Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

At The Edge

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Zen Habits. It's specifically about practicing "at the edge" in running, but I think it applies equally well to martial arts. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

I’m not the world’s greatest runner, but lately I’ve been challenging myself to stay at my edge.

As I was running at my edge the other day, it occurred to me that this is a useful practice in many areas in life. Learning to play at your edge is a challenging practice, but pays off in so many ways.

If you learn to play at your edge, you learn to stop shying away from discomfort. You grow and learn in new ways. And you develop a confidence in yourself that is hard to do when you stay in your comfort zone.

Let’s explore this challenging practice.

How I Stay at My Edge with Running

Let’s use running as a concrete example of this, so you know what we’re talking about.

First, I should say that I don’t do all my running at my edge. I run about three times a week, and typically only one of those runs is at my edge. The other two are at an easy pace.

But that one run a week at my edge typically looks something like this:

  • Warmup: I start out running easy, warming up. Then I walk for a minute. This has me fully ready to run.
  • Easing in: I start running and ease myself into a faster pace.
  • The Pace: I run about as fast as I can run if I were running a 5K race (which is a fast pace for me).
  • The Edge: At some point, I feel like slowing down — this is the edge of my discomfort, and it makes me want to back away. At this point, I try to stay here at the edge and not back off. Note that this is not an all-out sprint, but a sustained strong pace.
  • Staying at the Edge: If I stay at the edge, it usually gets more uncomfortable. If I can stay here, I do. If I have to rest, I do so, but then try to come back to the edge.

I repeat this, staying at the edge as long as I can, then backing off, then going back. If I can stay without resting, I do it, but resting and then going back is often a part of the process.

As you can see, this isn’t about never backing off. It’s about staying at the edge for as long as I’m able. And using rest as a way to get back to the edge.

By the way, this has been a really effective way for me to get stronger at running, though that’s not the only point. The main point is to learn to stay with the discomfort.

Where Else Can We Practice at the Edge?

Running is a pretty concrete example, but there are lots of other examples:

  • Strength training: Similar to running, I practice at my edge with lifting weights or bodyweight strength exercises. I don’t have a fixed weight or number of reps to lift, but feel what I’m capable of that day. If I can lift heavier, I do. If I can lift more reps, I do. It’s about finding the edge of my discomfort and hanging out there, which always makes me stronger when I do it.
  • Learning: If you’re studying something, it’s pretty uncomfortable to be learning something that you don’t really understand yet. You’re in the unknown, and our instinct is to get out of there as soon as we can. But if you can hang out in the unknown for longer, you’ll learn more. Stay with the learning even if you feel lost.
  • Creating: If you’re writing, making music or art, creating content online, etc … it will bring resistance. That’s the topic of Season 1 of the Zen Habits Podcast — how to hang out with that resistance. If you can stay there in that resistance, you’ll be able to create, but if not, you’ll be stuck in your comfort zone.
  • Focusing: If you want to get better at focusing on work (or reading), the practice is to stay for longer even if you’re a bit uncomfortable. We feel some overwhelm, stress, anxiety … and so we want to run from it. But what if we could stay here for a bit longer?
  • Relationships: The most delicious part of intimacy is when we’re in the unknown together. We learn more about the other person, and ourselves, if we can hang out here. But most of us want to be in the known — where we’re right, or we control things. When you find yourself wanting to be right, or to control things, see if you can let go of that and step into the discomfort of the unknown for a bit.

There are lots of other areas you can practice at the edge – meditation, healthy eating, adventures, public speaking, finances, etc. — but I hope you can see that this is where the deepest learning, growth, intimacy, and creating takes place.

The Benefits I’ve Noticed with Practicing at the Edge

If you can practice regularly at your edge — not all the time, but sometimes — you’ll see lots of benefits. Here are some:

  • Greater growth — you’ll grow faster as a person, and in the particular area (like running or learning) you’re practicing, than ever before.
  • Greater confidence — you’ll learn to trust yourself, that you can stay for longer than you previously believed, and this will have you feeling more confident in all areas of your life.
  • Expansive life — your life will be less held back by discomfort, and you’ll be able to expand to new areas of life that previously felt impossible.
  • Less stress — very often our stress is about our worry about not being able to handle something. But with this greater trust an confidence, and greater sense of expansiveness, we actually feel more fully alive and less worried about not handling things.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Lessons from Weight Lifting

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at The Art of Manliness. While it specifically about weight training, I think everything in it applies equally well to martial arts training. The full post may be read here.

 Back in 2015, I started weightlifting seriously. 

Over eight years of training, I was able to get strong. But more importantly, I discovered a hobby that brought me immense satisfaction. 

While I don’t barbell train like I used to, I still religiously lift weights. 

During my eight years of serious training, I’ve learned some important life lessons from the iron. 

Below, I share five of them.

1. Success Comes From a Long Obedience in the Same Direction

When people decide to get serious with exercise, they tend to focus on the minutiae of their new regimen. People spend a lot of time looking for the right program and the right equipment. They think they’ll see incredible gains if they find the optimal set and rep range. 

But there’s something just as, if not more important, than the training program you choose:

Being consistent with it for months and even years. 

How did I deadlift 600 pounds? I trained consistently for six years. Sure, my programming changed during that time, but the thing that didn’t change was me going down to my garage four times a week to train. 

The necessity of consistency applies to every other endeavor in life. 

I’ve used the consistency principle to lose 30 pounds this year. I didn’t do any crash dieting. I just gradually reduced my calories and stuck to my macro target almost every day for eight months. That’s it. 

When people ask me for advice about their online business, they often ask me about the tools and tricks Kate and I use that helped us get AoM to where it is today. 

Keeping up with the latest trends in technology, marketing, and social media hasn’t been nearly as important as simply sticking to our publishing schedule; for coming up on sixteen years now, we’ve published several pieces of content nearly every single week. AoM isn’t slick, flashy, or even particularly cool, but it is consistent. 

As Nietzsche put it, “everything of the nature of freedom, elegance, boldness . . . and masterly certainty”; everything to do with “virtue, art, music, dancing, reason, spirituality”; everything “that is transfiguring,” that makes “life worth living,” is premised on one thing:

A “long obedience in the same direction.”

The trick is figuring out ways to stay consistent over the long haul. 

When it comes to exercising, we’ve written about how to work out while you’re on vacation, sick, or simply don’t feel like it. There’s plenty of good advice there, and I think it carries over to other parts of life, too. 

But the real secret for staying consistent over the long haul is that . . .

2. You Got to Have Ganas

Ganas is Spanish for desire. 

I’ve written about the centrality of ganas in finding success in whatever you do.

Most of the things I’ve achieved in life were because I really wanted to accomplish those things. I had ganas for those goals.

A big reason I was able to deadlift 600 pounds is that I really, really wanted to deadlift 600 lbs. That strong desire was what compelled me to rarely miss a workout for four years. My coach could give me programming and offer corrections on technique, but he couldn’t make me want to go after a 600-lb deadlift. I had to have the desire myself.

Discipline is really harped on these days as the key to success. 

Discipline is one way to achieve the consistency that’s essential to reaching your goals. 

But constantly exercising self-control is exhausting. 

A better way to stay consistent is to operate with inherent motivation — to enjoy the thing you’re doing so that you want to do the thing that will lead to success. 

What William George Jordan said about duty applies to discipline as well:

Duty is a hard, mechanical process for making men do things that love would make easy. It is a poor understudy to love. It is not a high enough motive with which to inspire humanity. Duty is the body to which love is the soul. Love, in the divine alchemy of life, transmutes all duties into privileges, all responsibilities into joys.

I loved going for big PRs, which is why I could be consistent with powerlifting for so long. Kate and I love working on AoM, which is why we’ve been able to do it for over a decade and a half. 

Love, desire, is the motor that powers your progress.

3. Progress Isn’t Linear

In my quest for barbell PRs, I had a lot of ups and downs. Some weeks, I’d make consistent progress, and some weeks, I went backward. I’d have weeks where I’d deadlift 500 pounds with ease one workout, and then the next, I couldn’t even budge 405 off the floor. Injuries and sickness would pop up and throw my progress out of whack for weeks and even months. 

At first, the up-and-down nature of my progress frustrated the heck out of me, but eventually, I learned that the undulations were part of the process. I adjusted my expectations to the fact that I wouldn’t have continuous linear progression. That did a lot to assuage my angst. 

I also had to teach myself to approach my plateaus and setbacks with some detachment. Instead of freaking out about it and dramatically changing my programming, I just kept doing what I was doing for the most part. Usually things started moving forward again. If I needed to make a change, they’d only be minor tweaks. 

I’ve seen the idea that progress isn’t linear in other parts of my life. During my weight loss journey this year, I’d have weeks where I didn’t lose weight or even gained a few pounds. I didn’t freak out. I just stuck to the plan and made minor adjustments now and then. 

My mood is another area where I’ve seen progress, but not linearly. I’m mercurial and melancholy by nature. I’ve struggled with the black dog for most of my adult life and been consciously working on it for the better part of 15 years. Overall, I think I’m in a much better place now with my mood. Kate would affirm this. My temperamental troughs are less frequent than they were a decade ago, and when they hit, they’re shorter in duration.

But there have been many ups and downs along the way to get to this point. The big thing that’s changed is that when I backslide, I don’t beat myself up over it. I just see it as a setback and stick to my long-standing plan for keeping the black dog leashed.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Bruce Lee and Grappling

When we think of Bruce Lee, we think of punching, kicking and trapping; but the fourth corner of his theory of combat was grappling. 

Below is a 5 minute presentation on grappling in Jeet Kune Do.