The Problem With Being The Littlest Fish In The Pond

Any time you ask a Subject Matter Expert (SME) about the shortcut to getting better, they will almost always include things like, ‘surround yourself with people who are better than you’, ‘If you find you are the biggest fish in your pond, it’s time to find a new pond’, and ‘Work on what you suck at’. These pieces of advice come from the guys you look up to when you’re getting started. And I would give the same advice. But honestly doing so for an extended period can be a very demoralizing and trying experience.

Chuck Haggard of AGILE Training sporting an EAG shirt.

I embraced that concept completely when I started training in 2007. I have been pursuing the core skill sets since that time. It turns out the multidisciplinary approach to self defense has a lot of skills that require competitive spirit and drive. It requires Ego risk. If I’m going to stick with it, there is only the option of becoming comfortable with losing. Because losing is a daily trial.

If I’m doing it right, I’m boxing, grappling, shooting with, shooting at (with simunitions), and doing strength and conditioning with killers. I’m not a killer. I am just a dude who has been throwing myself to the wolves and losing over and over.

How do I weather that? Truth is, I can’t always. I get burnout. I haven’t shot a gun or posted to the blog since the Rangemaster conference in March mostly because I’ve been feeling inadequate and not worthy of my peer group. That’s real talk. I’ve been here before, where I swear I’ll quit if I have one more negative experience. When I get like this, I have to take a step back and evaluate how I’m thinking and approaching the problem. Here’s some ideas if you find yourself there. I’m working through it at the moment.

  • Take time off. Just unplug from stuff for a while. The fire will reignite.
  • Motivation is for beginners. Long term success requires discipline. Just show up.
  • Savor minor victories.
  • Remind myself that all of those SMEs have gone through the same thing, and maybe are even going through it at the same time. They’re people, despite how they appear online or in class. They’ve just had 20 more years  practice at failing.
  • Remind myself I do this because it’s fun. Keep it playful. Make it fun again.
  • Work on another hobby for a while.
  • Performance plateaus are real, the breakthrough is around the corner.
  • Rather than focus on winning, pick a small facet of the discipline to sharpen. Don’t try to win the match, work on getting zero points down, or not shooting a no-shoot target. Don’t worry about tapping your opponent, focus on a part of your game that needs sharpening.
  • Reorient goals so they are internal rather than external. When I’m wrapped up focusing on an external goal (with an outcome I can’t control), it’s a downward spiral of frustration. I try to think of it like “Am I better than I was yesterday? Yes? Then you’re improving”.
  • The only thing you can truly control is how you Think about an issue. Nothing else is truly under your control, and losing is always a possibility.
  • It’s OK to suck. Most people suck more than you do. If you’re doing anything, you’re running laps around the guy on the couch. There is always a tougher, more skillful, smarter, younger, faster, stronger person. That’s the way of the Universe.
  • It’s OK to fail. Just have the discipline to start again.
Competitive pursuits leave space for lots of things outside of our control.


In summary, surrounding yourself with people who make you look like an incompetent fool IS the fastest path to mastery, but it requires the fortitude to keep showing up and doing the work, regardless of how much you realize you suck.

It’s good to feel the fire again. Glad to be back.


PS: I restocked “The Path” Tshirts in S-3XL (6/29). Check them out.

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Memento Mori – 4″ Decal

I decided I wanted a symbol that I could plaster around my house to keep the ‘Memento Mori’ theme alive in my mind. I designed these simple stickers and I’m quite pleased with them. I made extras for my friends (you all).

If you’d like to buy one, here’s a link to the webpage:

For those who have joined the blog recently, here’s the post to have all this seem relevant to this blog and possibly important to you in your life:

Thanks for your ongoing support, it means the world to me.


On Journals: Tracking Your Progress

“What gets measured, gets managed”
– Peter Drucker

If you are trying to change something about your life in the new year, my biggest advice is to start keeping a journal or logbook. I have been keeping some sort of journal, either in print or in electronic format, since 2003.  Over time as my interests expanded into martial arts, diet, and self defense, the metrics I track have evolved. As my focus has shifted around, so too has my method of notekeeping. But it’s always there in some form.

Click the photo to be forwarded to Amazon for this Diary. $17.50 at time of writing.
There are two kinds of people that keep a notebook… total amateurs and advanced practitioners. The amateurs need reminding of what they’re supposed to do that day, and the advanced practitioner knows that logging progress is the key to long term success. If you start your record keeping now, I believe it will accelerate your path to mastery.

I am a huge believer in keeping a logbook/journal of my daily practices.

Why Is It Worth Doing?

  • Holds me accountable to complete a task I’ve laid out for myself
  • Filling notebooks lets me know that I’m doing something with my time on the Earth.
  • Helps me organize my thoughts and remember what I did that day. This is especially helpful for martial arts. Here’s one of my posts from 2012 for example.
  • Putting pen to paper seems to reinforce my retention of new material.
  • Describing a physical action in my own words allows for me to have a better understanding for what has to happen to complete an action, which allows me to retain, teach, and coach that movement better.
  • Recording Sets, Reps, Weight, Rest Times allow you to ‘beat the notebook’ and grind out improvement.
  • Recording my mental and emotional state has multiple benefits, including figuring out what triggers negative emotional states and causes emotional ups and downs and self-defeating thought patterns.
  • Forces me to be mindful of what I’m eating. There have been studies that show people who log their food lose 3x more fat than those that don’t. When I write it down, or use an app, I am owning the fact that, “Yes, I just ate 20 wings and smashed 4 beers, and the caloric numbers don’t lie”
  • I’m more likely to complete a workout, if for no other reason than I feel ashamed for leaving a day blank.
  • Checking the box and recording my progress gives me a sense of accomplishment
  • Completing the logbook and watching improvement over time becomes a game you play with yourself

Things Worth Remembering

If you’re just starting, pick a single area you’re trying to improve and journal that. Once completing your journal becomes a daily habit you can add other topics and more detail. If you realize what you’re recording isn’t useful, you can stop tracking that metric. It’s an ongoing process. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Diet: Calories, Macro Nutrients, Water consumed
  • Dry-Fire practice: Routines, Courses of fire,  Par times, Skills Practiced
  • Live-Fire Sessions: Drills, Round Count, Weapon/Ammo Reliability, Scores/Times/Distances
  • Competition: shooting, martial arts competitions, etc. Note scores, placement, mental aspects
  • Cardio Sessions: Type, Distance, Duration, Heart Rate information
  • Seminar and Training class notes
  • Martial Arts: Movement details, sparring notes, striking combinations, frustrations and victories
  • Strength Training: Programming, Reps/Sets/Weights/Rest Times.
  • Day to Day life: What’s bringing you joy, grief, fear, anxiety

When there are so many topics to track in our multidisciplinary lifestyle, it becomes necessary to log the daily work in order to see meaningful improvement over time. Start now, you’ll thank me.

Do The Work.

Write It Down.


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Why Do The Least Knowledgeable Have The Most Conviction?

Regarding the Personal Protection community (but applicable to every discipline), one of the great mysteries to me is trying to wrap my head around the idea that the people who have the least experience, training, and knowledge, always seem to be the ones who are the most vocal about what they view as absolutes and certitudes.

How it feels sometimes.
How it feels sometimes.

These people (usually) fit into the following categories:

  • New gun owners
  • People who ‘grew up around guns’, with no formal training
  • People who have only completed their state-mandated CCW qualification
  • People who have only trained with one instructor/school

Conversely, the greater the depth of knowledge, the more experience, and the broader and deeper their understanding of the various personal protection disciplines, the more likely they are to speak with nuance and never in absolutes. They are aware of what they don’t know.


The Dunning-Kruger effect is the oft-cited cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is. Also, high-ability individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others. (wikipedia)

I think that perceived ability is part of it, but there is likely a lack of awareness that isn’t necessarily the fault of that person.

Let me use a metaphor to illustrate



Imagine you are a soap bubble floating in a large pool. The pool represents Everything you DON’T KNOW about a topic. You have no awareness of the size of the pool because your bubble prevents you from seeing it.

The internal volume of the bubble is your knowledge. You are confident that you KNOW everything that is happening inside of that bubble.

You are ALSO aware of the inside surface of your bubble. You see the barrier between you and the pool. You recognize this surface as Things You Don’t Know. It’s where ‘things you know’ meet the unseen ‘things you don’t know’.

Since we can’t know the true size of the pool, only the size of the inside of our knowledge bubble, then it seems reasonable that the larger our knowledge bubble, the more we are aware of what we don’t know.

So the less we know, the less we are aware of what we don’t know. The more we know, the more we are aware of what we don’t know.


This imagery has helped me realize that folks with minimal knowledge are in such a small bubble that it must appear to them that they know almost everything. Their bubble surface is tiny, so they go forth on the internet and to local gun stores and tell you to shoot the guy taking your TV and drag him back inside.
This realization only allows me to be less frustrated with outspoken doofuses. It doesn’t solve any real issues. No one knows how big the pool is. I keep expanding my bubble and I’m finding the metaphor to hold true for me.

I hope it helps some of you deal with people like this with more understanding, and hopefully expand their bubble. We’re all on the same team, after all.


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