Monthly Archives: November 2011

Agoge Defined

So what does Agoge mean? How the heck do you say it and why on earth did I pick such an unusual name for my business?

Second things first. Agoge is pronounced ə-ˈgō-gē (ah-go-ghee).

And first it was the name that Spartan Greeks gave to the school or camp young boys joined in their sixth or seventh year. Spartan society was, well, spartan. There was only one career track for a citizen and that was soldier. If you weren’t a citizen then you were a slave and responsible for meeting all the necessary requirements of civilization. Citizens voted, trained and fought and that was about it.

Spartan society was tribal.  Everyone lived for the perpetuation of the whole. The greatest thing a citizen could do was to die in defense of Sparta. Spartan wives were famed for sending their husbands into battle with the loving phrase, “Husband, return with your shield, or on it.”

Given that war was the sole occupation of a Spartan citizen, his education was devoted to that sole purpose as well. The Greeks were a lot more broad minded than we are today and the arts of war were much more varied than “Parrying 101” and graduate level courses in stabbing. Spartans were equally concerned with developing the spirit of a soldier.  The arts were included in their training as they emboldened the soldier and built a more courageous warrior.

So, at age six or seven young boys were taken from their mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunts. They were removed from female company and brought into the society of men. Their training was at times what we would consider abusive. They learned to fight, steal, lie and cheat. If caught they were severely punished.  These acts themselves were not seen as crimes. What was punished was being caught. A solider must be resourceful and consider all means at his disposal in the carrying out of his duty, the defense of Sparta.

Of special note is the philosophy of Spartan warfare. This was defensive in nature. A Spartan’s primary tool was not his sword or spear, but his shield. Spartans fought in a phalanx whose strength came from unity. One’s shield protected the soldier on his left. This is why a soldier would be forgiven losing his helmet, his spear, and even his sword but never his shield. A Spartan lived for the protection of others with no thought for himself. As I said, to die in defense of Sparta was the ultimate goal.

The Agoge then was the school that produced this soldier. From early boyhood until the age of twenty-one boys lived, trained and sometimes died in the Agoge.

Two and a half years ago I was transitioning my business from a personal training service into something more. I was looking to have a broader impact, to reach more people and to affect their lives in a deeper more meaningful way. Part of this process involved branding my business.

There were several factors at play which ultimately led me in the direction I took and caused me to choose such an unlikely name.

The first was a certification under Zach Even-Esh and his Underground Strength Program. I had been following Zach for over a year, following him on YouTube.  He produced a ton of online content, both free and for pay and his product was solid. He is unforgiving, honest and direct. His passion is clear and most important is that he cares. He cares enough to tell you the truth, painful or not, whether you’re ready for it or not.

Zach put out a call for an Inspiration Contest. He wanted applicants to produce a short video explaining what strength training had done for them. Originally, I had no intention of entering the contest. I did, however, send Zach an email thanking him for his inspiration and speaking a little about what strength training had done for me and how much I had changed because of it.

To my surprise he wrote me back. He wrote me back and he challenged me to produce a video. I would have felt like a total schmoe to refuse or ignore this request/challenge. So, I made one and entered.  A few days later, I found out I won the contest.

The contest was in September and in April of the next year I was in New Jersey attending the cert.

It was there I saw the potential of what my business could be.

Around the same time I was reading Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. Gates of Fire is an historical fiction about the battle of Thermopylae, where a small regiment of Spartan soldiers held back the hordes of Xerxes for three days, ultimately giving their lives so that the rest of Greece could muster and eventually drive back the Persian invasion.

I was struck and inspired by Pressfield’s accounting of Spartan society. He was able to bring the Spartan ideal to full light and present a whole man, one capable of great strength and astounding tenderness. This book has become my own personal ideal and some of it’s characters are to me paragons of manhood, ideals to be ascribed to.

Around the same time, the movie 300 was gaining traction and very much in the forefront of popular culture.

So, I was looking for a way to brand myself and personify the ideals I held important as a person and a trainer. I began to focus on my own story and the transformational power strength training had revealed to me.

I have been a personal trainer for seven years now. Prior to that I was a mechanic who worked on machines that handled mail for a bulk mailing operation, before that a chef, before that a carpenter. I’ve made pizzas, built pallets, and tried to control the insect population in a large commercial greenhouse. While my first job at 14 was in construction, my high school years were spent as an office aide to a local economic development organization. Aside from the office job in high school my average shelf life for any job was about two years. That’s usually how long it took me to realize I absolutely hated what I was doing.

My parents married very young and because they were pregnant with me. My mother did not love my father and their eleven years of marriage were difficult at best. Their divorce was ugly and left lots of collateral damage. Mom left Dad for another woman. This was 1983. I grew up in what I like to call a ‘Kate and Alley’ household, lesbian parents in all but name.

Life in ‘the closet’ is not healthy. You’re always watching your words, trying to keep a secret, not revealing your true self. Over time you begin to think that maybe the real reason you hide is because there’s something wrong with you. You’re not good enough. Your self esteem suffers.

Fast forward a dozen years and life was better, but those old wounds still hung around. I was married and starting a family but I still didn’t believe in myself. Everything good that had happened was a fluke and any day now she’d wake up and realize her mistake. I was just waiting for the inevitable, making the most of what little reprieve God had granted me.

I was introduced to marijuana my sophomore year in high school and we bonded immediately. I remained a recreational smoker through high school and college, but it wasn’t until after my first child was born that it became a problem. As was right and natural and necessary, all of Samantha’s attentions were on her. That left little for me and I felt as though the ‘inevitable’ had occurred, only it was worse because Samantha was still around. I knew it was small and petty and ridiculous. My daughter was awesome and I was just as much in love with her, but somehow I was still missing what I had had. So I just started “taking care of myself.”

The occasional trip “out back” or to “the garage” became more frequent and I began staying high all day every day. This basically continued for the next ten years.

I became what you would consider a “heavy user.” I smoked on average an ounce of marijuana a week–by myself. I made very poor decisions, all of them based on keeping me in supply. I had a few narrow brushes with the law. By any definition, I was an addict.

Somehow I was lucky and never “really screwed up.” I managed to keep my jobs, even though I hated them. We paid our bills, even if I did squander our savings. I was a passable father and husband. No where near what my wife and children deserved. No where near what I was capable of.

During my tenure at the hated mechanic’s gig I started attending a kung fu class at a local gym. I had been studying Tai Chi for years, had even taught a class, but this class was something different. It was hard and it challenged me and when it was over I really felt like I had done something. I became a regular and over the next year as I began to contemplate my escape from yet another job that “wasn’t working out” I began to think in terms of careers that would help keep me in shape for kung fu. A co-worker who worked part time at the YMCA suggested personal training. I decided to give it a try.

I struggled for a year. I worked at the Jewish Community Center, taught Tai Chi and a few other group fitness classes and continued to get high.

All the while though I was working on myself. I lost twenty five pounds, started a running routine and explored every style of training I was exposed to. I had a knack for training and a natural understanding of biomechanics.

After a year of struggling at the “J” I met Trey Beasley and started training at his gym, Lakeview Personal Fitness. This was the same gym where my kung fu group met and so I had an in. After a short trial I won Trey’s confidence and he began to send clients my way. In a few months my business was thriving.

I started at Lakeview in October. That Christmas we spent on the coast. I was my usual self, taking frequent trips to our upstairs bedroom for a “little refresher” but by New Year’s I had run out. Marijuana’s not really something you can pop down to the corner store and stock up on. I decided I would follow another friend’s lead and take the month of January “off.”

By the end of January I had a whole new perspective. The first few weeks were hard. I had begun reading A Million Little Pieces and it provided the perfect mirror. My new clarity of mind allowed me to see just how much of a junkie I had become.

I began to forge a new me. Not so much a new me, but a refined me. I stripped away all the crap, all the lies, all the bullshit. I threw myself whole heartedly into training. If I wasn’t training a client, I was training myself.

In time this process became the basis for my business. I knew I had no future with rehab clients, per se, but I cold see how the transformation, the uncovering of one’s true self through hard work and persistence was universal. It was this I wanted to share with my clients.

The Agoge is the perfect metaphor for what my gym is. It is a crucible, a proving ground, a place where people can come to uncover their true natures and to discover their worth. I took the tag line “Everyone has potential…What’s yours?” as a way to challenge people, to ask them to reach inside themselves and discover how great they truly are. Hard work becomes the fire that refines the spirit.

I embraced both the name and the spirit of the Agoge, but there are differences. My gym is open to people of all walks of life. I train men and women, of all ages and all abilities. Everyone has an opportunity at Agoge Fitness Systems.  No one who wants to train will ever be turned away.  I like to train groups because in a group you find that you’re stronger than when you’re by yourself. You work harder and grow more. That to me is the essence of life, an unceasing quest to grow and improve, one glorious step at a time.



Filed under Addiction, Fitness, Personal Development, Personal Training, Recovery, Strength Training

Carb Hangover

I recently went to a dinner party hosted by some friends from my daughters’ school.

As someone who leads what could arguably be called an “alternative” lifestyle I wondered what exceptions I might need to make to my diet for the evening.

Neville is an excellent chef. I’ve eaten his food many times before and greatly enjoyed it.

However, for the last year I have been following a very low carb diet. In fact my sole source of carbohydrates for the last four months have been vegetables. While my diet is not strictly Paleo it is sympathetic with this new/old way of eating.

For those of you not familiar, the Paleo Diet takes the assumption that there are very few real changes between the physiology of 21st Century humans and our Paleolithic ancestors. Therefore, it is argued that the ideal human diet, one that promotes optimal health and vitality, is the diet our early ancestors ate.

The whole concept takes the idea that in our natural state we instinctively knew what was best for us. This concept is by no means new. Various texts, from Genesis and the Garden of Eden, to Lao-tsu and the Tao Te Jing, to the writings of the Romanticists, tell of a time when humans “knew” how to live. Harmonious existence was a natural part of our existence. Knowledge took us away from this harmony and allowed our “clever” minds to distract us with technology and the age old costs of advancement.

The early humans were pre-agricultural. We have no clear record of what they ate and so can only guess intelligently. Early humans were hunters and gatherers, so it is assumed that their diets consisted of meat and fish, seasonal fruits, nuts and above ground vegetables. In essence that means no bread, rice, pasta, refined sugar, or potatoes.

The Paleo diet has been called a revival of Atkins. It is also know as the “Caveman Diet.”

I have always said that optimal health was of primary importance. I cannot, however, deny that looking better has not been a part of my own motivations for diet and exercise. Sure, as a trainer and health authority it is important that my physical form reflect health and as I’ve said before, healthy is naturally beautiful. But it should not go un-noted that I am not above my own vanity.

All of my life I have struggled with body fat and the negative self image that goes along with it. Fear of being fat has been a significant motivational stick throughout my own training. Often I have gotten in my own way, through over training, poor stress management and an improper diet.

Starting in January I started making significant progress. I switched over to Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb diet and pounds started melting off. I lost twenty pounds in two months. It was then that I fully grasped the significance of diet in fat loss. You cannot out exercise a bad diet.

Tim’s diet involves absolutely no sugars or starches and promotes eating meats, healthy fats, vegetables and legumes. After a few months I became tired of eggs and beans for breakfast and started making smoothies with whole milk. The pounds began to creep back on. After I had gained back ten pounds I realized something was wrong.

Around mid summer, I dropped my milk consumption. I started making my breakfast smoothies with a sugar free coconut milk. I began working toward switching my metabolism from a carbohydrate or glucose burning system to a fat burning system. That means outside of vegetables I removed all dietary carbs and increased my fat intake. Body fat began to melt away again.

So what does all this have to do with my dinner party?

Neville is from New Zealand. He frequently serves a traditional dish of meat and vegetable filled pies. They taste quite delicious. In addition, one of the few lessons my momma did manage to teach me was that as a guest you eat whatever is put in front of you.

I figured one cheat meal in four months was no great crime. I ate several muffin sized pies and even ate desert. Neville serves, amongst many other things, ANZAC biscuits. ANZAC stands for Australian/New Zealand Army Corp and the biscuits (we call them cookies) were a recipe sent to the troops. They last forever and consist of golden syrup (cane syrup), coconut and oats. They are absolutely delicious.

So my total consumption of grains for the evening consisted of four or five pies, two cookies and four, maybe five, New Zealand beers. It’s here that I should note that I divulge from the Paleo crowd as I feel that grains are excellent when drunk. I make it a habit to drink a single glass of rye whiskey after dinner most week nights and will drink a few beers over the weekend. Guinness Foreign Extra is my personal favorite, just in case you’re coming over.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Neville’s. The food was excellent as was the company. I left feeling good and quite happy.

The next morning, not so much. I first woke around 4:30 am nauseous and uncomfortable. I was never out right sick, but it took a dose of homeopathic Dyspepsia for my stomach and some Ibuprofen for my headache before I could get back to sleep.

The next day I had the most curious hangover. While I wouldn’t call myself a heavy drinker I am not unfamiliar with the alcohol hangover. This was a different animal entirely. I just felt “off” all day. Mentally I was pre-occupied with my digestive system and it was not until dinner time that I felt right again. Working in the garden and delivering firewood did much to restore my spirits.

I can only view this as a “carb hangover.”

It is viewed in some circles that most of us have unwittingly a wheat allergy. We don’t know it because wheat is so insidious in our modern diets. A quick perusal of the aisles in your grocery store will reveal that wheat gluten finds itself in near 0% of the ingredient lists found there.

Our bodies have a unique habit. Any message your body sends back to the brain that becomes chronic enough gets relegated to background noise and ignored. Essentially what happens is that noise, pain, nausea, or any of a host of sensations, when they become constant enough just get shut off in your consciousness. The sensations are still there but the signals interfere with what the brain considers more pertinent information. It says, “Yeah, yeah I know you hurt. You’ve been hurting for weeks. Hey, does that chicken smell bad?”

What I’m saying is that wheat made me feel bad all along. I just couldn’t tell it because I’d eaten it all my life. Once I fully got it out of my system and then reintroduced it I was able to feel the way it made me feel all over again.

You may be the same way. Or, you may not.

The only way to know for sure is to take a break. Pay attention to your diet and eliminate all sources of wheat for thirty days. Then slowly reintroduce it and see what happens.

Finding your own ideal diet is a highly personal process. You are unique and only through an honest dialog with yourself will you find those foods you respond best to. There are a ton of different styles of eating and some of them make a good template or platform from which you can begin your dialog, but only you can know which foods suit you best.

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