Physical Freedom – Take It, It’s Yours!

For those of you who have watched the movie Troy, this line must have sounded familiar to you as you read it in your mind.

Achilles, the greatest warrior and hero of Homer’s Illiad, played by none other than the equally-famous (some would say infamous) Brad Pitt, challenged his band of warriors to seize the glory of battle in Hollywood’s grand rendition of the Trojan War.

I thought it fitting to throw out this same line as a challenge – a challenge for all of you reading this, to seize your health and physical freedom, and thereby take control of the most fundamental aspect of your life.

For those of you minimalists when it comes to the investment of your time and effort, think about this: Is it not worth investing your time and effort to ensure that you are taking care of your health and body, as best as you can?

We have all seen them – affluent office men (and women), who strut in their crisp business outfits and expensive suits, who drive around town in their sleek, mirror-shine sedans, with their precious timepieces and diamond cuff links glinting in the light of the sun.

And I’m sure we have all noticed the very visible trend – the older these people are, the more they look out of shape. This appears to be the case for a significant number of them, and especially for the men.

Singapore is a country of widespread affluence, which is awesome, for those of us who are getting our fair share of the GDP pie. So you have more money to spend. That’s great. But it’ll be even better if you have good health to go along with it.

There are too many people who are paying unnecessarily for health-related expenses, when just a little investment of their time and effort will save them alot of time, money and trouble, which can be far better spent elsewhere. Even if you aren’t suffering from any major, acute illnesses, being plagued by chronic, low-level cumulative health issues can really be a drag on your life.

Tired of lugging around a huge gut all day along with your heavy briefcase? Sick of those nagging lower back aches and perpetually-stiff necks and shoulders? Feeling a persistent sense of physical discomfort that you can’t quite put your finger on?

Health and physical freedom – take it, it’s yours!

Spend just an hour a day moving, and you’ll shake off most, if not all of your health concerns which are the results of your sedentary lifestyle. The government is now big on healthy and active living – the planners and observers in the relevant Ministries and official departments are probably increasingly-aware of the rising healthcare costs and issues that are laying siege to our nation’s increasingly-wealthy population.

I’m sure many of you will be shaking your heads in denial when you read this. “An hour a day? Where got time?!” Is the typical Singaporean response. And these same people I see a few years later will almost invariably have developed some chronic and persistent health issues that they constantly complain about, which they could very well have avoided or prevented by the hour a day which they used to scoff at in the past.

Don’t wait till you can’t see your feet for your midsection, and don’t wait till the aches and pains start to bedevil you like stubborn mosquitoes. When that day comes you will have to sweat so much more to regain the health that you have lost through your inattention.

And for the men, especially those of us who are liable for our annual IPPT – why make yourself dread these tests and end up dragging your feet for them, and ultimately feel embarrassed when your chin just can’t seem to clear that pull up bar? Worse still, why land yourself in a state where you are just resigned to failing the IPPT year after year, and automatically signing yourself up for weeks and weeks of remedial training, just because you can’t meet the mark that you used to be capable of when you were younger or fitter?

In my blunt and straightforward opinion, all these are a bloody waste of your time. You could be doing so much more and enjoying yourself, rather than spending unnecessary time back in camp. An hour a day, for two to three times a week is all that it takes to keep yourself fighting fit. And you will go for your annual IPPT with a smile on your face, thinking how good it is that our government is actually paying you for a workout session.

Our government is probably one of the few, if not the only one, in the world that pays you money to keep fit and stay healthy. Call it generous, or maybe it is just a measure of desperation, to try and get people motivated to do what is only good for themselves. I feel kinda sad when I go back for my IPPT and see those guys driving their posh cars into camp day after day just for RT. Somehow they just don’t look as intimidating stripped out of their thousand-dollar suits and shirts and ties and leather footwear, in exchange for a humble set of T-shirts and shorts and running shoes.

I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

But hey, they are the only ones to blame for their own plight.

I know it’s tough to find time for yourself, if you are a high-powered executive and stuff in some big-time MNC. I’m a law student, and I probably have the smallest inkling of what it feels like to be squeezed for time. But hey, I still find time to work, work out and write these posts, at the expense of revising for my mid-terms (which I really should be studying for, like now).

Saying that I feel stressed out sometimes is probably a gross understatement. But then I take a step back and set things back in their proper perspective – I’d rather scrape through my law school years, barely passing everything, and have my health, than to ace everything with flying colours, and end up flunking at my next health check, or my next IPPT.

Health is wealth and movement is medicine. I don’t want to be a pale, sickly dude who’s a genius up there in his head, which I am not anyway, but who winds up earning money to pay for the doctor’s bills. I know, I know, I exaggerate, but you get the idea, right?

Fellas, let’s get our acts together and put the doctors out of a job.

The day the world doesn’t need doctors is the day that we are all physically free, as much as we can ever be.

Imagine yourself being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want to, wherever you are, with your mind and body. (Of course, flying is out of the question, unless you really are Superman.)

Don’t let yourself walk this earth with a hunched back and a sagging gut, dragging your feet.

Walk proud and tall, and look to the skies, knowing that that, is your only limit.

Physical freedom – TAKE IT, IT’S YOURS!!!

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Mind, Body, Spirit

It is a widely-recognised metaphysical idea that Man is composed of 3 parts – mind, body and spirit.

The mind houses our intellect, the body houses our capacity for physical action, and the spirit houses our emotions.

The will springs from the spirit, which drives our thoughts, which in turn drives our actions.

Our will comprises of our desires as couched in emotive states.

So why am I talking about the mind and the spirit, on a blog so obviously dedicated to physical culture?

This is because Man is a metaphysical trinity of interrelated spheres of being, two of which being the mind and the spirit, are intangible but for their expression through our physical actions.

The fact that they can’t be seen doesn’t mean that they’re not there, however, as most people will readily testify.

Physical culture should be viewed in its rightful place as one part of a whole – as a component within a larger framework of conscious attribute cultivation.

The body is the vessel of the mind, and the mind is the vessel of the spirit.

Strengthen the body and the mind shall benefit. Hone the mind and the spirit shall prosper.

Often we neglect one or more of these 3 inextricably linked aspects which make up for the totality of human form and essence.

In my view, physical culture is not an end in itself. It is not merely a cultivation of physical attributes and qualities. Rather, physical culture should be a means to an end of improving the human condition, by elevating the state of the flesh and thus providing buoyance for intellectual development and spiritual refinement.

Many of the old time strongmen were accomplished writers, artists, musicians, poets and students of philosophy in addition to their formidable physical prowess. They were noted for their intellect, and a good number were also known to be brilliant speakers and conversationalists. Some even ran highly successful businesses during their storied lifetimes.

Strength and phsyical culture is evidently not the be-all and end-all, even for those amongst its folds who were of great and enduring eminence.

Physical culture should be pursued not as a standalone effort, but rather as an exertion to scale loftier heights in the journey of life in which physical achievements count for only one part of three, the other two parts being intellectual development and emotional mastery.

So view the cultivation of your might and muscle as a cog in a larger wheel, and pursue a holistic life experience, for a truly fruitful and fulfilling voyage throughout the years that you will spend on this earth.

Here’s wishing all of you out there a good life, and good training. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Obsession & Motivation

It has often been said that Man is a creature of obsession.

Obsession is defined by Dictionary.com as the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.

That pretty much sums up the whole concept of obsession.

So what has obsession got to do with motivation?

I started thinking on this after a little episode at the fitness corner.

I was going through my motions as usual one fine evening at my favourite haunt, muscle ups, handstands, front levers… You get the idea.

Then a couple of guys and one gal came in to the fitness corner, and their attention was invariably drawn in a matter of moments to this topless psycho torturing himself with positions that would be deemed highly unusual to your average Joe on the streets.

They were talking about me (God, don’t these people realise how loud their whispers actually are? Or maybe I really did look so much like a self-absorbed nutcase that they didn’t think I could hear them.). But anyways, the girl made a few really nice comments, appreciating the amount of effort and exertion that it obviously took me to torment myself thusly, with front lever holds and whatnot.

The two guys who were with her (and who were obviously smitten with her, hehe) turned quite an indignant shade of purple, and their eyes practically gleamed with envy. One of them, quite loudly it seemed, gave a disparaging remark:

“Aiya, show-off la.”

If I were a younger (and vastly more hot-headed) version of my current placid and peace-loving self I would have had a few strong words with the blustering young rascal. As it was I completely ignored the trio, and got on with my training.

The two guys managed to pry their girl away from the fitness corner scant minutes later, after unsuccessful attempts to capture her admiration with some pretty pitiful-looking pull ups that they were obviously unprepared for. I really didn’t know whether to feel amused or sorry for the couple of clueless young punks.

Boys can be such awful pricks at times, eh?

But the accusation of my showmanship bothered me more than I let on. The thought stuck in my head for quite awhile, and I wrestled it to sleep later that night.

I often tell people this, and I quote myself:

“You can lie to your parents, no problem. You can lie to your teachers, sure. You can even lie to the policeman. But there is one person in this world who you should never, ever lie to. That’s you. If you have to go and lie to yourself, something’s very wrong with you. It’s either a self-esteem issue or an ego problem, or a combination of these two. People with low self-esteem tend to lie to themselves cos they can’t take the truth; so too do people with huge egos.”

I have always prided myself on my honest self-appraisal, and seen it as a vital instrument for universal success. If you can’t even take your own measure properly, you’re pretty much screwed in my books. Don’t even bother trying to take the measures of other people around you. Success starts with you. Or more accurately, it starts from within you.

And so I began to turn the question over in my head:

“Was I doing all that I was doing, just to show-off to others?”

And I got to be honest, a part of me answered yes. After all, every human being craves compliment and admiration. It’s a deeply-rooted psychological complex that I don’t think any man has ever completely freed himself from. Sure, the better ones among us have learnt to manage and moderate this need for affirmation, but that doesn’t mean that these people don’t feel swell when you compliment them on their looks, or their bodies, or their brains, etc.

Why is the media and performance and entertainment industry such a huge, booming and enduring one? Why do writers and artists of all arts and forms all over the world covet the chance to get their works publicised and published, and thus be seen and read and appreciated by everyone else on the face of the planet?

We, the homo sapiens, are an attention-loving species, ‘migo. That’s why almost the very last one of us blogs and tweets and facebooks nowadays. We just can’t keep ourselves to ourselves. We have to share our lives, however mundane, with everyone else. It’s a need for affirmation that drives us forward constantly, and relentlessly.

But ultimately, it is my belief that those individuals who are scaling great heights in their fields of work are those who have learnt to thrive on the appreciation of their own work. In other words, to truly tread on the path to greatness, your motivation has to come from within, rather than without.

And self-motivation often traces its origins from a sense of obsession.

I can relate this to the many young chaps who have approached me over the years asking me to teach them stuff like the muscle up or the handstand. They confess that they want to learn these things cos they’re deemed to be “cool“, and what is left unspoken is the obvious fact that these are things that can be used to show-off, to friends, to families, to strangers, and most importantly, to the prospective girl (or girls) at school or in the neighbourhood.

And none of the guys who have come up to me for my guidance with such express reasons for their desire to master the bodyweight skills that I exhibit have ever lasted for more than a month before they gave up their pursuit completely.

This is because their motivation stems from external factors and benefits. And this type of driving force is not nearly powerful enough to overcome the sheer tedium and pain of the training that is required for even the slightest hope of achieving a small semblance of the skill that is necessary for one to be able to surprise or impress at will or fancy.

And a guy like me who has stuck the course for the fourth year running?

I was thinking to myself: What if one day I woke up and I was the only human being left on earth? Would I still do what I do now, with no hope at all of an appreciative audience and admiring onlookers? If the accusation that was laid against me was true and I was doing all of these physical feats only as a means to the end of showmanship, I would most likely quit the endeavour altogether, with the purpose assumed of the undertaking now utterly lost.

And a smile broke across my face. Hell, I thought to myself, I won’t stop cranking out this shit even if all that was left around to watch me were some birds and bees. Cos ultimately, I enjoyed watching (or at least feeling) myself doing the stuff that I do, and even if I was the only goddamn living thing left on the entire planet you’ll still catch me handstanding and front levering my way right up to the very last breath that I’m ever gonna take. And I’m going to feel real swell doing it, too.

You could call me obsessed. But more importantly, you should call me motivated.

People tend to talk about obsession like it’s a bad thing. But check these people out and they are likely only average or mediocre fellas at what they are doing in life, if they even know or feel what they’re doing at all. Really successful chaps know the power of obsession. Cos when you come right down to it, obsession is the most powerful source of motivation, a perpetual internal engine that will drive you and make you outperform and outlast all of the people around you who’re just not as into it (whatever this “it” is) as you are.

There is a reason why Man is made to be a creature of obsession – the motivation that we derive from our obsession is the very thing that has driven us to such dizzying and breathtaking heights in every conceivable pursuit that has ever captured our passion and imagination.

What? You want to be the best at what you do? Well my friend, then you better make sure that you’re obsessed with doing it. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Can You Be Bothered To Succeed?

This is something that should seem to you as a piece of common sense, but as we all know, good ol’ common sense ain’t all that common nowadays.

I get people asking me how to train for pull ups, without doing any pull ups, on a regular basis. I answer them with a simple question: how does a kid learn how to walk?

By trying to walk, obviously. If you want to get good at something, you better get down to practising it. Alot.

Most people nowadays are just plain lazy, but you can’t really blame them, not with the way that our society is going.

We are exposed to a near-constant stream of bombardment by tempting promises for swift or even instantaneous results in every form of media, from every conceivable industry, ranging from adult fitness to children’s education.

People get so brainwashed by all these marketing gimmicks that they are lured into the mistaken belief that there is a magical shortcut to every imaginable undertaking. And then the average man and woman wonder at why they are not succeeding in their daily ventures, while a few of their counterparts invariably rise to the top of the social ladder. And then they’ll attribute the success of these others to some “magic formula” which they will be willing to spend exorbitant sums of money to learn and obtain.

And what happens to these people? They’ll probably spend the rest of their lives pondering the success of others, and some will spend a great deal of dough to try and learn the “secret” of success and excellence, and they’ll dedicate their whole lives searching for a magical shortcut that doesn’t exist. How pitiful. 

Instead of looking so hard and spending so much, the so-called “secret” which is not so much a secret as it is a piece of common sense can be found all over the world, in places like children’s books and stories – fables with their immortal morals that were always meant to imbue our tender offsprings with lifelong knowledge and wisdom of the essence and essentials of life itself.

How sad that these distillations of age-old wisdom are being swiftly replaced by mind-numbing video games and lucre-driven tales spun mainly for the purpose of generating a handsome amount of monetary profit from the sales of toys and related branded merchandise. It is of little wonder, then, that good old common sense and the wisdom of ages are being swiftly, and perhaps irrevocably, subverted by covetous thoughts and superficial desires for shallow material wants and comforts.

You want the true, and enduring secret to lasting success, in any and all forms of human endeavour?

Let me answer you with a simple question: can you be bothered to succeed?

I always like to respond to obvious questions with a question. This is beacuse the fella that is asking me the bleedin’ obvious, obviously isn’t thinking hard enough on his own. So I need to jolt that idle lump of grey matter in his skull by countering his lack of cogitation with something that will really set him to thinking, perhaps for the first time in his life.

Compare this approach with the traditional method of Q and A:

You ask me: how can I be successful?

I tell you: go forth and work hard.

Chances are, you’ll have a slightly confused look on your face, and some of the rusty gears in your head will try and turn a little, but they’ll end up deciding that thinking is too much hard work, and they’ll go back to their usual languid state of existence. And you’ll never be really successful in the things that you want to do or achieve.

It’s not that I’m an arrogant bastard who thinks that I’m way smarter than everyone and anyone else. It’s just that those people who approach me and ask me questions that are very broad or general in scope, or questions that have answers that are downright obvious, questions like “how do I keep fit?” are almost always individuals who have not made real thinking a habit.

Oh and by the way, 2+2=4 doesn’t cut it in my book. Neither does x+2y=5, y=1, hence x=5-2(1)=5-2=3. That’s not thinking. Or at least not the type of thinking that truly sets us apart from our plant and animal friends.

A bleedin’ computer programme can do that for me. In fact, a bleedin’ computer programme can probably perform it faster and more accurately than you. In fact, a bleedin’ computer programme can probably do some math in a minute that will take you decades, along with a few thousand tonnes of paper and ink and a scientific calculator, to discover that you have been profoundly confounded, and are utterly unable to compute.

Alright, alright, I exaggerate. My friends always tell me that I like to blow healthy things all out of proportion. I guess that’s what makes me a storyteller. After all, we all enjoy the sensational stuff, yeah? That’s the primary reason why millions of people out there are into comic book heroes and fantasy adventures and science fiction wars, ‘migo.

Okay back to track. So who are the people who have made real thinking a habit?

An example is a guy who comes up to me and asks me a question like this: what’s the best way to train for pull ups? And then he goes on to ask: what sets and reps should I do?

Note the difference in mindset between someone who asks a question like this, and the chaps who ask me how to train for pull ups without doing pull ups.

The only viable shortcuts, and the only shortcuts that should be sought out and tapped, are technical ones. You ask someone who is more experienced the process of his success, and you cut out the parts in which there was trial and error i.e. unproductive downtime. This is how we progressed as a species, in our many and varied fields of learning.

Someone achieves something, a handstand for example. He is entirely self-taught and he mastered the exercise through a process riddled with trial and error. When he teaches a student, the student should master the exercise at a faster rate than him because of the nature of instruction in which the process of achievement is refined by cutting out the chaff and leaving behind only the essentials for success.

When I learnt how to do a handstand on my own the process took me many months. And even up to this point in time I am constantly uncovering nuances in the technique of the exercise, which when successfully incorporated will bring me to a higher level of mastery. The students that I teach invariably learn how to hold a handstand quicker than I did – they do not have to spend time figuring out alot of the stuff that I tell them right off the bat.

For example I maybe spent a week or two learning that how to tense my glutes. But when I teach I bring it in as a cue right from the start, and my students can often do it within minutes. This speeds up the learning process greatly, and intelligent learners will always seek out that which will streamline and expedite their technical mastery of the desired subject, without the intention of skimping on the hard work that must accompany the technical practice.

I admit, it is a fine difference and a fine line, and all of us (including me) are lazy. It is fast becoming one of my most-repeated sayings that humans are instinctively lazy creatures, and that our minds and bodies are constantly seeking the path of least resistance. But we need to manage this instinct in the sense that our “shortcuts” must come from making our work more effective and efficient, and not from the desire to cut out the work altogether.

It’s something blurry and something that I still struggle with, and I think I shall continue this struggle for the rest of my life, but it is also something that I know if against which I do not struggle I will become fully possessed by an idle spirit, and success will be but a fanciful pipe-dream to be wistfully related to indifferent friends and passers-by.

I was invited to attend a seminar on Total Immersion swimming by Tang Siew Kwan, the founder and owner of Fishlike Aquatic School. He said something during the session which resonated with me: if you want to succeed, you must be prepared to work harder than the people around you.

And here I have a confession to make, of how I was the proof of what Tang said, just scant minutes before he made his aforementioned assertion. When I received the invitation to attend the seminar and before I left home to attend it, I spent about a half hour reading up on TI swimming online.

This is a habit that has been drilled into me from my army days, in which the utmost emphasis is placed on the conduct of proper force preparation. This also relates to one of my favourite quotes, which I came across in the Jason Statham action thriller The Mechanic: Amat Victoria Curam, or Victory Loves Preparation.

During the seminar Tang fielded several questions, to which correct answers from the audience are rewarded by small but highly-attractive tokens and prizes. One of these questions was posed to us after we were shown a few videos of TI-trained swimmers, before and after they were schooled in the technique.

The question was: what are the 4 characteristics of TI swimming?

I shall not go into the answer here (you can find out easily using wiki if you’re interested), but let it suffice to say that I made a show of studying the videos and when I was presenting my answer (which I already know before I attended the seminar) I similarly made a small pretense of responding rather haltingly at times, to give the impression that I was not entirely sure of my observations, when in fact they had been ascertained by my prior research.

And so as people all around me looked impressed and Tang politely and graciously commented that I had good powers of observation and that he could use a coach like me (courtesy, of course, from a most esteemed host), I went up to the front and claimed my prize (a limited-edition swimming cap which I am sure more than a few members of the audience were hoping to win), all the while knowing that I had won it not through any lowly means of trickery and subterfuge, but simply because fortune does not favour the bold; it only favours those who are prepared for victory.

And then barely a minute passed before Tang stated that success is dependent upon relative hard work. As I sat in the audience with my prize in my bag I thought to myself: how true.

In our modern rat-race society where people are clambering all over one another to succeed, true excellence must come at a price. And the price is simple, if not easy, to pay – hard, intelligent work.

You want to be the best, you better work harder than the rest. Especially if your rivals are more talented than you are.

Can you be bothered to succeed?

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Entusiast. ~             

Ego & Expectations

This is probably something that we face everyday in our lives, especially for members of the male populace: ego and the expectations of others.

It may be a throwback to our cavemen roots, where fear, intimidation, threat display and posturing are some of the most basic forms of social interaction. The caveman has to appear stronger, or at the very least exhibit physical strength that is on par with that of his average peers, to avoid the likelihood of being bullied or killed by others of his own kind.

Even today, the playground dynamics of our children represent a holdover of these ancient social mechanics, with group games domninated by the largest, strongest and most athletic individuals, whereas their weaker and slower counterparts are often shunned, bullied and mercilessly ostracised.

As our children grow up, these instincts stay with them, even to the workplace, where individual ability is always placed at a premium, and less capable people are usually subject to mockery, ridicule and social isolation.

Of course there are always people who remember what it is that makes us human, noble individuals who rise above their natural inclinations and embrace everyone, regardless of ability and character, with fair and equal treatment. But most of the rest of us just can’t shake off our primordial judgemental attitude all of the time.

Although it is right for us to condemn such prejudiced behaviour, we also have to understand and accept that this is a mindset that has been hardwired into our biological makeup, and which is probably here to stay, for as long as we exist as a race and as a species.

I suspect that most of these evaluative responses has to do with Nature’s own regulatory mechanisms. In Nature, only the fittest are meant to survive and perpetuate the species, so that the future generations will inherit the best physical traits for optimal biological performance in the ecosystem.

I am broaching something potentially contentious here, so I urge you to read on with the light of clear reason.

I suspect that we, much like communal predatory beasts like wolves, are meant to live in a strict hierarchical system, with the strongest and fittest lording it over their weaker and slower counterparts. This may be what Nature intended for us, although we have risen above it in some ways, by our unspoken social agreement born of our developed civility to protect the interests and welfare of our weaker brethren.

But it was not meant to be so in the wild, and it is not always just so even in our modern world. Some instincts are just too deeply-rooted, entwined with our very genetic makeup such that only constant suppression and management by means of our reason and emotion is often just barely enough to hold our biological bias at bay.

We are, and always have been, a paradox. We are forged with the instincts of malice and spite, along with the capacity for compassion and empathy. Perhaps the only carnivorous creatures in the wild that approach our levels of tolerance and accommodation of our physical lessers are the whales and dolphins, aside from some ants and insects.

I could go on and furnish you with further proof of what I’ve just said, but I’ll save it, cos for those of you who know this, you already believe in it. For those of you who don’t want to believe that there is innate evil within mankind (evil as we define it with our modern civilised moral viewpoint), your minds are already closed to whatever evidence that exists to support this proposition. 

But I have digressed far enough with the intention of showing you what I believe to be the biological basis of human ego and expectations. Let’s get back to examining how these things can affect you adversely in your everyday life, and how you can go about overcoming their negative influence. 

I am a fitness guy (you should already know that by now), and so I shall illustrate my points using examples drawn from the fitness world.

The combination of ego and expectations tends to have these 2 effects, which can be observed especially for the male population:

1. It stops you from doing what you can’t do, or what you can’t do well, and hence it will stop you from getting better at the things that you need to improve upon.

2. It makes you do things that you can barely manage, just so you can appear as strong as people expect you to be.

If all these still appear fuzzy to you, let me pitch you a couple of solid, real-life examples that I have observed far too many times for my comfort or liking:

1. Pull ups are a universal sign of strength and masculinity. I have seen many men shun the pull up bars in the public fitness corners just cos they don’t want to look wimpy in front of the ladies. It gets worse when you don’t even want to do them without anyone else watching… Come on mate, if you can’t stand watching yourself doing a simple exercise, your ego levels are practically through the roof. Either that, or you have really, really low self-esteem.

2. It is a common sight to see grown men bobbing up and down (like a vibrator, one of my Army sergeants used to say)performing what they think are full push ups at the public fitness corners. It’s a damn shame. You’ll catch these chaps doing the same shitty, half-assed push ups six years later. They have not benefited from the exercise which they are killing their joints to perform, because they just can’t bear the thought of going back on their knees, and doing push ups “like a girl” to build up the necessary foundational strength for the full push ups. You’ll see more men willing to perform incline push ups with their hands on an elevated object rather than knee push ups, even though the former is actually way easier, but just because the latter looks way too sissified in the perception of these wannabe macho fellas.

3. This is an extra point which stems from point number 2 above. I f***ing hate it when people attach gender labels to a goddamn exercise. Why are knee push ups known as girl push ups? F*** man, most grown men I see can’t even perform knee push ups in the proper form, and I have seen many girls who can do full push ups much better than the next dozen men. Give the ladies a break, and give the goddamn exercise a break. It’s an exercise, for f***’s sake, why do you have to assign a f***ing gender to it?! Men are all of unequal strength, and some women are stronger than most men, just like how some men are stronger than most women. Don’t let your petty goddamned ego get in the way of you performing an exercise, just because you think it is pussified. And seriously? F*** the bastards who are still perpetuating the idea of knee push ups as girly push ups, and putting their brothers off an exercise which is of immense strength- and muscle-building value and benefit. Hell, I do knee push ups at the public fitness corner. Now let’s see you call me a pussy for doing it. No, I’m not joking. Go on and do it. Even if you do, I will still keep on doing ‘dem push ups, cos my ego can handle it, honestly.

Woah, don’t get me started on this. I get pretty pissed off when people come up to me and tell me shit like incline pull ups are for girls. Fark. And of the guys who say this, not a single one of them has ever succeeded in accomplishing my challenge to them of doing 3 sets of 30 incline rows, chest to bar. Let me tell you something that may amaze you, ‘migo. Most of the really strong dudes? They may appear cold, brooding and aloof in public but I’m telling you, they are some of the most humble people you can meet. They just generally look cold and unfriendly when they work out, cos they’re focusing real hard on the real shit, unlike most of the wannabes who claim that they “work out”.

Why is there this general inverse correlation of ego levels to strength levels? Forget the geniuses and prodigies who are pricks, they are relatively few and far between. Most of the people who go really far work very hard, and this hard work is almost always progressive, meaning to say that these individuals are constantly challenging themselves with new and harder moves. So if they allowed their egos to get in the way, they’ll never progress and move on any further, cos they’ll be stuck doing the old stuff that they’re good at, while steering clear of new challenges. And that, my friend, is a surefire recipe for stagnation.

But most strong guys do sound like pricks. My friend accredited the following saying to Ido Portal, renowned movement artist and teacher: When you become good, you become an asshole.

I have always prided myself on the ability to be honest in my self-appraisal, and I think I’m not good enough to be an asshole, yet. But my training partner, Bruce, certainly is. He is the only guy you see in the neighbourhood performing planches and full range handstand pushups off an elevation, and all without any background in gymnastics. Everything he has he earned through pure, intelligent hard work.

This is one man I have huge respect for.

Bruce started off training in acrobatics later than me, when he was already 23 years old, or thereabouts. After we met Ido in person and got to know how he started his acrobatics training at the age of 25, I often joked to Bruce that he’s going to be the next Ido Portal. Or perhaps the first Bruce Dierl. I have no doubt that this remarkable young man and training partner of mine is destined for great things, and I have full and complete faith that he will carve a legacy for himself, as he progresses to ever-greater heights of physical achievement.

And incidentally, Bruce was the friend who told me that when you’re good, you become an asshole. Hahaha.

I have seen how he answers queries on strength and training from interested parties, and I have compared his responses to my own. His replies are often short and curt, almost rude, from an outsider’s point of view. He is terse and taciturn and doesn’t say alot to these “newbies” who’re genuinely interested and asking for advice. At first I thought he’s an asshole, but now I know better.

It’s not so much that being good at what he does gives him the right to be an asshole. Rather, I have come to realise that for most of the new fish, it is often pointless to discuss and explain things in exacting and exhaustive detail. I can go on at great length for hours, (perhaps even days) about physical training, but all of that knowledge and information isn’t really needed when you’re a beginner, a novice.

 

I realise now that when you give a prospective student too much information at the start, he will tend to lose focus on what he should be doing, and instead keeps on trying to do the harder stuff that he is as yet unprepared for. This is like how when an average dude knows about full push ups, he’ll keep on trying to do them, instead of easier variations (like knee push ups) that will actually serve him better during the initial stages of his training. I’d say eight or nine out of ten people I’ve met are this way. And this is a certain formula for long-term frustration, disappointment, and even injury.

Much like those venerable old martial arts movies, stories and legends of young enthusiasts seeking out hidden old masters to learn the secret arts and skills that will make them extremely powerful and nigh-on invincible, the old master will invariably instruct the eager young novice to start off by doing just a handful of repetitive drills for punishing lengths of time, without any further explanation or elaboration as to the function and purpose of the said drills.

And those who succeed in the end (and of course the movies and books we read are all success stories) are those who possess the focus and perseverance to endure the long and monotonous hours of gruelling foundation work, until such time as they are deemed fit to be brought on to the next level, where the master will then reveal the true secret of his art, which is usually not so much a secret as a distillation of the most basic essence of what the novice had been told to practise all along. The higher and sturdier the mountain is, the broader its base. The same fundamental principle applies to foundational training, upon which stunning apex skills can then be built.

The initial stage of foundational training is often as much a test of the mind and character as it is of the body. Traditional chinese martial arts place great emphasis on xin su, the principles of the heart. It is the quality that must be considered before a prospective student can become a true disciple. This quality is a collective mix of essential character attributes and innate perosnal qualities such as focus, perseverance, drive, humility, compassion, empathy, and honour. Chinese martial arts place a great premium on wu de, the ethics of the practitioners. The lethal skills were meant strictly for self-defence, and the defence of others who are unable to defend themselves, from forces of malice and injustice.

In other words, true martial artists killed and maimed only to save innocent lives.

This may all seem like very flowery and powdery philosophical nonsense, but I believe that acrobatics, just like martial arts, as a skill is as representative and expressive of the character as it is of bodily strength and athleticism. Great strength and skill is acquired in the process of training, and without the right mental and emotional attributes it is difficult to scale the pinnacle of acrobatic achievement.

My good friend Bruce is on the way to becoming a master in his own right, dispensing only the most basic and necessary instruction to aspiring young trainees. And only those who are truly worthy of his instruction will persevere and reach the point where things will start to get interesting.

If you have read up to this point, I consider it an achievement in and as of itself – most people nowadays simply don’t have the patience to read this many words.

I believe my friend, partner and colleague Jay Ding has written a post on how the modern man and woman are overly-obsessed with fast results. This unhealthy fixation on the speed of ahievement rather than progress is in fact highly detrimental to the development and acquisition of most skills and abilities, for most, if not all things require a hefty foundation if truly staggering heights are to be achieved. 

The Chinese have a saying: yu su ze bu da, meaning more haste, less speed. So learn to moderate your ego and manage your expectations, and you will find that physical training is in fact as much an exercise of your mind and character as it is of your body and strength. And when all of these are honed in concert, you will, in time, also become a master of your own art.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

Nature or Nurture?

This is an age-old argument in both the intellectual and physical fields of development, and here’s my take on it:

Nature determines how far you can go, while nurture determines how far you actually go.

I’ll define nature as what you’ve been born with: your natural constitution, your physical proportions, etc.

I’ll define nurture as the training/grooming that you receive, and the work that you put in on your own to that effect.

My dad used to tell me that the nature of humanity can be represented by a rhombus-shaped diagram: very few people are born at the top and very few people are born at the bottom, and the rest of us are all lumped together in the middle.

 

Simply put, it means that there are very few people who are born gifted as we call it, and there are also very few of us who are born handicapped. Most of us are born with relatively normal attributes, with only slight variations that will not limit us in any pursuit too severely.

Let us take a look at gymnastics.

Have you ever wondered why champion gymnasts always fall into that certain height range? This is due to the nature of their physical proportions. 

Ask a friend who’s shorter or taller than you by about 8 – 10 centimetres to sit down on a bench beside you. You’ll probably notice that his head is more or less level with yours, and the extra height, or lack thereof, comes mainly from the length of his legs

That is why gymnasts who compete at the international level tend to have shorter limbs in relation to their torsos. This is a classic case of nature + nurture = world class ability.

Nature is potential, and nurture is its realisation.

There can be someone who appears to be “built” for a particular sport, but if he never trains in it, you can be better than him in the same discipline if you put in intelligent effort in spite of your natural shortcomings. On the other hand you can have all the potential in the world and still amount to nothing if you don’t realise what you have in you by training.

Ultimately, you got to have realistic expectations towards such things. There are guys who will be as good as, if not better than you with the same or even less amount of training. This is because they are “made” to excel at the sport. 

However, I firmly believe that anyone of normal health will be able to reach a very high level in any sporting pursuit, regardless of what they were born with. This is because we get better by practice. With enough practice you can even create or expand upon your existing potential to a certain extent. Our bodies are adaptable organisms, and everything can be taken a certain length of the way with the proper training methods.

You can increase the size and strength of your muscles and bones to a certain extent by training, which gives you more potential to pursue a certain sport at a higher level. Of course, different builds will excel in different disciplines, so it’s a good idea to find out what you are “born” to do, cos we all enjoy doing stuff that we are naturally good at.

So why not make yourself happy by pursuing something which you can become very good at, rather than struggling at something and having people surpassing you all the time with a fraction of your effort and dedication? Let’s face it, life’s unfair.

But if you insist on pursuing something which you don’t have the ideal natural attributes for, you are not doomed to failure; you are just destined to tread a longer and tougher road than most. You can still become extremely good, far beyond the average level of performance in your chosen field as compared to the amateur and the untrained, but there will always be those who are “gifted” and as hardworking as you are, who will be better than you.

So far this post seems pretty discouraging, eh? Trust me, that’s not my intention.  

On the contrary, I am laying down bald, scientific facts for you. This is the unapologetic truth, which is about as real as it can get. Accept it and you will move on to great things. Fight it and you will still find yourself bound by its inhibitions, no matter how hard you try. And then you’ll end up broken and frustrated. And then you’ll give up, and curse God and the Devil and everybody.

People nowadays like to sugar things over with pretty words and clever presentation. I’m not here to waste your time tellin’ you the stuff that you want to, and you like to hear. I’m here to be the bad guy and tell you the real shit that other people who think they’re helping you by layering the truth with the honey of falsehoods cannot bear to do, for the fear of breaking your spirit. Haha, what a joke.

Those people who are into all the “feel-good” stuff? You won’t get anywhere with their BS, no matter how good their intentions are. They’re telling you a sugared version of the cold hard truth and getting your hopes up, only for your expectations to be shattered when you get down on the ground and really see and feel things for yourself.

Then your spirit will be broken.

I believe that the truth is liberating, and always will be. It gives you good solid expectations and prepares you for what lies ahead. If I told you that that Amazon rainforest is all birds and flowers and cutesy rabbits and I chuck you in there for a week, you will probably perish. But if I told you the truth upfront before dumping you in there, there’s a greater chance that you may survive, cos you’re already mentally and psychologically prepared for a shitstorm.

And for those people who break down upon hearing the truth? I don’t mean to be harsh, but this world is harsh. It will move on with, or without you, and it won’t give the slightest shit about you, even if it just so happens to roll over you and break all of your bones to pieces.

We live in such a sheltered world that we are all weak. Pathetically so. Our forefathers didn’t just survive. They thrived in the greatest adversity, against the harsh elements and the uncaring wild and huge fanged beasts that preyed on them for breakfast.

Why, is that nasty Sabretooth too big and mean for you to handle? You want to know what your ancestors did? Your great-great-great-great…-great grandfathers ganged up on the pussycat and beat it to death with clubs and spears, and roasted it on a spit for dinner.

We live in a different world now, but adversity remains, in different forms. Education, careers, taxes, the costs of living, the social ladder… all of these things are our wild beasts and Sabretooths. So do you want to whimper and fall to your knees in fear? Or do you want to man the f**k up and beat the living shit out of these obstacles in your way?

I don’t know about you, but me? I’m going to do the latter, or I’m going to die doing it.

We are all born to die. The very day you were born? Ha! You were already one day closer to dying, my friend. Don’t hide away from that simple, universal and unchanging fact. But if you accept that the end is coming, chances are you’ll be doing a great deal more, to achieve something worthwhile ‘fore the Reaper comes knocking on your house door.

You think that you’re in control of your own fate? I can show you right here and right now that you do not.

When you are crossing the road can you help it if a drunken chap decides to just come along and send you six feet under at the wheel of a heavy truck? When you are walking around in your own neighbourhood can you help it if a flowerpot  decides to just fall on your head and send your brains splattering across the concrete deck like spoilt strawberry jam?

Hey, this shit happens. And you know it.

Most things in life we have absolutely no power over. The only thing that is truly within your control is you. Yourself. Or more accurately, your actions and reactions to all the stuff that is going on all around you. How you interact with people and things and events.

I’m not of an ideal build for learning acrobatics (as my Fujian mentor has told me matter-of-factly on more than a few occasions), but I can do the things that I do, because from the very outset I have accepted the fact that I have to work much harder than most people at it, and I get down to actually doing it.

So I’m not trying to douse your enthusiasm for anything. I believe that drive and motivation is more important than anything else when it comes to work or study or training. If a guy is born with a photographic memory but he can’t be bothered to use it, you’ll be a better scholar and academic than him with your normal brain by being bothered to do the things and to put in the effort that he can’t be bothered to do.

All I’m trying to do here for you is to make sure that you understand the relationship between nature and nurture, and to show you the psychological process of accepting, and runnin’ a winning race with the truth.

 

I’m certain that everyone is born to be good at something. So find out what it is, and I’m pretty confident that you’ll enjoy doing it, and that you’ll excel in it. And that’s how you add meaning to your life, which was destined to end the very day it started.

Make something out of yourself before the end comes, so that you can go to wherever it is that awaits us after death with a contented smile on your lips, knowing that you haven’t just lived; but you’ve thrived and you’ve succeeded in this life, and you won’t needing any more time here to wrap up anything else, cos you’ve done everything that you possibly could, and you’ve done them well.

So go forth, and seize the day. Nurture yourself, and you will no doubt blossom with scintilliating brilliance in whatever endeavour that you may choose to undertake. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~

The Invisible Cast

At the recent Ido Portal certification course that I attended, he spoke about joint mobility and range of motion. Sometimes it is truly a wonder the way we overlook certain things that should be readily obvious to us.

Think about this scenario: Imagine that you’ve broken your arm at the elbow and it’s in a sling/cast for 3 months. After taking off the cast and the sling, would you expect yourself to have the same mobility and range of motion in the arm that you did before?

Probably not. This is because our body tends to lose what we don’t use for extended periods of time. There are many biological processes that will restrict or even shut down the flexibility and mobility which we don’t exercise, which will ultimately result in unnatural or severely limited movement patterns.

One good example is the modern habit of sitting. We sit on the bus and train, we sit again at work/school, we sit to read, we sit to eat, and we sit to shit. Sitting in and as of itself is not a bad thing, I’m betting even cavemen back then enjoyed sitting on logs or rocks when they’re taking a break or just chillin’.

The problem occurs when this habit is coupled with sedentary lifestyles with minimal movement, which will wind up with loads of people being unable to squat fully, unable to straighten their legs completely, and some even unable to bend down and touch their toes with their legs straight and together at the knees.

All these are symptoms of tight and shortened muscles, tendons and ligaments, which will give rise to a whole host of other issues. That’s why we hear many people, our very own friends and families, complaining of aches and pains when they age. The lack of maintenance of our muscles and joints in their proper, natural conditions can only result in pain and loss of mechanical function in the later stages of life.

All of these common, everyday problems can be easily resolved. Simple things like standing up and moving around when you can during your school or office breaks, taking the stairs sometimes instead of the lift, and walking to nearby places instead of taking (and sitting down on) the public transport all the time or cycling to work or school if they’re near enough for you are all great options to help you keep your body moving.

Of course, the best things is if you can spare just 20 to 30 minutes a day to really move. Notice how I don’t use the word “workout”. You don’t really need to workout to stay in shape. By that I mean you don’t have to lift weights in the gym or run on the treadmill, which are the things that many people imagine when they think about exercise. These things grow stale after awhile, because you are doing essentially the same thing, over and over again. Which is boring.

As humans beings we crave for complexity. This is an idea articulated by Ido Portal, international movement artist and teacher who moves, and teaches people how to really move, for a living. We don’t want to just repeat the same process in the same way many many times. We can do the same thing, but we would want to do it in different ways that engage our minds and imagination.

Exercise some creativity to move in fun ways. I place alot of emphasis on making things interesting for my clients, because chances are you’ll want to do something if you find it fun and engaging. As a child I used to love running over rough and uneven terrain, like on forest trails or those small ridges that you can find in your very own neighbourhood park. This beats running on flat concrete, becuase it engages your mind and mental focus, to keep yourself safe and stable while moving at high speeds.

My favourite kind of running would be to sprint across a steep gradient, which really gives me a thrill. I’m not talking about your usual upslope or downslope running; I’m talking about cutting right across the middle of the slope. One side of your body will be lower than the other, and your entire centre of mass will be tilted. When you run fast enough like this you’ll feel like you’re defying gravity, which really gives me a blast, haha.

Running on rough and uneven terrain is frowned upon because alot of people think it’s dangerous. Let me tell you something. Walking can be a dangerous affair if you don’t learn how to walk properly. I don’t get it when stuff at the fitness corners get dismantled cos someone hurt himself by doing something which he is unprepared for, or because of a few freak accidents. If we’re going to shut things down cos people are getting hurt, we should be banning cars on the roads (too many traffic accidents), and dismantling the floor itself cos people are slipping and falling on the ground everyday for various reasons.  

Why not take away National Service? People die serving the army, for crying out loud. I hate it when some folks decide to look at the same shit in different ways. National Service is here to stay because it is essential. But I’m telling you, nothing in the world can get much more essential than your very own health and fitness.

Health is wealth and movement is medicine.

So don’t stop your kids from playing just cos they can get hurt. You can get hurt walking too by slipping on a piece of banana peel and cracking your skull wide open. But you don’t stop walking, do you? You can get hurt by crossing the road and getting knocked down by some drunken fella at the wheel of a 3-tonne truck, but that doesn’t stop you from crossing the road, does it?

I know I’m ranting a bit now cos this is something that I feel very strongly about. I hope I’m not coming across as an extremist, cos I’m far from extreme. I only advocate you doing stuff that you are prepared to do, for which the chances of you getting hurt is about as high as that when you’re crossing the road. That’s an acceptable level of risk. isn’t it? Of course, take every precaution possible when you exercise. Exercise is supposed to build you up, and not to break you down.

So stuff like running on uneven terrain is dangerous. It can give you twisted ankles and swollen kneecaps and ruptured hips. But do it right and do it progressively by starting out at a walk, and your ankles and knees and hips are going to be a whole lot stronger and healthier. In the past 20 years of my life I have suffered from less ankle sprains than I have fingers on one hand, and trust me, I’m not some 20-fingered freak.

Running on rough ground teaches you proper feet and body positioning like no other thing can do, and you will become better coordinated and a whole lot more athletic, traits that will stand you in good stead in any sporting pursuit.

Swinging across the monkey bars is an excellent upper body mover and conditioner, which will give you superior grip strength and shoulder health if you practise it wisely. Don’t try and be a hero and skip multiple bars when you’re not ready. That type of behaviour is exactly the kind of thing that will get you hurt, and get the bars dismantled if enough people are doing the same. So please don’t make me hate you. 😉

I’ll be giving you many more ideas of how to move and stay in shape with these fun and engaging drills, which are mostly stuff that we used to do when we were young. Maybe that’s why kids who move and play always seem so strong, healthy and energetic. Because moving and playing games is what Nature intended for us to develop our bodies. Unless you’re a serious athlete you don’t have to ever touch a single weight in your entire life to keep yourself in tip-top shape.

Just remember, anything that you’re unprepared for can hurt you, and anything in excess is a poison. So move and play and exercise sensibly, doing things within your ability and in healthy quantities, and you will become stronger and fitter quickly, safely, and naturally.

So join me and like-minded people like me all over the world, and stop putting your body in an invisible cast. Tear away all of the excuses and the self-inhibitions, and go out there to move and play and be active. Start to live like a child in all of your physical movements, and your body will stay forever young. 🙂

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~