telling them what to do. In Dan’s case, the last part of the message his brain received was …drop the pitch and his body executed the plan perfectly. From a coaches perspective, he wants Dan to catch the ball, period. Coach Mash could have told Dan to catch the pitch, or protect the ball and that’s probably what would have happened.
In the 2006 World Series, the Detroit Tigers played awful defense while losing to the St. Louis Cardinals. Tiger pitchers made five errors (a World Series record), and in the deciding Game 5 with the Tigers up 2-1, Justin Verlander fielded a bunt and tried to nail the lead runner at third. He airmailed the throw into left field (leading to two runs) and ultimately took the loss. Said Verlander about the bunt, “I picked it up and said, ‘Don’t throw it away,’ instead of just throwing it. I got tentative.” Don’t throw it away sounds a lot like don’t drop the pitch. Like Dan, the last part of the message Verlander’s brain received was …throw it away.
While I do not know Justin Verlander personally, I’m sure he has successfully made that throw many times before. Why were he and Dan both unable to execute a physical act they were both capable of performing; an act they had successfully practiced?
Mental mistakes. My bet is that a negative thought crept into their heads at the worst possible time. Fear took over. Instead of focusing on making a play, they were focused on not screwing up. While it’s impossible to know for sure, had Verlander told himself to make a good throw and had Dan told himself to catch the ball, I bet they both probably would have.
While most teams practice for physical success, an equal amount of time should be allocated to mental success as well. There is a strong link to positive self-talk and performance. (Whether you tell yourself you’re great or you suck — you’re right.) Let’s rewire our brains and give ourselves positive messages and directions so we can play at our physical and mental peak. Start this paradigm shift of thinking right now!
I hate the 300-yard shuttle.
The 300-yard shuttle run is a conditioning test used by most sports as a measure of mental and physical toughness. Generally, it is a timed 50-yard suicide sprint down and back three times followed by a 5-minute break. Each time down and back, it is required that the player touches the line with his hand. Then a retest. Often, the average of the two times is recorded for the final time.
This test is especially difficult because the energy expenditure in the first sprint totally affects how much gas is available for the second sprint. The key is to have a fast time in round one and come close to matching it in round two. My legs, ass, and lungs tend to burn out quickly and it often feels like I am running through a mixture of oatmeal, sand and pudding. The times never seem to reflect how fast I think I am moving.
Mention the 300-yard shuttle to retired athletes and they will scrunch up their face as if having smelled a sour fart. Most have blocked the memories of having uncontrollable projectile vomit. The purpose of the drill is to see who continues to grind and push when their body is exhausted — and it will be exhausted. It also exposes who the quitters are and who did not keep themselves in peak shape. While very few sports require their players to run in a straight line at such a high intensity for such a high duration (about a minute), I appreciate the mental toughness aspect. There will be suffering. Who can handle it?
I was introduced to the 300-yard shuttle as part of the Iowa football conditioning test. I remember throwing up on the Bubble turf and having coaches yell at me for failing to aim my puke into the garbage cans. Good times. It was also part of the White Sox testing. We had to finish in under 57 seconds while wearing full catchers gear. While I was always able to finish under my required time, I probably looked like someone that was using every last bit of energy to make it. Smooth, it was not.
Every now and again, I will add the 300-yard shuttle to my program. At HiFi, the turf is 30 yards long, meaning this suicide sprint is down and back five times. Because the stopping and starting is more frequent, it’s harder to stride it out and thus a more difficult run. I’m also older now too, which sucks. A few weeks ago, as I’m grinding through my two 300-yarders, I’m told that NHL players are required to run six 300-yard shuttles with all times under a minute. Six? All under a minute? That’s insane. So I’m definitely trying it.
After a couple weeks of mental preparation and a much needed self-pep talk, I decide to go for it. Number one: 1:02. Clearly, I have already failed the NHL and White Sox tests. But, I’m stubborn and undeterred. Number two: 1:01. During my rest break, I try to convince myself that running four more is out of the question, that I don’t really need to do this. Then I tell myself to shut the hell up and go. Number three: 1:02. My legs and ass are now done and have convinced each other it’s time for a vacation. My brain denies their request. Number four: 1:03. At this point, I am ready to stop running. Forever. But, Nate Voronyak sees me suffering, and as a former football and track guy, recognizes my pain. He offers to jump in and run with me. I accept. Number five: 1:05.
I could stop right now, crawl off the turf and still be proud for running five 300-yard shuttles. It’s the most shuttle running I have ever done, more than I ever ran as a player. I’m not in the NHL, do I really need to run all six? Five out of six is pretty good. Hell, I’d be hitting .833 if I went 5-6! I’m ready to shut it down and celebrate my small victory when it hits me: I can do one more. What kind of example would I be setting if I quit just because I was tired? Is that the kind of man I am? A quitter? If I stop now, I will not have done something I said I would do. Number six: 1:07.
We are all capable of doing more than we think we can. We all have greatness inside us and must find ways to unleash it. The purpose of our inner greatness is to silence any doubt about what we can’t do. No matter how uncomfortable we perceive ourselves to be, we can always do one more.
***A few weeks ago, Nike started their summer athlete training program, which I am honored to be a part of. It kicked off with a group trainer workout, focusing on football. I was not surprised to see that the workout concluded with a single 300-yard shuttle. Fortunately, I had been practicing. It was 25-yards, down and back six times. With a competition in place and people watching under the lights of the Nike fieldhouse, I finished in 58 seconds — my best time since 2007.
“It’s time to change the way we eat, it’s time to change the way we live. It’s on us to do what we gotta do–to survive.”–2Pac
I love Rome. He is a 5-year old bullmastiff that sleeps in our bed, sprawls out on the couch, and takes showers–definitely part of the family! Unfortunately, dogs don’t live as long as people and bigger dogs are prone to having numerous health issues from hip dysplasia to bloat. I would do anything to keep him healthy.
I learned about Dr. Barbara Royal from a news show. She was talking about holistic pet health care and the importance of feeding your pet a raw diet. Dr. Royal kept drilling home that many pet health issues can be prevented simply by dietary changes. (Wow, just like people!) Often times she is presented with a sick animal and her first instinct is to change the diet. Food is used as medicine.
This blew me away because I feel the exact same way about humans. I had to learn more. So, I bought her book and read its entirety on a flight from San Francisco to Chicago. Dr. Royal detailed both her successes and failures as a vet–some heartbreaking stories that can soften even the toughest hardass. She has worked in zoos, wildlife centers, and with every possible animal on the planet. But, the common theme was that animal health comes down to diet and she recommended eating raw.
Rome ate kibble. We fed it to him because that was what my dogs ate when I was a kid. It was all I knew. In her book, Dr. Royal explained that house pets often die of cancer, but animals in the wild do not. Why? What are wild animals eating that pets are not? Or, more importantly, what are our pets eating that wild animals are not?
After booking an appointment with Dr. Royal, we decided to experiment. Rome was going to transition off kibble, eat raw for two months and then be re-evaluated. With lifestyle factors staying the same (2-3 daily walks and 22 hours of sleep per day), his weight went from 126 pounds to 117. Rome lost 9 pounds just by changing his diet! His ear infections? Gone. His messy poop? Gone. All due to a better diet.
If we take this concept and apply it to people, we should realize that our nutrition influences our health as much as exercise (if not more). We should also know that doing what we have always done–as in Rome eating kibble–can be detrimental to our health. At the same time, making small changes can save our lives.
Based on Rome’s results we now use the Royal Treatment exclusively. I attribute Rome’s overall good health to the nutrition changes Dr. Royal suggested. I know that she and I are equally passionate about eating better. Yes, eating raw is more expensive. But, I would rather spend money on good food now and give Rome a happy life rather than spend the money at the vet when it’s too late. I am grateful she encouraged me to make changes.
When you look at this website, it is easy to tell that I have an athletic background. Playing baseball and football combined with martial arts has made me active my entire life. Aside from one major shoulder surgery, I have been fortunate to stay healthy while always trying to learn more about my body. None of that, however, makes me a good trainer.
I did not receive a scholarship coming out of high school and I did not get drafted out of college. I was not All-State or an All-American. I played out my career with the dreaded “walk-on” and “undrafted free agent” labels that no one wants — the same labels that put a chip on my shoulder. As a competitor, I had to fight, scratch, and bleed for every opportunity. I needed to be self-motivated, prepared, and always ready.
I know what it’s like to push myself toward a goal that, at times, may seem unachievable. And I know what it’s like to stick with that goal through adversity. This is what makes me a good trainer.
On the field as a catcher, my job was to make my pitcher look good (figuratively). As a trainer, my job is to make my clients look good (literally). In both cases my role is to be a complimentary piece. I realize that everyone is motivated differently and what works for one client may not work for another. It’s my job to find the right recipe for the right person on the right day.
The only way I know how to work is to go all in. All of my ability. All of my commitment. All of my resources. I pride myself on the diversity of my clientele and knowing that I can help an Olympian as easily as I can help a grandma. I believe in training that is specific to the client and putting people in a position to succeed. We work smarter instead of harder — welcome to BKSTRENGTH!