Monthly Archives: May 2012

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The bottom line is: I screwed up. I completely underestimated how long it would take to get through the security line at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on a Thursday morning at 5:30 am.

As I made my way from the check-in kiosk at the Southwest Airlines counter I was confronted with a line of people extending far beyond the switch back of the cattle lanes and out of my line of sight. Crap. I made my way to the end of the line and began to study my watch. Five-thirty for a six am flight was clearly not early enough.

Miraculously, the line moved quickly enough and I managed to slide through with the hope that I might make the gate in time. In my defense I did make the gate by 5:55–only to be informed that the plane had already left.

The Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport was experiencing some technical difficulties; power had gone out in the night and the restoration of air conditioning was of prime importance. The restoration of the public announcement system was lower down the list of priorities which is why I missed hearing my name called.

Having missed my flight my only option was to wait stand-by and hope a seat came available on another flight. I opened up my laptop and started to write. Within minutes I was interrupted by a tan bottle blonde in her early sixties with one of those super short “sensible” haircuts. She told me all about her grandchildren, the graduation she was going to in Chicago, her husband in Munroe, her daughter and her jailbird husband and how he had cut her with a broken bottle, her own various medical ailments and a desire to go to Texas. She also showed me with a visible tear in her eye a photo of a bearded dragon she had kept as a pet and dear companion for six years. It’s sad, lifeless body lay alonside a lily in a tissue paper lined shoebox.

My first standby option was to fly to Chicago and then catch a flight on to Newark from there. It occured to me that I might just have to fly with this woman. If that was to be the case then so be it–perhaps it was my penance for having missed my original flight.

Not so. The flight was full and I had to wait. My next option was a flight to Baltimore and then a transfer to Newark. The Baltimore flight left at 11:05 and when it landed would give me fifteen minutes to get to the gate for my flight to Newark. In order to hedge my bets I checked in with Delta. I could get a flight to Atlanta and then on to Newark for $215. It left at 1:15. A costly mistake to be sure but certainly better than missing the conference. I hung up with the operator saying I’d call back and checked in with the attendant at Southwest.

“That’s a pretty good price,” she said. “I think I’d probably take it. There’s no gurantee you’re going to make the 11 am to Baltimore.”

So I called back Delta only to find that the only seats left on the 1:15 to Atlanta were now $400. Crap. Now it was time to do something. I bought a ticket to Newark via Atlanta through Delta for $215. It left at 6:30 pm and I’d land in Newark after midnight. For fifty bucks more I could take a standby seat on the 1:15 if one was available. I then made sure I was on standby for the 11:05 to Baltimore with the intentions of cancelling the Delta flight if I made it.

I made it.

The next to last person to board a full plane, I managed to score a seat between a very large couple escorting their one year old grandson up to Boston. They were originally from Pennsylvania, he’s a bridge builder and they now live in Gadsden, Alabama. I made eyes at their tow headed grandson and assured his grandmother that I had three daughters of my own and was quite comfortable with whatever he could dish out.

As it turned out both the boy and his grandfather sacked out for the better part of flight. Leaving his grandmother and I to discuss the culture shock of transferring from New England to rural Alabama, the complete lack of decent bread in her area, her husband being mistaken for a Soprano style wise guy by the locals, tattoos and finally the death of her teenage son, Anthony, nineteen months ago for whom her grandson was named. How do I do this?

My transfer time in Baltimore turned out to be closer to five minutes. I made the flight to Newark with seconds to spare and was blissfully ignored by my seat mate for the better part of the flight. Once in Newark I took the Airtrain to the train station. Four stops. Count ‘em and for godsakes don’t get off in the wrong place. Actually the airport isn’t that bad. As big as it is there are lots of guides all standing around in red coats ready and willing to direct you. And yes, I asked for directions and often.

Once at the train station I caught the train to Metuchen. Apparently the air wasn’t working or was non-existant on the train. The Arabic guy in front of me was about to lose it from the heat and stuffiness and kept hoping up and pacing and standing in front of the doors for fresh air every time they opened.

In Metuchen I shared a car with a young African woman, who was very pretty and very quiet. I kept to myself and gave her her space as we rode in silence. Hers was the first stop and within minutes of her getting off I got to know Marty, my driver.

Understand, it wasn’t like I said, “Hey, my name’s Dave. I’m from Alabama. What’s your story?” But by the end of the ten dollar fare I knew he’s lived in New Jersey since he was five, is originally from Naples, Itlay, that New Jersey drivers are the worst and that Europeans and especially Italians are the best drivers. Indian women are in his opinion the worst drivers and he cited a few outlandish stories to back up his claim. Just how does one drive through a liquor store to such an extent that you demolish five rows of liquor? I tipped him five bucks because he took me by an ATM and if he wasn’t already he is now my new best friend.

So now I’m sitting in my hotel room, decompressing really, and looking forward to getting something to eat. Oh yeah, did I mention? I’m on the Warrior Diet these days and haven’t had anything to eat since coffee at 6 am?

The Underground Strength Conference, hosted by Zach Even-Esh, is tomorrow. It’s why I’m in New jersey and I’m totally stoked. There will be all kinds of speakers over the next few days: Elliott Hulse, Matt Wichlinski, Jason C. Brown, guys I don’t know but am excited to meet and a mystery speaker Zach’s been raving about for weeks. I know it will be exciting, but can he top today?

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Fighting the Air

I met a fighter this past weekend in St. Pete.  A real fighter.  Michael De La Pava, Miami Mike we called him.  That was so we could separate him from Tight Mike, who was from Queens, a boxer himself, who but for age and experience might just as well be the subject of this essay.

I’ve never seen Mike fight, but I know he can bang.  How?

His whole bearing speaks of it.  Early Saturday morning, as we made our introductions he said he was a Muay Thai instructor and mentioned he had a few fights under his belt.  He stated this simply with no need for embellishment.  I’ve learned over several years of interaction in the martial arts world, the more a dog barks, the less fight he actually has in him.  Mike was not barking.

Muay Thai is a kickboxing style that comes from Thailand.  It’s been popularized in film by actors like Jean Claude Van Damme and Tony Jaa.  It’s a very physically demanding art and practitioners learn to give and take massive amounts of punishment in the form of punches, elbows, knees and kicks.  It’s also a very traditional style whose history reaches into antiquity.

In Thailand a whole culture surrounds the art with fighters joining their respective camps at very young ages, sometimes as early as three or four.  They eat, train and sleep with their camp, integrating themselves into a larger fight family.  Even as young children their lives center around Muay Thai.  They contribute to the functioning and sustenance of the camp, beginning their own training by five or six and entering their first fight somewhere between ten and twelve.  By twenty-one most fighters are ready to retire with several hundred fights under their belts.  Once retired successful fighters parlay their experience into coaching careers.

Traditional Muay Thai, even as practised by non-Thai, involves an elaborate pre-fight ceremonial dance where the fighter shows honor to the ring, the audience, his coach and most importantly his opponent.

Mike’s humility speaks more to his experience and prowess in the ring than any bragging ever could.  Not once did we hear a story about how he had some poor slob up against the ropes or of the power and might of his feet and fists.  Instead we heard of the sacrifice it takes to be a fighter, the discipline and the dedication.  Long hours of training, strict diets, the mental focus that excludes everything but the fight.  One fight might take three to five months worth of discipline and sacrifice–sacrifice that comes from not just himself, but his friends and loved ones as well.

He’s the first to admit that humility is one of the first and most lasting of the lessons of a true fighter..  My own martial arts experience began with Tai Chi and progressed into traditional karate and kung fu styles.  Each of these are respectable arts steeped in history and tradition, but they are also taught as no-contact arts.  The foundation of each of them is in kata or forms, choreographed patterns of movement designed to teach the fundamental movements of each respective style.  Back in the day this was how a student was introduced to the ‘toolbox’ of movements contained in each style.  After having mastered each of these ‘tools’ a student then learned how to free form these movements and eventually to fight.  As such a modern student learns how to fight the air, all the while building his fantasy world with support and illustration from the latest Hollywood blockbuster or a classic chop-socky from Hong Kong’s heyday.

In antiquity the ultimate aim of all fighting styles was fighting.  The style itself was a form of martial technology, the information contained therein guarded as precious military secrets.  Today the practice of most traditional styles is an exercise in historical preservation, an admirable pursuit, the downside of which is that many a youngster grows up in his style or school thinking he can fight when he has actually has no real experience fighting.  The end result is often the dirty little secret of martial arts schools–the all too common story of a young, foolish black belt picking a fight with an untrained, but experienced kid on the street and getting his ass handed to him.

An early lesson of anyone who does fight is that no matter how big and bad you think you are, there’s always someone out there who is bigger and badder.  A true fighter is humble, he’s had his share of wins and losses and has a realistic view of himself.  He knows a fight can turn on the slightest of insignificances and that often the winner is nothing more than the one who wanted it more.

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Strengthcamp, May 2012

“FUCK YOU!  FUCK YOU!  I HATE YOU!  FUCK YOU!” I am screaming at the top of my lungs.  With every shout I am hitting a padded massage table with a tennis racket, as hard as I can.

After several minutes of doing ungodly violence to the table with the racket I switch to pumping my elbows behind me, with force and velocity.  A violent shrugging meant to do harm, “GET OFF MY BACK!  FUCK YOU!  GET OFF MY BACK!”  Again this goes on for an uncomfortably long time.  Part of me wonders what the guys deadlifting in the other room are thinking, the rest of me is in full blown cartharsis and really doesn’t give a shit.  There are demons to be purged and purge them I will.

Once again I’m at Elliott Hulse’s gym in St. Petersburg, Florida and once again I am outside my comfort zone.  Elliott earned my trust a long time ago, his commitment to helping others become the “strongest version” of themselves is  beyond question.  His desire to serve others, to share his knowledge and experience is unparalleled.  What can I do but open myself to what he has to offer?  Anything less would be abject cowardice.

So I’m a little bit uncomfortable.  So walking back into the gym, amongst guys I’ve been training with all day, will be awkward.  So what.

Elliott was taking me through his latest passion, Bio-energetic Analysis.  Bio-energetic Analysis is an offshoot of Freudian psychology, that comes to us from the works of Freud’s student, Wilhelm Reich, and Reich’s student, Alexander Lowen.  Elliott studies under a student of Lowen’s.  The underlying basis of Bio-energetic Analysis is that the body and mind are connected.  The way we think and feel is reflected in our how we carry our bodies and dysfunctions of the body are often reflections of dysfunctions of the mind.

I was in St. Petersburg for a workshop with Elliott on his and Mike Westerdal’s Lean Hybrid Muscle, an online informational product they launched a few years ago.  I was marginally involved in their follow up program Lean Hybrid Muscle–Reloaded which came out last year.  Elliott and Mike are both highly skilled professionals who together produced one of the top products in the market for building muscle and loosing fat.

Elliott was teaching the deadlift, and taking advantage of his years of study with Paul Chek, was getting very detailed with the lift.  He was working with me in maintaining a neutral spine throughout the lift, something I find especially difficult due to a tight chest and and almost uncontrollable rounding of the shoulders.  After a few minutes of instruction he could tell I was getting pissed at myself.  I’m a worthless poker player, every thought and emotion registers on my face before I’m even aware of having thought or felt it.

The next thing I knew I was in the next room taking myself through a full blown tantrum.  After hitting and screaming and giving myself the freedom of a toddler, he had me lie back on the table, panting and sweating profusely from all of my exertion, and breathe.  First with hands hovering a few inches over my hips, fingers extended, my mouth stretched wide open, I pulled large breathes into my lungs and once full simply let the air escape as it would.  What developed was a kind of rhythm.  A post orgasmic release, completely asexual, but that kind of intensity followed by a total relaxation nonetheless.  Over the next few minutes he had me move my hands from my hips, to my belly, to my chest and finally my throat, spending ample time at each location.  Just breathing, mouth stretched wide, and relaxing into my body.

With my mouth stretched, almost to an uncomfortable degree, my lips would twitch.  I don’t know how else to describe it, but there was  an uncontrolled release taking place.  Energy that was bound up was finding it’s way out through a muscular expression.  Elliott noticed it, identified it as my body’s expression of tenderness, the yin to it’s earlier, violent yang.  He had me, still lying on the table, reach forward and clasping and unclasping my hands make “kissey faces,” smacking and smooching the air.

Were it anyone else, I’d be certain he was just making fun of me.  “Let’s see what we can make Dave do.”  But like I said, I trust Elliott and I’m not above making a fool out of myself, especially if there’s something to be gained from it.

Later, Elliot explained that there’s a specific pattern to this kind of release.  A natural pattern, one that’s already hard wired into the body and we experience it every time we have sex.  There’s a charge, a ramping up of intensity that peaks and a discharge where that energy is released and we ride back down that mountain we’ve created.  Just like a good novel, tension, climax, denouement.

When we rejoined the group I was a little embarrassed.  I knew they heard me and could only imagine what they were thinking.  Everyone was absolutely cool and supportive.  Elliott’s ability to draw in like minded people is astounding and one of the many reasons I don’t think twice about making the trip.  No matter what’s on the agenda I know I’m going to be introduced to a new group of people, all of whom read from the same page I do, are excited about the same things I am and that new connections will be made and new brothers found.

By the end of the workshop I was wiped out.  Keg carries, clean and pressing some of those same water filled barrels, stone loading, tire flips, yoke carries, handstands, levers, bench presses, squats and deadlifts all took their toll, but were nothing to the drain I felt after the Bio-energetic Analysis.  Back at my hotel I slept for a concentrated hour, so deeply I didn’t even realize I had fallen asleep.

Once I cleared that fog I had dinner with Elliott, his wife, Samantha and my new brothers.  I was light, energized, open and alive.  I’d been gifted with a whole new experience.  Ultimately, it was THE reason I was in St. Petersburg and now I have a new tool, a vital tool in peeling away all the muck and grime that so easily clings to us, that clogs our mirrors and prevents us from shining, preventing us from becoming the strongest version of ourselves.

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