Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Freedom from Conditioning

There is a lady who lives across the street from Clar and me who to me illustrates my definition of fitness, “The ability to engage in the day to day activities that bring us joy and happiness”. Trim and fit, she is in her late 70’s and despite neuropathy in her legs continues to mow her lawn, garden and community volunteer in addition to being active in her church. As a survivor of the Allied destruction of Dresden in World War II the foundations of resilience and resolve were established early in her life and have carried over into her overall fitness. Her summer plans include hiking in the mountains in Germany with her family and a trip to Hawaii. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration of and for her fitness.

She does not belong to a fitness club.

In 2005 we received a phone call at 5:30 am from the Director of a Recreation Center where we had investigated joining. I was told that we would not be allowed to join as a result of my opinions. I hung up the phone distraught for The Iron Maiden and I were less than 8 weeks out from a bodybuilding show. I expressed my concerns and uncertainty to the Iron Maiden. Her reply was brief, salty and to the point: “FIRETRUCK (Insert the Recreation Center Directors Name Here) !!!! We’ll take the dogs for a walk now and lift in the basement”. Quite honestly that day she was the Iron Maiden and I was far from being the Iron Man.

However she drove home a point that has continually been reinforced over the past few years and that is one does not need a fitness club to make one fit for real life.

Walk into any modern fitness club today and one will find a dazzling and stunning array of equipment equipped with bells and whistles, TV’s, flashing lights and mindless proclamations of ones achievements and successes. Members dutifully drive to the fitness club in their SUV’s and trudge through workouts that have no meaning or bearing in real life. There are little or no practical applications to fitness present as defined at the start of this piece. Where in real life does one replicate the movement found in doing leg extensions or the AB and ADduction machines? A BOSU on a swing to work on CORE training? Give me a break! Simply put it is all delusions and illusions of fitness in the majority of today’s modern fitness clubs.

Over the past few years Clar and I have been urged to open a gym. It has happened. Together we are bridging the physical and mental, the academic and the athletic, drawing on established foundations rather than smoke and mirrors. Our methods might not be for all as the definition of fitness varies from individual to individual. However if the words of Bruce Lee “When there is freedom from mechanical conditioning there is simplicity. Life is a relationship to the whole” resonate with you as they do Clar and I feel free to contact us.

CJ and Clar

Brotha did ya forget your name...

In the field of ideas not involving productive activities it is easier to distinguish the division between material and spiritual necessity. For a long time man has been trying to free himself from alienation through culture and art. While he dies everyday during the eight or more hours that he sells his labour, he comes to life in his spiritual activities. But this remedy bears the germs of the same sickness; it is as a solitary individual that he seeks communion with his environment.

Che Guevara

The word crucible can be defined as “a severe test, as of belief” – and I am frequently reminded by Dr. Iron Maiden, PhD that “belief systems are very difficult to change”. It is these belief systems that have given birth to The Crucible.

The Crucible is not a fixed place but rather a philosophy based in experience in both the academic and athletic worlds. In the past century our country has shifted from an agrarian society to that of an industrial society. Rather than working out while we work many now drive to artificially created places called “fitness clubs” where we attempt to replicate the fitness we once obtained through manual labor and it’s accompanying “sweat equity”.

However I realize that we can not turn back time or progress - nor should we attempt to. But I wonder if we must consider if we have honestly and truly made progress in the fields of fitness and fitness programming given the number of people who belong to “fitness clubs” yet many of those seem to seldom reach their goals – of complaining and bemoaning going to the “fitness club” to engage in lifeless activities that hold no happiness or joy - seeming to many that going to the “fitness club” has merely become an extension of their daily labour. Perhaps Che Guevara’s observation that “while he dies every day during the eight or more hours that he sells his labour, he comes to life in his spiritual activities” holds a partial explanation – “the germs of the same sickness” – to and for this paradox of “fitness”.

While going to school in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii I rode my bike along Alii Drive almost everyday. There was a guy who sold flags from a kiosk at Magic Sands Beach – his chiseled physique was carved from rocks – literally – for next to his kiosk he had a pile of rocks in varying sizes. He pressed those rocks, he curled, squatted , lunged and crunched with them – and rode his bike to work and his rock pile gym everyday. It is this that has been part of the change in my belief system. Need a greater challenge? Find a bigger rock. Is this perhaps the communion with environment our fitness is missing and longs for? (Obviously it is for me!)

I suppose these ideas won’t be too well received by those places that offer you a comfortable place to sit and contemplate your navel lint between sets on the squeezy machines – most “fitness clubs” don’t allow chalk - much less rocks – in their free weight / TV rooms but that’s OK. They have plenty of members in their club and there are plenty more where they came from. Some people are happy there going through (or going through the motions of) their workouts.

The Crucible lifts bags of sand, chains, cast iron plates and barbells, dumbbells, iron railroad rails and
The Rock from Penticton. We have plyometric boxes, benches, Swiss Balls, medicine balls and elastic bands. I made our dip stand entirely out of recycled materials and it is angled in to accommodate the fact that peoples shoulders are different widths – unlike most dip stands found in “fitness clubs” that are one width only. Our pull-up bar is recycled as well. Once I worked in a “fitness club” that would not allow me to bring my Kestrel KM 40 inside – so if you ride your bike over to work with us we’ll give you a safe place to put your bike – inside!

The Crucible is not for everyone. In his trial Howard Roark said that “there is no such thing as a collective thought”. We believe there is no such thing as a collective workout. Collective workouts force one to compromise; therefore to take part in The Crucible workouts one must be able to meet certain standards. As my friend Shawn “Dog” Shaw reminded me bluntly last week “there is no democracy in the pursuit of excellence”.


Brotha did ya forget your name
Did ya lose it on the wall
playin' tic-tac-toe

Zack De La Rocha