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Category Archives: Philosophy

Training and confused realities

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Where there is money to be made, the confusion mongers will flock. The training, or dare I say it, “fitness industry”, is no exception. These marketing vultures are “skilled” however, in their tactics and sadly, as is commonplace in the age of hyperconsumption and hedonism, people are easily suckered in to the cauldron of sugar syrup and bouncy blue balls. Let´s take a look at 5 common fallacies, many of which are becoming so mainstream, that a fish finger is in danger of being accepted as a fish. It´s time to get aware and swim against the current.

1. Functional Fitness

Whoa, baby! a world full of function, imagine that! The “idea” that seems to becoming mandatory fodder for anyone “serious” about their “workouts” is corporate corn syrup. Suddenly, an entire industry has been formed full of rubber-coated tires, pink balls, adjustable rope and expensive tape. To be really “functional”, a pair of shoes, pitch-fork and strong will power just will not do! No! you have to join an expensive gym, buy the entire kit to say you have joined the expensive gym and kit your home out with expensive rubber shit that comes with a DVD! Functional fitness, they say, means buying into so much confusion, that by the time you decide which pair of florescent shoes your next workout demands, you´re so exhausted that you decide it´s more optimal to suck on the recommended zone recovery shake, with its “active” ingredients for progressive performance.

What it ought to mean: You see, to really “function”, we need to be mobile, strong and “antifragile“, to borrow from Nassim Taleb, and know what gets in the way of being this way. Complexity may have enabled us to put a man on the moon and replace hearts, but its also made us lose sight of the actual simplicity (not ease) of training; hard work and thoughtful utilization of all your energy systems. Functional does not mean being completely overwhelmed with needless “choice”. What is “new”, is usually just rebranded “old”. If you want a living incarnation of what to do, for you, check out rosstraining.com

2. “This amazing (insert any hyped product here) takes the guesswork out of your workout, bringing your performance to new and improved levels!”

What utter garbage. Salesmanship 101. Making people “believe” that their results have stagnated, or cannot be achieved unless they buy into the “latest and greatest” tool. You see, marketing folk prey on people´s gullibility, and their propensity to want to believe. Yes, it´s a legacy of the gospel of doom. Your life will not be any “better” with your new DVD set.

What it ought to mean: Look, performance, or “results”, whether it be fat loss, strength gain, hypertrophy or even the elusive “condition”, are predicated on people working hard on following a dedicated regime of energizing their mind and body through work and recovery. Many factors play into optimal performance naturally, but stripping away the unessential, the sugar-coated packaged commercial “must-haves”, lays out a manageable, tried and tested platform to work from. No single tool you´ve been duped into signing up for is going to take the place of diligent curiosity and hard fall-down-get-back-up work. On the contrary, the more clutter you surround yourself with, the greater the odds you´ll fall back into the chair and biscuit jar.

3. By strutting about in the same multi-coloured trainers, tights and runner tops as everyone else on the Instagram #awesome, I´ll give off the vibe that I am so committed to the “fitness” lifestyle

Well, I may be cynical, but there´s an ocean of difference between those that “workout” and those that train. For the commercial interests however, they´d rather the blurred lines, and lump everything into the category “fit is fun!”. In fact, they would rather you spend more time actually kitted out in their brands and letting social media know all about it, than actually doing the work. No pair of tights will make you lift those weights, and no thought of others thinking you actually lift those weights, will make you lift those weights.

What it ought to mean: Ok, I understand the allure of a new pair of shoes, and once had a pair of tights. But at the end of the day, surely your training should be about how you feel and perform both in and out of the gym? (aesthetics usually follow if you´ve got things in order) Ironically, if your image is so important, you´d benefit more by setting aside time to get your ducks in line, and then actually reaping the benefits from your #awesome IG selfies.

4. Training should be “fun” yo!

Well, let´s step back a little here. Is life a box of roses or does it continually throw sand in your face? Sure, you can find fun times in your training (heck, you should!), but with hard work, comes tough times and a fair bit of soul searching. It´s a process, like life itself. It´s a test and a mighty big paradox. Don´t let anyone tell you otherwise. Fun is the commercial sugarline to hedonism. If it isn´t providing an instantaneous flow of gratification, dish it and try something else. Your well-being isn´t a priority here sunshine. I have actually seen players in the “industry” selling their product as providing “all the benefits of traditional training, but only fun, without the hard work”. Don´t mix things up.

What it ought to mean: Once you manage to reappraise the way your training becomes a part of your everyday existence, the fun can by all means be an integral side effect (or, you can just gauge this by your hormones). Pull up your socks and chug some RedBull, then get back to the farmers walks. There are even ways of making them fun. Do them naked.

5. But remember, “moderation” is the key to success!

Aaggghhh. Can´t stand that M word. Firstly, because it´s used as an excuse for avoiding hard, consistent, thoughtful work and secondly, it´s the darling of the corporate world who thrive on a confused, apathetic, restless, hands-in-the-sugar-bowl public. To the commercial world (gyms included) M means avoiding the gym, as the ideal GloboGym membership scenario and losing focus on consistent programs by adding in external distractions. This M word needs some serious shake-up. It implies your training lifestyle is a burden. It is not. Distraction is.

What it ought to mean: Once you work out that a healthy training lifestyle is to be enjoyed and implemented each and every day, you will reconsider what moderation means for you. It could mean, for example, spending the day after a hard metabolic session, or an 8hr mountain walk, practicing some yoga and breathing sequences, some joint mobility, some journal updates, some squats, some gardening… whatever it is! anything but the slump in the chair with a bowl of sugar-pops kind of moderation. Where did that come from, and why do people associate this with moderation? Surely, a reassessment of the M word could result in something like 2 eggs instead of 4 not 2 steps forward, 4 steps back.

Summary

What´s the key takeout here? Question any claim that tells you how to take your training to “new levels”. The problem is, most of these claims are carefully crafted to tap into the inabilities modern society has to understand the difference between the quick consumer fix and years of diligent, persistent, experimental, reflexive work. Who do people think they are! Suddenly, centuries of empiricism becomes irrelevant and a can of sugar takes its place! Aristotle would have been aghast. A successful and progressive training lifestyle need not only be a solitary affair spent out in the rain lifting items you´ve found at the dump, day after day after year after year. Well… No, it can actually be a communal endeavor, with events, actions and innovations (and Facebook groups) to make your experience even more fulfilling. Each to their own. What I´m saying, is that training, like life itself, ought to be a constant learning experience you yourself ultimately have the final say in developing. Seek out people with real life experience and see what your take out can be. Maybe nothing, maybe some small aspect you can incorporate. But be vigilant and don´t let commercial interests steal not only your hard earned cash, but the most essential asset you have: your time and health.

Think. Eliminate. Move. Practice. Enjoy.

 

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Anthropology – wrestling life´s architecture of containment

ImageAs an anthropologist, life becomes embroiled in comparision. Everything must have an alternative context through which we can seek an empathetic or critical glance at a range of aspects relating to what it means to be human. In other words, things are not stable, but constantly in flux – our systems of thought, our political, religious, ideological processes of expansion or containment. We adhere to principles of non-adherance. We do this through a set of (fluid) methodologies which (we believe) enable us to contemplate humanity through holistic understandings. Long-term fieldwork, the sine qua non of the discipline, remains the tried and tested approach to the challenges of alterity, or what we can gauge by comparing the drastic or subtle nuances involved in fundamental human practices. We think, we move, we love, we fight, we create, we acquiesce, we are born, we die, we interact, we destroy, and we seek meaning through a variety of sources. This is what makes the human species so fascinating – different approaches to the mundane, different outcomes – or maybe not. Maybe the longue duree of evolution has become so daunting, that to us, this reflection and its acceptance, thrusts us into increasingly confined spaces where we seek solace in our fear of this awareness and the challenges life presents?

Yes, the anthropologist is the Leatherman philosopher. At once aware of diversity, applying a set of tools in order to unlock life´s mysteries, but always aware of the fragility of their construction, and the imminency of their potential reconstitution.

For most, reflection, and an openness to tackle such fundamental questions relating to ´what it means to be human?´ and ´how might things be different?` are challenges far greater than the confines of a sheltered life of fear or ´comfort´ provide. The great philosophers, stretching back to Plato and Aristotle, all knew this and most subsequent thinkers have sought (albeit in contrasting ways) to unravel these questions, and shed light on humanities´ desire to approach, but mostly avoid, their direct experiential appraisal through action (trial and error). In a contemporary setting, people shy away from questioning their beliefs, their choices, their actions out of fear for the apparent insecurities that will eventuate; What if s/he is not right for me? Is this career fulfilling? Do I believe in science and/or superstition? Is what I am putting in my mouth doing me more harm than good? Could a change in approach unlock certain anxieties that have prevented me from doing z, y or z? The list is endless – as are the possibilities we have for being more human.

People, again in a contemporary sense, reveal signs of what it means to be human, but from within the enclosed space of their anxieties. People are becoming caged animals, yet another tragic case of apes trapped in a sanctuary – made invisible by the ´freedom´of facebook profile updates telling ´the world´of their daring, their dexterity, their knowledge, and their visions through a photo of a plate of chicken and vegetables. People ´travel´ to the far corners of the globe (or the closest place with sun and cheap beer) for their ´experience´of diversity, unwittingly forging their further isolation through reinforcing unreflective dichotomies of ´difference´ – Oh, they we so poor, but all smiling. We helped them out by volunteering, showing them how they can escape poverty and now sponsor a family – it´s so great to be making a difference… etc. Yet back on safe ground, people climb back into their sanctuaries, slumping into their Ikea sofas, updating their profiles, filling themselves with sugar and HFCS, doing as the state tells them to do – reveling in the glory of wealth and hypermodernity.

ImageFreedom, as a fundamental instinct of the antropos, lies elsewhere. It is unbound. It lies not in a set of flow charts or indexes keeping us in a pseudo state of harmony – Oh how lucky we are!

Freedom exists outside any paradigms that cushion our increasingly flabby backsides and stress/diet-related illnesses. Freedom is a curiosity that leads to further awareness of our potentials as a species to live a life of co-existence in the vast glory of our global ecoscape. Freedom is not confined to those with the means to purchase a ticket to fly to the world´s ends. Nor is it limited for those severely inhibited by such structural constrains as war, and tyranny. It exists within a mindset and a moving body. Freedom is not an idealistic realm of the kombucha drinking yoga practitioner. Humans are but a minor aberration when seen from afar, at the mercy of our environments, garnished as we are, with this remarkable opportunity to participate in our stage in evolution. It makes acts of sloth, of adherence to commercialized ´wisdom´, to greed and ignorance of contrasting ways of life, to uncritical use of “better-worse”, “us-them”, or an early retirement of our exponential range of mental, physical and emotional capacities – all seem like such a slight on the winning lottery ticket we have been dealt to share in the vastness of our interconnected pathway. Our ancestors started to get things right, yet we´ve regressed.

Anthropology today works diligently at protecting this diversity, yet struggles to break free of its philosophical grounding in a world of Red Bull-fuelled instant gratification. The pregnancy of life´s meaning struggles to resonate when we turn to so-called scientific “truths” – uncritically rendered to us through multiple medias, states, and religious doctrines – each with their own projects of containment. You see, modern society is becoming constructed through an architecture of containment. We are being watched by big brother from all corners, whether we like it or not. Any attempts to stand outside the boundaries of “normality” will attract unwanted attention (and we´ll cease to get liked on facebook). This suits our further containment, despite our sanctuaries appearing in glossy magazines as expressions of our freedoms.

People need (a more public) anthropology. It remains stuck within itself however, an ironic isolation from the very tenants of the freedom and manifold it seeks to portray.

We can all be anthropologists. We don´t need an academic straightjacket. We are all indeed philosophers. There are no rules to this. We have it in us to seek knowledge, understanding and wisdom – but this only eventuates through an awareness and an openness to the fact that we are all unique, only as a species sharing the same planet, with similar desires for a “good life” – but lacking the tools to break free from our confined zoological warehouses.

Great people only become iconic figures because they dare to try (and fail) where others fear. Beautiful movement, creative thought, empathy, love, work, curiosity and our unique capacities to amaze lie alongside our ability to hate, our obesity, our prejudice and our constant social media updates.

It´s the process that separates the eventual outcomes.

We are all unique apes and we could all do with stopping our lazy-arse ways reflecting upon how things might and could be and getting stuck into the pathways that lead us ahead.

 

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Ido Portal – keep moving

Movement nutrition: you get good at what you do, and what you don’t do

IdoHuman evolution has, and will always be, about movement. Evolution requires complexity, and complexity requires movement. Those that don’t move, tend not to evolve as well. They shit the bed. Avoiding the approach of the poop-man, we were constantly reminded, requires nurturing the freedom providing our amazing capacity to move well. Few people however, seek to move, both figuratively and literally, outside their limited zones of comfort. Ido Portal is certainly an exception. Having spent the past years travelling far and wide seeking out knowledge from some of the world’s leading trainers, in order to improve my own game as both an athlete and teacher, the chance to work under the guidance of Portal and his assistants was one I had long awaited.

In short, Ido Portal has devoted his life to exploring movement. With a background in traditional martial arts, he moved about trying to find teachers of movement, but only came across specialists, who, despite imparting knowledge, failed to solve the myriad of elements that comprise movement education – scientific, nutritional, artistic, mental, biomechanical and so on. Portal now travels the world expanding upon a culture of movement. Some short clips of the complexities explored can be found here. I joined a group in Copenhagen who, in Portal’s words, were interested in this “bigger picture”.

Joined by his 2 pupils John Sapinoso and Odelia Goldschmidt, an eager group of mainly athletes, teachers, coaches and therapists experienced first-hand the ‘Ido Portal Method’. This post won’t detail this method, but will provide an insight into the philosophy of movement. We were reminded at the start, that the weekend would provide more questions than answers. I’ve gone away from courses with this feeling before, but not in the sense Portal meant. His teachings were complex, but this is a guy who has spent his entire adult life researching, and practicing, the intricacies of human movement. Being able to perform a strict one-arm chin up is not in any sense ‘easy’. His methods were challenging, but only in the respect that he never once led anyone to believe that beautiful capacities of strength and graceful movement came without years of hard work. Processes were broken down, from the preparation of joints, to the basic building blocks of hanging and pulling, to moving on all fours – in order to convey the process and complexity of movement freedom, and, if performing a one-arm chin/handstand, of bodily super strength. Throughout the demanding series of practical segments, Portal oozed his passion for perfecting form and not allowing us to move on too fast.

A large part of the weekend was as much a lesson is how to dig deep physically to unleash the creativity and complexity of the human body through natural movement patterns, yet I found myself intrigued by the philosophical insights provided into the way freedom might be approached in these hypermodern times. A slight interlude first. I’ve spent much of the past year reading the contrasting works of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard alongside the more contemporary neorealist approaches espoused by Sloterdijk and Latour. Part of this deeper introspection has to do with long-standing questions relating to the reevaluation and questioning of the meaning and purposes of ‘being human’. Whilst travelling to Copenhagen for the course, I was reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra, my alternative to a Lonely Planet city guide. This masterpiece, however challenging it is to read, is a vision of what we all have within us to define, create, and become the masters of our own existence. Through a highly metaphorical and parabolic style, Nietzsche asks why an encroaching spirit of nihilism has led the world into a state of crisis, an emptying of human meaning, purpose and essential value? The ‘free spirit’ or the Übermensch is a vision of overcoming the passive nature of an unreflective humanity – decomposing (as today) in a blur of YouTube, androgyny and high fructose corn syrup. This free spirit, and will to cross the bridges retaining the anthropos in this hot-tub of sugar-laced apathy, need not dwell in the mind but ought to resonate within the physical being.

For most philosophers, and indeed I must delegate this lack of motion to fellow anthropologists, the investigation into (post) humanism, past and present, has lacked any sense of an active, performative oomph. But, perhaps my diligent return to German thought (a mere aside I thought from the French poststructuralist hold upon my weary reading eyes of recent years) was meant to direct me to Peter Sloterdijk. Very briefly, this brilliant mind, in all his roguishness (Socrates was right – ‘wisdom-roughlook’ – ‘cheese&ham’) sees this transcendence of man Nietzsche prophetically called for, as taking place through training, work, physicality and performance. In other words, practice becomes the ‘athleticism of the incredible’ a repetition of exercises that shape a world in which we take responsibility for self-actualizing our potentials and freedoms, away from the temptations to continue to base life on a Facebook ‘like’ or a belly full of frozen spam (and the $19.99 solution). My reading may have a slight bias, but essentially, philosophers who remind us that we are products of what we do, and don’t do, are welcome downloads to this movers’ library.

Step up Ido Portal.

Ido2Marketing yourself as a proponent of ‘movement culture’ takes some follow up. Not like one who espouses his/her skills as a specialist (Yoga, Zumba, aqua-jogging, Nordic walking etc). Portal had clearly gone beyond the ‘course handbook, monthly newsletter and periodic group class’ mandate of many of today’s ‘trainers’ in the world of ‘fitness’. In fact, the detail and variety of insight into the body he provided, was beyond what I had expected. Again, I’m not sure some trainers dumb down their schpeel for ease of flow, or out of pure necessity. I found the anatomy and physiology detail extremely useful, not only in a practical sense, but in the way cognitive processes rely on various ques that one may or may not be aware of. I for one, like to know what’s happening (or not) with my body beyond feeling ‘ok’ or ‘crap’ and small details to concentrate on when standing upside down, or up on the rings are crucial to the process of mastering certain movements. Many fallacies were put to the test, in straightforward, no bullshit ways. Ideas about stretching, nutrition, deloading, programming, safety, intensity to name but a few were presented in ways that I’m sure the majority of the participants wouldn’t have come across before. I certainly found it refreshing to hear a coach talking about the resilience and creativity of both the body and mind, in regards to injuries, complexity and intelligence. Anecdotes were given from athletes and trainers to accentuate ideas, refute others. I appreciated hearing, as an undercurrent to most of the instruction, that it was our own responsibility to find out what works for us as individuals, as opposed to the constant ‘one size fits all’ approach commonly force fed in the boxed-in commercially-driven ‘fitness world’. These ideas were for people who wanted to train, not exercise. I’m just glad nobody asked the fateful question relating to ‘but is it still ok if we eat shit and don’t train much on weekends’? I can only imagine what the response would have been.

For those who have followed Portal on the interweb over the years, you can’t help but notice the air of confidence/arrogance in the way he responds to (mostly) cyberwarrior comments and questions. This could just be an Israeli thing I thought. On the contrary, I found Portal affable, humorous and fully geared to imparting understanding built up over years of research and practice.  To justify the fees and the almost ‘exclusivity’ of his services would require this, but like few others I’ve had the pleasure to work with (Steve Cotter immediately springs to mind) the level of professionalism and the take-out for me personally entirely justifies Portal as being someone you ought to seek out if you’re interested in the ‘bigger picture’ relating to movement. Like a number of the philosophers, stretching as far back at the Stoics through the Renaissance, the revolutionary 19th century, Enlightenment’s secularism and through to the critics of modernity today, Ido Portal seeks to confront the fear of possible freedom, and the instinct for growth, independence and durability. His movement culture, or ‘method’ may be seen as a new realm of physical perspectivism, one seeking to overcome the limits of dualistic thought between the mind and body. We may not all have the desire to move as beautifully as the human is capable of, or even reflect upon the destructive forces of inactivity and acquiescence to external forces. Yet, the perspective Portal gives is based upon movement, and the creativity and joy it can bring. The world is knowable, but conditional to certain interests – if we can place movement at the forefront of a new set of values for the human being, then Portal, like Nietzsche and his prophet Zarathustra before him, will have played his part in the creation of what we might become.

 

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Barcelona vs. Chelsea and the changing ontology of football

Jose Mourinho summed it up well when asked about the criticism levelled for Chelsea’s remarkable semi-final victory over two legs against Barcelona in this season’s UEFA Champions League. He also spoke to what we may begin to speak of as a new ontology of modern football:

They know nothing


Some people think they are the masters of the game and they will criticise Chelsea in the same way that they criticised Inter two years ago, but they know nothing. Nothing.They know nothing about character and personality. They know nothing about the effort or what it is to resist physically, emotionally and technically, with 10 men. They know nothing about organisation. They know nothing. That’s why my heroes at Chelsea are in my mind and why Chelsea deserve to be in the final. One of the great things about football is that it is unpredictable“.

The Bayern Munich coach, Jupp Heynckes, whose side will meet Chelsea in the final following a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the second semi-final, admitted he was surprised Chelsea had reached the final but praised them for a “tactical masterpiece” against Barcelona.

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech simply stated that… “this is why everyone loves football: things happen which you just cannot explain“.

The Guardian’s Richard Williams wrote

On one side there was delighted admiration for a revelation of character under supreme duress, on the other a scathing contempt for a team who were considered to have abdicated all responsibility for playing the game in a way that might entertain the multitudes and inspire impressionable children. You really would not believe we had witnessed the same match“.

Explaination, or our thoughts and emotions, are constructed in the language we use to express our understandings of, in this instance, football. We might hear that a game is a masterpiece, a travesty of justice, or, in the case of Petr Cech, unexplainable. Those that try, says Mourinho, know nothing. For philosophers, interest lies in the world of experience and explanation outside often beyond our language capabilities. In other words, football can only be explained through the way we understand our conceptions of the world. This dogmatic language we repeatedly hear through the media channels and on the streets around the world is merely a reflection on the way we conceive the world, and the game of football.

What alternatives do we have?. Why do we know nothing? Have we witnessed a different game?

Firstly, let us consider the possibility that a football match is more than merely a game. That players are more than purely men running about looking to control a ball. Our language has become accustomed to thinking through, and representing what we see via the categories of understanding that we learn through our conceptual ideas about the world and the game. We may agree or disagree with the way Chelsea overcame Barcelona, but what lies beyond this disagreement?. If we move beyond the category of representation then we enter the realm of what might be?.

For Gilles Deleuze, French philosopher of the metaphysics, the way the game might be represented is the result of two essential functions: Distribution, which it ensures by the partition of concepts (common sense) and hierarchization, which it ensures by the measuring of subjects (good sense). So, a game may be exciting or boring or unjust or confusing. We use our ideas of representation to clarify our thoughts, just as Plato, Aristotle and Kant have done in the past. When the game is viewed differently, it is because different people draw upon categories of explanation (common sense) that are stable, rather than offering porous possibilities. What if we consider dropping the (common sense) categorical identities we use to think about the game, and help us explain it, and instead look beyond recognizable conditions that dictate our judgements of the game?.

Bear with me, as I quickly identify the elements we use in representing our thoughts (thanks to Aristotle, who, should you ever find yourself in a philosophical quandary, usually has the answer). We judge things and conceive our world in terms of: identity, analogy, opposition and resemblance. We adopt common sense, and try to use this through the rationale of good sense. Language and our conceptualizations about the world dictate our expressions and actions in other words. So why can we look to football as a way beyond the conformity of thought?.

Ontology, in traditional analytic philosophy, refers to the study of what there is. This could be very general (what constitutes the universe) or specific (what constitutes a football encounter). Or, what makes up the psychology of the mind, the body in social interaction. Another take on ontology, looks at the study of being. What is being or what is it for something to be?. For Foucault and Derrida (yes, French philosophy can be useful in this instance) ontology of the human being is fraught with bias based upon the historical conditions of our existence and the language used to explain it. The ontology Deleuze refers to, takes a new approach to many before him, by looking at the question of how things might be, rather than continuing attempts to explain the fundamental nature of the universe (and football) which in itself is bound by the limits and categories of our explanations.

Football then, rather than being a project of explanation (of our thoughts, emotions or technical analysis) can be seen as an ontological project of creation. We need to create and employ different concepts which will enable the game to be seen in a different light. We need to see the potentials in the game that open up a multiplicity of perspectives, free from the categories of representation we see employed (often frustratingly) today. We need to look at the differences apparent in the very elements mentioned above we use for making sense of our world. By sticking to rigid conformity and mechanical repetition (as fans and as reporters/thinkers of the game) we continue to immerse ourselves in the very structures of judgement that confine us to scratching our heads on a regular basis when things don´t make sense. Football, like ontology, need not provide answers, but can be seen as an arena for thinking about future possibilities that extend into all aspects of our lives. We can look at the differences taking place on the football field, easily highlighted in the semi-final matches between Chelsea and Barcelona, rather than using stable conceptual identities to form and fabricate our analysis of the game.

Philosophy, ontology and football do not provide answers, if we continually try to place ourselves in coherent frameworks of understanding. By describing a game as good or bad, or a team as extravagant or adopting anti-football, we are adopting concepts that are interlinked with a multitude of difference, yet we represent them as static categories. Difference then, ought not to be something we can easily represent, or we step back into the same old realm of dogmatic thought. Difference as represented through football, is what lies in the unexplained (Petr Cech mentions this) beyond the conformity of the various representations and reactions to the game. Football is not about finding answers to easily stated problematics. A victory is a victory (and to some, but not all, the most important thing) but there are many ways of achieving this. The solution, or the result, can often take precedence in defining the way the game is played. A new ontology of football then, seeks to stretch what everybody knows or perceives, and enters into a world of the unknown that is full of potentials. It is like feeling ill, and having a confused doctor poke about on your stomach. There is an issue, but it is hard to define despite our best efforts (whether it be poking or representation through language).

Mourinho was right in saying that “they know nothing“, as was Cech in saying the game “cannot be explained“. Perhaps they are aware of newer ontological ways of thinking about football?. Representation cannot capture everything about football. How then, does language help us with this new ontology that seeks to broaden the questions surrounding what the game (life) might be like?. Language will always be an asymmetrical representation of the way we conceive of our world. Just as thought will always involve both conscious and unconscious elements. If we accept what we hear and read, and find ourselves making judgements on a game of football in an uncritical way, then maybe the task of thinking through a football game will not take up more than the odd 90 minutes of your time. If, however, you see others as knowing nothing, yet cannot explain things yourself, then you are a mere mortal (like Jose) and a new ontologist. Football is often spoken about in terms of models and prescriptions, but needs to be viewed beyond the comfort zone of our engrained bias. There is more to the game than we know, and we are yet to see what it may be like.

 
 

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Sexual selection (part 1)

Sexual selection: It does all seem to get over analyzed, with the general confusing over how much the social/external influence directs our evolutionary makeup. Less than we realize I reckon. This post** outlines how some of this confusion has got us through to today´s uncertain times regarding mate selection. In anthropology, 20th century theory was dominated by forms of functionalist thinking which saw social behavior reflecting or sustaining social order or collectivity, with less weight (understanding) placed upon legitimate biological practicalities of evolution.

Two competing, yet comparative instincts humans have evolved through their increased complexity are the sexual instincts that drive copulation (finding a partner to mate with) and the way we create, expose and decorate our bodies to apparently achieve such results. Both factors (one, we could crudely call biological, the other social) are part of sexual selection and, whilst not mutually inclusive, are fundamental to understanding the modern commercial preoccupation for “the ideal body” (whatever that is…I just heard about this reading high-end lit. in the dentists waiting room last week).

For the male, I think it is unquestionable that evolution has favored toughness those with hard to hide expressions of physical condition. Size, energy, loudness etc have been selected ahead of feebleness. But for the female, physical signs have not been allowed such scope of outward diversity due to the demanding task of pregnancy and motherhood. It would make sense to think that a female with a large arse and thighs (vs. skinny one) would indicate too much processed food breeding potential and proficiency as carrying potential genes forward. But then again, not all females are like that, so there are other factors. One that has become popular with evolutionary psychologists is the idea of “developmental stability”. Not just the arse then. This relates to the ability to change outward expression of fertility and health by aiming for symmetry in appearance, even if the genes and environment select against this. This is related to these odd studies you read about whereby people look at faces of all sorts of individuals and pick the ones they are most/least attracted to based upon nose/cheek/eye/chin lines etc.

Bodily symmetry has of course been a major factor in aesthetical expression of the human form throughout our history. But whatever the size and shape, these factors are biologically important to mate selection. So the question may be asked for today´s male or female out to find a partner or a one night liaison:

  • “What are these developmental symmetries that can help me out here?!”
  • “Never mind your evolutionary ranting, I just want to know how to get laid, and whether or not it is the bodily characteristics me or her I should be concerned about!”

Well, if I knew the answer, I would be like Tucker Max pretends to be. There is no answer of course, other than the fact that sexual selection a mutual choice (mostly). And that mutual choice is based upon a hugely broad variation of indicators of what fitness entails. It can be be boiled down to the level of tradeoff one places upon a certain category versus the other, which again is vastly diverse. If sexual fitness was biologically determined to favour certain factors like breast size, hip width or height, then we would all be the same. We are not, which is an indicator that humans get what they can use strategic selection based upon whatever they can get  a combination of socially and biologically influenced understandings of fertility and health. Big, or perhaps solid and meaty arses have long been a feature of the developmental success of our species, and the trend today towards stripping away the flesh to reveal bony, flat rumps is in fact more of a reversal of the evolutionary path back to our tree-dwelling days (minus all the hair). As far as breasts go, size has usually been linked to nutritional wellbeing in terms of fat reserves being stored there, but also as an indicator of fertility. In this sense, we would expect large breasts in affluent societies but the huge variation in size is perhaps an indicator of too much pointless aerobic exercise of other more influential factors in male selection, like brains.

The human body has successfully evolved to survive. We don´t have to worry too much about selecting a mate who may not have the capacity to survive, with few exceptions. Sexual selection has become more complex as our brains have developed, and as our societies have expanded. No longer do we have to make do with the odd new mate appearing on the horizon, unless we live in the Arctic. No longer do we have to use violence. No longer do we have to grunt better than the other hairy dude living in the next cave. We have language, we have the cognitive skills and intuition to make wrong choices and get divorced make the selective process a lottery more nuanced, more interesting and broader than that of our ancestors. But we still focus on tits ´n arses, girls still check out the shoulders, arms and hips. What´s up then?. The more we are told that aesthetic composition is the key to successful mating, the less we seem to adhere to the factors that have played a pivotal role over the course of our life histories.

Humans get sexually aroused rather quickly, and this is our downfall usually precedes the time it takes for emotional connection, which, in most cases is the determinant factor in (long-term) mate selection. How many times do you hear, see or think “he´s in it for the body” or “that has to be to suit the image”?. Like it or not, we are rather plastic beneath our cloak of egalitarianism and humility. We wish society well, and believe personality is the key to harmonious relations and coherence in life, yet still we are genetically programmed to display our (perceived) sexual prowess and select mates who fill these desires. Be truthful now!. Science does not usually lie, it is as objective as we allow ourselves to believe it ahead of the subjectivity that allows our ideological meandering to think we are an advanced monogamous species.

So, what the hell has this to do with modern consumer society trying desperately how to change our genetic tendencies?. We are perhaps guided by moralities and try our best to adhere to principles of good faith, family bonds and unity. But we find our modern complexities in constant flux regarding social, psychological, biological and physical frailties and the need to place more or less weight on the factors (they say, we say, we feel etc) that initiate our selection choice for partners.

It is only the media and commercial interests that profit from telling us how we need to manipulate our bodies and buy shit we don´t need through diet and exercise in order to make ourselves more attractive. Save yourself time and think of “being healthy” not as some aspect of social conformity, but as a possibility we have to fulfill our evolutionary potential. Mates will come and go, hearts will be broken, that is just my human nature. The less we stress about it the better. If we think of selection like we think of an episode of Seinfeld, then we understand the blurred nature of reality and entertainment. Just how we “know” what we are attracted to and why is part of our epistemological evolution that is in constant flux, and in constant battle with the pressures we allow ourselves to be influenced by in modern society.

Intelligence, warmth, compassion, humility, humor and lifting kettlebells so on are all parts of physical attractiveness. These qualities are displayed in various ways and will forever be debated through trial and error. Body image through the media and social commentary is part of the objectification of self that is so pervasive in today´s society. But we are reflexive in our mind´s appearance and habituate a body every day in many ways, thus have a capacity to act in non-cognitive ways. Our bodies are in constant motion and move freely beyond the boundaries prescribed by the the subject-object dichotomy that causes so much self-doubt about body image. It is the space we occupy and interact with that determines our consciousness wellbeing, not a static time zone. Sexual selection has many forces at play, but still, take it as a compliment if someone tells you you´ve got a nice arse. I´m sure it´s well meant.

**based upon years of trial and error and the realization that George was smarter than Jerry and Elaine

 

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Steve Cotter – How coaching ought to be

Steve Cotter is a busy coach. But one that has time. Time to observe, time to learn, time to build upon an already impressive capacity to impart knowledge about the human body, its mechanics, its shortcomings and ultimately its huge potential. You see, Cotter isn’t just your average coach who has had a decent career, picked up a few skills along the way and found a way to impart some of that experience to others. Most coaches follow that line, some are succesful, some less so, yet most find a niche where they stick to what works, and take few chances. Sound familiar? Well, that’s generally the way most cats rock in the health business.

Cotter on the other hand, seeks to push the boundaries of sports science in an ever reaching search for new and unexposed knowledge about not only human physical performance, but ways in which we can improve our game by adopting a holistic perspective of the human body and mind. You see, we are an integrated species. We are immersed in an evolving connection with our environment, and our mental, physiological, spiritual and athletic makeup cannot be seen in any other way as a performative organism which requires constant nourishment in order to reach its potential. Few dwell upon this connectivity, and live lives of compartmentalized units wondering why they suffer from stress, illness, boredom or dwindling mobility and performance. Cotter sees this link, and luckily for those who have had the privilege of being coached by him, many other will as well.

I first met Steve in London during an IKFF Kettlebell certification. Being an amateur scholar of all things physical, I knew Steve through his exploits posted on Youtube and various reviews in the kettlebell world who recommended him as one of the most innovative trainers around. The 2 days spent in London were the start of my passion for Girevoy sport, but also for the search for ways to integrate different methods into my coaching game, in order to give others an advantage. Steve had time for everyone, and had the ability to impart knowledege in various ways, given the diversity of people’s cognition levels. As I’ve learn in the academic game, people respond in varying ways to knowledge acquisition, and it takes a certain level of skill and spontaneity to be able to get your points across. Some like to be shown, some like to hear, some like to watch. A good teacher understands this and usually acquires new knowledge in all three ways.

I had the pleasure of bringing Steve to my home town of Bergen where he conducted a workshop at Crossfit Bergen and won many admirers. Following that, I attended the IKFF level 2 CKT in Frankfurt on the back of Steve’s time spend in St. Petersburg with the IKSFA. I was blown away by the new knowledge presented and the way Steve managed to integrate it into his coaching game so fast. The level was high, the intensity was higher. For 3 days, we immersed ourselves in GS and came away better athletes. Steve could, within all his rights, have stopped at the establishment of his own company, the IKFF, and continued a successful career holding seminars, certifying instructors and travelling the world spreading the word on kettlebells. But Steve, with a long background in martial arts, also views kettlebell sport as an art form. He sees his role as moving through developmental stages, acquiring new knowledge and understanding along the way, and applying it to his own game, and that of his students.

As an athlete, Steve certainly walks the walk. One only has to look on Youtube to see the jumping pistol , double get up  or 112kg windmill to see that his power is immense. This is often showcased by certain coaches who are perhaps less than confident in their own technical abilities, but for Steve, these are merely specific skills that can be learnt and performed, rather than benchmark features of a skilled athlete. Just as you can never trust a skinny cook or a fat coach, Steve’s info CAN be backed up!. In recent years however, and for me the most interesting aspect not only of kettlebell sport, but for my own philosophy of training, has been Steve’s transition to focussing more on movement quality and efficiency through simplicity. For Girevoy Sport, the Russians have proven that efficiency builds work capacity in a very different way than that of traditional resistance training. It requires breathing mastery, mental stability and a biomechanical awareness few sports take as seriously.

Training with kettlebells allows different energy systems to be worked in ways that have great carry over potential to other sports, especially martial arts and boxing where the winners are usually those who can sustain striking or takedown power over a long period. The ability to stay calm and focus whilst occupying your anerobic threshold is a key feature of elite athletes, as is the ability to manouver in efficient and powerful ways when in disadvantaged positions. Steve is of the humble nature, which I have found is a unique quality across the kettlebell environment, which champions their sport and the potentials it has, yet doesn’t waste time slagging off other disciplines or coaching philosophies. Again, many coaches seek refuge in their specialist ball of knowledge, fearing exposure of their lack of insight into alternative methods.

The kettlebell is perhaps the greatest complimentary training tool I have found. It compliments those who search for bodily mastery using their own weight, and it can add a platform and finishing edge to a specific skill base for many sports. It has given my own training a new lease of life in recent years by allowing me to discover my center of mass, and develop a base that has projected outwards in suprising ways. Martial artists have long known this, and being able to maintain power and control and stability is what gives one the advantage. The ballistic nature of the movements along with an emphasis on neutral wrist alignment leads to strength and stability in the spine and abdomen as well as the posterial structure often overlooked in convential training methods.

Those who slag off kettlebells are perhaps those who view sporting performance, health and longevity as a narrow pathway. Good on those though. Let them do their thing. Lets just hope they don’t make coaches. Steve Cotter is perhaps representative of a new breed of elite coaches who sees himself as a student as much as a teacher. Perhaps he is lucky to find himself outside mainstream sport, where the confines of tradition and skepticism to new methods reigns. It would be hard to see a coach with Steve’s mindset leading a Premier League football club or an NFL team.

Being a good coach, a leader or a teacher requires a large technical skillset or knowledge of the game or field. Many have this. Being a great coach or leader requires much more. One needs to have a compassion for the students and their individual needs and the ability to adjust their gameplan to suit changing circumstances. One needs to learn from mistakes, and adopt new strategies should things not go according to plan. Leading by example, a great coach must be disciplined on and off the field, in and out of the class room. Most of all, a great coach must be humble to the infinite capacity the world provides for new and inventive ways of combining the old knowledge with new. Steve Cotter ticks many boxes, and will no doubt improve his skillset during the next phase of his career, all in a chilled out and compassionate manner.

 

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Ivan Denisov – “Just let the Kettlebells fly!”

Great athletes make the hardest feats look easy. They achieve results seemingly impossible to conceptualize for the majority of us who have ever tried to run fast, lift heavy, hit further or jump higher. They succeed under an enormous range of pressures; yet often look so at ease, so focussed.  I had a chance recently in Rome to meet, and be coached by, one of the greatest kettlebell lifters ever, Ivan Denisov. Current holder of absolute world records in all three competition lifts (jerk, snatch, longcycle), Denisov was in Rome with another legendary lifter, Valery Federenko, founding head of the World Kettlebell Club (WKC).

I’ve had the privilege over the years of watching incredible athletes up close compete at the top of their game. I’ll never forget Miguel Indurain, legendary Tour de France champion or Gianfranco Zola, Chelsea’s greatest player. I’ve seen Nick Faldo make the game of golf look simple and the great Sachin Tendulkar, cricket’s all time record scorer. These, and other legendary athletes share a common denomenator: The ability to find an inner calm and dominate their surrounds with such ease. There is no rush, no huffing and puffing and no look of impending collapse. Ivan Denisov shares these qualities.

As a great champion, Denisov is perhaps on his way out of top competition and moving more into his role as a full-time coach, although he was coy about this when I asked him, and he still posts world class numbers. With limited, yet improving grasp of the English language, Federenko adopted the role of Denisov’s translator, and had a more sidelined role during the training camp. He took us through the small details of the GS competition lifts with continual emphasis on efficiency and easy of movement. While I was struggling to refine my technique with the 20kg bell, Denisov was snatching and jerking the 32 as if it were a toy. Try pressing or snatching a 32 and you’ll see it is certainly not a toy!.

During the breaks, I was interested to observe Denisov and was struck but his calmness and focus. He’d politely answer my questions about his training methods, his diet, his secrets to achieving such amazing numbers. There was certainly a presence about him, he was after all 190cm and almost 110kg, yet not in the imposing way I would imagine a heavyweight boxer or an American football linebacker. On day 2, Federenko informed me that Denisov would be demonstrating a snatch set after lunch. Stripping off into his competition suit and lifting shoes, Denisov made his way to a side room to the gym we were training in and began a breathing sequence, no doubt Russian “systema” technique. He found his solace, and prepared in the most relaxed way for a 5 minute set with the 32 using only his right hand. The set was almost perfectly timed at 20rpm, for a total of 102 reps. No fuss, no stress. The breathing and technique were even throughout, and there was no visible fatique afterwards. A simple 3264kg of lifting with one arm in 5 minutes.

Denisov later completed the WKC strength and conditioning test (5 sets of 6mins) with a maximum score using the 32. Strangely there were no heavier bells, as he had previously negotiated the 48 to set the highest ever score recorded in the test. Again, no stress, no panic. Time and time again during my attempts to nail the technical aspects of the snatch, Denisov commented that I need to relax more, breath and “let the bells fly”. I realized quickly that masters of their respective games are able to find a zone whereby their efficiency equates to power output at a level few others come close to achieving. I often wondered during my rugby career, and even as a footballer, why coaches seem to think that whipping players up into a frenzy of blood boiling tension is suppost to help performance. I never went along with that theory, even whilst I was in the changing room squeezed up against these sweating guys who seemed to have expended much of their energy before the match had begun!.

I’ve noticed professional athletes off the field too, are skilled at relaxation. They talk of sleep, of unwinding with movies, PlayStation, swims or walking. Maybe this is the way the best performers save their energy for the times it really counts. I have a sneaking suspicion the majority of amateur competitors, regardless of their sport, fail to see this connection. Performance is as much about the ability to turn up on the day and win the match, dominate your set or your opponent, as it is the ability to stay calm and relax. Too often I see the strain of tension intervening with correct and safe form during training or competition. Few people seem to think about the importance of breathing, or of mental focus and visualization.

This summer, I’ve had the pleasure of training with Steve Maxwell, Steve Cotter, Ivan Denisov and Valery Fedorenko. Different guys with different backgrounds. Each great coaches and champions in their own right. The commonality though is an important one, and one that I hope to install in my game as a coach and amateur competitor:

Performance comes through being able to master your body/mind connection. Most of us will never be world class athletes, but all of us have amazing potential to become so much better. Performance is not something we save for our thrice weekly visit to the gym. It is not something we turn off as we open the fridge and take out a packet of junk. It is not something apart from our daily life, Performance is our whole way of living, and the interconnectedness is lost on the majority. We must seize the opportunities that are in front of us on an everyday basis to improve our game, and not compartmentalize physical condition. Denisov told me of his love for family time, for games of basketball with friends and for reading. The ability to relax takes many forms, and is inextricably bound up in the ability to harness strength, mobility and power in athletic performance. I had this reinforced to me this summer by guys that know. Take your time, chill out, feel your performances grow.

 

 

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