Sunday, December 1, 2013


In "The Art of War", Sun Tzu speaks to the concept of never putting your enemy in a position where escape or surrender is not possible.  This violates what seems like a very basic premise of tactical advantage, for an enemy that cannot escape is surely doomed to defeat.  However, Sun Tzu noted that a doomed enemy fights as though they are already dead, with reckless abandon and no fear of consequence.  This does not bode well for the conquering army, for now a target that should have guaranteed success with minimal causalities becomes a blood bath with heavy losses.  It is why Sun Tzu advises that, when you witness the enemy smashing their water pots and burning their food stores, do not engage them, for they are prepared to fight as men with nothing left to lose.

It begs the question of how often in training we hold ourselves back, not pushing our hardest, for in our minds we have something we need to save ourselves for.  It could be as simple as not pushing our hardest on the first exercise of the day to save energy for our super fun assistance work at the end, or not gutting it out during our conditioning day so that we have a better squat workout later in the week.  We are fighting so that we can live to fight another day, but should we not instead fight as though there is no tomorrow?

Those armies given an escape route or avenue to surrender will take it when things turn grim, while those without it will fight all the harder.  Matt Kroczaleski addressed this notion when speaking to his college training.  With a schedule that require odd training hours, he found himself needing to break into the gym to train by himself.  This training included what one would expect from a future all time record holding powerlifter, to include heavy benching.  With no spotter, Matt could not miss any benches, as no one would be arriving in the gym for hours, and he would most likely die before help could get to him.  This meant he had to dig deep on the toughest reps and given everything he had, because failure would mean death.  It leads you to wonder how many times you turned a bench over to a spotter because you "couldn't do it", and how many times you could have managed if the spotter wasn't there.

When Matt tells his kids stories about having to walk uphill in the snow with a log on his back just to train, it's not a hyperbole

The infamous 20 rep squats program has similar stories of "smashing the water pots."  Anyone who has ever accomplished the program knows that it is far more psychological than physical, and that around rep 15, the temptation to rack the squat and call it a day is strong.  With each rep, the temptation grows exponentially, with the j-hooks of the rack becoming a lust inspiring temptress and every rational part of your brain screaming at you to rack the bar.  This is why some choose to have their training partners remove the j-hooks once the bar is on one's back, with the understanding that the only way to get them back on the rack is to complete the 20th rep.  There is no escape and no surrender, you can either fight honorably or die a noble warrior's death in the rack, but there is no room for cowards.

The inevitable question is, do you need a gimmick, or can you harness this mentality and unleash it as needed?  Does an enemy need to corner you before you fight as a man with nothing left to lose, or can you be fearless when surrender is an option?  Some workouts require “punching the clock” as Dan John says, putting in the time and effort while leaving something in the tank.  However, some days, when the stars align and the wind is right, it may be time to smash the water pots, burn your food stores, and fight with everything you have, sparing nothing for tomorrow.  When that time comes, will you be able to be fearless?

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