Shu-Ha-Ri

The first rule of Fight Club is: don’t talk about Fight Club. And the sign of someone truly confident is someone who doesn’t need to brag or show off about what they can do.
One of the clichés that I always repeat when people ask me why I’m in South Africa is just about how I fell in love with the place. That the lights seemed brighter, the sounds seemed louder, everything seemed more vivid here. Still does. Susan was saying how when she is taking photos she can actually kind of see the vividness. But, I suppose, she’s looking for it since I put the idea into her head.
One of the best things about new people coming to town is getting to see the world through their eyes, which is to say, a reminder of what I used to notice before I just got used to it as being ‘normal.’ The curiosity about the car guards, the amusement over buying electricity, the crazy insane hectic traffic, the overuse of the word hectic. It’s like Olivia said on the way home from work every day in reference to the pedestrians nearly getting run over by various vehicles including my own: “It’s like Frogger! Every day!”
I’ve been thinking this week about how you see what you are looking for, and how much of everything really is in the mind. The difference between the Olympic lift you make and the lift you miss isn’t your strength, it’s your belief as to whether or not you will make the lift (well, that and the execution). But you miss almost 100% of the lifts you believe you are going to miss when the bar leaves the ground.
My crazy hectic physiotherapy is so painful that some of the practioners have a hard time doing it, because some of the patients literally can’t stand the pain. I can understand that. I have a high pain tolerance, and I find it …. Very painful. But, it actually makes sense to me and it definitely seems to be helping, dramatically. I had never really thought of being able to handle high levels of pain as mental strength, but it beats telling the physio to stop and either not getting the benefit, or having to take more sessions to work as deep as is needed. I always say to anyone doing bodywork on me that whatever pain they cause hurts less than the pain of injury. Do what you need to do, people.
But you also see what you are looking for, and miss what you don’t. It’s ironic when you say something intended to make someone think about what they are doing but it’s too subtle and goes right over their head. Or when you start seeing yin and yang everywhere, once you start looking for it.
It’s all sparring. It’s all kung fu.
I love it.
I think when people look at CrossFit they see the physical. I think when you start CrossFit you focus on the physical, and the diet, sleep, recovery, etc. The mental aspect of it is there, but it’s kind of hidden. The yin is outweighed by the yang. Perhaps that’s what makes CrossFit New England so successful (they are famous for focusing on mental training). How to train your mind … I am not sure. It’s like how to maintain proper body movement while fatigued. I even specifically decided to do a workout with deadlifts, to practice body control while injured and fatigued. Risky, yes, but it’s part of my mental training. Definitely a realisation I’ve come to recently; I would much rather be complimented for my mental strength than any sort of physical prowess, and you can always tell the people who will be good because of the look in their eyes rather than what their bodies are currently capable of.
When I was at university I took this one writing class where the teacher said on the first class something about how tough it was going to be. Some huge number of people didn’t come back. For me, that ‘warning’ was the best advertisement possible. To say that qigong has the highest dropout rate in the Centre, is a similar sort of advertisement, especially when coupled with the statement that it’s possibly the most powerful thing taught there. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun to master; there wouldn’t be a sense of accomplishment.
Something else is the importance of taking what your teachers have to teach you, and once you reach a certain level of competence interpreting their teachings in your own way and then potentially even moving beyond. Interesting excerpt from another blog post on this subject:
Going back further in Okinawan Karate history before Karate was introduced to Japan, they had the interesting concept of Shu-Ha-Ri, which I have discussed before.  However, to recap:
Shu:    means that you copy your master as closely as possible, to learn his techniques in as much detail as you can.
Ha:    means that once your technique is up to a good standard, you have the freedom to make subtle changes to suit your own physique and experiences.
Ri:    means that you have mastered the techniques to the extent that they are a natural part of you.  At this point the student may transcend the master.
This is not a far cry from Bruce Lee’s famous quote: “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.”



Wise.


But – when the end of the road approaches, sometimes we don’t want to see it. Call it inertia, call it worshipping sunk costs … I’ve always said when I absorb what I can and get bored I move on. But usually I take about a year too long to do so. However, which is worse – sticking it out too long and making sure you’ve learned all you have to learn, or snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? In a way, I may have left Ask Jeeves too early. But man, it was crushing my soul to stay. I don’t regret that decision any more than I regret quitting school to work there.
Maybe at the end of the day that’s what it comes down to: regrets and remorse. The two are not the same, by the way, any more than are correlation and causation.
I have been discussing gender and strength in South Africa for a couple of days now, ever since Marcel (the sprint coach) was saying how many fewer women were doing athletics now than was the case 20 years ago. They are all now too afraid of growing big muscles. Anna was saying that she stopped weight training for the same reason. Seems to me this country needs some strong female sex symbols, to at least give women a choice of what they want to aspire to.
I mean really, for every guy who might think I am too muscular, or strong or aggressive or scary there are probably three who think I’m incredibly hot because I’m strong, and because I’m different. The cute little CrossFit outfits that look even cuter out of context don’t hurt, certainly. But let’s face it (I can’t take credit for taking this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, so I’ll just say it – Susan is right!): any man who’s going to be interesting to her (or me) is going to be one who’s not afraid of that strength. One who, when the sweats come off doesn’t back away but rather lets out an involuntary: “Oh yeah!”
And I don’t just mean the physical strength. If you’re going to spar, there needs to be respect.
  • “I could never be with someone who is either physically or emotionally weaker than I am.” – Susan
  • “When your heart rate goes up, it gets hard.” – Graham
  • “It will do you a world of good.” – Hon
  • “If I say I think you’re strange, it means I love you. If I say I think you’re a nerd, it means I respect you.” – Ellie
  • “It’s Laa-Laa. What’s the worst that could happen?” – Ellie (this was followed by maniacal laughing by Susan)
  • “Ellie, I’m actually scared that one day I’m going to break my computer over WordPress. No, I’m being serious now, this is ridiculous.” – Tallan (I was giggling in the middle)
  • “I think you’ve found your guy.” – Zaheer
  • “You can’t feel sorry for horrible creatures!” – Bridget
  • “Dragon water. Well of course it is [called that].” – Susan
  • “I never could be vegetarian. It wouldn’t be possible.” – Jeff

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