What is your empowering story?
Last Christmas, I gave myself the single best gift I’ve ever had: three hours of private instruction with a man who, for various cultural and practical reasons, might well be the greatest martial arts instructor in history, Danny Inosanto. He was Steve Muhammad’s Kempo instructor, Bruce Lee’s lead student, and considered the world’s greatest authority on the beautiful and devastating Filipino martial arts. He’s eighty years old, travels the world teaching every weekend, and is still blur-fast and kinesthetically as perfect as a human body can be. He moves more stiffly now than when I trained with him in the early 80’s, but when performing his beloved arts he moves like a teenager. He is always training in something: currently Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Russian Systema, and Capoeira, I believe.
We worked sticks, knives, empty hands, push hands, kicked the bags together, worked Capoeira footwork, talked Bruce Lee and training after fifty (a classic comment: “you can stay in shape as you get older, Steve…it just a little harder to motivate yourself every year”) and how I could continue to improve despite a busy life…specifically, daily training and taking frequent workshops. He said that some of his very best students no longer attend weekly classes…but they work out at home, and come back to the school for intensive training a few times a year.
He is a master of masters. No slightest question about it, and it is always fascinating to get close to such people. In EVERY case, what I’ve seen is daily focused play, real love for the thing they’re doing, performed over decades combined with an encyclopedic knowledge of their field. The only “talent” I see in common, ever, is the ability to maintain that focus and enthusiasm long after most people have given up and pretended they didn’t care.
This is why the concept of “talent” is such poison to me: I never see it lift people up. Only to excuse why people quit: “I didn’t have the talent.”
But how do you do that? Keep going over decades? First, a clear outcome. WHAT do you want. Then, you have to have reasons to do it, and keep doing it, and keep doing it even after everyone else has gone home. And that means you find something you LOVE and put everything you have into it. But…we are motivated by both PAIN and PLEASURE. So the best of the best of the best will and do use both.
One of the things I do is to speak quietly and carefully to Masters, and discover what the core memories might be, the “Epiphany Bridges” that made the light bulb go off in their heads and realize that they had found a path to knowledge andpower which, pursued, would bring them joy in life. “The purpose of life is to be happy” said the Dalai Lama. Not just to “not hurt” or “not be afraid” but to be HAPPY. FORGET “to do” lists until you are clear on your OUTCOMES and the emotional reasons you MUST have them. Have enough “whys” and the “hows” take care of themselves.
So…what was I really about with Danny? Why did I really want those three hours? I wanted to know what motivated the master, that’s what. (I’ve done this with Elon Musk and other ultra-performers, by the way. Stories for another time).
So…what is his core motivating memory? He was in elementary school, and there was a bully who terrorized the playground. Like everyone else, Danny was afraid of him. One day, this bully attacked a friend of his, and Danny jumped into it and got pounded. The teachers pulled the two of them apart, and for a moment the bully was restrained and Danny was not. Danny jumped in and punched him in the nose. Blood squirted and the bully howled. As the teacher pulled Danny to the principle’s office, he thought to himself: “he bleeds too!”
He bleeds too. That single image, of an apparently invulnerable bully who could be stopped, or hurt, by skill and courage and timing, has motivated Danny his entire life. Wow.
Do you know the first time YOU got excited about the possibility of your chosen area of mastery? And if you insist you aren’t interested in mastery of anything…why not? Why settle for “being good” or “being expert”? Why not find the thing you love, put your energy behind it for a lifetime, and produce the results that would really make your “inner child” happy? Because you can’t make money? Money isn’t skill at your art…it is skill at marketing. And a good marketer can market ANYTHING. All that requires is 1) belief that you have something of value to offer the world and 2)lack of fear of rejection, 3) modeling successful marketers. Develop these, and then decide what you want to do with your life, AND DO IT.
So…in your “Morning Ritual” you should have your “outcome” but also connect with the DRIVING EMOTIONS that give you power. You can always tell when people do their job “for the money” as opposed to being fascinated and committed and passionate about the project.
If you want to make money, remember that money comes from sales and marketing, and sales is “a transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another.” This is why people in business meetings so often say “we’re really excited about X…” because through practical experience they KNOW that they have to get excited in order to make things happen. Sometimes they’re just going through the motions, of course. But if YOU can be genuinely excited, you have a chance to infect THEM with that enthusiasm. And then there is no sales resistance, and the project can cook.
So…for me, three things are primary: family, writing, martial arts. That means that the first thing when I wake up in the morning, I can remember the MOTIVATING FORCE OR IMAGE behind each of them. Tap into the emotions, the “why”. Love and passion connect to the moment I realized that a lioness needs a lion. T is a lioness. If I want the fun and passion and contribution of being a worthy mate to her, I must be at my best. I connect with yummy reasons to hold this energy.
Writing? I remember the moment I realized I was born to be a writer, standing in front of an audience at Pepperdine University, having won a short story contest and reading it to the group, watching the Alumni smiling and applauding.
Martial Arts? Remembering when I backed the worst bully I’d ever known down because I was willing to die and he wasn’t. Stepping out into the middle of the street on Washington boulevard, inviting him to join me to continue the fight. And…he blinked.
The peace and power I felt, calm in the midst of danger, transformed my life. The joy of holding the attention of these successful people transformed my life. The memory of watching beautiful women walking with powerful men as hunting pairs transformed my life.
And there is another level. If I rotate between these visions, these feelings, sometimes I can find a place inside me that resonates with all three. I cannot quite tell you what it is–it is not a thing of words. But when I find that place IT IS HUGELY GENERATIVE.
THAT is the place I seek in morning meditation. In Tai Chi. In writing. In connecting with my wife, or my son.
When I find THAT place I know I’ve hit something special, and when I tap that spring, it connects to everything else in my life. It is amazing.
But it all starts with WHY DO YOU DO IT?
What is your “he bleeds too!”
Find that…and the door to mastery opens for you.