There’s a common saying in combat sports (and other high risk endeavors) that goes, “You Can’t Teach Heart”. As in, either you’re born with the gameness to fight, to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, run into the burning building, and continue to fight in the face of adversity and possible injury… or you’re not.
This phrase has one of two effects on the observer. One, the person gets fired up and feels they’re part of a special class who is willing to fight with heart and overcome adversity. Two, a person who sees someone exhibit great Heart and can’t fathom themselves ever being able to keep up and they subsequently never start.
I would like to propose that ‘Heart’ is a skill like any other that can be built through years of dedicated work, working towards a meaningful goal, a willingness to be uncomfortable in the pursuit of that goal, and the discipline to keep showing up. I will agree that there are people who seem to be naturally fearless and talented at maintaining a winner’s outlook. There are those who were born with the attributes that allow them to excel quickly. I’m not writing this for them. Those of us who question if we have what it takes are not lost. There is hope for us and ample room for growth.
My path to cultivating Heart has been through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So I’ll be talking about heart through that lens. Why BJJ? Because improving at Jiu Jitsu requires:
Discipline to keep showing up.
Repeated and Demoralizing defeats (Ego calibration)
Collecting and assimilating techniques (motor learning)
Discovering your personal strengths and many weaknesses (self-reflection)
Developing your athleticism (multidisciplinary pursuit)
Mental toughness (Heart)
There’s lots of ways to show Heart in BJJ. Lots of ways to stretch what you can tolerate and develop grit. I’ve been at it almost 8 years, my BJJ honeymoon has been over for a while, so I feel I can speak about this a bit objectively and with enough experience to be useful.
If there is a genetic component to heart, I feel like I probably was given a minimal share. I am full of fear, low confidence, self-doubt, and generally don’t care for competition. I’d rather go with the flow and fly under the radar. I’m the kind of person who you probably wouldn’t expect to love a combat sport. Here are my observations for what it takes to improve your Heart. To turn from an easy-quitter to someone who is likely to see it through.
Maintain an internal focus. Try to learn to be completely present and to understand and accept yourself. Make it less about winning, and more about improving yourself an incremental amount day to day. Strive to say, “If I had to fight last week’s version of me, I’d win”.
Keep showing up. Even if you feel the majority of your workouts are placeholder workouts, just keep going. Suppress the negative self talk and say to that voice, “you shut-up until we get this work in” and just go. If you are resolved to your ultimate goals, you’ll be able to see past bad workouts and demoralizing defeats. It seems heart is developed at the edge of your willingness to continue being uncomfortable. At your quitting line. So the more time you spend with opportunities to suffer, the quicker you will develop heart.
Don’t allow yourself to be the biggest fish in the pond. If you’re no longer challenged, you need to expand your group of training partners or your goals to continue your personal growth. Luckily this has never been an issue for me, but I can see it in others.
Maintain a growth mindset. If you come to view shortcomings as obstacles to overcome, rather than excuses to quit, you will continue down the correct path. If you believe that Heart is a skill to build, and you work at it, you will find you are able to do things that take more Heart than you thought you had.
Understand that having Heart ultimately is about Love. Love of the game, love of your people, love of the journey. You might start your martial arts journey because you’re fearful or angry, but if you don’t grow to love the journey itself, you’ll burn out. The people who are dominant through anger or hatred eventually get beaten and crumble mentally. If you’re coming from a place of love, even failure is motivating. Be love.
I can’t think of many higher pursuits than self-improvement and self-understanding. I will continue on this path as long as my body and mind lets me. I hope you got something useful from this one.
This is a guest post from my close friend Scott which was spurred by some conversations we had about stagnation, frustration, and moving past training plateaus. We have been discussing being truly helpful to those who come to us for advice and support. Scott is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and a dedicated multidisciplinary self-defense practitioner. He walks the walk. He had great thoughts on the subject, so I just asked him to write something for you guys. Here it is.
Sometimes we get into our own heads. Sometimes we let people get into them who don’t belong there.
I recently was awarded my brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and even though most folks in the know would likely say that at this point I wouldn’t have a problem doing just fine in most jiu-jitsu schools, there are plenty if times when I feel like I have no business tying a jiu-jitsu belt on at all. This is me, introducing doubt that I know isn’t real but still takes a bunch of time to move past. The thing that helps me is talking to my coaches and training partners about these things and being reassured that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. That’s how a team or tribe is supposed to behave. To support each other, particularly when a member comes to you basically saying “I need help.” Sometimes it’s just a 2 minute pep talk, and sometimes we need hands-on, direct assistance with an issue. I’ve been fortunate to have a great jiu-jitsu training environment that provides that type of support in spades.
YOU’RE NOT HELPING
Having given an example of the ideal situation, let’s examine its opposite. What’s really unfortunate is that this opposite is a common thing. If we’re really interested in seeing the people who we would consider our friends, family, tribe members, etc., grow then this opposite needs to be addressed.
If you’ve ever told someone to simply just –
Suck it up
…or any variant of the above, with no offer of actual assistance to the person asking, outside of those “recommendations”, you are far more of a hindrance than help and you probably should have abstained from commenting. Captain Obvious doesn’t have a seat at the table here.
what you owe your peers
Most folks who would have read this far are on some type of personal journey towards betterment in any number of varied pursuits. If we mean to make our individual selves better, to be a greater service to the whole, at some point we’re going to need some help in one way or another. If we’re smart, we’ll ask for it. If our people are truly our people, they’ll offer up their help and make good on that offer. That last part can become a rarity. Life happens to all of us, but if you say you’ll be there, move mountains. Don’t be that guy. Honor and Loyalty are real things that actually hold weight with your peers. If you don’t take yours seriously, the ones who do will have a hard time taking you seriously.
Also, on helping people… If you know someone is working towards something, let them know that you notice that. Not with criticism or resistance, but with positive pressure. Proclaiming “that’s stupid” to someone who didn’t ask (outside of a safety issue) is pretty rude and inconsiderate. I don’t enjoy being rude and inconsiderate to the people that I trust and care about and I’d bet they don’t enjoy being on the receiving end of it. Particularly if they are doing work that you aren’t doing. Don’t like lifting weights? That’s fine, but don’t dump on someone who does or ask them to skip a workout for sit-around-and-do-nothing time. If what a person is doing is important to them and will lead them to being a happier person, you should be a borderline cheerleader for them.
Dressing up for the part is on you, but a text or phone call saying, “how was it this week?” can go a long way towards helping your people stay on track. This appears to especially be an issue with significant others. I’ve seen way too many times one person wanting to pursue a goal and the other half of the relationship putting the brakes on it through complaining or resisting the idea. If you do that, you are hands-down being a prick. Stop that. Your selfish tendencies are preventing what is supposed to be one of the people you care for the most from realizing their goals or seeking out their own happiness are absolutely zero help in what is very likely an already strained relationship. We can’t make each other happy, but we should get out of the way when one of our people are making moves to find their own happiness. If it’s a training partner that is thinking about picking up a new routine, going to a new gym, taking classes with a different instructor, reading a new author, or trying a different diet, support them. Let your people know that you support them. Confidence breeds competence, and in turn competence breeds greater confidence.
If you happen to be a winner of the genetic lottery, try to be patient with those of us who aren’t. That’s not to say that those blessed individuals aren’t working, but the fact is that some things come easier to some than they do others. Just because a person doesn’t have sub-.25sec splits on a shot timer, hasn’t lost all of those 50lbs, can’t run an 8 minute mile, or doesn’t have a 2.5x bodyweight deadlift doesn’t mean that they’re not working, either. If you want to help folks, volunteer to actually show up and help. Just giving one sentence’s worth of criticism over the internet doesn’t really help anyone at all and kind of makes you look like a douchebag to the rest of the readers.
If the goal is to grow your family, team, or tribe, making sure that they not only know that they belong there, but are made to belong there through the shared efforts of the group is a good idea.
If you are one of those people like the rest of us – keep plugging away. Don’t let yourself talk you into quitting and definitely don’t let outside voices lead you off course. Find good people who like what they do and are good at what they do to surround yourself with.
“It’s not the critic who counts….” – Teddy Roosevelt
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff
Here’s another non-firearm related post on this firearms blog. I’ve been going through some hard times and this stuff is on my mind. I’m writing it out to share what has worked for me, and I’m hoping if you work through this post, you might come out more joyful.
This post is the result of watching my social media feeds, and constantly being in awe at the lack of perspective that I see people have regarding what real problems are. My ‘real problems’ scale is pretty well adjusted, and it’s one of the gifts that having cancer gave me at an early age. I understand pretty well what real problems are, and day to day life struggles don’t trouble me too much.
That lesson is irrelevant to you unless I can help you put your things in perspective to calibrate your ‘real problems’ scale without giving you a life-threatening disease or injury. I’m going to attempt that with this post.
I’m hoping this post will help you understand a few things for yourself:
Things aren’t that bad
It can always get worse (but it’s currently not)
Create a distilled understanding of what makes you, you.
We throw around terms like ‘first world problems’ when we talk about our Wi-Fi dropping while we’re watching a movie or Starbucks being closed when we’re looking for a cappuccino. The issue I see is that people generally have so few real issues, that they confuse their day to day hiccups as real problems, and don’t realize how well things are actually going (even when some things are going a bit bad). So let’s work a two step process and we can calibrate ourselves.
Distilling down your identity
This is a useful thought experiment that Dr. William Aprill discussed with me when I was beating myself up while I was having trouble walking and using my hands from Chemo-induced neuropathy. I was feeling sorry for myself because I was sure I wouldn’t be able to shoot guns again and certainly wouldn’t return to being athletic by any definition of the word. He asked me to figure out what, “makes Mark, Mark.” So I did what he suggested and thought through what, at minimum, I am. What would I have to lose before I would no longer identify as Mark. Here’s how that thought experiment looked.
Am I still me if I lose…:
my 500 lb deadlift?
my successful career?
a flush bank account and investments?
my ability to train in combat sports?
my ability to stand up for more than 30 minutes before I hurt too much?
my ability to consistently remember where I left my keys?
my ability to breath without mechanical assistance?
my functioning organs?
my ability to remember my families faces/names?
You get the idea. I ultimately identified my line in the sand. Your homework is to think through a list of things you generally self-identify with, and pick out the line past which you will no longer be yourself. This is not easy, and might be uncomfortable. Spend a minute to do that now.
You now have the lowest rung in your ladder defined. You have looked past the walls your ego puts up to define yourself and dug down to what you actually are. What makes you, you. If you’re going through some trouble in life, as long as you haven’t been pushed past that line, you still have your identity. You can still be you.
The second part of this post will take a page from the Stoics. The technique is called Negative Visualization. It’s the practice of spending a small block of time imagining scenarios where you undergo profound loss of things you value most. The goal is to put yourself in your nightmare scenario for a short time (3-10 minutes), then when your meditation time is over you may realize that everything in our lives is ‘on loan’ and worth cherishing. Even the mundane things. It will brighten your heart. It will also teach you that things could definitely get worse, but they aren’t at the moment. That’s another thing to celebrate.
If things are currently going rough for you, spend your mediation time thinking about how it could be worse. You’ll find you can always imagine a way to make it worse, and you’ll be thankful that it’s not that bad yet. Our constant adaptation to our circumstances can trick us. This exercise will force perspective in a powerful way.
Here’s some examples:
Loss of a job
Loss of a house
Loss of a child
Major health crisis
Major health crisis of a loved one
Loss of bodily function
Breakup of a family
Your own death
The only thing you have absolute control over is how you think about your circumstances. Everything else includes an element of chance outside of your control, and letting that ruin your mood is wasted energy. This is, of course, easier said than done. It’s a constant process of course correction.
Everything, up to and including our ability to breath, is a fleeting magical gift from infinity. If something is taken from you, be thankful that you had the opportunity to enjoy it. We’re going to be OK.
Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional. I'm only an interested lay-person with a lot of time spent reading. You should do the same, and consult a doctor. Also drink more water and call your mom.
“Everyone has a physician inside him or her; we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.” – Hippocrates
I recently ended a 5 day fast, and I received several requests to outline my thoughts and experiences on fasting for weight management as well as for health. This isn’t a tactical topic, but if our ultimate goal is to protect and preserve our lives, then we have to consider health and body composition as a topic in our self-defense plan. I’ll try to keep this post short and functional, with lots of links that you can explore if you’re so inclined.
It’s 2010, and I’m a 27 year old sedentary gun guy. I have a few formal gun classes, and am quite sure I have a good handle on things. I am two years past my first stem cell transplant for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and don’t pay much attention to my diet since I am just sort of happy to still be alive. I don’t like to look at myself in a mirror after a shower because I weigh about 235lbs at 6′ tall and I look like a more-pale Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. I had been a bit overweight nearly all of my adult life, but I have reached apex fat. Time to do something new.
Luckily I find a guiding light. I read a thread on TPI, Craig Douglas’ discussion forum, about intermittent fasting for weight loss. Larry Lindenmen writes a great thread that inspires me to give this ‘don’t eat for a while and lose weight’ method a try. I start with 3 days a week, 24 hour fasting in conjunction with beginning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and I lose 50 lbs within about 9 months without changing the types of food I ate. Simple. But not always easy.
I had found a method that worked for me. I have continued to use intermittent fasting as a way to maintain body composition in the leaner times, and get back down to a reasonable weight in the chubby times. I’m not an athlete. I’m not special. I don’t have a physically demanding job. I just want to look better naked and avoid avoidable diseases related to obesity.
What Is Fasting?
Fasting is simply not eating. No food in. The duration and purpose is variable, but the principle is as old as humanity. Fasting is in our DNA. When we were living in caves, fasting was the time between finding a berry bush and killing the next antelope. The ancient Greek philosophers advocated fasting for health and mental clarity. There’s fasting in every religion. It’s only recently that we ‘just can’t imagine missing a meal’. America’s waistlines show it.
If you want to try fasting, think of it as chopping out a few meals that you otherwise would have eaten. With only two 24-hour fasts a week, you are hacking 2500(ish) calories out of your weekly intake. Even if you only view it as a way to control calories, you’re still making a profound impact on your caloric intake and you’ll see the fat fall away. No need to alter the foods you currently eat. Pizza and beer is still on the menu, as long as you make up for the splurge with a 24 hour fast somewhere in your week.
There is real evidence that fasting is superior to simple caloric restriction from a physiological standpoint, but I’ll save some of that for later in the post in case you’re in a rush.
It costs nothing. There’s no preparation involved. It’s time flexible. It’s lifestyle flexible. It’s simple. It works.
Is it hard?
Here’s some quick thoughts I have after coming off of my 5 day fast.
I lost 7 pounds, 3-4 of which was fat, and the remaining is water weight. As you shed glucose, you don’t hold as much water. The water leaves after a day or two, and everything after that is fat being consumed.
You’ll feel real hunger, not the usual boredom hunger you usually feel. It peaks at about day 2, then after that the feeling of hunger goes away.
Coffee makes it easier.
Taking control of your hunger is reassuring and empowering. Don’t be a slave to food.
Think of calories on a weekly time scale. Know that if you smash 4,000 Calories of wings and beer, that it’s OK. Just eat a little less next week and add an extra 24 hour fast.
Due to the flexibility of the ‘diet’, you won’t as easily derail yourself with a big cheat day. I’m prone to derailing when the diet is strict. Fasting means you don’t have to say no to birthday cake or a slice of pizza.
I notice a real mood lift once I go over the two day hump (which is the body changing energy pathways from glucose to ketone bodies)
Energy levels are steady, but lower than usual
Glycolytic exercise like martial arts or crossfit workouts become very difficult on an extended fast. I can easily time 24 hour fasts around Jiu Jitsu classes, but 5 days straight made me take a few classes off.
Feeling real hunger is something we are not used to doing. You will feel real body hunger, not boredom hunger. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy. Remind yourself why you’re doing it and keep yourself occupied with other things. The biggest reason people fail is they sit around fantasizing about eating. Stay busy.
For me, ‘eating less’ is difficult. ‘not eating’ is easy. I’m pitiful at self-moderation, but I can easily stop eating for a while.
Don’t tell people what you’re doing. They will try to sabotage you. They usually don’t even know they’re doing it. You will get offered cookies and snacks. Keep your plan to yourself until you start making progress. Trust me.
You will have a lower food bill and fewer dishes. It’s the diet that pays you to adhere to it!
How Do I Fast?
Most of these fasting techniques allow for black coffee, tea, water, and a diet soda or two. That’s really all you want to ingest. If you sneak a bite, you’re only cheating yourself. As with lots of things, people try to make it more complicated than it is, thus lots of rules and specifics to set their methods apart. When in doubt, don’t eat and only drink water. Easy. Here’s a few variations that I’ve tried.
Eat/Stop/Eat: My preferred method. You simply eat a meal, say lunch on a Tuesday, then you don’t eat again until Lunch on Wednesday. 24 hours of not eating. Do this 2 or 3 times a week. You’re hacking 4-6 meals out of your weekly diet which adds up to significant caloric reduction in a given week.
The Warrior Diet: It’s a little more structured but basically you’re eating one meal a day, or only a small snack for lunch, then gorging at night. It’s feeding within a small window of time.
Leangains: It was designed by a body builder but the crux is that you have an 8 hour window in which you eat your daily calories, and then don’t eat for the next 16. 16/8.
Extended fasting to encourage Autophagy: This is a process of cellular cleanup that happens when the body isn’t getting any outside fuel/protein. The body scavenges damaged and old cell components and recycles them for building blocks of new fresh cells. It also reduces inflammatory markers which can help with the myriad issues that people can experience with a prolonged inflammation response. My longest is a 5 day fast, but you start benefiting after just 24 hours. This one is especially interesting to me on the cancer mitigation front.
Diets that Might Accelerate Weight Loss Combined with Fasting
I like to dabble in diets because it keeps things interesting. I ultimately credit my weight loss and maintenance to fasting, but I like to experiment with my performance and body by trying different ways of eating.
I have tried all of these diets for a minimum of four months. I did Paleo for two years. One common feature of the diets I list is they all strive to limit insulin release (the body’s sugar storage hormone) to one extent or another.
When I fail at a diet, it has always been in my adherence to the plan. That’s a personal failure. Life got in the way of adherence. Every single one of the listed diets has worked for me while I did them. I never stopped because I was experiencing adverse effects or unexpected results.
Dr. Jason Fung’s lectures (embedded below) make a strong case that by limiting the input of glucose/fructose, and thus minimizing the insulin-response, goes a long way to allowing the body to burn through the cellular reserves of glucose and tap into fat storage. The problem of fat loss seems to go beyond calories in/out.
Paleo: A popular diet that at its core relies on shopping around the outside edge of the grocery store. Meats, veggies, nuts, fruits. Avoiding (insulin releasing) starches, sugars, and grains. It also tells you to avoid common inflammatory foods like dairy and legumes, which many people have trouble processing and causes an unintended immune response. You can dig for the details if you’re interested.
Ketogenic: High fat, moderate protein, minimal carbohydrates. No, eating fat doesn’t make you fat. The goal of this diet is to drop carbohydrate (glucose/fructose) intake down the the point that your body changes energy pathways from glucose based to fat (ketone-body) based. The fat that the body uses is a combination of what you ingest, plus mobilized fat from your body’s reserves. This works really well for fat loss for most people. We have good luck with it.
4-hour body Diet (Slow Carb): lean meat, beans, and veggies and no white foods like sugar, pasta, rice, bread, cheese. Eat the same few meals over and over again, Don’t drink calories. Start your day with protein, Don’t eat fruit. one “cheat day” a week. My wife and I both had good success with this. The ‘slow carb’ part is the insulin limiting key of this one.
ChaosAndPain’s Apex Predator Diet: This is a bodybuilder’s diet. A period of strict keto, then daily meat-on-bone meal, protein shakes, one day of fasting a week, heavy lifting, etc.
Why Calorie Restriction Fails
It’s safe to say that everyone has tried the ‘eat less, move more’ type diet for fat loss. It turns out there’s a reason that your weight loss slowed and then halted the longer you were on the diet. It’s the body adapting to a long term self-induced famine. If you severely restrict daily calories over a long period, your body turns down its expenditure of energy to accommodate the long-term shortage. Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) drops to accommodate your caloric deficit.
Fasting is distinctly different than caloric restriction. The total lack of food input actually increases energy expenditure by the body, increases norepinephrine release, and mobilizes fat storage for energy.
If you want to dig deeper into this and see a convincing pile of studies to support this conclusion, I point you towards Dr. Jason Fung. Dr. Fung has a great narrative that is built on 100 years of clinical research. His ‘two compartment model’ makes a lot of sense in explaining why calories in doesn’t always equal calories out. I encourage you to watch his lectures and read his books if this interests you.
If you give it a shot, let me know how it goes. I think you’ll find that it’s a relatively effortless way to lose fat. If you have questions, I’ll answer what I can and refer you to source material as needed.
Resources and More Info
If you have time, please watch this talk:
Dr. Fung also is a big advocate for fasting and actually wrote a book on it. Here he is explaining why fat loss is more than an energy in/out phenomenon.