“Hone That Mental Focus!”
It seems I say that a lot. Even the Plaque that was given to me by my brothers and sisters at CF-SJPD-Underground has “…and always remember, ‘Hone that mental focus!’” on it. …But really, why do I say it and what do I mean by it?
Years ago, after Greg “Coach” Glassman and myself were thrown out of another local globo-gym, we ended up training our clients out of a local Jiu-Jitsu place.
I remember I was helping Greg coach three exceptional Jiu-Jitsu athletes one afternoon. We were training World Champion, BJ “The Prodigy” Penn, in preparation for his first UFC fight against 2-Time NCAA Wrestling All-American, Joey Gilbert, in UFC 31. We had BJ Penn, his brother JD Penn, and Santa Cruz Local Jiu-Jitsu All-Star and first generation CrossFit’er, Garth Taylor, rotating through a Rower/Hang-Power-Clean couplet. The wod was 500 Meter Row, 21 Hang-Power-Cleans, 500 Meter Row, 15 Hang-Power-Cleans, 500 Meter Row, 9 Hang-Power-Cleans. We only had one rower at the time, so we rotated between the three athletes, allowing them a short bit of rest between rounds. Greg’s instructions to the athletes were to try to row a FAST 500 meter time and go right into the first round of Hang-Power-Cleans, being fierce and aggressive. After the first round had concluded, Greg then added, “on the next two rounds I want you to try to row a faster time than you did on the first round, or at least match it.”, knowing full well that if they truly went all out on the first 500, it should be nearly impossible for them to match their first 500 meter time, much less beat it. We had the rower set up outside with a view of the ocean and the bar set up inside. Garth had finished his final round and Greg was coaching JD through his final round of the Hang-Power-Cleans as I was taking BJ out onto the rower for the start of his final round and his last 500 Meter Row.
…He got about 50 meters in, slowed down, turned and looked at me and said, “J-Dogg, bra, …I don’t think I can do this, bra.”, and then stopped rowing. …I was speechless for a moment, …just…caught off guard. This was BJ Penn, World Champion, and pretty much considered like a Jiu-Jitsu god to me, telling me he wanted to quit. I told him, “BJ, you don’t have a choice, man. You HAVE to do this! You wouldn’t quit in a fight! Find that center within you, hone that mental focus, and fight! You can do this, BJ! You can and you will!”
…He looked at me for a moment and started rowing again, …turned his gaze back to the rower monitor, …and then something “changed”. His facial expression changed. His body got a bit more rigid. …And he started laying into the rower violently. You could see it in his face that something had changed and that he was extremely focused. With focused aggression, pull after pull, he was tearing through the row as the meters continued to fall away.
When the last meter fell from the screen, with an intense focus he walked straight in towards the bar, picked it up, and with ruthless ferocity, tore through the final 9 Hang-Power-Cleans. …It was violent, aggressive and dominant.
After it was over, and he had secured his victory, …he was violently ill and nauseous for several hours after. He had rowed a final 500 Meter Row time that was FASTER than his second round, and not far behind what he had pulled in his first round. …That is…truly impressive, to say the least.
…Think about that for a moment. …At a time that he found himself wanting to quit, …to the extent that he actually STOPPED mid-row to tell me as much, …he STILL ended up pulling a faster 500 Meter Row than he did on his second round.
A few days later, I pulled him aside and said I wanted to talk to him. I told him I wanted him to remember back for a moment to his third round on the rower when he wanted to quit. He seemed a bit embarrassed about it and that it even happened, but he did as I asked and reflected back. I wanted him to reflect back to that moment and analyze it, to think about what he did in that moment, because he was at a point that he truly wanted to quit and didn’t think he could go any further, …yet he finished the fight. Not only did he continue and finish the fight, but he did so with more focus and aggression than he had in the second round.
I said, “I want you to think about what you did in that moment, because you were at a point that you wanted to quit, yet you reached deep within yourself and…I don’t know what you did exactly, but despite feeling like you wanted to quit, you were able to push through that and trigger something from within and you unleashed another level of ruthless and savage power from within, like Goku transforming into a Super Saiyan. I want you to think about what you did in that moment, because you could well use that in the octagon. You might find yourself in the fight where you just don’t think you can go any further, …and you can reflect back on what you did in that moment on the rower, and be able to channel that same immeasurable power from within and dominate your opponent. …I want you to think about what you did in that moment, BJ, because it may well serve you in a fight some day.”
I concluded with “I know it messed you up a bit and left you really nauseous for several hours after, but I much rather win the fight and throw up in the ring than suffer a close loss but never having pushed it that extra bit.”
BJ said, “Your right, J-Dogg, Bra, it’s 90% mental, Bra, 90% mental.”
I think it’s moments like this that are truly powerful for an athlete, …when we find ourselves wanting to “quit” or “break” or when all those inner voices that we have running through our head are making us second guess ourselves in a wod or some other physical endeavor, …and yet we are able to fight through it and tap into something more…something from within. …That is great power. It makes us stronger mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
BJ Penn is truly a great athlete. He is not only exceptionally gifted with natural ability, but has worked his ass off to become widely known as one of the very best Jiu-Jitsu practitioners in the world, having the incredible work ethic necessary to achieve great success in an incredibly competitive and tough sport, surrounding himself with great people to train with.
…The point I am wanting to make is this; …every one of you has that within you. Every one of you! That ability to hone that mental focus and reach deep within ourselves and unleash something from within that we may not have even known was there, …is something that every one of you can do. It’s just a matter of learning how to do it. We are not so removed from the athletes we look up to. Despite their success, they are still human. Whether you are a Jiu-Jitsu fighter that looks up to BJ Penn or a CrossFit girl that looks up to Julie Foucher, (seriously, she is amazing!), regardless the sport you play or athlete you look up to, we are all still human. Our athletic idols may well find themselves experiencing those same “doubts” that every one of us CrossFit’ers feels at some point. Aside from their inherent talent, natural ability and tenacious work ethic, …what may further separate athletes such as BJ Penn or Joulie Foucher from the rest of their competition is just HOW they respond in those moments; their ability to reach deep within themselves, unleash an inner power, channel it and make it serve them when they need it most.
You all have that ability within you. Don’t ever doubt it. All you have to do is learn how to develop it. I assure you, if you set out with clear intent and spend time developing that ability, …you may well unleash another side of you that you never knew existed. It can serve you not only in the arena, …but in life.
Hone that mental focus! …It too is a weapon.
2x Power-Snatch, O.T.M. x 10 MInutes
20 Minute AMRAP:
Both Athletes Run 150 Meters
Partner-A does 5 Squat-Clean-Thrusters
Partner-B does 5 Squat-Clean-Thrusters
Partner-A does 10 Pull-Ups
Partner-B does 10 Pull-Ups
Strength Notes: Goal is a quick double on the minute. Either “Touch-&-Go” or a drop followed by a quick re-engage and execute. Be as explosive and violent as possible, creating as much acceleration in the load as possible and as much separation between the bar and the earth as possible.
Wod Notes: Athletes can not start their Squat-Cleans until both athletes are back from the run and near their bar. Partner-A can not start on Pull-Ups until Partner-B has finished Squat-Cleans. Partner-B can not start on Pull-Ups until Partner-A has finished Pull-Ups. Partner-A can not head out on Run until Partner-B finishes Pull-Ups. Both athletes run together to start each subsequent round.