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punchy 05-16-2006 12:15 AM

Climb like a Samurai
one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of climbing is the mental. a lot of climbers will spend countless clif bars worth of energy focusing on getting bigger forearms, fancier footwork and greater endurance but forego any real effort to improve mental awareness. all of these elements are certainly important for a climber to excel, but they are all as useless as a jug on another route if your mental state keeps you from tapping them. strength disappears when fear interferes. technique is forgotten. endurance is sapped. your fingers wilt. your tips sweat. your brain shuts down. you're gonna fall.

been there? if you haven't, i'd be tempted to say you're not climbing hard enough. or you're dean potter.

for anyone whose dealt with the inherent fears and frustrations of climbing, this thread's for you. for anyone who feels they've mastered their fears, this thread's for you.

the fears that a lot of climbers feel are natural. evolutionarily speaking, we've been mentally programmed to be scared of heights, and particularly scared of falling off them. so what's a climber to do?

personally, i've spent a lot of time anazlying my climbing. not just my technique, but my fears, my motivations and my frustrations. after almost a decade of scaling rocks, i had come to a point where i didn't get it anymore. i could climb a certain grade, but couldn't push myself harder. my head got in the way of my climbing and i questioned what, if anything, i still got out of it. an injury forced me off the rock and gave me ample time to seriously consider giving up climbing. it was during this time that i picked up arno ilgner's the rock warrior's way. i've since read it no less than five times. it has changed the way i climb, the way i think about climbing and the way i approach life in general.

ilgner's approach to the entire process is well thought out, well tested and easy to understand. it may not be so easy to apply, but after reading the book, you realize that the difficulty in applying it is part of the appeal. such is climbing. in finding the thing that motivates us to climb, shedding all the elements of ego that gets tied up into our expectations and performance, we can come to climb for the only reason that matters: because you love to climb. the reasons for that love may stem from various sources; a love of beautiful natural places; a love of the social bonds in the climbing community; or a love of the challenges of pushing your physical and mental limit. the last is basically a love of learning. as arno says, there are three stages to life: birth, growth and death. we're already born and we're not dead yet, so we might as well focus on growth. physically, we've probably grown as much as we're going to. so there's mental growth. how do you grow mentally? by learning. how do we learn? by focusing on problem solving. what better way to problem solve than to climb. sure crosswords are fun, but where's the sweat. to really learn, we need to step outside our comfort zones. we have to risk. let's start there. now who's willing to risk?

mp31bravo 05-16-2006 07:07 PM

Very deep and thought inspiring....

punchy 05-16-2006 10:00 PM

climbing can be as deep or as shallow as you want to make it. it's all good as long as you're climbing because you get something out of it. not because you want to impress anybody. or because you want to be in a magazine or video. or merely because your significant other climbs.

i started this thread in the hopes of stimulating some conversation on the topic of fear, motivation and mental training. what is it that makes you, as a climber, tick? what is it that's holding you back? are you able to recognize your weaknesses without letting your ego get in the way? not blaming falling off your redpoint attempt on your short-roping belayer, or the humid weather or whatever else you might point your finger at. if you can see what's holding you back from really being there on a climb, then you've made progress. now all you have to do is consider the opportunities you have to overcome your weaknesses. by shifting your focus from those things that are holding you back (fear of falling, your inflexibility, lack of height, etc) and refocusing on ways to overcome those deficiencies, you can learn to climb better. better, let me note, is subjective. what i mean by better is not what you'd call "harder", but rather "more aware".

i gave this thread the title "climb like a samurai" for a reason. the climber and the samurai parrallel is made by arno ilgner in the book i mentioned previously, "the rock warrior's way". now, i don't want to come off preaching this book like a zealot, but i think the relevance that ilgner's research has on what most climbers are looking to accomplish is invaluable.

to return to the samurai point, let me explain. the bulk of ilgner's research and mental training theory is based on the premise that a climber's task of venturing into the risk zone is very similar to a samurai engaged in mortal combat. filtering through ancient samurai texts and manuals, ilgner saw that samurai are trained to develop impeccable attention, a kind of hyper-awareness that enables them to fight a battle with complete decisiveness, focusing on what they have to give to the situation, not on what fear is taking away. a samurai in battle maintains an attitude of possibility. there must be confidence, but not overconfidence. similarily, a climber faces mortal danger every time he ventures out on a climb. granted, modern climbing equipment has made the sport much safer. yet safety sometimes seems like less of a factor when you're facing a fall. the fear is the same. recognizing the fear as an impediment to your ability to maintain attention on the task at hand is the first step in dealing with fear. fear is not something to take lightly. it can warn us of serious dangers with serious consequences. but it's valuable to be able to recognize phantom fear when it arises, that fear which springs from our imagination alone.

ilgner's approach hinges on seven phases: observing (becoming conscious). centering (life is subtle). accepting (accepting responsibility). focusing (giving). commiting (choices). trusting (listening). and finally full attention (the journey). i'll try and sum these up the best i can in the next few posts. i'd love to hear your own thoughts on this topic. step up. what are your weaknesses?

skinsk 05-17-2006 12:18 AM

I am enjoying Ilgner's perspective and your commentary quite a bit. So, climbing is not much different than facing anything in life, or life in general. Fear-- most of it more in our own heads-- sets limitations on what is possible. (Ricky, GO TO CHINA BY YOURSELF!!!) Blake called it "Mind forg'd manacles".

Good judgement and common sense are, of course, essential in life, but especially so when climbing (if the accident stats are right and more people rappel/lower off their ropes. . .) but once you get educated, work your way through the grades and learn how to make good judgements, you certainly minimize the risk. Sport climbing has certainly made it where it's so safe, sometime lack of fear is the biggest risk (and I did learn this lesson the hard way, via gravity!). . .

Now I feel the opposite! I simply don't want to risk a fall . . . with the bit of first-hand knowledge of what an injury can cost! and damn! age! it just takes so long to heal these days, even from the gym. . . :) Another lesson learned was-- let go and just be with it now-- don't even look at the 20 year olds in the gym and don't even try to compete with a 30-year-old me! I'm less focused on climbing "hard" now, and more focused on other aspects of climbing and even *gasp* non-climbing endeavors! Sometimes I look at old photos of myself before I had these "irrational" fears and I think, yeah, it would be great to climb like that again. . . but I have to enjoy climbing where I am now:)

And the nice thing is, I end up having such a great time! meeting amazing people, getting out to such beautiful places . . . that I am more motivated to train, which makes me more comfident on the rock. . . which helps break down those little irrational fears. . .

And you are right, awareness (of where we are and what our fears are and what healthy caution is), which takes a conscious effort and some honesty, is a big step.

Community! Adventure! Challenge! Fun! Enjoy!


rockboy 05-17-2006 03:25 AM

"It's all about the altitude bro!"
Yeah I have often wondered what exactly it is about climbing that I like. What makes me keep at it. How to overcome fear etc.

So let's start typing and maybe I'll figure it all out, messy, mixed up but some what decipherable I hope.

There are people, who brag and people who get into magazines. But that's not what climbing is for me, I'm 32 so as Skinsk said age is starting to rear it's ugly head and as time goes I sometimes wish I had pushed myself harder, but still those big achievements, while they make you feel great when you pull off the hard climbs, still aren't what it's about for me. I was leading last weekend and realizing the climb was harder than anticipated, wondered why I was doing this to myself, and thought well if I can't get up this then no one climbs today as my partner was not a leader, so I just got on with it. The bolts seemed spaced out but the more I clipped the happier I become. After that I didn't feel any special achievement, just I felt like I had got the job done. It was only later in the day on top rope that I truly pushed myself that I felt some sense of achievement.

I'm not afraid of heights (just injury!), in fact I love them, I think that's why I climb I just love the perspective. I love mountains and being up them and seeing the views. I love cliffs and the feeling that we are beating natures plan. We weren't designed for this, yet here I am 300 feet up on some cliff looking down on my surroundings. Is that some sort of god complex? I don't know but I really enjoy the perspective it gives me.

I pretty much always feel some degree of fear when climbing on lead, but seldom if ever on top rope. Like punchy said, you need to recognize it and then deal with it. I deal with it in different ways depending on the circumstances, generally I think about it, realize I don't want to give up and climb through. Often I feel people are relying/waiting on me and this helps push me on, not to prove myself to them but rather so as not to disappoint them, It seems this trait follows into most aspects of my life. Generally my fear increases as the fall consequences become more dramatic but I always find that concentrating harder on my climbing relieves fear and of course improves my performance. I don't normally attempt lead climbing outside my comfort zone, but for some reason this year I am trying to break out of this mental barrier I have formed, happily I think I am slowly succeeding.

I have a friend who was finding it hard to start up leading again, he said "I know the climbs easy, I can do it, but my body is frozen in place and I just can't break past that barrier!" so he asked "how do you do it?" I said, I push those thoughts to the rear and concentrate on the problem of getting to the next bolt or gear placement. I just force myself to do it and don't over think it. Two weeks later he was leading, he had finally forced himself over that imaginary brick wall which was a really nice thing to see. But I still have my own brick wall , Just my wall is in a different place (grade) than his. Now I am not saying I am a better climber physically, but mentally I seem more prepared to put myself out there than he was. But it looks like that's all beginning to change, so two thumbs up to him.

I love getting out of the city, being in the bush or high up on a rock in the sunshine. I love thinking about my gear placements and options and succeeding in getting through that pitch. I love hanging out with friends, breathing fresh air and, getting cool pictures. I love overcoming problems and my fears. But most of all, I just love being up there! I always used to say to my mate back in NZ, "It's all about the altitude bro!" and really, maybe for me it's just that simple.

skinsk 05-17-2006 11:03 AM

Oh Craig. . . feeling it at 32. . !? Ouch! That was my prime time :) until I fell :(

Ricky 05-18-2006 11:20 AM

Why I climb.
Growing up I always participated in outdoor sports, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, snowboarding. I guess becoming interested in rock climbing was kind of inevitable. But the reason I fell in love with climbing was because, when I first started bouldering at a gym in Canada, I'd encounter problems that really seemed impossible...I thought "surely I'm just too short to reach that hold, it can't be done...it's impossible". And I truly felt that way...but to my surprise, I found that if I just approached the problem differently, changed my foot position or whatever, I could solve it. That idea really transpired to the rest of my life. And I realized that, any problem can be solved, but you just have to figure out the right way to go about it. Unfortunately, with regard to climbing, I'm really terrible at problem solving and course finding, but trying hard to develop that skill. Climbing for me...is like doing the impossible. Climbing has helped me to develop more confidence, determination, and assertiveness in my general life. Maybe I'm addicted to climbing the same way people are addicted to those little metal loop puzzles. Y'know what I mean, like you have to free a ring from another ring. It's seems totally undoable, and then like magic, you do it....That's it!..climbing is like magic.

My biggest weakness with regard to climbing is fear. Actually...I never fall hard, because I never put myself out for that risk. I know I can't get better at climbing until I let go of the fear. That is something I have to work on in all aspect of my life actually. Also, I feel like I wimp out too easily. I just can't push myself hard enough. I never feel like I try hard enough. I know I'm capable of so much more than I'm doing now, but I'm just...too lazy I guess....to get it.

So, Punchy...write on...Inspire me. I wanna be a Samurai.

punchy 05-19-2006 12:20 PM

i was stoked to read your responses. thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

sonia, of course you're right in saying that "climbing is not much different than facing anything in life". if there's one thing climbing has taught me it's to appreciate the challenge of the unknown. i would imagine most climbers are drawn by that aspect as well. climbing can scare the timid out of you and make you better able to cope with problem solving in "the real world". i can relate to the fear of falling that deveoped after having an accident. if your injury was caused by some error in the climbing system (equipment, belayer or you) then it's understandable that you'd lose some faith in that system. i'd be interested to know exactly what happened to cause the accident. dealing with that situation might help you get past what happened and make you a safer climber. i'm sure, to some extent, it already has, but if the accident is also limiting your climbing through irrational fear, and preventing you from risking anything, then there are obviously some bugs yet to work out.

to craig and sonia, i think the comment about an increase in age leading to an increase in fear is unfounded. age doesn't have to increase our wariness about risk taking. it should increase our knowledge of how to better tackle those risks. younger people may seem less inhibited in the risks they take (on lead or elsewhere), but it's important to remember the fine line between courage and foolhardiness. it's easy to be brave when you think you're invincable. it's also easier to hurt or kill yourself. being aware of what's at stake gives you a much better opportunity to deal with the situation and come out of it safely. that does not mean you need to be paralysed by fear. if fear has become more of a factor for you with age, it's important to filter through exactly what scares you. are your fears rational? analyzing any situation to discern the risk is a valuable tool. giving over to fear that springs from your imagination is completely unproductive. worrying is a negative application of the imagination. if you could choose to apply your imagination to problem solving rather than imagining terrible fall scenarios and "what if" situations, imagine how much more efficient you could be as a climber.

craig, your comments were very telling. it seems you've already developed a method for dealing with your fear. the ability to push fear aside and concentrate on the task at hand is extremely useful. just be careful not to disregard the fear altogether (as if that's possible). what i mean is, be sure to examine your fear as it arises. if you're climbing above your last piece and the fear starts to creep in, be aware of it. ask if it's legitimate. is my last piece solid? will i swing? is there anything i will hit if i fall from here? if you can answer these questions objectively, without imagining irrational situations, then you can get back to the task at hand. climbing like a samurai requires that you accept the risk you're moving into. you're aware of what's at stake and you're ready to commit. if you decide the risk is unreasonable and you back down, that's okay too. whatever choice you come to, make sure you commit 100%. either go for it with everything you have or back off with no regrets or guilt. either decision is a commitment.

the friend you mentioned who was experiencing the "brick wall" was illustrating a very common place for a lot of climbers. everytime we step out of our comfort zone, we're effectually expanding it. by risking in steps, we increase that area of comfort. a lot of climbers have their own "brick wall", but they're often at varying levels of risk. you may be afraid of falling above a bolt. maybe you've gotten past that but you're scared of falling on trad. maybe you've gotten used to that, but you'd be terrified to solo anything. the extent to which we risk is not so important as that we engage in risking. without risking, it'd be difficult to learn anything valuable in climbing (or life in general). if you can understand the benifits of risking, you can start to seek out risks and engage them in a whole new way. you can start to learn how you respond to risks, what holds you back, when fear arises, how performance tapers, and how to move past those roadblocks.

ricky. you're comments about the challenge of problem solving being a huge draw to climbing are very familiar to me. it was one of the things i excelled at early on in my climbing. the challenge of finding a way through the impossible held great appeal to me. it's taken me some time to reshape the reward i get from doing so, but that's all part of growth too. rather than let my ego feed off my successes in climbing, or let it become bruised from my failures, i've moved toward merely being receptive to how and what i climb. receptive as opposed to reactive. kicking the rock after taking a fall does little to improve my climbing. examining why i fell, without blame or guilt, will enable me or anyone else to develop real problem solving tools to overcome difficult situations. accepting climbing for what it is and not expecting it to be easy or externally rewarding are key factors in developing a warrior's mindset. what do you get out of climbing a hard route. does it make you a better person or even a better climber?

i am in no way claiming to have mastered fear. not two months ago, i was scared of falling on bolts. sometimes that nervousness still creeps in. but my approach to climbing has drastically changed since taking a year off the sport. both mentally and physically, i'm climbing much stronger and with more focus then i ever have before. all this because i learned to love the risk. to love what i learn from the risk. all this because i began to develop a warrior's approach to climbing. attention. commitment. decisiveness. they're all there for anyone willing to polish the dust off them and give them room to grow.

Ricky 05-19-2006 01:46 PM

Hello everyone! My name is Ricky...and I am a wussy climber.

This totally feels like therapy for me.
Okay...so we've covered the first part by examining why we climb, and some of our weaknesses. What can we do to get past them? I know we have to focus, and be attentive. But do you have any reccomendations on how one does that? Any practical exercises?

Like, the next time I go climbing I should try......
Maybe it seems like I'm just looking for a quick fix to my problem or a recipe for success. Well, just a strategy. Do you have one?

rockboy 05-19-2006 01:54 PM


Originally Posted by punchy
to chris and sonia, i think the comment about an increase in age leading to an increase in fear is unfounded. ........

chris, your comments were very telling. it seems you've already developed a method for dealing with your fear. the ability to push fear aside and concentrate on the task at hand is extremely useful. just be careful not to disregard the fear altogether ...............

I'm guessing Chris is me??? anyway, actually I didn't mean an increase in fear with age, rather lower fitness, fatter, slower, less active etc etc due to progressing age and lack of training.

Yeah iguess I already do most of what you talked about with regard to fear. But I often disregard my fear, but still realise it's there. But I am still watching what will happen if a fall occurs, ie. where i will land, swing etc.

anyway next person's turn.:)

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