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Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

My Navy SEAL story

As everyone knows, it was a SEAL team that got Bin Laden. I only have two data points, but I'm pretty confident those SEALs are tough SOBs :-)

My BJJ training partner for several years (late 1990s) was a former Navy SEAL. Dave had served in Bosnia and was finishing up his undergraduate degree at Oregon. When we started training together he was pretty green and I usually had the upper hand. Physically we were pretty even -- he's about 5"10 and 190 lbs, so a few inches shorter and a bit bulkier than I am -- but my technique was superior. By the time we stopped training together he was a purple belt under Megaton Dias and kicked my butt regularly. The thing I remember about Dave is that he would never quit. A few times I choked him out completely (eyes rolled back, drooling, even memory loss) because he wouldn't tap.

He also never got tired, so after my technical advantage went away I always knew things would go bad for me if we rolled long enough -- he'd just wear me down! In peak condition we'd sometimes go 10 or even 15 minutes before one of us could finish the other. One time we rolled so long I got flat out exhausted and actually tapped because I was so tired I couldn't go on. (To be precise I thought I had him in a submission and blew myself up trying to finalize it; when he reversed the position I was so gassed I just gave up.) Dave was outraged that he'd been denied the chance to really finish me -- he wanted me to keep fighting, but I just couldn't go on! I realized at that moment I'd done something no Navy SEAL would ever do: QUIT! We might be on equal terms as athletes but I had nowhere near his mental toughness. (Mental toughness is what always comes to mind when I watch BUDs training videos, which I love.)

My other SEAL data point was an Annapolis grad, a former wrestler who used to come by the judo room at Yale to spar a little bit. He was a good athlete but didn't know much about submission fighting (this was the mid 1990s), so was easy to tap out. I lost count of the number of times I caught him in a guillotine. Many people think SEALs or other military guys know how to fight hand to hand, but that's a myth. They spend almost all their time training with weapons, which makes sense because unarmed combat is pretty rare on the battlefield. These days there might be some MMA technique taught in the military, but I'll take a trained fighter over a Krav Maga guru any day ;-)

21 comments:

Robert Rota said...

Hey. Didn't know you trained in BJJ. Funny to see how many people train in martial arts. So, do you have any idea how Dave got the mental toughness to never quit and also how he was able to not remain tired? Interesting points, thanks!

Robert Rota said...

Hey, didn't know you trained in BJJ. Cool. So, how did Dave develop the mental toughness to never quit? Was he never tired because of mental or physical capability and how did he attain that?

Thanks!

RKU1 said...

Oh, I don't really know about those Seals being so tough. After all, there were 79 of them on the Bin Laden raid, all heavily armed, and they still weren't able to take their unarmed target alive to put on show-trial. He must have been tossing them around like rag-dolls, forcing them to finally shoot him. Imagine how dangerous he would have been in the years before his kidney disease got so bad that he needed constant dialysis.

Ha, ha, ha...

steve hsu said...

I haven't had time to train much since my kids were born, but I used to be pretty serious about it. I started back in the day, around the time of the first UFCs. I had done judo as a kid.

I think that, like everything else, mental toughness is partially heritable and partially developed. I am sure Dave got through SEAL training because he's (always been) a tough guy, but being a SEAL probably made him even tougher. Perhaps I was imagining it, but some times when we were grappling I could see him mentally focus and raise his game to escape a position or a submission.

Is the picture of you from Kamakura, Japan? I had a similar picture on my web page for many years.

botti said...

***I'd done something no Navy SEAL would ever do: QUIT! ***

Heh, I ordered Richard Machowicz's book off amazon. He is certainly clear about the not quitting bit :-)

"The majority of people who get selected to SEAL training will quit, drop out or simply go away. You've got to be able to generate within yourself the mind frame that you must always be going forward. And you've got to want the thing bad enough to be willing to do anything to get there, regardless of and in spite of all the obstacles, in spite of all the hurdles, in spite of all the doubts that get in...the stress and the pain, you've got to keep going forward....

Well, it makes it very binary. You're either going forward and accomplishing or you're not. It's very clear under pressure, under stress, under doubt, under hesitation, under pain, under intense fear, to make that clear decision. You're either going forward toward it, or you're not. It gets all the excuses out of there.

I'm telling you: Quitting is very reasonable. I can have a million reasons to quit. But can you find the one reason to keep going forward? And literally, by saying, "Well, I'm going to keep going until I die." As long as you're still breathing, as long as you have a single pulse in your body, you can still go forward. I think it just makes it very easy to distinguish whether you're going forward or you're not.

Under stress and pressure, you think about the doubt... and it's just self doubt. I think everybody has self doubt. Everybody has those things that occasionally creep in. I don't care how strong you are. You've still got to be able to go one step further. And as long as you can breathe, you can still go one step further. You're not dead. And so I live by the axiom, "Not dead. Can't quit."

http://www.tradingmarkets.com/.site/stocks/commentary/satinterview/Not-Dead-Cant-Quit-No-Limit-Thinking-with-Navy-Sea-77443.cfm

steve hsu said...

Great link! I think I had read that before. I especially liked:

"... That quitting conversation will show up a hundred different ways. You can say, "This thing is bullshit. This thing is crazy. I can't believe I'm doing this." Or you can create things like, "Well, that person's just trying to hold me back," or "I'm just not good enough." Whatever... I'm telling you, quitting sounds very reasonable. Literally, it's a very simple process of getting on target and moving forward vs. the conversation that leads to quitting. And those conversations show up every day for people. And really, that's the battle. That's the war. If there's a war going on, really the war is within yourself and one you have to confront day after day.

The majority of people who get selected to SEAL training will quit, drop out or simply go away. You've got to be able to generate within yourself the mind frame that you must always be going forward. And you've got to want the thing bad enough to be willing to do anything to get there, regardless of and in spite of all the obstacles, in spite of all the hurdles, in spite of all the doubts that get in...the stress and the pain, you've got to keep going forward."

ben_g said...

Good advice for a startup too

Sam H said...

I respect the SEALS for what they do.

That said, has anyone else noticed that roughly 9 out of 10 large mesomorphic males tend to be arrogant?

Robert Rota said...

Hi, yes Kamakura. I have had to go there a few times for work. I used to do BJJ but have been studying Buddhism for a few years now and have been removing anything that resembles violence out of my life.. even meat. LOL. hunting, etc. Anyway. I am trying to run triathlons and not quitting and mental toughness is really a key to success. I have learned a few mental thoughts that help me like telling myself that the inner me is not even tired yet, that untapped energy source inside me. Anyway I will look up the link. Thanks!


BTW, I have known a few Navy Seals in my life. Close friends and friends. I work for the Navy here in San Diego and go on base on Coronado sometimes. Honestly I have never met an arrogant Navy Seal. Sure there are some but the majority of the Seals that I know are guys that would give you the shirt off their back and swim through shit to do the right thing. They have a lot more than mental and physical toughness. They can discipline themselves and lead others. They bring the best out of you. One thing I have heard time and time again is you can accomplish a ton more than you think you can.

Rodrigo Guzman said...

How much time per week did you spend on physical conditioning while training (as opposed to spending time on technique, sparring, etc)?

Seth said...

Just heard about Chess Boxing (wcbo.org) for the first time while listening to the radio the other day. The sport sounds more like a joke than anything else, but it immediately made me think of you, Steve. You could be a contenda' :) Of course, you never talk about Chess, so maybe that would be the part you'd need to train up on more.

nick nick said...

Would you keep going to a BJJ dojo if it was terrible, or would you quit and join a better one?
Would you keep slaving away at a shitty job, or would you quit and take a chance elsewhere?

In my experience, people who have the soldier mentality don't do well outside the army. They miss the big picture and tend to exhaust themselves in counter-productive pursuits. Also their overly developed team spirit puts them at a disadvantage against people who have more self-serving attitudes.

Success in life comes to those who set goals, prioritize their goals wisely and do what ever it takes to achieve them. This often necessitates quiting an endeavor when it becomes detrimental to a higher goal.

steve hsu said...

Do I have to plead guilty to this?

Actually SEALs aren't that large on average. Big beefy guys might not have the stamina it takes. If you think about it, a small durable guy is better for modern combat operations than a typical football player. I am 100% sure I could smoke Dave in a 40 yd dash but on a 5k run he would probably beat me.

steve hsu said...

When I was doing MMA I would still do a very quick HIT workout (20-30 min), usually before training MMA. I liked to be tired already in the dojo so I would rely more on technique than on physical abilities. During training we would split between technique drills (usually to warm up) and sparring. I didn't have to do much aerobic stuff since sparring really takes it out of you, but occasionally I would still run so my body wouldn't forget how to do that. Nowadays my workouts are closer to the warmups of the past :-(

steve hsu said...

I am not particularly good at either :-) I was more of a grappler than a striker, and as a chess player I am very prone to blunders (maybe in life as well).

steve hsu said...

There are plenty of ex-military guys who can think analytically and plan ahead. They might not be quite as willing to think "out of the box", but among special forces guys I bet it's more common.

steve hsu said...

Sometimes I think buddhism is the deepest of belief systems, but other times I think detachment will keep me from accomplishing things in this life.

Robert Rota said...

I guess it depends on what you want to accomplish?

David Coughlin said...

Sometimes I wonder if the anglo interpretation was correct. It's hard to reconcile 'detachment' with the auxiliary stories of buddhism. I think [and IANA Buddhologist, but I went through a phase], that the essence of it is to see clearly what is happening, maybe even embrace it, but don't judge it.


Denying that there are highs and lows is as much a lie to yourself as a human as being overwrought and clinging.

Sam H said...

I guess this is a picture of the US Seals, if someone wants to get an idea of somatotype:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_5wkMFMMQMAc/TOd_re08bWI/AAAAAAAADB4/engRV8mm-Zw/s1600/navy+SEALs.jpg

Sam H said...

To me they look like medium-large mesomorphs. But then everyone looks big to me since I'm 6'1'' 150 lbs.

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