I believe it’s a better strategy to back your strengths and support your weaknesses than to try and be well rounded.
We all have weaknesses to support. But what I’ve discovered in my rather long life is that what limits us is not that we’re blind, or that we’re diabetic, or that we have 6 fingers missing, or that we’re in a wheelchair. What limits us is none of that. It is our narratives that begin with “I can’t because…” When you change the story, you change the storyteller.
Start by changing “I can’t because….” to “I can do it this way instead.” That is essentially how, even without the benefit of eyesight and with 4 total fingers, I was persuaded by my fitness coach to take up jiu-jitsu. In this martial art I would be competing against much younger, fully fingered, sighted opponents.
But before I consented, I had to get over my own stubbornness and my own foolishness.
My coach, Steve Maxwell, kept saying, “No no, you’re gonna love this. It’s 3-dimensional chess. It’s strategic.”
I said, “Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s not for me.”
Fortunately, Steve would not give up on me. Finally, I ran out of excuses, and once I began practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I realized how wrong I was and that I had been limiting myself. I learned that jiu-jitsu is powerful and a bit deceptive. It is the art of letting the other person have your way. It’s 3D chess, strategic and all the other promises made to me by my coach.
I was 50 years old the first time I ever stepped on a jiu-jitsu mat. In a few years, I moved from being a beginner to the 3-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion…fighting sighted opponents.
I have stopped competing, but I didn’t stop training, and I still do teach occasionally. I said to myself, “You won 3 times. Quit while you’re way ahead.” Since I didn’t plan a career in jiu-jitsu, there was no reason to keep fighting. Although it’s a very gentle art—especially in Brazil but less so in the US— with every fight there’s always a chance of an injury. Enough so that at the world level, they always have docs standing by.
The part of jiu-jitsu I loved best was being underestimated. In fact, when I won the US Nationals fighting a person 13 years younger than myself, he kept walking around after—saying, “I can’t believe I lost to the blind guy.” He even unknowingly said this to some of my teammates.
I think what may have been more surprising to my teammates would be if he had beaten the blind guy, because I have a very different strategy. It’s not illegal. It’s not even unconventional. It is just unexpected.
For example, and as my wife Natalia reminds me, at the gym I routinely tap out black belts who are in their thirties. But, as I remind her back, “Yes dear, but they aren’t world champs, I am. They’re young and strong, but I know a different set of moves.”
The other guys at my gym have caught on, but every once in a while I can catch a new guy. During my training in Las Vegas before a demonstration match against Xande Ribeiro, I tapped out three black belts. None of these three had seen any of these submissions before then.
“What was THAT?” an opponent exclaimed during one of our practice sessions.
“That was a foot lock,” I replied calmly.
“Yeah, but you didn’t use your hands!!”
“Yes, it’s a foot lock done with my feet,” I answered him.
“Yes, but your foot locked my foot,” he persisted.
“That’s why it’s a foot lock,” I said.
It’s not an age narrative. It’s an experience narrative. It’s changing “I can’t because….” to “I can do it this way instead.”
Jiu-jitsu maximizes what I’m really good at and minimizes my deficiencies. That is the whole point of my book – back your strengths, find support for your weaknesses, and be remarkable in something. Do not try to be merely “above average” in everything. That’s a short road to mediocrity. In all walks of life, but especially when investing, it’s easy to end up with mediocre returns or worse by just playing for average. But, that’s a story for another day.