I had to learn how to hit and how to fight, and that’s where I met a guy who changed the direction of my life and made me want to be a coach: my tae-kwon-do instructor.

We had no money, and in Scotland, when you have no money, you get a clothing grant, which gives you a school uniform. Nobody else has to wear a school uniform. It screams, “You’re poor.” But it’s cool because kids know you’re poor, and kids are cool. They don’t mind. They don’t make fun of you at all. So you end up in several altercations.

RECENT: Strength Training: Your Secret Weapon for Sport

Has anyone ever had a client that just disappears, and you reach out, and you’re like, “What happened to that client who stopped coming and didn’t renew?” Well, we couldn’t really afford tae-kwon-do anymore. I just knew I wasn’t going to be that guy. I went to tell my instructor, and I said, “Listen, I can’t afford lessons. But I’m not quitting, and I’ll be back when my dad gets a job.”

I still don’t really know why he did this, but he said, “You’ll be back on Wednesday, and you’ll teach the kids' class.” Now a lot of people thought he taught me for free — no, he didn’t. He gave me an opportunity to become a coach. In 1986, I started coaching tae-kwon-do with the kids.

This was the moment where it changed the absolute direction of my life because a coach gave a shit. Now you’re that kind of person in someone’s life, whether you realize it or not. At that point, I was a blue belt, and I was going nowhere. I ended up becoming a fourth-degree black belt, winning seven national titles, UK national titles, getting European World medals, and that’s how I got the visa to come to the United States.

He did something else for me, my instructor. I remember him pulling me aside one day and saying, “Do you realize you learned tae-kwon-do? And you’ve learned kickboxing?”

I was like, “Yeah.”

“No, you learned it.”

I’m like, “Yeah,” thinking he’s obviously been kicked in the head too many times.

“No, you learned it, and here’s what I want you to understand: if you can learn this, you can learn anything. You can be as good as anyone that ever lived. If you can read, you can learn anything that anyone has ever learned. You’ve just got to want it.”

I use reading to describe this because that’s how I consume information. But now you’ve got podcasts, now you’ve got YouTube, now you’ve got educational tapes, and you’ve got live events you can go to. I can tell you how long it takes to write a book and publish it. I can tell you how long it takes to read it, and you can catch up in a week or so by just reading that stuff, but you’ve got to want it.

Some people will say, “I don’t like reading.” But you’d better fucking like learning. Here’s the thing: if you don’t learn like your life depends on it, you’re wrong because it does. That’s the difference maker. Education is the single biggest difference maker you’ve got, and other than fitness, it’s the one thing you have absolute control over. There’s no excuse to be outworked; there’s no excuse that someone should be able to outlearn you.

An hour a day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. An hour a day of Netflix is easy for a lot of people. Within five years of an hour a day, you’ll be a national authority, and within seven years, you’ll be a world authority.

RELATED: What It Means to "Pass On"

This is easy to do, but it’s easy not to do. It requires discipline. I think it’s Dan John who said, “Before you ask me about supplements, I want you to answer, ‘Did you floss today?’ Because we know flossing works. We know that flossing is inexpensive and takes very little effort, and it’s even being implicated in lowering inflammation and heart disease. If you don't floss, don’t ask me about NO Explode Kreatine Pump.”

Also, my dental hygienist... you could floss three times a day and she still wouldn’t be happy at all. She doesn’t care. I’ve never tried flossing three times a day. I suspect even if I did, she’d still be mad because she said, the last time I’ve seen her, “You’re bleeding a little bit.”

I’m like, “Yeah, there’s a fucking knife on my gum because of you! That’s why! I’m not a research scientist, but I can see a correlation here. It doesn’t bleed when I’m on my own; it only bleeds when you’re here.”

Understand this: studying. Out-educate your competition. I will not be outlearned. I will read more books than anybody. I try to read a book a week, and I get mad when I don’t. It’s hard; when I was in college, it was tough to find information. You had to go to libraries — you know, it’s a place where there are physical books — and you have to find journals and read them and see if it has anything of merit. If it has anything of merit, you can take it downstairs and put it on a machine called a “photocopier” and it will take a photo of the page for you. Now that’s been replaced by Google.

The problem with Google is you don’t know what the fuck you’re looking at. The skill you need to have now is not just to learn; it’s to decide what to ignore. Selective ignorance is a skillset you need to learn in college — who to ignore and who not to listen to, because it’s different nowadays.

I do not say this to impress you; I say this to impress upon you that if a kid who grew up with unemployed parents in the roughest town in the poorest country in Western Europe at the time, which was Scotland, can move to the United States, get cancer twice and open up two seven-figure fitness businesses in the most competitive market in the world, which is Southern California, I don’t want to hear your shit. Trust me, I’m not that smart. I’ve just done a few things right, and I’m going to share those things with you as best as I can.

Adapted from Alwyn Cosgrove's 2019 SSTSS presentation.

Alwyn Cosgrove is an international Tae kwon-do champion who has utilized his personal experiences as an athlete and combined them with advanced theories of European Sports Science and the principles of modern strength and conditioning systems. He has worked with a wide variety of clients, including several Olympic- and national-level athletes, five World Champions, and professionals in a multitude of sports, including boxing, martial arts, soccer, ice skating, football, fencing, triathlon, rugby, bodybuilding, and dance and fitness competitions. Follow him on Instagram @alwyncosgrove.