Authors: D. C. Gonzalez
I remember how I looked at the
command post trailer and then forced myself to walk across the street to
separate myself from it.
I remember sitting down and
leaning up against a tree in somebody’s front yard that night, as my feelings
of grief began to mix in with the anger that I felt towards the supervisor who
had flatly refused to let the rescue ambulance in.
I remember thinking how these
feelings seemed much too potent for any man with a gun to have going through
I remember how I used focused
breathing and Leo-tai's wisdom that night to help keep me from confronting that
I remember thinking, and
telling myself how this wasn't over . . .
But that for tonight—right
now,—it had to be over.
Remember: You must choose
to control anger through a decision. For if you lose control to anger—then the
anger will surely control you.
Art of Mental Training
(Following several months of
investigation, the shooter from the previous story was later apprehended and
convicted, the incompetent supervisory agent was forced out, and my partner
Jake received another commendation.)
Mental athletes understand that
they can’t always control what takes place during an event. Things don’t
always go the way we’d like, no matter however well (and however hard) we’ve
prepared. How we deal with that reality—and how we choose to look at the
situation—always affects what lies ahead for us.
So, even though we can’t always
control the way things unfold, at least we can always control the way we respond
to the event. Mental warriors focus on what they can control, not on the “what
if's” or the “if only's.” Being able to choose how one responds to an
unwelcome event is a critical skill. It has everything to do with how well we
get on with our game—and even with our lives.
Mental athletes know that
nobody wins all of the time. Not in life, not in sports. When things don’t go
their way they know it’s OK to be disappointed. What’s not OK is dwelling on
Champions keep it in perspective.
They are able to accept responsibility and recognize the situation as a
temporary setback nothing more, nothing less. Yes it hurts, so they look at
it, learn from it, and then let it go. I’ve lost myself, of course. In fact,
that was how I met Leo-tai in the first place . . .
I was young martial artist
competing in tournaments and I’d just lost a major international
competition—worse still, one that I’d been really expecting to win. I was
having a tough time with the loss.
People kept telling me, “You
still did great!”—But runner-up wasn’t what I’d wanted to be. As time went by
in response to my annoyance with myself, my training tailed off, my
determination flagged, and everything seemed either too boring or too difficult
to fuss about. I was slacking off.
I remember an older kid asking
me once if I had ever heard of Coach Leo.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“What does he teach?”
Kickboxing, but he teaches other things too. He really helped me once with my
“So how’d he help then?” I
“Call him, here’s his number.
He only teaches small classes. Tell him you know me.”
I carried that sheet of paper
around with me for about two weeks. Finally I thought, “Well, what have I got
to lose? I called him and told him about myself. Coach Leo listened quietly on
the phone, so much so that I began to wonder if he’d wandered off or hung up.
“Come tomorrow,” he told me,
and that ended our conversation.
When the next day came, I
almost didn’t go. I kept asking myself; why did I call this coach? I was
looking for a reason to miss our appointment. But before I knew it (and
despite my best efforts to talk myself out of it) I wound up knocking on his
door and then there he was. A medium-sized, elderly, rather stoic figure, his
face calm and genuine.
“Danielsan,” he said, and
"Danielsan. You look very
much like your older brother, please come in." He said.
“You knew my brother?” I
asked. Then suddenly I realized that I had indeed heard of Coach Leo before!
Only I had never heard him called that because my brother had always called him
Leo-tai . . . As far back as I can remember, Leo-tai had always taught my older
brother how to fight. My brother was teaching me when he was drafted and sent
to Vietnam. After we lost him in the war, as I grew up I’d often found myself
wondering about Leo-tai. And now, as fate would have it, so many years later,
here he was in front of me, my brother’s old instructor. Was this a
coincidence? Head spinning, I stepped inside. I looked around. He appeared
to live as simply as a monk.
Somehow I found it easy to be
honest with him, knowing how my brother had loved him. After some tea, and
having brought him up to date with the narrative of my tournament loss, I
finished. He smiled and then spoke.
"This loss—you must let it
go. True champions keep such a loss in perspective." He said. "You
must look at it long enough to learn from it—but then you must let it go."
Easier said than done I
thought, but what a powerful idea just the same. "Let it go." I let
his advice sink in.
Let it go, I told myself, and I
slowly began to allow the weight of the loss to get lifted from my shoulders.
Learn from it—and let it go.
What could be simpler, or more healing, than that?
But he wasn’t finished with me
yet. He leaned forward as if to make sure I was paying attention.
“Remember that champions never
play the blame game. They pick themselves up and start working on what’s
coming up next. They hold their heads high, even when that isn’t easy to do.
They push themselves to move forward. They know that this is how it has to be
. . . They never forget that if you don’t fail sometimes, then you probably
aren’t challenging yourself at a high enough level.”
At the door, he said with a
smile, “I want you to pick yourself up Danielsan; I want you to persist. Once
you are ready to do so, then come back.”
And that was the beginning of
my friendship with Leo-tai.
I remember leaving his simple
home that night and thinking of how glad I was at having found my brother’s
teacher so many years later. I was still only a teenager; and I knew that I
was just at the beginning—but I’ll never forget the feeling I had as I walked
back the way that I had come, the feeling of knowing somehow that my life had
just taken an unexpected and most interesting turn.
Remember: Champions focus
on what they can control. They know that while they can’t always control what
takes place during an event, they can always control how they respond to an
event. Within every setback lies the hidden opportunity for a great comeback.
Art of Mental Training
Ask yourself this: what type of
competitor are you? Are you the kind who likes to play it safe and just do
alright? Or are you the kind who’s willing to take a chance on possibly
failing in order to accomplish something amazing? More than anything else,
it’s a fear of failure that keeps people from achieving their full potential in
sports, in life, in business—in everything.
Fearing failure is more than
just a bad thing. The bottom line is, in order to be good in your sport or
whatever it is that you do, you simply can’t be afraid of failing, and here’s
why. Being afraid to fail actually helps create the conditions that make
failure more likely!
Fear of failure causes a lot of
problems. It restricts you. The wrong types of thoughts result in shortness
of breath, tight muscles, and an overload of stress. . . Worse still, fear of
failing can cause a competitor to start playing it safe. Instead of rising up
to meet the challenge, he subconsciously shrinks from it.
On the other hand—and this is
the important point—once a competitor learns to overcome the fear of failing,
his chances of succeeding increase dramatically.
In reality, fear of failure is
nothing more than a perceived psychological threat to your ego and
self-esteem. What typically causes a fear of failing is the state of mind that
takes hold when a competitor is afraid of looking bad, or else is such a
perfectionist that he’s become overly self-critical. In either case, his
internal state ends up holding him back, whether he’s aware of it or not.
Adults are more than capable of
wrecking their own chances with fear of failure. However, with children,
parents and coaches must be extra careful. Often the adults are the ones
creating this build-up of nervous stress in the child athlete’s internal
world. Injecting the wrong emotional input into a child’s occasional failure
can ruin the child’s love of their sport and even destroy their confidence.
With children it’s especially
crucial that we help build self-esteem, not tear it down. Parents need to go
easy on the criticism. Parents shouldn’t act out. It’s that type of adult behavior
that can cause a child's fear of failure.
In order to avoid the internal
state that causes the fear of failure, the mental athlete must first come to
look at failure in an entirely different way from most people. He has to learn
to accept that the only way to accomplish anything great is to risk failing at
it first. He has to accept that without occasional failures he can never hope
to get better. He has to understand that on the path to greatness some
failures are inevitable. And when he does lose, the mental athlete has to make
a conscious decision to learn from that failure. Rather than abandoning
himself to the luxury of misery, he will methodically shut down that
destructive voice of internal self-criticism in favor of looking at failure as
Thus, when he experiences
failure he learns what, out of all his training, still isn’t working. He
learns how to fail constructively. The mental athlete won’t allow a fear of
failure to hold him back from greatness. By learning to look at failure
differently, top competitors are able to enter competition without a fear of
failure. When there is no fear of failure one gains an important advantage.
After all, consider this; there
is no one in history, in or outside of sports, who ever rose to greatness
without having once failed. Politicians have lost elections. Generals have
lost battles. Millionaires have failed in prior business ventures. Behind
every Olympic gold medal lie hundreds of second and third place finishes.
Think about it.
Remember: Fear of failure
is caused by not knowing how to fail constructively. The only way to
accomplish anything great is to risk failing at it first. If you have a fear
of failing, it’s more than just a bad thing. It can actually cripple your
chances of success.
Art of Mental Training
One day he asked me about fear.
“Inside the eye of a cyclone,
Danielsan, there is peace—while just outside, the cyclone unleashes all its
fury and power. This is how it must be for the Mental Warrior also.”
I told him how I’d once been so
aware of fear that I sensed how it could become overwhelming. During my
aviation training in the Navy, I admit that I got to know the type of fear that
near-drowning can bring on. I nearly drowned on a couple of occasions during training.
The truth is, try as they might to keep it from happening; people die in that
type of training program every year. It’s just the nature of the situation.
All the deep-water survival
training is done wearing full flight gear, including helmet and boots, with no
floatation. You have to use the techniques taught and learn to avoid drowning
despite everything that’s weighing you down and trying to pull you under. It
can be exhausting. One day, thanks to my lack of technique, I learned what the
fear associated with believing you are going to drown felt like. I remember
the dark green glaze of the water, my last grasped breath, the glimpse of a
pale blue sky, and then my last thought as I went under:
I hope they noticed a helmet
sinking . . .
The worst and scariest training
sessions were called the helo-dunker. Imagine being strapped into a helicopter
simulator with a co-pilot and four other crew. Once everyone is strapped in,
the entire apparatus is dropped into a training tank of water from around twenty
feet up. No one is allowed to move until the “aircraft” sinks down about
twenty feet, where it is rotated on cables, turned over and up-ended in order
to disorientate everyone. Once the movement stops, you have to count down from
ten, after which all six on board have to find their way out of a specific
hatch designated by the instructors just before the drop into the water.
Everyone must do this wearing swim goggles that are blacked-out in order to
make him completely blind. It’s an interesting situation that can easily lead
In order to get out safely of
course, the trick is not to panic, release your safety harness, and never lose
your reference point. One hand must always be grabbing some part of the
aircraft interior as you work your way out. You never release the reference
point you have until your other hand reaches out and grabs a new one. So even
as you float upside down, disoriented in total darkness, the one hold that you
always have, gives your inner mind the reference point it needs, and by using
your mind’s eye, you are able to find your way to the required exit hatch.