Sunday, November 29, 2009

Redemption Center Diaries


Something 'viral' and a very sore throat did not keep me out of the "Redemption Center" last night. I ended up doing 13 minutes of continuous snatching (in embedded video above), and 2 x 2:00 kettlebell snatches at 21reps/minute pace. Nothing particularly impressive, but not bad for how I felt.

Mental Notes To Self:

The goal of training is to learn and reinforce desirable habits and skills. Through training, we confront discomfort and uncertainty. The goal of (well-planned) training is evident in every exercise, repetition, and set. No rationalization is needed. Training is thoughtful.

Addiction, on the other hand, is a movement away from discomfort and uncertainty. The goal is control. Self-improvement may, ostensibly, be a goal of the addictive behavior, and we may be replacing one discomfort with another, but the goal is to escape from expectations, responsibilities, weakness, and fear. Addiction is an escape from thought.

Am I just training, or am I an addict who trains? Sometimes the line is fuzzy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mental Toughness

A news item that is a testament to the amazing resilience of the human mind. This man's incredible 23 years reminds me of "Sylvester and The Magic Pebble" - a story that I always had a difficult time reading to my son without choking up.

The Coma Victim Who Screamed Unheard For 23 Years

Monday, November 23, 2009

Giving Thanks

I used to worry that my blog would morph from a 'training blog' to a 'social blog'. Somewhere along the way, it happened. I try to keep things in the realm of training when I can, but training, like learning, sport, and life are all social endeavors. Things have changed since the car accident last January and I've come to appreciate the things I have more, and worry about what I don't have less. The sense of urgency in training has lessened, but has become more productive in some ways - a strange paradox perhaps.

As usual, Thanksgiving is coming up on the fourth Thursday of November this year and I'd like to take this time to thank you for being here, sharing your thoughts, and giving me an outlet for my ideas and opinions. Thank you.


For the holiday season, I'm going to have ten "SKWAT!" t-shirts made (M and L). They are yours, one per customer, but there's a catch: I will send you a shirt and after you receive it, you send me a check for however much you want to pay. Anything more than the cost of making and sending the shirt, I donate to Children's Miracle Network. I should be able to get those shirts to you by mid-December, but no guarantees. If it works out, we'll do it again. Send me an email - make sure to include something about shirts in the subject title.

Let's make it worthwhile for some kids. I look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Failure Is Not An Option

Does your training challenge your body and your mind,
or does it stroke your ego?

If you never, ever miss,
if you never stumble,
if you never run out of gas,
can you honestly say you gave it your very best?

If you are afraid to be weak,
you will never truly be strong.

Failure is not an option, but mistakes are essential.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Everyday Zen

Thy Will Be Done
from Everday Zen (pp. 201-203)

This week many of us watched a television documentary on the life and works of Mother Teresa. Some call her a saint. I doubt that such a title means much to her; but what I found most remarkable was that she was just doing the next thing and the next thing and the next thing, totally absorbing herself in each task - which is what we need to learn. Her life is her work, doing each task wholeheartedly, moment after moment.
We sophisticated Americans have difficulty comprehending such a way of life; it's very difficult, and yet it is our practice. Not my will but Thine be done. This does not mean that Thine is other than myself, but it is other in this sense: my life is a particular form in time and space but Thine (Thy Will) is not time or space but their functioning: the growing of a fingernail, the cleansing done by the liver, the explosion of a star - the agony and wonder of the universe. The Master.
A problem with some religious practices is the premature attempt of individuals to practice a life of "Thy Will be done" before there is any comprehension of what is entailed. Before I can understand Thy Will, I must begin to see the illusion of my will: I must know as thoroughly as possible that my life consists of "I want" and "I want" and "I want." What do I want? Just about anything, sometimes trivial, sometimes "spiritual", and (most usually) for you to be the way I think you should be.
Difficulties in life arise because what I want will always clash sooner or later with what you want. Pain and suffering inevitably follow. In watching Mother Teresa it is obvious that where no I want exists there is joy; the joy of doing what needs to be done with no thought of I want.

One point she makes is the difference between one's work and one's vocation. Each of us has some form of work - as a doctor, lawyer, student, homemaker, plumber - but these are not our vocation. Why? The dictionary tells us that "vocation" is from the Latin vocatio, to call or summon. Each of us (whether or not we are aware of it) is summoned or called by our True Self (Thine); we wouldn't be at a Zen center if something were not stirring. The life of Mother Teresa is not to serve the poor, but to respond to that summons or call. Serving the poor is not her work, it is her vocation. Teaching is not my work, it is my vocation. And the same for you.
Actually our work and our vocation are one. Marriage, for instance, is many kinds of work (earning income, caring for children and the home, serving the partner and the community), but the vocation of marriage remains the Master. It is our true self, calling, summoning ourselves. When we are clear as to who is the Master, the work flows easily. When we are not clear our work is flawed, our relationships are flawed, any situation in which we participate is flawed.

...I don't feel sorry for Mother Teresa. She does what gives her the greatest joy. I am sorry for all of us who are blindly struck in a life of my will be done, stuck in anxiety and turmoil.
All of our lives bring problems - or are we given opportunities? Only when we have learned how to practice and can choose not to escape our opportunities but to sit through our anger, resistance, grief and disappointment can we see the other side. And the other side is always: not my will but Thine be done - the life we truly want.

- Charlotte Joko Beck

Friday, November 13, 2009

Born To Run

I recently assisted at the RKC Instructor Certification.

On the second day, after running the instructor candidates through a hard morning of kettlebell cleans and presses, we had a short lunch break. Finding a place to eat at any large workshop reminds you of being like the new kid in the school cafeteria - at least it does for me. Wandering around looking for an open seat, I see none other than Pavel, sitting all by himself, eating and focused on eating. I don't want to be a bother, but on the other hand, it's pretty rare to have personal time with Pavel. So, I ask if I can join him and he says "Of course Bah-reese, please sit down." I sit down and who joins us? Dan John. This is a dream lunch if ever there was one.

The conversation turns to reading lists - not a conversation I've had in a while. I read a lot, and watch a lot of movies, but I ALWAYS struggle when people ask me about favorites. Coach John quickly mentions a recent book that he was moved by,"Born To Run", and says he finished it in a day because it was so engrossing. Pavel agrees. Mental note to self: "Read this book."

Well, I finally got around to reading "Born to Run" a couple of weeks ago and it is wonderful. Content spans sport, shoes, anthropology, evolution, and social theory. Chances are that, even if you're like me and hate running (much less even the idea of ultra-distance marathons), if you read this blog, you will love this book. Get your hands on a copy and enjoy.

'Unlike any other organism in history, humans have a mind-body conflict: we have a body built for performance, but a brain that's always looking for efficiency.' We live or die by our endurance, but remember: endurance is all about conserving energy, and that's the brain's department. 'The reason some people use their genetic gift for running and others don't is because the brain is a bargain shopper.'
For millions of years, we lived in a world without cops, cabs, or Domino's Pizza; we relied on our legs for safety, food, and transportation, and it wasn't as if you could count on one job ending before the next one began. Look at !Nate's wild hunt with Louis; !Nate sure wasn't planning on a fast 10K immediately after a half-day hike and a high-speed hunt, but he still found the reserve energy to save Louis's life. Nor could his ancestors ever be sure that they wouldn't become food right after catching some; the antelope they'd chased since dawn could attract fiercer animals, forcing the hunters to drop lunch and run for their lives. The only way to survive was to leave something in the tank - and that's where the brain comes in.
'The brain is always scheming to reduce costs, get more for less, store energy and have it ready for an emergency,' Bramble expained. 'You've got this fancy machine, and it's controlled by a pilot who's thinking 'Okay, how can I run this baby without using any fuel?' You and I know how good running feels because we've made a habit of it.' But lose the habit, and the loudest voice in your ear is your ancient survival instinct urging you to relax. And there's the bitter irony: our fantastic endurance gave our brain the food it needed to grow, and now our brain is undermining our endurance.
'We live in a culture that sees extreme exercise as crazy,' Dr. Bramble says, 'because that's what our brain tells us: why fire up the machine if you don't have to?'

- Born To Run (pp. 242-243)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Commitment Follows Competence

"Believe In Yourself, Trust The Process, Change Forever."
- Bob

[sarcasm]Way to go Bob.[/sarcasm]

I've never seen a complete episode of "The Biggest Loser"... ever. Something else more important always comes up while I'm watching it, like dishes, or, well, just about anything. Morbidly obese people put themselves through starvation diets and torturous exercise programs to stay on TV, get their fifteen minutes of fame, and maybe win enough money so they can loaf around carefree for a few years.

I used to think "Well, maybe it's a good thing. Maybe the contestants are being taught (off-camera) how to truly enjoy food and an active lifestyle. Maybe they will have long-term results." A lot of 'maybes' that, the more I heard, gradually became 'probably nots'. Maybe Bob was just having a bad day, I don't know. But, it troubles me to think that some athletes and trainees (not to mention coaches and trainers!) will actually think Bob's methods are sound.

Here's a biggie that we, all of us as coaches and trainers (not just Bob), need to review from time to time:


As much as we'd all like to believe it's the other way around, it just doesn't work out that way. If you have a group of obese clientele that you want to help lose weight, you cannot expect them to endure pain and torture without first giving them success and competence. If, as a trainer or coach, you yell at your clients and athletes without having built up an extraordinary measure of trust and goodwill, how do you think the message (no matter how true) will be received? What has Bob taught Joelle in that exchange? Will she come away from the experience more motivated, or less motivated? Will she now have positive associations with healthy exercise, or will the association of physical exertion with humiliation and failure be strengthened?

"For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath."
- The Book of Matthew

In assessment circles, the "Matthew Effect" refers to the great divide of haves and have-nots, and how this becomes a vicious self-perpetuating cycle; the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. In education, kids from affluent families, with a reading-rich enviroment, taught to be intellectually tenacious and curious will hit the ground running in kindergarten and never look back. Their classmates will start out behind and, even if they make up ground with the best teachers and work-ethic, will fall behind again every summer break. Many will come to associate reading and writing with discomfort and disappointment. They may never learn to enjoy reading, and will never choose picking up a book as fun way to spend a few hours.

In athletics, kids who are older (and bigger) get more playing time and, consequently, more meaningful practice and praise (see "Outliers" for a fuller illustration of how this process plays out in all levels of sport). In fitness, the fat will avoid exercise because of social factors and physical discomfort and it will only get worse as they gain more and more weight. Physically trim people will go to the gym, or join a team and, with positive reinforcement in the mirror, from peers and from others, will be encouraged to continue and progress.

If you start on a long journey absent a nurturing environment that you've happened upon, or been given, or created (naturally, or 'artificially', it doesn't matter), chances are pretty good it's not going to last. We've all seen "Field of Dreams", right? The phrase "Build it and they will come" is cliche now because everyone realized its genius - you must build the foundation of competence BEFORE commitment will truly come around. No kid commits to walking until they've built competence and strength. If a child was learning to walk and a parent pulled a Bob every time their child fell, how well would that work? Even IF (and it's a big if) the child did learn to walk, what consequences would it have?

Monday, November 9, 2009


Another birthday coming quickly and I'm in the last few weeks of prepping for another shot at the Secret Service Snatch Test. I'm not someone who's particularly concerned with product, but we all need to test ourselves from time to time and 200 needs to be finished business. Training is going okay and I'm shooting for December 15th or thereabouts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Joys of Ownership

"Real composure and real effectiveness at work come from being completely responsible and taking full ownership of everything you do. At the same time your heart is open and responsive. You are not easily knocked off center or fooled by your habits or narrow ideas. You are clear about your purpose, and at the same time you are not grasping for results."

- Marc Lesser (ZBA: Zen for Business Administration)

My wife and I were relatively late in life to purchase a home. Our rationale (for not buying a home earlier) was that renting gave us a roof over our heads, a comfortable living space, no maintenance concerns, and the freedom to pick up and move at a moment's notice if we chose to. Financially, we felt that money not spent on mortgage interest or maintenance and repairs could be put to good use elsewhere. This arrangement worked for a number of years. Ultimately however, our son's inability to play freely (and noisily) in a rental environment forced our hand and we are now happy home owners.

We could call our home ownership an investment, but that assumes that we are going to resell it or that someone is going to benefit from it's possession or resale value. The problem with using the term 'investment' is that it is never neutral - it is always good or bad. Ownership, whether you are talking about real estate, or training, is a lifestyle choice. Renting relieves you of responsibility. Ownership requires commitment. Renting leaves other options available. Owning is a long-term, binding contract.

The concept of 'ownership' is an important one when it comes to real-estate, or training...

*You don't really own it, until you OWN it. My wife and I don't own our house - we own part of our house. The bank owns the rest. We have more payments than I care to calculate before we can truly call it ours.

Participating in a online forum thread about Westside doesn't mean you know anything about the method. Visiting the CrossFit forums, or doing Fran, doesn't make you an expert. To truly understand something, you must experience it. To experience something requires more than a taste. Ownership takes time and effort.

*There is no manager or super a phone call away who will come to fix your broken toilet right now and for "free". There is always something to fix, and YOU will have to pay for it. The buck stops with you.

In training, injury and ruts make you re-examine your training. They force you to see that the responsibility for performance lies with you and you alone. No one else can do your training for you. It is YOUR responsibility to "git r done", or not. No excuses, only reasons. "Do or do not. There is no try." (Yoda)

*All things are impermanent. When I rented an apartment. Upkeep was not an issue. There was no lawn to mow, and no sidewalk to shovel. Understand this about home ownership - you will have to mow your lawn over and over again. Same thing applies to leaves. The dishes you own will need to be cleaned after each meal. Getting frustrated about it is like getting wound up about having to brush your teeth or take a dump.

In training, gains are volatile. This is a fact. If you want to be strong and powerful, and you want to stay that way, it will require training. You may have "earned" what you have, but what has been found, can be lost again... If you want to continue to make progress, or even maintain, you will need to train again and again and again.

*There are no guarantees that you will gain money on your "investment" - NONE. When you rent, there is no expectation of return - you pay the bills and you're done with it. However, most people who try to sell their homes are always calculating their "return on their investment". I get it - there is a lot of emotion wrapped up in a home. and when prices drop, we can take it personally. The real estate market might bounce back, but it might not - there are no guarantees. You can put in a new kitchen with the marble countertops and stainless steel appliances and finish your basement, but it might not appeal to anyone else five years from now.

As hard as you may train, there is no guarantee of results. We may feel "entitled" to gains, but even the best process might not yield the performances we're after.

*You can paint your house any color you want. I know a family that cracked open a case of spray paint cans, handed one to all the kids, and went to town. Probably weren't beloved by the neighbors, but hey - they own!

Following someone else's routine, program, plan, or system is fine, and we all do it from time to time. But the real gains come when training is tailored to our own needs. "Owning" your training means making it fit you, not trying to pound your round self into the square peg. A good coach is like a real estate agent that works with you to find the perfect match - you don't have to have one, but they can be an amazing resource.

*Ownership forces you to think long(er)-term. Spill coffee on the carpet? No big deal if you're renting. If you own, you come running with a towel and stain remover because you don't want to spend the rest of your television-viewing years being distracted by that humongous brown blotch that fades but never completely goes away.

When you're young, fickleness is natural. When you get older, you get focused - you know what you want and plan accordingly. Meandering goals and flitting about from routine to routine will get you exactly nowhere fast. In Dan John terms, ownership eliminates free will, and this may be its greatest gift - the liberation that comes from narrowing choices, possibilities, and distractions.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Words of Wisdom: Thich Nhat Hanh

"Some people find it easy to be happy and others don't, even though they have plenty of conditions for happiness. You can buy conditions for happiness, but you can't buy happiness. It's like playing tennis. You can't buy the joy of playing tennis at a store. You can buy the ball and the racket, but you can't buy the joy of playing. To experience the joy of tennis, you have to learn, to train yourself to play. It's the same with writing calligraphy. You can buy the ink, the rice paper, the brush, but if you don't cultivate the art of calligraphy, you can't do calligraphy. So calligraphy requires practice, and you have to train yourself. You are happy as a calligrapher only when you have the capacity to do calligraphy. Happiness is also like that. You have to cultivate happiness; you cannot buy it at the store."

- Thich Nhat Hanh ("The Art of Power")