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 ~

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Some of the Inner Work of Practice

As martial artists, we can learn from other, non-martial activities, which I refer to as "Budo with a small B." Among these is weight lifting.

Like martial arts, weight lifters can ride on the surface of what their discipline has to teach, or they can go more deeply and plumb the depths.

Below is an excerpt from an article written by Jordan Castro, which appeared at Harpers, who is a novelist and happens to take his weight training very serioudly. The full article may be read here.


Now comes the best part: The reason I came to the gym in the first place. I experience a sensation I think of as “opening up.” I receive new eyes. When blood flows into your muscles it changes your eyes—like wearing glasses. It starts in your blood and stretches out over the world, where everything remains the same, but different. It’s as if each color contains a deeper, richer layer of itself, invisible during the rote machinery of life—working on my laptop, making food, driving my car—which only gets revealed when blood makes muscle thick and full. Before, I saw colors, but now I can actually see; before, I could breathe, but now I can actually breathe. Anxiety disappears; stress disappears; the stories that I tell myself in language disappear. I experience something like pure phenomenological Life. And just as Life can only be understood in and through Life—revealing itself in the living ongoingly—the pump can only be understood through the pump. One cannot theorize or think their way into a pump; my pecs quiver; the neon red sign that reads the montanari bros. new haven the super gym becomes redder; the black floor and black weights become blacker—everything becomes both sharper and softer; clearer and warm; the taste of iron fills my mouth; I shake my arms and check the clock so I know when to begin my next set. When a minute passes, I lay back down and disappear.

This, in so many words, is the activity that increasing numbers of us engage in on a regular basis—that has changed the lives of millions of Americans in recent years. Roughly half of Americans say they exercise at least a few times a week. Since 2010, the number of people with a gym membership has increased by 32 percent, to 66.5 million people, a growth that is expected to continue. And weight lifting is now the second most popular form of exercise in gyms in the United States. More people are exercising, and the way they are exercising has changed.

I will stick to “lifting” to describe what is in reality several types of exercise, each with its own distinct methods and goals, but with enough in common to be comfortably grouped together. Each involves moving one’s body against some kind of resistance (weights, exercise bands, bars, the floor), with the intention of changing one’s body (usually to become stronger, leaner, or both). There is Olympic weight lifting, which focuses on two barbell lifts (the snatch and the clean and jerk); bodybuilding, which focuses on aesthetics (size, conditioning, and symmetry); powerlifting, which focuses on trying to lift as much weight as possible with the squat, bench press, and dead lift; “powerbuilding,” a mix of powerlifting and bodybuilding; calisthenics, which primarily utilizes body weight exercises like push-up and pull-up variations; high-intensity resistance training; and more.

Until recently, lifting was associated almost exclusively with a specific kind of meathead: crude, tattooed, ragey, offensive. Gyms were viewed as “sweaty dungeons,” and lifters seen as “unintelligent,” Natalia Mehlman Petrzela writes in her book Fit Nation. When my dad lifted in the early Eighties, as he tells it, men at the gym would openly shoot steroids while sitting on old equipment. But now, all kinds of people lift. Daniel Kunitz, author of the book Lift, has written about authors and their exercise routines: Kant, Thoreau, Hemingway, Nietzsche, Roth. Most enjoyed cardio, such as walking—or they engaged in some oddly specific movement, like Jack Kerouac, who said he would “stand on [his] head in the bathroom, on a slipper, and touch the floor nine times with [his] toe tips, while balanced.” It’s only recently that more people have begun to lift weights, and that the older mode of hypermasculine aggression has been replaced with—or at least accompanied by—something cleaner and more health-conscious.



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