Everything you do is important. The quality of execution in small details can lead to big successes or huge failures. Imagine a busy contractor building a house. In a rush to finish the job, he takes small shortcuts. He follows the building plans, but sometimes he doesn’t add as many nails as he should. Tired, he sometimes does not quite measure and cut everything true. He makes it "good enough” so that he can get the job done.
Some of the shortcuts may not really matter, but many together add up to create significant weaknesses in the structure and potential dangers to those who will live there. In the end, the house looks ok, but really all the small shortcuts, overlooked details, and imperfections could make the whole house crumble. The house appears normal, but, in fact, it has no strength, no integrity. The same can be true both in your training and, of course, in your life. Your approach to training may fail to bring you the big success you hope to reach.
I struggle every day to strengthen my integrity, and I am in no position to tell you how to live a life of virtue. I did not write this article to preach to you, however, the value of integrity means a lot to me, and I believe it can make a huge difference in your skill development. That’s the focus of this article.
Many years ago, I was president of the Texas Kali Association (TKA), a regional organization of backyard Filipino Kali groups founded by Tuhon Erwin Ballarta of Pekiti Tirsia Kali. Tuhon Erwin was a mentor and positive light for us all, but he eventually retired from leadership of the TKA as he needed more time with his family and career. After Tuhon Erwin retired from the group, I worked together with the other instructors to figure out just what were the critical values of our group. We came up with three primary values that we hoped to live up to. The values were integrity, mastery, and leadership. Each of these had layers of meaning for us. What stood out to us as the most important was integrity. The other values were essential to learning and sharing, but without integrity, they would be meaningless and hollow.
In following the value of integrity, we considered both the integrity of character and the integrity of the art. We wanted to be sure we were good people, doing a good job of training, teaching, and preserving the art for others. We wanted to make sure we did not undermine the effectiveness or the beauty of the art with a lack of effort on our parts to learn it properly and teach it effectively.
It was not until after many years that I learned how the values we identified in the Texas Kali Association had served me well. In particular, the value of integrity led me in my approach to life, in how I treat people, and in how I approach everything, big or small. Now, I believe that integrity is much more than just a virtue, it is something that will determine success or failure in anything you do. If you are mindful of it, integrity will serve you in a very practical way.
What is Integrity?
The word integrity comes from the Latin word integer, which means whole or complete. When we speak of something as having integrity, we mean it is strong, intact, sound. When we speak of a person’s character as having integrity, we usually include other values such as honesty, sincerity, conviction, morality, accountability, courage, commitment, determination, and consistency. These values are all important character traits, but integrity is really about whether or not one is true to his values. This concept of having integrity is just being sound or complete from character to behavior.
In order to have integrity, a person's values, beliefs, and actions must all be compatible. Otherwise, this person’s value system is not sound. For example: If you do not act in a way that is consistent with your values, then there is a disconnect or you do not really hold those values. To be sound, you must follow what you believe. You must do what you say. That’s consistent and that’s sound.
This means that for you to truly have integrity, your values should determine your actions. Your actions must follow your beliefs, and your beliefs must follow your values. Like a system, to be intact, to be strong, to be sound, these three elements must be in sync.
Integrity in Action
Integrity is a value that many of us believe in, but to truly have it, we must put it into action. Often the issue is just not knowing how to break it down. It’s often difficult for me to translate a big concept into concrete steps, so often find that if I do not dedicate time to thinking about it, the big idea, concept, or philosophy may just stay in my head as just that. So, how do we translate the lofty value of integrity into the actions we take in our everyday lives? C. S. Lewis gives us a good starting point:
"Integrity means doing the right thing, even when no one else is watching.”
The important implication here is that you are accountable to yourself for doing what is right. You do not need the social pressure of others to influence you to do what is right. This is not to say that doing what is right is easy. Integrity also means doing what is right, even when it is hard, even when it is inconvenient, and even if it is does not result in the best outcome for you. Regardless of the situation or significance, you do what is right every time.
Integrity is not just for higher virtues of morality. Integrity is a value reflected in everything you do. This means that when you do your job, work on your personal projects, take steps to follow your goals, or do something to help someone else, anything, you do it right. You do your work properly, to the best of your ability and effort. No shortcuts. No excuses. It doesn’t matter how big or small the task is. If you believe in doing it right, then that’s what you do every time.
Integrity is in the small things. Small habits of doing things poorly or half assed lead to big results that are poor. If you do not practice integrity in the small things, will you be able to practice it in the big things that really matter? By taking shortcuts or doing something carelessly, even in a small way, you are building a habit of accepting less from yourself, of being mediocre. You are, in effect, building a house that is not sound. This concept of integrity in the small things is where integrity and your training are related.
Integrity and your Training
To have integrity in your training means that you make sure everything you do is to the best of your ability. You do it right. Every repetition you complete is your best. You make each one count. You don’t alter an exercise or truncate a movement because you are tired or want to be able to go faster. You don’t skip something because it is hard. You take pride in doing it right, so you are willing to suffer through it to do so. You may not be at your best every time you train, but you try to do your best.
Though a single repetition of a skill or exercise may seem insignificant, it actually matters. With each repetition, not only are you strengthening your commitment to your value of integrity, but you are also strengthening the integrity of your skill. Imagine if you are not consistent with the quality of your repetitions when learning a skill: You will water-down your training efforts. You will never develop that skill to your full potential. Imagine if you are trying to get more fit, but you shorten or modify the movement of an exercise to make it easier. When you do this, you are directly impacting your ability to reach your goal. Those repetitions add up - good or bad. You can decide to do them right or you can decide just to get by with minimum effort and poor execution. Your results are based on that decision.
How to Strengthen your Integrity while Training
Exercise is a great medium for developing your commitment to integrity. In exercise, you are constantly facing challenge and discomfort in order to reach a long term goal. You have the choice in every workout to complete each workout, each set, and each repetition with quality or just to get through it. It’s easy when you start your workout, you are fresh, so you hit the ground running. But as you get more and more fatigued, do you complete every pushup to the full range of motion or do you have a few that did not quite go all the way to the ground? If you lose count, do you do a few extra reps, just in case? Do you keep going as hard as you can even in the last few seconds before the timer runs out? If you want to exercise your integrity, you make sure you do it right or you do it over. That approach is what will make your effort more fulfilling. If you don’t do it that way, it will hurt. It will hurt, not just because others see it, but because you know that you took shortcuts when you should have done it right.
Martial arts training can be used to strengthen your integrity. In training martial arts, you have to endure pain and sacrifice your time and energy to develop your skills. Just to learn, you have to feel the pain of the techniques you study. You have to spend countless hours working on skills that break down into the most fundamental of movements then combine into something more complex. To make the fastest progress, you have to be focussed and disciplined. Each repetition of a skill is a tiny brick in the massive house you are building. Sometimes, you have to face others in sparring who are more skilled than you, while knowing you will not win. All of these factors push you out of your comfort zone to a place where you may feel like skipping a training session, or even avoiding certain types of training that are necessary for your growth. Your choices related to each these factors can fortify your integrity or introduce cracks in it. If you really want to master the skills of a martial art, you will need to suffer through these challenges and do the work.
You can strengthen your integrity in everything you do. No matter what you are doing, exercise, martial arts, developing another skill, or just doing your work, you can use that as an opportunity to develop your integrity. You simply have to be mindful. Start with a mindset that you will do it right, to the best of your ability. Then hold yourself accountable for doing it right. When you must make a decision that will affect the quality of your effort, measure the options with your value of integrity. Pick the option that follows that value. This approach is not hard as long as you have the conviction that nothing worth doing should be done in a half ass way. With this approach, you are building integrity from the ground up.
Practice when it does not matter, so you are ready when it does. If you practice being mindful of your decisions, making choices that follow your values, and holding yourself accountable with the small things in life, then you will be ready to take the tough actions when it really matters. When you practice like this, you are training your integrity in addition to your physical skills. This is mental training, and mental skills require training just like physical skills.
Values must lead and feelings can follow. You must shun instant gratification and focus on your goals for long term achievement. You must learn to live with discomfort. Embrace making sacrifices to get better. Don’t let fatigue and excuses dissuade you from doing your best every time. Even the small things are important.
Conditions and conditioning cannot be your master. You have the freedom to control your attitude. If you direct your focus to follow integrity in everything you do, you will be successful.
Success is a process. It is the process of striving ceaselessly to do your best. It’s the fulfillment that you are living true to your values. You will feel it, and others will see it.
Do it for yourself. A warrior athlete strives to be better, not for others, but for himself. In fact, we must ask more of ourselves than others would ask of us.
Integrity can be a thought or it can be the key to every action you take. It’s not an easy path, but it is a path that I try to follow. Sometimes I trip and fall, but I get back up and continue. Join me, and we can help each other along the way.