As children, we were taught the saying, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” In its most basic form this is the key success principle of perseverance. Perseverance is the persistence to continue with what you’re doing, until such time as you have succeeded or finished. As martial artists, we know all about perseverance on the training floor, had any one of our black belts quit when they realized it would take a while to master a side kick they would never have benefited from the full benefit of the martial arts. However, beyond just what we do in Taekwon-Do, the ability to persevere is one of the paramount tools for success, so much so it is a tenet we ask our students to live by.

The reasons to persevere are based upon some simple truth’s about life that each of us must encounter and master to lead a Black Belt Life. First, rarely does anything worthwhile in life comes easily or quickly. Second, people who persevere understand that follow through and the work put into achieving something is just as rewarding as the achievement itself and creates a greater appreciation for that thing. Third, those who persevere have the greatest impact on the world around them because they persevere through to hold to convictions.

To be successful you have to stick with it. The most rewarding things in life aren’t without some sacrifice or struggle. The most successful businesses, churches, nations, and relationships took time, effort and had their ups and downs. During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington and his troops spent a very cold, very beleaguered winter encamped at Valley Forge. They were poorly supplied, poorly clothed, and many didn’t even have anything that would pass as shoes. It wasn’t uncommon to see bloody footprints left in the snow. The harsh weather had nearly crippled the supply line of the already struggling Continental Army. I certainly won’t be able to do justice to the sad state these brave soldiers in this e-mail. While Washington and his men had faced defeat at the hands of the British this was nearly the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It would have been easy at this point to pack it in and go home to their farms, towns, warm fires, and food. However, Washington, who always put his men first and suffered alongside them, was able to get his men through the winter a large part based on convincing them of the belief that living and dieing as free men was the ultimate reward. I believe that this winter where the army fought an enemy far greater than the British and persevered galvanized the army and enabled them to go on to the success and freedom you and I enjoy right now. Had they cut and run, this great nation would be very different from what it is today.

A war like the one for independence is a very big example of the power of perseverance because it was long, many soldiers died on both sides, and more than once the future of the American colonies came down to the will of a few brave men and women who put it all on the line to achieve the goal of freedom. My hope is that your need for perseverance won’t come down to a life and death struggle, but at the root, that’s the most basic type of perseverance—survival.

Perhaps you heard the story of Colonel Sanders who took his chicken recipe to thousands of restaurants receiving a “no” so many times everyone thought he was crazy to continually set himself up for failure and disappointment. However, Sanders knew that if he continued on his path until someone said yes, that would make all the difference in the world. Today, even after his death, Kentucky Fried Chicken is still a powerhouse in the fast food industry. A similar story of perseverance can be said of the late Dave Thomas who founded Wendy’s.

I’m sure, just like me, you can think of dozens of examples, no matter how small, where persevering for something made it more rewarding than had it just been given to you. What many people find as perseverance becomes a staple in their life is that the path they took was in its own way as rewarding as the goal itself. Take for instance the journey to black belt. Students go through many times of discovery, learning, trials, satisfaction and experience belonging to the martial arts spirit, long before they ever tie the black belt around their waist.

Several years ago, we took a group of students to the Grand Nationals tournament of the organization we were a member of; they were held that year in Hot Springs, AR. We went up there in two vans, pulling a U-Haul trailer filled with our sparring gear and luggage. To this day, rather than be a simple trip to a tournament, it’s know amongst our group as the legendary journey to the Grand Nationals. During this trip we encountered one hilarious anecdote after another from the sad state of one of our hotel rooms (the walls were wet); the greatest pizza in the state of Arkansas (they were after all $26 each and we ordered 9—we ate off those pizzas for a while); the big greasy short order cook who stole Elvis’s hair and was almost angry when one of our party had as much memorabilia as he did; and finally the intrepid trip home, where we were stuck on the side of the road for six hours on a two lane highway surrounded only be cotton fields in Louisiana because one of the U-Haul Specific tires had a flat. Each odd situation could have derailed our trip and sent us down the path of a terrible time, but it wasn’t. Almost everyone who went was a black belt or red belt, so we had plenty of practice with perseverance. Everything that happened we knew we could get through so it didn’t damper our spirits and the trip there and back was as much fun as the tournament (we won some trophies as well). This is a rather comical example but certainly applies to the principle of perseverance.

As I said before, I could go into a great many examples from my own life, just like you could from yours. It is, after all, the journey that matters, not the destination and perseverance helps us to develop our attitude of gratitude. Ask any black belt and they will tell you about how much more their achievement means to them because they worked hard to earn it.

Any person of conviction, will have to persevere. The very nature of having a definite belief in something means that you’ll have to remain steadfast in the face of opposition. Contrary to what you may have learned in philosophy class there is right and there is wrong. As my grandmother used to say, “right is right and wrong don’t belong to nobody.” It’s basic principles, such as the tenets of Taekwon-Do, that help us decide what is right and what is wrong to clarify what that tiny voice is shouting at us. If we did not persevere in times of difficulty and remain true to our core belief system, what good was that belief system in the first place? The people who stick to their value system, no matter what, are the ones we look to as shining examples of humanity. Take for example, Mother Theresa. Her simple belief was that all people deserve compassion and caring. Her life’s mission in the church was to bring aid to the suffering and now the whole world over, both Christians and non-Christians, know who she is. That’s because her compassion for others is an admirable trait. Had she decided to help sometimes and not others, I don’t think anyone outside of her order would know her name.

In the business world the compromising of values for a quick sale occur everyday. That’s why there’s no company loyalty, everyone is distrustful of their co-workers, money is wasted, and management is indicted. Can you think of a time when someone pressured you to do something contrary to your moral barometer? Let me give a quick example. While my entire workforce experience has been mostly in the martial arts field, my first few years of college I did a little work for one of the administrative offices at USF. The group’s mission, that I was a member of, was to provide resources and success coaching for student organizations on campus. Mrs. Cabrera and I felt this was a good opportunity to put some of the skills we’ve learned in the martial arts into practice for other college kids. Some groups on campus only had three or four members and desperately wanted to break out to the next level.

Well, this group and I went to work planning events, training seminars, one-on-one consulting programs and even a basic skills school on money management, people management and marketing called BULListic Training (USF’s mascot is the Bulls). Mrs. Cabrera, myself, and a group of about 12 people were pretty juiced about our mission and really wanted to help others. However, after we had completed a few of the tasks the office had for us we began to encounter a lot of runaround on the stuff that was our goals. We had designed it in such a way that it didn’t cost any money, so that couldn’t be the problem. We made sure that all the presenters and consultants underwent intense training so that they could be considered experts. For some reason we just couldn’t get it together.

So we had a meeting, at the time I had just been elected president of this group. During the course of the meeting we managed to get a hold of the Director for the entire department to sit down with us and explain to us why we weren’t being successful. She told us very plainly that our group wasn’t to do any of the things that were assigned to us that we felt were the important things. We were to do things like answer phones, give directions, make copies—the stuff they had paid students and staff for. She said, and I’ll never forget it, “maybe it’s my fault. I tend to tell students what they want to hear because I want to attract a certain type of person to this group.” Right then and there I realized that I had been flat out lied to, and I had stuck with this group for two years!

Well, after that I haven’t set foot in the student union there at USF except to buy my books for class. The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth because I hold integrity and honesty very high and to associate with others who don’t would be the same, in my opinion, as condoning what they do even at the cost of a leadership minor that I was enjoying (the same office ran it). But, holding to my principle of integrity and persevering in times when it is tested is an example to my students whom I also want to be trustworthy and honest. If I wasn’t, I’d have no credibility to tell them to have integrity.

If you understand that rarely anything in life comes quickly or easily—then you’ll persevere and be happier because you’ve learned patience. If you understand that many times the journey is more important than the destination—then you won’t become frustrated when obstacles are set in your path. And if you stick to your guns and abide by your morals—then the perseverance you used will be a shining example to others.

Let’s all live a Black Belt Life,

Manny Cabrera III

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