Success through failure

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Wednesday mornings is the day that I do kung fu with Sifu Vizzio. Yesterday we were working on a six-punch combination and a four-kick combination. And he was asking me every time I threw the cross to duck under his cross and come back with a hook. But every time he threw the cross, I got punched in my face. I just could not get the move. And he was laughing. And it was demoralizing.

At the end of the lesson, he said to me something really interesting. It wasn’t something foreign or even new to me, but it was really poignant after getting punched in my face about fifty times and slapped and laughed at and ridiculed.


Perfection of practice: success and failure aren’t opposite points on a line.

He said, “Look, you did really well today.”

I was like, “Sifu, what are you talking about?”

And he said, “The only way to succeed is through failure.”

Then he paused and considered for a moment – this is what I thought was the real insight – and he said, “the real pathway to success is through failure. You can’t actually succeed unless you’re failing.”

See, I’m locked up in this narrative I’ve created. In my mind, I say, “I want to look good.” I want to impress Sifu. This forty six year old person that’s been practicing since I’m twelve I should know their stuff. The whole gambit, I do it. On top of that, I tend to let the failures stack up and I become demoralized. My mind defaults, and I say to myself, “I’m quitting”.

Seriously – that’s what was going through my head. Like, what am I doing this for on a Wednesday morning at 8 AM? Why? I don’t need this.

And this is to his point. He went on to say, “Listen, every time I get punched in the face, I ask my partner to do it again, rather than coming back and trying to punch them in the face even harder. Because it’s the only way that I really know where I need to work.”

The lesson for us is even at age 70+, we’re still pushing the boundaries and not sitting in the comfort zone.

The underlying challenge for all of us is to leave that comfort zone, even though it’s very painful. It is necessary for growth. There’s a difference between trying hard and holding on tight – and it is important that we don’t confuse them.

If we’re sitting in a comfort zone, our lens to look at the world stays blurry. To clean it, we need to get off our asses. Ours is to pull, stretch, tear, whatever we do, in order to get that lens clearer. Cleaner.

And that is profound. It’s so far-reaching. It has so many implications. And it’s what I’m really trying to work on this week. That’s in the training and then also in my life: the only true pathway to success is through failure, not in spite of it.


For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.

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  1. Mr. Vizzio is the best. He must like training you. If he didn’t care about your progress, he wouldn’t mock you. I’ve spent many hours on the mat with him. As a child, on Saturday mornings in the dojo, I was terrified of his ability. I could feel him burning a hole in my back with every punch. Mr. Vizzio has remained an exceptional rare talent in a world where people talk the talk, but don’t always walk the walk. Congrats on earning the respect of a champion.

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