• Cass Lau

Lessons from Shoukugeki no Soma 食戟のソーマ

I recently rewatched one of my favourite animes on Netflix (despite waiting ages for the 4th and final season to be released), just because i’ve been on this food-tube/instafood binge lately — maybe a side effect of tracking my nutrition pretty closely that i have to live vicariously through watching Bon Apetit make donuts, and anime characters cook off.

Anyway back to the anime, the protagonist is one Yukihira Soma. A young boy brought up by a single dad who ran a diner renowned (in its neighbourhood) for its amazing food to its customers. Soma and his dad would have cooking battles in a daily basis, but he never won a single one.

He was eventually sent to the top culinary school in Japan where he would face battle after battle to “survive” the school. His avant-garde techniques were not well received, but he won many of the wars he was put to. Those he lost he took it as a learning point, but he would never stop trying despite his setbacks.

His coursemates on the other hand, would saunter into the school with their family’s names, accolades, like a chip on their shoulder. They’d look down on Soma for his finer history. Their journeys would always start off with so much passion, only to fizzle out in the face of competition. Because it’s easy to START WELL. But it’s not easy to FINISH STRONG.

Ok yadayadayada what’s the point of this lengthy introduction Cass... please get-to-the-point.


Saiba Joichiro, the protagonist’s father, a legend of his time who won every single battle he was set to fight, even the hundreds against his own son made a profound statement:

“Soma lacks something any normal person would have. See, anyone wants to believe that it’s obvious to lose to someone more talented. But Soma doesn’t have that defense mechanism. They want to lower their expectations to protect their pride, self-respect, and similar sorts of things. He has the strength to face his inadequacies head on.”

- Saiba Joichiro, Food Wars (Shoukugeki no Soma: 食戟のソーマ)

I had to press pause the show to think.

Would I use my “inadequacies” as an “excuse” to underperform. Let’s take out the quotation marks. I would use my abilities at my current level as an excuse to underperform against someone who was clearly of a different level.

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t TRY to do my best, but that creates a safety net for me to fall on if i want to (1) give up, or (2) not be the best in my field.

Saiba calls it a “defense mechanism”, which we call upon to protect ourselves from disappointment of failure.

But what are we defending against? Ourselves? Judgement from others? Why should we fear failure? KNOWING THAT the fear of failure creates more mental roadblocks from pushing for our potential. Because fear is powerful and it is crippling.

That is when we need to figure out what is our anchor. What is the one thing we can remind ourselves or fix our eyes on with the goal in sight?

A good starting point would be to figure out what would be the consequences for failure. Usually the outcome is a loss of self-esteem. I’d argue that would be worth giving up for the things I could learn if I tried. I’d rather live not regretting than die not having tried.

Easier said than done. I’m not sure if this is a “Singaporean thing” but we tend to apologise before we even start to do anything.

“Sorry if I hold you back.”

“Sorry i’m really bad at this (movement), i’m going to slow you down.”

“Sorry if I mess up.”

(pardon the team sports references. you must understand that I am enroute to a team comp and this is the field i’m in)

While that used to be my default opening line in team workouts, I am learning to apologise AFTER the fact (ask for forgiveness. not permission — also something I learned from Christina, a kickass mum to the cutest baby girl). Because when we do that, a team’s high morale can be dampened with perceived inadequacy.

One of the workouts will call for a bar muscleup, which I am unable to do. And I had to catch myself in my response when my teammate Ditt said “hey Cass, ready for your first Bar Muscle Up?”

The default Cass would have replied, “uh no lah (colloquial English i.e. Singlish), I guess we have to settle for one less rep.” or if I wanted to push it a little I would’ve said “ah let’s see ok, I don’t think we’ll get there.” Instead I chose to respond with, “hey, let’s see. Give me enough time to attempt my first bar muscle up.”

And just that simple switch in mindset can be so empowering not just for me, but my team as well.

And like Soma, we must chose to use our failures to fuel our fire to desire success. We must chose to believe that the battle is already won before we even fight. Because that mindset sets us up to expect and enjoy success. And that in itself is a battle won.

It also helps that I have a God whom I can call upon when I am struck with fear. His name gives me comfort to move forward even in seemingly insurmountable tasks. His presence picks me up when i chose to run head first into adversity even if I fail, because I know He is in control of the outcome.

Going into the weekend there are so many things that may wrong and that want to go wrong. Things we cannot anticipate (like the CrossFit Games this year with the cuts!?), but we must choose to face our challenges head on, EXCITED about the uncertainty, and fluid with our plans.

We’ve started well. So let’s finish strong.

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