Olympic judoka and UFC champion Ronda Rousey turned some heads and busted some scouters when she appeared at this year's Wrestlemania wearing a Dragon Ball Z t-shirt with an image of Vegeta and the phrase, "It's over 9,000!"
"You think there's a bigger Dragon Ball Z fan in mma than you?" an interviewer once asked.
"No!" She scoffed, then explained how Dragon Ball Z inspired her to train and admitting that she had a big crush on Vegeta. "I would have gone cartoon for (Vegeta)!" she says before bursting out laughing. "Dude, he knocked up Bulma and then ditched out to go train… that's hardcore."
But Rousey isn't the only celebrity or sports figure inspired by the likes of Goku, Vegeta and company. Marcus Brimage, another UFC fighter, claims Dragon Ball inspired him to be a fighter. MMA pioneer Carlos Newton called his style Dragon Ball Jiu-Jitsu, and mimed a kamehameha as a victory celebration. In other sports, Spanish tennis sensation Rafael Nadal is also a fan of the series, "I have all the DVDs, from the first one to the last one."
Rapper Soulja Boy made a rap inspired by Dragon Ball (warning it's both vulgar and horrible). Apparently smoking up makes him look like Gohan. Other artists, like XV, Machine Gun Kelly, J-Live, Wu-Tang Clan's the RZA, Lupe Fiasco and Childish Gambino (to name a few) make Dragon Ball references and word play, know what I'm saiyan?
The action series, Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama garnered worldwide fame. With all the powering up, transformations, wishes, special techniques, colorful characters, and violent battles, kids'll tell you Dragon Ball is fun to watch. But underneath all that action lies life lessons and sound advice for self-improvement.
Like the athletes and lyricists mentioned above, we can all use Dragon Ball as inspiration. The series motivated me to work out, take my running hobby to the next level, and improve my Japanese. And Dragon Ball continues to inspire me to buckle down and get things done today. So next time you need motivation or seek to kick it to the next level ask yourself, WWGD? (what would Goku do)?
Not Awe But Inspiration
When Dragon Ball Z first hit Cartoon Network and gained mainstream popularity in the US, fans discussed the show with awe.
"How cool would it be to be strong like Goku?"
"Did you see when he trained at 100 times gravity?!"
"Wish I could fire off energy blasts!"
Everyone talked about the show's crazy, over the top moments. They mimicked kamehamehas, did the fusion dance, and argued over power-levels, remaining spectators instead of applying Dragon Ball's lessons to the real world
Ronda Rousey couldn't train with her cartoon crush Vegeta, but she took inspiration from Dragon Ball and became a champion. Rafael Nadalalso hasn't turned Super Saiyajin (yet), but watching him will convince you he can. I haven't run Snake Way, but I've run a marathon and an ultra-marathon in its place.
Sure we may never blast a big bang attack, drink of Korin's "sacred water," or instantly alter our hair color. But we can take the lessons and strategies that lie beneath all the lightning fast punches, teleportations and power blasts and use them to improve our lives.
Commit and Make Sacrifices
When you want to make an omelet, you have to crack some eggs. Set a goal and commit to it. But remember, commitment means sacrifice.
Kid Gohan's (forced) commitment to training meant he couldn't study, enjoy being spoiled by his mother, hang out with his woodland pals, or enjoy his favorite hobby, crying. Later in the series, college-age Gohan commits again when he sits still for over 24 hours, allowing Old Kai to unlock his hidden potential.
When we make a goal, we have make sacrifices to achieve it. Gonna pass the JLPT? Invest time in studying. Gonna lose weight? Better forego movie theater popcorn and a skip those bar crawls. Like Gohan, we all have to make sacrifices when we commit to a goal.
Create a Routine
Piccolo removes his weighted hat and armor before battle. Kid Goku often stretched and warmed up with calisthenics. The Z Warriors prepped for battle by donning their battle gear – at least until said outfits got torn to shreds.
Tell your body and mind that it's go-time by maintaining a routine. Create a regimen around whatever you're preparing for. Do the same warm up, down the same drink, use the same writing utensil, and repeat the same mantra whenever you practice.
In A Fighter's Mind Tim Ferris writes, "Routine can help us enter Musashi's mind of no-mind or the zone… It's a kind of relaxed super-competence." Routine can help our minds relax, fall into a rhythm and perform without distraction, overcoming the distractions and nervousness when we finally face our challenge.
Reach and Then Redefine Your Limits and Goals
Goku didn't rest on his laurels when he pulled off his first kamehameha, or when he beat Piccolo to win the Tenkaichi Budōkai Tournament. Goku's constant progresses redefined him and what it meant to be Saiyajin throughout the series.
In his book 10-Minute Toughness, Jason Selk calls this the "Plus One Concept,"
The best way to climb a mountain is to take one step at a time. (The) +1 concept (is) the idea that success can be achieved by meeting a string of basic, incremental goals in the present that will will ultimately lead to excellence in the future… Believe in yourself and your ability to make gradual improvements, and the results will follow."
As with Dragon Ball's cast of characters did, expect gradual "plus one" improvements as you work your way to your goal.
When you achieve one goal, set another and aim higher. Passed the JLPT level 4? Congratulations, now aim for level 3. Ran a 5k? Try a 10k. Watched 20 episodes of Dragon Ball in a day? Next time watch 21.
In Turn It Up! Jeffrey Spencer states, "Even though most people want an easy life and think it will give them the life fulfillment they seek, my experience tells me that the happiest people are those who perpetually seek goals and whose lives are appropriately challenged, so they remain alert and focused on moving forward to a better future." New challenges keep life interesting, satisfying and therefore happy.
The Two-Fold Path To Improvement
Surround Yourself With Badasses
Okay, maybe Krillin isn't the best example, but thanks to a series of badass teachers and foes, Goku became one of the baddest beings in the universe.
Goku learned the kamehameha from Master Roshi. He pushed himself to learn King Kai's Kaio-ken technique and the Genki Dama because of Vegeta. Majin Buu led him to Super Saiyajin 3, Beerus pushed him to Super Saiyajin God, and the list goes on.
Like Goku, surround yourself with people above your level. "Badasses hang out with other badasses…. Make friends with successful people. If you want to become better then you need to allow the good influences of other people to rub off on you. Let them bring you up to their level."
Whatever your goal, find a great training partner or a rival. Let them push you. Learn from them and improve. Want to learn Japanese? Find a senpai or native speaker. Want to get better at a martial art? Train with a higher belt rank. Want to become a great cook? Learn from a master chef.
Had training with mediocrity satisfied Goku, he would have never defeated the likes of Piccolo, Vegeta, or any of the other threats to earth. Thanks to the laundry list of badasses Goku faced and trained with, he became the supreme badass we know today.
Blaze Your Own Path
Yes and no. Just look at Goku's wardrobe. He entered his first tournament wearing Master Roshi's kame 亀 (turtle) logo and donned King Kai's kaiou 界王 (world king) logo before changing to his own go 悟 (enlightenment) logo.
After enjoying the tutelage of various masters, Goku becomes his own master. During his solo voyage to Namek, Goku trains alone – improving his techniques and making them his own. When he finally arrives on Namek, its under his own "go 悟" mark.
Although one needs others to learn from and aspire to, self discovery is also essential. By blazing our own paths we can make others' teachings our own and find what best works for us. Study Japanese from teachers, converse with native speakers, and then review alone to make what you learned concrete. Learn new techniques from masters and then practice alone to perfect them and make them your own.
While advocating both training with badasses and blazing your own path sounds contradictory, we can employ both strategies to reach maximum heights. Like Goku, utilize both tactics to build the best possible you.
Push the Limits, Then Rest
Follow the Kame school tenet – train hard and rest hard. Sayajin push their bodies to the limit and recover stronger than before. Dragon Ball's lesson is clear – rest is vital.
Hard work needs to be rewarded with rest and recovery. "Athletes (or anyone) must learn to toe the fine line of doing what is needed without overdoing it" (Selk). Overdoing it can grossly inhibit one's motivation, performance, and overall well being.
Similarly, mental exhaustion can lead to "difficulty concentrating, impaired creativity, and negative attitudes toward one's self, others, one's work and life" (Bartlett 130). In general overtraining and overstudying lead to inefficiency and unnecessary suffering. It's probably one reason, among many, that Vegeta is always so pissy.
Good old fashioned "R & R" gives muscles time to recover and grow and allows new information to soak in. Research shows sleep is beneficial for absorbing newly learned information and technique (Claudia Nagel). So whether pushing yourself physically or mentally take a break and come back refreshed for a renewed effort and maximized benefits.
When Bulma, Krillin, and Gohan head to Namek, Krillin and Gohan make the most of their downtime and space capsule's confined space by practicing visualization. The two meditate and envision battling one another. Although their level of psychic connection might be difficult to pull off in reality, visualization reaps big rewards.
Visualization is creating a mental picture of a situation, such as seeing yourself giving a speech, (taking a test, scoring a goal, etc.)… Also called mental rehearsal, visualization helps you overcome the mental and emotional causes of anxiety. (Verderber 35)
Through visualization, also called a "mental workout," we imagine the execution of our goal and positive results. Countless athletes (golf legend Jack Nicklaus, Olympic gymnasts Julianne McNamara and Peter Vidmar) swear by visualization, which builds confidence, increases efficiency, combats anxiety, and gives a sense of experience.
Scientists believe that we may experience real-world and imaginary actions in similar ways… Whether we walk on a mountain trail or only picture it, we activate many of the same neural networks – paths of interconnected nerve cells that link what your body does to the brain impulses that control it…. Imagining yourself doing movements can help you get better at them. (Rodriguez)
So if you're taking a test, imagine what it takes to perform your best – at your desk, opening your test booklet, reading the questions and knowing the answers. If your competing physically, imagine your techniques, be it throwing the perfect spiral, sinking a free-throw, and pulling off the perfect sequences in a karate kata.
Review Your Motivation
Goku and company rarely reviewed their motivation because it stared them in the face; as a matter of life or death for themselves, their loved ones, and the entire planet. In the first Tenkaichi Budōkai Tournament, Nam exemplifies the power of motivation, hoping to win the tournament and prize money to buy water for his drought stricken village.
During downtime review your motivation. Are you saving the planet? Helping others? Trying to land a new job? Supporting your family? Trying to be the best you?
In Running With Kenyans, Adharanand Finn proposes that one reason Kenya churns out great marathoners is that running provides an escape from poverty. Major race winnings prove life altering for the both runners and their families. Suffering in practice and the event can't compare to the everyday hardships the runners will face if they don't win.
Take it from Nam and periodically review your motivations. When we are worn, training becomes tiresome, and our drive wanes, it provides a much needed spark. Review them again before the big event, fueling your resolve down to the final stretch.
Don't Forget Your Routine, Sacrifices, or Motivation
From tournaments brimming with spectators to intergalactic face-offs, Goku always showed up, warmed up, and faced his next challenge.
Remember that routine you made? Don't abandon it now. Remember all the hours you sacrificed, don't let them go to waste. Continue on as you have. Different circumstances can't phase you now, you prepared for this!
Did Goku ever show up to a fight lacking pants? Maybe once. Did Goku ever show up to a fight lacking confidence? No.
Why? He knows he put in the time and effort. You did too. Think back to all of your sacrifices and, like Goku, let your preparation fuel your confidence.
Face Your Fears
Despite training under Master Roshi with Goku, Krillin lacked confidence when he had to face his former senpai, a fellow student from Orinji temple at the first Tenkaichi Budōkai Tournament. He even considered quitting until Goku convinced him to "give it his best shot." Krillin does and handedly beats his senpai's baldheaded ass.
Despite our preparations, many of us lose confidence down the stretch. When the time comes review your motivation and remember all your sacrifices. Don't get scared off when the finish line is in sight.
Take the test. Make the speech. Run the race. Don't let your fears sabotage all your preparation. Face them head on!
Sometimes, despite all the sacrifice, despite training with badasses, despite blazing our own paths and sticking to routine and considering our motivations, things still go wrong.
We lock up during a speech. Our minds go blank during a test. We are asked a question in Japanese and can't understand despite having studied the words and grammar being used.
At the start of Dragon Ball Z, Goku didn't even know he was Saiyajin. A few story arcs later he faced his toughest foe, Frieza, and things were not going well. Frieza crippled Vegeta, reduced Piccolo to a bystander, and blew Krillin to dust.
What did Goku do?
He let go. He got angry. And bam! He turned Super Saiyajin. "Five minutes" or about one hundred episodes later, Goku defeated Frieza.
Bruce Lee once said, "And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit, it hits all by itself… Any technique, however worthy and desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed with it."
Stressing over the situation makes it worse. When the going gets tough, relax and let go. Chances are routine will kick in and you'll regain your stride. Like Goku, by letting go we discover new abilities and reach heights we never knew we could achieve.
When the Dust Has Settled
One of Dragon Ball's greatest themes is that of forgiveness. Pure-hearted Goku befriends forgives everyone – from the jerk Krillin, to the corrupted Tien Shinhan, to the devil in Piccolo, to the fascist Saiyajin prince Vegeta, and most recently the god of destruction Beerus. At this point no one should be surprised if he befriends Frieza at the end of the new movie, Revival of F.
In fact, he would have become best buds with Frieza had Frieza ever chilled out. Of course in reality there's a point where our best interests lay in burning bridges (for Goku it came in the form of Frieza and Cell). But we can lead less stressful lives (like Goku) if we (like Goku) learn to forgive and forget.
Be a Life-Long Learner
Take it from the SSLLL (Super Saiyajin Life Long Learner) himself. Did Goku stop learning after he mastered the kamehameha? No. Was he satisfied after reaching the first level of kaiyoken? Or the second? Or third? No way. Had he been, he might have never learned the spirit bomb, teleportation, or reached Super Saiyajin…what level is he up to now?
Goku is a life long learner. He may take a rest, but he never gets stuck in a rut or loses his appetite for new experiences. And Goku's satisfaction doesn't lie in victory itself but in the constant act of learning, improving, and challenging himself.
Never stop learning. Smell opportunity and take advantage. Recognize and even relish your accomplishments, then move on to the next goal.
Enjoy the Journey
Vegeta spends most of Dragon Ball Z frustrated, unsatisfied, and unhappy. While Goku trains with a smile, Vegeta wears a scowl (and the occasional pink shirt). He takes no joy in the process, never achieves his goal, and subjects himself to a long, angry journey. But by the end of the Buu saga, when Vegeta finally sits back and lets it all soak in, he comes to a realization.
Yet you (Goku) showed mercy to everyone, even your fiercest enemies, even me… You fought to test your limits and push yourself beyond them, to become the strongest you could possibly be… It makes me angry just thinking about it. But perhaps it's my anger that's made me blind to the truth for so long. I see it now… You're better than me Kakarot. You're the best.
Don't be Vegeta; or at least don't be the Vegeta that took about 250 episodes to relax. Remember: it isn't about the goal, it's about the journey to achieve it. In 10-Minute Toughness, Tom Selk advises, "Remember that you stand to experience more joy and satisfaction from striving to reach your goals than from actually achieving them."
Like Goku, enjoy the journey. When you face your next challenge, enjoy the process. No matter the outcome of the effort, value the experiences and progress made in challenging it.
Unleashing That Saiyajin In All of Us
So next time you watch Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z or any other series please enjoy it! But allow the lessons they offer to motivate you to face new challenges and become the best version of you that you can be.
RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan sums it up best, "Today I believe we've all got a Saiyan inside us… That's what we're all trying to reach, through all the chambers of our lives."