The Eight Principles of Winning or How to Build Your Mental Edge
Fudoshin is a Japanese term often translated as the “warrior heart” or “indomitable spirit.” The person who has the warrior heart cannot be beaten. While most martial artists spend many hours working on strength, stamina, technique, and speed, few spend time training their thinking processes so they will have a mental edge over their opponents. Yet it is the will to win that most often separates competitors and levels of competition both on the playing and battlefields. We all know that life is a far trickier arena, where the games never end, than the precision of a well-run tournament. So let’s look at real life situations and how they are effected by applications of the eight principles of Fudoshin.
Studies of high achievers done at Harvard by Dr. David McClelland indicated that it was how they thought about themselves, not the advantages of home and education, that was the best predictor of personal success. Recent studies of resilience in Hawaiian children of sugar cane workers by Dr. Emmy Werner show similar results. About one third of children from abusive, poverty ridden, households find opportunities to lead normal lives once out of their houses and away from their parents. Victim theory where heavy emphasis is placed on the effect of the environment would predict that the poverty, alcoholism, anger, and abuse would push these children into a swamp of crime and unemployment yet one third never sank at all. They did well in school, began promising careers, and probably most important defined themselves as capable and competent adults. In fact eighty-three percent of adults who were identified as children with troubled childhood’s transcended their rocky beginnings and were proud of it. Ann S. Masten studied Khmer-American children in Minnesota. These teenagers grew up in Pol Pot’s killing fields and the unspeakable horrors of torture, death, starvation, forced labor, and awful violence directed towards family and friends. They have nightmares, periods when they are jumpy and nervous, or depressed and anxious. Still they are getting on with their lives. Worrying about what to wear to the prom or what college to attend, they are absolute proof of the human capacity for survival and resilience.
Fudoshin. Cops and nurses are supposed to have it, athletes and soldiers want it, and one in three children seems to be born with the will to win regardless of circumstances. What makes the difference between success and failure? What beliefs are key characteristics of the person who exhibits Fudoshin? Research indicates one constructs one’s mental edge by strongly focusing on and supporting the following ideas:
Own effort will make a difference.
High achievers, great athletes, survivors of disaster develop coping skills at early ages. Experiences like camping, scouts, athletic and cultural achievements train the young mind toward excellence. Although the skills of success are best-learned young there is no timeline, or set period for self-reliance and resilience. We can never be sure that the ugly duckling is not a swan. One does not have to be as independent as Mohammed Ali is, but one does have to realize that he or she will be the one taking the blows and doing the work. Winning, like luck, is most often experienced by the prepared. Pick any person in a wheel chair that achieves. I would call losing my legs a huge disaster. One of my personal heroes is Steven Hawking. He has ALS and should have died like all the others years ago. And yet his challenges are forgotten when one reads his work in cosmology. In a recent photo of him it looks like his tongue is touching the roof of his mouth just behind the teeth. Hmmm? On the other side of the wheelchair coin is Rick Hanson. He’s the Canadian that took his wheelchair around the world. He went on to a leadership position with the International Olympics Committee. Neither of these two guys knows how to stop or even die. Joe Montana while San Francisco’s quarterback exhibited grace under fire, and elevated those around him via his Fudoshin: you just knew Joe would do it and nothing would rattle him. Cal Ripken (Mr. Fortitude to some), Mark McGuire, Greg Lemond, Jerry Rice, and Michael Jordan stand out as human beings and athletes of unshakable commitment to excellence.
Acknowledge fears and recognize weaknesses.
A person cannot grow if they are unable to recognize their weaknesses and build on them. In hoshin jutaijutsu it is treated as a basic truth that one will not always be at the top of his game, that he or she may be sick, wounded, or growing old. Techniques that rely on strength alone are eliminated from the practice core. When a person is in a fight they must believe in themselves enough to take or create the shot. If he or she doesn’t, the tendency is to wait, which passes the opportunity to the opponent. By not overcoming the fear of failure, one fails. Tony Dorsett of Dallas Cowboys fame won the Heisman trophy. At the beginning of his senior year Howard Cossell stuck a mike in his face and asked him, “What are you doing to win the Heisman, Tony?” Forgetting the inappropriateness of the question, Dorsett’s response was very interesting. He said something like, “Last year I got hit a lot and I don’t like that. I’ve been lifting weights and doing wind sprints all summer. This year I’m twenty pounds of muscle heavier and a lot faster. If someone catches me they will have to be very fast, and I intend to be the one doing the hitting.” He went on to break a lot of rushing records, the Heisman, and a standout professional career unsullied by scandal and egoism. George Bush. You know, the “Read my lips” American president who wouldn’t eat his broccoli. As a young navy pilot in World War II he was shot down and had to bail out using his parachute. Not a pleasurable experience. In the mid nineties he tried sport parachuting. A retired president took up one of the moments that had to have been very traumatic and had a good time at it. Probably had more fun than his Secret Service escort. It was on CNN. His mom was there too, you know that white haired lady, Mrs. Bush. Now that’s facing your fears in a very public manner.
Able to read at grade level or higher by age ten.
We have to face it. Readers are leaders. Parents, teachers, and friends should do everything possible to encourage children to read. Longitudinal research indicates that the best predictor of being able to put a decent life together is reading at standard or higher by fifth grade. This may seem a strange indicator for Fudoshin, but survival of the fittest in humans most often relates more to intelligence and grace, than physical strength and athleticism. Reading allows the reader to build a mental experience of fortitude without experiencing the physical pain. It may be an example where armchair research does indeed prepare one for reality. You are reading this article. Part of our ‘Merican mythology is that Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President who abolished slavery and led the Union in the War Between the States preventing the balkanizing of America was reading law and the Bible by candle light and the coals of the fireplace as his family was too poor to buy a lantern. He achieved more than the usual measure of greatness, and is always listed as one of the most accomplished and influential of all Americans.
Focus on strengths.
Attempt to do what you are best at. The old joke about not taking a knife to a gunfight applies here. If you are a good boxer, avoid grappling and vice versa. Don’t fight the other person’s fight applies to minding your own business as well as going against another’s strengths. Most sporting events are contests that pit strength to strength, but in combat one attempts to attack weakness with strength. This can be clearly illustrated by an athlete or person who was good at something, tried something different, failed then went back to his original venue. That would be the failed baseball great, Michael Jordan. After a mediocre baseball career he went back to commercials and I forget what sport… It used to be on television. Winston Churchill is another fine example. Desert Storm or Fox. The Yanks and Coalition had to kick some Iraqi tail to free up Kuwait and protect the Saudi. How to do it? Imitating Ol Blue Eyes. They did it their way. The Iraqi had set up in a classic Warsaw pact dug in, scorched earth, defensive system, a strategy proved against Napoleon on the steppes of Russia, fine tuned against the Waffen SS in World War II, and brought to World War I perfection in practicing the slaughter of Iranians in border brawls over oil field ownership. The Yanks took air superiority, by bombing the Iraqi planes on the ground. The barroom equivalent of hitting the guy while he’s taking his jacket off to start a fight with you. American precision munitions helped also, as the Iraqis may not have known how fearsome those bombs can be. Whole divisions of Iraqi infantry and tanks disappeared overnight when the heavy bombers passed over. What might have developed into grueling trench warfare reminiscent of the Meuse-Argonne turned into a hundred day TV show and tell as the Coalition slapped the Iraqis into submission and the twentieth century with the terrifying toys developed by the boys embittered by Iran and Vietnam.
Recognize that bad times are only temporary.
Unless you are terribly unlucky, unskilled, ignorant, and when God handed out the genes for intelligence, strength, and coordination you were talking to the guy behind you, it is a given, that things will change. The trick is to take advantage of the windows of opportunity. Even when you are being beaten, you should be thinking about how to prevent it happening the next time while surviving. Or even better, using your opponents superior abilities to lure him into a position where you can turn the situation to your advantage. Defensive martial arts have hundreds of tricks for taking the attacker into unexpected places so they can be tripped up and taken out. Pat Riley, a fair professional coach of that game that men used to play on television (started with the Lakers as the advance guy booking hotel rooms, etc. (Somebody has to do it.) before winding up an assistant coach. Then through weird events became head coach. He was/is a very big advocate of learning as much as you can, preparing like your life depends on it, while you’re not in a favored position because a: there is less pressure to perform, so it’s easier; and b, if your preparation is good, things will change.
Build relationships and recruit others to help them.
Most resilient people are not loners. They don’t even consider going it alone unless there is no other way. They make friends. They work for the community. They train with their ryu or dojo. If they don’t have a family support system they are quick to ask for support or help. Relationship building is actually a secondary theme in SEAL training and BUD/S (SEAL training school) is supposed to be geared to weeding out loners. The training is framed to continually reinforce the idea that the sum is greater than the parts of any operation. I’ve worked with ex-SEALs quite often and they were invariably easier to teach and more fun to play with than is typical of elite military groups. Not much machismo and a lot of “lets get the job done and get out.” One of my ninja friends who did his military hitch as a SEAL once remarked to me, “Its really strange how tight you get with some of the guys on your team. Its like we all become extensions of each other. Its great knowing there is someone you can trust going into fire.” Athletics is supposed to build this type of esprit de corps but often fails to the competitive nature of the situations and teams. Three decades in a South African prison with his only weapon a pen; Nelson Mandela built a network of concern and eventually international outrage. His release from prison was the death knell for apartheid and the myth of white supremacy. As democracy was reinstated Mandela was elected President and has continued the long, slow process of winning education and economic freedom, for the disenfranchised blacks of the Republic of South Africa. Wayne Gretsky, an aging franchise player from somewhere up north, is a leading scorer in professional hockey, yet gets more points with assists than with goals. Look at the strategy of it. You see the famous skater with the puck threatening the net and he gets lots of attention. Diverting attention form the guys getting in position to score. He helps his team. He may not be the highest shooter any more but he makes them work together when they’re playing.
Set moderate goals and plan for the future.
They like situations where there is a fifty/fifty chance of success or moderate risk. They perceive high risk as too dangerous, and little or no risk to be boring. They want the opportunity to show what they can do. Resilient people even do better in natural disasters, as they are the ones who prepare by boarding up the windows and storing food in the basement. They are the ones who care about getting their children into better schools or getting more education for themselves. Pat Riley is good for another principle for creating Fudoshin. How do you motivate the Lakers after they’ve become the World Champion Lakers? At one point, Riley and his staff set up various performance measurements at the start of training camp and asked each team member to improve every category by one percent or something seemingly minuscule. They got focused and proceeded to do far better than they or the coach expected.
Work hard for what they want in life.
Long hours, long days, devotion to study, hard work to become better at skills they already excel in is normal activity for the highly successful. Whether it is athletic, academic, business, politics, family, or combat, there is an understanding of the fact that if all other factors are equal, the one usually willing to work harder and smarter will win. Good guys really do win more often. In fact this is almost a given, but luck doesn’t always smile and injuries can and will happen to the best. However this maxim is clearly brought to light with great regularity in the sweet science of boxing where too often corrupt promoters allow their fighters to develop unhealthy celebratory lifestyles between bouts. When a heavyweight champion gets into the ring sporting love handles instead of chiseled abs, its almost guaranteed that a crown is about to change hands by the eighth round.
Variations on these eight concepts are heavily researched in how they apply to successful people in various fields of endeavor. If you don’t believe me, spend a moment thinking about some of the top athletes and fighters from Ali to Patton, Superfoot Wallace, Tony Dorsett, various leaders, your friends, maybe yourself, and hold them up to the list of eight Fudoshin principles. Then think about how you can apply this knowledge to developing more Fudoshin in your own life.