The Truth I Learned by Fighting

I want to tell you about a fight I was in.

I was in countless scraps during my law enforcement career, but I’m going to tell you about my first Tae Kwon Do match.

I was apprehensive when I looked across the mat and saw my opponent. I was only 18 years old and had been sparring with adults since I was 14 years old, but this was the first time I was competing and putting it all on the line; at least that’s how it felt at the time.

The moment the referee dropped his arm, my fear turned into aggression.

I stepped forward and did what I had practiced thousands of times before—my best combination—a roundhouse kick to the ribs, immediately followed by a second kick from the ribs to the head.

In less than ten seconds, the guy was out cold—I had won my first match.

I felt completely dominant in that moment. It was invigorating, and that confidence spilled over into my future matches. I never lost a Tae Kwon Do tournament, and I brought that feeling of invincibility into my law enforcement career.

But everything changed when I watched a skinny, unassuming Brazilian named Royce Gracie fight in the first UFC tournaments. Those fights blew my mind as I watched the 176-pound kid force men that were built like Arnold Schwarzenegger to surrender to his chokes and arm locks.

What I saw in those UFC fights forced me to see what most of us strive to avoid—the truth.

Those fights forced me to question my own abilities and challenged the validity of the martial art that had consumed a significant part of my life.

I showed a video of the UFC fights to my Tae Kwon Do teacher, and he told me that the fights must be fake.

We construct models of the world that create a positive narrative of our life story. Our personal narrative forms our identity, and when something challenges our beliefs, the information becomes a threat to our identity.

The pain we experience when our identity is challenged stimulates the limbic system in our brain—the same system that triggers the fight or flight response when attacked by a tiger in the jungle.

This explains why people persist in repeating the same mistakes, despite clear feedback that they are wrong. When our identity is threatened, there are only two options:

  1. Avoid immediate pain and hide from the truth
  2. Embrace the discomfort and seek the truth

Most people choose option one, and there are countless examples in modern society that illustrate our refusal to see the truth, even when all the evidence is overwhelming.

Socialism, for example, has become trendy among the millennial generation, even though there is no evidence in history that it has ever worked.

Even the socialist-leaning country of France had to ban Uber because it was disrupting taxi unions. Uber represents the truth. The lie comes when government steps in to artificially prop up an inferior business at the expense of consumers, who are then denied a superior product.

Public teacher unions are another example of hiding from the truth. There are many excellent teachers that are underpaid because unions have made it impossible to fire, or pay less to, underperforming teachers.

In one more example, our education system has failed millennials by sticking to the lie that if they stay the course, they will be taken care of after 20 years of school. I returned to college to earn a master’s in business administration (MBA), but I’m the first to admit that the concepts and theories you learn in graduate level business school do not even provide the practical skills required to sell lemonade at a sidewalk stand.

Most of the nontruths come when we hide from reality to make people feel good—“everybody is a winner”—but warm and fuzzy feelings do not put money in the bank, nor are they beneficial to anyone in the long run.

Our cognitive bias prevents us from seeing the truth in ourselves, especially the smarter we are, because we become better at slicing and dicing the data in a way that appears to justify our prejudices. It takes a coach, therapist, or shocking revelation to get us to see past our own bias. 

For me, it took the startling reality of the UFC before I would consider abandoning Tae Kwon Do to take up Jiu-Jitsu almost 20 years ago. Jiu-Jitsu introduced me to the “tap out”—one man surrendering to another—the absolute truth in a fight.

I’ve used fighting in this story as an analogy, but the example relates to everything in your life.

To live an extraordinary life, you must abandon the natural human desire to be right and replace it with an identity of seeking the absolute truth.

I’ve been fighting for over 25 years, but the better I get, the more I realize I know less in terms of everything there is to know. Jiu-Jitsu is humbling because it constantly reveals that you know less than you thought you did five minutes earlier, and if you want to live an extraordinary life, that is the exact environment you must seek in every area of your life.

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