Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 151

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 151

Pain and injury is a common topic of conversation and concern—it always has been, but it’s sure taken center stage in recent years. In this new article about the complexities of pain, Chuck Wolf has some suggestions on how we can discover the “whys” of pain and injury.
I enjoyed a weekend at home after traveling every weekend for a while. I woke up this morning (I finalize these on Mondays) and heard about the terrible events in Las Vegas.

I keep thinking this kind of thing will end and it only gets worse. I grew up in the 1960s and the Iron Curtain, Viet Nam, Civil Rights, and assassinations kept us fearing every night. After Watergate and the OPEC nonsense, I didn’t think things could get worse. In so many ways, things are better…but it is hard to ignore the constant beat of violence on the innocent.

Oddly, the first article I include this week might be part of the solution…long term.


What was it that one learned through a great books curriculum? Certainly not “conservatism” in any contemporary American sense of the term. We were not taught to become American patriots, or religious pietists, or to worship what Rudyard Kipling called “the Gods of the Market Place.” We were not instructed in the evils of Marxism, or the glories of capitalism, or even the superiority of Western civilization.

As I think about it, I’m not sure we were taught anything at all. What we did was read books that raised serious questions about the human condition, and which invited us to attempt to ask serious questions of our own. Education, in this sense, wasn’t a “teaching” with any fixed lesson. It was an exercise in interrogation.

To listen and understand; to question and disagree; to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind — this is what I was encouraged to do by my teachers at the University of Chicago.

It’s what used to be called a liberal education.

End quote

Without planning this, the following article also leaps out to me this morning as another important discussion.


There is reason to think that putting more attention on the issue of boys’ education would help—just as it helped girls in the past. Last year, an elegant study by MIT economist David Autor and his colleagues showed that boys may be particularly harmed by bad schools and especially responsive to strong schools. Using Florida birth and school records, the researchers compared the effects of strong schools on siblings in the same families. The worse the school, they found, the bigger the gender gap in favor of girls. “School quality,” the study concluded, “is more consequential for boys than girls.”

As the Jordanian teens I met seemed to know instinctively, nothing about boys’ educational failures is natural or inevitable. It may be true, as developmental research suggests, that boys tend to be more active and take longer, on average, to learn to control their impulses. But those are challenges that well-trained teachers and informed parents should be able to handle. Boys are not defective; schools are. The fact that boys are struggling around the world means that too many schools are designed with a bias for girls. Too many teachers prefer compliance over competition, quiet diligence over risk-taking, and on average that leads to schools that are more comfortable for girls than for boys in every time zone. But given the world they are inheriting, just as boys need to learn to focus, girls need to learn to take risks.

And neither can thrive in a world where the other is diminished.

End quote

I thought those two articles were simply illuminating. This article gives one other angle.


Sean Illing: How many people looking for asshole survival strategies fail to notice they’re part of the asshole contingent?

Robert Sutton: A great question. The reason that I have this definition of assholes as somebody who makes you feel demeaned, de-energized, and so on is that you’ve got to take responsibility for the assholes in your life. Some people really are so thin-skinned that they think everyone is offending them when it’s nothing personal. Then the other problem, which you’re also implying, is because assholeness is so contagious, that if you’re the kind of person where everywhere you go, the people objectively treat you like dirt and treat you worse than others, odds are you’re doing something to prompt that punishment.

End quote

Back to the field of strength, this article does a nice job summing the basics.


Soon John was hitting strength and discus-throwing numbers he hadn’t seen since his athlete days at Utah State. Loaded carries had a convert, and John went on to popularize them in the fitness world.

These exercises present a serious challenge for the core muscles, according to research by Stuart McGill, Ph.D., of the University of Waterloo.

A stronger, tighter core gives your arms and legs a more powerful base for running fast, throwing hard, and performing heavy lifts. The moves also rock your lats while improving your grip strength and shoulder stability.

The benefits aren’t limited to individual muscles. “Loaded carries build work capacity,” John says, so you can do more gym work and do it better.

There are plenty of ways to build capacity, but you won’t find one that’s safer. “It’s really hard to hurt yourself when you’re walking around,” he says.

End quote

This is just an amazingly cool article.


In nature, mass mortality sometimes happens. More than 200,000 saiga antelopes in Kazakhstan drop dead in a matter of weeks; 337 dead whales wash up in a remote fjord in southern Chile; some 300 reindeer in Norway are felled by a single bolt of lightning— all that has happened since 2015. There’s evidence such spectacular displays of death are increasing in frequency due to climate change.

“These are cataclysmic events that result in ecological chaos,” says Texas A&M entomologist Jeffrey Tomberlin. And yet, “we really have no idea how they’re impacting the environment.”

The problem is the die-offs are unpredictable. Once one has happened, scientists can’t go back in time to make the baseline measurements that would allow them to say how exactly an ecosystem has been changed by a sudden jolt of animal carcasses.

The solution, Brandon Barton of Mississippi State University and his colleagues decided, along with Tomberlin, was simple: If they couldn’t predict a mass mortality event, they would make one happen.

End quote

Laree sent me an article about Koji Murofushi, the great Japanese hammer thrower. I used “Koji Squats” for years (taught it in this youtube clip) and this article reminded me of the “fun.”


Last year I purchased an Earthquake bar for my other gym, The Tallahassee Strength Club. It was expensive but I knew my members would love it. I spent well over $200. Online you will find prices from $269 up to over $300.

On one of my visits with my physical therapist, he showed me how he uses the bar to rehab his client’s shoulder injuries. The instability of the bar (while doing simple bench presses and shoulder presses) works and strengthens all of the stabilizer muscles in the shoulder. I couldn’t believe how challenging this was–and I was using very light weights.

After I balked at the price, he showed me a rod he got at Lowes. I can’t remember exactly what it was but either a steel fence post or a strong metal closet rod. I did the same exercises with the rod and didn’t notice much of a difference between it and the expensive Earthquake bar. He gave me the fence post to use at my gym.

My trainers and I played around with the bar using kettlebells attached to the ends with small jump stretch bands

We started with simple overhead holds. It was unbelievably challenging. Every muscle in my body had to work to keep the bar stable. We got a little more daring, which is common when we get together. We did overhead squats, deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, overhead walking, bench press and of course, I had to try a get-up.

End quote

So, with a sigh and a heavy heart, until next week, let’s keep lifting and learning.


New on OTPbooks.com this week and applicable for most WW readers: Chris Holder gives us better options than running in preparation for competition.


Picking up with “The Sword in the Stone” (Part VIIII)


The Wart started talking before he was half-way over the drawbridge. “Look who I have brought,” he said. “Look! I have been on a Quest! I was shot at with three arrows. They had black and yellow stripes. The owl is called Archimedes. I saw King Pellinore. This is my tutor, Merlyn. I went on a Quest for him. He was after the Questing Beast. I mean King Pellinore. It was terrible in the forest. Merlyn made the plates wash up. Hallo, Hob. Look, we have got Cully.”

Hob just looked at the Wart, but so proudly that the Wart went quite red. It was such a pleasure to be back home again with all his friends, and everything achieved.

Hob said gruffly, “Ah, master, us shall make an austringer of ‘ee yet.”

He came for Cully, as if he could not keep his hands off him longer, but he patted the Wart too, fondling them both because he was not sure which he was gladder to see back. He took Cully on his own fist, reassuming him like a lame man putting on his accustomed wooden leg, after it had been lost.

“Merlyn caught him,” said the Wart. “He sent Archimedes to look for him on the way home. Then Archimedes told us that he had been and killed a pigeon and was eating it. We went and frightened him off. After that, Merlyn stuck six of the tail feathers round the pigeon in a circle, and made a loop in a long piece of string to go round the feathers. He tied one end to a stick in the ground, and we went away behind a bush with the other end. He said he would not use magic. He said you could not use magic in Great Arts, just as it would be unfair to make a great statue by magic. You have to cut it out with a chisel, you see. Then Cully came down to finish the pigeon, and we pulled the string, and the loop slipped over the feathers and caught him round the legs. He was angry! But we gave him the pigeon.”

Hob made a duty to Merlyn, who returned it courteously. They looked upon one another with grave affection, knowing each other to be masters of the same trade. When they could be alone together they would talk about falconry, although Hob was naturally a silent man. Meanwhile they must wait their time.

“Oh, Kay,” cried the Wart, as the latter appeared with their nurse and other delighted welcomers. “Look, I have got a magician for our tutor. He has a mustard-pot that walks.”

“I am glad you are back,” said Kay.

“Alas, where did you sleep, Master Art?” exclaimed the nurse. “Look at your clean jerkin all muddied and torn. Such a turn as you gave us, I really don’t know. But look at your poor hair with all them twigs in it. Oh, my own random, wicked little lamb.”

Sir Ector came bustling out with his greaves on back to front, and kissed the Wart on both cheeks. “Well, well, well,” he exclaimed moistly. “Here we are again, hey? What the devil have we been doin’, hey? Settin’ the whole household upside down.”

But inside himself he was proud of the Wart for staying out after a hawk, and prouder still to see that he had got it, for all the while Hob held the bird in the air for everybody to see.

“Oh, sir,” said the Wart, “I have been on that quest you said for a tutor, and I have found him. Please, he is this gentleman here, and he is called Merlyn. He has got some badgers and hedgehogs and mice and ants and things on this white donkey here, because we could not leave them behind to starve. He is a great magician, and can make things come out of the air.”

End quote

There are many happy, hopeful moments in The Sword in the Stone. If you had to pick the happiest, one might pick the sword being pulled from the stone. Yet, Wart’s reaction was to run the sword over to (now) Sir Kay. When he discovers the true meaning of this task, Wart is brought to tears.

So, I pick this scene as the happiest as Wart is happy.

This moment of homecoming underlines an insight I have had my whole life: I wrote about it years ago when my daughter, Kelly, began Third Grade. She is a mother now, as well as a teacher and an administrator, yet, all too often, I still see her in her little uniform and sweater bouncing off to school.

Everything I need to know I learned in the Third Grade (quoting)

This year, my daughter Kelly starts the third grade. In some ways, my whole adult life is compressed into the third grade. It marks the year I learned about ‘the Birds and the Bees’ and Santa Claus, won my first trophy, and my brother came home from Vietnam. Perhaps all I need to know I learned in kindergarten, but I learned about life, and death, in the third grade.

Playing ‘Trivial Pursuit’ a few years ago, we came across the question of the shortest verse in the Bible. After one plays the game a few times, some questions are easier to pack into one’s ‘junk drawer’ memory: largest office building: Pentagon; shortest verse in the Bible: ‘Jesus Wept.’ It occurred to me during one game to look up this ‘shortest verse’ and read it for myself.

In chapter eleven of the Gospel of John, we find the story of ‘The Raising of Lazarus.’ It is a challenging chapter. After ‘snorting in the spirit,’ often translated as ‘becoming perturbed,’ Jesus asks where Lazarus has been laid. And then, Jesus wept.

When my brother received his traveling orders to Vietnam, nobody in my family had heard of the place. We consulted our little Atlas, the kind that came with the encyclopedia set that one would buy each week at the grocery store at the end of the aisle, and looked for the location. We found nothing, as I recall, our Atlas had an area called ‘French Indo-China.’

So, my family’s adventures with Vietnam began. The nightly news, which still lasted for one hour in the early Sixties, slowly began to report the battles and body counts. Life magazine added to the images with black and white photos illustrating events we could read in Ray’s letters home.

My mother’s emotions would only show while she ironed. I never understood why, but perhaps ironing took her back to World War II. First, my husband, now my son. Soon, it would be sons. It is the waiting that breaks one’s heart; we were warned about the sudden appearance of Marines in dress blues at the front door: no news is good news. The weeks turned to months; I passed from the second grade to the third grade, my class wrote to Ray during Christmas, the images of the war soon dominated the newspapers, the nightly news, and neighborhood gossip. We waited.

I sat in the far right row of Sister Eugenie’s classroom, last seat. I struggled, as I still do, with math. I kept focusing and reviewing the columns. The classroom door opened and I ignored it. My brother Ray walked in. I looked up, leaped up and rushed into his arms. I have held the hand of a newborn baby and the hand of a dying man, but I have never felt the pure joy of seeing my brother return, so unexpectedly.

In a sense, every soldier, sailor and marine rises with Lazarus. After months of fearing to speak the unspeakable, the homecoming marks a foretaste of the final family reunion, the life of the resurrection. When I returned to California for the funeral of my mother, then later for my father, I toured my school. The memory of Ray’s return filled me with hope. During the Mass of the Resurrection for my parents, I was reminded that when I join ‘with all the Angels and the Saints,’ mom and dad will be there, too. And, soon enough, my brothers and my sister. And one day, my daughters will bury me.

It is not a pessimistic view of the world, rather, it is a hope-filled view. It is in contrast to the statement of the famous sage, Anonymous: ‘everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die to get there.’ Rather, it is ‘in dying that we are born to eternal life.’

It is the lesson of life. And I have been thinking about it all summer, because, this year, my daughter Kelly starts the third grade.

End quote

Wart has succeeded in his quest and he returns a hero. His homecoming and explanation makes for a nice review and hints towards not only further adventures but deepening friendships.

I have noted before that J. K. Rowling used White’s work as a foundation and we can also see the successful quest seeker in the stories of Harry Potter:

“While Voldemort initiates the quests in the first five books, it is Harry who succeeds in finding the Stone in Book 1, who is able to find and open the Chamber of Secrets in Book 2, who finds Sirius in Book 3, who reaches the Triwizard Cup first in Book 4 and who denies Voldemort the ability to hear the prophecy in its entirety in Book 5. While Harry has help along the way, in the end he succeeds by relying on his own inner strength and convictions.”

This interesting connection, written by Phyllis Morris in a short piece, Elements of the Arthurian Tradition in Harry Potter, gives us a moment to link (W)Arthur and Harry and the other great orphans of literature. And, by the way, those of us familiar with the heroic journey should NOT be surprised that Harry’s position in Quidditch is “Seeker.”

The traditional hero, as I noted earlier, tends (well, almost universally) to have the question of parenthood:

Jesus of Nazareth
King Arthur
Luke Skywalker
Harry Potter

With Harry and Batman, we find orphans who are driven by demons, both inner and real, to duel evil. In the other stories, we find a mix of issues with dealing with the question of fatherhood. As I noted, Arthur’s REAL issues will come from not knowing his mother. And, yes, it gets weird.

The issue of the hero is this: Am I this or that? With Moses, born Hebrew but raised as an Egyptian “prince” with his own mother as his wet nurse, the question will always be, and it is true for all of us, “who am I?” Jesus famously asked Peter: “Who do you say I am?” The question of God and/or Man was an essential early Christian question.

Superman’s weakness is a piece of the planet that bore him and he is never truly human. He has two fathers, Pa Kent and Jor-El, by the way, as many heroes have none.

Spiderman fails to stop a man who ends up killing his uncle…who raised him. Tarzan, Lord Greystoke, is raised by primates, Beowulf is raised by his uncle and Theseus’s father is either the King or Poseidon (God of the Sea), depending on the story. Luke famously discovers his father just after dad slices his arm off.

The hero is the Seeker. The hero is the one that goes deep underground to face evil on evil’s home turf and returns triumphant.

I have always loved Wart’s return from the deep, dark, dangerous forest.

•    Look who I have brought.
•    Look! I have been on a Quest!
•    I was shot at with three arrows.
•    The owl is called Archimedes.
•    I saw King Pellinore.
•    This is my tutor, Merlyn.
•    Merlyn made the plates wash up.
•    Hob. Look, we have got Cully.

I can feel the excitement in his voice. I can hear the skip in his step. The moments of admiration between Hob, Merlyn and Wart and the capture of Cully is simply a delight. And, for your illumination:

Falconers fly falcons, but austringers fly hawks. (Goshawks)

We soon will meet more members of Merlyn’s traveling zoo and these will be the most unforgettable parts of our story. For whatever reason, as I was working on this particular section, I remembered…from long, long ago…a quote from Anne Frank. I can’t think of a better way to prepare ourselves for the lessons of Merlyn’s teachings:

“I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Until next time…


In case you missed this last week, here’s that link to Dan’s Never Let Go on Audible.
Don’t forget: It’s FREE if you haven’t already used your free Audible trial membership.


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