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Lifts and Duels

Trouble-Rachel, Ashley, Electra.

Future trouble-Juju, Marilu, Lauren.

You must think neither of victory nor of defeat, but only of cutting and killing your enemy.

Admittedly a little violent, but that bit of wisdom from 17th century Japan has a huge amount of carryover to CrossFit. It is part of the “Book of 5 Rings”, the Go Rin No Sho, by the swordsman Myamoto Musashi. Musashi is probably the most famous swordsman in Japanese history and one of the best. He fought in at least two major battles and in over 60 duels, many to the death. He was never defeated. After he retired from dueling, Musashi wrote his famous book, the “Book of 5 Rings”, while living in a cave in Southern Japan. Musashi has been the subject of numerous films and books and the “Book of 5 Rings” has been widely translated into English. Musashi was also a superlative painter, his skill with a sword being reflected in his brush.

You must think neither of victory nor of defeat, but only of cutting and killing your enemy.

Musashi knew that in a combat to the death, there can be no thoughts of losing. But also, there can be no thoughts of winning. The path to victory and thus life is to only think of killing your enemy. I was reminded of this truism while watching two-time Olympian Kevin McMahon coach to a muscle up. The athlete had just ‘gotten’ the muscle up, and he reached up for the rings saying that he hoped his bad shoulder would be ok if he did another one. Kevin immediately stopped him and said “if you are going to do the muscle up, you can’t think about your shoulder, or anything besides getting the muscle up. The only thing in your mind has to be that you will get the muscle up.”

Your mental self-talk and thoughts are hugely important. Kevin knows this. He will safely miss a heavy single (think 255# power snatch) a dozen times in a row and then nail it. There is never anything in his mind but making the lift. Greg Amundson teaches a 4 hour workshop on it. He has found that his mindset is the most important aspect of his training. Myamoto Musashi knew it and emerged unscathed in dozens of duels.

When you approach a heavy lift or a heavy movement, thinking of possible failure will make the possibility of failure all the more likely. Think only of making the lift, or a certain aspect of the movement, such as knees out on a squat or aggressive head on a jerk or ceiling floor on a muscle up. Thankfully, our training is not a matter of life and death in an immediate sense, such as a duel, but there is the possibility of injury. Injuries are much more likely to occur if the thought of their possibility is present.  Full commitment on a lift or movement goes way beyond just dropping under the bar. It is mental as well. Be fully committed mentally to a lift and it will be that much easier and safer for your body to do it.

The next step is the extrapolation of Musashi’s wisdom to your overall training and then to the rest of your life.

As Musashi ends each chapter in his book, you must practice this diligently.

Please post thoughts to Comments.

Your moment of Zen, 20 seconds long and 66 inches high.

Workout:

Clean

On the minute for 10 minutes:

1 Power Clean

1 Squat Clean

Use 80-85% Power Clean 1RM

Then (this WOD has been making the rounds among Games competitors):

5 Rounds

15 Sumo Deadlift High Pull

15 Thrusters

M=75#/W=55#.

4 Comments

  1. emily

    REALLY love this post, Sam. Can’t tell you how much my training (and life) have improved since I started making a conscious effort to track and revise my internal dialogue. It’s just so huge.

    In other news–such great photos!!

  2. Nancy

    Sam, this is a great post. It is so relevant to CrossFit! I can think of the times, when trying a heavier lift, the negative chatter starts inside my head. It is so mental. Many thanks for showing the link to his painting. Amazing. And, apropos of Greg-when are you going to get him back for another workshop?

  3. electra

    Great post Sam. I am challenged daily by self talk/between the ears and need to be reminded daily to think in terms of accomplishing the task/lift versus 10 other things going through my mind! Great photo’s and future trouble looks like big trouble!

  4. Rachel

    Who you calling trouble? :)

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