The first and most important part of training for competition is – of all things – the training. Which we do a lot. In my case, I do it 5-6 days a week in the summer, and usually 7 days a week in the winter. I do regular karate classes along with what we call TBT classes – TBT stands for Total Body Workout. Those are cardio-kickboxing classes, some of which focus on plain cardio, others on precision skills, others on strength (or weightlifting) and others focus on power (hitting the big punching bags). I also run every morning when I’m in the city, and when I’m at the lake in the summer I swim a lot. And then I also train with the competitive team.

It is a big commitment, and obviously not everyone trains every day like I do. But to me it’s a very important part of the equation, because – like Steven Pressfield would say – I’ve decided to turn pro. That doesn’t mean I make money from karate. Unfortunately, that’s not happening just yet. Rather, turning pro in the Pressfield sense of the word means you stop futzing around pretending you’re working hard and commit to it with all you’ve got instead.

And when I decided to join the competitive team, I gave myself a trial period; I thought to myself, I’ll give this my best shot for a few months and see how it feels, just in case it’s not for me. If it isn’t, well, there’s no dishonour in that; you try something hard and it doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. But if it works, I told myself last fall, then there are no half-measures. You’re all in.

And guess what? Yep. I’m in. That’s what it means to turn pro. And that’s something we can all do in our lives, no matter what it is we’re doing. I really recommend you read Pressfield if you haven’t already. The War of Art is a book I like to read and re-read. It’s an excellent kick in the pants, and like it or not, very few of us are so disciplined that we never need a good one.

Turning pro gets pretty relentless, so make sure you think carefully before committing to something. You better love what you’re turning pro at, because you’re going to be doing it a lot.

And not just the fun bits either. Most of what we do in training you could call boring and repetitive. I’ve been doing karate for 15 years, you’d think I had some idea how to punch, right? Right. But also wrong. My punches can still be better, tighter, and especially faster. Similarly, my kicks can be higher, stronger, and faster. Everything I do can be better, no matter how good at it I think I am.

When we train, we typically go for 90 minutes. We start with some warm-up, then some cardio work to kill the legs and get the heart rate way up. Then we drill the same basic techniques over and over and over again. It varies; sometimes we start with basic techniques and don’t focus so hard on the cardio by itself (trust me, when we get going on drills, it’s intense enough that we get an excellent workout without having to try). The point is, we get ourselves tired on purpose so that we can drill some more. And that’s key, see: working on basic techniques when you’re at your best and freshest is good. But it’s not nearly as good as working on your basic techniques when you’re tired. Because to make real improvements you have to get out of your comfort zone. You not only have to get out of it, you have to lock the door behind you and walk away from it. If you only ever train in comfort, you won’t improve nearly as much, and training will quickly feel very discouraging and somewhat pointless.

Make your training count, no matter what your training is. Work on your technique (whatever it is), even when the conditions aren’t optimal. Especially when the conditions aren’t optimal. So you’re tired? Big deal. Train. You’re hungry? Doesn’t matter. Train. There’s a show you want to watch? Forget it. Train. Once you’ve turned pro, once you’ve decided to commit to something for real, your tummy doesn’t matter anymore. See now why I said you should make sure you pick something you love to commit to? Because it comes before food and drink and comfort, that’s why. And if you don’t love it more than you love pizza, you shouldn’t commit to it.

It’s pretty simple, really. Not easy, mind you. But simple. Pick something you love. Commit to it with all you’ve got. Turn pro. Do it every day. Train when you feel like it. Train when you don’t feel like it. Don’t be afraid to do the same basic stuff over and over and over again. Never fall into the trap of thinking you know the basics and ought really to worry about more “important” stuff.

There is nothing more important than your basics.

Repeat after me: There is nothing more important than your basics. Drill them, work on them, obsess over them, improve them. And before you know it, you’ll get better.

That’s why we train. To get better.