How Repetition Will Make You GreatSep 28, 2022
One of the martial arts I trained in was Tai Chi Mantis. It's a style of Shaolin Kung Fu.
My favorite place to train was in Toronto, Canada, at Golden Harmony Kung Fu under the instruction of Sifu Rupert Harvey. I thought lifting was hard, and then I did this.
I learned about chi, body alignment, locks and holds, proper breathing, breath control, and hundreds of ways to kick someone's ass. I love this style and am so grateful to have been introduced.
Sifu is a sage, a well-traveled man. Almost mystic-like. He had this saying that has stuck with me ever since my first class with him:
"In Kung fu, a thousand times is one time. When working with weapons, ten thousand times is one time."
It essentially means that doing a kick ten times doesn't matter. Once you hit a thousand reps of that kick, that's one.
Sifu or the senior students didn't enforce that, but he isn't wrong. The thought sticks with you and inspires you to train outside of class. The key to learning anything is repetition.
As Tony Robbins has said:
"Repetition is the mother of all skill."
We spent hours going up and down the floor practicing kicks and kung fu punches.
Whenever we learned a traditional form like eight direction elbow, I'd pair off with a senior student who would instruct, watch and adjust my form as needed. I would complete it and hear,
“Do it again!”
“Oh why not…once more!”
After about 15 minutes of doing it non-stop — sweating profusely — I paused and asked the senior student,
“I’m sorry, but…how many times do I have to do this?”
"A thousand times is one time," he answered with a grin.
Overkill? Yes. Effective? Extremely.
Doing that form repeatedly re-built the neurological pathways in my brain and increased my mind-body connection and awareness. Then I finally got to the point where I could do it with speed, fluidity, and stunning control. I also didn't even need to think about it. It was ingrained into me.
The Power of Shaolin
Have you ever seen footage or documentaries on the Shaolin monks? These guys are incredible.
Their use of repetition turns them into these deadly warriors. Their training is brutal and beyond intense. Their whole training regimen is based on repetition.
I will never forget seeing a documentary where the monks go through a particular form — a rehearsed routine in a temple with a concrete floor. The monks had performed the pattern so often that the concrete had a dip. As a result, the concrete had depreciated beneath their feet.
Other monks practiced their punches against a steel plate bolted into a wall. After punching the steel for 1,000 strikes (with each hand), the steel had indentations of the monk's fist. That's the power of Shaolin.
Repetition Makes You Better
In the gym, I do a lot of reps, especially when I am focused on volume. However, I couldn't do a single pull-up when I first started. It was pathetic. But after training my back and arms with different exercises, I began to build up strength. Eventually, I could do a few!
My pull-ups sucked. They were awful! My form was terrible, I lacked control, and my pride was wounded. So I thought I was a badass because I could throw heavy weight around like a champ, yet I couldn't even lift my body weight? I got humbled real fast. Well, the only way to get better is to do more pull-ups.
I was embarrassed. And I feared the exercise. I didn't want to feel that discomfort from doing the pull-ups because they were so hard. And they hurt like hell! My hands hurt, and it felt like my skin was ripping off! Then, like a sage appearing in my moment of need, Sifu Rupert Harvey's voice started playing in my head:
"...a thousand times is one time."
I thought, "Well, this is gonna be awful." So I sucked it up and did as many pull-ups as I could that day. It wasn't much, but each day after, I'd crank out a few. I kept a log in my training notebook:
"4 pull-ups today."
"6 pull-ups today."
I was getting stronger, and the pull-ups were becoming easier. I was excited, but I didn't celebrate yet. I had to hit 1,000 pull-ups for it to count as "one rep."
It took about a month to get there. But after I completed 1,000 pull-ups? You would not believe how easy it was to crank out 10, 15, and 20 pull-ups in a row without stopping.
The repetition of doing a painful and strenuous exercise yielded the most growth.
My strength improved, and my confidence grew because I became competent in something that didn't come easily. Once I faced it, as opposed to just choosing what was comfortable, I grew. I got better. Progress became my companion, and my confidence went through the roof.
Repetition Builds Confidence and Diminishes Our Fears
Before facing my fear of pull-ups, I always did easy exercises that came naturally to me.
I'd stick to lat pulldowns on a machine or cable station because it was much more comfortable. However, I was short-changing myself.
My fear kept me from achieving a better version of myself and putting a cap on my potential. Only when I faced that fear repeatedly could I genuinely overcome it. Physically and in my mind.
It was only when I decided to get comfortable with the uncomfortable did I genuinely grow.
I repeated, putting myself in those uncomfortable moments and exercises. Repetition allowed me to progress and level up. I got comfortable feeling very uncomfortable.
I was leaving so much on the table by not doing the hard things. My comfort zones were actually "danger zones" in disguise because they withheld my potential, development, and expansion.
What else was I limiting myself with?
I then would face other exercises that sucked. I started small and then built upon them. I increased the intensity, the weight, the reps, or all of the above. Also, my internal dialogue began to change. I began to look for the exercises I was afraid of or hadn't done before. I used to think:
"Oh no, don't do that."
"You'll look dumb."
"People will laugh at you."
And that morphed into:
"If I suck, good!"
"I'll grow and get better!"
The repetition, regardless of whether I excelled in the beginning, eventually made it easier, and I overcame those hurdles. As a result, I never plateau in the gym or with my goals.
Repetition Outside the Gym
"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."- Bruce Lee
Once the workout is done, we enter the world and return to our lives. I want you to examine your life and identify the areas where you've been sticking to your comfort zones. It might be in the dating world, or maybe you're stuck in the same day-in and day-out predictable routine.
I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone. Expect to fail at times. Expect it to feel uncomfortable and borderline agonizing at first. Do it anyway. Repeat it. If you're scared to go out on a date, ask someone out. If you take the same route back home from work every day, take a different way! Do something different from the usual routine of your life. You will grow.
Now, because of the physical discipline's repetition, you can apply it to your life outside of the gym. Do you want to learn a new language? Repetition. How about an instrument? You guessed it. Repetition. Are you an actor learning lines? Learning your timetables? Maybe you're giving a public speech soon? Repetition is the mother of all skills.
Now, sometimes people get overwhelmed when I speak to them about this. I am here to remind you that you are a repetition machine and have been one your entire life, whether you realize it or not.
You're Already a Repetition Master
As a baby, you didn't come out of the womb walking. Instead, you learned by falling and getting back up repeatedly. That's repetition!
It was the same thing when you first picked up a fork to eat. It felt odd and foreign to you, but the repetitive process of using a utensil to eat became second nature.
Can you ride a bicycle? How did you manage that one? Repetition. Do you drive? Same thing. You have been facing fears and failing and falling and getting back up after it, then failing again until you succeeded—pure repetition.
You already have a PhD. in acquiring skills and the use of repetition. Now it's time to focus on it consciously.
It would help if you remembered that how you do one thing is how you will eventually do everything.
One more time for the people in the back! How you do one thing is how you will eventually do everything.
If you are cleaning and dusting your desk, do you lift the pictures on your desk to clean underneath to get all of the dust? Or do you clean around it? Likewise, what job are you doing when you're cutting your lawn? Are you cutting the grass and then cleaning it up to finish the job? Or do you just cut the grass and walk away?
In the gym, we learn that the more we put in, the more we will get back. Knowing this, we do not waste our time making a half-ass effort. We go all in.
We repeat that, and it becomes our way of being.
Why do so many people do the minimal amount in their lives? Why do people live with a "good enough" mentality when it could be better if you applied your all?
If you half-ass the things in your life, you will get half-ass results: a half-assed relationship, marriage, career, or financial position.
"Good enough" is giving up. If it could be better? Then it's as good as broken. These people wind up repeating that lifestyle!
Is it laziness, or does it lack repetition on the topics that matter? Because the more you practice something, the better you'll become.
Take note of the significant areas in your life and the topics that matter to you. Then, honestly, assess where you think you're at.
And frankly, it doesn't matter if you're good, great, or a complete beginner. We can continuously improve and be better than who we currently are.
The key to all is repetition.
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