I came across a TEDx talk on “GRIT: The power of passion and perseverance”. In it, Angela Lee Ducksworth discusses the concept of grit as the biggest predictor for success, as opposed to other characteristics like IQ for example. In other words, those who possess it -grit- will be more ‘successful’ at whatever it is that they set their mind to. She explains grit as the ability to persevere and stay motivated in the long run; having stamina for long-term goals and working very hard to make them come true.

I found the concepts presented in the video interesting, so I unleashed Vali on the subject and tried to keep up with my typing.

In a martial arts context, grit is referred to as anti-fragility. Physically speaking, when organisms break and heal, sometimes they are able to come back stronger. Psychologically speaking, it’s really about learning from your mistakes instead of letting them bring you down. In comparison, a fragile person is prone to breakdown physically and emotionally in the face of difficulty and will hence avoid challenging circumstances.

I asked Vali how one imparts anti-fragility to students. “As strange as it sounds, it all starts with breathing and breath work.” He continued to explain that most of us don’t even realize that we are always holding our breath. But it is breath that allows us to keep moving and persevering. A student must come to recognize this and then learn to breathe in the face of difficulty. “No one can take breath away from you and, well if they do, you’re dead so…” So, without dwelling too much on the whole dying thing, according to Vali, breath is the first step to success.

Paralleling that is psychology: students’ will and desires, where ego and pride come to play. Roots instructors are always observing what makes someone tap out or not for that matter. “Do as many pushups as you can and then tell me why you quit.” Vali told the students today. At the end of the set, he said “I don’t actually care what made you quit. Tell me what made you go on.”

Unlike an academy, a dojo is a place where knowledge is embodied. “At Roots we try to give students leadership qualities: adaptability, functionality, not settling for mediocrity, and the ability to think for and believe in themselves. After all, we are creating warriors, not soldiers.” Mikhail Ryabko said many years ago, that a civilian Systema practitioner, whether he wants it or not, sooner or later becomes a professional. It’s really about being your best in every aspect of your life.

In starting to map out our course this week, our guest instructor Emmanuel Manolakakis asked the students how they would define failure during this intensive. Not trying hard enough, not giving it all you have, not learning from your mistakes, playing it safe, being unwilling to take risks, and one of the more fascinating topics, not being authentic. For true grit, you have to remain true to yourself because if you’re trying to copy someone, all that will eventually break, be it under combat or otherwise…fake ain’t great. Emmanuel suggested that everyone needs to make a to-do list of failure. Because what is the cost of NOT doing something? Without denying our humanity, every hour is a new opportunity.

Roots Dojo. Out.