Monday, April 21, 2008

You Gotta’ Have Faith

You Gotta’ Have Faith

(Article first appears in Black Belt Magazine, May, 2008)

By Dr. Randy Borum


“Whether you think you can or think you can't - you are right” Henry Ford said. Our expectations for success and belief in our own abilities have powerful effects on our performance.

In the early 1970s, psychologists conducted an experiment in which they objectively measured the strength of each participant. Each person was assigned to arm wrestle another participant. Both participants believed that the objectively weaker one had a clearly superior level of strength. In 10 of the 12 arm-wrestling matches, the objectively weaker opponent prevailed. Their beliefs about who had superior strength mattered more than their real physical strength.

So, we need confidence, right? Yes, but the top martial artists and competitors have more than that. They have faith; a solid foundation of self-belief that transcends the outcome of any given performance. It is close to what psychologists call self-efficacy -a belief in one’s ability to successfully perform a task or action. It is task specific and it is grounded in self-belief.

Self-efficacy works together with skill and motivation to produce success. You have to want to achieve the outcome and have the ability to do so. When both those conditions are met, then the nature and degree of self-efficacy will often decide the winner.

Leading sport psychologist, Robert Nideffer, argues that the distinction between confidence and faith is an important one for the competitive athlete. While confidence can be easily shaken, faith endures. As Nideffer says, “Faith is believing in the absence of success.” If you are practicing a form, preparing for a rank testing, and you make the same mistake twice in a row, faith is what allows you to proceed confidently forward, assured that your next attempt will be successful.

In 1994, twenty years after losing his world heavyweight boxing title, George Foreman chose to re-enter the ring against the undefeated Michael Moorer. At nearly fifty years of age, many scoffed at the idea of Foreman competing, let alone fighting for a title. Moorer dished out a hefty dose of punishment on Foreman for nine rounds and seemed to be headed for a victory. Foreman, however, showed amazing heart and maintained faith in his ability. In the middle of the 10th round, Foreman delivered a straight right to Moorer’s chin than sent him to the canvas. Moorer could not recover through the ten-count and George Foreman was, once again, the heavyweight champion of the world.

One of the reasons that skilled athletes sometimes “choke” in competition, is that they allow themselves to get absorbed in some mistake. Instead of re-focusing and driving forward, they allow themselves to react to the error emotionally and to entertain negative, self-critical thoughts like “That was so stupid”; “I can’t handle this pace”; or “I thought I was better than this.”

It is important for any martial artist or competitive athlete not to let mistakes damage their self-belief. You must prepare yourself to know that there will be time to process and learn from any mistakes, but that time is not in the midst of a competition. Your faith in your ability allows you to persist through adversity.

During the 10,000 meter track finals in the 1972 Olympics, 23-year-old Lasse Viren of Finland fell near the halfway mark. At this elite level of competition, such an error should have sealed his fate. But Viren maintained his composure, quickly got back to his feet and finished the race, winning the gold and setting a world record.

Viren stayed focused, kept his faith, and never even entertained the thought of not continuing. His faith in his ability to win was greater than any disruption, disappointment or embarrassment his fall could cause.

Even the greatest competitors make mistakes or suffer defeat. They do not cease to be great because they err, but they do continue to be great because of how they respond to their errors. A foundation of faith and self-belief can defend your heart and mind against negative, destructive thoughts that seek to undermine your confidence. Without negative thoughts interfering, you can fully commit to action without being burdened by the outcome. You can strive for excellence without being burdened by a need for perfection.

How does a person acquire this kind of powerful faith? By choice and commitment. The true martial artists must first acknowledge that the pursuit of excellence is her or his own responsibility. With the responsibility, comes the need to chart a course of action – a plan for how it will be achieved. Then, the martial artist must commit – continuously – to giving his or her best effort in following the plan.

Psychologist and pragmatist philosopher William James said: "There is but one cause of human failure. And that is man's lack of faith in his true Self." That faith is rarely, if ever, bestowed on anyone. It is cultivated and earned by daily choices. Choosing not to ruminate or tolerate destructive negative thoughts. Choosing thoughts and actions that will promote their best performance. Always moving forward, looking for opportunities to learn. Growing from mistakes, rather than suffering from them. Striving for your personal best, rather than for perfection.

Friday, April 18, 2008

“Runner’s High” Gains Traction

“Runner’s High” Gains Traction
(from Training & Conditioning -

By R.J. Anderson

New scientific data supports the endorphin-releasing process that has long been hypothesized to follow intense bouts of exercise. The term "runner's high" was once considered folklore by some scientists, but an article published in the March issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex may prompt non-believers to adjust their thinking.

After completing a challenging, lung-burning workout, many runners and cyclists describe having a feeling of euphoria or a sense of calm that drapes their minds and bodies. Commonly called a “runner’s high,” scientists have hypothesized that running or intense physical activity can elicit a flood of endorphins in a person’s brain, producing analgesia and a general sense of well-being. Though it has long been accepted in the athletic world, the biochemical mechanism behind a runner's high has previously been elusive.

Now, for the first time, the theory of the runner’s high is backed by scientific data collected by researchers in Germany using positron emission tomography (PET) scans and newly available chemicals that reveal endorphins in the brain. In addition to proving how and why runners reach a euphoric state, their research could have even wider-ranging effects as these findings reach into the medical community, helping physicians understand the relationship between exercise and chronic pain.

Despite having countless athletes buy into the idea of runner’s high, many scientists have long been unconvinced by anecdotal accounts. Instead of an endorphin rush, many thought that a runner’s high was simply a byproduct of the mental good feeling that accompanies a sense of accomplishment, in this case, completing strenuous physical challenge.

But in March, researchers published an article indicating that when athletes are pushed beyond a threshold of intense physical activity, it can provoke a release of endorphins. The scientists, who work in the fields of Nuclear Medicine, Neurology, and Anesthesia at the Technische Universität München (TUM) and the University of Bonn, scanned the brains of 10 athletes before and after a two-hour run. Their data showed that athletes produced endorphins during workout and that those endorphins attached themselves to the limbic and prefrontal areas of the brain, which are associated with controlling a person’s emotions.

"We could validate for the first time an endorphin driven runner's high and identify the affected brain areas,” Professor Henning Boecker, who coordinated the research at TUM and who is in charge of the Functional Neuroimaging Group at the Department of Radiology at University Hospital Bonn, told the online magazine, Science Daily. “It’s interesting to see that the affected brain areas were preferentially located in prefrontal and limbic brain regions which are known to play a key role in emotional processing. Moreover, we observed a significant increase of the euphoria and happiness ratings compared to the ratings before the running exercise."

Professor Thomas Tölle, who heads a research group called Functional Imaging of Pain at TUM, says these results could unearth another tool in the battle against chronic pain.

“The fact that the endorphins are also released in areas of the brain that are at the center of the suppression of pain was not quite unexpected, but even this proof was missing,” Tölle told Science Daily. “Now we hope that these images will also impress our pain patients and will motivate them to take up sports training within their available limits.”

Boecker is investigating these possibilities as part of a follow-up study about whether running affects pain perception. Using PET scans to monitor 20 marathon runners and a similar number of nonathletes, Boecker is studying the test subjects’ perception of pain after running and walking.

One of Boecker’s goals is find out whether intensity of exercise affects levels of endorphins. By including nonathletes in the study, Boecker is looking at whether a love of exercise has anything to do with endorphin production.

“There are studies that showed enhanced pain tolerance in runners,” Boecker told the New York Times. “You have to give higher pain stimuli before they say, ‘OK, this hurts.’ ”

R.J. Anderson is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. He can be reached at

Friday, April 4, 2008

FREE Training Journal e-book for Martial Arts


Rodney King and I have just released a new resource for functional martial artists. The Official CMD Training Journal is a FREE eBook that has been created to help athletes develop greater focus in their training and to develop "deep learning" by systematically tracking some key mental, emotional and physical elements of their performance.

Not only is space provided to fill in and to track all this important information, but the journal also includes the ‘how to’ material to help you realize your ultimate training goals.

There are brief, quick-reference sections that cover:

Goal Setting


Taking Care of Your Body: Sleep, Nutrition, Energy

Sharpening your Mental Game: Motivation, Focus, and Commitment

Learning from your Training

The book is referred to as a “mixed martial arts” training journal, but that term is used very broadly here. It can be used for MMA training, but it is also very general and flexible, so that you could use it for virtually any kind of martial arts training. The “training journal” itself is just a record form that you can copy and use to track your progress and to monitor your individual patterns for success.

In an effort to give back to the martial art community that has given both authors so much, they are now offering the Training Journal absolutely free.

All you need to do to get your FREE copy is register (also free) on the Crazy Monkey Defense site.

We hope you enjoy it and that it will keep you focused, excited and motivated to train.