Melting the iceberg

The wording changes, but the idea remains the same.

When I wrote about the skater Rodney Mullen, I described Robert Greene’s Mastery formula as this: time x intense focus x self-confidence. Today, I prefer to write it as mastery = time x attention x ego.

Leafing through The Fighter’s Mind, I came across a page where I had written in the formula above, but with one exception. After Sheridan quotes Marcelo Garcia as saying “I never bother getting angry. I don’t need it. I don’t confuse angry with intense. I think being angry makes you tired. I perform at a high level without it,” I had added the word “grace.”

Later in the book, Sheridan is talking to elite coach John Danaher:

“To John, what sets the top guys apart is the idea of “relaxed poise.”
“The single definitive feature of the uberathlete is a sense of effortlessness in a world where most men grunt and strive and scream. It comes easy to the best, and what creates that? I think it’s a sense of play. No fear or anxiety about their performance.”

Effortless. Graceful.

These are the words we use to describe the top performers in every art, discipline and sport when they go about their work.

Dan John, in his book Intervention, perfectly captures this in his fifth principle: “Constantly strive for mastery and grace.”

He observes that “the best performances have a silken easiness to them that defies explanation. For me, true mastery is so graceful and grace-filled that someone who is unaware of what is optimal will still appreciate the moment.”

When I started Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I was an angry ball of tension. People were trying to choke me, to make me uncomfortable, to make me submit. This was a new experience. So I reacted how we all do to unfamiliar situations: I panicked.

The same thing happened when I started training at LDN. The idea that your mental state relaxes as the physical challenge intensifies just didn’t compute. So I met what I didn’t understand with tension.

But as time passed I realised that anger doesn’t help, that motivation is an ephemeral fuel, and that the only way to operate at a high level is to relax, to “constantly strive for mastery and grace” in the face of external pressure.

It can take decades. It demands complete awareness during both practice and performance. It requires an ego that has an unshakable confidence in it’s ability to overcome.

But mastery also requires grace and relaxation, which you can only achieve when you’ve endured intense heat and allowed the iceberg that is your mind to become warm flowing water.