Mistake Free

This is the fourth in a 7-part series comparing Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to youth wrestling and how we can apply these lessons in our own lives.

Click here for Part 1: It begins with Practice

Click here for Part 2: What are your Questions

Click here for Part 3: Winning with Ease

He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. –The Art of War, Chapter 4:13 Tactical Dispositions

The wrestler that makes a mistake ends up on his back. The only way to not get in this position is to not­ allow the opponent an opportunity. Becoming mistake-free results in victory. If your opponent has done his research on you, he will know it when he steps on the mat. Your reputation will precede you, and your opponent will arrive already defeated.

As a mortarman in the Army, I couldn’t make a mistake. My team couldn’t make a mistake. One wrong move, one miscalculation, or one errant round could result in killing the people that counted on us for their protection.

Mistakes sink ships on the ocean. They kill businesses by damaging their reputation and the trust people put in them. Mistakes prevent you from going where you want to go.

It is difficult to be mistake free in life, but there are measures we can take to prevent mistakes. There are things we can do to offset the damage and not allow it to escalate into something we can’t fix. We can prepare, be ever-vigilant, and have a partner or coach that is looking out for us. Good coaches identify areas that need improvement. They correct issues early on so that they will not become a problem later on. They are there to prevent you from making mistakes. They are the checks and balances similar to the platoon sergeants and squad leaders of a fire team. They are there to watch, direct, and correct.

When I was younger, I thought I was alone. I isolated myself and listened to my own counselling. It wasn’t very sound, and to this day I am still paying for some of those mistakes. What I needed back then was someone to keep me in check. There were plenty of people out there that would have done it, but I wasn’t looking. It wasn’t until I was older that I started looking. By then my exterior was already hardened making it more difficult for others to get through. I am still working on this area, still working on becoming vulnerable enough to those closest to me. The good news is that I am working on this area and getting better.

It is hard to go through life alone and not make a mistake. We all need a partner, a coach, or a mentor that can see our blind spots. The influencers in your life cannot be afraid to offer counselling. And once they do, it is your job to trust them, listen, and take action. Only then can you come closer to becoming mistake free and establishing the certainty of your victory.

Winning With Ease

This is the third in a 7-part series comparing Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to youth wrestling and how we can apply these lessons in our own lives. This is how you win with ease.

Click here for Part 1: It begins with Practice

Click here for Part 2: What are your Questions

Winning with Ease

What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. –The Art of War, Chapter 4:11 Tactical Dispositions

Wrestling is a difficult sport taxing one’s body, soul, and mind. In his second year, Alec has yet to put all three together on the mat. This is not a harsh statement. He is only six years old. How many boys his age has found this balance? Some of the older kids, who have been wrestling longer, have begun to put it together. It is noticeable when they walk on the mat. They look confident and fearless. When they win, they make it seem easy. Those are what the ancients would call a clever wrestler. It is the one with the experience, who has put in the hard work and has persevered.

In my forty-four years, I haven’t gone through this life with ease. Why is that? My road has been difficult, because I have not always put in the hard work when it comes to my body, soul, and mind. But when I do put in the work, when I persevere, life gets easier. When I neglect even one of these three pillars, my road becomes difficult to travel.

Want to be the one that not only wins, but excels in winning with ease? Learn from experience by doing the hard work. Keep grinding every day. Keep practicing. Persevere. Do this and you will find your Tao, your Way.

What Are Your Questions?

This is the second in a 7-part series comparing Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to youth wrestling and how we can apply these lessons in our own lives.

 

Click here for part 1: Begin with Practice

To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. –The Art of War, Chapter 4:2 Tactical Dispositions

What are your questions?

The kids toe the line and shake hands. Once ready and in their stances, the referee blows the whistle to begin the contest. Having never faced each other before, both the boys have options. What they choose to do is based on experience and comfort level. Not knowing the other’s skill level, to shoot for a takedown from distance could be disastrous. If you can’t touch your opponent, the long shot truly lives up to its name in its chances for success.

Charging blindly into an unknown opponent is a recipe for disaster. There is a small chance you may surprise him with an opening bull rush, however an experienced opponent will have prepared for such a scenario and will be able to counter with ease. What is a better solution? It is better to probe for weaknesses and to look for the opportunities provided by your opponent.

It is foolish for a lawyer to cross-examine a witness with statements. Isn’t it better to ask questions? The more questions, the greater the chances of finding a flaw in the testimony.

You can take control of a meeting by spouting off all the things you know without getting feedback, but this will not solve the problem at hand. The meeting participants are not the enemy. The problem is the enemy. To find the solutions you have to ask questions. You have to probe. You have to collaborate. The solutions to the problem will eventually be exposed, and then you can attack.

The quality of your questions determines the quality of your life. –Tony Robbins

If the enemy is within, what should you do? How can you attack a problem if you don’t really know what it is? Whether it is a medical condition or a bad habit, the methods of combatting it are similar. Identify the problem. Ask the questions that can lead to a solution. If you can’t find the solution on your own, collaborate. As Sun Tzu said, “To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands.” It is in your hands whether or not you choose to fight. Only through fighting will you be able make use of the opportunities provided by the enemy.

There are some things you won’t be able to cure. In that case, your only option is to live the best life you can. You do not have to be the victim. You can rise above and not allow the enemy an easy victory.

It Begins With Practice

This is the first in a 7-part series comparing Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to youth wrestling and how we can apply these lessons in our own lives.

Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old put themselves beyond defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy. –The Art of War, Chapter 4:1 Tactical Dispositions

It Begins with Practice

Alec is about to wrap up his second season of wrestling. With a month left to go in the season, I am amazed that he still only knows a few basic moves. At first I was frustrated. Why isn’t the coach teaching them new moves? Every week it seems like we go over the same fundamentals and rarely add anything new. How will Alec be able to compete against other wrestlers with so small an arsenal of moves?

Though I have good intentions for his future in wrestling, the last question was not a good one to ask. A better question would be to ask: Has he mastered the moves he does know? Unfortunately, the answer is no. He has not mastered them. Don’t get me wrong. He has made remarkable improvements over last year. But in terms of mastery, he still has a long ways to go. How can he hope to learn new moves, when the basics have not been perfected? He needs to keep practicing until they become a part of his nature.

Practice, the master of all things. –Octavius Augustus

The first way to put yourself beyond defeat: Practice the things you know until you have mastered them and can execute them without flaw.

Last week, we practiced defending the head and arm throw. It is a favorite method of attack used by other local teams. Because it is easy to defend, we do not teach this attack on our team. To teach the boys how to defend the move, we had to show them how to execute the move. It wasn’t until after they learned the move that we could move on to its defense.

This leads to the second way you can put yourself beyond defeat: Identify the things you don’t know.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. –Confucius

When you watch a football game on television, you only see the finished product. What you don’t see is the hours of watching film. The team is not only studying its own strengths and weaknesses, but it is also studying the other team’s. In essence, they conduct an analysis method known as S.W.O.T.

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

The good fighters of old were courageous. How were they courageous? They practiced what they knew until they became masters. They identified their weaknesses and then practiced to correct those issues. They studied themselves. They studied their enemies. When you read the stories of the old fighters, you only read about the finished product. It was the years of preparation before the battle that put them beyond defeat.

Who is the opponent in your life? Who or what is the enemy? We may not have someone out there looking to do us harm, but we all are fighting battles. It would be foolish to think we can win some of these battles overnight. We have to put in the work. We have to build the right habits that will put us in position to achieve success. For those who want to move forward in life, keep practicing.

Parenting tip #1: Be the Parent

I have recently started asking some of the veteran associates I work with about their opinions on some of the new hires. The answers were rather similar and can be summed up in two statements, “they are no good” and “they have no work ethic.” Many of these new associates are fresh into adulthood. They are young and inexperienced, and they are viewed as “no good.” I see a few who stand out. They are quiet. They work hard. They show up to work every day. They are in the minority. What a shame. Is this an issue with today’s kids or has it always been this way? They have been thrust out into this world of adults, and they are not prepared.


I try to attend everyone of Alec’s wrestling practice. I am actively involved with the drills. I do it for two reasons. First, I want to make sure Alec understands what it is he is supposed to do and then that he does the work. The second is for his protection. I understand I may be overly protective of my five year old, but I have my reasons. He is one of the youngest in the group and has never wrestled before. With the exception of a few, the boys he wrestles against are bigger, stronger, and wilder. In addition, they lack discipline. Some of these boys have no qualms about applying a rear naked choke to get the advantage. Their actions are not malicious, but they don’t know any better and will do what is needed to win. If I see them or Alec break a rule that could cause an injury, I will not hesitate to stop and reset the action.

Of the boys on the team only about 25% have the ability sit and listen to their coaches’ instruction. One in particular seems to have made it a quest to disrupt the practice. The coaches are continuously telling him to sit down, to stop running, or to leave the other wrestlers alone. While this is taking place, his parents are sitting on the mat nearby not paying attention to their son’s antics. Whatever is on their phones happen to be more important. Do they think they can take a break from their duties as parents since the coach is now the babysitter? Are they not even remotely embarrassed? If this is the norm for practice, I can’t even imagine what the teachers in the classroom have to go through. If the behavior is not corrected now, what will happen in the future? As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”


Thinking of the future, what will these undisciplined children be like when they are much older? They used to be little terrors, and now they are growing up. Will they self-correct into model citizens. Will they recognize their parents’ lack of attention and go on to be better parents with their own children? One could hope, but that may be a bit naïve. Those children, if they survive to adulthood, if they don’t kill themselves or the ones around them, will likely continue to the pattern their parents set before them and raise a new generation of little terrors even more fragmented and torn than their predecessors. A land of undisciplined, unruly children turned to adults will not improve society. If they continue down this course, they will not make this world a better place.

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death. -Proverbs 19:18

This is a plea for parents to wake up. Put your cell phones down and pay attention to your children. How can you expect them to pay attention when your lack of attention is the example they follow. Teach them discipline. Mete out a just punishment when they stray off the path. The rod of discipline can take many forms. Taking your kid off to the side during practice and stopping him from causing mayhem now may prevent him from getting kicked off the team in High School. A well-deserved spanking now is more preferable than the punishment found in a prison later. Be their parent. Be their teacher, and maybe we can have a hope for a better future.

Folly is bound up in the heart of the child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away. –Proverbs 22:15

10 Minutes of Coaching

Alec wrestling

I love driving my son to wrestling practice. The drive provides about 10 minutes of coaching. Often the same topics are covered, today was different.

I asked Alec, “What are we going to do today in practice?” Alec’s response was automatic: Listen and Pay Attention. Listening and paying attention are his two biggest goals for each day at school. It is really hard to get into trouble, especially at school, when this is your focus. As our conversation continues, we also cover the following topics:

  • Do the work
  • Keep your head up
  • Have a good attitude
  • Have fun

Listen and Pay Attention

Obviously this applies to the coach.  How else are you going to learn, but from your coach/mentor/teacher? As I attend these practices, I am amazed at the patience of the coaches. They are trying to turn these kids, from 5-11 years old, into wrestlers. Very few of the children have the ability to sit and listen to the instruction. Very few have the ability to just sit still. The ones listening are able to take in so much more of the content. At this stage, it just might make the difference in each child’s success.

You need to listen and pay attention to your opponent, as well. This means using more than just your ears. You need to read him. How is he standing? Does he have patterns that can be recognized and exploited? What is his body language? Is he having a good day or even a good attitude? Is he cautious or careless? Does he listen and pay attention?

This is a lot of information for a five year old to grasp. But these lessons are not just for wrestling, they are lessons he can utilize throughout his life. He will not be five forever.

 

Do the Work

When it comes to the drills and the exercises, we have to do the work. What Alec is lacking in experience, he is making up through hard work. It is not easy. The attention span and work ethic of these youngsters is sporadic at best. Trying to keep them drilling the whole time is a chore. Continuing to do push-ups, when the others are not. is a task easily accomplished.

There is a deep principle here, one of fortitude and determination. How do you keep going, even when you are the only one? How do you keep pushing, even when you do not feel like it? Discipline. It is not something that is inherited. It is forged when no one else is looking. It is developed when you keep working despite your feelings. This is discipline. This is doing the work. Consistent behaviors equal consistent results.

 

Keep Your Head Up

Drop your head in wrestling, and you give your opponent an advantage. You will not be able to see what is happening. You won’t be able to react to what your opponent is doing. Drop your head, and you allow yourself to be controlled by another.

This is another lesson we have been working on with Alec. He has a tendency to drop his head when he hears something he doesn’t want to hear. He drops his head when he doesn’t get his way. It used to be a minor annoyance. In time, my wife and I would get frustrated with this small act. Now, it is a lesson.You will never get what you truly desire by dropping your head. You cannot continue to fight from this submissive position. You cannot maintain control when your head is down.

This is something I started working on several years ago and continue to work on today. When I shake hands with another, I ensure I am making eye contact. I view it as a matter of respect. By looking away with eyes averted, I feel like I am not giving the respect due to the other person.

I do this also when I am running. I used to wave at motorists in my neighborhood but not make eye contact. In my mind I was thinking, “ Yeah I’m running. It’s tough. I can’t focus on you. I gotta keep my eyes straight ahead.” Maybe it is something the Army taught me. Eyes forward. This is not a joy run. We are out here doing work. This might be why it took me another 15 years after the Army to enjoy running. Now when a car passes by, I wave and try to keep eye contact. Maybe I am trying to send a message, “I am out here getting after it, and I am enjoying it. Why don’t you join me next time?”

 

Have a Good Attitude

When Alec’s attitude changes, it is very noticeable. This goes along with keeping his head up. Even more so when it comes to doing the work. On occasion, there are mini challenges where the winner will watch the loser do push-ups. In the beginning, he would get upset because he got rolled over and as result would be the one pushing. He would want to get up, but he knew he had to do the work. Now that he is winning more challenges, he is doing the push-ups with the boy he just beat.

I love to watch people who genuinely have a good attitude. It is truly hard to hold a grudge against them. Their attitude is infectious. Their attitude inspires me to do better. Adversity is coming for all us. Our ability to handle it will determine the outcome. I’m reminded of the quote, “Was it a bad day, or was it a bad 5 minutes that you milked all day?” – unknown. I know I have been guilty of it. One little insignificant thing, that won’t make a difference in the long run, can set me off in the wrong direction. If I am not self-aware, my day can be ruined. And for what? Whatever it was, probably wasn’t important.

 

Have Fun

When I asked Alec what else we need to do, he responded with, “have fun.” It might be something I tend to forget, but the concept is not lost with him.  We are trying to accomplish many things with wrestling. But what it is all worth, if we are not having fun? I’m so happy that Alec did not lose sight of this fact. He is not being forced to wrestle. He is doing it, because he wants to. If it is not fun, then there is very little value in doing it.

There are many ways to have fun wrestling. He can go out there and play around. Several kids are doing that at every practice.  Those behaviors have consequences. Don’t do the work, and you struggle. Don’t do the drills, and another kid is going to wipe the mat with you.

To really have fun wrestling, you have to be competitive. You have to win. In order to win, you have to do the work. Some are naturally talented and can have some success solely on talent. The rest of us close the gap through hard work. In the event, you are naturally talented and put in the work, you will be nearly unstoppable. Elite.