Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 164

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 164

In this new article, Dan recounts his 60 years of competition and shares his mistakes, his successes and his inspirations along the way.… [CONTINUE READING]


I’ve just finished brunch after a swim in the Galway Bay. It’s New Year’s Day and I have had a wonderful time here in Ireland.

I walk at least six miles a day here. Oddly, I don’t even notice it. It’s a two-mile roundtrip walk to Black Rock, but I can see the diving area from the moment I get on the Prom which is across the street. When you can see the destination, the walk doesn’t seem to take as long.

I’m sure there is a lesson there about goal setting, resolutions and success in there somewhere. Being able to see the goal seems to help, but I’m not going to make such an obvious point on the first day of resolution season.

I did make my 2017 resolution: I vowed to weigh one pound lighter on January 1, 2018. I actually weigh over twenty pounds less. I made some mistakes this year: try to Olympic lift and prep up for teaching the Bent Press popped my left shoulder. But, chasing both of those two rabbits made me a better coach…and a bit smarter about a lot of things.

Failure is a wonderful tool. This week, there was a great article on this discussing a movie I LIKED very much!


And what happens when heroism fails? Central to The Last Jedi is the notion that failure is – again, according to Yoda – “the greatest teacher.” And thus, Star Wars deconstructs its own myth of the harebrained, million-to-one scheme. Poe, Finn, and Rose’s complicated plan is fun to watch executed, and that’s precisely why its failure is so important. Poe’s insubordination against Vice-Admiral Holdo is similarly approached with the audience’s viewpoint in mind. We’re meant to distrust Holdo, a new character, and trust Poe, a familiar one, so Poe’s wild heroics can disappoint us later. That rug-pull is the best way to teach us this lesson. Sometimes you don’t land the one in a million shot. Sometimes the torpedoes only impact on the surface, and sometimes you suffer colossal losses, thanks to bad decisions or pure shitty luck, and you’ve got you own that failure and learn from it. Armchair strategists claim the failure of Poe’s plan means it shouldn’t have been in the film – but that’s precisely why it is there. Rebellions against superior forces take work and alliances and trust, not stupid heroics. It’s not sexy, but it’s how you get the job done.

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I have had those same experiences. I noted this in my book, Before You Go:


A Case for Failure?

Second, failure also leaves tracks.

I lost my training journal and hated losing it, as this is, or was, my gold mine. I could trace injuries, illness and competitive failures back through the days, weeks and months leading up to the moment things came unglued.

As I look back over a career that takes us back to the Johnson administration, I can pull out failure after failure. Sometimes not achieving a goal or a dream spurs people into making a greater impact on the world than fulfilling it. And the reverse is true, too: getting that dream can flatten a person for years to come.

I’ve known a lot of college English majors who spent four years writing in creative writing and poetry classes, and then never write another essay as long as they live. They may spend hours red-penning in semicolons and the words “transitive verb” above a student’s paper, but never again write a composition. They attained the degree—and stopped writing.

Many athletes sweat and fight for four years of high school to get a scholarship to college, then quit after the first weeks of college practice because “it doesn’t mean anything” to them.

Mark Twight, the author of Kiss or Kill and one of the world’s foremost mountain climbers, noted the same thing at our dinner table not long ago. Faced with a decision to keep climbing and probably die on Mount Everest or to come back to base camp, he came back down. But, he noted, he learned far more from this failure than he would have from succeeding.
In a sense, success can dilute the lessons of life.

No, I’m not telling you to fail; it’s just that failure seems to prod most people into rethinking the attempts, the journey and the path.

Joseph Campbell commented several times that the most renowned person in comparative religion never got his doctorate. Campbell chose not to do it, and often encouraged his students to not go on either.

He also warned them of getting buttonholed in a job that stopped them from exploring all the directions life presented them. He noted people who earned their terminal degrees and were appointed to their dream jobs often “flattened” out.

Much like Earl Nightingale warned us, “A rut is a grave with the ends kicked out.”

Every four years, the world turns its attention on the Olympic sports for a few weeks. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that one of the worst kept secrets of Olympic sports is how many of the athletes quit the sport after the Olympics.

Even gold medalists abandon the pool, track, field and court. After all the sacrifice and pain, “Here’s your medal, thank you very much, next!” just doesn’t fulfill the athletes as much as the dreams of victory during training.

Those who fail to make their goals turn to coaching, writing or other forms to continue expressing themselves in other media. Or they take those lessons learned and parlay them into a successful life, but they don’t just drop them and walk away.

Now, I’m not encouraging failure or the initiating of a “culture of failure.” But I coached football at Judge Memorial Catholic High School for a long time and I realized a very unsettling thing: when we began losing games, the athletes were getting more out of losing than the winners did from winning.

When you win a game, as I had the good fortune to do when playing for South San Francisco High School, the team goes into the locker room and before you untie your shoes, the coach is talking about next week. The total amount of celebration in a winning locker room—for true winners—is…not very much.

As for the losers? The losers have hugs, tears, long heart-tugging speeches and kisses from the prettiest girls. While the victors are thinking of yet another week on the grindstone, the losers are being cuddled and caressed back to a smile.

Don’t let success flatten you nor let failure push you into the Loser’s Club. Learn from failure, enjoy it if you can, but plug along into another expedition to the top.

When you win, be gracious.

When you get your goals, dream up other goals.

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This site is a treasure trove of good information. I liked this article series.


Epidemiological studies linking sedentary lifestyle and obesity have made exercise synonymous with a lean physique (1,2). However, studies show that although regular aerobic and anaerobic exercise could improve several markers of health, they only seem to induce modest weight loss in most people (18,25,26,27).

The actual energy expenditure during a regular workout is quite low compared to what is achievable through diet, and some individuals seem to compensate for the increased energy expenditure by eating more food (17,18,19,20,21).

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This other piece from the same website sums some of the issues with trying to have a single answer for all problems.


Inflammation is a common denominator linking many deleterious physical states and characteristics (5, 6, 7). If you are overweight, suffer from a skin disorder like acne or eczema, feel drained of energy, and/or otherwise don’t feel or look as well as you’d liked, then chances are your body is chronically inflamed and you could benefit from changing your diet and taking steps to improve your microbiota and immunity. By keeping tabs on how your physical appearance changes as you alter the types of stimuli that your body is exposed to, you can determine whether what you’re doing is working or not.

It’s important to point out that simply assessing a single variable (e.g., body fat levels) is not sufficient to make any solid inferences about a person’s health status. A lean person or a person with clear skin isn’t necessarily a healthy person. Genetics do matter. Leanness and/or lesion-free skin are both suggestive of good health; however, it’s the composite of physical characteristics that matter the most. Many characteristics that are perceived as undesirable commonly appear together, seeing as they have the same or similar origins.

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Next week, I will be back in Utah getting ready to go to the University of Texas. Until then, let’s all keep lifting and learning.


New on OTPbooks.com this week: Dan describes 60 years of competition and shares his mistakes, his successes and his inspirations along the way.… [CONTINUE READING]

The Sword in the Stone



One Thursday afternoon the boys were doing their archery as usual. There were two straw targets fifty yards apart, and when they had shot their arrows at one, they had only to go to it, collect them, and shoot back at the other, after facing about. It was still the loveliest summer weather, and there had been chicken for dinner, so that Merlyn had gone off to the edge of their shooting-ground and sat down under a tree. What with the warmth and the chicken and the cream he had poured over his pudding and the continual repassing of the boys and the tock of the arrows in the targets—which was as sleepy to listen to as the noise of a lawn-mower or of a village cricket match—and what with the dance of the egg-shaped sunspots between the leaves of his tree, the aged man was soon fast asleep.

Archery was a serious occupation in those days. It had not yet been turned over to Indians and small boys. When you were shooting badly you got into a bad temper, just as the wealthy pheasant shooters do today. Kay was shooting badly. He was trying too hard and plucking on his loose, instead of leaving it to the bow. “Oh, come on,” he said. “I am sick of these beastly targets. Let’s have a shot at the popinjay.”

They left the targets and had several shots at the popinjay—which was a large, bright-coloured artificial bird stuck on the top of a stick, like a parrot—and Kay missed these also. First he had the feeling of, “Well, I will hit the filthy thing, even if I have to go without my tea until I do it.” Then he merely became bored.

The Wart said, “Let’s play Rovers then. We can come back in half an hour and wake Merlyn up.”

What they called Rovers, consisted in going for a walk with their bows and shooting one arrow each at any agreed mark which they came across. Sometimes it would be a molehill, sometimes a clump of rushes, sometimes a big thistle almost at their feet. They varied the distance at which they chose these objects, sometimes picking a target as much as 120 yards away—which was about as far as these boys’ bows could carry—and sometimes having to aim actually below a close thistle because the arrow always leaps up a foot or two as it leaves the bow. They counted five for a hit, and one if the arrow was within a bow’s length, and they added up their scores at the end.

On this Thursday they chose their targets wisely. Besides, the grass of the big field had been lately cut, so that they never had to search for their arrows for long, which nearly always happens, as in golf, if you shoot ill-advisedly near hedges or in rough places. The result was that they strayed further than usual and found themselves near the edge of the savage forest where Cully had been lost.

“I vote,” said Kay, “that we go to those buries in the chase, and see if we can get a rabbit. It would be more fun than shooting at these hummocks.”

They did this. They chose two trees about a hundred yards apart, and each boy stood under one of them waiting for the conies to come out again. They stood still, with their bows already raised and arrows fitted, so that they would make the least possible movement to disturb the creatures when they did appear. It was not difficult for either of them to stand thus, for the first test which they had had to pass in archery was standing with the bow at arm’s length for half an hour. They had six arrows each and would be able to fire and mark them all before they needed to frighten the rabbits back by walking about to collect. An arrow does not make enough noise to upset more than the particular rabbit that it is shot at.

At the fifth shot Kay was lucky. He allowed just the right amount for wind and distance, and his point took a young coney square in the head. It had been standing up on end to look at him, wondering what he was.

“Oh, well shot!” cried the Wart, as they ran to pick it up. It was the first rabbit they had ever hit, and luckily they had killed it dead.

When they had carefully gutted it with the hunting knife which Merlyn had given—to keep it fresh—and passed one of its hind legs through the other at the hock, for convenience in carrying, the two boys prepared to go home with their prize. But before they unstrung their bows they used to observe a ceremony. Every Thursday afternoon, after the last serious arrow had been shot, they were allowed to fit one more nock to their strings and to shoot the arrow straight up into the air. It was partly a gesture of farewell, partly of triumph, and it was beautiful. They did it now as salute to their first prey.

End quote

Towards the end of the book, Kay will become a knight. So, he will be 21. White will give us many adventures and a few chapters that show the passing of years. In this scene then, we can imagine that Wart and Kay are in their early teens. In the Disney movie, Wart is shown pulling the sword out of the stone as either a pre-teen or early teen…and that is a mistake.

The reason I bring up age is that, as I write this, the society for the prevention of this or that would be outraged by this reading. Boys with bows and arrows? Madness!

I very much like, as a strength coach, the idea that the two boys had to stand the test of strength with the bow at arms-length for half an hour. We also learn a nice lesson here from Kay, sadly the person who teaches us so many lessons by his failures, that we can’t force the arrow…we must let it go.

Overall, I love this section as it highlights these boys’ ability to find fun. Merlyn is asleep after a wonderful meal and practice moves from discipline and rigor to a game then to a hunt.

I stopped at an important point in the literary narrative. In the original version, we will meet an arrow stealing crow who leads us to Madam Mim. In the more common modern (1958) version, this scene ends, as nice as I can say it, with a quick disappointing end, “It was a witch.” And, that is it. It ends there. For me, reading the 1958 version always had these quick cuts that only made sense to me when I read the original.

The Madam Mim story is in the Disney version of the movie and when I finally saw it again (probably in the late 1970s), I thought the fight scene between Mim and Merlyn was interesting but I thought studio invented it…like the squirrel scene (which goes on forever and teaches nothing). I will discuss this fight scene more as this story unfolds.

We also get another hint of a future story here. “He was trying too hard and plucking on his loose” will be something to remember as we meet Robin Wood. When Wart and Kay show their archery skills, they are commending for NOT being “lute players,” they don’t pluck their strings.

We are on the edge of another fun story. It will also lead us into a lot of danger and the boys, as happens in many of the stories, will be on the edge of death.


New on OTPbooks.com this week: Dan describes 60 years of competition and shares his mistakes, his successes and his inspirations along the way.… [CONTINUE READING]



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