A Champion’s Mindset

Doing something out of obligation or out of a hunger to succeed are two different things.

A hot Sunday morning in Atlanta had slowly turned into an even hotter afternoon. It was a long holiday weekend and the gym was empty with the exception of me and my best friend Richard Trammell, who owned the gym. Richard is a three-time world champion fighter. On his wall are championship belts; multiple certificates of black belt degrees in various arts including judo, kendo, and shidokan; and action photos of his many fights where he triumphed over his opponents. On any given day you will find Richard working out and teaching and that includes Sundays.

On Sundays we do judo. We had just completed a rigorous judo workout that included exercises, instruction, and some spirited Randori (free-style practice). As we stood there soaking in sweat, I put my hands on my wet head in an effort to catch my breath and he asked me, “Are you going to do your bag workout?”

“Yes,” I said quietly, and nodded. Eventually I got enough air to ask, “Are you?”

“Yep,” he said as he smiled back, sweaty but full of energy.

Unwavering Dedication

The gym was so empty that every noise echoed. The weights and machines squatted dormant in their designated places, and I looked around thinking that maybe we were crazy being there on a holiday weekend. On the way into the gym that morning I noticed most of the traffic, what little there was, was going the other way. I wondered if they knew something I didn’t.

After a brief rest, and a big slug of modestly energized water, I changed from my wet and sweaty judo gi into badly cut shorts I had made from an old pair of sweats. I added an aged t-shirt and put on my beat up gloves for the punching bag. My worn out shoes completed my often-mocked outfit. In my own defense, I have always believed that expensive or fashionable workout clothes are unnecessary as I just plan to get sweaty and I don’t care who sees me. As Richard put on an old ripped shirt and a pair of discolored gi pants I saw that we thought alike. Since he is a champion, I figured I was in good company.

Left: Richard Trammell; Right: Richard and I training. [Photos courtesy of Noel Plaugher]

I asked if we were the only ones coming in that day. Usually, a group of people would show up later for personal training or for a boxing class. They would typically stream in when we were finishing up our first workout.

Yep, it is just us. Some people said they were coming, but they didn’t show up,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and continued wrapping his hands to work the heavy bag.

“Maybe we’re crazy, huh?” I asked.

No, we’re just different. When most people think about coming in, and working out, they look at it as giving something up. We look at it as giving something up if we don’t come in,” he said with a smile and continued wrapping his hands.

At that moment I realized what he meant when he said there was a difference between doing something out of obligation and doing something out of a hunger and drive to succeed. One look at Richard’s many accomplishments, including having the physique of man twenty years younger, speaks to the fact that there is no arguing with this mindset. A reluctant soul who is not committed to their success will likely not see it. One thing is absolutely true, if you are looking for a way to accomplish something, you will find it, and the opposite is also true.

Listen to Yourself

If you have a burning passion to do something, and it brings you joy to do it, there will be those that don’t understand your pursuit of your goal, and they will try to provide you with some really great excuses for not pursuing it. You must be careful about who you interact with, especially those who do not share your dedication. Monitoring feedback from friends, family, and coworkers is imperative for maintaining a positive mindset, and I find at this late stage in life that I am choosy about who I take advice from.

A mindset towards a goal will often draw critics in the form of: “You need balance,” or “Don’t overdo it.” But you must ask yourself: Is it my balance or someone else’s? You need to do what is necessary, and you will know what that is. Just because someone else can’t imagine spending an afternoon in a sweaty gym and loving it doesn’t mean you should stop. If you are trying to accomplish something it usually means that you must be prepared to sacrifice and confront difficulty.

Years ago, I remember leaving for a martial arts class after work. My co-workers were standing in the break room getting ready to have an after work get together. As I left, one said, “Do you have to go to class? Can’t you miss it just once?” I told him as politely as possible, that I didn’t want to miss it, and I went to the class. Once I started finding reasons to miss class, I would start to find more of them, and then the journey back to being consistent would be difficult.

How many people have given up on their dream because, “life got in the way”? The door to distractions is easy to open, but hard to close. I am glad I have made the choices that I have, and I still enjoy pursuing my goals in martial arts. I have never regretted any of my training. For me, it is good to know that it is the mindset of a champion.

Learn from the greats:

4 Mindset Lessons From the Legends

Headline photo courtesy of Baltimore BJJ.