My kid Ian’s wrestling season is finally over. He came in 4th in county this year which is a dramatic improvement from last year, but he wasn’t exactly thrilled with this finish. In fact, on match day, you would’ve thought that his puppy had died after he lost his 3rd place match. Last year was hard wrestling as an inexperienced freshman on varsity. During the off season, he went to a conditioning camp run by the legendary J. Robinson (aka J. Rob) that had trained 99 state champs from just last year and hundreds of state finalists. Mr. Robinson was an NCAA champion wrestler, a former Army Ranger (the Army special forces that are supposed to be tougher than the Navy Seals), assistant coach to the legendary Dan Gable at Iowa and now Minnesota University’s head coach. He has coached the phenomenal Brock Lesnar who played in the NFL, won the NCAA wrestling championship, won the UFC heavyweight title and now wrestles for WWE. J. Rob’s also a fine Christian man.
The entire conditioning camp was modelled after Ranger school. Kids would call home to quit this camp. The work included not only all day wrestling, but early morning long runs before breakfast just like the military, various feats of fitness and strength, a half marathon and a Navy Seals challenge run by REAL Navy Seals. The routine lasted till almost midnight and the next day, up at 5am, the kids started all over again, just like bootcamp. Ian was determined to do better than last year. So, he put himself through the J. Rob camp. Besides that, Ian had started following my 5-day-a-week powerlifting program to up his strength. To ensure that he would also get good enough cardio, he even sprinted for 20 minutes after dinner everyday, rain or shine. That’s how he made it to be the 4th best wrestler in our 2000 square mile area. In fact, if he managed his championship tournament well, he could’ve gotten 2nd or 3rd place. There’s always next year, but aspiring champions don’t think like that. They aren’t satisfied with loser medals. The day after the season ended, he’s back in the gym.
There’s nearly no sport in high school that’s more demanding than wrestling, not football, not basketball, not track (I’ve done track and football and my relay team was the 3rd best in the region in the 4×100), not even soccer (I’ve played that in high school too). It’s an individual sport that pits one man against another in the most primitive form of combat, and there’s no teammate to blame for losses. Since everyone you compete against is already the tough guy in his school, top placement has to come by clear wins. Top placements don’t come easily. To be better than most of the other guys (who are already toughest guys in their schools) in the toughest sport in high school demands complete commitment. My kid wasn’t satisfy with just being the best wrestler in his school so that he could represent the school; that goal is for losers. He sought to win county right from the beginning of the season. Getting a 4th place finish was no comfort to him. He was hoping to get further, but perhaps he can go to state that next year, but that process starts now. Being satisfy with mediocre accomplishments is for losers, not for winners.
Cary Kolat, a legendary wrestler of international status, told a good story about when he was a boy. My kid told me that he thought that I was old-school hardcore until he heard this story. Although Kolat’s father wasn’t a martial artist like I am, he trained Cary throughout the summer. In one instance, his dad was trying to help him get out of the bottom position by teaching him the Grandby roll. It’s a simple but effective technique based off the front roll. In those days, there’s no youtube to give instruction. His dad found some illustrations to teach the steps to the Grandby roll. In one summer day, they did this for 7 hours. 7 hour! His father would sit there and watch and look at his sheets of paper illustration to see if the young Cary’s roll matched the drawing. If not, he would force him to correct himself until he got it right. Needless to say, 7 hours could be an overkill, but go ahead and ask Cary Kolat now and see if he knows the Grandby roll. He can probably do it blind or in his sleep. I recall an interview with the gifted former UFC champion George St. Pierre. He stated that in order to be a champion, he had to be willing to endure the boredom of training. I’ve competed in powerlifting and had set a state record. I’ve also earned black and brown belts in various martial arts. I can testify to the utter boredom of training. Some days, you just don’t want to be in the gym, but you get in there, and you get it done. The life of a champion starts with having a heart of a champion. I’ve heard one coach say that you can teach technique but you can’t teach desire.
In our day and age, the above stories and ideas aren’t popular. Having a heart of a champion is farthest from most Christians’ minds. The above stories could be inspiring, but they’re “too hard” or “too boring.” Think about how many of us have read a difficult and challenging book recently. How many of us read and serve others regularly? These and many other disciplines don’t usually make it to our top to-do list. We live in an age where people look for the entertaining, esoteric, strange and fun stuff. We look for funny memes. We love short sound bites that give us simple, useful, immediate and witty solutions whether from blogs, from memes, from Facebook pages, from self-help TV programs or some quick-fix book. Everyone gets a participation medal. No one gets left behind. Everyone’s a winner. The biblical fact is, not everyone is a winner. Some are plain losers! If we continue in our modern-day trend of fun and games, we’re producing an entire generation or three of losers.
Here’s what St. Paul had to say, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?” (1 Corinthians 9.24) He continued to talk about the boredom and hardship of training, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” The way to get disqualified in the ancient games include not training and not being ready as well as breaking the rules. There’s no way around hardship. Hardship is part of the Christian mission for Paul. It’s about doing all one can do and then see if one can do more in order to achieve one’s life mission. There’re many things that distracts us, but most of us, our attitudes and character often fail us. Who enjoys discipline? Not many. Those who do will be the elite of their professions, and the Christian life is no exception.
J. Rob was addressing the congressional military sub committee one time, and he was talking about recruitment of the Navy Seals. The Seals pride themselves on a dropout rate of the program that’s around 75%. J. Rob had a different opinion. He said that perhaps a program that had this many dropouts showed that the recruits were the problems. He said that if they recruited among kids with high-level of wrestling experiences, the dropout rate would only be 20% because barring life-threatening and crippling injuries, the wrestler isn’t going to give up before the whistle. He’ll keep coming! I wonder how many Christians are wrestlers and how many are the other kinds. Paul’s athletic metaphors illustrates that there’re winners and there’re losers in the faith. Those who are winners will always discipline themselves not to be the dropout. The losers take the easy and fun way because training is never fun, but training is what brings out the champion in all of us. A true champion doesn’t care if training is boring or tough because without hardship, there’s no winning. Without desire, there’s no champion.