Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ringing The Bell

The above picture is of US Navy SEALS going through "hell week", a tortuous part of the selection process that combines physical, mental and emotional strain with severe sleep deprivation.  It is an ultimate test of willpower and those who make it through are very likely to be successful SEALS.

The test is made incrementally more difficult by the bell.

The bell is an omnipresent symbol of choice.
At any time, with or without reason, a cadet can go up and ring the bell three times and quit the selection process.  There is no shame in this.  Having done so, they are returned to their former unit and former colleagues to continue their service.  They will not go on to become a SEAL.  Everyone knows this is an option.  During Hell Week the mettle of the cadets is pushed to the limits and beyond - in the surf, in the sand and everywhere else.  Their leaders push them to see if they will break under pressure; if they can overcome the limitations of the body and mind and truly break through whatever barriers may stand in their way.  SEALS get the job done no matter what.  They never quit.  They never give up.  They never lose.

This week at the Peaceful Warrior Camp 2018 we were blessed to have training from an amazing man.  He spent 20 years in the Swedish Navy Special Forces as a diver - now working as a SWAT team member in inner-city Stockholm.  He is a calm and unassuming man with a gaze of steel.  He has undoubtedly seen many tough situations in his career and been challenged time and again.  To me, he is the definition of a Peaceful Warrior - the kind of person we should all aspire to be; confident without being boastful; ready and willing to act when needed to protect others.

He ordered us into the pool where we spent the next 25 minutes in a "mini" version of what an average training session is like for those warriors (theirs is usually between 60 and 90 minutes).  We swam, dived, pushed and pulled ourselves at every instruction.  After 25 minutes we were spent.  He told us "At any time you feel like it, get out of the pool.  Take a break.  Rest.  Go back in and continue.  Or not.  Up to you".  The bell.

We may not be SEALS or special forces, but we are Peaceful Warriors, too.  Not a single one of us  gave up no matter how hard it was.  We struggled, but all of us did the training as commanded.  I am proud if I imagine we did not disappoint him.

The session ignited something primal in me.  Pushed out of my comfort zone (I am not a very good swimmer) and put under stress I could only tap into my most basic instincts and my raw stubborn anger to keep me going.  My fitness simply wasn't good enough.  I struggled badly and was consistently slower than everyone else.  Despite this, I refused to ring the bell.  I wanted to, desperately.  When it was over, the adrenaline started to leave and I crashed.  My body shook.

I realized that there are these bells all around us.  Very few situations are impossible to quit.  We always have the choice of giving up.  In our jobs, our relationships, our hobbies; when things are difficult or even just "inconvenient" we can ring the bell - no questions asked or answered - and go do something else somewhere else.  We may worry what others might think, but the stark reality is that the only person that will really care that we quit is ourselves.  We alone have to face the guilt and regret without knowing whether or not we might have achieved the goal.

In martial arts too, we see the bell.  So many students start out with "good intentions" about reaching black belt and even beyond, but later ring the bell for any number of reasons.  Guro Claes talked about "black belt death" where after achieving the coveted black belt, a student just...stops training.  We've all seen it.  So have I.  Bell rung.

There is no such thing as an easy life.  We all struggle somehow, someway.  We can all imagine the bell right in front of us reminding us that we could always....just...quit.  At various points in my life I have quit jobs and relationships, as well as various hobbies and especially gym memberships.  However, as I get older and (hopefully) wiser I start to focus in on what really matters to me - my family, my Kali, my friends, my work.  The rest is just noise really.

If you look for them, the bells are always there.  Each of us must decide if we ring them or not.

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