Every Monday and Thursday night, I take a 15 minute train ride on the Northern Line from Liverpool Central for my biweekly tae kwon do lessons. The classes vary throughout the week: sometimes we focus on technique, sometimes we focus on strength and endurance exercises, and some weeks we do so much kicking and sparring that I can barely manage the walk back to the train station. Last week we had our last two lessons before a summer break, starting with a seemingly relaxed warm-up that led into an intense 30 minute sparring session.
During our sparring prelude, someone asked about a former class attendee who hadn’t been around for a while. Our black belt instructor Paul said that he didn’t think the student in question would ever return, and wasn’t too surprised about it, commenting that the current number of students who had taken his class versus those who had completed their black belt was similar to what he had seen at other schools, including when he earned his black belt. The black belt ‘graduation’ rate according to Paul is around 1 in 35, so of 35 students that start tae kwon do training, only one will actually earn a black belt.
Call it tae kwon do attrition or just the fact that not everyone’s cut out for the sport, but it’s no surprise that not everyone makes it to black belt stage. It’s a tough sport, as my legs can attest to after our final lesson of the summer last Thursday. But Paul’s comment also brought to mind thoughts of the parallels between training in martial arts and going for a PhD and career in research. The completion rates are a quite a bit higher for those going for a PhD (50-60% in the US and closer to 70% if you’re here in the UK), but the processes have a lot of overlap. It’s not that people going for a PhD or black belt who don’t finish are lacking in intelligence or athleticism, it’s that both processes require more than you expect at first glance. To succeed at both, you can’t just be intelligent or be physically fit: it takes additional dimensions of mental strength in order to succeed.
After writing two previous posts that focused on the connections between scientific research and tae kwon do, namely in learning how to fail and the balance between rubber and steel, I was inspired to revisit the topic and delve more deeply into the parallels between these two seemingly different activities and to focus on the aspects of both that might not be as readily apparent as the kicks and punches of tae kwon do and the papers and grants of a life as a career researcher.
Both require you to humble yourself. Regardless of how flexible, strong, or fast you are, everyone in tae kwon do starts with a white belt. The color white symbolizes a person having purity due to their lack of knowledge of the martial art, and as you progress through the colored belts towards black you gain knowledge of new techniques as well as some much-needed control of your abilities.
As you go from white belt to yellow belt to green belt, you’ll feel pretty confident. You’ll feel like you can take on anyone. But as you progress further and further, inching your way towards black belt status, you soon come to recognize how little you actually know and how much of an expert you are not. There is always a move whose execution can be further perfected, a stance that can be stronger or more elegant, and regardless of what level you’re at there will be someone in your class who’s above you in some way.
Training to become a scientist is very much the same: we start off in undergrad learning so much all at once, progressing in our classes and lessons, maybe even getting a bit of lab work under our belt. But at some point we dive into the big pond of scientific research, where we find that the world is so much bigger and that what we know is so much smaller than what we thought. We gain knowledge through school and in our research, but part of learning how to be a scientist comes from recognizing how little we know and what we can do to get to the next step.
…but both also require you to have a thick skin. Feeling like you don’t know very much is a humbling experience, but it’s also one that you have to know how to counter with confidence. In both martial arts and research, you have to balance the humbleness of recognizing your place in the world with the confidence of knowing where you stand. It’s easy to let feeling like you don’t know anything or aren’t good at something turn into you thinking that your lack of knowledge or skills will set you back permanently. Those who find success in both research and marital arts are able to walk this careful balance between humility and confidence, able to recognize where they can improve but to stand firm in the place that they are strong.
Both require good senseis. A mentor or coach is crucial for success in both martial arts and in doing a PhD because both of these processes are not easy. It’s not as simple as just progressing from white belt to black belt or from undergrad to professor: you need time and a structured environment for reflection, assessment, and a critical eye to see the flaws and strengths that you can’t. And even though both endeavors are seemingly independent activities in that it’s your belt and your research, you still need a good mentor to show you the way and to encourage you to work and learn from others in the process.
Both will help you find confidence but won’t automatically give it to you. I’ve heard a lot of parents say that they want their kids to get into martial arts because it’s an activity that builds confidence. But as someone who started white belt training as a 14 year-old shy kid who grew up to be red tag and slightly more outgoing and gregarious 28 year-old, it’s not just the sport that makes you who you are. Confidence is one of those personality traits that function best when they come from within. I greatly enjoyed tae kwon do as a kid, but found that I find the sport more enjoyable and more relaxing now that I’m more confident in myself than I was back in high school.
Both martial arts and science are great at building up the confidence in those that already have it, but you can’t start from nothing. If you’re lacking in self-confidence and then fail at something, you won’t get that boost of additional confidence you’re looking for and will find you less likely to try again, whether it’s a new sparring move or a complicated experiment. A good sensei will work on developing your confidence from within, finding where you’re most comfortable, and figuring out how to help you shine without having to rely on your results to give you the boost you need. The positive side is that if your own confidence has been boosted, you’ll feel good enough to try new things, to explore new ideas, and you won’t be as afraid to fail the next time around.
Both require you to take a lot of hits before you learn how to fight back. I spent 8 years on hiatus from tae kwon do and I came back into the sport only as a post-doc during the past two of years. Some of my muscle memories for techniques and forms stayed in place, and I’m also in better physical strength than when I started 14 years ago. But it didn’t mean that I was ready to jump back into being a black belt, since there were still quite a few places where my lack of practice and instincts were apparent. As an example, in free sparring I’ve become much better at attacking than when I first started, in conjunction with the downside that I’m still getting hit quite a lot since I didn’t build up my defenses to the same level as my attacks.
In science, there are numerous occasions when your strengths and instincts will be tested. Hard-line questions and critiques by your graduate committee, advisor, conference audience, and lab mates, and you’ll essentially be dealing with an onslaught right from the get-go. It can leave you reeling and hurt, as if you were in your own intense sparring session. But the thing I’ve learned about sparring is that even if you’re not perfect, the next time you fight you won’t get hit in the same place again. You learn (even if it has to be the hard way) what parts of your work are the weak points and what you can do to make the weak points stronger. A career in research isn’t about putting up a good fight 100% of the time or only retreating from others: it’s about knowing how to move forward but also to protect yourself and foster your ideas and work at the same time.
Both can be used to let your strengths shine, whatever they might be. One of my favorite things about martial arts is that it’s a sport that can be done by more than one type of person. Regardless of your body type, natural strength/flexibility, height, or weight, you can be good at martial arts and can get your black belt. In my class I’ve met other students who are extremely fast, flexible, strong, or just plain fearless. I’ve seen people who are good at sparring, who excel at forms and technique, or who are just brave enough to try anything crazy-and to me, they are all amazing martial artists.
I also love that in science, despite being thought of as a place where only geniuses and nerds can succeed, you meet so many kinds of people. Some are great writers, others give amazing conference presentations, and others are wonderful group leaders or efficient lab managers. You don’t have to fit a cookie cutter ideal of what a scientist is in order to be a good one. In science as in the martial arts, what’s important is fostering the strengths you have and recognizing what you need to work on and how you can better complement your skillset.
In both martial arts and in research, I somehow ended up becoming something of a jack-of-all-trades. I enjoy all aspects of both martial arts (forms, technique, flexibility, strength, sparring, and ferocity) and science (lab work, data analysis, reading, writing, meetings, and tweeting) without really excelling at one aspect or another. Sometimes I feel like I’m less skilled than others who have a more obvious specialty, whether it’s while sparring with someone who is faster than I am or when asking my lab mates to help me troubleshoot R code. But thanks to my own confidence in both parts of my life, I’ve been able to recognize that that’s just who I am and I value the way I work and live, even on the days when I come home exhausted from an intense work-out or a long day in labs. I’m thankful for the life lessons provided by both of my primary activities, and in the tough times I look ahead to days when my bruises are few and my manuscripts are many!
In the summer of 2011, I went on a scientific pilgrimage to Japan as part of a quest for knowledge and self-discovery…or at least that’s the way I’ll present it in my autobiography and made-for-TV movie life story. In reality, at the end of my 2nd year of my PhD I was awarded an incredible fellowship, the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes, from the National Science Foundation. This fellowship was coordinated in Japan by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Summer Program, and the program is also available for those of you from Canada, Germany, UK, Sweden, and France. During my two month fellowship, I worked at the Center for Integrative Bioscience in Okazaki with of one of the molecular toxicology greats, Dr. Taisen Iguchi, and under the direct tutelage of Dr. Yukiko Ogino. Her papers on sonic hedgehog gene regulation in mosquitofish were some of my most-read papers in grad school and she was something of a science hero for my PhD project. Trying to finish in situ hybridizations and fish exposures in such a short window of time was exhausting, but I loved the work and the lab and the chance to spend a summer in Japan.
In between work, sightseeing, sweating, and eating copious amounts of katsudon and unagi, I spent some time getting back into martial arts, not really as a pre-planned activity but rather something that came about as a whim. I had mentioned to one of my Okazaki lab mates that I was curious if there were any karate schools in the area, and with that one brief mention she set to work and I was whisked off the next week to my first class. I didn’t have time to back out or say no thank you, so instead I went with it. It was only two days a week for an hour at a time, so I thought it wouldn’t be that much of a hindrance on the rest of my jam-packed in situ hybridization, sightseeing, and sweating schedule for that summer.
As with everyone I met in Japan, the instructors were incredibly friendly and helpful. While English didn’t come easily for some, all of the black belts tried their hardest to teach me the moves and to explain the stances and forms as best they could. I never really felt that I caught on as well as I could, likely only partially due to the language barrier and more with the fact that karate was very subtly different from tae kwon do. A bit more of a flourish to a block, a foot that was slightly at an off angle for a stance, and at the end of a long day at work it was easy for my arms to get twisted in knots instead of making smooth movements. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed my time as the class’s gaijin (foreigner) and white-belt-in-training.
As the summer progressed and I became less awkward in my movements (and better at following the commands in Japanese), I was invited to attend a class at the main dojo in the neighboring city of Aichi. I soon learned that my little Okazaki karate school was affiliated with a HUGE school, with branches and classes all over the Aichi prefecture, all coordinated by an absolutely enormous dojo at the prefecture capital where I was headed to meet with the Grandmaster himself. The instructors at my school did quite a bit to prepare me to meet with the Grandmaster. Between the small language barrier and their descriptions of how I needed to be polite and respectful at all times, I had the impression that I was meeting the Lord and Master of Karate himself. I was a bit nervous to meet him, especially as the only American in a room of Japanese karate students, and I wanted to do my best to leave a good impression. Needless to say, the train ride to Aichi for the first lesson was a bit nerve-wracking.
I soon found that Grandmaster Jun Tamegai was actually one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He was so excited to meet me and had one of those electrifying and warm smiles that made you feel completely welcome and relaxed. Then when class started, he suddenly became very intense as he instructed his students, myself included, with one of those auras that made you want to do everything he said and do it at 110%. Even after the very warm welcome, I could see why I was prepared by the black belts at my school for this meeting, and why all the other instructors both adored and respected him. He seemed like the kind of person who would invite you into his home for tea and katsudon while being ready at a moment’s notice to take someone out at the kneecaps if they snuck up behind him.
I went to the main school in Aichi for a few lessons at the main dojo, each time being given the honor of a one-on-one lesson with the Grandmaster. His English was good, although hesitant, but that seemed more from nerves at speaking with a native speaker as opposed to not being good at English, or perhaps he just wasn’t that talkative. I cherished these one-on-one lessons and was even more surprised when he invited me to a barbeque along with the other black belt instructors from my school. It was my last weekend in Okazaki and I spent the day at a lake with these wonderful people, enjoying some lakeside activities, and eating delicious teppanyaki. At one point in the day, I went on a jet ski ride with the Grandmaster, speeding around the lake at more than 90 km/h (he seemed to get a kick out of my incessant screaming as we drove around the lake at seemingly impossible speeds). At the end of the day he gave me my last lesson and I went back home to Okazaki (after even more delicious izakaya food). I was truly and deeply thankful for everyone in the school’s patience, hospitality, and guidance that summer. I was happy for that whim of mine that became a reality.
While I’ll probably never really get the hang of karate due to too many years of training for tae kwon do motions and stances, I took home several lessons from my summer karate camp, lessons that reflect back not just on martial arts but on my work as a scientist and on living a life of balance. In one of the private lessons, the Grandmaster introduced me to the concept of rubber and steel in karate. Rubber meant being flexible, relaxed, fast, and able to move freely and easily. Steel meant being strong, unwavering, persevering, and able to withstand whatever you’re put through. Grandmaster told me that both rubber and steel were important, that you couldn’t just be good at one, you needed both if you wanted to excel at martial arts. He told me this in the context of his own views of me and how I looked when going through the motions in class. He was the first person to tell me that I had so much steel, so much power and fury, but that I needed to be more rubber if I was going to improve.
I continued to think about that lesson in the rest of the summer, at the same time busy finishing up my project in the lab and trying to travel to as many places as I could get to before my flight home. I thought about Grandmaster himself, the man with a welcoming smile and a ferocious intensity, both coming from the same person. I thought about his vision of me, of all my steel. Was I just too much steel in martial arts, or was I too much steel in other parts of my life as well?
The concept of rubber and steel isn’t just about how you punch and kick, it’s about how you react to the world around you through good times and bad. Work as a scientific researcher, and as a graduate student especially, is a place where you can certainly feel like you need to punch and kick your way through, the fight for survival in academia and the cut-throat world of science. It’s here that the concept of finding the balance between rubber and steel is something that the Grandmaster can teach all of us, in order to help us find the balance between our own natural tendencies and to help us recognize when we need to be more rubber or more steel in order to improve and succeed.
As Grandmaster noticed, I was more steel, and in hindsight I probably was more steel long before starting the karate lessons. I have always been very hard-working, determined, strong of mind, and unwilling to give in. I always did well in school, from my first day in kindergarten all the way through my undergrad studies. I worked hard to get good grades and hear praise from my teachers, and after getting my bachelor’s I set out to do a PhD program and to change the world through my research. On the flip side, I would become frustrated when I ran into walls and couldn’t progress with what I was doing, feeling like I had nowhere to go. I was self-confident when doing well but would lose that confidence if I slipped even a small amount. I always worked relentlessly, coming in on weekends and after hours to try to get as much data as possible. I was set to succeed and would let nothing get in my way. The problem with being all steel is that it makes you rigid and frustrated when you can’t do something right. It can make you feel anxious and tight for no reason other than your need to succeed. Steel might not wear out easily, but being 100% steel all of the time will undoubtedly wear you out.
But if steel is where all the strength and perseverance is, then what’s so great and useful about rubber? Rubber is about relaxing in the face of stressful moments, of going with the flow of life and the problems that come at you. Rubber is about coming to a wall and bending around it instead of trying to break it down. Rubber is about not doubting yourself even when you slip and stumble because you know you can adapt and mend. Being rubber means you stay loose and free instead of tight and anxious. But as with steel, being too much rubber does not make for a balanced life. Too much rubber can mean that you’re so relaxed that you don’t do anything and don't feel an urgency to work hard at something. Too much rubber can lead to too much flexibility and wavering instead of following a plan of action. Rubber is fast and flexible and free, but if you’re 100% rubber then you won’t stand up for what you believe in or persevere when things get difficult.
When you examine your own tendencies, you’ll likely find that you tend to spend more time as one over the other. While steel people are hard-working and tough, if driven too hard they can end up defensive when challenged, short-sighted about finishing a task because it needs to get done, working long hours without having a concrete reason, and when stressed may not be as likely to ask for help or reach out to others. On the other side, rubber people are cool and calm but may find themselves being lazy or distracted during working hours, may lack of motivation in completing a task, can have a tendency to procrastinating, and can end up juggling around side projects or ideas instead of staying focused on a single project or concept.
In addition to knowing your own tendencies towards rubber versus steel, another point of the Grandmaster’s lesson is to know when to act like steel and when to act like rubber. There are times when you need to be steel, when you need to stand up for your project and your work and defend what you know to be true and right. There are times when you need to just power through something, whether it be data analysis or a day’s worth of pipetting, in order to get things done. On the flip side, there are times when you need to be flexible to changes in direction in your project, times when you need to stop doing the same assay over and over and look at what the data is telling you about where you should go instead. There are times when you will be challenged and the only way to come out ahead is to walk away or change directions instead of fighting back.
The key is to recognize the need to find the balance and to focus on embracing the good parts of rubber and the good parts of steel. Finding a balance is about knowing yourself as much as it is working towards that balance, because knowing your tendencies will help you figure out where you need to go. Steel people need to know when to relax and be flexible to challenges, rubber people need to know when to stand firm and stay focused. By recognizing if you’re more rubber or steel as well as seeing when to embrace either your rubber or steel side, you can get closer to achieving that balance between cool, calm, and collected, yet ready to strike at a moment’s notice.
While I’m still striving for finding my own balance of steel and rubber, I often think back on that summer and the tutelage of Grandmaster Tamegai. I finished my time in Japan with a 5-day excursion exploring around Hiroshima and Kyoto on my own. I found myself really relaxed, reflecting on a great and productive summer, but at the same time a deeper sort of relaxation than I’d had before. Was this what being rubber was all about? I still strive for that relaxation in my life, which is sometimes more difficult than it was during that 5-day train trip exploring oceanside shrines and eating katsudon. For me, becoming more rubber is still a work in progress, but recognizing when I become too hard or shortsighted or frustrated helps me know when I need a break or when I need to step back and take a breath. At the same time I’ve learned to embrace my steel side, knowing that it can bring me focus and determination and can help me push through difficult times that need to be pushed through. I hope someday to have that same balanced demeanor and attitude that Grandmaster had, with the warm smile that welcomes you as his friend accompanied those powerful eyes that stay focused and locked on target. Although I’ll likely refrain from driving around students on a jet ski while going 90 km/h. But maybe that’s just another lesson I didn’t learn yet.
A final note: If you are still a graduate student from the US, UK, Germany, France, Sweden, or Canada and are interested in having a rewarding research stay in Japan, check out the JSPS summer program and apply to go on your own spiritual summer science quest. やった!!
Maybe it’s cheesy to use martial arts life lessons in a blog like this, but the comparison is actually quite relevant for graduate school/academia and life as a scientist in general. Probably the most relevant parts are the lessons you get on how to take hits and to keep on going, especially relevant when you feel like you’re constantly getting your ass kicked in the lab (metaphorically speaking, of course). Looking back on earning my black belt vs earning my PhD, a lot of the best lessons learned from martial arts and academia are applicable for both parts of life, and the first of these that I’ll talk about is failure.
I recently tested for my blue belt in tae kwon do through my new school here in Liverpool. I already held a black belt from my original school in the USA where I started practicing during high school. With different schools having different standards and licensing groups, my USA black belt was ‘non-transferrable’ here in the UK (something about having done the forms on the wrong side of the road). Either way, I was happy with the chance to get back into training this past year, especially after nearly a 10-year hiatus while I was busy in undergrad and grad school, and the chance to work on my skills even when I was again starting from scratch as a white belt.
Tae kwon do belt gradings are not to be taken lightly. The high-ranking belts that are there in front judging you are there for a reason: because they’ve worked hard to get to where they are, they strive for excellence in everything they do, and they expect that someone looking to get to the same level as them meet those high standards. It’s an intense event, doing your forms and sparring with these high-ranking eyes watching you the whole time, yes sirs/ma’ams every time you’re asked to do something, the ever-present pressure to perform your best while at the same time you’re so nervous and tense as to not make any misstep. It was a strange thing to be back again on the floor 10 years after testing for my black belt, this time in a new country and new instructor and with a PhD under my belt (no pun intended). Getting ready for this testing and trying to focus all my nervous energy into something positive, I found myself reflecting back on previous belt testings from high school and how this one might differ now that I’d also gone through the rigors of grad school.
Flash back to February 2005 when I was at my first black belt pre-testing. Anyone going for a black belt had to go through a pre-test before the actual test, in case one testing wasn’t enough. I had been studying tae kwon do for 3 years at that point and had been a brown belt for quite some time. I was flexible and strong and always gave every move 100%. Previous testings had all gone well for me, with decent scores and the instructors recognizing my skills, my energy, and my intensity. Except for one thing: I was terrible at breaking boards.
In reality, I wasn’t terrible, I COULD break the boards but I was generally nervous about the whole ordeal. I would easily become frustrated in class when we had to do them because it wasn’t coming as easy as the rest of what we did in class. It was about precision, timing, hip movement, etc, but most importantly it was about not being afraid of the board. Any hesitation, any thought that you’d hurt yourself, if you tensed up instead of being relaxed, meant the board didn’t break. And as with any failure, each board that didn’t break seemed to make the next one look even harder to break. During the lower belt testings this wasn’t a problem, because you always had multiple chances if you didn’t break the board on the first go, you or your instructor could give you a mini pep talk and you could get through it. Now that buffer was gone: going from brown belt to black, you had one shot per board, and four of them to go through.
So there I was, at my first black belt pre-testing, terrified out of my mind. I knew I had to break boards that night, in addition to all of the other forms, my current brown belt pattern and all those from previous belts, sparring, knowing facts about which Korean philosophers and historical figures that the forms were named after. My nervousness about the boards permeated in the rest of my testing. I wasn’t the confident girl who had impressed everyone with her intensity and strength, I was tense, frightened, and waiting in nervous anticipation for the time when I had to break boards. And what I was afraid of most was failure.
After a nervous pre-testing session, I failed at the first board. Right elbow strike. It hurt more than the sore elbow. I went back home and back to training, tried new break techniques for the hand strikes. I was still nervous though. Another failed pre-testing and I think that was the point when I and my instructor realized I wasn’t ready yet.
In between the failed pre-testings I graduated high school and had that blissful summer between being a kid and being an adult. I had failed in my goal of getting my black belt before graduation, but I realized I hadn’t failed at getting my black belt. I just hadn’t gotten it yet. The start of college was an exciting time, new friends and a newfound confidence. I enjoyed the freedom of picking my own classes, felt like I was on the right path in my life in terms of my program in environmental science, and I was resolved overall to succeed at the life I had set out for. Pre-testing came again and this time I felt different-I had failed twice, I had practiced new breaks, and I changed my pre-game approach: instead of being afraid to fail, I envisioned success, knowing that I had a hurdle to pass over but that I could do it, I had broken boards in class, and now I just had to do it in front of a live audience.
If a failed broken board makes the next one seem harder, the 4 successfully broken boards at pre-testing made the real ones at testing seem like paper. I went to the testing blasting pump-up jams on my car stereo (most likely Eye of the Tiger, the classic and stereotypical martial arts pump-up jam), I went through all the requirements for forms and sparring with a fellow brown belt. When it came to boards I remember that first one breaking, and all the other ones just falling apart once that first one went. Apparently at the last board I let out some sort of victory war cry (I don’t even remember that), the rest of testing and that whole day was more or less blur. Whatever else I did that day, I had finally not failed, and it felt amazing.
Knowing how much you have to fail before you get things right is perhaps the hardest part about science, and it is a fact of being a scientist that no one tells you in lectures or lab courses during your undergraduate studies. Being on the cutting edge of knowledge means that no one’s done what you need to do already. The scientists whose work and whose lives have lasting legacies didn’t always get it right the first time. The key with success is not in not failing, but in continuing to try even when you fail along the way, in continually recognizing that you didn’t fail completely, you just didn’t succeed yet. And maybe this is the hard part, where we all hit a wall: that first PCR you run where no bands come up on the gel, the code that constantly gives an error message you can’t figure out, or the time you almost set your lab on fire when a chemical reaction went for too long. All these things feel like boards we couldn’t break, and if you can’t break it once what makes you think it will break a second time?
The key with failure is not letting it get to you. To learn what you can from when you fail and not be afraid to fail again, and again, and again, until you get it right. My first PhD advisor said it best as I was nervous about trying a new protocol. His sage, Virginian advice was “Just try it!” and even if it didn’t work the first time, at least you learned something. The best part of it all is once you get past the hurdle, once you keep trying until you get it right, then the boards just shatter in front of you. Progress comes not from doing things right the first time but from learning how to get it right the next time, or at least the next time, or maybe the time after that, and to keep going until you get there.
Back at my recent UK blue belt testing, I put this philosophy back into action, 10 years post-tae kwon do hiatus. I was certainly nervous, not only to perform well, but to make a good impression on a room full of kids and instructors I had never seen before. I told myself that if I failed I was still me, that I had worked hard to get to this point, and I would still have a chance to learn from it and try again. It’s the same speech I give myself before presentations, conference calls, PhD defenses, oral exams, the results of a gel, anything in science where you get judged and scored. No matter what happens you give it all you got, learn something when you can, and remember that you come out the other side the same person as when you went in—all that’s required of you is that you gain something from each experience. I’m thankful that this time around I earned my 4th Kup blue belt, while at the same testing I learned that I hold my guard hand too high while punching. And that’s also part of the lesson for when we don’t fail: there is always room for improvement and things to learn, even when we succeed. Come on, don’t we ever get a break??