On Enjoying a Fight – a Genetic Speculation

Sword Camp 2008 reminded me how much I enjoy fighting. I’m not speaking abstractly, here; by “fighting” I mean physical hand-to-hand combat.

Now, on one level, this revelation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who knows what I do for fun. I’ve trained to black belt level in tae kwon do, studied aikido and wing chun kung fu, fought battle-line in the SCA, and achieved considerable proficiency in Sicilian cut-and-thrust swordfighting. One doesn’t do all that unless there’s some pretty hefty primary reward in there.

But I’ve actually had quite an interior struggle with this. It used to bother me that I like fighting. I had internalized the idea that while combat may sometimes be an ethical necessity, enjoying it is wrong — or at least dubious.

So I half-hid my delight from myself behind a screen of words about seeking self-perfection and focus and meditation in motion. Those words were all true; I do value the quasi-mystical aspects of the fighting arts very much. But the visceral reality underneath them, for me, was the joy of battle.

In 2005 I finally came to understand why I enjoy fighting. And — I know this will sound corny — I’m much more at peace with myself now. I’m writing this explanation because I think I am not alone — I don’t think my confusion and struggle was unique. There may be lessons here for others as well as myself, and even an insight into evolutionary biology.

I can talk about my joy in battle now without shame because of two very wise women; my grandmotherly friend Paula and her daughter Beth who’s about half my age. My wife Cathy and I are old friends of their whole family of six; we watched their kids grow up and maybe helped a little.

In mid-2005 we were hanging out with them and I started to think out loud about this liking-to-fight thing. Paula is a psychologist by training and thus Beth was raised by one; they both asked intelligent questions.

We disposed of some red herrings first. I don’t like hurting people; in fact I dislike that pretty strongly. I don’t like pain, either, though it’s fair to say I don’t mind it much when I’m in combat mode. And while I like winning, the thrill of victory is not what I’m trying to describe here.

What Paula and Beth pulled out of me is that I like the way I feel when I fight. Sharp, focused, totally in the moment. The best is when is when time slows and stretches, pulls like taffy, and my senses become razor-sharp. It’s a high, almost as good as sex.

Beth, who I shouldn’t think of as a preternaturally wise child these days but still sometimes do because she’s retained that kind of delighted innocence into adulthood, then said: “It’s obvious! You’re an adrenalin junkie!” Paula’s smile of agreement and pride in her daughter’s perceptiveness was eloquent. And my whole world lurched sideways for a moment as I realized that Beth was right.

Because, once I realized that I’ve been fighting in order to self-induce a particular kind of pleasurable hormonal rush, I no longer had to fear that in some dark hidden corner of my brain, I really wanted to hurt or break or dominate people. I could have my joy of battle without guilt.

I’m going to go into some more personal history now. Bear with me, because it’s aimed at bringing out a larger point about liking to fight that I think is applicable to many besides myself.

In the fall of 2005, not long after Beth had her insight, I went for a week of intensive training at a swordfighting school. And I had a blast. I learned well, I fought well, and I made friends I’ll have for the rest of my life. I was forty-seven, but I powered through the course in a style that earned plaudits from the instructors and drew frank envy from some of the twentysomethings who were most of my fellow students.

I think some of what was powering me through that week, at least psychologically, was the huge sense of relief I was still feeling from the realization that, truly, enjoying a fight doesn’t make me a bad person.

But Sword Camp 2005 was not a fluke. I’m publishing this essay now because I’m just back from Sword Camp 2008. I’m 50 this year, and yet on one night I scored consecutive victories against six trained fighters, including two of the school’s top five most skilled and four other athletic young men and women averaging about half my age. And was reminded, in a way I seldom am because my lifestyle doesn’t involve a lot of physical exertion, of how exceptionally strong I actually am (this will become relevant in a bit).

Now I have to make a brief detour to explain the concept of a “compensation monster”. You’ve probably heard or read somewhere that Napoleon conquered Europe because he couldn’t stand being short. Whether or not that’s true, it’s the archetypal story of the compensation monster — the man or woman who overachieves in order to overcome deep-seated feelings of inadequacy tied to a physical handicap.

Before 2005, to the extent I allowed myself to think about my love of combat at all, I put it down to being a compensation monster. On that theory, all this fighter stuff was just me trying to get past the fact that I have a gimp left leg, reacting against feelings of deep-seated physical inadequacy and yadda yadda yadda; you can fill in the rest yourself.

But after Beth enlightened me about my adrenaline-junkieness, I decided this theory just couldn’t fly alone any more. I had to start casting about for a better explanation.

Now, it’s not that I have a problem with being a compensation monster. I absolutely am one and I know it full well; but I also know how I compensated as a child and young man, and it was by developing my brain. You can explain me becoming a famous übergeek that way; I’ll nod and agree and only ask you to notice that sometimes compensation actually works — you actually can get shut of feelings of inadequacy by overachieving.

The trouble with the compensation-monster theory is that it doesn’t explain my body. Beth’s observation sort of kicked me into noticing some facts about my physiology that assembled into an interesting pattern. Here are some of them:

  • I’m an adrenalin junkie.
  • I have both more muscle than most people and muscles of above-average efficiency (more oomph per cubic inch than most people). As a consequence, I am exceptionally strong.
  • My glandular response to intimidation is not to be afraid but to get angry. And it is reported by several friends that I’m pretty scary when I get angry, though I’ve never actually gone off on anyone as an adult.
  • I don’t lose a lot of muscle tone even when I’m sedentary for a long time, and I re-condition very fast when I take exercise.
  • I have a high pain tolerance. (This is the explicit evaluation of my swordmaster, who is former military from an elite branch and has high standards for toughness.)
  • I get steadier under real survival pressure. I can be as wobbly as anyone else in trivial crises — but if there’s a fire in the building or someone’s been badly injured, I’m likely to be the one who gets totally cold and clear and takes charge (and I’m not speculating, I’m remembering actual incidents). It’s like above a certain threat level a reflex kicks in, some sort of anti-panic clampdown.
  • I don’t experience physical fear very strongly even in many situations where rationally speaking I probably should. In particular, I have little or no fear of hand-to-hand combat.

On those last two points: I am not saying I’m brave about fighting or in clutch situations, because that’s having fear and mastering it. I know what ‘brave’ feels like; I hate needles and I have to do ‘brave’ whenever I get an injection. It takes effort, and I feel virtuous when I manage it. I also know what overwhelming fear feels like; heights and drop-offs do that to me.

But my reaction to combat and survival-threat situations is not bravery, doesn’t require effort, and doesn’t feel like virtue; in fact, I can’t make it happen at all. It’s like a switch flips and the lizard-brain takes over. In particular, I simply don’t fear hand-to-hand, not even in situations my forebrain tells me are potentially dangerous. Instead, I groove on it. I feel joy. Even when I get hit, the pain registers as a sort of a mechanical signal without frightening me.

I think I’m experiencing the same fight-or-flight reaction as other people do in combat situations, but something in my wiring turns what would otherwise be subjectively experienced as fear into a kind of bliss.

The conclusion seems inescapable. Compensation monstrosity may be part of what made me a fighter, but it isn’t all or even most of the story. Beth kicked me into realizing that my physiology and my glands seem to be designed to make me like to fight and be good at it. I’m now pretty sure, as I wasn’t before, that I would have invested heavily in martial arts even had I not had palsy.

And I’d have been much better at them, too, because with normally-developed legs I’d (a) be about 6’2″ rather than 5’7″ (judging by my torso length and how tall my brothers are), and (b) I’d have normal (or maybe above-normal) mobility.

I think I make an especially interesting outlier because (a) I didn’t start serious training until I was 30, long after the adolescent/postadolescent phase when men are most aggressive and focused on physical achievement; and (b) I’m a geek, fer cripes’ sake. It didn’t fit anybody’s expectations, least of all mine, that I’d have a revelation about warrior bliss in the middle of my middle age.

OK, now we’re done with the personal history. The point of it was to establish how I learned, by experiencing it in myself, that some men seem to be strongly physiologically wired for physical combat. Now I’m going to consider some larger implications.

If the seven traits I mentioned are independent, it seems pretty long odds against me hitting the jackpot on all of them. No; I have to think there’s a single DNA trait cluster behind all or most of them that got hammered into shape under adaptive pressure in the Paleolithic and has been doing its best to shape some percentage of men into natural hand-to-hand fighters ever since.

Clearly it isn’t all men. If that were so, the combination of those traits would not be exceptional. I think I understand why it isn’t; from an individual point of view the joy-of-battle reaction is probably counter-survival. On the other hand, having some men with warrior wiring was probably a big help for the survival of the hominid bands they were part of. Somebody had to shove that flaming branch in the sabertooth’s face when it came prowling for a baby-human snack, after all, and it would be adaptive for a man’s kin group (if not for himself) if he were enough of a combat junkie to glory in it.

On the other hand, we should expect warrior wiring to be nearly nonexistent in females, or present only as a spandrel for the same reasons men have nipples. In the ancestral environment the limited reproductive capacity of women was just too precious to risk. And all the males having it would have been an equally bad idea; there’s got to be somebody left after battle to inseminate the females, and better it should be many somebodies or you get problems with drift and inbreeding.

So, just thinking about the ancestral environment suggests that we should expect warrior wiring to remain present in a stable minority percentage of males even though it tends to interfere with individual reproductive success.

My more on-the-ball readers will notice that this model resembles the traditional kin-selection theory of why homosexuality never got bred out of humans. These days I’m friendly to the gay germ theory, and there’s a newer theory that connects gayness to higher rates of reproduction in female relatives, but the traditional theory is interesting nevertheless. Basically, it’s that gays are sufficiently valuable to their close relatives as noncompetitive nurturers that the effect of their much lower reproductive rate still nets out to a positive for their genetic lines.

If gayness is after all genetic, it might be worth investigating whether it’s mutually correlated with warrior physiology. This seems like a silly idea to moderns who are used to thinking of gay men as limp-wristed pansies, and I’m thoroughly heterosexual myself. But many martial cultures — ancient Greeks, pre-Meiji Japanese, and Afghanis are examples — have had traditions of homoeroticism in their warrior classes.

More generally, I think it would be extremely interesting to do a large-population measurement study on the traits I’ve described above with a view to discovering whether they are cross-correlated and heritable. I suspect we might find there is some analogue of Spearman’s g that captures most of the variance in these traits even if we can’t yet identify what the underlying mechanism is.

UPDATE: It may be significant that at least two of my direct-line ancestors were military officers who fell in battle. One was a Union cavalry lieutenant who died at Gettysburg in 1863; I’m told his name is on the monument, though I haven’t been there to check. Fifty years earlier his grandfather, an officer under Napoleon, had died leading his men in a charge against the walls of Moscow.

Categorized as General


  1. Interesting stuff.

    I got about as far as “from an individual point of view the joy-of-battle reaction is probably counter-survival”, before thinking “so, you’re saying it’s X-linked, like homosexuality is theorized to be?” Clearly I’m on-the-ball today :-)

  2. Interestingly, I came to many of the same conclusions when I went into competetive fencing.

    Fencing was a compensation monster for me. I’m blind in one eye, nearly so in the other. I have kinesthesia; my brain can hit a mental state where I “see” vectors as shading with direction and transparency along the axis of force. It gives me good balance and a very good feel for exactly how much motion is necessary to accomplish something.

    I have above average, but not incredible, reflexes. Kinesthesia makes most people “see” me as faster than I really am, because I make very small motions do exactly what I want and come back to en-gard or riposte in much less time than they expect.

    This is my primary advantage when we fence. You’d try using strength on strength and find my blade wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and by the time you canceled momentum, I’d hit your chest. Put me in a situation where small, economical motions aren’t the right answer, and the situation will reverse. Fast.

    My guess – based on memory: You’d pick up the motions faster than Cathy, and then find them maddeningly quixotic. It plays away from your strengths (upper torso strength) and right at the places where palsy impairs your motor control (balance and knowing exactly how long your arms and reach are, and the ability to make small motions without using your shoulders).

  3. I would be interested in reading a future post elaborating on the additional traits/patterns you’ve noticed about your physiology. For example, would you assume your reaction to adrenaline exceeds an average human male’s, or exceeds the middle portion of a Bell curve’s selection of human males? When you refer to strength, are you referring to your ability to move your bodyweight through various planes, are you referring to your ability to lift heavy objects, or are you referring to your ability to move a specific mass in a certain amount of time?

    Hyper-clarity during survival situations is also common and indeed hard-wired into humans, and often resulting behaviour in fight-or-flight situations tends to manifest in sexs and age-groups differently.

    It occurs to me that what actually might be very telling as to your predispostion towards combat would be your testosterone level, which coupled with a higher-than-normal IQ means you enjoy training for combat without having been knifed in a bar-fight in your 20s.

    If I recall, there’s a saliva test out there somewhere. Could be interesting to compare members of the sword camp, for example.


  4. ESR, a lot of the warriors in those ancient cultures were likely ‘prison’ gay (i.e. women were not around, so they satisfied their needs with boys and feminine men). Homosexuality is possibly caused by a germ.

    Ken, fencing is not combat. I am usually afraid of confrontational situations, but I can get very competitive on the strip.

  5. >For example, would you assume your reaction to adrenaline exceeds an average human male’s, or exceeds the middle portion of a Bell curve’s selection of human males?

    I don’t know how to measure that, or even have a good guess.

    >When you refer to strength, are you referring to your ability to move your bodyweight through various planes, are you referring to your ability to lift heavy objects, or are you referring to your ability to move a specific mass in a certain amount of time?

    The last. Where it’s most obvious is in my arms and shoulders; I can strike and throw with unusual force, and I can keep doing that kind of exertion for rather long periods of time. Even though my legs are underdeveloped due to partial paralysis, my lifting capacity seems to be above average; if they were normally developed, I’m pretty sure my ability to run, kick and jump would be well above average.

    >It occurs to me that what actually might be very telling as to your predispostion towards combat would be your testosterone level, which coupled with a higher-than-normal IQ means you enjoy training for combat without having been knifed in a bar-fight in your 20s.

    Plausible. I have male pattern baldness, which is supposed to be associated with high testosterone.

  6. Phil – I fence in the round for the most part. It’s still not combat because we generally don’t go unarmed, allow tripping or grapples.

    As Eric can attest, what I’ve learned on the strip has its applications when sparring in the open.

  7. >As Eric can attest, what I’ve learned on the strip has its applications when sparring in the open.

    Yes, it does. Ken has educated me in a few things, and I expect some more schooling when I see him this coming week.

    Ken’s projections in comment #2 were spot-on, I think.

  8. I’ve never bought the kin-selection theories. There are other ways a inheritable trait can be stable at a small percentage of the population, though; the most obvious is when it has two fitness impacts, one fixed and positive and the other negative and coorelated to its frequency in the population.

    E.G., sickle-cell anemia; this gene (singly expressed) renders you partially immune to malaria, but the double version is harmful, so it’s stable at the percentage where the advantage to being malaria-resistant is cancelled by the harm from the chance of having a mate and offspring with the dupliod (harmful) form.

    One could imagine ‘warrior wiring’ being attractive to females, but increasing the likelyhood of an unnecessary fatal encounter with someone else who has it; in that scenario it would be at equilibrium at some small fraction of the population.

  9. I’ve done a limited amount of “free form” where there’s grappling and throwing and hand strikes as well as blades. For me, it’s less fun, because it moves out of my comfort strike.

    I’m least uncomfortable with hand strikes, mostly because a hand strike and a sword strike are similar enough that any parry I throw at a hand strike should *work*, if not optimally.

    My experience with grappling most comes with practicing against a guy who was 2″ taller than me, a good 70 lbs heavier, stronger, trained, and with faster reflexes to boot.

    It didn’t go anywhere close to “well” for me, and the primary education I got for dealing with the situation was “Use a gun. Don’t miss.”

  10. Ahh, free-form. That’s when it gets fun :-)

    At least for me. Accordingly, it is understood around the school that letting me close to kick-punch-grapple distance is usually a fast way to lose, no matter how good you are at normal (sword) range or longer and almost as independently of what weapon I’m using. Only a handful of Aegis people other than Sal himself are exceptions, and even Sal expresses respect for my infighting ability.

    The flip side is my lack of mobility. I don’t do at all well against glaivesmen or other polearm fighters who are good at range control and not letting me close. The most reliable way to beat me is with run-and-gun tactics. Trying to outpower me is almost hopeless (unless you’re David “the Man-Mountain” Campbell or someone equally huge), but I’m not particularly fast, so out-speeding me and getting inside my OODA loop is also an option.

  11. >Does this love of fighting extend into the verbal realm? You seem to relish the public spats you get in occasionally, so it might be the case.

    I don’t mind being in verbal spats, but I don’t get quasi-orgasmic thrills from them either :-) So it’s probably not the same thing.

  12. Trying to outpower me is almost hopeless (unless you’re David “the Man-Mountain” Campbell or someone equally huge), but I’m not particularly fast, so out-speeding me and getting inside my OODA loop is also an option.

    I have in my Learning Objectives in Upper to not close to grappel when fighting unarmed so I can learn the defensive techniques required to fight someone bigger/stronger, with which I would NOT want to grappel. There’s plenty of people out there that are bigger/stronger that me, so I have to know.

    I’d also like to spend some time at close range with a BJJ expert. Maybe they can tell me how to get hold of Sal. :) So far, I’ve been unsuccessful.

  13. Very interesting read. This is something I myself thought about when I was a
    serious wrestler in High School. It sounds like this may be a bit different for
    you, but as someone who has transitioned from wrestling to social dance, I have
    realized that the thing I enjoyed so much about wrestling was the experience of
    moving in relation to someone else.

    I don’t have any personal experience with the martial arts and combat sports you
    have done, so it may be different, but in wrestling, you are basically in
    contact with the other person the entire time. The result is that you become
    very intuitively aware of how someone else’s movements can affect yours, and
    vice versa. Everything becomes about you can leverage your weight, position and
    balance in an advantageous way, like any other combat sport, but the difference
    is that you are constantly in contact. This means that nothing that you are
    doing is really done on your own, but always with and against someone else.

    I imagine that the same is true for any of the more “open” (striking focused)
    combat sports, but I think there is something different between bobbing and
    weaving for good position to throw a kick and scrambling on the mat, looking to
    get control of the other person’s hips, legs or ankles. I’m not saying it is
    “superior,” but interesting and different.

    Going off of that, when I got to college and realized I didn’t have the time (or
    skill) for the wrestling team, I took up Swing and Ballroom dance
    instead. Interestingly enough, a lot of the same things I liked about wrestling
    were present in these dances, namely the connection and response off of someone
    else. I have very little patience for solo dances; I just feel empty and
    disconnected out in space when I don’t have another person off of whom to

    I thought I’d bring this up, partially because I found it interesting that the
    same thing that appealed to me about wrestling was present in the Waltz, but
    also to pimp social dance to you :). Seriously though, given your interest in
    these combat sports, you may find similar enjoyment in some social dance or
    another. It is possible to get a similar (but subtly different) rush of
    adrenaline while dancing, though it isn’t anywhere near as much exercise as a
    combat sport (though it is more than nothing).

    Again, I really enjoyed the post. I have had a lot of the same thoughts about
    enjoying combat sports versus hurting people, so it was interesting to see
    someone have the same questions. I hope Sword Camp was fun, and the next time
    someone suggests you go out Salsa (or Swing, or Ballroom…) dancing, give it a


  14. Eric, I’d like you to give some thought that the thrill you feel is partially caused by the fact that when you are physically threatened, the self-talker that normally supplies narrative commentary on our conscious lives shuts up, leaving you to experience your emotions in their raw unrefined forms without this self-talking mechanism blocking or buffering them (hence G.I. Gurdjieff’s term “the organ Kundabuffer”). Rather like being able to smell and taste again after giving up tobacco. I dare suggest that this is not peculiar to your particular genotype but is something of a human universal, as Palahniuk’s Tyler Durden expressed when he said “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

  15. >I dare suggest that this is not peculiar to your particular genotype but is something of a human universal

    Agreed, enjoying unbuffered emotion probably is a human universal. Enjoying it in this particular form is not, however. If it were, martial-arts schools would be as ubiquitous as restaurants.

  16. Institutions which reinforce cultural norms, wherein buffering is the default, are going to enjoy more widespread support and patronage. Hence why restaurants proliferate whereas dojos do not.

    That said, I can walk less than a mile from my present location and encounter several types of karate, judo, Brazilian jiu jitsu and Rex Kwon Do school.

  17. >I’m not clear on something. Is it fighting you like or sparring?

    How do you draw the distinction? I can guess, but I’d like to be sure before I answer.

  18. I find it quite strange to discover loving adrenaline rushes after a lot of years of fighting – there are well-established methods for that: 1) parachuting, especially the free frall 2) bungee jumping 3) motorcycling over 100 mph 4) pretty much every extreme sport, actually. Never ever tried these? But these are openly _advertised_ to provide adrenaline rushes, it’s really hard to miss this fact?…

    BTW what does that extremely strong mean, bench press 300 lbs? Strength has many different kinds… consider the famous one-inch punch of otherwise quite skinny Bruce Lee vs. those huge body builders who can flip over a (small) car, but cannot really punch.

  19. BTW do you have a recommendation that which martial art is best to try if you are in your thirties or forties? One that’s gentle on one’s joints, spine and office-chair-stiffened back & neck muscles? Which was your first?

  20. Shenpen, a standing martial art like Tae Kwon Do will be somewhat easier on you than a grappling style such as BJJ, but you’ll do a lot better by getting in shape and improving those things than you will by playing away from them.

  21. Shenpen, replying to http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=319#comment-224900 which I think you meant to post on this thread:

    > I thought tae kwon do gives tremendous physical flexibility… it’s quite a “put your leg above your head” kind of martial art, isn’t it?

    The closest thing to that would be an axe kick, which usually starts from about shoulder level. Being able to do that is just a matter of controlled stretching. An octogenarian can endure that.

    The point is that you can study TKD without getting beat up. Sparring is just one component of study and isn’t very rough. You do it with thick foam pads.

    By contrast, BJJ consists of almost nothing but sparring, and it’s *combat*. In one bout I punched a hole in the wall with the Master’s head. Of course I stopped the fight to make sure he okay, but that’s the sort of thing that can happen. It wasn’t a deliberate foul and nobody thought I was being reckless.

  22. The problem is, the joints and the spine & stiff back muscles refuse to improve the same way as muscles do, at least with the usual mainstream ways (gym, pushups, massage). It’s quite annoying – when I was 18, I could grab any weight I wanted in the gym and didn’t have to fear of damage. Now at 30, even being extremely cautious, like, first 6 push-up, then 12 to get warmed up, and then I think OK now it’s OK to do 30 and boom, some stupid thing in the neck or the back of the shoulder is hurting like hell again. I wonder how is it like above 40 – does one have to waste half an hour of boring warm-up and stretching exercises just to get an hour of real exercise?

  23. > I wonder how is it like above 40 – does one have to waste half an hour of boring warm-up and stretching exercises just to get an hour of real exercise?

    I do that much at 23.

  24. The kid in that picture in that picture is fairly impressive. I was never quite able to do that and most of my more advanced classmates couldn’t either. Stretching those muscles is important, certainly, but you can get a black belt without being able to do a perfect split.

  25. You remind me of Felix in John Steakley’s novel “Armor.” When he goes into combat “The Engine” takes him over and he has no fear, just a ruthless desire to survive at all costs.

  26. Shenpen: I had a Shotokan karate sensei who could do that. It got more impressive when he moved on to the next stretch – the rest of us would have to sit down, but the only visible change in his posture was that his feet would rotate 90 degrees upwards :-)

  27. >I wonder how is it like above 40 – does one have to waste half an hour of boring warm-up and stretching exercises just to get an hour of real exercise?

    I’m 50 and don’t find I need to spend a huge amount of time on stretch and warmup. But I’m a physiological outlier and should probably not be taken as representative.

  28. >I’m 50 and don’t find I need to spend a huge amount of time on stretch and warmup. But I’m a physiological outlier and should probably not be taken as representative.

    I’m 49, and I usually need at least stretching and a couple of sparring sessions to get warmed up. Then again, I usually take 800mg of ibuprofen (Aegis AKA Ibu-craken, or Vitamin I) before coming to class.

  29. Shenpen, unless you have a medical condition you didn’t mention, it almost sounds like a lifelong chronic underuse problem finally starting to rear its ugly head. I apologize in advance if this is not the case. Kettlebells might help, light ones at first, because they do not isolate but rather involve your whole body, especially your important core and foundation muscles. I’m 37, yet stronger and more resilient than I was at any time during my twenties, primarily due to work with kettlebells and hindu clubs (clubbells). For kettlebells, do a search for Pavel Tsatsouline or go to dragondoor.com, and for clubbells do a search for Scott Sonnon.

    Admin, some of the things you say seem to roughly correspond with a series of traits we have noticed tend to present in those who are drawn and capable of the practice of the berserkergang or similar related disciplines. If you do a search for somafera or go to this website, you may find something interesting: http://www.uppsalaonline.com/uppsala/somafera/somafera%20-%20the%20body%20wild.html

    Lastly, I am interested in the sword camps. What can you tell me about them? What part of the country are they in? What would be necessary to do to be able to attend?

    Thank you for your time

  30. As we used to say in the patch, “fuck, fight or trip pipe”.

    But things like sword camp and SCA are just playing at fighting, a semi-safe simulation.

    If you want a real rush, start a bar fight or two. Me? I haven’t done it for > 20 years, but I remember the absolute rush of mortal combat.

  31. >Lastly, I am interested in the sword camps. What can you tell me about them? What part of the country are they in? What would be necessary to do to be able to attend?

    They’re held at Haven, Sal’s compound in Southeastern Michigan near Pinckney. Late summer, date varying by year; see http://www.aegisconsulting.org/ for details. You must apply by email, and supply character references — some of the stuff Sal teaches (like silent sentry takedowns or how to make improvised land mines if you ever need to) is not for the irresponsible.

  32. Varangian,

    “Shenpen, unless you have a medical condition you didn’t mention, it almost sounds like a lifelong chronic underuse problem finally starting to rear its ugly head.”

    Neither – I’m rather suspecting that the “fast food” approach to getting “buffed” has its certain drawbacks. I mean that kind of fitness when you’ve never ever did anything else but heavy weights in a gym. The result seems to be strange – strong biceps & pecs on top of the totally rusted joints, spine etc. of a lazy couch potato. I think sooner or later the news will be full of stories about it, because it’s about now when the gym-generation gets 30-35. It seems the old-fashioned kind of exercise – bends, jumps etc. – that I hated so much at school have certain advantages over bench pressing 80KG 30 times and then going to the pub. This why I’m rethinking my whole approach to fitness – the “get buffed up fast” approach just doesn’t work anymore. I think you’ll see this in the news in a few years as many people who were young in the gym-boom of the early nineties did the same.

  33. The First Rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.

    The Second Rule of Fight Club is: you do *not* *talk* about Fight Club.

  34. BTW if you wonder what I mean by “gym generation”: somewhere between the late seventies and early nineties, it has totally changed in the popular media what it means to be muscular, or to look like a warrior in general.

    Rocky, 1976: http://www.virginmedia.com/microsites/movies/slideshow/best-fight-scenes/img_2.jpg

    By the early nineties, even a cheap, second-class action movie star had to be a lot bigger to be considered a symbol of a warrior. The way Syl looked in 1976 would have been unacceptable for the role of a boxer in a movie around 1990 or so. (Case in point: Rocky V) Or take a look at the Spiderman comics – Peter Parker got quite inflated in the meantime too. Or f.e. if Bruce Lee lived today, he would not be offered a role in a fighting movie – too slim. Or how Chuck Norris looked in his movies in the eighties – these days even a much softer role, like Will Smith in I, Robot requires a much more buffed actor.

    And somewhere between 1990 and 1997 this “pumpin’ iron” approach to sports and fitness trickled down from the movies and pop culture into the everyday practice of young men who wanted to look cool in the weekends.

    (Of course the dates depend on where you live: it happened first in California, then in the rest of the US, and then in Europe).

    And this is more or less nowadays when we start to see the effects of it on long-term health.

  35. War was defined by someone as a conflict of minds. It’s all very well to be in a non-combat adrenaline-pumping situation, but it’s another thing entirely to be in a combat situation, where you are actively opposed by another will. Every angler will tell you of the enormous rush of feeling and transformation of consciousness that occurs when a fish takes the hook, your rod jerks (ahem), and you realize there’s something alive at the end of the line that is now engaged in a mortal struggle with you. Now consider what happens when you face a human opponent. Not only is a will opposed to you, so is a mind. Your opponent will not simply be challenging or endangering you, he will be trying to defeat you, by seeking out and exploiting your weaknesses, by changing approach angles, anything and everything. To fight a human is to be engaged at every level of your being, to come alive in a way that nothing else quite matches (except for making love, and that in a entirely different way). It’s far beyond mere adrenaline. It’s something blasting into your life that demands everything you have in response. Debate is combat, but it doesn’t require everything you have. Real combat does. There’s nothing like it.

  36. This is the same conclusion as reached by professional wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper in his autobiography.

  37. >I wonder how is it like above 40 – does one have to waste half an hour of boring warm-up and stretching exercises just to get an hour of real exercise?

    I’m 40 next week, and I don’t bother to do any warm-up/stretching since it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

    Mind you, a couple years ago I had a tooth out and three days later when I went back in the dentist literally went and checked her records because she believed her memory of three days ago must be false since my mouth couldn’t possibly have healed that fast. (And I have a whole *catalogue* of near-miraculous healing stories to go with that one!) So I’d say that you should look at hereditary and/or dietary factors rather than age on that one.

  38. Shenpen said: “BTW if you wonder what I mean by “gym generation”: somewhere between the late seventies and early nineties, it has totally changed in the popular media what it means to be muscular, or to look like a warrior in general.”

    I completely agree with what you have to say. This has been a sore point with me ever since I realized what a dead end street we have all been walking down. Actually, I believe this trend got started a lot earlier, perhaps in the early part of the 20th century. The start of this modern get-big look-buff eat-a-lot-of-expensive-supplements and do functionally-counterproductive-training nonsense started when the bodybuilding phenomenon appeared and split off from the older function based physical culture/strongman training. Prior to that, there was no bodybuilding (by definition about appearance, with function basically a non-consideration or an unimportant corollary). What did exist was physical culture-old school strongman stuff. The strongmen were very often also wrestlers, whch meant that they could not really afford to waste their time doing things which didn’t carry over functionally.

    Case in point-Arthur Saxon, a strongman/wrestler. He weighed little over 200 pounds and wouldn’t look very impressive next to Arnold/Ronnie Coleman/etc, yet could do a bent press (basically a one arm military press) with his 2 brothers sitting on the barbell. He got in a cage with an adult lion that had a muzzle and mittens on so it couldn’t actually kill him. The lion attacked him and they fought for some time, but the wrestler eventually had to be pulled out of the cage. Disappointed with his performance, the next day he got back in the cage with the lion-and this time the lion stayed on the other side of the cage and wouldn’t attack him! He set a world record of 448 pounds with the 2 hand anyhow, which basically means a one arm military barbell press, then while that arm is extended overhead, leaning down and curling another weight (kettlebell, in this case) off the ground with the free arm and then pressing that weight overhead as well. I’d like to see any competitive bodybuilder do anything like this.

    The “problem” (from the gym meathead point of view) with the lifts that are actually functional is that they are not single muscle single plane isolation exercises like you see in the muscle magazines-they are compound movements, which is how the body actually moves whenever it actually does anything. This doesn’t cause isolated hypertrophy, and so the person looks thicker and stronger, but not swollen or artificially inflated. Anybody who actually cares about doing things in the real world won’t be too concerned about this.

    I would recommend you order Pavels Tsatsoulines book “Power To The People”, as it directly addresses many of the points you raised. His “Russian kettlebell Challenge” will also address your functional shortcomings very effectively. Pavel makes the point that strength is a SKILL, not the byproduct of a physical attribute. Bigger=stronger is a lie, UNLESS all else is equal-which it very rarely is. Strength is a skill that can be developed through specific training approaches and philosophies. Even a trained athlete at full muscle tension is using perhaps 10-15% of his muscle fibers-the rest are relaxed and not contributing to strength. Getting those muscle fibers to swell up so the muscle looks bigger won’t actually do a whole lot to improve this situation-speaking generally. Getting your nervous system to recruit more of the existing muscle fibers WILL improve this situation.

    One of the simplest things you can do to convince your nervous system to ease up on the governor is to do compound movements instead of isolation exercises. When the nervous system senses the stability afforded by chain recruitment of multiple muscle groups in a familiar movement pattern, it will feel safe enough to allow greater fiber recruitment, or strength. This is also why it is important to avoid machines, as they generally offer uniplanar movement, denying your body the opportunity to develop the stabilizing muscles and nervous system chains it would otherwise need to stabilize the weight. Without this development, your nervous system is going to be very leery of turning up the throttle, because it knows it has relatively little control, ie relatively little safety outside that uniplanar range of motion. This is why olympic gymnast rings, kettlebells, and clubbells are so effective at building real world strength. They positively address all these concerns. Even dumbbells are better than barbells, which are themselves better than machines.

    In your case, I suspect that you may actually have a muscle imbalance due to an artificial (in terms of function) training regimen. This means that due to deliberately uneven development, your muscles are actually pulling your skeletal support system out of alignment whenever you really exert yourself-hence your issues. Kettlebells will fix this. There was the case of a Russian man who broke his back and was told he would never walk or move properly again who not only rehabilitated himself with kettlebells, but actually won some strength awards afterwards.

    Another avenue you might look at is crossfit. This is another very effective approach at creating athletes with multi-discipline ability. They make the point that neither an heavyweight olympic powerlifter nor a competitive triathlete are very capable, because outside the strict limits of their discipline, they are actually pretty helpless. Anybody want to make bets on how far a good marathon runner could fireman carry his buddy up a steep hill? How far can that huge looking powerlifter or bodybuilder run or swim? Their answer is a broad range of exercises that challenge the body to develop expertise in many areas. If I recall correctly, the actors for the movie “300” did not do bodybuilding to prepare for the movie-they did crossfit, so this isn’t an aesthetic deadend-it’s just different.

    All-sorry for the rant. This is a sore subject with me, because better info has always existed, but it hasn’t been widely known.

  39. varangian:
    i agree completely.

    shenpen & daniel:
    firstly: tae kwon do: you won’t find real TKD in america, you’ll only find that ridiculous hoppybouncy “full contact” american form which was invented for the olympics. the reference to axe kicks/high kicks is a telltale– the weakest, least-effective, most self-dangerous kicks become all-important due to the artificial rules imposed. “world tkd federation”. utterly pointless and it creates ludicrously incompetent fighters. and over and above the hilarity and artificiality of “the rules”, the human body is simply not strong enough for 99.999999% of people to develop useful skills training full-contact. my first brush with it was on moving to england and trying to find a useful club. went to “the best club in the UK/win all the competitions”, 6 years out of training and bemoaning my egregiously bad fitness, strength, and reflexes, and was immediately rated “at least” 6th dan — none of the 5th dans could touch me and the quote of the night from the chief instructor was: “stop hitting me”.

    secondly: which martial art: if you’re bulked up but real-world weak you want to avoid martial arts in the short term: intermittently strong muscles plus poor support muscles = damaged joints. IN PARTICULAR, avoid the high-jointstress/poor-knowledge styles such as american TKD and kickboxing. do 3+mths yoga first (i heartily recommend bikram’s set). after your “skeleton” starts to feel limber/tough, then start a combination of judo (for the praxis) and kickboxing (for the fitness — useless fighters but the fittest of any crew i’ve ever fought)- but learn how to warm up before doing kickboxing — their standard warmup is b/w useless and dangerous. after 6+mths of that, you should be in good enough shape to take your pick. for usefulness: ju jujitsu (the science of dirty fighting) or krav marga (the technology of dirty fighting); for fitness: kick boxing; for 2ndbestinallworlds but best efficiency of realworld time (“i have 4 hours a week — how best can i spend it?”): “old fashioned” tae kwon do.

    thirdly: flexibility: warm up! a 1hr tkd session will be 20-30 mins warmup (altho the latter half admittedly is approximately the same as a boxercise class), 20mins flatchat extreme exercise, 10-15mins warmdown (with an emphasis then on improving flexibility). and if you hear anyone say “warm up on an exercise bike” shoot them very firmly in the brain — if you’re physically cold, take a bloody shower first. THEN limber up.
    to be fair, you don’t NEED to limber up. but then, you don’t NEED to be able to touch your toes, hold heavy things at arms-length or bounce up stairs 20 years later either, right? if crippled misery was good enough for great-grandad, it’s good enough for YOU.

    i STRONGLY (*STRONGLY*!!!) suggest you substitute caffeine for ibuprofen, in your pre-exercise regime. both reduce fatigue, which helps you more extremely stress your muscles. it also lets you run much closer up to your actual muscular limits, which makes your workouts that much more effective. but where ibuprofen hides damage if you exceed your limit-on-the-day (it can vary a lot), caffeine will NOT: you will notice damage as it happens and be able to back off immediately.
    remember, ibuprofen, like corticosteroids, merely masks the body’s response to damage. not a great idea taking that just before you stress the body…

    pak :)

    i agree. i’ve come to the same conclusion as you but i would broaden it beyond just fighters to other particular-focus behaviours: DNA which throws off particular group patterns will tend to succeed/decline according to the usefulness-in-context of those patterns. that is, not just a chunk which is Warrior, but also chunks which are Nurturers, chunks which are Builders, chunks which are Inventors, that sort of thing. (as a multisexual species, we have no monotonic DNA- we are not clones of our parents — DNA should be viewed as a time-series process (with variously persistent factors) not a set of separated idempotents.)
    DNA-streams with a chunk which is attached to the real-world, a chunk which is attached to the social-status world, and a mishmash in-between, will in changing environments tend to dominate wholly social-status DNA-streams and will in static environments tend to lose to wholly social-status DNA-streams. the “rise of the geek” in the last 40 years, as technology has suddenly accelerated in pace and effect, strikes me as a direct consequence of this, and could possibly in the next 100 years start to have genetic consequences for humanity (in the technology-affected parts of the world).

    as a side-note underlining your thoughts re a chronically-repeating subset of humanity being better at fighting, note the US army’s research finding that 3% of their army was responsible for 50% of inflicted casualties, consistent over 2 wars and various “police actions”.
    to put that another way, each “warrior” was/is worth 18 normal people, in times of conflict. worth spending a fraction of a group’s genetic resources on in peacetime, as long-term insurance…

  40. Varangian,

    Wow. I think you have a point. Two questions: one, what’s the big deal about a kettlebell itself? It’s a chunk of iron with a handle. Can’t you do the same stuff with normal dumbbells?

    Two, the point of correct gym-style body building is not only isolation (bench presses, squats, rowing etc. don’t isolate that much), but rather to protect the joints: to take speed, sudden stops, and especially _momentum_ out of the exercise, because those can hurt joints. The point is to exercise the muscles and nothing else. I think you have a point that it is exactly the problem with it, I’ve started to think something like that myself.

    On the plus side, the very idea (of what average people do in a gym, not pro body-builders) is that if you exercise only the muscles, you don’t have to be too careful, you can put on a heavy weight, do it incorrectly, too fast, too foolishly and still probably won’t hurt yourself too bad – this is what I mean by a fast-food approach, it does not require much patience, moderation, concentration.

    I think if you take the similar carefree, get-results-fast approach to a kettlebell and start swinging a big one around foolishly, you’ll injure yourself pretty bad in no time, because your joints, spine etc. are effected by the momentum, the stops etc. So I guess it requires are different mindset, something closer to a martial artist, a considerate, patient approach, and again it means your looks won’t become much better in half a year or so – of course, your functional strength will. So it sounds like something a wise man would do, but I’m not sure I am wise, patient and un-superficial enough for it yet :-)))

  41. Saltation,

    thanks – the more I read opinions like yours or Varangians the more I realize that the mainstream fitness industry’s approach is fundamentally wrong. The hard thing is, though, that these approaches require a different mindset… BTW what does it mean to “limber up”? I found these http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0846/is_1_24/ai_n6168592 and http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1608/is_6_19/ai_102140885 and it sounds pretty much like standard stretching.

  42. >that is, not just a chunk which is Warrior […] the “rise of the geek”

    I must be one of evolutionary biology’s little jokes, then — brain of a geek, physiology and glandular biases of a fighter. Just to make it funnier, at one time I had a pretty strong reputation as a magic user among neopagans (and no, I didn”t think there was anything “supernatural” about the techniques).

  43. Thank You.

    It is extremely comforting to read that blog and realise that I am not alone nor am I some form of deranged sociopath.

  44. >It is extremely comforting to read that blog and realise that I am not alone nor am I some form of deranged sociopath.

    You’re welcome. That’s part of the reason I published it – I figure there are probably more like us out there, some very confused.

  45. ESR,

    “I must be one of evolutionary biology’s little jokes” – maybe not. I have a theory that sounds strange, but is I think mostly true: in many sense geeks are more masculine that jocks.

    One of the typical characteristics of the feminine mind is to keep a broad, unconcentrated view on things: many women find clothes on the shelves just by glancing at it, and have trouble parking because they are aware of everything that happens on the street and thus don’t concentrate on where they are going. My mother often complained why can’t we men do multiple things at once – women can. The male mind is concentrated, it likes to focus on things, thus we find clothes by scanning the shelves from left to right, line by line, can park all right and are better in tasks that require concentration and focus rather than a broad perspective. Women communicate better because they are able to be aware of multiple things: what they say, the style the say it in, their voice, their body language, the body language of the audience etc. at once. Men fix cars and bugs better because we focus and concentrate. Women are like a radar, men are like a laser.

    To be geek is basically to be a master of concentration and focus. (I mean to be an Aspie-geek: I have trouble imagining how non-Aspie geeks like you work, never met one.) This is why we are often socially awkward: we want to concentrate on one thing and not on the body language of 5-6 people around us etc. etc. This focusedness often gives a love of deep and meaningful things and a dislike for superficial things too. (Not always, I can be very superficial in many things.) Plain simply it penetrates (and that’s a very masculine verb).

    Thus, geekness has a very masculine characteristic to it, and I can imagine that if fighting, strength etc. would be about life and death, geeks would win. In life and death situations, the truly survivalist, masculine characteristic of geeks emerges. In a knife fight to death, I’d bet good money on RMS or Linus against any jock.

    The reason geeks are often considered less masculine is that we live in a civilization, rarely fight life and death. In such a situation, people who are less masculine, make a big and superficial show about machismo and they are the jocks. And geeks seem less masculine as they don’t like to put on a show.

    But I think in more dangerous societies, such as Frontier America in the XIX. century, the most masculine, survivalist warriors were geeks: focused, don’t talk much, don’t show off, don’t care about looks, concentrate on solving problems etc.

    Of course, there are many exeptions – I’m talking about Aspie geeks, you aren’t, and are still quite focused. Or for example I’m Aspie but can be quite superficial in many things. It’s just a very general theory.

    YMMV but in my experience one of the _defining_ characteristics of Aspie-geekness is to be prone to (mild) depression. And depression is exactly, typically the curse of the strong. (That’s not my theory, I’ve read it from psychiaters. What my theory is that depression usually happens when a strong, focused man cannot find a worthy problem/obstacle/opposition to use his energies against and thus turns them against himself.)

  46. [aww, you deleted my joke meta-post]

    >>that is, not just a chunk which is Warrior […] the “rise of the geek”
    >I must be one of evolutionary biology’s little jokes, then — brain of a geek, physiology and glandular biases of a fighter.

    no, that’s pretty normal. [which is what i’d intended to imply but was already typing way too much so didn’t elaborate, which unfortunately obscured my intention– sorry.]
    geeks are way over-represented in the ranks of serious/successful fighters (outside the world of normal social fighters such as bar brawlers and boxers– people who seek (social status via) real fights). geeks live more in the real world than the social world. so where the real world intrudes unavoidably on the social world, geeks tend to dominate. note perhaps half of all VC winners (medal only achievable by outstanding bravery and performance in the expectation of death and in the service of others/the group, and the only medal where most awards are made posthumously) are noticeably geeks. WWI fighter pilots have an unusual amount of person-specific personality-specific records kept of the fighters, and the most-successful were uniformly either psychopaths or geeks (including geek humour: pilot quoted after being shot down and crash-landing explosively but luckily: “the trouble with this war is it’s so bloody dangerous”). interestingly, nearly all the psychopaths died and a lot of the geeks didn’t. similar patterns are evident among (more poorly documented) VC winners.

    gym: bruce lee never used weights. this is why he was so fat and so weak.
    kettlebells vs dumbells: no real difference, other than that kettlebells are much much easier on the wrists. and wrists are fragile/poorly muscle protected. and kinda crucial to a lot of everyday life.
    but yeah, you’re absolutely right: if you jump in and start going full-bore with a kettlebell or dumbell from the outset, you can expect to screw your joints. listen to your body– it’s lazy but it knows itself.
    gym protecting joints: for sheer bulk, true. but perhaps half of your muscles exist just to protect joints. protecting joints & bulking up load-bearing muscles = “strength” that’s meaningless away from those machines.
    and don’t underestimate the importance of joint-protecting muscles in allowing you to use your load-bearing muscles. i’m 67kg with skinny arms; i benchpress over 110. (and annoy the huge gym junkies)
    “limber up” vs “warm up”: no real difference, except that some idiots (especially in the UK) have subsequently equated “warm” with “limber”. the point of warming up is to get ALL the muscle fibres in each muscle moving equivalently, the whole moving rather than just a subset moving, so that “locked” fibres don’t tear when they are suddenly called on to perform. normally you use only a fraction of the muscle cells (rule of thumb: “mesomorphs use 30%, ectomorphs use 50%”; which is why mesomorphs can more safely work near-“capacity” without anywhere near the same risk of injury as non-mesomorphs, and why ectomorphs tend to have higher power-to-weight ratios than non-ectomorphs).
    the unused capacity IS used, by involuntary means: to protect the joints. the whole muscle is triggered by organelles (c.f. “Golgi”) in our tendons in response to sudden stress, thereby protecting the joint from deformation/damage. this is why the strongest punches typically involve a locked arm being rotated into the target; in particular: hook punch and uppercut: on contact, the whole strength of the arm is used (to continue the momentum) rather than just the voluntary strength. this is one of the reasons you can safely jump down off a 10foot wall but will have trouble jumping back up. you can use a similar trick to beat people twice your size at arm wrestling.

    for the same reason, many people can dramatically improve their flexibility via “PNF” stretching (proprioreceptive neuromuscular facilitation): the Golgi are over-stimulated into equally affecting ALL muscle fibres rather than just the currently-voluntary fibres, and the previously locked fibres then stretch equally with the voluntary fibres. big words, simple technique: stretch hard, back off ~10-20%, tighten hard the muscles being stretched, hold, relax, stretch back immediately. gasp with awe as you breeze straight past your previous limit.

  47. >>>that is, not just a chunk which is Warrior […] the “rise of the geek”
    >>I must be one of evolutionary biology’s little jokes, then — brain of a geek, physiology and glandular biases of a fighter.
    >no, that’s pretty normal. … geeks are way over-represented in the ranks of serious/successful fighters

    it occurs to me that in my old TKD club, virtually all of our black-belts (typically 3 years of 4×1.5hour sessions per week (tough club…)) were doing their phds in physics or maths. the remainder were other-science students and science-fans/geeks, plus the occasional psychopath. almost NO social-status focussed people (law, arts, medicine) got past blue belt, and the only ones who did were psychopaths/sociopaths.

  48. ^the only ones who^many of whom

    hey eric, a stray curiosity arising from the way you describe your sword-camp activity. do your elbows and wrists appear less “sharp” than most people’s? an alternative description: do your arms appear less well-defined/slightly stockier around the joints, especially at the back of the elbow? and do your load-bearing muscles appear “looser” than “normal”? for an example of the shape i mean (though perhaps not the stature ;): nikolay valuev, another geek,, who also likes his guns (for hunting, in his poor-country hometown).

  49. >o your arms appear less well-defined/slightly stockier around the joints, especially at the back of the elbow? and do your load-bearing muscles appear “looser” than “normal”?

    Yes, I’m a bit thicker-wristed and have slightly more muscle around the elbows than average. But I wouldn’t say my muscles look loose.

  50. I know that fighting is fun, have done it for years. Being old slowed me down, but I would almost be willing and certainly would step up and get beat up if the cause was just. I have decided that AiKiDo is the next martial art I will study and participate in — but I am waiting to win the Lotto or fully retire from full time work first. This was a well thought out post, I wish that “Violence never solved anything” would go the way of the Dodo, but kinder and gentler normally means castrated now days.

  51. My experience is that people train for different things when they train – some, like large muscles, tend to be peacock displays. Others are more practical – most martial artists I’ve met would do terrible in a biathlon or most endurance sports. None of them would be able to handle the rigors of a good college football program. Just because you happen to like what you’re training for doesn’t make you immediately superior to the person who’s training for something else.

    (Or, as I joke – I’ve got degrees in Medieval History and English Composition. When civilization falls, I’m well set for writing the procedures and training manuals for pike squares. Until then, I can hold down TWO retail jobs.)

    However, before you start dissing all the jocks, think on this: If “geek=excellence”, how many of you command 6, 7 and 8 figure salaries for acting at peak physical performance playing a game on television? I know people who’ve gone SOCOM, I know people who’ve gone to pro careers in baseball and football. About a third of the SOCOM people are “jocks” by mentality – they can get very focused, and they’re bright, but very very few of them are focused intellectuals. For the smaller set of people I’ve met who went on to pro athletics, about 10% were geeks – but every one of their position coaches was one, and they’d learned to listen to the position coach. Anecdotally, the two thirds of SOCOM forces who aren’t geeks learn to listen to the ones that are.

    There is a LOT of science in coaching athletics (so speaks a guy whose kid brother just missed the Olympic team). The difference in martial arts (especially practical martial arts) is that there’s very little actual coaching going on or biomechanical studies.

  52. > Anecdotally, the two thirds of SOCOM forces who aren’t geeks learn to listen to the ones that are.

    Yeah. I learned that from hanging with one of our mutual acquaintances. Who also convinced me that SOCOM is a fairly non-hostile environment for individualist intellectuals, if you have the will and the physical conditioning to make selection. Apparently it has to be; the sort of order-followers with average IQs who make good line grunts simply don’t handle SOCOM tasks well, tending to lack the initiative and flexibility required.

  53. >(especially practical martial arts)

    Hmmm…I wonder what distinction you intend here, and I wonder if Aegis qualifies?

    On the one hand, it’s a sword school. On the other hand, we’re taught hand-to-hand and firearms and a fighting philosophy that is brutally practical. It’s not a sport or a meditation form.

    Note: When Cathy and I return from vacation, we’re going to check out a school near us that offers both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts. We’re leaning towards MMA. I suspect that qualifies as practical :-)

  54. > Note: When Cathy and I return from vacation, we’re going to check out a school near us that offers both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts.

    You will have an absolute blast at either one.

  55. Eric, have you ever looked at the blog of a seriously professionally weird person, Rory Miller? He keeps a blog at http://chirontraining.blogspot.com. He has described himself as a thug who works for the government, has just published a book called “Meditations on Violence” which got almost unanimous five-star reviews on Amazon, is the beau-ideal of a cop, has a coupla autistic kids and is a bit strange hisself, in a virtuous way.

  56. >Eric, have you ever looked at the blog of a seriously professionally weird person, Rory Miller?

    Not before now. But his post on Sacred Space is pure gold. He doesn’t seem at all weird to me; he’s a martial-artist/mystic, a type I’m quite familiar with because I are one myself.

  57. Eric,

    Pure gold indeed! I came to much the same realization during my training. The bit at the end of striving to live all of your life in full attention is exactly what Gurdjieff was talking about when he said “Always and everywhere, remember yourself.”

  58. Just to clarify-over the years I have done a bodybuilding type typical gymrat workout with a focus on isolation exercises for different body parts on different days; a powerlifting based workout focusing on compound movements (deadlift and dumbbell bench press primarily) and very heavy weights in a weeks long stairstep type cycles; calisthenics/running in the military; and have finally settled on a training regimen focusing primarily on kettlebells/clubbells/gymnast ring work with pullups and floor abwork, along with some heavy punching bag work and occasional freeweight clean and presses, curls, etc.

    I got bigger and more impressive looking with the gymrat workout but not a whole lot stronger, I got a lot stronger even with smaller muscles and a lower body weight doing powerlifting and had greater cardiovascular and muscular endurance with calisthenics/running but minimal if any functional strength gains. What I have settled on has given me perhaps just slightly less all out strength than powerlifting in a powerlifting type lift, but much greater usable strength in a much broader range of scenarios/situations, along with good muscular endurance and rapid recovery after anaerobic bursts to do follow on anaerobic bursts.

    For example, after a recent NHB fight with a friend of mine, he said that he had a much harder time moving my overhead extended arm into position to try a figure four armlock on me (at maybe 170 lb bodyweight) than he does with guys from his local gym who bench 350-400 pounds. I credit the hindu clubs/indian clubs/clubbells for that.

    I am a bit lighter than I was doing a bodybuilding type workout and I look quite different-not like the guys on the cover of the muscle and fitness mags with each individual muscle puffed up and defined and thick arms and legs, but rather more like pictures of old time strongmen with thicker barreled chests and midsections, and more wiry and hard. I personally don’t think there is a better approach for fighters/wrestlers/boxers/rockclimber-outdoor types or for those who need to be very capable in varied situations.

    Kettlebells have a few advantages over dumbbells. The first is that the center of gravity is NOT in the center of your grip, but in the center of the bell itself-which shifts and moves as you do the exercises. This demands a lot more from stabilizing muscles AND the neural chains associated with them-which as discussed previously, makes your nervous system comfortable with relaxing the governor on your allowed strength.

    The other night I picked up some dumbbells and decided to do some hammer curls. Back when I was doing more free weights, I did most sets of this lift with 40 lb dumbbells, and could do lower rep sets with the 45 lb dbs, but with difficulty. The other night, after not having touched a dumbbell to do a curl for literally years, I discovered that I could easily do multiple sets with the 45 lb dbs, and was able to do several sets with the 50 lb dbs.

    Kettlebells also condition your body to deal with ballistic shock-like when you are doing snatches; when you drop the kettlebell from the overhead position, partway down it swings over from the back of your wrist to the front, and your body has to take up the shock. This doesn’t tend to cause injuries because the kettlebell is still fairly light compared to even a relatively light barbell used for deadlifts/clean and presses. This ballistic shocking will stilumate your connective tissues to become stronger and thicker without pushing them to the point of injury.

    The fact that the kettlebell moves around a good deal also tends to develop the grip in a way that dumbbells won’t-and another feedback loop in primates for increased allowed strength anywhere in the body is how strongly the fists are clenched or an object is gripped. Thus, increased grip strength can increase strength even in movements that have no significant grip/hand component, such as a squat. Kettlebells address this.

    One of the points Pavel makes about joints is that by isolating and protecting them, conventional weightlifting denies your joints being subjected to loads in a safe way, thus contributing to their weakening and/or atrophy. He recommends controlled lockouts with heavy weights to address this.

    You are right-the exercises you mentioned aren’t isolation exercises, and have a good deal of validity. They are certainly a whole lot better than preacher curls, leg extensions, tricep presses and the like. Squats aren’t an isolation exercise, and can be very effective at building full body strength if they are done with good form AND approached with a strength based philosophy rather than a bodybuilding one-i.e. progressive cyclic weight increases to allow the body to catch up with increased demands strength wise, heavy weights and low reps to avoid going to failure-which trains the nervous system to do just that-fail, and relatively low numbers of sets to train the nervous system without over taxing the recovery system of the body itself. Deadlifts are probably safer, but they are both pretty valid in terms of building strength.

    Bench presses are good, but standing military presses, one or two arm, do much the same from an admittedly different angle (and one that doesn’t build artificially large pectorals) but also involve the core, legs, stabilizing muscles and associated neural loops in a way that the bench doesn’t. Plus, they mimic a much more useful movement pattern, one that trains the core and lower body to deal with stabilizing heavy weights in open ended planes of motion-somewhat similar to picking up up a large bag of sand or fertilizer and putting it in an awkward space. When has anyone done any movement that resembles a bench press when you’re not bench pressing? Punching doesn’t count, because a punch shouldn’t be an isolated arm extension, but again, a whole body movement involving the arm extending.

    Re: the fast food approach to working out: life has a funny way of giving you back what you put into it, doesn’t it? ;>

  59. “But his post on Sacred Space is pure gold. ”

    Fairly standard Buddhist approach, and in the last couple decades it was picked up by so many mainstream mystics and money-making “self-help” authors that it’s almost becoming a cliché: in any average bookstore you find at least 30 books of this kind.

    The problem is, you can read that 30 books and you are not one step closer to actually experiencing this sort of thing, because if you want to be aware, then you are not aware: you are focusing on that want. It’s something logically impossible to do within 2-valued Aristotelean logic, yet it is something possible to do in a sort of “doing-without-doing” way. But, of course, very hard to do. I’ve meditated about appr. 200 times in the last 6 years and experienced this kind of vibrant, clear awareness only once. And could not recall how I managed to do it – all I remember is that I was very upset and did not concentrate on the meditation. But another 50 times I was upset and did not concentrate nothing happened.

  60. “to avoid going to failure-which trains the nervous system to do just that-fail” – what? You are attacking one of the most entrenched religious beliefs of the fitness industry :-) What do you mean? Does training to failure build up some sort of a subconscious “can’t do” mentality or what?

  61. >Fairly standard Buddhist approach

    True. That doesn’t make a restatement in accessible language any less valuable, because this is one of the things Buddhism gets right.

  62. sacred space:
    >bowing on entering the dojo wasn’t about religion or even respect. It was a signal to myself to leave the mundane world outside.
    most people who wear a suit to work do so for precisely the same reason.
    for the same reason, most people find it far harder to work productively at home than at the office (until they get into The Zone): the trip to the office and the dedicated environment are signals to the self.

    oh btw, my throwaway “Pak” reference was actually very closely related to the thrust of your original post. personally, i believe niven was merely twisting and extrapolating an idea from his own observations: geeks are a small and often voluntarily self-selecting subset of humanity’s genetic whole; and geeks tend to have relatively lower chance of breeding, tend to be more physically capable than non-geeks, often display features regarded as un-sexy ie less “effort” expended on gaming the sexual selection rules/receptivenesses (thin lips, relatively inflexible expressions relative to socially-successful people, body shapes wiry/effective rather than bulk-muscled/display-muscled), tend to think faster and more clearly than normal more-socially-successful people, and tend to be far more group-awareand longterm-aware than normal and far more likely to sacrifice own lifestyle (or life) to benefit the group as a whole in the long-term. i know a great many geeks who’ve read niven’s description of his Pak and thought “woah — that’s ME”.

  63. Eric asked at what I consider to be a practical martial art.

    In a nutshell – one that focuses on biomechanics rather than “received wisdom from Sifu Smarter-Than-You”. One that teaches a good practical stance, and explains why blocks work the way they do, and one that explains why a power punch works as it does.

    Jeet Kune Do is an excellent martial art for learning how to put force into your fist running straight from your foot. It also teaches excellent blocks because its footwork is kind of stiff and irregular. (Bruce Lee had a much shorter right leg than left leg, and this shows up in JKD).

    Krav Maga is another one. It’s about as rife with mystical mumbo jumbo as a Richard Dawkins appreciation of Ayn Rand. Its also the most fascinating way I’ve ever seen to collect body splints on a biweekly basis. I have never seen the rate of injury in martil arts tainign that I saw in KM.

    From what I’ve seen of the Aegis sword style, I’d want to add parry drills to the curriculum, focusing on How Not To Overparry and How To Move From Parry To Counterstrike. Plus a section on reading body language in an opponent, and how to conceal your own.

  64. >[geeks] tend to be more physically capable than non-geeks,

    Eh? That’s *not* true. I’m an outlier, and a weird one.

  65. This is your life, good to the last drop
    Doesn’t get any better than this
    This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time

    This isn’t a seminar, this isn’t a weekend retreat
    Where you are now you can’t even imagine what the bottom will be like
    Only after disaster can we be resurrected
    It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything
    Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart

  66. >>[geeks] tend to be more physically capable than non-geeks,
    >Eh? That’s *not* true. I’m an outlier, and a weird one.

    hmm. i’ve noticed the opposite, in terms of capacity. go into a climbing gym, and the most-able are nearly all very geeky. ditto a dojo. ditto a flying club. ditto most “non-sexy” gyms (but see below). at the top of a mountain, the social types are puffing and declaiming the effort, the geeks are invigorated and looking around with wonder.

    however, net ability is capacity + training/usage. and here’s where i think our observations’ difference arise. most geeks prefer not to compete in most of society’s primary physical domains, and so tend to be (far) less physically capable in them.

    the interesting question is: why?
    my theory: many visible domains of ability are heavily socially influenced, and geeks tend to participate less as a result, due to discomfort with the strongly socially exclusionary behaviour typical of most heavily socially influenced venues. so visible venues –or rather: socially emphasised venues– such as football or basketball, and gyms which have a culture of showing off rather than achieving, tend over time to be dominated by socially-focussed people rather than geeks.

    (an interesting observation i believe to be just an aspect of this wider syndrome: asian dojos tend to be very short on geeks while western dojos show the opposite. reason: martial arts is a big historical part of one culture (socially respected, in a normative sense), and a relatively weird, rare part of the other (being labelled a blackbelt does not imply higher social status). and asian-dojo experts coming to western dojos typically do poorly by comparison, with eg 2nd dans comprehensively beaten by brown belts and even blue belts. incoherent rage accompanied by dismissal of the Social Worth of the western dojo is a common reaction. the same pattern is visible in same-country contrasts, such as Sydney dojos (heavily social-status focussed) doing very badly against Brisbane dojos (geek dominated).)

  67. Jean Liedloff has some interesting notices on loosing or not loosing muscle tone in her book The Continuum Concept. Extremely briefly, she mentions this in correlation with the existence or lack of requested in-arm experiences as early as being nursed. She writes also a lot about tribal life… There are more information on this at http://www.continuum-concept.org/ .

  68. >Jean Liedloff has some interesting notices on loosing or not loosing muscle tone

    That’s “losing”, loser. I hope she has readers less illiterate than you.

    (Yes, that was intended to be insulting. If you write like a dimwit I’ll treat you like a dimwit.)

  69. Don’t be so hard, ESR, based on the nickname he seems to be not only not speaking English as a first language but not even an Indo-European one – therefore not speaking English 100% correctly really shouldn’t be considered a big fault for him. (Sportember means sportsman in Hungarian – so I think he might be my homeboy.)

    Try to get used to the fact that your blog is being read globally, please, without unnecessarily insulting the readers outside the Anglosphere.

  70. Late to the discussion, but I want to end it by saying how cheering it is to read comments like those from Varangian and Saltation and others on functional conditioning. Pavel and others are leading us out of the VO2 Max and bodybuilder wilderness (how many conditioning regimens today are a hopeless mishmash of long slow distance cardio and bodybuilder-style weight training–wrist curls, anyone?) and back to the timeless wisdom of the great old strongmen. Arthur Saxon, Groener, Sandow and others weren’t just major strong, they were superb athletes as well. Kettlebells are a useful part of functional training, gymnastics training is (at last!) making a comeback, and we’re finding people like crossfit.com really having an impact on how our military, LEO and first responder elements are preparing themselves for their own life and death struggles.

    Eric, if you’re still reading this thread, you would EAT crossfit ALIVE. And it would give you major badass hardcase conditioning for your sword work and your upcoming MMA. Crossfit really had its first following in the MMA community, though it’s now all over the place, especially the military. You’ve probably seen their stuff or heard of them. Their program is tailor-made for someone who spends his free time swinging pieces of metal at peoples’ heads.

    Oh, and Varangian (or Saltation), you seem to have read John Allstadt’s wonderful essay on training the old time strongman way. His description of the type of body you develop when you train the right (i.e., old time) way is bang on, especially the thick powerful midsection really strong men have. None of that pantywaist fitness model 28 inch sucked in belly look for Allstadt. It’s a great essay and a fun read. Googleable too.

  71. I wish I enjoyed close-up fighting. I took Krav and MMA classes for 7 months. I initially enjoyed the Krav classes because I felt like I was training for the police academy, which I was planning on entering. I felt like my training was helping me with a higher purpose, that of being a good cop.

    However, once I decided not to go into the police force, I lost all interest in the close-up fighting. Everytime I got in the ring I would think, “Here we go again, let’s get this over with.” I wasn’t afraid of getting hurt, it was just tremendously stressful to me to prove I wasn’t a wimp every 10 minutes and I got no corresponding physiological benifit from doing it.

    On the other hand, I’m not exactly a ladies man either, nor am I gay. Maybe back in 10,000 BC, I was the guy domesticating dogs or catching small rodents to eat with little traps. However, when I consider some of the things I like to do I was probably the guy who stuck every new plant the tribe came across in his mouth to find out whether it was poisonous or not.

  72. There could be another explanation to the diversity of human attitudes toward adrenaline and danger that is analogous to the history of the white moth in England.
    Traditionally, about 95% of ‘white moths’ were always white, but about 5% of them were black. Then came the industrial revolution, and in the soot blackened cities of England, the demographic reversed, with 95% of ‘white moths’ being black (black being a better camouflage then white in a black city), and only 5% being white.
    As heavy soot became a thing of the past, the demographic reversed again with most moths being white again.
    The point is this: Even though at a given time, one genotype had a reproductive advantage, it was beneficial for the species in the long run to maintain some moths whose genotype was at the extreme opposite end. This is because environments and conditions constantly change and species with a lot of genetic diversity adapt well while species with little genetic diversity die out.
    Apply this principle to humans. There have been many environments where it has been highly beneficial for humans to be aggressive and adventuresome. However, there have also been many environments where aggression and thrill seeking had a big disadvantage. Since humans have always tended to (until very recently) travel around a lot, it has been advantageous to the species to keep the genotypes for both the extreme thrill seekers and the extremely cautious in the gene pool in order to constantly adapt to changing circumstances.
    Currently, it is hard to say whether the thrill seekers or the cautious ones have the reproductive advantage. Since the poorest nations in the world tend to have the most children right now, I’d say the reproductive advantage lies with neither thrill seeking or caution; rather, it lies with those that lack wealth.

  73. OK, if I am to be insulted, I feel insulted. Anyway, even as a dimwit I kindly suggest you to add up to the literate readers of the C.C., as there are some considerable thoughts about an almost completely misguided human evolution, which IMHO is well represented by the almost standstill domination of such fascist computer systems as Microsoft’s Windows series at large, etc. I see the anthropologist descriptions in the book quite analogous to the open source (tribal, peer to peer) / closed source (governmental, corporate) communities we experience these days.

  74. ooooh, listen to the middle aged 5’7 tough guy get all whimsical about how he has “little or no fear of hand-to-hand combat”. that may in fact, be because when you’re at sword camp, tkd, wing chun or one of your scGAY events, deep down you KNOW that someone will intervene, blow the whistle, or otherwise break up the fight before it actually REALLY gets violent. if you were such an “adrenaline junkie” and “compensation monster” you’d be in iraq right now, scared shitless and getting severely psychologically FUCKED in the head like everyone else i’ve met who foght over there. if you were such a tough guy you’d be out starting random bar fights in bars where you don’t know anybody, where there’s no ref. to break up the fight, and where you might even encounter a gun, a knife or (gasp) MULTIPLE ATTACKERS.

    if you were such a tough guy you’d be in jail right now, or recently served time for your adrenaline addiction. at the age of 47 you’d also hopefully have outgrown that “wtf are YOU lookin’ at!?” crap too.

    naw, instead you’ll just write a dumb essay about how curious is it that you’re such a fearless LARPING wana- be basement berzerker. i mean, why go out and (at the VERY fucking least) join a mixed martial arts gym or anything? nope, sitting home and bragging about how…. sitting home and bragging does little to get you out of shape is what REAL tough guys do.

    fucking poser.

  75. Enjoying a fight might be like mentioned the brain desiring that adrenaline rush. Some people can actually get addicted to this feeling and seek altercations to alleviate that desire. I don’t have it personally but I know plenty of people who experience it.

  76. Imagine this spastic in a fight. Half of his postings are like the ramblings of an inadequate gimp. Stick to your love of guns, buddy. It’s as close to a simulacrum of manhood as you’re ever going to get.

  77. “If you were really tough you’d be Dead or in jail.” Yeah because real toughness is about being mentally weak, lacking self interest, and giving into your stwong feelings when it matters.

    Also you’ve just spent your time reading a blog post you don’t like, by a guy you don’t like, on his blog, which you’re reading in your free time, then crafted a 3 paragraph denunciation in the comments section , and finished it by calling someone ELSE a “fucking poser”, with a little line break to increase the rhetorical impact.

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