3 new exercises

The first one is making your joints supple. As Ido Portal puts it, you will undoubtedly fall out of a safe form during movement: landings won’t be perfect, joints will get twisted, you’ll hit something harder than you should have and so forth. There is no way to counter this – you can only prepare your body for such stress, and that means joint stretches, putting intentional pressure locks on every joint: fingers, wrists, elbows, neck, spine, knees and so on. Try to simulate the possible scenarios in which you fall out of form.

The second one is dodging exercises. See, I believe it’s possible to dodge bullets. Thing is, you won’t be faster than a bullet, but you need only be faster than a finger pulling the trigger and your life is saved. One important thing too is that a bullet hitting you is no guarantee of your death, especially instant death. Instant death by shooting is actually not so easy to accomplish. Move laterally, make your body as small a target as possible, bob and weave, flip, go to the ground, roll, go up, be unpredictable.

The third one is holding heavy things with your arms straightened. This strengthens the scapular muscles which are very important for planches, handstands and presses. This is what I mean:

 

Enjoy.

 

Questions you need to ask yourself in any (potentially dangerous) situation

When in an environment that you are not sure is safe, or you are sure is not safe, there are several things you ought to do in order to maximize the chances of your own survival and getting the best out of the situation.

  1. In which way is this dangerous for me?
  2. In which way can I use this for my own advantage?
  3. In which way can I use this for the advantage of others?

“This” is anything you’re faced with. It can be a person, an unexpected letter, a car passing slowly by you, anything at all. The problem with all these questions is that they demand at least several seconds for thinking so they cannot be asked in absolutely all situations – sometimes you just need to react, and it needs to happen now.

In addition to these questions, there are two more things you should do:

  1. Listen to your intuition. How do you feel about something? Does something feel wrong? Dangerous? Do not ignore what your guts tell you.
  2. Think about it some more. Do not limit yourself to the three questions above. Put what you have in a wider context so you can understand it better. The three questions are only concerned with the immediate survival and giving you advantage if the thing turns out to be dangerous. Allow yourself some more time for reflection.

What juggling taught me about practice time

Last week, I learned to juggle. I attended a free workshop and with no prior experience in juggling and around 3 hours of practice, I managed to do the basic “cascading” move and several others, a bit more advanced moves. All in all, nothing spectacular, but the fact remains that I learned it pretty fast. I have a martial arts background which obviously necessitates reflexes, so it had to help too, but aside from that there was no prior experience or background.

So, which factors made my learning curve so rapid? One is obviously good teachers. The guys and the girl that held the workshop were very good teachers, everyone with their unique style of teaching but always focused on the person they were instructing. This is what I wrote about before, the value of mentors in life. With a good teacher you learn much faster than by yourself.

The other one is hard work. The basis of Kung Fu, I knew this from before. When you invest your time, you truly invest it, you don’t slack around. And when you do this, you also touch another eastern concept – being in the moment, which is the basis of Zen.

The third one is intelligent work. Practicing really hard isn’t going to do you much good if what you’re practicing is shit. Intelligent work is, for example, a drummer practicing with a metronome. Hard work and intelligent work rarely come together, which is unfortunate. When you are aware of what you are doing, when you keep track of what you are doing and when you evaluate yourself and your progress, being cognitively present in the process, actually trying to understand it, then you work intelligent. You cannot think about what you’re doing and be in the moment while you do it, that’s impossible. But you can think before you enter your Zen-zone, and you should.

Now, what does all this juggling-talk have to do with becoming overhuman?

Well, aside from the fact that you certainly benefit on a neurological scale from learning a new motor skill, not to mention reflex development, there are many interesting lessons that can be drawn from it.

It doesn’t matter if you specialize or if you try to become a generalist in your practice (e.g. basketball player vs. mover) the same thing goes for everyone – practice time is precious and finite. I see myself as a generalist. As Ido Portal puts it: “If you specialize, you will pay a price.” This means that, unlike your Muay Thai fighter or your hand balancer, I try to do things that are outside my training curriculum. That’s the reason I attended a juggling workshop.

 

Do you know what’s the difference between me and you? You practice gymnastics, I practice everything.

 

This quote, from “The Peaceful Warrior”, sends a very strong message to me. And with it comes the knowledge that the time you have to practice everything is precious, so you better practice good. Find tools, mechanisms, systems that make you master things quickly, and find systems and mechanisms for maintenance, so you don’t lose what you learned.

I hope it is clear that I’m not talking just about motor skills and body movement, but self-development as a whole.

You should find your own systems, but nothing stops you from getting inspired by others’. Here are mine (this list will probably change with time; this is what I do now):

To master and maintain mastery of a skill:

  • finding good resources, good teachers and good training partners: this one has several problems, for example the Dogmatic teacher or the Unpleasant teacher. Both these guys can teach you a lot but they are quite difficult to work with. Sometimes, you are not sure that what you’re being shown is complete bullshit or something useful. Wax on, wax off anyone? What I would recommend here is taking a step backward and looking at things like this: is your teacher better than you in the skill you wish to attain? Is he a lot better? If the answer is a firm yes, then proceed with your teacher’s program but allow yourself to think, to ask questions, to probe, to intentionally do it wrong to see the reaction of your teacher and so on. Sometimes, the action you’re required to do will be very useful for your skill. And sometimes it won’t. There is no way to find out if you don’t let some time pass and see the effects on you, but you can always probe.
  • working hard: already mentioned it – when you do something, don’t slack off, do it, be focused.
  • working intelligent: think about what you’re doing, try to find new ways to train (build up your creativity by doing this), evaluate yourself, compare yourself to other people and if they do better than you, find out what it is they’re doing that’s giving them an edge over you.
  • alternate between perfecting one part of the skill and learning new stuff around the skill. This is best explained with an example: when trying to get a good handstand, sometimes you should practice a regular handstand and practice hard, but sometimes you should just try to do even more advanced stuff like one-armed handstands, planches and so on. Often, doing things that are even more difficult than the thing you want to do will make that thing easier.
  • visualization: learn to visualize your skill and practice it in your mind. Visualize success before training, and it will help you succeed.
  • do dangerous shit/do shit on the first take: don’t try to do things and rehearse it a trillion times before you do it – just do them. As Yoda put it: “Do, or do not, there is no try!” If you’re afraid of a backflip, but you know you can do it and you did it before, then you just have to do it. When you throw yourself in dangerous situations, you certainly grow.

Always suppose you’re on the losing side

A quick thought:

When you’re trying to outsmart someone, and it’s working, always suppose that you’re being outsmarted. Likewise, when you’re winning in a fight, always suppose that you’re actually losing. When having an argument, suppose that you may be wrong.

If you do all these things and always keep your head up for the possibility of you losing, then, when it really does happen, you’ll be ready for that option. So keep your head out of the sand and always suppose that it’s actually you that’s being defeated and outsmarted.

Deep-listening and service to others

In perceiving the world around you, you should always listen to people. No-brainer, right? But listening to people is actually quite difficult and I’m going to differentiate between listening and deep-listening (with such a cool name, it’s obviously the thing you want to do).

When you really listen to people, you understand what they’re saying, you understand their emotional states, you can be compassionate about their problems and so on. True listening is needed in order to deep-listen.

Even when people listen to others, which is outrageously rare, at least in my life, where it seems that almost everybody wants to talk and get heard, but nobody is prepared to be silent and hear others – even when it happens, there is still one step more where you get a better picture of the persons mind.

What I label deep-listening might as well be labeled „discourse analysis“ (see also). There are many things that are unsaid when a person talks, but are still „said“, in a way. And I’m not even talking about non-verbals, even though they are a very important part of deep-listening. When you deep-listen to other people, you actively analyze what they are saying, real-time. You ask yourself questions about what they say (analysis of consistency, coherence and meaning), you ask yourself about them (their emotional state, and what they want), you monitor changes on their body and discourse after your responses. Shortly, you listen smarter. It is very difficult for me to instruct anybody about this because I’m far from mastering it, but I’ve seen a glimpse of it and I share what I have realized.

With that in mind…

I have come to realize that service to others is an integral part of becoming overhuman. It never really dawned upon me that I don’t do much for others while I focus on myself and my development. What good is it all if it’s only self-serving?

When learning new things, I always ask myself this question: „How can I exploit this? How can I use it in my favor?“ This exploitation is, naturally, always benevolent. But it is necessary to ask this question too: „How can this be useful to other people?“ Nothing obliges you to devote yourself to absolute altruism and stop caring about yourself so that other people are satisfied. There is a difference between sacrificing your own well-being for others and serving others. Everyone always starts from herself – you change yourself, and then change the world, right? But there comes a time when you CAN actually change the world, and many people forget about this.

So go wash the dishes. Repair your family member’s bike. Fix the TV for them. Clean the toilet. Do people favors, unasked. Don’t look for anything in return. The first step was starting to listen to other people, and the next step is doing things for them. So go do them. Don’t think about doing them, don’t plan doing them – do them.

Self-inflicted brainwash + multiprocess thinking

Self-inflicted brainwash

Everybody gets side-winded. Sickness, lack of willpower, other people’s influence – there are many things that can get us off tracks. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new dietary regime, fitness challenge or a wish to grow – sooner or later, everyone is going to lose momentum and stop.

The only thing that’s important is this: are you going to stop completely, never to return, rationalizing about why you can’t continue OR are you going to start again, build up momentum anew and get back into your game?

There is a trick for getting back. I call it “self-inflicted brainwash” and it’s exactly that. What made you do the thing you stopped doing in the first place? What inspired you to do any of it? Identify the things that motivate(d) you. And then – just use it. If you read a book that made you want to become smart (e.g. Dune and Sherlock Holmes) – read it again! If you saw a show or a movie that inspired you to work out hard (e.g. Dragon Ball) – see it again! If a real living person made you laugh and made you more positive and thrill-seeking, then go talk and socialize with that person! Drown yourself in the stuff that motivated you to move forward and you will reemerge – stronger.

Multiprocess thinking

Multiprocess thinking is for me a new thing. It’s basically thinking about more than one thing at the same time. It sounds pretty impossible but I suppose there are individuals out there that can do that. I, for one, am not one of them. If I think, I can have only one thought process, one “line” at a time. I can interchange, but it’s always only one at a time. The key here is this interchange: if you interchange between two thinking streams fast enough, it basically becomes dual process thinking (i.e. thinking about two different things at the same time).

I came up with an exercise for this: thinking about something and counting 100 seconds. It’s important not to count at any speed because that allows for inconsistencies. You want to count exactly 100 seconds, mentally pronouncing every number, while thinking about something else.

It’s a fairly boring exercise, but if multiprocess thinking is possible (for humans), I’d say it’s the way to go.

There is no difference between armed and unarmed combat

When you fight somebody, you use your body as a weapon. Why is it that we differentiate our bodies so much from the objects outside of our bodies? Armed and unarmed fighting are essentially the same thing. If you train only one at a time, you could (and probably will) fall into one of the two categories – thereby limiting yourself in real confrontations.

It’s basically the same problem as being “fair“ in a fight. No eye-gauges, no groin strikes, no biting – that’s fair, right? But if you don’t recognize the potential of these weapons and if you never train them, you limit yourself severely in a true conflict. Granted, they are pretty hard to train. I mean, who wants to get kicked in the nuts? But you can always go for it and stop at the last moment, or strike nearby to the target. You can, at least, become aware of the fact that this exists and that real fights include such stuff.

It’s the same thing with weapons. What’s stopping anybody to take a knife out during your supposedly unarmed fight? Just because you started with fists, doesn’t mean that it’ll end only with that. The same thing goes in the other direction: if you’re sword fighting or doing Escrima or whatever, what is stopping you from kicking your opponent? While his attention is occupied by the weapons in your hands, a fast side-kick is a perfect thing to do to open him up.

In practical terms, I would advise to include weapons in standard sparring sessions. Why not take out a plastic blunted knife when you have the opportunity? It’ll make you much more aware of your environment during training which will translate into a greater fighting capacity in real life. Why not grab a chair and use it to keep a distance? Why not throw sand at somebody? Why not roll a magazine and use it for hitting? The options are plentiful, yet we all train either armed or unarmed, unaware of the fact that this distinction doesn’t exist in real life.