Two weeks ago, as I was sweating out my final 2 lbs in the hot Phoenix sun (topping 100+ degrees), I asked myself, “Why do I still compete?”  That pervasive thought ran thicker than the water-depraved blood in my veins.

I always called those self-defeating thoughts, “mental demons,” and could usually cast them from my mind before stepping on the mats.  Recently, it seemed a little harder.  Maybe it’s because I just turned 35 and, when competing in the adult divisions, I’m usually 10+ years older than most of the other competitors in my bracket.  Maybe it’s because the weight cuts are getting a little harder each time.  Maybe it’s because the strain of coaching ~20 people on the same day AND trying to stay focused to compete is proving to be quite difficult.  Maybe it’s because the fear of losing (or worse yet, losing badly) has stripped some of the fun away from the thrill of competing.  Maybe it’s because those little nagging injuries that just won’t seem to heal are finally catching up with me.  Maybe it’s because running a business while trying to stay in competitive shape is really, really hard for me.  Maybe it’s a combination of all of those…

This was my internal monologue for 45 minutes while I did a combination of jumping jacks, jumping rope and jogging.  Then, as I turned the corner to the complex (so I could step on the scale and see how much longer I had to endure the hell of what is weight cutting), the answer appeared so vividly in front of me that it honestly made me a little emotional; one of my team mates was in the EXACT same position I was, struggling to make that final cut before it was time for his division to go.

I stood behind him, waiting to see if his torture was over, wondering if we’d both have to walk back outside and push just a little harder; or, if we’d both get to enjoy the satisfying sweet taste of water that can only be understood when it’s forbidden for an extended period of time.  Luckily for both of us, it was all over.

As a coach, it’s vitally important to me that I lead by example.  I’ll confess, it’s pretty easy for me to say this; I come from a jiu jitsu upbringing where this example was set for me.  I honestly don’t remember how many times I’ve seen Shawn Hammonds win; or lose for that matter.  I have no idea if he even has a winning or losing record.  I know I’ve seen him experience victory at the highest level; and, perhaps even more importantly, I’ve seen him deal with defeat.  I’ve seen him deal with injury and the limitations that come with inevitable aging.  And, thankfully, I’ve seen him overcome each of those and return to the mats to compete with the rest of his team, ALWAYS leading by example.

I continue to compete along side my team because I refuse to ask them to do something I’m not willing to do myself.  I refuse to offer guidance and/or instruction on something that I haven’t done myself.  How can I tell them to never let the fear of losing keep them from competing if I’m not willing to overcome that same fear myself?  How can I tell a single mother with two full-time jobs that she has to find time for training if she wants to compete if I’m not willing to make those same sacrifices?  How can I tell students in the competition class that they HAVE to get up and do just one more round when they REALLY, REALLY don’t want to if I’m not laying on the mat beside them, forcing myself to do the same?

Don’t get me wrong, there are times that I can’t WAIT for the next tournament to come.  It almost seems miraculous sometimes that my body feels this good and healthy, considering all the damage I’ve forced it to endure over the years.  That’s when competing is relatively easy.  The true test of character, however, comes when fear and pain creep in and tell you that you don’t have anything left to prove; that you’re entirely too busy, tired, sore, old, bad, uncoordinated, and/or scared to continue.  When we’re able to look those demons in their eyes, recognize them for what they are, and exorcise them, we’re accomplishing something that yet again transcends the mats and pushes us to do the same in all other aspects of life.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

-Nelson Mandela

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