Guest post written by: Andrew Bowers
I was thirteen or fourteen, looking like Captain America (prior to the super-soldier serum). It was my first year of high-school and my first year of weights class. The work was hard, and the gains were slow; looking back I think that’s how most anything in life worth striving for really is. I toiled my years away in the high school weights room and, whether due to time or to effort, put on some lean muscle mass.
There was a moment in my journey through lifting heavy things repetitiously which stands out in my mind; an upper-classman by the name of Ty recognized my efforts but warned that it wouldn’t be easy to sustain. Sometime after graduation, I had actually put on size and ran into Ty again, now he had been out of school for a few years, enough time to drink and work and find new obstacles. Now I found myself more his equal in size and, presumably, strength. This time he made it seem like it would be impossible to continue with forward progression. I told him I wouldn’t stop.
I didn’t really stop. I was the typical meat-head, lifting to “get big.” I did. Yet, constant lifting of heavy things lost most of its luster. I was just in the typical gym routine. My diet was nonexistent, and if I had continued on that route I know I would have fallen trap to giving up on the gym and giving in to the obstacles that I had been warned about years prior. Then, I re-ignited my love for martial arts when I met my Tae Kwan Do and Boxing instructor, Robert Fellner; it was then that my lifestyle of fitness and health took root. I had finally found an activity I loved in which the by-products were health, strength, and over-all fitness.
Jumping Forward Ten Years:
As I write this I’m a month removed from my twenty-ninth birthday. Ever closer to the pivotal Thirties (but really, what day, month, or year isn’t pivotal?). I don’t practice Tae Kwan Do, but instead have focused the last eight years to improving in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. For those that aren’t familiar with this martial art, it’s a grappling form similar to wrestling. However, in Bjj, the goal is to submit your opponent, and the rounds are much longer. The matches don’t end with a pin but instead when your opponent (or you yourself) must submit at risk of injury.
Eight years of practicing something often makes you a doctor; eight years of practicing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu makes you a beginner. This art requires dedication to learning the techniques, shaving off the rough parts and sharpening the edge of your sword. While learning how to roll (the term for practicing in Jitsu) you must develop a higher level of fitness and a strengthened mind. Yet, all throughout the journey you’re forming bonds with your training partners, instructors, and for a lucky few, your students.
Although some people start martial arts to get into shape, it quickly becomes about individual growth and comprehension within the art. Others may learn it for self-defense. For me, I was always in love with the martial arts. Yet no matter the reason one starts, the art quickly takes over and health, fitness, and overall wellbeing become the by-products.
This isn’t exclusive to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. There are countless other activities that will create health as a by-product. For the remainder of this post I want to delve into three areas which activities with healthy side-effects have in common, hopefully encouraging those looking for a healthier lifestyle to look for the activity rather than health itself. If you’re already part of the choir then perhaps this will just reaffirm your beliefs. These three are not an exhaustive list but just some of the most important components (in my opinion) when picking an activity. These three will help you improve your longevity in whatever you decide is your new or next hobby, ensuring continued health throughout the years.
Commitment and dedication are required for improvement
I mentioned earlier that after practicing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for eight years I only feel like I’m a beginner. I’m by no means being facetious. I’m capable. I’ve gotten to a point in this art that I can survive and win often; however, I’ve learned enough to realize how much I don’t know. I’ve been lucky enough to roll with world-level competitors that made me feel like I had never stepped on the mat before. So, yes, after eight years, I’m just learning how to walk.
It’s the sharp learning curve of this art that has kept me hooked. There is no ease of advancement, and the depths for growth seem bottomless. Put plainly, I’m addicted. I don’t get bored. My motivation is constantly re-ignited by learning a new technique or getting rolled up by someone better. This is important: finding an activity that demands improvement through dedication.
Easy is boring. If you can learn it quickly then you probably won’t need to go often to improve. If you don’t have to go often (I’d say 3 days at the least a week) then your likelihood of achieving health as a by-product is going to greatly diminish. On top of all that, I believe habits (the good kind) are important. Doing anything more often will create a routine and a stronger habit. Get addicted to your activity.
When you’re trying out activities, ask yourself if it will require dedication to improve. Look for the complex movements in gymnastics, the seemingly impossible stretches of yoga, the high-level competition (with self or others) in Crossfit. Find the activity that pushes you to improve; find the activity that will require sacrifice for growth; find something that will make you dedicate or fail.
If you have to dedicate your time then you better enjoy what you’re doing
If you do find an activity that requires a fair amount of your time to improve then you probably enjoy it, but I can’t count how many people just go to a gym, lift or run, and find it mind-numbingly boring. Why the hell would you dedicate every night after work or before work if that’s your thing sacrificing your enjoyment for some physical results? More importantly, eight years from now will you still be doing it? How about 15 or 20 years? It’s not impossible, but given the state of fitness and health in society I would argue it’s not bloody likely.
I’m not asking you to find a sport or activity that you were bred for. It doesn’t have to be your sole purpose in life. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be your passion, but, you must like what you’re doing enough to be passionate about it. Don’t get me wrong, if you do find your passion, destiny, or something that makes you feel that, “this is what life’s about” moment, grab ahold and enjoy the ride; you’ll probably be doing it until you physically cant or you’re dead. If you like the activity that you’re spending 3+ hours a week doing enough to be passionate when you do it, then you’ll gain mentally, physically, and see better improvements over time.
We are social beings. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we are wired to form social bonds. These bonds are important. They support us when we are down, picking us up even if we feel like we can’t. The people we surround ourselves with represent us. If I surround myself with drinkers all the time, I’m likely to drink more often. However, if I surround myself with people that are healthy and have goals in fitness or the activity I enjoy, then I’m more likely to be motivated to consistently train.
I think doing an activity that has a social component is one of the most important aspects to achieving health as a by-product. Whatever activity you choose, when it involves a community of like-minded people—sharing their passion for the activity—you’ll form connections that will motivate and encourage you to continue and achieve. It’s far too easy to sit on your couch, loading up Netflix, and skipping the evening workout. When you have a group of friends that you’ve spent months and years with pushing towards common goals, then it won’t just be about you anymore, and they may be the extra push to get you off the couch and in the grind. I know I’ve gone to class several times simply because I told a friend that I would.
Aside from the motivation, doing a social based activity will add to your enjoyment of it. Seeing your friends on a regular basis will bring happiness to you, even if you’re not enjoying your training or life in that moment. Also, remember doing something difficult and challenging? This community will have veterans of the sport to coach you and push you through the plateaus. It’s necessary to have teachers, coaches, and training partners to help you achieve your goals all the while creating health as a by-product.
Just deciding and committing to being healthy is difficult. Like any other change in life, it will require you to break old habits and form new ones; this effort takes time and will require you to tackle some obstacles that may tackle you first. Don’t give up! I believe in you and know that you will accomplish this if you put in the work and dedication; changes rarely occur over night, stop expecting this. I hope you decide to take my advice and find a hobby/sport/activity that encompasses the three areas I covered. Doing so will bring you to new levels of health and start a journey that hopefully will span decades, creating health as a by-product all the while. Thank you for reading my thoughts, I appreciate you all for sharing your time with me.
Andrew Bowers is a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructor and practitioner. Having studied Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Reno, Andrew applies a unique perspective to fitness, life, and martial arts through both research and his own anecdotal experiences. His goal is to help influence the well-being of others (and himself) through the sharing of his thoughts and the engagement in discussion with his readers. Join him in exploring a wide variety of topics and interests.