Olympic Taekwondo Gold-Medalist Herb Perez on How to Be a Martial Arts Champion

My training methodology has changed since I took up the martial arts. While preparing for international taekwondo competitions, I had little time to concentrate on the development of new techniques. I knew I had a finite amount of time in which to train, and I needed to use all of it to maintain and strengthen my winning strategy. I had no time to consider new techniques that were not as dependable as the ones in my existing arsenal.


During my competition years, my sense of urgency prevented me from experimenting with a technical scheme that was already producing results. This ultimately was detrimental to the growth of my technical superstructure. These days, with that burden removed, I have more time to perfect new martial arts skills and improve the weak segments of my game.

Hand in hand with that sense of urgency was a single-mindedness toward achieving one goal. Every morning when I awoke, I knew exactly what the day had in store for me, and I went for it. I was training toward excellence and with an eye on an Olympic gold medal in taekwondo. Life was simple and my goal clear.

However, now that I have achieved that goal, I find the need for change. I no longer have such a clear purpose or aspiration. This has caused me to reflect on the nature and benefit of single-mindedness and, perhaps more important, on its use by the average martial artist who does not have an impending tournament or competition for which to prepare.

Where can the average martial artist find motivation and, moreover, should he or she employ such a single-mindedness? Although I am glad to be rid of the sense of exigency that once prevented me from developing new techniques, I am not as happy to be free of a goal that demands single-mindedness, for the former was a burden while the latter was a benefit. Therein lies, I believe, the beauty of martial arts practice.

The attribute of being able to focus on a larger goal is beneficial to anyone who wishes to achieve excellence. The goal itself is unimportant; it need not be grandiose or excessive. I realized shortly after I retired that if I were to continue to desire to practice, I would have to develop a new set of goals. Unlike competition, for which there is a limited time to prepare, day-to-day practice is a lifetime endeavor that lacks such urgency.

My new goals motivate me to train and improve. In the past, the goal was competitive excellence, but these days, it is technical excellence and understanding. I find myself in a perpetual quest for knowledge and deeper understanding of the martial arts.

I have learned to enjoy a lifelong pursuit of excellence, while reveling in the smaller day-to-day accomplishments along the way. Although I have changed my goals, I have found a way to preserve my intensity and employ a single-mindedness toward achieving these goals.

If one is to achieve a goal, there is no doubt that a single-minded approach must be used in part or in whole. Single-mindedness brings the practitioner into focus and leads him to a better understanding of himself and his knowledge base.

For example, throughout my competition career, I was unable to effectively use or counter a cut kick. For a variety of reasons, I refused to address this problem and found ways to avoid improving my technique. I have since made it my goal to improve my cut kick and develop an understanding of its uses. This has allowed me to develop a training regimen that will address these issues, as well as move me along a path toward achieving my goal.

Now, every day as I prepare to train, my focus is on bettering this kick and utilizing it against my sparring partners. This has provided a vehicle with which I can maintain my focus and refine my mental edge.

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There is beauty in a single-minded approach, and it lies in the result that is obtained, as well as the process that is employed. By being directed toward a single goal, all else is removed from the equation, and the goal is sharpened in relief against its surroundings.

As with my quest for a better cut kick, by focusing on the kick I have developed a better understanding of its mechanics, uses, strengths and weaknesses. I also have learned more about my physical capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. This has led to ancillary benefits to other techniques, as well as a sharpening of my resolve.

I have often watched other martial artists who have perfected a particular technique or combination. They possess a single-mindedness toward the development of that particular technique. For me, this is what the martial arts are about. They are not about the perfection of a particular technique but the perfection of a single-minded approach with a focus toward a specific goal. The martial artist can choose a goal, bring it into contrast with all others and achieve it.

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So what does all this mean? For me, it has meant learning to enjoy the beauty of obsession. I become obsessed with achieving a particular goal and the single-mindedness attached to it. I enjoy the process more than the achievement of the goal itself, for every day there are little victories to be savored along the way.

This provides me with a lifelong motivation toward training and excellence. Regardless of your skill level, you can apply a similar goal-oriented single-mindedness to your martial art.

About the author: Among his numerous other titles and accomplishments, Herb Perez won a gold medal in taekwondo at the 1992 Olympics.

Herb Perez Photos by Darren Chesnut

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