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A Lesson From A Karate Kicking Fireman

Over the years as a coach you can’t help but develop a set of catchphrases.


When you hear clients saying your catchphrases to themselves and each other, you know that you've successfully created a gym or team culture.


Then a client says, “you should put that on a t-shirt”


So why the hell not?


If you go to you'll see a t-shirt emblazoned with “Last Set, Best Set”


But where does the catchphrase come from and is it simply another empty motivational slogan?


If I'm honest, this is a common shout from coaches across the world.

Why I adopted it is a tribute to one of the best lessons I ever received in training.


I spent my youth as Karate-ka.

This was an all consuming hobby throughout my teens. Especially my late teens.


I talk a lot about how important my instructor,  the late Jack Parker,  was to me growing up. But this is not about him.


This is about Gerard Burke.

Gerard was a legend. Every one of us revered this fella.


He was a black belt, so automatically had our respect.

He was a phenomenal fighter,  insanely fast with incredible timing.

He was a fireman

And he worked us as if we were already champions.


During one squad training Gerard was there and was taking the session.

Whenever he was there we knew it was going to be special. 

Hard hard graft, but he had a way of making us want to work harder, while also encouraging us to be smarter.


During the session he stopped us.

He said that we're all starting to get tired, fatigue is building. But we can't let this make us sloppy.

As we fatigue we have to tighten up the technique, be more efficient.

As we get more tired, we make it tighter.


The rest of the session was run around this simple, important concept. 


And it never left me.

I found myself saying versions of it to myself years later out running on mountains, during martial arts training in different clubs, in different countries. And variations of it worked its way into my coaching vernacular.


The last set then will be the best set because you’re dealing with fatigue.

This will be your best set because there are no following sets that you might be saving yourself for.

This is the set that will be tighter,  more efficient 

This is the last set of your life.


Everyone gets tired, everyone loses focus.

What Gerard was teaching,  I'm sure came from his experience as a fireman as much as it was karate.


Imagine running into a fire, that heat,  the smoke, the danger.


Imagine how fast you will fatigue with the temperatures, the weight of the kit, the adrenaline,  the stress.


And imagine if you allowed that fatigue make you sloppy?

The consequences don't bear thinking about.


So you double down.

You get tighter

You focus more


And only relax once that last set is done.


When we talk about the lessons learned in the gym spill over into real life, this is absolutely one of those lessons.



Tighten technique.

Keep things sharp.


Until its over.

The last set is done.

Then we rest.


Dave Hedges

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