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. ~

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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. ~             

Faith, Courage & Grit

I know you have probably heard this before in some form or another: you gotta believe in yourself and be brave to succeed.

But the huge amount of people out there who still aren’t getting to where they really want in life? They know this. But they don’t practise it.

Being a strength and fitness guy let me take you through some scenarios that you may be familiar with.

Are you the guy who wants to do a proper pull up, but never really gets it cos you don’t have a bar at home, and you don’t want to embarrass yourself at the public fitness corner struggling like a sick ape to get your chin over that metal pipe in front of all those other people?

Are you the guy who wants to lose weight, but never really gets to it cos you don’t want to make yourself look like a fool pounding the pavement alongside chicks who can run faster, and further than you?

I can easily come up with a dozen more similar examples off the top of my head, but I’ll save them, cos I think you get it.

Ego is the greatest roadblock for anyone who is serious about getting real strength and fitness.

Ido Portal, movement artist and teacher who enjoys international renown in his field of work, (and whose upper body strength course I attended recently,) says it best:

“We are all weak. We are all weak, and trying to move forward.”

If a guy like him claims that he’s physically weak, I think most of the rest of us are pretty much done for in that respect.

But take a look at history, and we’ll see many strength and athletic phenomenons who built themselves up, from small and sickly dudes whose lives were “often despaired of” by doctors and physicians into “human machines” that amazed the world.

The great Sandow was one such example. If a small, delicate and sickly boy like him could scale the apex of physical strength and development, I think the rest of us “normal folks” don’t really have much of an excuse to make about this.

Tromp Van Diggelen, the South African Hercules, “had a very sickly childhood and almost died on three occasions from bouts of pneumonia as well as bronchitis and pleurisy”.

His famous protege, the incomparable Maxick, was, in his own words: “a puny, delicate child – so full of rickets that (he) had reached the age of five before (he) could walk; and for the next two years (he) was so sickly that the school authorities exempted (him) from attendance. Indeed, (he) was always ailing, and (his) condition was often so precarious that more than once (his) life was despaired of.”

Even if these men presented exaggerated stories of their ill health when they were of a tender age as a publicity move, and we assume their lives to be of normal and healthy beginnings, it still shows that almost anyone can go far beyond the general average in terms of strength, health and fitness, with the correct attitude and hard, intelligent training.

Now let me present myself to you as an example:

I was a boy of normal health, and I was a bit of an ectomorph back then cos I was skinny and light, and found it hard to put on muscle even in my teenage years. I ran into some bullying in school, and I wanted to get bigger and stronger so cowards will think twice before trying to prey on me.

I pondered the issue with my childlike mind (I was but eleven or twelve at that point in time.), and I did most of my thinking at the fitness corner that was near my place (literally a stone’s throw away, I tried haha).

It appeared to me that of the people who went there to work out, it was always those men who could perform alot of chin ups that looked the biggest and strongest. So I thought to myself: hey, I found the secret to size and strength.

So I tried to imitate what I saw, but I had trouble even hanging onto the bar in the beginning. I could see people giving me the look, you know, the one that says: woah, what’s that small dude tryin’ to do? I hope he doesn’t hurt himself.

Perhaps it was because I was young, and less self-conscious (our ego seems to swell with our age, eh?). But I ignored those condescending looks, and to some extent they even pissed me off and pushed me to train harder.

I held on for dear life, day after day, everyday without fail. I would spend one to two hours at the fitness corner just doing many sets of maximal hanging. After about two or three weeks, I realised that hanging onto the bar was becoming easier and easier, until I could stay up there for a good minute twisting my hips and flailing my skinny legs around for fun.

It was also then that I felt this connection build in my arm. With the hanging portion of the pull up nailed, I found myself able to exert strength and pull myself a ways to the bar with my upper arms by flexing and bending them. I kept on pulling myself up as far as I could go, for as many times as I could manage, and for as many sets as I could do (of course back then I didn’t know they were called sets).

And then the day came when I could bring my chin above the bar (finally!). I estimate it to be about a month (maybe five weeks) or thereabouts between when I first started to train hanging, to that moment of elation when my little eleven or twelve year-old chin (I can’t remember how old I was for sure) went pass the sacred bar.

And then I got really fired up. I kept doing as many sets of one dead-hang chin up as I could every single day, and within four weeks I went from one to ten repetitions in one set. Maybe my form ain’t that good back then, and perhaps I didn’t fully straighten my arms everytime I lowered myself, (hey, give me a break, I was a kid) but it was nonetheless a huge achievement for me.

And then I remembered running into the bullies again and having the classic pulling-of-shirt-collars contest with one of them, and the unsuspecting fella was taken aback by my newfound strength. The whole group of losers left me well alone after that little episode. What a bunch of cowards.

So how does all these stuff relate to the title of the post? Let me break it down for you, ‘migo.

Faith – First and foremost, you gotta have faith and believe that you can achieve whatever it is that you want to achieve. I know it’s hard, but it’s what you gotta do.

Courage – After that initial burst of faith hits you, you have to pick up your nutsack and get down to doing it. Or at least trying to do it. You will have to contend with those contemptuous onlookers, so if your ego can’t take it, you’ll never make it, ever.

Grit – Now that you’ve got your balls rollin’ with you, you gotta have the sheer grit to keep up with it. You’re probably going to encounter more disdain and scorn along the way, with some idiots outright mocking you and laughing at you behind your backs, or sometimes even in front of your face. Shrug it off, champ, and one day you’re gonna be the one who’s having the last laugh. But when that day comes be a gentleman. Don’t shove it in the doubters’ faces. Everybody makes mistakes, so we should all be more forgiving people. That way the world’s gonna be a much better place for all of us.

I was watching Rocky Balboa the other day on TV, and what Rocky said really resonated within the very core of my being, and I could almost feel the hot tears of emotion coming to my eyes when he said it with such feeling and passion. Kind of like how I felt all those times when I pushed on in spite of everything and finally got what I got.

And this was what the champion said to his son, who was losing faith in himself (I ripped off this whole inspiring chunk from imdb.com, cos it’s just too darn good to leave out anything):

“You ain’t gonna believe this, but you used to fit right here. [taps on the inside of his hand]

I’d hold you up to say to your mother, ‘this kid’s gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid’s gonna be somebody better than anybody I ever knew.’ And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great just watching you, every day was like a privilege.

Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow.

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.

But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!

I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life. Don’t forget to visit your mother.”

I know this post is getting way too long, but let me just share one final thing with you.

My relationship with my dad wasn’t always good. I don’t know why he does it, but sometimes it seems he just likes putting me down, whatever I’m trying to do or achieve. He’d call me stupid when I was young, cos I wasn’t as quick with my thinking as he wanted me to be.

When I got older and started doing bodyweight stuff like learning handstands, he’d tell me to quit, and say that only people who train from an early age with the proper coaching can do it. Everytime I stumbled in the beginning he’d take the chance to tell me to quit.

Can you imagine that? Your own father tellin’ you to quit when he’s supposed to be a rock that you can lean on for support when you’re feeling weak and tired? Your own dad, telling you to give up on your dreams? And I was much older then, four years ago when I was eighteen. I was alot more self-conscious, and what my dad said cut me, although I didn’t show it.

But it started to get me angry after awhile, I guess that’s just who I am. I ain’t somebody who’s gonna go and give up a fight without giving what I’m fighting some hell to pay for. I know I’m a slow learner, but like what one of my sergeants in the army used to say, if I’m going to be a slow learner, then I better make sure I’m a hard learner. I’ll be the guy who does more than everybody else, just so I can be as good as everybody else.

So I stumbled and fell, got myself up, and stumbled and fell again. And the whole world (or at least the people at the fitness corner) was looking at me all the time, like I’m some crazy fella. But I kept goin’, cos that’s how winning is done.

Now, four years later, I won’t call myself an acrobat, cos I’m still a long ways off from that level. But I got from nothing to something, by honest hard work and some great help from my coaches and my training partners along the way (Thanks to Changzhong, the 9 one-arm pull up wonder who got me started on this, and Bruce, my current training partner who inspires me every weekend when we meet without fail doing stuff that I’ve never seen live before, and the 64 year-old ex-Fujian acrobatic troupe coach who I couldn’t have possibly done without.).

So I’ll let the pictures in this post speak for themselves. That’s me you’re lookin’ at right there – your typical ectomorphic hard-gainer and slow-learner who’s made something for himself, cos he had the faith, courage and grit to keep moving forward.

So don’t go putting anyone or anything on a pedestal. I always like to say this to people who approach me for training advice:

“No one is born able to do a pull up, unless you got a bar in your mother’s womb.”

People always like to elevate things that they admire so far above themselves that they end up falling into the belief that they can’t possibly achieve what they are seeing, ever. I hope that I’ve proven to you that this kind of thinking just ain’t logical, and will get you nowhere.

So whoever you are and whatever you are aiming for in life, be a go-getter, and once you get there take some time off to help those that were once like you to get to where they want to be. And I promise you, this life, and this world, will be a much better place for all of us.

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