The Revolving Door

Nothing is truly for everyone. There are always barriers of entry. The higher the barrier, the more people wish to enter, and the less people actually do so. For the rest, they go back out the revolving door. Most of them tend to not understand the exact reason for their forced exit, and they tend to blame others for faults that happen to be their own.

This blog post is a reflection upon my experiences and observations with failure and falling off the wagon. Take it either as a warning or a wake-up call. For me, it’s something I just have to get off my chest. Many of the deep interests I have are in fields that I’ve not been able to approach mastery of due to being like most people—usually half-assed and unwilling to struggle.

Despite that failure, why do I want to keep fighting? Why should you keep fighting? Even when it’s all over, having walked out the revolving door, there’s still a part of us who would want to go back in and keep going, even when it’s all over. This is normal, but what can make it better is understanding why people get pushed out that revolving door in the first place.

NOTE: This post is an absolute mess. I go all over the place, and I’ve done my best to organize my thoughts. Read it as simply musings—not a thesis—on this topic.

What is the “Revolving Door”?

The revolving door describes how a field has many people coming in, and a vast majority of them end up getting out. For the purposes of this post, I’m mostly referring to the realms of martial arts and pro wrestling.

While just about any field of interest has this going on, what makes martial arts and pro wrestling special are two key factors—fair share of dreamers and pretenders; and the immense physical, mental, and social difficulty in climbing that mountain.

This post is mostly addressed to the newbies coming in, aiming to be the next Anderson Silva, Tony Jaa, or Stone Cold Steve Austin. I was one of them, and I’ve come with this written piece not to discourage them from following this pursuit, but to warn them of their follies before committing them.

Talent is Not Magic

I’ve seen far too many people leave that revolving door with a heavy heart full of resentment. They blame their former mentors, their family, their so-called friends, their fellow trainees, their country, and so on. However, they almost never blame themselves. I myself was one of those people, and it took many years of self-reflection to realize that it was mostly my own fault.

This shit is hard. People with knowledge and trained eyes can clearly see if you’ve indeed put in the work. Whether it’s as simple as a boxing jab or as complex as a shooting star press, form and effectiveness in execution can’t be cheated. You don’t just dream of doing it and immediately be able to do it.

There is no lasting monument without a foundation. That is true for any skill, but even more so for those that involve physicality. The push-ups and squats you’re made to do are not just capital punishment, but building blocks of what creates proficiency. But somehow, they see physical conditioning as the exception instead of the rule. It’s absolutely unbelievable how much some people exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect, believing themselves to be capable while their bodies are weak.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

It takes tremendous effort and practice to do any technique cleanly. Whether it’s pro wrestling or martial arts, either the fruits of your labor or lack thereof will be clearly seen. But somehow, countless people seem to have such doe-eyed naivete in how they misunderstand not only what being a practitioner entails, but also their own abilities (or lack thereof).

I’ve personally witnessed the revolving door of pro wrestling. People coming in thinking they can be stars, and they indeed can be if they really put their mind to it. But they act like they’re bullied and oppressed when they’re pushed to their limit.

Meanwhile, the idols they worship would’ve done worse to them. They’ve paid the price, and they detest those who think they don’t have to.

My Own Experience as a Failed Martial Artist

I understand that feeling because I’ve been there before. I was one of those kids who went in the revolving door full of piss and vinegar and came out with my tail between my legs. That heady combination of innocent optimism and inflated ego I had in my youth, coupled with still-unaddressed psychological issues, resulted in me being such a horrible student of the martial arts. I knew more than what I could do in a field of interest that’s mostly about doing.

There aren’t many things that are more about doing than fighting. Martial arts is a weird thing to get into when you consider the grand scheme of things. Out of all the skills you can work on to enrich your life in our civilization of the 21st century, few things are more useless than martial arts. Even video games are more profitable nowadays, and the only way to make martial arts practical is to either find work in film or compete in professional competition.

I was doing neither of those. Whether it was a desire to no longer be vulnerable to bullying and exploitation or simply a nerdy fascination with the technical aspects of the fight game, I remember being so locked in for a better part of five years. What I do know was that I expressed that intensity by always talking out of my ass. I was the side coach of side coaches. I get into things because of my insecurity of being useless, built up from years of being told so by family.

My reason for being there was less about learning to beat people up and more about being knowledgeable about beating people up. The only self-value I’ve ever derived in my life is from knowing how to do things, whether it’s fixing computers or knowing obscure trivia. This was a really bad reason to go to a martial arts school, especially when I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

This is sometimes called “brown belt syndrome.”

Realizing my mistake burned the fire out. What followed was depression and a looming sense of nihilism that kept me from reaching that same level of enthusiasm. While I did get interested in other things and dove into them in my leisure, it was not nearly the same intensity I did with martial arts. My weight ballooned within a few months, I barely left the house, and every day was spent in leaving work half-finished while watching YouTube videos.

It was all self-sabotage. These aren’t excuses, but understanding why I did myself dirty. The biggest thing I got from martial arts is learning about that the hard way and gaining a better understanding of myself. Perhaps those people who I’ve seen walk out the revolving door felt the same way. Hopefully, they learned the lessons they needed to learn upon their exit.

Struggle is Not Optional

The Talent Code

“The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle (2009)

Journalist and author Daniel Coyle goes into detail the mechanism behind mastery in his book The Talent Code. He details how learning isn’t supposed to be a smooth and constantly upward process, but a series of stumbles and mishaps. Our very physiology requires going out of our comfort zone in order to get better at not only a skill, but also as human beings.

Meanwhile, Ryan Holiday cites historical examples in his book Ego is the Enemy to emphasize the importance and definition of humility and the treachery of ego. Humility not simply being quiet and devoid of personality, but honesty in oneself and understanding the folly of believing too much in one’s own importance.

If you can take something out of this, may it be this message:

Struggle is not optional; it’s a biological necessity.

As Jake from Adventure Time says, “Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.” But it’s not just something that happens every now and then. Most beginners are supposed to suck—they’re beginners.

But for some strange reason, the people I’ve seen walk out the revolving door don’t seem to understand that. Their self-image tend to not match their actual ability, and that discourages them in many ways.

Meanwhile, it’s the struggles and stumbles that are crucial to the process in the first place. I’ll have another blog post on this process in the near future.

It’s Not Always Your Fault, Even If It Is

For those who have watched the movie Whiplash, they’d be familiar with that mentor who becomes the reason why they burn out and lose their passion for walking that path to mastery. Or at least that’s the justification they default to after hitting a roadblock.

It has a lot to do with one’s perceived agency. Some find their progression tied to the mentor, while others find it more conducive to determine their own path. Progression and improvement can feel like a tightrope act between listening to your teacher’s every word and listening to one’s own judgement.

And when they encounter a hard teacher, they may either quit due to taking things too personally or do everything in their power to both meet expectations and disprove doubts. Some teachers vocalize their frustrations, while others let the training beat their students down. Everyone has a different disposition, so they take to strictness differently.

Most people who go out the revolving door tend to prove critics right by no longer pursuing the craft as passionately as they used to for various reasons. But those who stick with it and rise to the top (or at least close to it) either regard them as motivators or pay no heed at all. In the end, the work is what matters.

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