Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Dojo


I have spoken of our gym as a dojo, and it is.

I have defined a dojo as a place, set aside from the rest of the world, sacred even, where we can practice, test ourselves in metaphorical battles that better prepare us for the real battles we face out in the world.

What I have not done is define our dojo.

You may have noticed we are in the midst of a transformation.  Various forces from various directions have been working, consciously and unconsciously, to direct our growth and encourage us to stretch outside our former selves.

Now is the time to formalize that transformation and begin to define our new selves.  For many of us, this can be scary.  “What if I change my mind?  What if I don’t like the new change?”

Relax.  Nothing is permanent and anything that is done can be undone.  But remember, in life, change is the only thing that is constant.  As such it might be wiser to learn to embrace it.  It could make things a tad easier.

In traditional martial arts the dojo has a “kun,” a mantra or a code of conduct, that students repeat aloud with the instructor before every practice session.  This discipline, for that’s what it is, serves to reinforce not only the cohesion of the class but reminds each student the most vital and important aspects of their practice.  All other aspects of the art aside, the student who fully embodies the kun is the true ace student.

When I studied Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito, this was the kun of our dojo:

The dojo is a place where learning of the true way (tao) is studied and practiced.
The dojo is a place where personal fulfillment is sought.
The dojo is a place where only the dedicated are taught.
The dojo is a place where a way of life may be found.
The dojo is a place where friendship begins and hate ends.
The dojo is a place where conflict ends and peace begins.
The dojo is a place where unity is required.
The dojo is a place where one builds the acme of their skills.
The dojo is a place where student and teacher are one with each other.
The dojo is a place where honor is practiced.
The dojo is a temple of peace, harmony, and personality.
The dojo is a way of life.
Therefore, first seek the way; then find the way; and then become the way.

Here is the kun of the Bodytribe:

Training in the Strength Arts isn’t just physical but mental and spiritual. Each practice is to strengthen and train our body, mind, energy and spirit.

Nurture excellence.

The principles remain constant but the methods can change.

Seek to improve the art and improve the standard.

Keep thoughts and comments positive and healthy (!!)

Train diligently; refine your body, mind and spirit. This is your responsibility.

Your teachers can show you the way and help you, only you can develop the skills.

Argue for your limitations and sure enough they’re yours. Next time you say “I can’t” replace it with “I don’t want to try.” (In other words, take responsibility for your action and behaviors, even when training. Limits are set by your mind more than your body).

We are overdue for our own kun.  It is time we stop, take a minute to reflect, and begin to define our space, and what we expect of our tribe members in this space.

I really want to know what you think about this.  I’ll offer up my ideas, which are a variation on the Shorin Ryu theme, but I want to know what you think as well.  As members of our tribe and supporters of our gym, your feedback is vital.  Once we have a kun we can agree on, I will formalize it and post it inside our gym.

We need not chant it together before every workout, but it will be something that it would be good to refer back to every so often, to remind ourselves, just what it is we’re building here.

Agoge Fitness Systems: The Kun of the Agoge

Our gym is a place where discovering ourselves is studied and practiced.
Our gym is a place where personal empowerment is sought, so we might then empower our tribes.
Our gym is a place where we take responsibility for ourselves.
Our gym is a place where friendship begins and hate ends, both with others and ourselves.
Our gym is a place where a tribe is born.
Our gym is a place where potential is found and explored.
Our gym is a place where change happens.
Our gym is a place where student and teacher are one.
Our gym is a place where honor is practiced.
Our gym is a temple.
Our gym is a way of life.
Seek the way; find the way; then become the way.

Remember, this is only a rough draft.  I want your feedback and ideas.  Together we will forge a document that reflects the true nature of our gym and shows who we are as a tribe.

I’m very happy you’re here with me, striving and changing, together we will find our better selves and discover the strongest version of ourselves.

Stay strong,

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Bodytribe Workshop, July 2012

I am pretty sore this morning.

It’s that good sore, too.  I feel it in my hip and in my shoulder.  That tells me it’s in the right places and from doing the right things.  Chip and I hung around after the workshop and lifted.  I got the best instruction I’ve ever received on the Olympic lifts and naturally I had some of the best lifts I’ve ever had.

There’s a smile I can’t quite wipe off my face, not that I’d want to, and while I’ll admit a part of it is from yesterday’s lifts with Chip, it’s really due to the excitement and enthusiasm I saw in the eyes of my tribe.

When Chip and I first started talking about the workshop, I envisioned one of Zach’s or Elliott’s events, something marketed to other trainers.  And I did that.  I emailed every Crossfit in the state.  I personally visited local boxes and handed out fliers.  I emailed gyms in Atlanta, Nashville and Chattanooga.  I took out ads in Facebook that targeted like minded enthusiasts across the entire Southeast.

I attracted one trainer from Atlanta, a tattooed, fifty-something rocker, whom I am excited to know and enthusiastic about future collaborations with.  In addition to his other interests, Steven has a band in Atlanta.  A loud, noisy, raucous, Neil Young inspired band named Shed, for their practice space, of course.  If you’re into that sort of thing, and I certainly am, check out their website HERE.

Steven just sent Chip and me a letter of thanks.  It begins with an eloquent glimpse into what we experienced this weekend.

“Thanks for the workshop. Being able to be in a room with people interested in becoming a bit more human was refreshing. Expressing the wide range of our mammalian abilities is key to beginning to understand that understanding is always incomplete. Yet, within this state is our home, a place to to be and rest in the flux.”

Everyone else who attended, and the workshop was full, was someone I knew–a colleague, a client, a friend.  That’s really how it should have been from the beginning and it didn’t take me long to realize this.  Inside the first morning of the workshop I received several comments, each one telling me how glad they were they decided to come.

By the workshop’s end their eyes were bright with new knowledge and a new fire.  Capabilities never before considered stirred like rekindled embers and the wide open possibilities of life loom ever present before them.

In the weeks leading up to this event I was approached by several who had signed up, expressing a bit of their concern over being up to the task of completing a two day strength workshop.  I couldn’t help but smile.  I remember what it’s like, fretting over an unknown you’ve just signed yourself up for, worried, maybe just a little, about how you’ll compare to everyone else in the room, hoping at the very least that you can hang with the group and not be left behind.

I smile because I know that feeling so well and I know the only way to get past it is to do it anyway.  I smile with pride because my tribe did it anyway.

Chip has said this and I echo it as often as I can.  In the strength world it’s often not the biggest, strongest lifter who gets the greatest applause.  It’s the one who works the hardest, shows the most heart and exerts the greatest effort.  A lifter who pulls 500 pounds easily is not nearly as exciting as one who pulls 105, but is putting all she has into that lift.

Steven put it best in his letter, we are a group of “people interested in becoming a bit more human.”  Movement, struggle, challenge, failure, trying again, and succeeding are all essential parts of being human.  Our gym, our dojo, is a place to practice this, to more fully realize our humanity, our potential, our current limitations and how to push those boundaries.  We come to learn that sometimes, with the right attitude, struggle can be fun.

And that is what Chip brings to the table.  Chip is Puck, in the body of a forty-something, California punk inspired, West Coast white guy.  His mischief is joy, it’s taking you outside your preconceptions and opening you up to potentialities you never even considered.  He’s not content to improve just himself.  He wants to show you how to do it too.

Improving yourself takes courage, but I know, because I’ve seen it, it’s something you’re capable of.  Embrace it.  Have fun.

Stay strong.

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Fear and Laziness

The Tao that can be named
Is not the eternal Tao.

–Lao-Tzu, The Tao Te Ching

Yesterday I wrote about the movie Moneyball and confidence.  It’s often the lack of confidence that prevents us from reaching out, from trying and ultimately from getting all we want out of life.  This lack of confidence is actually an expression of something deeper.

In the second of Chip’s grand videos on fitness, exercise and the philosophy he and his tribe have developed, Brutal Recess, he talks about the excuses we use for why we don’t.  In particular he was talking about why we don’t exercise or push ourselves in the gym, but the truth is these two excuses apply to why we don’t do anything.

Those excuses?  Fear and laziness.

If you really want to get down to it, laziness is actually an expression of fear, it’s frequently just so convoluted in it’s journey from the feeling, fear, to its expression, laziness, that we miss the connection.  At it’s most basic laziness is the expression of the fear of failure and so is a lack of confidence.

Remember Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes?  (Do kids still read Aesop?)  In this fable a hungry fox comes across a large bunch of grapes hanging from a vine.  He makes several attempts to reach the grapes but they always remain just out of reach.  Frustrated and hungry he gives up after only a few tries.  As he walks away he mutters to himself, “They were probably sour anyway.”

How often is this our approach to our goals?  How many New Year’s resolutions, that this is the year to make change, get fit, quit some bad habit, end by February 1st with the belief that the goal was just not worth the effort, even though we really had no concept of whether it was or not?

When faced with any significant challenge we must first face the fear that we might not be up to the task.  Given the choice we find it safer, more “empowered,” to choose failure by not actually trying than to do our best and face the potential reality that we’re “just not good enough.”  The laziness of “not really trying” then is the expression of our fear of “not being good enough.”

And that is scary.

Most of us spend the better part of our lives “faking it.”  It’s actually one of the things our educational system is best at teaching us how to do.  Just show up, put on a pleasant face and you’ll muddle through.

We learn to squash down and deny our anxieties and fears, which are, incidentally, biological mechanisms designed to alert us to the fact that something is amiss.  Instead of learning to pay attention to our feelings, to see them as early warning systems, and to understand how and what they are trying to communicate to us, we squash them down and come to see them as pesky annoyances that get in the way of achievement.

Which is really the great irony of this situation.

Chinese Taoism is symbolized by the taiji, or as we call it the “yin-yang symbol.”  You can see it below.

The elegance of this symbol is belied by it’s simplicity–and it’s overuse in the 80s.  Consider; the basis of Taoism is the interplay of opposites, yin and yang, represented by the black and white areas on the circle.

Our understanding of this universe is limited to the interplay of opposites.  We can only see things in terms of what we’re observing and it’s relation to it’s opposite–as such, black is defined by white, positive by negative, heads by tails, up by down, etc.  Whether or not this interplay of opposites is a true reflection of reality or just our perception of it is a totally head trippy, mind blowing conversation best reserved for another time.  For now, let’s assume that what we can see is.

Another thing you’ll begin to notice about the symbol is the little circle of white inside the black and the one of black inside the white.  This is a cool way of showing that everything contains a small part of it’s opposite.  We see this all the time in people.  It’s especially apparent when we start looking at the biographies of famous people.

Martin Luther King?  He’s easily one of the greatest leaders of the Twentieth Century.  He was also a womaniser who cheated on his wife.  That’s a small touch of selfishness in a man who dedicated his life to the betterment of an entire race.

Hitler?  He’s one of the greatest demons of the Twentieth Century.  His goal was the eradication of an entire race and he came close to succeeding.  It’s hard to find a better example of evil nastiness.  Did you know he was a frustrated artist?  Deep inside the cold, hard soul of the man responsible for an unfathomable amount of death, misery and sorrow was a soft, tender, expressive side–just a touch of white inside a field of black.

My final point about the taiji is how the black field tapers into the white and the white tapers into the black.  This is to indicate the mutable quality of nature, the zenith of one quality inevitably leads to the beginning of it’s opposite.  We often refer to this as the “pendulum swing.”  Take the history of politics in the world.  Pull back your perspective enough and you begin to see a pattern, a shifting back and forth of repression and opulence, conservative to liberal.  As one side of the coin reaches it’s apex the other side begins to gain ground.

Remember way back when when I was talking about feelings and our need for achievement?  The irony is that actually learning to follow our feelings, to pay attention to our anxieties, can lead to us to a path of greater understanding and then surer achievement.  This is going into our fear, riding the apex of one side of the taiji because we know that the rise of it’s opposite is just on the other side.  All too often we instead fight our fears, squash them down, and they in turn end up ruling us.

So what does strength training, fitness and exercise have to do with any of this?  From the micro to the macro.  Read any of the more philosophical writings on martial arts and you learn that the dojo, or training hall, is viewed as a metaphor for the real world.  The dojo is a place to practice all the battles of the real world in relative safety and security.

Your gym is a dojo, or least in my opinion it should be.  This is a place to train, to practice, to act out the battles of the real world.  Success build confidence, confidence is the best antidote to fear I know.  The confidence that comes from hitting a lift you’ve never made before, carries over into other areas of your life.  “If I could do that…then maybe I can do this, as well.”

It’s practice.  Practice that leads to greater ability, greater vitality and a more vibrant and real life.  (Here’s the wind up…)

Come practice with us.  This weekend is an excellent opportunity, the Bodytribe Workshop is Saturday and Sunday (…and there’s the pitch!).  We’ll be exploring new ways to push ourselves, build our confidence and realize greater, realer, more vibrant lives.  Go HERE to register.

Stay strong.

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Moneyball

The real estate company that manages the house we stayed in last week offers free DVD rentals as an added value for choosing their houses to vacation in.  There’s a box outside the rental office and you are provided with an access card that lets you borrow two movies at a time for free.

We made good use of this service over the past week.  We stayed in most nights, choosing to grill steaks or bratwurst and vegetables rather than go out to eat.  That provided plenty of time for cuddling on the couch and veging out to a wide variety of Pixar style animated and other youth oriented films my girls wanted to watch.

Friday night, Samantha chose a movie for us to watch and so after a long, farewell walk on the beach the kids settled down to watch Amy Adams in Enchanted and she and I set up my laptop on our bed and watched Moneyball.  The house was small enough and the acoustics awkward enough that a satisfactory volume on the girl’s movie made for too loud for us to adequately hear our movie.  As a solution Samantha and I shared a pair of headphones and snuggled a little closer–win-win as far as I was concerned.

I missed Moneyball when it first came out.  I saw the trailers and thought, “Hey, that might be good.”  It had Jonah Hill, who I like, and Brad Pitt, whom I grudgingly admit that I like.  I later found out it also had Philip Seymour Hoffman who none of us realize how much we like as he’s so capable of blending himself seamlessly into his role we forget who he is each time.  Which if you think about it is really the sign of a master actor.

We always praise the skills of actors like Brad Pitt or George Clooney or Jack Nicholson or even Clint Eastwood, when actually they are just personalities we like.  These guys just play themselves adapted to whatever role their playing, they’re not really great actors they’re great performers.  The really great actors are often those guys whose names you can never remember.  You’ve seen them in a million films but you forget who they are each time as they so completely become their roles–but I digress.

If you haven’t seen Moneyball, you should, I recommend it.  However, it’s been out long enough that I don’t feel bad spoiling it for you.  There are some ideas it brought out that are very relevant to what we talk about here.

To sum up Brad Pitt plays the general manager of the Oakland A’s.  The A’s are a low budget team in a field of financial giants.  Pitt’s character, Billy Beane, feels he’s hamstrung in fulfilling his mandate as a GM, i.e. winning the World Series, by his team’s low budget and his inability to afford highly skilled players.

Enter Jonah Hill.  Beane meets Hill’s character, Peter Brand, while out at another team trying to trade for new talent.  Brand is working as an intern.  He’s a Yale graduate with a degree in economics and a very unusual view on how a team can be run and be effective.  Rather than returning home with new ball players Pitt comes home with a new assistant GM.

Together they challenge all the established ideas about how a team is to be managed and despite all the naysaying and resistance make a remarkably good showing for themselves.  So much so that by the end of the movie, Beane is approached by the Boston Red Sox and offered what, at the time, was the highest yearly salary of any GM in the history of sport.

As a subtext to the main plot we get some back story on Beane.  He was recruited, right out highschool to play for the Majors.  We are told that he was seen as being one of the most highly skilled athletes the recruiters had ever seen and that they were willing to pay big bucks to have him play.  We learn that when he did get to play he choked, consistently, and never was able to fully express the talent he exhibited in high school.

At the end of the movie, we learn, he chokes again.  He turns down the high salary and the opportunity to parlay his new methodology in an environment that supports it in order to stay in Oakland.  We also learn that two years after his interview with the Red Sox the Sox win the pennant using Beane’s methods and that to this day Beane is still in Oakland trying to win the World Series.

Saturday night I got a call from my aunt.  My eight year old cousin had just won the World Series of Little League baseball.  In fact, he had scored the winning run.  I wish you could see Carter.  He’s a fairly typical eight year old boy and to his credit he’s a good ball player, but what he as in spades is swagger.  This boy believes he’s awesome and has the confidence to prove it.

The details of his winning run include the fact that he was actually called out sliding into home plate, but the catcher dropped the ball.

Skill is always an essential component in any endeavor, but confidence can take you places that skill alone never will.  Carter’s confidence that he could score the winning run and win the World Series outweighed that catcher’s confidence that he could stop him.

Beane’s lack of confidence stopped him from taking advantage of one of the greatest opportunities in the history of sport.

How’s your confidence?

Mine’s not always what I’d like it to be.  I find myself dwelling on lost opportunities and times when I choked, or looking to the injustices and infractions that undermined my confidence growing up.  All of that is a waste of time.  It only serves to reinforce the idea that I can’t or shouldn’t and build up the insecurities that undermine my confidence.

I have lots of victories as well.  My time is better spent reflecting on those, reminding myself of my capabilities, the opportunities I did take and the strengths I did and do exhibit, to focus on what I can do.  The same goes for you.

My gym is built for growth.  I recently added a bunch of house plants tot he gym.  I added them for two reasons.  The first is that Chip has them in his gym and not only do they look cool they add a great vibe and atmosphere to his gym.  I wanted to replicate that here.

The other reasons is that they’re growing things.  Overtime we’ll see their growth and that growth serves as a subtle reminder of our own growth.  What seems like a minor cue can actually be a powerful stimulant and it’s through these and other more obvious methods I work to help us all grow, stronger, more vital, more confident.

This is the last week to sign up for Chip’s workshop.  The event will run 10 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday.  A group of us will be going together to get dinner Saturday night.  That’s one of the great things about these workshops, not only is it an opportunity for us to learn new skills and push old boundaries, we also get to spend time with like minded people, developing new friendships and building new alliances.  I hope you can join us.

To register go HERE.

Stay Strong.

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Lao-Tzu

Happy Monday, everyone.

We spent Saturday driving back from the beach and yesterday was spent catching up on all the chores we didn’t get to during the week–mowing the grass, grocery shopping, that sort of thing.

Don’t worry, we didn’t let our vacation completely get away from us as we still managed to find a few hours to spend soaking in the river during the afternoon.

After a supper of pan seared salmon and broccoli salad, I sat down to whittle the twenty plus minutes of video Samantha shot of my last beach workout on Friday into something watchable.  I’m desperate for new music for these videos and as YouTube is extremely vigilant about copyright protection I need to find something original as well as appropriate.

If you know of any young (or not), hungry musicians looking for an easy way to promote their sound, let me know.  I’d be happy to include their credits in exchange for the right to use their music in these videos.

My original plan was to do four Bodytribe workouts, Monday through Thursday, and then create my own on Friday.  I had asked Chip if he and the Tribe had already created a workout for  Friedrich Nietzsche.  He said they’d made one at one time but never documented it.  He gave me his blessing to make one of my own.

As the week went on and I thought more and more about it, the more wrong the whole idea seemed.  Nietzsche is best known for the quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” which may well be the anthem of modern fitness, and, if you’ve been paying attention, that concept is a frequent focal point of my criticism and ire about modern fitness.

So, would I really be staying true to myself by writing up a workout named for Nietzsche and whose sole aim was to kick my own butt?  Someone more learned than me might could argue the subtleties of Nietzsche and find a way to make us compatible, but I’m not that man and I wasn’t about to spend precious vacation hours doing research trying to make an odd shoe fit.

Especially when there’s a philosopher neared and dearer to my own heart and whose philosophy harmonizes with my own ideas–Lao-Tzu.

Lao-Tzu is credited with writing the Tao Te Ching, a fundamental work in Chinese Taoism.  Lao-Tzu translates into something akin to “the old man” and there’s much speculation that perhaps Lao-tzu was not just one man but a collection of writers, possibly over many years, whose thoughts and ideas were compiled to create the Tao Te Ching.

The Tao Te Ching was written for the ruling class and as such gives much advice that at first blush seems written for leaders and rulers and applies only to those in charge of many, but what works on the macro level also works on the micro level.  The same lessons one learns to apply to a nation of millions is pertinent to ruling yourself, as well.

Lao-Tzu teaches that in order to live the best life we must learn to live in harmony with the natural laws of the universe or as he (they) call(s) it–the Tao.

The Bodytribe concept of listening to your body and letting it lead your training is very much in keeping with this idea.

So, I ditched Nietzsche.

Instead of creating a brutal workout aimed at reducing me to a quivering mass of sweaty jelly (eww!) I set out to have some fun.  I took the four training implements I brought with me and placed them 40 yards apart.  My plan was to do a stationary exercise with one of the implements and then follow with a mobility drill down to the next implement.  I hit each “station” six times for a total of twelve different exercises.

I managed to get the video down to just under four minutes.  You can view it HERE.

The goal was to create an unscripted movement session and when it was over I finished with a set of yang style tai chi and a splash in the ocean.

This weekend Chip will be at Agoge Fitness Systems.  I, for one, am super stoked.  My videos are just a taste of what we’ll be covering.  The workshop will cover mobility, kettlebells, leverage clubs,  powerlifting, and the Olympic lifts.  Whether you’re a regular AFS client, a Crossfitter, a personal trainer or a fitness enthusiast this weekend has much to offer you.  Remember, the workshop is Saturday and Sunday, the 28th and 29th.  To register, go HERE.

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Bertrand Russell

Thursday was a rainy, dreary day.  Luckily I managed to get some mobility work and three sets of Betrand Russell in before the rain started.

Not only was Bertrand Russell a twentieth century logician and philosopher, he’s also the Bodytribe workout I chose for Thursday.

Bertrand Russell

Bent Over Rows x 6/6
Swings x 6/6
Squat Press x 12
Burpee x 12

I managed to get three sets in before the rain, or rather the lightning sent me in.  Rain on the beach is nothing, really, but getting hit by lightning while swinging a 53 pound kettlebell is probably not the most noble of epitaphs.  As such, i stopped early of the prescribed six rounds.  See the video HERE.

I’m writing this Thursday afternoon, if I’m lucky the rain will blow over before too much longer and we can have a little more beach time before dark.

Don’t forget, we’re moving into the final week of registration for the Bodytribe workshop.  Register HERE to reserve your spot.

Stay strong,

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John Locke

Wednesday’s workout was named for the founder of Classical Liberalism, John Locke.

John Locke

Any hip exercise x 10
40 yard sprint
KB Swing x 10
40 yard sprint

You can watch the video HERE.

The funny thing about video is that it has none of the delusions and amplifications you mind can create.  See, in my mind, when I sprint I am the wind.  Video says, “Not so much,” and reminds me that this is an area I could use further work.

I could use the excuse that it’s different running in sand, and it is, but really, watch the video, who are we fooling?

I did three rounds of John Locke and feeling a bit beaten refused to quit.  I finished with something a little closer to my own wheelhouse, explosive kettlebell tosses.  I did three rounds of six tosses, which is actually a lot of fun, by the way.

While editing the video I noticed one other thing–a lack of discipline.  Yes, I’m on vacation and yes, I’m keeping up with my workouts.  So I’m allowed a little lee way and gain credit for sticking to my program, I’ll accept that and enjoy it, but where I’m lacking is in my prehab work.

I’ve been slacking on my stretching and foam roller work both before and after working out.  You can see it in my posture.  My shoulders are starting to round and my head juts forward in a classic kyphosis.

Mobility and strength are more than just tossing heavy weights around the beach.  Stretching and myo-fascial release, the two main benefits of foam rolling, are crucial to having a body that moves as efficiently as it can and looks better too.

Chip is a master of mobility work (You knew I was coming back to Chip didn’t you?) and learning how to mobilize our bodies will be a major part of his workshop.  The benefits are tremendous.  If you’re looking for agility, speed, strength, flexibility or longevity you need to be in on this workshop.

Chip will be here July 28 and 29.  Join us.  Click HERE.

Stay strong,

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