…Through the virtue of training, Enlighten both body and soul — Morihei Sensei

Archive for March, 2010

Introduced to the Warrior through Running.

I love to run.  I used to say I hated running.  But I haven’t been entirely honest in that regard.  When I was younger, I did dread actually running.  However, it’s not true that I hated all aspects of running.  Also true is that just in the past few years that I have grown to love running. However, as a young man, I was introduced to the magic of self-transformation through running.

When I was younger, we had to run all the time, and I hated it.  I’ve always maintained that I had hated it.  Now, however, running is something that I do for the love of it.  Last year, with work projects, kids schedules, general craziness, one week off from training led to another.  Eventually, it became four months of no training whatsoever–it caused a lot of guilt feelings.  So how did it come to pass that I went from dreading, to now loving running?  That is a longer story. I would like to look at one moment in that journey. Lets go back in time to my first discovery of the deeper benefits of running.

In the Army, we ran virtually every day.  My unit was marked by a particular hardass mentality. We ran fast, long & often.  Frequently, I felt like my chest would burst.  Also, running in the different training schools was stressful because to fall out of runs was to get kicked out of the programs.  There was one particular school where the runs were particularly brutal.  They would start out fast, and get faster.  They would be for unknown distances,  so pacing was impossible, and made the runs even more mentally grueling.  Fall out of three runs, and you were out (or at least on your way to the pogue Army) There came a point where if I fell out of one more run, I would be in the shit squad.  The instructors took me and another fellow aside for a talking to. I didn’t fall out of anymore runs.  The runs didn’t get easier.  The pace didn’t slow.  I didn’t all of a sudden become a good runner. 

What changed?  A switch tripped in my head.  Or more accurately, in my gut–It was gut check time.  Every run from that point on was a pure gut check. Interestingly, I gained a sense of pride and confidence from tripping that switch.  I learned something about myself that day.  I knew in my heart that, should I need to,  I could gut my way through with sheer will power.  A confidence I’ve come to rely on a few times since.  A confidence and a knowledge of self I gained through running. My first real introduction to being a Warrior.

It was an introduction to a certain type of self-transformation. I don’t have a name for it, but it entails looking into your soul, digging down and just pulling something out. Before that point you didn’t know that Thing existed. But you need it and now its here. After going through that experience many times, you begin to be able to rely on it. It bolsters you in the face of fear and doubt. It warms you on cold nights when you awake in the woods covered in snow. It provides a bubble of calm when chaos is erupting around you. The mind set of the Warrior.


Running and Warriorship

For me training and Warriorship are intimately connected.  Some training may seem obvious, such as Shinkendo, sword training, and other martial arts.  However, one training which holds a particularly strong connection to Warriorship for me, is running.  Several aspects of running that make this connection.  One is the nature of what’s involved psychologically with long distance endurance running.  Another are the types of goals and motivations one needs to maintain endurance training over time.  And a third, on a more mystical level, is the ancestral connection between running and our ancestral Warriors.  For me, the convergence of these facets makes endurance running an ideal physical training for the Warrior.

Fundamentally, long distance running involves overcoming pain and discomfort and willingly causing oneself to be subjected to such over long periods of time.  The clincher is that the runner grows to enjoy this.  As a young man, I was required to run fast, and long virtually every day, and I always say hated it.  However, this is not true.  I did, in fact, hate running.  But I  learned to love the residual side effects.  The performance boost it gave me in other activities,  the sense of calm I was embewed with for the remainder of the day, the clarity, the pride.  This type of self-imposed discipline, coupled with a developing affinity for, and enjoyment of the discipline, is very closely aligned with the discipline and development of a Warrior.  Whereas much of the discipline experienced in society is enforced from without, the Warrior’s discipline is built from within, within the construction of his personal architecture.

The goals a runner sets and adjusts over time, as well as what motivates a runner, are very akin to the Warrior.  I always say if you’re not training for an event, you’re just exercising. The point is that there needs to be a point.  There needs to be something you’re moving towards, and getting ready for, that is outside of yourself.  It’s not enough, for example, to do it to look good.  Also, a runner needs to adjust goals over time, initially as one’s ability increases, the goals will become more challenging.  Runners will encounter setbacks, bad race times, injuries, illnesses going into a race.  These will put don Miguel Ruiz’s mantra into perspective, “Always do your best.”  Your best will fluctuate.  Also, as you get older maybe, the physical challenge will give way to other goals, and payoffs.  Critical to the Warrior’s development is the experience of setbacks, and the adjustments required to deal with, and overcome those setbacks.  Sometimes, we must be water and, overcoming means adjusting goals.  Sometimes, as water it means just wearing those obstacles away.  Regardless, setbacks and their impact on goals are critical to the Warrior’s development.

On a more mystical level, the runner and the warrior are linked by millions of years of human evolution.  Humans are built for long distance running.  Anthropologists frequently point to our several physical shortcomings, but the ability of humans to cover long distances continually, and relentlessly is, not unique, but rare in the animal kingdom, and singularly unique amongst primates.  Additionally, running constitutes the first form of human hunting.  Today this is referred to as persistence hunting.  On its basic level, running prey down for miles and miles, until the prey succumbs to exhaustion.  Historically, this was an all hands-on-deck affair, practiced by males and females.  It is still practiced in certain parts of the world today.

The best runners, as time went on, developed into the core of warrior societies.  Running is still today, a key component of training soldiers, the one-dimensional cousins of Warriors.  The soldier experiences all of the above described aspects of running during his time in training.  Running becomes a purposeful activity, especially to the light-infantry soldier, whose job description includes potentially finding himself literally running for his life.

Whereas Warriors and soldiers are not the same.  The experience of the soldier in running as an integral part of their training points to the kinship between Warriors and running.  The psychological challenges, the peculiar morphing natures of a runners goals and motivations, and this visceral, ancestral connection underscore the connection between Warriors and running.  They point to the usefulness of running as a training activity, and as a key in unlocking the mystical doorway.

Racing calendar 2010. . .March update

I know everyone is so interested in my personal race calendar–I felt compelled to post an update (that was tongue-in cheek). Anyhow, my goal is to race once each month this year. I have raced Jan and Feb, and now plan to run in the Strides of March 5k on 27 March 2010, benefiting the Atlanta Homeless Children’s Shelter — http://www.atlantachildrensshelter.com/.

Aside from that, I’m looking fairly seriously at:

    3 Apr — the Dirty Spokes 4.5 miler , late after 20 Mar
    4 Jul — Peachtree Road Race (although I despise Active.com, their “processing fees”, and being essentially forced to register through them)

See my preliminary list race list for 2010.

Helping Pandas

Post by guest author, S. J., 7 years old.

panda bear and her cubsPanda bears are cute and adorable but on the endangered species list.Their habitat has an extremely poor diet.There are two kinds of panda bears.The giant black and white panda, the one that comes to most of our minds, but there’s also the red panda which is also called the lesser panda.There are very few pandas left in the wild and zoologists have been largely unsuccessful in breeding them in captivity up to now.The Chinese government has taken steps to protect these endangered animals.Will YOU help protect these animals?

The Warrior Connection . . .

Recap: The question I’ve been looking at is, whether mystics of varied traditions are more alike to one another, or to their respective orthodox traditions. My operating premise is, mystics of different traditions share more affinity with one another, than with their orthodoxies. This is an interesting philosophical inquiry, but what good is it as a practical matter? How can an individual, in this case myself, create a synthesis of varying spiritual and philosophical bents into a coherent practice. I’ve determined that it is not an issue of developing a coherent dogma, but of adopting a particular perspective or view point.

The practical question: What then is this perspective? From my reading, it seems that the principle of Warriorship is nearly universal. Additionally, the warrior is naturally inclined to adopt a mystical perpective. Warriors, or their more one-sided counterparts, soldiers are confronted with the question: “What if I die today?” That question, when taken as a true possibility, changes your perspective. Death is then no longer a thing you experience at the end of a long life, after you’ve had a chance to put your house in order. It is not a thing that you get to choose, lying in a sick bed as an old man. It becomes a thing that you might experience in any moment. There is not drama. There is not glory. There is no anger. It is a thing you and they are engaged in. And any loss of focus, or bad luck can have you experiencing the sledge hammer effect of a full-metal jacket round piercing your ribcage.

This is not to say that Warriors are soldiers, or engaged in the profession of killing people. But it is to say that Warriors must confront this question. And when you confront the question head on, you are left with a strange sensation that the dogmatic religious views of pillow-soft handed preachers misses the essence. When given an option, warrior cultures almost universally adopt mystical spiritual traditions. Samurai, North and South American Native Americans, Masaai, Indians, Spartans, Templars, Australian Aborigines.

It’s a hell of a thing when your sitting there, dealing with, not your mortality, but the immediacy of it. It will change your perspective. That is the perspective, it seems, I need to dial in on.