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Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Hunger Is a Sensation"

Fasting, of one kind or another, is all the rage in certain corners these days. I don't have a strong opinion on it, though I confess to regarding it with the same level of skepticism that I tend to view all rising fads. There may be some value to fasting occasionally, but some people get kind of crazy about it.

However, yesterday was Yom Kippur, and I fasted for about 24 hours. I stopped eating after dinner Tuesday night, and did not eat (or drink) again until Wednesday night. The not drinking thing wasn't planned, but it happened, so I rolled with it. The whole experience was kind of interesting. I might have learned some things.

1. Hunger is a Sensation

I heard Phil Stevens say this one of the recent Iron Radio shows, and it kept running through my head throughout the day. It's easy to attach all kinds of weight and emotion to being hungry, but it is just a sensation. That kind of became a mantra for me...I would notice the sensation, acknowledge it, and then go about my day.

2. Staying busy helps.

I made breakfast for the kids. Took the dog out. Went to Synagogue. Played outside with my son. Took a quick trip to throw out an old toilet. Talked to my mother on Facetime. Keeping busy helped me ignore the hunger, and made me focus on other things. Honestly, it kind of helped keep me present.

3.  Pushing "a little farther" works for me.

This is something I've found a viable strategy for anything that requires endurance. If I can consistently trick myself into thinking that I'll do just a little more before I quit, I finish. If I had set out to fast the whole day, I'm not sure I would have made it, but I kept telling myself "just go a little longer" or "if I really need it, I'll grab a drink in a few minutes", and then I would chug on for another hour or two. It's a complete head game, but it works for me.

The breakfast was nice. I ate, but didn't stuff myself. Not all of it was "healthy" food (the ice cream trifle was damn tasty though), but I actually gorged myself less than in some years where I hadn't fasted as rigorously.

Oddly, my schedule today shook out so that I didn't eat for a big chunk of the day. It worked out fine too.

In one of his books, Dan John recommends spending time being hungry occasionally. I think I may continue to play with it.

In Before We Go, Dan John also lists a series of challenges he believes everyone should do. Number six is a twenty four hour fast. I discovered this last night while re-reading the book.


Sunday, August 14, 2016


Had an interesting conversation with M the other day.

We use a lot of bad analogies and terms when we talk about fighting. Well, perhaps not bad, but incomplete. I think that incompleteness trips people up.

"Chess with muscles at 100 miles an hour" sounds good, and it captures some of the strategic elements of a duel, but chess is turn-based. Even in speed chess, it's still "you go/I go". No such requirement exists in a fight. It can be "I go/I go/I go" (or you go/you go/you go). We can both go at the same time. Thinking in terms of you "you go/I go" turns out to be horribly unproductive (and for self-defense, almost completely useless).

The offense/thing is a similar problem. Somehow, the analogy of football came up: in football, you have one side on offense, and one side on defense, and the two don't mix. Hell, at the highest levels, you don't even have the same players doing both jobs. The guy who is on the offensive line does not play on the defensive line. Different job.

In a fight, offense and defense are relative. They can happen at the same time. They can be happening in different directions. I got on this thought because I noticed that, while M does better overall moving forward, he tends to get hit a lot. Turned out that in his mind, moving forward meant "offense", and he completely forgot about "defense". The idea that he could parry (for example) while moving forward hadn't clicked.

The flip side--there are plenty of great counterfighters who do well moving backwards. This is an arguable point, but I think if you're knocking people out while moving backwards, then you are on "offense" when you are backing up.

Mostly, I think this is a language thing. Fighting is weird and complex, and putting it into words tends to necessarily simplify the complex thing. It's understandable, but sometimes, it puts weird ideas into our heads (or our student's heads).

The Elite and You

There's a common assumption (and marketing tool) in the martial arts/self-defense/physical fitness industry that if a program, training method, or piece of equipment works for the "elite" (special forces, top-tier fighters, superior athletes), then that program, training method, or piece of equipment MUST be good for everyone.

It's a really tempting logic chain, but mostly, it doesn't work.

Dan John's Quadrant model outlines this very clearly for physical training. The elite just don't need the same things that the average person does. Honestly, the elite mastered the thing that the average person still struggles with on regular basis a long time ago. They are building on an incredible foundation: if you don't have that foundation, trying to build on it doesn't make sense.

The martial arts counterpart here: I see people trying to get good at showboat tricks without having the foundation. A few years ago, Anthony Pettis shocked the world by pulling off something straight out of a Jackie Chan movie in an MMA fight. And hey, that was genuinely impressive. But I was then forced to endure at least a month of watching people who can't kick well when standing on the ground try to throw that kick. Look, let's be real for a second here: if you can't throw a proper body kick when you're just standing in place, you probably shouldn't be trying to jump off walls to do it.

My wife and I caught a bit of the Olympic swimming competition the other night, and she remarked that the difference between the silver and bronze medalist was one tenth (that's 0.1) of a second. At the highest levels, a tenth of a percent matters. For the average person, a tenth of a second probably isn't measured. It just doesn't matter.

And here's the thing about that: those elite level swimmers? They have training programs designed to add that 0.1 seconds to their swim time, because that matters in their world. It probably does not matter in the lives of the average person. Chasing it means chasing that little percentage point to the exclusion of more productive uses of your training time.

Also, most of those programs assume a lifestyle that is not compatible with the average persons. You can train really, really hard when that's your job. If you don't have eight hours a day to devote to your chosen activity, you might want to rethink the idea of using a training method designed for someone who does.

Equipment is a little different, and the argument that people who do something seriously need very good equipment is occasionally legitimate. I say "occasionally" because sometimes, that equipment is really overkill. I mean, I could buy a barbell that would left me lift 1000 pounds, and it's probably a really nice barbell, but I'm in no danger of pulling a 1000 pounds, and a cheaper bar would probably serve me just as well.

It all kind of boils down to this: just because the elite do something does not mean you should do it. Evaluate based on your own goals and abilities, and be honest about what those are. It may sound cool to train like a navy seal, but unless you are one, there's no necessarily any point.