4 in the morning.
I wake up and go to the bathroom to wash my face. I see my sleepy face reflecting in the mirror and I stare at it for a second.
Everybody in my house is sleeping, my classmates and friends are sleeping too and I'm getting ready for the morning training. And a thought keeps troubling me: how I wish to get back into my bed right now.
I don't think much about it, I wear my shoes and in a hurry I get out of the house.
What is it all for?
In 15 years practicing karate I had one single goal: to become a better athlete. On this long road I've learned one important lesson.
To fully enjoy what you do, you have to commit to it.
That means understanding that it takes time to achieve your goal, don't focus on the final result, but learn from the experiences on the way to your goal. The more experience you'll have, the better expert you'll become.
Then comes a day when you can answer any question in your field or niche. It's when you enjoy the beautiful taste of confidence and ease in life.
I've learned a few lessons from the experiences I had practicing karate, and I will share them with you.
1. Let go something good, in order to get something better
When I was 8 years old I played football and practiced karate, but I had to give up on one of them because I didn't keep up with school. This was my first difficult choice in my life, and it was karate.
My father explained that I have to give up football to be able to focus my karate practice, and he was right.
The next years were full of experiences. I cried when I lost fights, I was happy when I was winning. I worked through sweat and tears improving my skills. I wanted to give up. My team colleagues became my best friends. I spent a lot of time with them traveling and having fun together.
2. A true leader cares about his followers
To be a leader requires one thing and one thing only. Followers. It has nothing to do with rank or title.
How do you do that? You may wonder.
My coach brought so much passion into his karate practice, as that passion was contagious to me and colleagues. We trained through sweat and tears not because the trainer said so, but because we wanted to feel that passion as well.
He also cared about us just like we were his kids.
I remember one day in a sport camp we gathered all together and our coach joined us shortly. He had a red juicy apple in one hand and a knife in another. While we were joking and laughing, our coach sliced that apple and shared it with us.
He gave us a sense of purpose, belonging and protection and we were ready to follow him anywhere. He was never afraid to make others shine and this made him a likable leader.
3. This is a lonely road
When you have a goal you can't expect that people will understand your drive and devotion to what you do. Some will even try to drag you down.
For example, no one in my immediate circle of friends and family liked karate. No one had the desire to become a national champion at karate. It's never like that.
Your friends will admire and support you, but the hard work you'll have to do alone. It's your choice.
4. Seek discipline and find your liberty
Dreaming about being successful, living to the fullest or being productive is cool, but without the discipline of focus and task execution you can't take full advantage of an opportunity. You hover over it playing and experimenting looking for a place to land, but never making much impact on it.
One of the reasons you don't focus is because you don't have enough confidence. The reasons you don't have enough confidence is because you never spent long enough time to figure out how to be an expert in it.
I've realized that when I asked my coach, "Is there a way I can improve my technique faster?"
He looked right at me and said, "Yes, there is a way."
"Which one?"I asked.
He said, "The shortest way is to continuously work. Every time you skip trainings you lengthen the time you need to improve your technique. It's like swimming in a river against the flow. You stroke hard to gain slow improvements, but if you stop stroking you will go with the flow to where you started."
People must be disciplined, because by nature they are raw and wild.
5. Sometimes a kick in the butt is the best way to keep going
There always was a time when I got tired. When just the thought of going to training made me…well… gag. I didn't have the will to get up and do it.
That's when I needed a hand of help or even a kick in the butt.
Every time I slowed down my trainer was around and encouraged to keep moving. When I cheated he made me do 50 pushups and start over again, and I didn't want to cheat anymore.
When you get over that emotional barrier, it becomes easier.
6. Choose your habits wisely
You can predict whether you'll succeed or fail in your goal. All you have to do is look at your habits.
You can't decide on your future, but you can decide your habits. And your habits will decide your future.
I realized that when our coach forbade us to smoke, drink alcohol or have any bad habit at list we turn 18 years old. He explained it like this: "Your body steadily grows from birth until the age of 20 when the skeletal system has fully formed. Your body uses all the resources to grow and form correctly, and it's not likely to poison the body in the beginning of its formation."
Your habits are like seeds planted in your life, but you're not going to see a harvest overnight. It takes time for that seed to grow. When you'll reap the harvest, they'll either bring positive results or they'll bring misery and pain in your life.
Once you control your habits, you gain control over your life.
7. Losing or failing is necessary
During the years I've won fights, but I've lost too. I had to endure the disappointments and humiliations of being a loser.
When I lost fights my coach could accept and admit that my opponent was better or I was injured, but he never accepted losing from a lack of effort.
Unfortunately, I saw athletes who after they've lost the fight didn't shake hands with their opponent, thrown their gloves on the floor showing how angry they were.
Those dramatic scenes were never tolerated by the audience that came to see interesting fights.
But here is the truth.
Losing hurts, but it shouldn't destroy your self-esteem. It shouldn't make you feel useless and hopeless.
Losing is not the end of the world. It hurts because I've invested a great amount of time, effort, and love into something like karate.
It should hurt! Otherwise why would I bother doing karate?
How you handle a loss speaks volumes about your character and your commitment to what you do.
True winners have to absorb losses.