This is for you, Randy.
Today represents my re-entry into training after a nasty elbow injury a couple of months ago. It was just one of those things that happened during class; no one was trying to be tough or hurt anyone else, but I got arm-barred and didn’t tap soon enough. I’m just getting back to where I can train lightly.
For some reason, I don’t have much desire to blog when I’m not training. Maybe I see it as a chance to work on other things.
At any rate, I wanted to share an interesting conversation I had over YouTube regarding talent vs. hard work. Some months back, I made an off-handed comment on a video of Zakir Hussain about how I’d like to learn to play the tabla. (Zakir Hussain is pretty much the Roger Gracie of the Indian tabla drums, if you’ll forgive the analogy.) In the comment, I said I’d never be as good as Zakir because I can’t dedicate my life to playing the tabla.
Well, being YouTube, someone took issue to my comment and started going off about how even if I had a bazillion years, I could never be as good as Zakir Hussain at the tabla. Which is probably true. This led to a debate about which is more important, talent or hard work. My esteemed YouTube acquaintance pretty much told me I was messed up for thinking that talent takes a back seat to hard work.
This has everything to do with jiu-jitsu to me. Like every other discipline, we’re stratified, but what is it really that separates us average Joes from the BJJ elite? Is it some mystical element called “talent,” or is it something more palpable?
Here is the explanation I sent. Tell me what you think:
I agree you must have the physical and/or mental aptitude to perform a skill, and some people have a greater aptitude than others. I just give that aptitude far less weight than you do. It’s a necessary ingredient, but far from the most important. Furthermore, aptitude is not talent. More on that later.
I completely understand your point about not everyone being able to be good at everything. I know people who are completely tone deaf. It’s a cinch that they’ll never become singers. But barring physical or mental roadblocks, the reason people don’t perform at that “champion” level is that they don’t understand what it takes to be a champion. Or perhaps they do understand, and have decided it’s too high a price for them to pay.
I’ve inherited this mentality from world-class athletes. I’m a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner. And although I have no aspirations to be one (the price is too high for me), I’ve always been interested in what makes a champion.
One of my coaches is a multiple-time world grappling champion. I’ve worked with and interviewed other world champions and coaches who train world champions.
I have literally asked these people which is more important: talent, or hard work. Every single one of them has told me the same thing; being a champion is 10% talent and 90% hard work. Many of them will even say that talent is as low as 1%, and have a degree of disdain for people who rely on talent, because they are eventually left in the dust by their less “gifted” harder-working counterparts. If anything, they will tell you the real talent is desire and letting that desire motivate you to do amazing things. It also has a lot to do with how you train, both physically and psychologically.
Occasionally you’ll find someone who learns faster and pulls ahead, but as soon as they stop working, their peers pass them by.
The truth is, very few people even try to be the best at what they do. They’re content with mediocrity. They don’t even begin to comprehend what it takes to be a master of a trade. They don’t comprehend the sacrifices and blood and tears the people at the top have paid. They just see a huge difference between the gods at the top, and their own mortality. And they justify that difference with one word: Talent.
But what are they really describing with that word? Is it natural ability? Is it aptitude? I don’t think so. They’re describing the sacrifice, the blood, sweat and tears that the “champion” has paid in order to achieve absolute mastery. Because that’s really what separates them, not some mystical ability that nature randomly bestowed on them.
I respect your right to disagree – or maybe we just don’t ascribe the same meaning to the word “talent.” At any rate, now you know where I’m coming from.
There is one thing I am guessing we agree on: Zakir Hussain is phenomenal and a sheer pleasure to hear play
So, give it to me straight. Am I full of crap? Are there just some people destined to become great because they were “born with it,” or could almost anyone perform at a champion level if they had the right coach / dedication / desire / life circumstances? There are a lot of variables that come into play, of course; but when it boils down, what is the real component of talent?
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