Category Archives: Martial Arts & Physical Disciplines

Defeat

A wise man once said sometimes you win, sometimes you LEARN

So my scars are not defeat, they represent my Experience

My tear stains are not defeat, they represent my Understanding

My mistakes are not defeat, they represent my Education

My humility is not defeat, it represents my Wisdom

J.M. Cortés

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés 

Let them burn

More concerning Half Measures and Inaction:

Hernando Cortes was not a man of half measures or inaction. At a particular crisis point in his expedition of Mexico, with nationals to conquer and a deployment from Spain en route to apprehend him, a brazen act was carried out.  Some argue that my family’s patriarch did not actually burn his ships but simply disabled them; others say he destroyed all but one. But whether he set them ablaze, limited their nautical ability, or destroyed all but one Hernando Cortes was not about half measures. Furthermore inaction would not work at that moment of decision. Arriving on the shores of Mexico, Cortes immediately went about conquering the nationals. Some fell by their deference to him and some fell by force. But when word of the imminent arrest reached Cortes, he prepared decisvely. A former superior of Cortes had authorized his capture and was portraying the expedition as an act of mutiny. Cortes knew that success would only come if he could conquer Mexico. So the ships had to burn.

It was not an act of desperation or insanity; there was no sign in the heavens driving him toward euphoric zeal. So what motivated him to do it then? Two very specific things; one was the innate characteristic of true leadership which is decisiveness. I believe this was important but I also believe it was secondary in that moment. The main reason had to have been his knowledge of history. Centuries before, his own country had been invaded by Muslims. Though the Spaniards outnumbered them 5 to 1, they were still defeated and their homeland seized. At the helm of the invading Muslims was a leader that determined to conquer Spain or die trying. His command upon arrival was to disembark and burn the ships they arrived on. If alive they would have a country of ships to pick from and if otherwise, dead men require no transportation.  

Cortes recognized this moment called for the same mindset. If arrested by the coming envoy, they would fail. If the nationals became aware that these ‘god-like’ warriors could be defeated they would fail. So calling upon the reserve of fortitude found within every leader, he removed any option that did not end as he would have it. In other words, he would be the author of his outcome. He would defeat the nationals or die trying. He would resist the envoy or die trying. Eventually he came face to face with those sent to arrest him and he conquered them. Less than 2 years after that, he had fully conquered the Aztec Empire. But before that happened, the ships had to burn.

Half Measures are equal to having ships to retreat with. Half measures carry a tone of uncertainty which leads to insecurity. A hand shaking with fear does not handle a sword effectively. Had Cortes used any language less than definitive or displayed any resolve less than certain, he never would have survived. Donald Rumsfeld recently spoke up about the importance of a direct response to the issues in Syria by stating “the essence of leadership is clarity”. As the world looked on, the US would have to speak clearly about Syria’s actions and thus a fitting response.

 “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle”

A cause worth living for naturally means it is worth dying for. Alexander the Great landed on the shores of Persia. With the expansion of his father’s kingdom in sight, there was no stopping place in his mind. Interestingly, he burned his ships alongside those shores as well.

I think there is something to this whole “burn the ships” thing.

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

The consequences of Half Measures and Inaction

“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” – Winston Churchill

It was a Saturday on the 7th day of March in 1936. The orders were given and they marched into The Rhineland. Violating a Treaty that had been signed into existence nearly 17 years earlier, the act was veiled as reconstruction but was truly an act of aggression. At the close of World War 1, the Treaty of Versailles had imposed geographic restrictions upon Germany. Adolf Hitler exhibiting his ascendency in Germany and ignoring the Treaty sent his soldiers into the demilitarized Rhineland. Ironically (and to his surprise) many Europeans acted as though they barely noticed. France was nearest the encroachment and some concerned by it appealed to Britain for support.

Recognizing the magnitude of Hitler’s violation, Winston Churchill stood before the British House of Commons and called upon them to act. The quote at the beginning of this commentary comes from his appeal to them. But to his dismay, they dismissed Hitler’s move as behavior of a fairly new leader working in favor of his country. Furthermore a common sentiment was that the Treaty had been too restrictive and Germany moving (back) into an area where ‘German speaking people’ already lived was natural. Compounding the uncertainty was the reality that many in France did not want to ‘deal with it’. It was a time of elections and what politician would risk controversy by suggesting a costly military action or even war.

There are differing schools of thought concerning Hitler’s actions; some view it as an indirect catalyst for World War 2 while others say it was simply a choice that lead to many other choices. Hitler essentially called out France by his actions and was even concerned they might react. But his concerns were unnecessary because they did not move. Later he would express his initial hesitancy: “The 48 hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw.”

But “The ox knows where the weak part of the fence is”.

Churchill’s prophetic warning came into focus when the world did enter a period of consequences; we call it World War 2. But whether one sees the violation of the Treaty as a direct or indirect cause of the WW2, it was still an act that could have and should have been addressed. Perhaps Hitler getting parked would have eventually been followed by another act and with the same results.

But that’s not the point. The point is that half measures and inaction will never change your circumstance. Keep playing with your addiction. Keep putting off making an intentional change to your situation. Handle your problem with kid gloves if you like, but soon they will handle you.

Decisive action and follow through makes the change. I will continue in my next post with more regarding half measures and inaction.

To be continued…

Copyright © 2013 J.M. Cortés

The Snare of a Glass Jaw

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This week I was supervising numerous 2 minute boxing matches. The participants were all adolescents and mostly inexperienced. Having sparred informally as well as in tournament settings, it was easy to discern what most of their movements and decisions were based on. Many entered the ring without thought about stance, breathing technique, or the 120 seconds between them and the whistle. They appeared to enter the ring with a short game mentality of swinging continuously and wildly at their opponent’s face. In addition to this, the 30 other preteens standing in anticipation outside of the ring only provoked their adrenaline all the more. Cheers, laughs, and shouts of instruction had them all in a frenzied state and it was a high energy environment.

For the most part, everything went positive and there was only one event of tears so it was an overall good experience. Every so often, an underdog would rise to overcome their opponent. But it did not take more than a third of the match’s time to know who had the upper hand. As already stated, the participants were mostly inexperienced and evenly matched so technique was not the giveaway. It was not the amount of swings thrown nor even how many hits to the face were taken.

The telltale sign was the spirit of the competitor.

Every student of combat sports is taught self defense techniques. Whether it is how to react to strikes or being grabbed, every system has its own ideal defense. I have trained in multiple martial arts and over the years I have seen many impractical lessons that only work in a simulated encounter. Every instructor imparts technique and execution with hope the student never needs to use it. Repetition and cultivating muscle memory drives the lesson down into the student and it becomes a part of their skill set. But only one thing will prove whether it ‘took’ or not; the day the real test arrives. There is no lesson like the lesson of experience. Its pace of instruction accelerates faster and travels further than any simulated lesson can.

I still remember the first time I was punched squarely in the face. It was not a friendly environment or a safe place of training; it was neither in play nor in practice. I was hit by a person that outweighed me and stood taller than I did. I was seated and they were standing, I never knew it was coming and they knew all along. I will also not forget the look on their face when I pushed myself off the ground and stood to face them.

Anyone familiar with boxing or other combat sports has heard about the infamous “glass jaw”. It is a term used to describe combatants with limited ability to suffer strikes, typically to the face. A combatant may have speed, technique, and physical strength but if they cannot handle attacks they are already undone. To counterbalance this (mostly) mental state, instructors will drive it down into the student’s spirit – “it’s all in your mind”. When the mind is overcome, the body and willpower follows. So an instructor pushes the student (or should) to a place that feels physically intolerable but is really just mentally painful. The student’s empowered mind will pursue dominion; the body is captive to the sheer force of their resolve.

The term “roll with the punches” is an idiom used to convey the will to persevere through difficulty. But literally, one of the techniques taught concerning being hit is moving with the direction of the blow. Continuing with the momentum of the attack decreases the force of it. Another technique is to keep the mouth closed. Obvious reasons like keeping the teeth in the head are there but it also can prevent a broken jaw or the tongue being bit in half.

These points have not been exhaustive but for the basis of this commentary the last point I will make regards breathing. In Karate and Tae Kwon Do, I was taught about the importance of the Kiyap. The Kiyap is the well-known guttural yell of martial artists and is related to the exertion of breath during striking movements. It is akin to the boxer’s audible breaths expelled from their noses and gritted teeth when they punch. The importance of these is explained a number of ways but the crux of the matter is breathing. The combatant must breathe!

Adversity in life, regardless how it manifests, is best handled like a punch in the face:

1. Sometimes fighting back is counterproductive: the force of resistance can be minimized if you go with the flow. It’s no different than swimming downstream instead of upstream; it’s obvious which direction is the easiest.

2. Keep your mouth shut. “It’s better to be silent and thought a fool then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” We’ve all witnessed mudslinging and it never looks favorable on anyone’s part. Be careful to hold your tongue lest you bite it off.

3. Breathe: Don’t let difficulty steal your breath but instead regulate your breathing and on your own terms. Keep calm and carry on.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

An Indomitable Spirit

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Few things are more awe inspiring than someone’s refusal to accept defeat. You are witnessing greatness when you see someone persevere through adversity with absolute confidence they can achieve their goal. Perseverance through adversity is evidence of an indomitable spirit. I believe resolve is like a well spring deep within everyone but the ground must be broken up for it to spring forth. When someone wants to take short cuts and retreats from hardship, they are suppressing this well spring of resolve. Allow the rains of adversity to shower the grounds above this well spring. These rains will soften the ground and make it easier for the good to break through.

An Indomitable Spirit is revealed by the choices one makes. Giving up is a choice and persevering is a choice. These choices are the result of whatever is influencing us the most. Past failures, a poor or nonexistent support system, and deficient integrity can influence the wrong choices. Previous successes, a great support system, and internal strength can influence the right choices. Nevertheless, the right or wrong choice is a conscience decision that is up to the individual to make. Environment is a powerful influence but the choice is still up to the individual. Examples abound of people who overcame a negative environment and its influence to achieve success. Examples also abound of people who failed to achieve success though they had a positive environment to thrive in. The words of Henry Ford ring true: “Whether you think you can or think you cannot, you are right”.

The record setters, record breakers, and all who have made an imprint on history were individuals who made a choice. Their Indomitable Spirit pushed them beyond limitations and defeat. Edmund Hillary was the first to lead a group of mountaineers to the summit of Mount Everest. But his first attempt was not successful and even took the lives of some of those he lead. In spite of this defeat, the British Parliament moved forward with an event to celebrate his efforts. As he entered the building, a standing ovation commenced. However Edumnd Hillary appeared to only notice  a picture of Mount Everest set up in the auditorium. He walked directly up to it and while shaking his fist at the image of Mount Everest he declared: “You won this time. But you are as big as you are ever going to get. And I’m still growing.” History reveals he would not let that defeat be final and eventually he stood on the summit of Mount Everest.

A common occurrence takes place in marathon races stretching out over significant distances,. Once first place has been secured and the other leading contenders have crossed the line, it is normal for those still far behind to drop out. An attitude prevails that since, the primary victory slots have been attained continuing the race becomes optional. Throughout my martial arts training, I have heard more than one instructor say: “You are not in competition with those around you; you are in competition with yourself”.

Zoe Koplowitz has been called “The World’s Slowest Marathon Runner”. At 64, she has participated in over 20 marathon races. The quality most distinct about her participation is not her age but the fact she has battled multiple sclerosis for more than half her life. Each time she has crossed the finish line she has been a winner. It may have not been a first place winner but a winner nonetheless. Her completion time for a race has been as much as 31+ hours. Her response to this: “It doesn’t matter how long it takes me to finish, it’s that I finish and I finish from the heart”. An Indomitable Spirit forges through the false concept that only races won, count. The Indomitable Spirit knows that some races are won strictly by virtue of finishing them.

“He who gives up when he is behind is cowardly; he who gives up when he is ahead is foolish.” –William A Ward

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Do not run!

The final moments that typically precede hand to hand combat are when two opponents have found the resolve to engage their enemy. In one or both of their minds, they have decided that overcoming their opponent is possible. They also have accepted the risks associated with their choice. Whether the scenario is in a controlled environment such as a training exercise or the situation is real, there is a feeling that must be overcome – Intimidation.

I have been in many real and simulated physical confrontations, the latter being the most recent and frequent. Even when training with people I am familiar with and in a controlled environment, I have to consciously address some things mentally. One is whether I am aware of any level of intimidation I feel in that moment. The other is the importance of controlling my emotions by channeling them into focus on my actions. The intimidation (if present) has to be acknowledged and placed into perspective; am I really at risk? Am I communicating to my opponent apprehension or timidity? The emotional control is important because it will manifest in how I respond, both defensively and offensively.

When engaged in combat there is a risk of tunnel vision, rapid breathing, and muscle exhaustion from being overwrought. Combat breathing techniques regulate your breathing and aid with preventing tunnel vision. Allowing your mind to accept the encounter and ‘relax’ will prevent unnecessary muscle expenditure.

Intimidation…sometimes the fear of an encounter is worse than the encounter itself. Intimidation is when a response is forced upon someone by reason of threat. It is when someone frightens another to submit or comply with them. Feelings of discouragement come upon the intimidated because they perceive the intimidator to be superior to them. If they believe the intimidator, compliance with their wishes will follow.

In his inaugural speech, President John F Kennedy said “Let us never negotiate out of fear” The spirit behind these words is one of internal strength and resolve to avoid yielding to terror. Intimidation, whether valid or unnecessary, can be overcome. The power it possesses is found, not in the threat but in the one being threatened. If the terror being issued cannot penetrate the heart of the threatened, the power is lost. Intimidation is not just an external issue, it can originate within us. We can create our own fears and thus become controlled by them. Since perception is reality then everything rises or falls upon how we perceive a thing.

In conclusion, the account of a statement made by Robert Harper offers an appropriate response to intimidation. The year was 1798 and American diplomats had returned from France. They were sent to negotiate with the French regarding attacks that were being made upon American naval vessels. The French were attacking the American ships because they felt their “waters were being sailed”. The offer by the French to the diplomats was one of tribute, if the American ships wanted to sail their waters they could pay a toll and the threat of attack would be removed. It was in response to the French’s request for tribute that Robert Harper declared that America had “Millions for defense but not one penny for tribute”.

Never run from what opposes you, if you start running you will never quit running.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés

Paid the cost to be the Boss

I am 3 years into the study of my 5th martial art. Granted, I have not invested the same amount of time into every art I have studied but overall my interest in martial arts began 27 years ago. During the last 3 years I have noticed a common mind-set among those who casually pass by the world of martial arts. It is an attitude of wanting to be “known or recognized as a martial artist” but avoiding the cost of becoming one.

Simply signing a contract and committing to a term of training does not make a martial artist. Irregular attendance to class and never independently practicing will never make one a martial artist. Many want to take the quick road to talent, success, and recognition. But that road doesn’t exist. I only briefly studied Kung Fu but something the Sifu said has stayed with me. “To execute one good kick you will first need to execute a thousand kicks”.

“There are no short cuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills

Who doesn’t want to be healthy and fit? But who is willing to exercise, quit eating garbage, and follow a healthy diet? Who would not mind being wealthy? But who is willing to save their money, wisely invest their money, and avoid wasting their money? Who doesn’t want a powerful mind? But who is willing to allow its dimensions to be expanded by learning? Whatever you are in pursuit of, if it has intrinsic value, you will have to spend and be spent to attain it.

Overnight successes are an exception and never the rule. And there is a crowd already gathered of those who are legends in their own mind. If you want to stand with them, there is plenty of room. But if you are not afraid to pay the cost, you can be their Boss.

Copyright © 2012 J.M. Cortés