Monday, July 1, 2013

Persistence versus Talent

When I was starting out in the martial arts, the first thing that I noticed was that most people were better at it than I was.  This didn't bother me too much on the whole, as most of the students had much more experience than I did.  What bugged me were the other people who were just starting, who were also better than me.  Not all of them, but a persistent handful just seemed to be blessed with an innate talent for the martial arts.  They were better coordinated than I was, or perhaps stronger, or had more fighting spirit.

I was deeply disappointed to receive such tangible proof of the unfairness of the universe.  I wondered if I should just give up.  I was the proverbial 90 pound wimp.  Was I ever going to amount to anything?

I don't know if I ever made a real decision about it.  I just persisted.

A year or two later, I looked around and discovered all those people had drifted off at some point along the way.  "Bad luck," I thought.  "Imagine how good they'd be if they had stuck around".  But I didn't spend too much time thinking about it.  I was too busy worrying about how much more I had to learn.

Along the way, I started training some of the incoming white belts.  I noticed that a few of them seemed to pick up techniques effortlessly.  "Wow," I thought, "those people are going to be really good". I prided myself on my ability to pick the future champions in their formative years.

Sooner or later, they all drifted away, same as the others.

It shouldn't be too surprising that people kept drifting off.  The most basic rule of martial arts, and perhaps of all worthwhile skills, is this: most people don't stick with it.

I noticed this quickly, but being the slow person that I am, it took a while to realize what this really meant.  Persistence in the martial arts is much more important than talent.

It's the oldest story in the world, told by Aesop as the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare.  I never understood that story when I was growing up.  Sure, maybe the hare got tired quickly.  But couldn't he just take a quick breather, keeping his eye on the tortoise, and then finish his sprint to the finish line?  That would have worked.  But that's how a tortoise thinks, not how a hare thinks.

Persistence and talent are not mutually exclusive.  You sometimes (rarely!) see a person who combines unique natural talent with dogged persistence.  That's where legends come from, the Bruce Lees and Michael Jordans of the world.  For the rest of us, it's usually a question of talent or persistence.  If you have the choice, choose persistence.  It always wins out in the long run, because without persistence, there IS no long run.  And the great part is that you can always choose persistence.  Natural talent just happens.  You have it or you don't.  But anybody can choose to be persistent, if they really want to.  Most people won't want to.  And that's ok!  It doesn't matter what anybody else does.  It just matters what you do.

Whatever you do, choose to be persistent about it.

1 comment:

  1. Are you calling all of us slow Bruce? Just kidding. I appreciate the sentiment that we do all have the choice to be persistent-it's a motivating thought that despite our physical capabilities, we can all choose to be persistent. It's definitely persistence that will allow us to: focus, despite the accumulating "sore spots"; be tempered with humility, when the art continues to remind us how "average" we can all be; and find patience, when we struggle with learning, or teaching a new technique. Best of luck with the new blog, and hope that your training is going well. -Cort