Throughout our lifetimes we pick-up a great deal many hobbies and new ventures. In my own life I have dabbled in — some for longer than others — many different things and then, usually fairly quickly, let go of. Like a shimmering fish I’d caught, briefly enjoyed, and then let back into the river. Many of these temporary hobbies and ventures that I did partake in seemed so shiny and fantastical at first. I imagined myself a master at many of them, impressing people with my new abilities and skill. But then I realised I didn’t enjoy the thing as much as I thought I would, and many a time it just didn’t feel right.
There has been, however just one single thing in my life that I have never given up on. Something I couldn’t live without and that, quite honestly, strongly defines me, as well as many others, as a person.
It’s not a hobby, though some people might call it that. Maybe it began as a hobby, but no. It is a discipline. A lifestyle. A way of being. I have to do it, otherwise, I am not me.
A great teacher. The best metaphor for life that I have encountered on my journey thus far. And it saved my life.
That thing is physical training.
Growing up, I was a fat kid.
I got steadily fatter as I got older, even though I stayed physically active growing up. Mother kept an assortment of goodies in the fridge and the cupboards and even in a box on top of the fridge for me and my sister. One strong memory I have of myself is, after hours of playing football outside with friends (back in the good ol’ pre-smartphone and social media days) and then afterwards, when I was panting, sweating, dying — running to the freezer to grab an ice cream to cool off. We had so many goodies that the neighbouring kids whom mother just let waltz in and out of the house would often follow and grab an ice cream or a chocolate bar from themselves and we would just let them. I mean, we always had supplies.
Suffice to say, despite almost always being outside and running around burning a ton of calories, I could not outrun the junk food that had become such an ingrained and subconscious habit of ours to keep in the house at all times. Slowly but surely over the years, I got fatter. And when I got to my teenage years, that’s when I really began to tip the scales.
Surely enough, I hit that age when you want to start exploring the way you do as a teenager. Girls are suddenly all the more interesting for example and you begin to take more notice of your physical appearance.
The fact became ever blatant. I was overweight, shy, totally lacking any sort of self-esteem. And deep down, as scary as it felt, I knew I had to change.
I know this is a story many people share. If you are one of those people, reach out to me, and tell me yours.
Anyway. One day, I cracked, and everything became crystal clear and began falling into place.
Over a decade later, I still cannot pinpoint the exact moment it happened. My memories are quite vague. But, seemingly out of nowhere, my mind snapped, and I decided — no, I committed — myself to changing my body and my life. In my mind, I felt that if I did not shift the weight and build self-esteem, I would be a failure. You see, I was so pitifully shy and low in self-worth and self-respect, and I lacked any sort of discipline.
Little did I know then that changing my circumstances then and learning to discipline myself to change my body through fitness would manifest into all areas of my life from then on.
It was a monumental shift — both mentally and physically — to me from a lazy, over-indulgent adolescent into a machine of a young man. But once the ball began rolling, I made sure to keep it rolling, as letting it slow down and stop would mean utter failure. I wanted nothing more than to get fit and look good — and I did not falter.
This sudden shift in lifestyle was not easy. Picking myself up off the sofa every day was not easy. Especially at the beginning, because it takes time to see and feel results. But, after the initial push, and once I got going, I felt great about myself, and I knew that every day that I succeeded was one step closer to my goal. It didn’t matter how I was feeling that day — the treadmill was still there, and it wasn’t going anywhere. The choice was all down to me. Would I lose another day and fall back a step?
I learned that no matter how I was feeling, I could push through.
It has been said in various ways that the professional go to work no matter whether he or she feels like it or not. It’s true. And this is one of the first lessons I learned through exercise. It didn’t matter how I was feeling on any given day. I had a goal, and I had no excuses. The equipment was there in my house. If sweat was not dripping off the handlebars of the bicycle, or if I could not smell the churned rubber of the treadmill, it wasn’t because the equipment didn’t do its duty — it’s because I didn’t do mine.
The more I disciplined myself to continue on pushing the easier it got. Nowadays, exercise is a pleasure (mostly), and it takes nowhere near the same amount of self-discipline and will to pick myself up as it once did.
No matter how you feel, if you said you were going to get it done, you go and get it done. You know you should, and you know you’ll ultimately feel better about yourself.
Given enough time, energy and effort, change is possible.
Things worth obtaining take time to obtain. That which is easy to obtain also comes cheap. Don’t take shortcuts.
The road of physical fitness has no end. It’s a continuous process. Just like life. On the journey, lessons continue to make themselves apparent. And I had to learn that the rewards will only come if I give my time, energy and utmost effort. I realised very quickly that there was no magic formula or a shortcut; no magic pill or powder could help me. Only blood, sweat and tears. OK, we don’t want to bleed, but you get the point. Life, too, is a continuous process, and the road to our bliss and fulfilment is a never-ending spiralling road uphill — paved with potholes and ditches that’ll knock you down to your knees…but it gets easier. The more you overcome these obstacles and continue to push, the stronger you become. Nobody got what they wanted lying down.
Just know that the more difficult and long the journey to that which you ultimately seek and desire, the more valuable and appreciated it will be, and longer it shall stay within your grasp.
‘If you know the way broadly you will see it in everything.’ — Miyamoto Musashi
If you’re confused about that quote, don’t worry, because a lot of people have interpreted it many different ways over the centuries since the words were first ushered into existence. While there are many interpretations of it, my first thoughts on it were, and still are, that what this legendary Japanese swordsman meant was that if you master something in one area of your life, then you will see the teachings garnered from it in all other areas of your life.
Physical fitness, as I’ve described above, teaches discipline, work ethic, perseverance and patience. It teaches that nothing worthy or lasting is obtained easily. And that you can overcome any obstacle and push through the pain barrier if you want it enough.
‘For me life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.’ — Arnold Schwarzenegger
I am glad that I was once severely overweight. Because there has been no better teacher in my life than fitness. Over the years I have gone through so many things and experienced so much. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Circumstances continue to change, as they do for us all, and life continues to change and throw curveballs at us as we continue down new paths.
Nowadays, I have a body I could have only dreamed of when I first began my journey. Old friends, family, ex-clients and colleagues often come to me for advice on training and diet. But, mostly, they’re keen and eager to absorb the lessons I learned along the way. The discipline, perseverance and rewards display themselves boldly.
What I have briefly talked about in this article sums up my most cherished lessons that this masterful teacher has taught me about myself and life — and that I shall take with me into every area of my life for evermore.
Find your master teacher. That which is always there for you. Whether it is fitness or martial arts or perhaps something non-related to fitness. Find that which anchors you and will reflect at you all that you are. Take the time and work hard at it. Do not give up. Discipline yourself. You’ll be grateful you did.