“I Always Do My Bethst…”

06.10.2016

My darling wife loves to play Scattergories.  This is unfortunate, because I hate it.  And somehow, despite my blatant disdain for that awful game, I still find myself racing to recall obscure words to the ticking of an egg timer.  She guilts me, and she’s good.

To date, she hasn’t won a game.  Not a one.

It might sound unchivalrous and cruel, crushing her Scattergorical hopes and dreams like that, but I simply cannot half-ass it.  I can’t phone it in.  If she campaigns effectively and convinces me to play, she’s getting my “A” game.  So sorry babe, but “tomato” is in fact not a vegetable that starts with “T,” it’s a fruit.

The thing is, I always do my best.  Ever since I was a little kid.  But back then, I always did my bethst.  Let me explain.

My older brother’s 10th birthday was at the Montvale Roller Rink, which in 1990 was pretty much the coolest thing you could do.  I skated, ate pizza, and played Arcade games to New Kids on the Block with the older kids.  Zack Morris had nothing on us.

They ended the party with this epic race.   It wasn’t exactly the Iditarod, but at 6 years old I was pretty pumped for it.  “Peter, do your best,” my mom shouted as I skated my way towards the line-up.

I looked back at her, offended, and said with conviction, “I always do my best.”  Well, with as much conviction as I could muster.  I had a pretty gnarly lisp when I was a kid.  And not a cute one, either.  My speech resembled the sputtering hiss of a garden hose turned on for the first time after a long, cold winter.

Alas, I always did my bethst.

“Peter, are you gonna try your best today?” Sensei Flynn asked.  And right on cue, “I always do my bethst,” I replied adamantly.  It became the stuff of legends.  A quarter century later and my uncle still reminds me how I always did my bethst.

To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.” -Steve Prefontaine

The idea of doing something without maximum effort- simply going through the motions- never occurred to me.  I didn’t realize it was multiple choice, that half-assing it was an option.  I was the kid with grass stains on his Levi’s from gym class, the one who took the substitute teacher seriously.

It was never a matter of winning, or being better than the other kid.  I wasn’t even particularly competitive.  I just always had one gear; my best.

Admittedly, there have been times when I could’ve (should’ve) dialed it down a bit.  Our first year out of college, my friends and I organized the first annual Turkey Bowl- a friendly football game intended to get the old gang back together.  Channeling Sweetness himself, Walter Payton, I stiff-armed my way to about 300 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns, while the other guys drank beer and broke balls.  Most Valuable Turkey.  I was just doing my bethst.

The first Halloween I spent with my wife’s family, I carved an ornate dreamscape depicting a wolf howling at the full moon for our friendly pumpkin-carving contest.  They made jack-o-lanterns, and I earned the nickname “the Pumpkin-Carver.”

Perhaps the most cringeworthy manifestation of me doing my bethst came in a soccer tournament between team Ricardo Almeida and team Renzo Gracie.  I’m no soccer player, but I understand the principles of defense.  Renzo, the patriarch of our BJJ Association, and quite easily the most well-liked man in martial arts, burst through on a breakaway.  Just him and the goalie.  In true Bobby Bouché fashion, I came screaming in like the Waterboy and slide-tackled the living legend, sending him somersaulting to the ground.  He’s tough as nails, of course, and he was fine.  But I’m an idiot, and lucky I wasn’t chased out with torches and pitchforks.  Totally unrelated, Professor Almeida thought it best to let me “rest” for the short remainder of the game.

In my defense, I’m absolutely certain Renzo would’ve done the same thing.

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures… -Martin Luther King, Jr.

There’s an old zen saying, how you do one thing is how you do all things.  I wholeheartedly agree.  And aside from slide-tackling the most beloved name in Jiu Jitsu, this approach to life has served me incredibly well.  I’ve dabbled in many things, but never lightly.  I’ve never been one to dip my toe in the water.  Whether it be writing, fighting, dancing or d’Arce-ing, I much prefer to cannonball right in.

“Whatever you do, do it well.  Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” -Walt Disney

And when I teach, this is absolute dogma.  I have never, ever, given less than my absolute best on the mat.  I teach as though each “OK guys” is my last, like I’m being graded on that one class alone.  Each time out, I imagine it’s my last chance to convince every student not to quit.  If I did less, I’m sure it would go unnoticed.  I’m sure it’d be just fine.  But who wants to be just fine?

The point is this: take pride in how you do what you do, whatever it may be.  Do you want to be a lukewarm, toe-dipping, fence-sitting stooge?  A non-committal panderer, swept each direction with the changing of the wind?  No, I didn’t think so.

Decide what to be, and go be it. -The Avett Brothers

I often wonder, was I born predisposed to always doing my bethst?  Or was this instilled in me by the martial arts early on?  Apologies for the lukewarm answer, but both, I believe.  I have no doubt I ate the sandbox sand with more fervor than the other kids.  But my predisposition to doing my best was undoubtedly refined and enhanced in the martial arts.  I was privy to the riches of unfettered effort, attention to detail, and the feverish pursuit of mastery at a very young age.

To be clear, I think you should absolutely be selective about your enterprises and undertakings.  But when your interest is piqued, dive in, and don’t apologize for the splash.  For me, it’s been a doctrine that’s allowed for an interesting ride, it’s made life more enjoyable.

And by the way, I won that race at the roller rink.

author: Peter McHugh

Professor Pete McHugh is the owner and Lead Instructor of McHugh BJJ in Mt. laurel NJ. He is a black belt under BJJ & MMA legend Ricardo Almeida.

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