Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 191

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 191

Dan on OTPbooks.com: Where Dan spills his Three Secrets of Performance


It’s an oddly muggy day here in Utah. Nature seems to be having fun alternating triple-digit days with thunderstorms. Western USA is on fire again and I honestly don’t see any solutions forthcoming. We seem to keep building deeper and deeper into obvious forest fire areas, sucking all of our rivers and lakes dry and then collectively wondering why there is so much smoke in the sky.

So, today: muggy and smoky air as I prepare to train.

I did a fun eight-hour workshop in Utah yesterday. It was a very good group; everyone seemed prepared and knew the basics. That’s unusual recently: I give workshops sometimes with groups that don’t have the fundamental fundamentals down. It slows things up. To me, proper hinging and squatting is a “given,” but all too often it seems people are all over the place with these basics.

I teach fairly systematically. One of the great lessons I learned from Dick Notmeyer was that rest periods are the time to teach everything else. So, when I push a group hard in something, I will then link up a story or example to teach the group some other lesson or insight. And, that time will be “rest.”

Working with groups is tough and large groups get more “squirreled” than one on one or small groups. There are just so many distractions. So, I add the spice and flavor during the rest periods. It keeps people focused and on track.

Today, I’m pretty sure our training sessions will include a lot of stories. Breathing hot, muggy, smoky air lends to longer story times.

On the net this week, I was sent this article several times…especially from my students at St. Mary’s. This article is basically my book, Now What?, and the student, from England, appreciated it.


Southgate talked to his players about owning the process, and he worked on the players’ individual technique and team dynamics. He even recreated “the tired legs”, with Kieran Trippier admitting that players had “practised and practised and practised” penalties, taking spot-kicks while fatigued at the end of long sessions. Twenty-eight years of World Cup penalty hurt and all it needed was a bit of practice. Who would have thought it?

Once extra time was over, it was clear that everyone knew their roles. When Southgate addressed the players in a huddle, he was not asking for volunteers, which many coaches do – Hierro included – and was how Southgate himself ended up, reluctantly, taking a penalty in 1996. (In my eyes, this is an abdication of the coach’s responsibility, as the coach should know the players’ ability to cope with what’s called “competition anxiety” better than the players themselves).

When the referee Mark Geiger addressed the two goalkeepers before the shootout, Jordan Pickford pulled himself up to maximum height; before every penalty he jumped to touch the crossbar, as though reminding his opponents that he might be taller than he looks. Pickford also handed the ball to each England player on his way to the spot. This is owning the process, and ensured that David Ospina would not disrupt any players’ penalty routine by making them walk to get the ball.

End quote

I found this article to really open my eyes about something I know literally nothing about. It’s nice to learn that I have a lot of learning still to do.


The Aztecs would never have written such a story. Plato, of course, is replacing the heroic warrior Achilles with the thinking man Odysseus. We saw above that the Aztecs would likely have preferred Hector – the supporting beam for the house of Troy, despite being on the losing side. But this preference suggests a stronger disagreement, since the Aztecs would have held that it is an error to think that virtue can save one from the vicissitudes of chance. No matter how virtuous you are, there’s always a possibility that a younger, more skilled, and more impetuous man with a sword will strike you down. And we ourselves are always prone to slipping up, despite our better upbringing. Wisdom in human affairs consists in the recognition that the best that we can do is to learn to stand with the help of others, to alter our circumstances for the better, and to clasp hands so that we can pull ourselves back up when we fall. This is the fundamental insight behind the social dimension of Aztec ethics. As challenging as it seems to ‘Western’ sensibilities, perhaps there’s enough that’s right about it to help us lead better, more worthwhile and rooted lives.

End quote

The Fisher King remains on my Top Ten List. It is an underrated film. Brutal and beautiful, I struggle to watch it, but it is the best Arthurian film ever made (Excalibur sits right next to it).


Terry Gilliam’s film and Richard LaGravenese’s screenplay, The Fisher King, brings the Perceval story to life in modern New York. Jack Lucas is a radio shock-jock whose brazen language and discourse with his call-in listeners leads him to disgrace after one of his callers, whom Jack berates on the air, goes into a rage, walks into a restaurant, and shoots down its guests. Jack falls into a major depression and becomes an alcoholic, walking around the streets of New York as a drunken Fisher King who is wounded by his shame. Because he is unable to recover from his shame, Jack attempts to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. Several young men discover Jack and, thinking of him as a drunken bum, attack him for fun. As the young men attack Jack, they hear shouts from nearby and see a gang of knights, with armor made of garbage, that have come to rescue Jack. The leader of these knights is Parry, a bum who turns out to be the widower of one of the victims of the restaurant shooting. In his life before the loss of his wife, Parry was an Arthurian scholar, and specialized in the story of the Fisher King and the Grail. He relates his own version of the story of the Fisher King to Jack:

It begins with the Fisher King as a boy having to spend the night alone in the forest to prove his courage so he can become king. And while he’s spending the night alone, he’s visited by a sacred vision: out of the fire appears the Holy Grail, the symbol of God’s divine grace, and a voice said to the boy: “You shall be keeper of the Grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.” But the boy was blinded by greater visions of a life filled with power and glory and beauty, and in this state of radical amazement, he felt, for a brief moment, not like a boy, but invincible, like God. So he reached in the fire to take the Grail and the Grail vanished, leaving him with his hand in the fire, to be terribly wounded. Now, as this boy grew older, his wound grew deeper, until one day, life for him lost its reason. He had no faith in any man, not even himself; he couldn’t love or feel loved; he was sick with experience—he began to die. One day a fool wandered into the castle and found the king alone. Now, being a fool, he was simple-minded. He didn’t see a king—he only saw a man alone and in pain. And he asked the king, “what ails you, friend?” The king replied, “I’m thirsty. I need some water to cool my throat.” So the fool took a cup from beside his bed, filled it with water, and handed it to the king. As the king began to drink he realized that his wound was healed. He looked in his hands and there was the Holy Grail—that which he had sought all of his life. He turned to the fool and said with amazement, “How could you find that which my brightest and bravest could not?” The fool replied, “I don’t know. I only knew that you were thirsty.”

End quote

I can’t sum the answer to human issues better than this: “I only knew that you were thirsty.”

It’s time for me to make sure I have enough water for today’s workout. Until next week, keep on lifting and learning.


Dan on OTPbooks.com: Six Decades of Competition (Dan John recounts his 60 years of competition and shares his mistakes, his successes and his inspirations along the way.)

The Sword in the Stone, Part 47


Nobody said anything. The dereliction of duty was too terrible for words. All stood on two feet and turned their blind heads toward the culprit. Not a word of reproach was spoken. Only, during an utter silence of five minutes, they could hear the incontinent priest snivelling and hiccoughing to himself.

“Well,” said the peregrine at last, “the initiation will have to be put off till tomorrow.”

“If you will excuse me, Madam,” said Balin, “perhaps we could manage the ordeal tonight? I believe the candidate is loose, for I did not hear him being tied up.”

At the mention of an ordeal the Wart trembled within himself and privately determined that Balin should have not one feather of Balan’s sparrow next day.

“Thank you, Captain Balin. I was reflecting upon that subject myself.”

Balin shut up.

“Are you loose, candidate?”

“Oh, Madam, yes, I am, if you please: but I do not think I want an ordeal.”

“The ordeal is customary.”

“Let me see,” continued the honorary colonel reflectively. “What was the last ordeal we had? Can you remember, Captain Balan?”

“My ordeal, Mam,” said the friendly merlin, “was to hang by my jesses during the third watch.”

“If he is loose he cannot do that.”

“You could strike him yourself, Mam,” said the Kestrel, “judiciously, you know.”

“Send him over to stand by Colonel Cully while we ring three times,” said the other merlin.

“Oh, no!” cried the crazy colonel in an agony out of his remoter darkness. “Oh no, your ladyship. I beg of you not to do that. I am such a damned villain, your ladyship, that I do not answer for the consequences. Spare the poor boy, your ladyship, and lead us not into temptation.”

“Colonel, control yourself. That ordeal will do very well.”

“Oh, Madam, I was warned not to stand by Colonel Cully.”

“Warned? And by whom?”

The poor Wart realised that now he must choose between confessing himself a human, and learning no more of their secrets, or going through with this ordeal to earn his education. He did not want to be a coward.

“I will stand by the Colonel, Madam,” he said, immediately noticing that his voice sounded insulting.

The peregrine falcon paid no attention to the tone.

“It is well,” she said. “But first we must have the hymn. Now, padre, if you have not eaten your hymns as well as your tirings, will you be so kind as to lead us in Ancient but not Modern No. 23? The Ordeal Hymn.

“And you, Mr. Kee,” she added to the kestrel, “you had better keep quiet, for you are always too high.”

The hawks stood still in the moonlight, while the spar-hawk counted “One, Two, Three.” Then all those curved or toothed beaks opened in their hoods to a brazen unison, and this is what they chanted:

Life is blood, shed and offered.
The eagle’s eye can face this dree.
To beasts of chase the lie is proffered:
Timor Mortis Conturbat Me.

The beast of foot sings Holdfast only,
For flesh is bruckle and foot is slee.
Strength to the strong and the lordly and lonely.
Timor Mortis Exultat Me.

Shame to the slothful and woe to the weak one.
Death to the dreadful who turn to flee.
Blood to the tearing, the talon’d, the beaked one.
Timor Mortis are We.

“Very nice,” said the peregrine. “Captain Balan, I think you were a little off on the top C. And now, candidate, you will go over and stand next to Colonel Cully’s enclosure, while we ring our bells thrice. On the third ring you may move as quickly as you like.”

End quote

Well, Balin isn’t making any friends with me as a reader. Balan deserves that sparrow, but he needs to learn how to sing a bit better, I guess.

I’ve always thought that the raptors are in on the story here. This little part here, “And by whom” always seemed to be a “leading question” as we hear on the television lawyer shows:

“Oh, Madam, I was warned not to stand by Colonel Cully.”

“Warned? And by whom?”

The poor Wart realised that now he must choose between confessing himself a human, and learning no more of their secrets, or going through with this ordeal to earn his education.

Cully, for sure, seems to know that Wart is a boy:

“”Oh no, your ladyship. I beg of you not to do that. I am such a damned villain, your ladyship, that I do not answer for the consequences. Spare the poor boy, your ladyship, and lead us not into temptation.”

This reference to temptation also sets us up for the Hawk’s song. “Timor Mortis are We” translates into “fear of death disturbs me.” It was popular in Scottish poetry to repeat that line centuries ago. It appears in the Catholic Office of the Dead:

Peccantem me quotidie, et non poenitentem, timor mortis conturbat me. Quia in inferno nulla est redemptio, miserere mei, Deus, et salva me.

Sinning daily, and not repenting, the fear of death disturbs me. For there is no redemption in Hell, have mercy on me, o God, and save me.

Cully’s line hints towards our song as well as the true nature of the junior Merlin of the local forest.

Of course, the peregrine colonel hints toward something worse:

“On the third ring you may move as quickly as you like.”

And, that might not be quick enough. Until next time…


Dan on OTPbooks.com: Sure, there’s a science of coaching . . . But for Dan, the art of coaching is what gets results: The art of making people think what they need to do is what they want to doThe Art of Coaching

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