Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 171

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 171

NEW ARTICLE:  Dan recently asked Mike Prevost to write up his findings on rucking. Mike delivered… and then some![CONTINUE READING]

I got home from New York City late last night. This morning, I truly shoveled for the first time this year…the snow was deep and heavy. We are really going to have a horrible fire season this year; this snow will help, but we are a long way (in terms of snow depth) from being secure with the water situation.

I did a three-day Russian Kettlebell Certification and I was very proud and happy with my team. We were hosted by Crunch Fitness and it was really nice. We are right next to the 59th Street Bridge and I tell my participants that it makes me “Feel Groovy.”

They don’t get the joke. Let me explain it to you: Simon and Garfunkel’s famous little ditty that most reference as “Feeling Groovy,” is actually called The 59th Street Bridge Song.

Feel free to laugh.

It was really a great weekend. We kept ahead of schedule throughout and added a fair amount of additional information. We ended up at Bloom’s around the corner, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite New York stops. This weekend, I am off to Tampa for another Perform Better One Day. I took a lot of notes last weekend, so I will be putting those in my schedules and materials and strive to get better every time.

I spent some time mid-week catching up on things and this article leaped out to me. I wish I would have had the courage to do something like this.


We had a 10 x 10 cement block room, and we bought a mattress in the market. Shaheen said it straight, “If there’s anything you need, just ask me.” Week by week, he was surprised that we didn’t ask for a better mattress. We tried to be respectful.

Wake up at 5:40 a.m.—my watch wasn’t stolen. 6:00 a.m. sharp, we start. We’d meet on a specified road, like St. Patrick’s Junction. After the run, we’d go back to the house and have two cups of Kenyan tea and two slices of bread. Then rest. Then go to the gym in Iten and do a major core workout. The other athletes would have lunch but me and Zane created a system—we just wouldn’t make it back for lunch, and go strong until dinner. It’s a 3K walk back from the gym. If we’d missed out on lunch, we’d have a cup of tea. Then 30 to 40 minutes of easy jogging, then come back and prepare dinner. We had electricity but there were regular blackouts. There was an outside tap that was turned on once a week, if you’re lucky twice a week, but completely at random. You had to collect water in big 135-liter drums. If you were out training when the water was turned on, sometimes a neighbor would try and help. There were outside latrines, a hole in ground. The camp did have a small TV but in spare time we did chores—washing clothes, washing dishes, sleeping, going to the road and chatting with friends. We’d walk out to the road and sit there to watch people pass. A friend walks past, he sits down to talk.

End quote

Lots of people are writing articles now on how to “hack” success. I know that there are essential core truths that relate to any goal: “Show up,” “Little and often over the long haul,” and “Don’t write checks you can’t cash.” This article adds some interesting ideas about keeping going.


Setting a lower limit on the amount of time you will spend on mastering a given skill helps you to quickly bootstrap enough competence that it will become self-sustaining. As some point, you will no longer be able to stop yourself from practicing, and sometimes you will have to force yourself to stop practicing. To begin with, however, a big part of bootstrapping is to decide on a minimum amount of time, and then stick to it. I recommend using my life bootstrapping system to help with this.

One of the challenges with this is figuring out how to keep going for the set amount of time. A classic example is with writing, where people get stuck and don’t know what to write. To release any form of creative blockage like this, I recommend doing morning pages, as taught by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. This involves writing out (reporting) your stream-of-consciousness for a set period of time, and without stopping. If you’re stuck then you write about being stuck. If you hate morning pages, then you write about hating morning pages. Morning pages is a generic way of unblocking creative flow. In general, if you’re struggling with how to keep going with any project, then you have to trust that there is some way forward, and spend effort and time looking for it. That effort and time is actually part of the process of moving towards mastery in your chosen area.

End quote

I read this and deleted a couple of apps immediately. Then, I looked at my chess and checkers games and decided to actually upgrade them as I get spam from the apps all the time. I play chess when I am waiting for things…planes, cabs, workshops or whatever.


Make It Harder to Use Your Phone

Delete apps from your phone. In many cases (Mail, Twitter, Facebook), we can do the same thing on our phone’s browser as we could do on app—the apps just make it easier. If you’re trying to spend less time on your phone, you can probably make a big dent by removing these apps. If you need to check or send important messages, you can always go through the browser.

Turn off your phone. Another simple way to reduce the time you spend on devices is to power down your phone or tablet. After all, notifications can’t distract you if they’re not delivered in the first place. Think about times when it’s most important to you to dial out and connect to the people around you (dinner time, when you’re putting your kids to bed), and use the start of those routines as cue to turn off your devices, at least for a little while.

Throttle down your cellular data. Another way to reduce app use is to turn off cellular data for all but the most essential apps. This way your phone is much more likely to stay in your pocket when you’re in motion—walking, on the bus, and most importantly when you’re driving.

End quote

Success=Happiness? Well, define what YOU mean by “success,” but I thought this little piece was interesting. The happiest person I have ever known was “Brother Beatle,” an Oblate Brother who literally lived to serve others. He cooked three meals a day, two for 800 students and faculty, and LOVED snowstorms. He would roll out of bed on snow days and shovel everyone in the neighborhood’s driveways and walkways, then go to the school and make special bread rolls for everyone. He had almost nothing in terms of material wealth, but I have never met anyone any happier. So, this might be worth reading.


Traditional success isn’t always worth chasing

There is no single right way to live, and success means something different to everyone. Savoring a simple life can be so much more fruitful than underappreciating an extravagant one. As Dalio puts it:

“I cannot say that having an intense life filled with accomplishments is better than having a relaxed life filled with savoring, though I can say that being strong is better than being weak, and that struggling gives one strength. […] Some people want to change the world and others want to operate in simple harmony with it and savor life. Neither is better.”

He elaborates later:

“Having spent time with some of the richest, most powerful, most admired people in the world, as well as some of the poorest, most disadvantaged people in the most obscure corners of the globe, I can assure you that, beyond a basic level, there is no correlation between happiness levels and conventional markers of success.”

End quote

I go on Facebook sometimes and find that many people know everything. For the rest of us, admitting some gaps might be helpful. This article adds the discussion about all those books we don’t read, too.


“People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did,” Taleb claims.

Why? Perhaps because it is a well known psychological fact that is the most incompetent who are the most confident of their abilities and the most intelligent who are full of doubt. (Really, it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect). It’s equally well established that the more readily admit you don’t know things, the faster you learn.

So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people.

End quote

I need to go out and shovel another round. Like Brother Beatle, I will extend my work to my neighbors.

Until next time, keep on lifting and learning.


NEW ARTICLE: Interested in the potential offered by ruck training? Because of its history as a means of military conveyance, there’s plenty of information out there on rucking. Mike Prevost sorts through it with you to help get you started.. [CONTINUE READING]


The Sword in the Stone


Madame Mim Seven


“He was whispering to the little boy,” sneaked the crow, “whispering for the last half-hour together.”

“Indeed?” said the witch, “whispering to the little dinner, hey? And much good may it do him. What about a sage stuffing, boy, hey? And what were you doing, my Greediguts, to let them carry on like that? No dinner for you, my little painted bird of paradise, so you may just flap off to any old tree and roost.”

“Oh, Mother, “whined the crow. “I was only adoing (sic) of my duty.”

“Flap off,” cried Madame Mim, “Flap off, and go broody if you like.”

The poor crow hung its head and crept off to the other end of the roof, sneering to itself.”

“Now my juicy toothful,” said the witch, turning to the Wart and opening his door with the proper whisper of Enough-Is-As-Good-As-A-Feast, “we think the cauldron simmers and the oven is mod. How will my tender sucking pig enjoy a little popping lard instead of a clandestine whisper?”

The Wart ran about in his cage as much as he could,  and gave as much trouble as possible in being caught, in order to save even a little time for the coming of Merlyn.

“Let go of me, you beast,” he cried. “Let go of me, you me, you foul hag, or I’ll bite your fingers.”

“How the creature scratches,” said Madame Mim.

“Bless us, how he wriggles and kicks, just for being a pagan’s dinner.”

“Don’t you dare kill me,” cried the Wart, now hanging by one leg. “Don’t you dare lay a finger on me, or you’ll be sorry for it.”

“The lamb,” said Madame Mim. “The partridge with a plump breast, how he does squeak.

“And then there’s the cruel old custom, “continued the witch, carrying him into the lamplight of the kitchen where a new sheet was laid on the floor, “of plucking the poor chicken before it is dead. The feathers come out cleaner so. Nobody could be so cruel to do it nowadays, by Nothing or by Never, but of course a little boy doesn’t feel any pain. Their clothes come off nicer if you take them off alive, and who would dream of roasting a little boy in his clothes, to spoil the feast.”

“Murdress,” cried the Wart. “You will rue this ere the night is out.”

“Cubling,” said the Witch. “It’s a shame to kill you, that it is. Look how his little downy hair stares in the lamplight, and how his poor eyes pop out of his head. Greediguts will be sorry to miss those eyes, so she will. Sometimes one could almost be a vegetarian, when one has to do a deed like this.”

The witch laid the Wart over her lap, with his head between her knees, and carefully began to take his clothes off with a practiced hand. He kicked and squirmed as much as he could, reckoning that every hindrance would put off the time when he would be actually knocked on the head, and thus increase the time in which the black goat could bring Merlyn to his rescue. During this time the witch sang her plucking song, of:

Pull the feather with the skin,
Not against the grain-o,
Pluck the soft one out from in,
The great with might and main-o,
Even if he wriggles,
Never heed his squiggles,
For mercifully little boys are quite immune to pain—o.

She varied this song with the other kitchen song of the happy cook:

Soft skin for crackling,
Oh, my lovely duckling,
The skewers go here,
And the strings go there
And such is my scrumptious suckling.

“You will be sorry for this,” cried the Wart, “Even if you live to be a thousand.”
“He has spoken enough,” said Madame Mim. “It is time that we knocked him on the napper.”

“Hold him by the legs, and
When he goes his head,
Clip him with the palm-edge, and
Then he is dead.”

The dreadful witch now lifted the Wart into the air and prepared to have her will of him, but at that very moment there was a fizzle of summer lightning with any crash and in the nick of time Merlyn was standing on the threshold.

“Ha!” said Merlyn. “Now we shall see what a double-first at Dom-Daniel avails the private education of my master Bleise.”

End quote

This section was cut from the 1938 American version because Yanks would be too sensitive to read this level of violence. Mim is ripping the clothes off of Wart and singing to him that he is about to pound his head on the edge of a table.

Of course, most of know that Merlyn will arrive and save the day. T. H. White’s original (what I have retyped above) takes a lot of time for the hero to show up in “the nick of time.” One can only imagine what is going through Kay’s mind as his friend is stripped and prepared as a meal.

I think the popularity of the Harry Potter stories is, in part, due to Rowling’s approach to this epic: people die in epics. As I tell my students: “Epics are “big.” Yes, laugh, but realize that epics deal with the great issues of life:


And, to be a true epic, characters, even beloved ones, die. The deadpool in the Potter series is shocking: Sirius, Dumbledore, Snape (heroically), Nymphadora Tonks, Remus Lupin, Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody, Hedwig, Cedric Diggory, Fred Weasley, and Dobby. As I list them out, I remind myself that each one of these characters, including an owl and House Elf, was fully fleshed out by Rowling and, as a reader, I cared about each of them.

A lot.

White spares Wart and Kay in this story, but the characters are certainly in peril. This isn’t the farcical comic set piece of the Disney movie; Wart is about to die here. In the later books, of course, characters will die, but White doesn’t really take down major characters like Rowlings.

White spends little time explaining Bleise here. We have already discussed Madame Mim’s training background in the depths and pits of the world of devil worship and the dark arts. I found this little explanation on the web, but I struggled to make sense of it:

“I have a Master called Bleise who lives in North Humberland, and perhaps he will be able to tell me what it is I am trying to remember.” (Q.10.21).

In Malory, Bleise (Blaise) is Merlyn’s Master, to whom he tells the history of Arthur so it can be written down. In the novels, we don’t hear too much about this guy. This is pretty much it. Is this who has taught Merlyn magic? That might be hinted at here in his title “Master” (which in the medieval period could mean either “Ruler” or “Teacher”).

The quote comes from the second book of White’s The Once and Future King, The Queen of Air and Darkness. I don’t appreciate that book as much as The Sword in the Stone (obviously), but the book does put into the action Merlyn and Arthur’s insights on “Might FOR Right.”

Merlyn’s memory will be a major force in the events than explode in the following books. I should say, his “issues with memory,” as, if you recall,” he remembers the future. That can be confusing.

The goat, by the way, will appear again in OUR version of The Sword in the Stone. He will be fine. In addition, he will become a fixture in The Book of Merlyn, the “lost” true last chapter of this series.

Until next time…


NEW ARTICLE: Does your training business have an exit plan? Thom Plummer explains. [CONTINUE READING]

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