Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 154

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 154

Even though our training has evolved since the memorable days of the 1950s and ’60s, it’s still great fun to look back at the formative years of our iron history. I gathered a set of links to our OTPbooks.com iron history collection, ranging from free articles and downloads, book excerpts, lectures with transcripts, books and videos. It opens with a PDF of three new (free) articles about Dr. John Ziegler and his ideas and experiences in the Hoffman years.


Well, I had a great day yesterday. I flew down and back to Las Vegas to speak at the FitRanx World Congress. I enjoy how Nick and Tim have organized a system to challenge us to higher levels of fitness without destroying ourselves.

Rare insight in this day and age.

I had a surprise guest this weekend: my wife, Tiffini, was supposed to be on an extended road trip for work, but slipped on the streets of NYC and broke her ankle. So, as she recovers here back in Utah, I get a chance to shop for two again.

It’s apple season and I am convinced that the apple, in season, is one of the great foods for humans. Years ago, I wrote the Special Edition of Get Up (the newsletter) and I noted that the Three Apple a Day diet was a tool I used to get some athletes to “come around” to more adult-like eating.

Here it is for reference:

Sample Meal Plan
Cheese omelet
1 cup cooked oatmeal

Morning Snack
½ cup cottage cheese
½ cup nonfat yogurt

Grilled chicken breast
2 cups steamed broccoli
½ cup brown rice

Afternoon Snack
Cappuccino shake

Grilled salmon
Green salad
End Quote.

I had an athlete tell me: “that is much too much food!” When she did a food journal, she discovered that her current caloric intake was much higher due to beer, pizza and general crap food.

She was right! It is too much REAL food!

My apples got me thinking about apples and the stories about their health benefits. Maybe they are not stories, as this article speaks highly of them.

“Experts said the study’s results were consistent with previous evidence that apples do indeed live up to the famous adage about keeping the doctor away.

“’When we look at the whole composite of human studies and animal studies and in vitro lab studies, when you look at the active components in apples and apple juice, there’s definitely benefit,’ says Dianne A. Hyson, PhD, RD, a nutritionist and researcher at the University of California at Davis.”

Moreover, this article shows that apples might even have some magic in the bizarre war against cholesterol. (Note: I always bite my tongue on the cholesterol discussion. I’m convinced that there is much more to this beyond “High and Low.”)


Wow, we thought, that old saying really is true. Plus, it’s now peak apple season – what a perfect segue from health to food to recipes. (Anyone for a nice baked apple with walnuts?)

But after more closely reading the study, published online in the Journal of Functional Foods, we realized there are a couple of caveats. First of all, it was funded by an apple-industry association. Second, it was a pretty small group – just 16 adults who ate apples, another 17 who took capsules containing antioxidants found in apples, and 18 people who took placebo pills containing no antioxidants.

On the other hand, achieving such a large decrease in such a small group makes this research not only statistically significant, but relevant because of the size of the effect. And the researchers were careful to use adults who had not been regular apple eaters – typically consuming just two a month – to offset the influence from their regular diet.

Plus, it echoes other recent research, including a study last year from Florida State University that found similar results among older women who ate apples daily.

While the subjects in the Ohio State study who took the the polyphenol (antioxidant) capsules also showed improvement in their cholesterol levels, it wasn’t as strong as from consuming whole apples, said lead researcher Robert DiSilvestro, who called the results from eating just one apple a day “a tremendous effect.”

The other good news: In the study, the subjects ate either a red or golden Delicious apple purchased from a supermarket, but you can branch out to other varieties, especially now that this fall’s apple harvest is showing up in farmers’ markets as well as local groceries.

End quote

Of course, the Paleo people have argued this since I first got online. This article is a nice summary.


In a sentence:

Paleo/Primal food is so much more nutritionally dense and so much more in tune with our genes than the typical modern diet that a radical improvement in wellbeing is almost inevitable when you switch from one to the other; you will feel better, look better and minor ailments you had taken for granted will often disappear.

In a quote:

Plants (vegetables, fruits, seeds and herbs) and animals (meat, fish, fowl, and eggs) should represent the entire composition of your diet. – Mark Sisson, The Primal Blueprint, 2009

Changing what you eat to fit the Paleo/Primal model can be quite a challenge. This guest post I wrote for another blog provides some ideas on how to go about it.

If you want to see what I am eating every day, follow me on Twitter or if you just want to see the photos, they automatically appear on this page.

I sometimes post the recipes for my favourite meals, which you can see here.


The diet and exercise aspects of the lifestyle cannot be truly embraced in isolation. Our bodies evolved to function optimally with a certain kind of nutrition, with a certain range of patterns of activity.

In a sentence:

Our ancestors had short, intense bursts of activity when hunting, fleeing or climbing, along with extended periods of low level activity when tracking animals, foraging or playing; so either getting no exercise, or doing regular, long, hard sessions is out of tune with our evolved past and affects our wellbeing adversely: fitness and health are not the same thing – otherwise Olympic athletes would not catch colds.

In a quote:

An evolutionary activity pattern is mixed and varied. It contains brief, intermittent episodes of highly intense physical action mixed with languid periods and play. – Art Devany, Evolutionary Fitness essay, 2000

End quote

So, how about those apples? I have the state Recordbreakers Olympic lifting meet this weekend and I will be sure to pack a few in my bag.

Until next week, keep on lifting and learning.


Text articles and typeset PDFs, audio lectures and transcripts, books and videos—there’s a terrific selection of our iron history memories on the OTPbooks.com site. Many are free, so don’t let budget slow you down.

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

Even though I still teach Religious Studies at the college level, as well as strength and conditioning, I often miss teaching those broad brushstrokes of history, civilization, and literature from the “social studies” curriculum. Rarely can an instructor circle an event and say “this” in these courses without going back to, well, “In the beginning.” There are moments in every one of these fields where you realize the size of this field of study:

Literally, they are “big.”

I explain epics this way to my students: “They are big.” These are big stories that try to explain the issues that plague the human condition in one form or another:


And, truly, “explain” is not the right word. Very often the characters in our stories make good and bad decisions, celebrate for the wrong reasons and  “choose poorly,” as the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade showed us.

The Sword in the Stone is the first of four original books (much later The Book of Merlyn was released) that make up The Once and Future King. We find all of the elements that make this story “big,” an epic. This collection of books, like The Godfather or Dune, might be the modern epics. Without a doubt, Star Wars (the movie), Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series would fit on this same set of shelves in the Epic Corner of the library.

These books paint pictures. My issue with the Harry Potter movies is that they ignored the small stories that bound the bigger narrative together. I realize the modern audience has a twenty-second attention span, but the joy of reading an epic is the rereading…the realization that there were so many more layers to the story.

The Epic of Gilgamesh begins by describing the walls of the city of Uruk. And inside the walls is a box. And inside the box are tablets. These tablets are The Epic of Gilgamesh:

“Look at its wall gleaming like copper
Look at its inner wall, there is no equal!
Hold the threshold stone–it is ancient!
Go to the Eanna Temple, the home of Ishtar,
No king, no man, will ever equal!
Climb the wall of Uruk and walk around,
examine its foundation, inspect its bricks.
The foundation of kiln-fired brick,
and the Seven Sages laid out the plans!
One league city, one league palm gardens, one league lowlands, the atrium of the Ishtar Temple,
three leagues and the atrium of Uruk the walls enclose
Find the copper box,
open the lock of bronze,
undo the latch of the secret opening.
Take and read the lapis lazuli tablet
about how Gilgamesh survived every hardship.”

The Epic of Gilgamesh begins with a lovely description of the mighty city walls of Uruk that Gilgamesh has built with his own hands. The city is a character in The Epic of Gilgamesh; Gilgamesh believes that his immortality hinges on the survival, and memory, of these great walls.

The walls don’t survive history. They come crashing down, yet those little clay tablets rediscovered around 1850 and slowly translated give us The Epic of Gilgamesh.Gilgamesh’s immortality hinged not on the walls of clay but on those tiny tablets of clay.

Buildings, especially castles, are often characters in stories. Hogwarts, the school of wizardry in the Harry Potter series comes to life in every story. The castle seems to favor Harry in several stories, especially the Room of Requirement.

Like the walls of Uruk, The Castle of the Forest Sauvage, is a character in The Sword in the Stone. T. H. White spends a good deal of time redrawing the grounds and keeps from both its modern ruin and its ancient pride.

I never really appreciated these first five or so paragraphs of this chapter. It was only on a trip to Wales where I climbed and crawled around castles true to the name that I understood this chapter. The amount of sheer effort to build the originals still amazes me; the stonework is not just art, it is Olympian in the strength and endurance of the builders.

So, with an eye to the beginning of The Epic of Gilgamesh, let’s begin reading this pivotal chapter:


“Sir Ector’s home was called The Castle of the Forest Sauvage. It was more like a town or a village than any one man’s home, and indeed it was the village during times of danger: for this part of the story is one which deals with troubled times. Whenever there was a raid or an invasion by some neighbouring tyrant, everybody on the estate hurried into the castle, driving the beasts before them into the courts, and there they remained until the danger was over. The wattle and daub cottages nearly always got burned, and had to be rebuilt afterwards with much profanity. For this reason it was not worth while to have a village church, as it would constantly be having to be replaced. The villagers went to church in the chapel of the castle. They wore their best clothes and trooped up the street with their most respectable gait on Sundays, looking with vague and dignified looks in all directions, as if reluctant to disclose their destination, and on week-days they came to Mass and vespers in their ordinary clothes, walking much more cheerfully. Everybody went to church in those days, and liked it.

The Castle of the Forest Sauvage is still standing, and you can see its lovely ruined walls with ivy on them, standing broached to the sun and wind. Some lizards live there now, and the starving sparrows keep warm on winter nights in the ivy, and a barn owl drives it methodically, hovering outside the frightened congregations and beating the ivy with its wings, to make them fly out. Most of the curtain wall is down, though you can trace the foundations of the twelve round towers which guarded it. They were round, and stuck out from the wall into the moat, so that the archers could shoot in all directions and command every part of the wall. Inside the towers there are circular stairs. These go round and round a central column, and this column is pierced with holes for shooting arrows. Even if the enemy had got inside the curtain wall and fought their way into the bottom of the towers, the defenders could retreat up the bends of the stairs and shoot at those who followed them up, inside, through these slits.

The stone part of the drawbridge with its barbican and the bartizans of the gatehouse are in good repair. These have many ingenious arrangements. Even if enemies got over the wooden bridge, which was pulled up so that they could not, there was a portcullis weighed with an enormous log which would squash them flat and pin them down as well. There was a large hidden trap-door in the floor of the barbican, which would let them into the moat after all. At the other end of the barbican there was another portcullis, so that they could be trapped between the two and annihilated from above, while the bartizans, or hanging turrets, had holes in their floors through which the defenders could drop things on their heads. Finally, inside the gatehouse, there was a neat little hole in the middle of the vaulted ceiling, which had painted tracery and bosses. This hole led to the room above, where there was a big cauldrom, for boiling lead or oil.

So much for the outer defences. Once you were inside the curtain wall, you found yourself in a kind of wide alley-way, probably full of frightened sheep, with another complete castle in front of you. This was the inner shell-keep, with its eight enormous round towers which still stand. It is lovely to climb the highest of them and to lie there looking out toward the Marches, from which some of these old dangers came, with nothing but the sun above you and the little tourists trotting about below, quite regardless of arrows and boiling oil. Think for how many centuries that unconquerable tower has withstood. It has changed hands by secession often, by siege once, by treachery twice, but never by assault. On this tower the look-out hoved. From here he kept the guard over the blue woods towards Wales. His clean old bones lie beneath the floor of the chapel now, so you must keep it for him.

If you look down and are not frightened of heights (the Society for the Preservation of This and That have put up some excellent railings to preserve you from tumbling over), you can see the whole anatomy of the inner court laid out beneath you like a map. You can see the chapel, now quite open to its god, and the windows of the great hall with the solar over it. You can see the shafts of the huge chimneys and how cunningly the side flues were contrived to enter them, and the little private closets now public, and the enormous kitchen. If you are a sensible person, you will spend days there, possibly weeks, working out for yourself by detection which were the stables, which the mews, where were the cow byres, the armoury, the lofts, the well, the smithy, the kennel, the soldiers’ quarters, the priest’s room, and my lord’s and lady’s chambers. Then it will all grow about you again. The little people—they were smaller than we are, and it would be a job for most of us to get inside the few bits of their armour and old gloves that remain—will hurry about in the sunshine, the sheep will baa as they always did, and perhaps from Wales there will come the ffff-putt of the triple-feathered arrow which looks as if it had never moved.

This place was, of course, a paradise for a boy to be in.

End quote

“This place was, of course, a paradise for a boy to be in.” I have always thought this was a lovely line.  The  Castle of the Forest Sauvage and its namesake, the Forest Sauvage, will be the setting for the bulk of our stories. Save for the journey to London and the pulling of The Sword in the Stone, little of the book happens beyond Sir Ector’s borders.

The forest will be the scene for jousts, quests, hunts, battles and transfigurations. The castle, generally, will be for conversations and discussions. The transfigurations in the castle, Wart becoming a fish and a hawk, tend to be “a bit more” conversational. There will be the same “finish” to both stories: Wart will be literally in the jaws (claws) of death and survive in the nick of time.

The “dreamy” transfigurations while Wart is a snake and an owl begin in the castle and move outside. White’s use of the castle and forest is a nice insight for young writers.

So, the setting is important. The people outside of the castle tend to be more wild and perhaps even dangerous, but they all care for Wart’s education and training. Inside the castle, the characters, as we noted in the homecoming, tend to pull and push young Arthur in various directions…much like all of us as we push through childhood to adulthood.

Finally, this line: “If you look down and are not frightened of heights (the Society for the Preservation of This and That have put up some excellent railings to preserve you from tumbling over), you can see the whole anatomy of the inner court laid out beneath you like a map.” still brings me joy.

When I was in elementary school, we were taken to Fort Point, a battery protecting the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate Bridge extends over it today.

The first year we went, they basically opened the iron doors and let us run wild. It was a great field trip. The guide showed us the plans for how the defenders would slaughter the attackers with slits through walls and a variety of fun and deadly things for the imaginations of young boys.

Two years later, we were put in lines, followed a guide, told to not do this or touch that. We were all bored stiff.