I just read a quote from author Nassim Taleb on Facebook.  Here it is:

"Friends, I made a mistake in the designation "skin in the game"; it is ambiguous and is often mistaken for incentives. "Neck on the line" is more adequate, though ominous."

So, that got me thinking.   How does that apply to martial arts and physical fitness training?  How does that apply to our students at Dragon Gym?

I agree with Taleb that "Neck on the line" is a bit ominous and perhaps more dire than needed, but I think the message is still salient.

We've dedicated our lives and careers to martial arts like Taekwondo, Muay Thai and BJJ as well as learning a variety of fitness modalities like russian kettlebells, weight lifting, and body weight training not only because we see the benefits to ourselves, but also because we do reap true enjoyment and benefit from helping others and seeing them achieve their goals.

Of course, those goals are not always physical -- like learning how to fight, or losing weight -- sometimes they are not even clear to the practitioner / student.   Often, students look back and see how much they have changed and grown physically, mentally and emotionally.

However, growth takes time.

But, we live in an instant gratification culture.

We see students, children and adults, start a program and fail to follow it through to completion over and over again.   There can be many reasons for this, but Lonnie Beck and I often remark that it's because student's "don't have skin in the game".

They might think they do, but really they don't --> otherwise they would have followed through with the program.

So what counts as skin in the game?

Typically it's investment.

The first kind of investment is the most obvious.   Money.  It's important to all of us and necessary for the world we live in.  So, if you're going to put money in to something, you'd better get something out of it.  What's the ROI going to be?

Step 1 in "having skin in the game" and ensuring that you are successful in your martial arts and physical training:  Invest monetarily in your training.   That means joining a gym, a good one and possibly an expensive one.   There are a lot of low-cost health-club type gyms out there.   Some cost as little as $10 a month!   It's so cheap it is virtually no impact on your life if you keep paying that ten dollars a month and never go.   In fact, that's what they want!  They want you to keep paying and never show up!

However, if you are paying $100-$200 a month for a gym membership you are going to be darn sure to use it!   You could take that a step further and get personal training or some kind of higher level coaching.   This will be more costly, but the return you will reap (as long as the coach is a good one) will be geometrically greater.

Of course, paying the money is not enough.   You have to show up and you have to do the work.   Additionally, you need to keep reminding your self of why you decided to make that investment in the first place.    What was happening in your life that you needed to change?   How did you want to grow?   How can you keep developing in the future?

Once you recognize those elements, consider that you may and should start increasing your investment.   Increasing your training, attending workshops, expanding your education are all examples.

Paying tuition is not the only kind of investment.  You need to start investing mentally and emotionally in your training.   There are several ways to do this.  Here are some examples.

Create / accept some sort of external and public challenge or test.    This is where things start to become more like "putting your neck on the line".   In traditional martial arts training we have level testing or belt testing and that eventually leads up to a black belt test.   In competitive martial arts like muay thai and brazilian jiu jitsu you might have bouts, fights or tournaments instead.   In physical fitness training you might have a rigorous certification or a race type event like the spartan race or a 10K or something.    I'm sure you can imagine many similar types of things.

The key here is ensure that these events matter to you and that there is some "risk".

Step 2 - "start putting your neck on the line"  -- Put it out there that you are going to participate in said event / challenge / test.  Let people know that you are going to do this.  Make sure those are people that you respect and are important to you (and you are important to them).   People that you might be embarrassed in disappointing.   This may sound a bit odd, but you have to be willing to base some of your own self-worth in the successful participation in said event.

Remember, I mentioned making an intellectual / emotional investment?  This is the first part of that.

Step 3 - "It's not just your neck"  

In many senses martial arts and physical training is all about the individual.  Personal goals, self-confidence, intrinsic motivation, only you can do the work are all things we talk about.   However, you all need to recognize that you are part of a community.   Sometimes we need that external force to keep us moving along.  Maybe that force is a push, maybe that force is a pull, it depends.   However, it's important to remember that there is always friction.   There will always be resistance to moving forward....sometimes life just gets in the way of our personal goals.

So, we need to be reminded that they are not just personal.   In the community, others are relying on you to reach their goals.   And, remember that as part of this community we have ALL invested some of our self worth in those goals.

For example, when you test for another belt you are not just trying doing well for yourself.   There are other students that are relying on you do well.  They may be junior/novice students.  They may be at the same level as you and training in parallel.  In both cases your performance will affect their performance both physically and mentally.

Similarly, your instructors and coaches are relying on you to do well.   There are so many parts to this.    When you test, go to an race, fight a bout, or complete a certification of some sort, you represent us, our abilities and our philosophies.   We want, we need that representation to be as good and accurate as possible.

Our philosophy is not just to be part of the community, but to enhance it.   Part of that mission is to preserve and perpetuate the knowledge we have both learned from our teachers as well as subsequently developed.

We are relying on you to do so.



Somnath Sikdar


Somnath Sikdar
Connect with me
Master, 7th Dan Black Belt
Post A Comment