While in the 8th grade (1978), I played for the U.L. Light Junior High School football team in Barberton, Ohio, a town of 28,000. Our rival, Highland Junior High, was on the other side of town. The annual game between 8th and 9th-grade teams of each Junior High School took place under the bright lights of the Barberton High Stadium (now Sharkey Stadium) at the end of each season. 

For us 8th graders, this game was the equivalent of the Ohio State – Michigan Game, the Notre Dame -USC rivalry, the slugfests between Nebraska and Oklahoma, and the Army-Navy clash all rolled into one.

To make things interesting for me, my Mom taught at Highland. The head coach (Jeff Janiga) of the Highland 8th-grade team was one of my teachers at U.L. Light. To say the least, this made for an interesting dynamic.

We had a pretty good team and thought that we had a good chance of beating Highland under the lights.

Unfortunately, Highland beat us in a closely fought game. A neat trick play turned the tide for them. 

The post-game gathering underneath the bowels of the Barberton Stadium was not pretty. We were upset and pissed off. The prevailing mood among the players was “we got screwed by the refs.” The players, including myself, ranted about how “unfair” the refs had been. Our coaches tried to steer us away from this mindset but our minds were made up.

August 1982 during a pre-season scrimmage.
August 1982 during a pre-season scrimmage for Barberton High School.

In short, we were whiny sore losers. We should have known better than to whine. We were not taking responsibility for the outcome of the game. Blaming the referees was an easy cop-out.

The reality was that we shot ourselves in the foot with numerous mistakes during that game. We failed to defend against that well-executed trick play. The refs didn’t cost us the game. We beat ourselves.

My father saw me complaining bitterly about the outcome and took me aside and pointed out that, had we eliminated our own mistakes, we likely would have won the game.

He was right.

What he pointed out was that by eliminating your own mistakes, you increase your chances of success. This planted a seed in my head and changed my outlook.

It took several years for that seed to sprout into a lifelong belief….evaluate yourself and your actions before blaming somebody.

One of my pet peeves about today’s society is that many do not take responsibility for their problems or lack of success, preferring to blame others or to take refuge in the belief that the world is stacked against them.

I’ll never forget what Jimmy Johnson said after his Miami Hurricanes lost to Notre Dame in the great 1988 game in which the Irish prevailed 31-30. Many Miami players complained about a controversial fumble call against running back Cleveland Gary late in the game. Johnson pointed out in the post-game press conference: “You  can’t win games with seven turnovers. Eliminate those and we would have won the game.

Eliminate the mistakes,  lack of preparation, the self-inflicted wounds, and you just might succeed. Analyze yourself and take responsibility for your own actions and mistakes. Do all that and you will succeed.

A great way to learn accountability is by practicing martial arts. If you screw up a kata, whose fault is it? If your grading is mediocre, who do you blame?

Prof Vee
Professor Vee with a knife against stick technique. Fall 1989.

Practicing martial arts is an individual endeavor. Any success or failure will be entirely up to you. I once performed miserably on a Kenpo Karate test while living in Columbus, Ohio. This grading took place during a particularly busy period of my life. In looking back at it, I realized that I did not take advantage of free time here and there to practice and prepare for the grading. I did not do so and my grading reflected my lack of preparation. My bad.

Being an instructor, I now see this from the other side. A recurring issue with the children’s class is that some struggle with push-ups. I will ask often “have you been practicing your push-ups at home?”  Many times the answer is “no.” 

Me: “Start with 5 with good form on a daily basis.

Kid: “Okay.

Me: “Do them more often and you won’t struggle. Guaranteed.

One kid, in particular, did not practice his push-ups at home for quite some time. I kept bugging him to practice. I was not going to let him off the hook. Then I noticed that his push-ups started to improve.

Me: “Hey, your push-ups are looking better. What’s up with that?

Kid: (sheepishly) “I’ve been practicing them.

Me: “Good on you!

I was glad to hear that he was taking matters into his hands and taking responsibility for improving himself. Many moan and groan when I start every class with push-ups. They know that they are going to struggle. And I keep reminding them that they need to practice them at home, knowing that most of them don’t. They’ll eventually realize that their success or failure, for the most part, rests on their shoulders. Some have figured out that a little extra effort outside of class will go a long way.

When I hear that, it brings a small measure of satisfaction. I must be doing something right but I know that the job is far from done!

Hopefully, they will avoid the mindset that I indulged in the aftermath of that loss to Highland Junior High in 1978. πŸ™‚

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4 thoughts on “You Are Your Own Worst Enemy

  • December 5, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Amen. I once punched someone a little too hard in the face. I took the blame on myself, but she also recognized her failure to block. We’re still friends πŸ™‚ If I’d blamed her for her injury we would be enemies. I prefer friends.

    • January 16, 2017 at 7:30 pm

      Hi Joelle, just wanted to respond to this. Sorry for the lateness. I’ve had trouble with responding to comments. Looks like the issue has been fixed. I prefer friends too! πŸ™‚

  • December 6, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Love this Brian! Your father sounds like a very wise man πŸ™‚ It’s also great to hear how you are passing on that same lesson to the kids in your classes in turn, and giving them a simple, practical, achievable entry point into understanding personal responsibility., cause and effect, that will hopefully lay a good foundation for the rest of their lives . . .

    • January 16, 2017 at 7:31 pm

      Hi Kai, just wanted to respond to this! Sorry for my tardiness! I hope that I have a positive impact on the kids in some way and giving them good life lessons. Don’t want any Cobra Kais! πŸ˜‰


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