When You Want to Succeed—Cut to the Essentials and Put Forth Supreme Effort

by John Du Cane, CEO and founder, Dragon Door on November 12, 2013

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JDC-SWORD-10161305John Du Cane does his best to cut to the essentials and put forth a supreme effort, be it in Dragon Door business or his own health practices.

Michelangelo commented that sculpting his perfect statue was a matter of chipping away the extraneous stone until the perfect form revealed itself. He also commented that if people had any idea how hard he worked, they wouldn’t marvel so much at the results of his labor. And herein lie two of the secrets to great success in any endeavor: hone your skill at cutting to the essentials—and put forth an unremitting, focused, supreme effort.

As athletes, we are in the business of cultivating ourselves as ongoing works of art. We are physical culturists, dealing with one of the most malleable and frustratingly entropic materials imaginable: our own bodies. Nothing degrades like human flesh left to its own devices. Nothing falters and falls apart like a directionless, undisciplined spirit. The winds of impermanence are constantly blowing against the sand paintings we create of ourselves. Faced with such vulnerability and uncertainty, we continue to cultivate ourselves with pride and diligence, celebrating the transient beauty of our beings—or we disgrace ourselves and degrade into decrepitude.

Two entropic forces contribute to our decline—rather than our glory—as human works of art: Lack of focus and laziness. The road to lack of focus is paved with the baubles of variety. Laziness is a crisis of the spirit, best overcome by the inspiration of hero-figures and the connection to a group of mentors and motivating fellow-seekers.

Variety is a double-edged sword. We need variety to entertain us and to explore potentially rewarding new methods. Yet variety is the Great Distracter, pretending there’s a magic secret over the horizon, whose capture will finally reward us with success. When the real secret to progress is and always has been the diligent application of a few core, essential practices.

Al_gunPCC Lead Instructor Al Kavadlo is a hard-working practitioner of the essentials and a role model for the dedicated cultivation of the body as an ongoing work of art.

In many types of physical cultivation, success can be measured. You document heavier lifts for more reps. You run faster, you punch harder. You reduce body fat percentages. You increase muscle size. You pass physical tests, you enter competitions. You keep a log book (right now, I have set strength goals for myself with kettlebell practice—and a daily log has made a huge difference to my progress.)

For many other types of physical culture—like my own personal practice of Qigong and Tai Chi—progress and success is extremely hard to measure. How do you measure movement skill or internal energy levels? Not easily! Much of the measurement here stems from your own internal monitoring and gauging of your well-being. Cutting down to the essentials and committing to a daily, dedicated practice becomes all the more crucial.

How are you doing these days with your personal physical cultivation? How is the artwork coming along? What could you discard or do differently from now on, to progress as a fine piece of ongoing art?

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  • jpujjayi

    Great writing John … I enjoy your perspectives….. especially about movement skills.. energy levels.. both things I’ve gotten further into lately. Enrolled in an online FMS course for certification with the movement screens. Paying attention to my own asymmetries, imbalances… (after the years those things accrue !!)…. more meditation and yoga.. going to take the 250 hr RYT training starting Jan2014… I’d like to use the movement screens with yoga practioners…
    … the flooring business continues as well….. great pic too… best to you and all
    jim perry

    • John Du Cane

      Jim, very good to hear on all counts. Great see your dedication! All the best with your new programs…

  • Matt Schifferle

    Completely agree with you there John. The more I practice the more I continue to hack out the trivial and frivolous exercises that don’t contribute to my progress. I find doing so is key in freeing up more resources to focus on that which is most important. Distraction it seems, is the double edged sword which causes us to both waste resources and put lack of focus on what we really want.

    • John Du Cane

      Thanks Matt!

  • Marcus Santer

    Hi John,

    I like what Al said on the PCC Sweden workshop:

    Nothing happens without

    * Hard work
    * Time
    * Discipline

    Thanks for making all these great resources available to us. Much appreciated.

    • John Du Cane

      Marcus, you are very welcome…

  • Great article!!! Really glad it was shared here for all to see. I’ve been working on a new, more structured approach to my own training, and was reflecting on a related subject of patience and perseverance last night: https://twitter.com/GiryaGirl/status/400105096446353408

    • John Du Cane

      Thanks Adrienne, great to hear!

  • Zach Gheaja

    That was a pleasure to read, I hope there is more to come. Verbs, nouns, its all here.
    Great message. Its strange, yesterday I was wondering if you had written any books and then you do this post.

    • John Du Cane

      Zach, I appreciate your kind words. I have actually started writing a book based on my life experiences as spiritual lessons…

  • A truly great article from the Big Daddy of Dragon Door!

    I agree fully with all the other comments…in fact I think you have summed up what it takes to be successful in ALL OF LIFE in just one post. I am not the only person who turns to you for your wisdom, thank you for sharing it with the PCC community, Bossman!

    • John Du Cane

      You are too kind Paul! I keep pinching myself to have been so fortunate to have you as a Dragon Door author. Thank you a thousand times for all you have contributed.

  • Jack Arnow

    I loved reading this great article. It spoke to my own experience. When I was younger Jasper Benincasa was my inspiration. Now the PCC community is my community. I’m inspired and have learned much from Al, Danny, Paul, Adrienne, and now John. Also from every other article I’ve read on this blog, even if I don’t remember the author’s name. Thank you all! John made the connection between mentors, a community and personal commitment. It certainly has helped me. Of course others have helped me too, like Jim Bathurst and Brad Johnson. It’s not surprising to me that those that have “done the time,” (forgive me Paul) have learned similar things. I sometimes use the words “less is more,” but John said it even more simply, “cut to the essentials and put forth extreme effort.” May all who do so, enjoy the journey. Yes, my yoga practice also influences me deeply.

    • John Du Cane

      Thank you Jack, I am honored by your words!

  • Logan Christopher

    I love this line “We are physical culturists, dealing with one of the most malleable and
    frustratingly entropic materials imaginable: our own bodies.” Great article John. For those things that are hard to measure, I like to look at putting the time in each day. That’s my measurement for it.

    • John Du Cane

      Thank you for the kind words! And perfect way to measure the hard to measure…

  • Beth Andrews Rkc

    Beautifully stated John. Quote for life!I love it. 🙂

    secrets to great success in any endeavor: hone your skill at cutting to
    the essentials—and put forth an unremitting, focused, supreme effort.

    • John Du Cane

      Thank you Beth, appreciate it!

  • hapworth

    Great article, John! Long time reader of all things Dragon Door. Been wanting to ask you this for a long time, but how do you balance your internal practice (Qi Gong and Taiji) and external (seems like everything else!). I study some Taiji, Qigong, as well as Baguazhang and it seems like a lot of the goals are mutually exclusive. In Internal, we want soft bodies, everything is relaxed but ready… whereas in doing a lot of this material, we want to continually tense our entire bodies in planks and such! How do you balance the two? You don’t see many Internal Artists with visible abs like yourself (good or bad for the viscera/dantien?) Would love your input. Thanks!

    • John Du Cane

      Thanks for the kind words! Actually, I find that kettlebells and bodyweight exercise complement internal martial arts very nicely AS LONG as you are careful to release and relax out of the high-tension work. Essentially, the skill with the kettlebell work is to be tense for minimal periods of time, which allows you to generate great force in a whip-like manner. Sure,if you are doing a grind then there will be a little longer period under tension, but a world champion powerlifter like Marty Gallagher would be the first to tell you the importance of strategic relaxation. Kettlebells have helped with my explosive power in Tai Chi. I also like the cardio impact from vigorous Swings. Most of the top Tai Chi Masters are really tough in my experience. Deeply relaxed in some ways, but obviously able to exert tension when needed. Finally, though, nothing induces a better overall feeling of well being than Tai Chi, for me.

      • hapworth

        Thank you so much for the reply! I always find the seeming contradictions between different approaches a really fun thing to reconcile. I am a firm believer that “the” answer, whatever that is, is usually find somewhere in the middle. You should check out some Baguazhang, as it focuses more on spiraling energy and is quite fun! I find a lot of overlap in principles, though of course even their definitions may be different (for example, what is “correct” standing posture? A person doing Standing Post won’t look very natural compared to a Feldenkrais practitioner). I’m trying to see it more as being able to be flexible even between the states. Some may push the “always be relaxed” angle, while others want to push full body tension more often than needed… why not train both and be able to do it all… then make an educated and SKILLED decision (which can only be found via practice) and choose the most efficient avenue for whatever the task at hand is.

        I know in a few of the books that you’ve published that certain ideas from the East will make its way into it, yet only a handful. But I’ve also noticed you have your own sets of DVDs and the like. Have you ever thought of doing a text that focuses more on combining the two? Maybe not quite the for the Dragon Door crowd at large, but who knows!

        • John Du Cane

          Thanks for the ideas! BTW, I have done some Baugua in my life, but always went back to Tai Chi, which seems to fit better for me…

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