‘Know your enemy, know his sword.’ – Swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645)
One of the biggest influences on my life has been filmmaker and writer Geoff Thompson’s motivational books. Geoff’s words resonate with me because of their simplicity, transparency and power. But the biggest factor that pulls me in is his authenticity. He doesn’t just expound motivational ideas and theories, he lives and breathes them. He is the proof of his advice.
Geoff elevated himself from factory floor sweeper to world-class martial arts instructor and author whose work has been translated into multiple languages. Geoff has taught me that fear is not my enemy, but my friend. When I came across the books, I was working for a financial institution. I was well paid but unsatisfied. Every day was a struggle to get out of bed. All I wanted to do was train in the martial arts and read. But I was too afraid to admit that to myself and too scared to mention it to my family. I was petrified of how society around me would react.
When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, fear plays a big part in one’s failure or success. I know many people who choose to stay unhealthy because they are too afraid to make the changes in their lives that will help them. They fear the challenges they might face, the sacrifices they must make, the places they must go to – or stop going to. They fear losing their friends, and the comfortable security they enjoy. In short, they fear change, and in doing so they defeat themselves before they even start, without being aware of why or how.
Reading Geoff’s books (The Elephant and the Twig and Fear, The Friend of Exceptional People), and later working with and studying martial arts under him, helped me to understand that my fear was not there to stop me from becoming better, it was there to fuel the journey. It was my ally, not my enemy.
The biggest killer of mankind today is not wars, guns and bullets; It’s stress. Just as fear is misunderstood, so too is stress. We are conditioned to believe that stress is bad and relaxation is good. But when we put this under the microscope we discover that stress, in its proper definition, is vital to our health and growth.
All growth, be it physical, psychological or emotional, is triggered and induced by stress. Your best performances in life, at school, university, in your job, at the gym or on the mat come because stress sits next to you, cheering you on. As long as stress is handled gradually enough for the mind and body to adapt progressively, then the only way you can respond is by growing stronger. This is known as anabolism.
If stress happens too quickly, too strongly or for too long, you experience strain and begin to break down. The flip side is that if it’s absent from your life altogether, you atrophy and begin to fall apart. This is called catabolism. In other words, too little stress is the same as too much. They both affect the body negatively.
As a certified Tacfit Field instructor (in the Tactical Fitness System created by the martial arts and fitness expert Scott Sonnon) I have learned there are four types of stress: hypostress (insufficient, low stress); eustress (sufficient and adaptable stress); hyperstress (recoverable high stress) and distress (excessive unadaptable stress.)
We need sufficient stress to survive. Without it we cannot grow. The greater the ‘right’ amount in our lives (eustress) the more we will grow into whole people. Most people sadly yo-yo between insufficient and excessive stress in a never-ending cycle of poor results and recurring injury.
The utilisation of fear and stress on our journey to return to our health and fitness flow seems counter-intuitive. To put this into a social perspective, I know many people in Dubai who brag about how relaxed their lives are. They spend all day in coffee shops and all night in shisha parlours. They never experience any growth because they don’t have the requisite amount of stress in their lives. Conversely, I also know of many in the city who work way too hard and too long. They may be financially rewarded, but the price they are paying in the continuing deterioration of their health is very high.
Another unlikely ally of ours is complexity. Again, we are taught that complication is bad and simplicity is good. Sayings like ‘keep it simple, stupid’ ensure that we don’t venture too far off the beaten track. The problem is that many of us get stuck, as Scott says, ‘in simplistic stupidity’. Our nervous system does not get the chance to adapt and therefore cannot grow or develop. You cannot learn to dive in the sea by staying in the pool.
Many recent studies indicate that the ageing process is slowed down or even reversed by the degree of complexity we face in our lives. My principal martial arts instructor, Sifu Mike Gregory, is over 55, enjoys excellent health and is able to outperform many people in their early 20s. His own martial arts instructor is the legendary Guro Dan Inosanto, one of the very few people given permission by the celebrated Bruce Lee to teach his system. Guro Inosanto is over 80 years old and he still travels the world giving seminars. They are able to do this because their minds and bodies are actively dealing with complex physical movements that are both symmetric and asymmetric, and require the active engagement of both the right and left sides of the brain.
When most people train in the gym they are largely doing simple movements, an up and down or a push and pull. This ‘simply’ limits the person’s development beyond a certain point. By adding complexity to the movements in our exercise programmes we make it far more beneficial to our health. My experience tells me the reason why most people don’t do this is because they unaware of the concept and benefits of complexity, or they don’t want to look like beginners.
For your body to adjust to a new level of complexity it needs to go through that fumbling awkward phase where you feel like a fish out of water. If we can control our egos and not give up, our nervous systems will eventually adapt to the new level and we will gain the massive mental, physical and emotional benefits attached to it.
The same can be said of some people’s lives. Many live too simply and deny themselves the pleasure of adapting to higher frequencies of energy. I have seen many talented young people in various fields imprisoned in jobs that demand very little of them mentally. This saddens me, like the sight of a boat that has never seen the water.
Let’s summarise the main points from this five-part Ramadan series.
Make sure you are always doing your best to eat clean food, which can be as simple as making the best of what you have at the time.
Add mobility work to your routine, moving all your major joints in all their ranges so that they receive the lubrication needed to free you from the slavery that is immobility.
Educate your body to move in all its inherited degrees of freedom. Change it from a land-confined vehicle to an airborne jet.
Always make sure you are connected to the divine in you. Your breath is an indicator of where you are in your training and life, and it will help you get to where you want to be.
Finally, understand that fear, complexity and stress are not enemies but allies on the journey towards health and fitness flow.
Virginia Woolf once said ‘I am rooted, but I flow’. It is my intention that over the five articles you have became rooted in the idea that there is so much more to you than what you are now. The best of you is yet to appear and the world is waiting, I am waiting for you. All you need to do is be brave enough to start or restart the journey. Once you’re on that path then your whole life will follow suit.
I wish you a healthy Eid Mubarak filled with love, compassion and flow. Until soon, Wael.