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My life has been dedicated to strength and power since I was 12-years-old. I have never strayed from the way, much like the life of a samurai. The greatest samurai of all time was Musashi. He killed 60 men in death matches before retiring and writing books. Two of my favorites are The Five Rings and Dokkodo (The Way of Walking Alone).
Musashi was a master at tactics. In today’s world everyone knows what you are doing and what you are going to do and where you’re going to do it simply by using their phones. Musashi was born in 1584; it was different then. Once Musashi was scheduled to fight at a temple at 6 am or first daylight. As his opponent was walking through the woods on his way to the temple duel at 5:30 am, Musashi jumped out of a tree and killed his opponent.
Musashi was challenged by a swordsman who before fighting would meditate until he saw doves fly. His brother who had a bad temper and could not fight well when angry was to second him. Knowing his enemy well, Musashi came to the duel early and interrupted his opponent during his meditation and killed him easily. This angered the brother and he challenged Musashi while angry and was also killed. Musashi knew both of their weaknesses and exploited it to the fullest. Musashi would kill ten times the 60 men today with everyone showing their weaknesses daily on their precious phones.
I would like to tell you a story about a young Musashi when he was working to become a samurai. While walking through the woods he was approached by an old master with a chain and a sickle. Like a true samurai, the old master had heard of the exploits of the young Musashi and decided to challenge him before he completely mastered his sword skills.
Face to face the wise old master managed to use his chain to snag Musashi’s long sword away. This should have been the end for Musashi, but he did the unthinkable for a samurai—he pulled out his short sword that was never to be thrown by the samurai code. He threw it at the old master’s chest, hit his mark and killed the chain and sickle master. Musashi was proud of his victory, unorthodox as it was. He noticed a nick on the blade of his longsword and started walking to the closest village to have it replaced. He saw his master on the road and ran up to him to ask if he had seen his match. Musashi was very proud of his victory. His master looked at Musashi with disgust and said, “You are not a samurai; you are just a tough guy.” At that moment he walked off leaving Musashi to reflect on what had just happened.
Stop for a minute and think. Are you just a strong guy or a strength samurai who thinks about your training and always tries to improve on it?
After thinking about his master’s words, Musashi continued on to the nearest village. Soon after arriving at the village, he came upon a sword repair shop. He was met by a young apprentice and asked him if he could repair the sword.
After examining the sword, the apprentice’s face took on a curious look and he asked if it came from a chain. At that point Musashi began telling the story of his match with the chain and sickle master. The apprentice interrupted Musashi and gave back the sword saying he could not work on this instrument of death. Musashi took the sword and walked out of the shop. While contemplating what had just happened, he also thought about what his master had said about being a true samurai.
He gathered his composure and retuned to the shop to the surprise of the young apprentice. There was fear in the apprentice’s face as Musashi says to him “Will you polish my soul?” while he hands his sword to him. The apprentice takes the sword and looks deep into the eyes of Musashi and proclaims, “I am not worthy. I must give this to my master for only he is qualified to work on such a superb instrument.”
I, like Musashi, have valued special strength training as if it is my soul. I work every day to pursue my knowledge to a greater level as if it is my life and soul. I work on my gym and the athletes who train there. I am constantly working on a new training device or method and trying to discover new talent to break new records. In a way, Westside is my soul in every way and everything I do.
There are many books I have enjoyed that have changed my life. Some of these include: The Five Rings, The 33 Strategies of War, Hagakure, The Five Levels of Taijiquan, and A Tai Chi Master Will Always Bring Blood. Scott Shetler signed a book as a gift that included a message. It said, “The true gift for me is having countless friends around the world.” Nice phrase.
Like Tai Chi, powerlifting must begin with the most fundamental steps. A man must not only do, but he also must think. Two books that made a tremendous change in my life—that made me think—are Jonathan Livingston Seagull and The Call of the Wild.
It was 1972. I had made a 1,540 total at 181 pounds. This ranked me number six. At a meet in November 1972, I made a 1,555 total, but was beaten by George Clark by 45 pounds as George totaled 1,600. Everyone was all over George. And, why not me? I know why. I lost to him. Second is not first. My metaphysics teacher told me to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It was about a simple gull who wanted to be the fastest gull, which did not sit well with the elder gulls. So, he was kicked out. Soon he was flying close to 200 mph. He thought there must be a limit to how fast he could fly. One day while on the beach he saw a silver gull 100 feet away. In a blink of an eye, the silver gull sat beside him. Jonathan asked, “How did you do that?” The silver gull said, “Perfect speed.” Jonathan said, “What is perfect speed?” “Perfect speed is being there,” he replied.
It is a simple thought, but what a concept. By using this concept, my total improved from 1,555 to 1,655 between November 1972 and February 1973. This total was 20 pounds more than the world championship. I visualized my lifts over and over: 605 – 380 – 670. I did this over and over using mental imagery and lots of meditation over the three months of training. I did not think about George Clark or anyone else or anything else for that matter.
Today I still own the original copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. At 70 I go to bed thinking about how to make my gym stronger and I wake up thinking about how to make my gym stronger.
I have rambled long enough, but I would like to mention the other book that has had a great influence on my entire life: The Call of the Wild by Jack London. It is about a dog, half Saint Bernard and half Sheepdog. His name is Buck. He was stolen by the gardener, then sold to drug traders and was to be a sled dog during the Gold Rush. Watching a dog called Curly get attacked and killed made him realize it must never happen to him. Buck slowly regains the primal instincts for survival and fights for his food while at the same time becomes a rival with a lead dog named Spitz. Buck fights Spitz, kills him, and takes over the pack.
He is slowly beaten down by the human owner, but a new human gains his trust and takes care of him. Buck leaves the wild and becomes famous. Known as the Ghost Dog, he kills dogs, wolves, and Indians after the Indians kill his master, John Thornton. Buck had to fend off an entire wolf pack. At last an old battle-scarred wolf comes forward only to sniff noses with him. Then the old wolf begins to howl looking up at the moon. All the remaining wolves do the same and know that Buck is the king of the pack. Buck had much influence on the pack making his bloodline a major part of the pack. But no matter what he knows, he can never let his guard down and must continue to strengthen the pack.
This is my life. I must stay sharp and do what I must do to improve, not just the best lifters at Westside, but also pay attention to the weakest lifters because they are the ones vulnerable to other gyms. After all, an army is only as strong as its weakest soldier.
Like Buck, I have had triumphs and torment while fulfilling my life dream. Sometimes a dream is more than a dream.