The discipline, power, precision and fluidity of judo is hardly an easy thing to master.
Even if you start young, as Jesse Smith did, the process can be tedious and difficult to become successful.
There has to be a natural feel for the techniques and the leverage involved in gaining control of the opponent trying to do the same exact thing to you.
It was clear early on that Smith wasn't one of the gifted ones.
"When he first came in you could knock him over with a feather," his sensei Rich Moss said. "He put in the sweat, time and worked extremely hard to better himself."
The Mountain Pointe junior has put in plenty of work, but when he first got into judo in 2006 there was a natural ease to it.
"I started out in marital arts, did a little jiu-jitsu, but when I got into judo I knew I found my place," Smith said. "There was just something about the contact and the skills that made me want to keep getting better."
He started winning state events against his peers, and then it progressed to winning adult tournaments instead of youth events.
Today, Smith is considered one of the country's best junior 90kg (198 pounds) competitors, and will participate in the Flanders Cup Oct. 29-30 in Belgium as the U.S. representative on the Junior National Team.
"I am really excited to represent the U.S.," Smith said. "It will be my first time against international competition. I hope it helps me get noticed by the Olympic coaches and shows them I can be someone they can use in the future."
Smith is on path to being an Olympic hopeful for future games and has already had contact with 2012 U.S. Olympic coach Jimmy Pedro.
"I went to one of his clinics at winter nationals," Smith said. "I got to talking to him and I hope I get to work with him in the future."
For now, Smith is concentrating on getting 100 percent for the Flanders Cup after having to miss the Junior Pan-Am Games because of a dislocated kneecap sustained in practice on Aug. 1. Since Smith is in one of the heavier weight classes, the competition isn't as fierce as compared to lower weights.
That won't be the case in Belgium, as Smith faces his toughest test to date.
"I was disappointed I missed the Pan-Am Games, but it just made me more focused for Belgium," he said. "I want to see how I match up against the different styles from around the world."
Smith got his start at the state-of-the-art Southwest Judo Academy in Mesa, where he has been the pupil of senseis Dave Faulker, Yahya Houssni and Moss.
"They have been tremendous," said Smith's father, Scott. "He had some taekwondo background, but from the very beginning they have said what a quick learner he is. He is a competitor and they really helped get every ounce of potential out of him."
The younger Smith has Olympic dreams, as expected, among elite judo competitors, but also has his eyes on a possible Mix Martial Arts career.
"I want to be an Olympian, that is my No. 1 goal as it is for anyone in judo," said Smith, who also wants to be a sensei. "I know I have to get better and (events like the Flanders Cup) will help me get there, but there is a part of me that wants to give the MMA a try. I don't know when that will be, but I could see it being something I try."
Until that crossroad, Smith is ready to stick with what comes natural.
"It's a small group of people who can say they are on the Junior National team," he said. "I'm one of them and, hopefully, we go over there and win gold. That's why I compete in something like this. It will be great to get the experience, but I also want to be recognized as the best."
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.