I grew up loving Arnold. I lifted weights as a kid, played sports and practiced martial arts. I’d devour books and movies, watching hours of Bruce lee films and practicing my one inch punch on reluctant friends.
Quickly jumping from one sport or discipline to another, some would criticize me for not focusing and sticking to one thing. Unknown to myself at the time, this was exactly what I should have been doing. In fact, the more time I spent exploring different systems of movement, health, and training the better I got. At everything.
Think of it like this. If you want to write a song, but know only five words, you’re going to be in trouble. I was broadening my knowledge, and creating a strong base that would serve me very well in the future.
You Have One Shot. One opportunity.
You, my dear reader are awesome. Not only that, but you’re the proud owner of the most complex ‘machine’ in the known universe. Let that sink in for a moment… No really. The human body is a highly adaptive organism with a seemingly unlimited capacity to learn, create and express itself.
But there’s a problem…It’s too easy to neglect the body. In fact, if you look around any street in the western world you won’t see a mass of athletic bodies, moving with vitality and effortlessness. Which, by the way is the natural state of a human body. (If you don’t believe me go and watch some footage of tribes untouched by globalization.)
The problem isn’t laziness. It’s our genetics and a lack of knowledge. Quite simply, we’re born to be lazy. The world is easy for us now. If I don’t want to move much or eat healthy, I don’t have to and I’ll probably live to a ripe old age. This means we have to fight against our natural instincts to not expand energy. Without good reasons to do this you’ll lose the battle to motivate yourself.
Look, I don’t need to tell you that your body is degrading every day. And that you only have one. And that if you don’t know how to care for and protect your body that it may end much, much worse than you’d planned for. I don’t need to tell you all this, but I did, and its worth reminding yourself every once in a while.
Who owns your body anyway?
You are fully responsible for your body. So the question you have to ask is do you want to start the journey of real ownership. Do you want to commit to mastery? Knowing you have one body, that will one day be gone. I mean, at the end of the day nothing really matters anyway, we all die. By the way this isn’t supposed to sound negative. If you think deeply about it, you may realize that this is the ultimate freedom. You can do anything, or nothing, and it’s all the same…it is completely your choice.
Reasons For Physical Mastery
- More energy
- Ability to protect yourself and others
- Complete physical freedom
- Understanding of human nature (discipline, fear, success, failure, emotions)
- Unlimited potential for play and creativity High levels of awareness and intuition
- Deeper appreciation for life
- Impressive feats of strength and flexibility
- Knowledge of anatomy, training, nutrition and meditation, massage, injuries
And so much more…
Your body is an incredible vehicle for self-mastery, discovery and growth. From overcoming ‘impossible’ challenges, to understanding and exploring fear, creativity, and play. This all sounds great…But what exactly does mastering the body mean? And how do we go about this process?
The Big Picture
We human beings have a deep connection to learning and play. They are the building blocks of survival. Kittens will play for long periods, learning to hunt by chasing string. And dolphins, with coral. Not only that but within play is the ability to express our uniqueness and to share our art, which I believe transcends mere survival, touching on something deeper.
The body provides a way to learn and play in unlimited amounts. But we need to keep ourselves engaged. How do we do this? In one word. Progression. Our attitude should be a striving yet sensitive approach to continual and never-ending improvement. Or as the Japanese would say, ‘Kaizen’. If we approach the body in this manner, we are on the path towards mastery.
The 4 Pillars of Physical Mastery
#1 AWARENESS AND MINDFULNESS
Lets start at the beginning. This is the least sexy stuff, but perhaps the most important. The everyday tasks we do, from chopping food, walking down the stairs and going to the toilet. We should aim to bring grace and beauty to these movements by being mindful. Become aware of how you move through space. Challenge yourself to make movements smooth and effortless, silent and purposeful. These are the signs of a good mover.
As you start to become more aware and let this awareness flow into all aspects of movement, you’ll discover the hidden beauty and depth in the subtlest of movements. From riding a bike, to standing up or watching a rain drop sending ripples through water.
There are many ancient systems that develop this feel and awareness, such as zen, meditation, qigong, yoga and push hands. This ‘soft’ training underpins everything you do.
#2 NUTRITION, SLEEP AND SOCIAL
Your food, recovery and social connections all play a major role in your health and performance. Neglect these at your own peril. This pillar is just as important, if not more so, than the rest. It is however not the focus here, but I will go into much more detail in the future.
#3 FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH, FLEXIBILITY AND JOINT PREPARATION
Think of this like your armor. If you train right you will be agile, elastic, explosive and tough as an old boot. Without these your potential for complexity and play is limited and ultimately you’ll injure yourself. Trust me, I’ve been there many times and it sucks.
A functional body is one that is practical and useful. Body weight training is king here, as it provides the easiest access to high levels of multi-plane strength and stabilization. This basically means, you get strong as hell in all directions. Weights are a great tool. I used to train exclusively with them, but after moving to bodyweight I realized just how much real strength I was missing! The gym doesn’t prepare you for all the weird angles that life will throw at you. Though I definitely recommend weights to supplement your training and provide some extra resistance.
#4 Exploration and building your language
Remember, we thrive off learning and creativity. So how do we start this? It’s really simple. The best way to do this is by exploring different systems and disciplines. The list I’m about to give you is by no means complete, but if you get the basics down in all of them, you will have a very broad language, which is a great starting point for deeper exploration.
I recommend a striking and grappling art. Boxing, muay thai, and bjj cover all the basics. You can choose anything you like, but some basic skills in fighting are essential for every human.
Contemporary, hiphop, breakdancing and capoeira are some of the most creative disciplines. From floorwork, to handbalancing and flips. They are built around flow and play.
Understanding vertical locomotion is an important tool for understanding mechanics, leverage, precision, space and balance. You’ll be very surprised what you can learn in a few weeks of training. Indoors is good for ease of access and the strength components.
Efficiency, power, balance and creativity are all big parts of this discipline. However, the greatest part is the exploration into overcoming and conquering fear, which is what parkour is built on.
From acrobatics to high level bodyweight skills and prop-work.
Pick something that appeals to you and start to learn the fundamental building blocks. Don’t feel like you have to choose something on this list. You can even go on YouTube and start learning right now, throw up a dance tutorial and learn some basic moves. Start looking at how different disciplines connect and overlap. If you can find an excellent teacher, it doesn’t matter as much what they teach. Just go!
You may want to start investing a lot of time into a specific discipline as you get better, which is great, but if you can hold off and continue exploring and expanding into new territory you’ll be rewarded. It will always be there. Remember, build breadth of knowledge before depth while keeping your eyes open for the overlapping principles.
Ultimately though it’s your practice and your body, if you are getting a lot of value out of something keep doing it! Now we’re getting into the realm of specific training, which I have a lot to say about, but will have to wait for another time.
So there you have it. This is a very basic, big picture view of how you can start the journey towards mastery. This is just the very beginning, and more of a philosophy than a how-to guide. The heavy lifting (yeah I went there) will have to be done by you, though I’ll be going into much more depth later.
At the end of the day, the real value comes from your own discoveries. Use other people to supplement your journey, but don’t rely exclusively on them.
Remember, true mastery is just a goal, and you may never get there. This is just an orientation that provides a lot of space for adventure, and not weighed down by ego, or vanity. Its sole purpose is one of self-discovery and enjoyment.
We all have this amazing piece of ‘machinery’ at our disposal. How much you want to unlock and have access to is a question to have to ask yourself. The answer doesn’t matter in all honesty, but it is a question you should seriously ponder. One day it will be gone.