One of the first lessons I learned from Karl Gotch in relation to Combat Conditioning and to combat sports was the importance of being able to ‘adapt and improvise’ – To change course on the fly and still come out ahead.
In today’s message I am going to take you back to an article I wrote a couple years ago – but have just revised, because I think it explains why this concept is critically important, not only to the combat athlete, but to anyone who wants to be at the top of any profession.
‘It was the day after a dual meet with the University of Northern Iowa. Iowa head wrestling coach Dan Gable stood before us with a legal pad in his hands – giving each wrestler a brutal evaluation in front of the entire team – something you’re just not supposed to do in today’s politically correct ‘feelings first’ world.
A couple wrestlers received a boatload of praise for their performance; others were told what they needed to do to improve; two were deeply criticized. Don’t know what it was about Gable, but he could pretty much say whatever he wanted and you would listen.
Yet, nothing he said was ever sugar-coated or communicated in order to please. The good thing about Gable was we always knew where we stood.
After critiquing the first few wrestlers, Gable began evaluating a two-time All-American, Jeff, who lost a close match to a former Marine – who also happened to be an All-American.
“You know Jeff,” said Gable. “You’re one of these guys who goes out to wrestle with a plan. And then when the plan doesn’t work, you fall to pieces. It’s okay to have a plan – but when the plan doesn’t fit – you’ve got to be able to change gears and do whatever you need to do to win.”
When I heard this I was stunned – mostly because I, too, was one of those wrestlers who put together a plan. And like John, if the plan didn’t work – I was s-o-l.
In combat sports we are taught to practice various moves over and over and over again. And we train in such a way so that “what we know” becomes second nature.
As 1984 Olympic champion Lou Banach once told me, “You’ve got to know your moves like the back of your hand. You’ve got to be able to do them in your sleep.”
What Lou was talking about is being “programmed” to react in a certain way to specific situations. And he’s right.
On the other hand, what Gable told Jeff was equally right. You’ve got to be prepared and able to change gears, to adapt and improvise –
and be able to do so right during the heat of battle.
This is something that may not come easily – but it is possible, regardless of your endeavor. It’s all a matter of training, confidence and the willingness to flow into something else – on the fly.
Some months ago I witnessed a perfect example of how this philosophy of “having a plan but being flexible” is NOT simply a martial arts or combat strategy. It applies to everything.
It even applies to a business meeting or seminar.
One of the things I have noted about many seminar speakers is their reliance on “Power Point” presentations when they talk.
Occasionally I will use one – albeit with blank slides in between the actual content, – so that I am forced to communicate based on the audience feedback, not based on ‘what does my next slide say.’ But most of the time all I want is a microphone and that’s plenty, in my book.
There are a few reasons why I don’t like Power Point and they tie nicely into this concept of planning what you’re going to say, but being willing to adapt and improvise.
One of the biggest reasons I don’t like to rely on Power Point is simple: What if suddenly, during the middle of your talk, the computer shuts down?
Well, if it does, can the speaker immediately adapt and improvise? Most of the time, when I have witnessed this happen – the speaker is totally clueless about what comes next.
You feel bad for the speaker the same way you feel bad for an athlete who is stumped by an opponent who comes out to fight with techniques and strategies you have never seen before, haven’t prepared for and cannot defend.
Like Gable, I believe the ultimate level of skill is being able to flow with whatever is happening, whether you prepared for it or not – yet still come out smelling like a rose.
Only a handful of speakers or fighters can actually do this. But every speaker or fighter has it within himself to do so.
Study the top people in any profession. Note how relaxed and calm they are when performing or competing. This is critically important.
Then think back to the times in your life in which you are able to adapt with ease. I’m betting you’ve had the experience and the first thing you’ll recall about it was that you were totally relaxed and having a good time. You weren’t stressed out or worried about how you were going to do. You simply went with the flow.
Having a plan can help you relax. I know it helps me.
But knowing I can adapt and improvise if the plan isn’t working – that’s a level of skill worth fighting for.’
P.S. If you want to achieve every fitness goal you’ve set for yourself – and then some, go check out The Furey Faithful and find out how you can get my International Best Seller, Combat Conditioning, absolutely FREE!