Wolfgang Brolley on old dogs, new tricks and… Perfection or Reinvention?
Editor’s Note: The author chooses the small “i” to remind himself he’s no more or less important than anyone else.
There comes a time in a man’s life (and a woman’s, i assume) when he needs to make a choice:
“Do i strive to improve, refine, perfect my skill, my strength, my performance? Or, do i reorient, take a new task, challenge myself in some completely new way?”
i was fortunate, grew up in the martial arts and had an aptitude for it. From the age of 12 to well into adulthood i practiced, trained, sparred. My speed increased, my power increased. i was doubly fortunate that my first teacher was very old school traditional Korean – discipline, respect and honor mattered as much as any physical skill or strength. These qualities were my bedrock. By my later thirties, “hard” martial arts were becoming less attractive, as a physical therapist i could see the writing on my future wall – so i started a drift towards tai chi. Parallel to my fighting, i kept running long distances and hefting heavy chunks of metal.
As i cruised into my early 40s, my dedication was unassailable: a committed zen practice – i sat sesshins and went on pilgrimages to Mt Kailas. My runs focused on trails, they became longer – 50Ks became my new marathon. And if there wasn’t 7,000 feet of gain it was an ‘easy’ one…. Unlike my trail buddies, i lifted hard for upper body: benching, weighted chins and dips – actually adding upper body muscle mass while endurance training. But in spite of being absolutely delighted with my physical gains, i couldn’t escape acknowledging that i was in a groove, or more objectively observed: a rut. i thoroughly enjoyed all that i was doing, it fed me, but middle age is no time for ruts. It was all within my comfort zone, it was familiar. The problem was that i was also staring (not all that far away) into my 50s – serious middle age years, damnit. Years that many seem content to coast.
It’s well established and deservedly accepted wisdom that to stimulate continued muscle growth one has to change up the challenge – shocking the muscle into further hypertrophy. But, what about entire systems? What about neural connections? What about the mind? The soul? i needed to shake things up, step out of my comfort zone – i wanted to retain as much plasticity, and to avoid as much concretization as possible. i made a vow to do something different, and preferably, something that had previously intimidated me. Drop the familiar, say good by to what i was (relatively) good at.
First up was surfing – i KNEW I couldn’t surf. OK, time for a little “hop and pop.” Check. That was followed by African hand drumming – if there was one thing I would die before accomplishing, it was definitely hand drumming. Wrapped up the djembe retreat by performing publicly with people dancing – of their own free will! Check. Circus school followed the hand drumming – i learned juggling: balls, clubs, rings, passing. i wire walked, i juggled while going across the room on a walking globe. i still juggle. Check.
But i hadn’t given up the running. On a whim, a friend sent me a link to an 8 day race across the Alps – i signed up. i finished. i set my sites on a 50 miler – it beat the crap outta me, but i finished that SOB! For 5 yrs i ramped up non-stop: harder, further, more elevation. Stair training – Jax (my Cattle Dog) and i would run 13 miles of them non-stop. it took its toll: plantar fasciitis, knee extensor mechanism strain. Change, again, was calling. No, not just calling, this time my body was demanding it. And, btw, “this time” is now. Currently, i’m pulling 45lb plates across football fields, i wear a weight vest, big ass chains drape over me. Water factors largely – i pull myself through thousands of meters of cold water every week. Swimming is medicine – a rare balm of an exercise that laughs at gravity and elongates us.
New growth requires new stimuli. i’m filling in gaps. i’m attacking weak spots. i’m growing. Toughening.
Reinvention (for me) equals (my best shot at) perfection.
Go do something different.