Things I Learned in 2011
2011 went by in a flash. I got both a new niece and new fiancée! Got to visit countless awesome gyms this year, and even took a sweet vacation to Mexico.
Life is great and I grow a bit more each year.
Here are my thoughts and ruminations.
Learn from the masters
Seeking out masters in this game probably started way back in February 2004. It was then that I first read Jack Arnow’s one arm chinning guide. I eventually contacted Jack, interviewed him, and visited him on several occasions. I still keep in touch too. (He is doing well, having just chinned with 100 extra lbs last December!)
This year I crossed paths with a slew of experts. Some on purpose, some on chance. I was extremely grateful for every single encounter.
The first was Lin Junming, at the Philadelphia Circus School. I visited the school with the express intention of improving my one arm handstand. Lin was able to look at my technique and offer many suggestions. Here’s a fun video I made that day.
He let me know of the intense work that these acrobats put in to their practice. Wondering why 5 minutes a week isn’t getting you the results you want in your handstands? Try working 5 hours a week (or 5 hours a day!!!!)
In the middle of May, I contacted Ido Portal. Those of you in the acrobatic world are probably familiar with him. If not, check out this amazing video! He is a never-ending student of movement and flow. His work ethic is unbelievable and he demands a lot. He does not suffer fools.
He provided me with a wealth of information and exercises to progress my acrobatics. But beside the specifics drills, he changed the foundations of how I viewed the gymnastic and acrobatic skills. He views straight arm scapular strength (front levers, planches) as a separate skill to work from bent arm scapular strength (pull-ups, handstand push-ups).
This is just a very small part of what he has developed with his teaching. If you have the funds and opportunity, I recommend contacting him. Get ready to work harder than you every have in your life though.
The next encounter happened by lucky chance in August. I was at open gym time at a YMCA in Virginia. Most people there looked to be amateurs like myself – throwing themselves through the air with wild kicks and flips. As I practiced circles on a mushroom, I noticed one guy performing phenomenal one arm handstands. I approached him and asked if I could ask him a question or two. His name was Andrew and it turns out, he attends a circus school in France. He was in town for just a few more days. He offered to tell me all he knew about one arm handstands and spent the rest of the gym time coaching me! This was a one in a million encounter and I thank you Andrew!
Next was a phone call from John Brookfield. John is a living legend in the grip world and the nicest guy you’ll ever talk to.
We talked life, training, and everything in between. His thoughts on mental fortitude and training are simple and profound.
“Most of the greats, when they were busy accomplishing something, had no idea how long it would take. They just kept going through it all. People today get discouraged over the time things take and turn away in despair when things get difficult.”
-paraphrased from conversation with John Brookfield
John also talked about getting the proper mindset for hard work. He described it as setting your GPS. If you set your car’s GPS on a trip to Utah, then you’ll always be focused on going to Utah, even if there are snowy road/flat tires/etc. I look forward to training with John the next time I am in North Carolina.
Next was a meeting with Yuval Ayalon. This occurred on a trip to Las Vegas for my friend’s birthday. I had heard of Yuval through several sources – he is a professional acrobat with the highly acclaimed show, Le Reve. He can stand on one hand as easily as you sit in your chair.
I contacted him and asked if I could meet and train with him when I arrived in town. He was more than willing and was absolutely the most humble and gracious teacher I have ever met. In just an hour and a half, I learned an unbelievable amount for my one arm handstand.
Finally, I was going to meet up with Brad Johnson in Kansas over New Year’s holiday. He is the king of rafter chin-ups and author of this book. Another incredibly nice guy to talk to, but alas the plans didn’t work out. This killed me! Another time.
I can’t thank each and every one of these teachers enough for helping me this year.
During 2011, I either actively sought out these teachers, or was open to learning from them when the opportunity arose (e.g., approaching Andrew when I saw him practicing). Working with someone of a higher skill level highlights your own weaknesses greatly. Some shy away from these encounters because they do not want to confront their weaknesses. Seek them out. Always look to be the weakest person in the room, and you will learn and grow.
Other do not feel adequate themselves to engage with these people. Nearly all the people I’ve talked to in this industry were more than happy to help and share their expertise.
But I will warn that not everyone will have time for you. This is not a slight against you, but simply a natural condition of being in high demand. You should be gracious for any instruction that you get and more than willing to compensate them for their time. Show some respect and gratitude.
Mobility is vital
For quite a long time, I put strength at the base of the physical attributes pyramid. By this I mean that building up strength carried over so well to everything else – power, speed, coordination, conditioning.
I see weak long distance runners come into the gym. What do they need? More strength! I see females come in with knee and back pains. What do they need? More strength! (and some foam rolling). Strength was the answer to everything.
They say when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
It’s not that I dismissed mobility. I wrote about it’s importance two years ago. And yes, I still think an overhead squat can tell a lot about someone’s mobility issues. It’s not just a matter of avoiding injuries, although that should be motivation enough, but I’ve seen how a lack of mobility can limit someone’s strength AND balancing. Mobility then, goes right alongside strength at the base of the pyramid. Equally as important.
not the pyramid I’m talking about, but this one will get you awesome too.
On an interesting note. While most of those who train with weights will lack mobility more than strength, I see those who have excess mobility (yogis and dancers) and who lack strength. They have trouble controlling their bodies and/or have pain in their joints. An imbalance either way causes trouble.
Back to the subject, if we lack mobility while lifting weights or practicing handbalancing, then we are fighting ourselves to get into optimal position. It took a lesson from Yuval Ayalon to really drive home the point. Yuval said (I will paraphrase) – “If you stand on your feet and everything is in line, then you can stand there all day, right? It takes very little energy. Now what if your body was out of line? You may be able to stand there, but not as long.”
at Yuval’s. clearly, I need work.
Yuval showed me how easily he was able to get his arms over his head, all while his traps remained relaxed. Sounds easy? Try it. Face the wall so your nose touches it. Reach your arms over your head. Can you do this without touching the wall? Can you do this with relaxed traps?
Yuval, doing what he does best.
In a handstand, if we are able to get a perfectly straight line, then we are able to expend less energy. This becomes even more vital on a one arm handstand. Check out the overhead mobility test, among others, to determine how you measure up (In Defense of Overhead Lifting by Charles Staley)
They say, “success leaves clues”. Take a look at these videos. What do we see?
We see exceptional overhead mobility. (We also see exceptional hip mobility, which helps with handstand press work and balancing the legs in a one arm handstand).
I am working on my alignment, but it can still be improved.
Working my shoulder mobility over the past several months has been one of the most beneficial things to my one arm handstand.
So how do we improve mobility? Don’t over think it. Just do it. Stretch more often with any way that produces results. Yuval told me, “use any method you want”.
I’ve told you that you must learn from the masters. They can save you a great deal of time with your training. Listen and apply their teachings. But I will give the caveat that you must still trust and know yourself in the end.
Encountering numerous teachers in both acrobatics and weightlifting, there have been times when the lessons I’ve learned have been invaluable. They have produced amazing results. But there have been times when the teachings were not suited for me. When results do not come about, no matter how hard the effort, then something with the teacher-student dynamic is not working.
I hesitated to write that last paragraph. I have encountered far too many people over the years that say, “I’ve been working X skill for a week and I don’t have it. What’s wrong!!”.
This advice is not for you.
This is for the student of the physical game who has put in countless hours into their training. Who know the various conditions that will bring about success and results in their training. To those people, they will know when a teacher’s way is not their own. When there is a lack of progress, perhaps even injuries, it means they must find a new way.
This is not always a fault of the teacher or the student, but just a misalignment and misunderstanding of what is needed to advance a student’s training.
There will be teachers you encounter that may berate you. Teachers who’s egos are out of control. Who will continually break you down and never build you up. These are not people you want in your life. We do not need to be coddled, but we do not need to be abused either.
Wise Words from Willam Gibson
Turn to the experts, but realize that in time, you will be an expert as well.
Despite the lengthy time it takes to develop and write these year-end posts, I find this a very cathartic and focusing activity. I worked to reduce the number of “lessons” to only the most vital and poignant ones from the year. It is an exercise we can all benefit from. Sit down and really think about what you learned last year.
As the first week of 2012 ends, I wish you all the best for this coming year. Train hard, train smart, train often!