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Unread 05-16-2006, 12:15 AM
punchy's Avatar
punchy punchy is offline
stone samurai
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: sokcho, gangwan-do
Posts: 73
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?
the way i see it, there are two worlds: the world where nothing is sacred except money, and the other world, where everything is sacred.

-ron kauk
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Unread 05-16-2006, 07:07 PM
mp31bravo's Avatar
mp31bravo mp31bravo is offline
Damn, that hurts!
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 52
Very deep and thought inspiring....

Last edited by mp31bravo : 05-17-2006 at 07:02 AM.
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Unread 05-16-2006, 10:00 PM
punchy's Avatar
punchy punchy is offline
stone samurai
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: sokcho, gangwan-do
Posts: 73
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?
the way i see it, there are two worlds: the world where nothing is sacred except money, and the other world, where everything is sacred.

-ron kauk
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Unread 05-17-2006, 12:18 AM
skinsk's Avatar
skinsk skinsk is offline
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Jochiwon (Sejong City)
Posts: 2,552
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!

"If you can't do something well, you might as well learn to enjoy doing it poorly." -- from a de-motivational poster, but I find it oddly liberating!
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Unread 05-17-2006, 03:25 AM
rockboy's Avatar
rockboy rockboy is offline
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Seoul, Sodaemun-Gu
Posts: 61
"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.
Craig McVie
Seoul, Sodaemun-gu
South Korea

Last edited by rockboy : 05-18-2006 at 01:38 PM.
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Unread 05-17-2006, 11:03 AM
skinsk's Avatar
skinsk skinsk is offline
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Jochiwon (Sejong City)
Posts: 2,552
Oh Craig. . . feeling it at 32. . !? Ouch! That was my prime time until I fell
"If you can't do something well, you might as well learn to enjoy doing it poorly." -- from a de-motivational poster, but I find it oddly liberating!
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Unread 05-19-2006, 01:46 PM
Ricky's Avatar
Ricky Ricky is offline
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Mokpo
Posts: 252
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?
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Unread 05-19-2006, 04:39 PM
firedawgUSAF's Avatar
firedawgUSAF firedawgUSAF is offline
Another day in paradise
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Kunsan AB
Posts: 22
For me climbing is an opportunity to really challenge myself mentally and physically. On one end climbing is another way for me to stay in shape while doing something more interesting than running in circles around a track, or lifting weights. On the other end I love climbing, the fear the adreuniline caused when you are a little runout and know you need to nail it or fall. The fear of being a few pitches up knowing you must do things right and you must TRUST YOUR PARTNER. The bond created among climbers is amazing and is something deserving of a whole other topic. Subconsciously and consciously knowing if our partner doesnt do his/her job we will fall possibly causing an injury or worse. This fact alone creates a friendship amongst all climbers. This is similar to my world at work if I don't properly do my job my partner or my crew gets burned, hurt, or even killed. Constant awarness of the situations around me at any emergency scene is imperative or injury/death may occur which is similar to climbing. This said I have 48 other brother firefighters (no women so no sisters sorry ladies) on Kunsan Air Base alone, and countless other climbing partners I trust with my life that have become a part of my extended family. When I climb I tend not to worry so much about the danger like craig said always aware of if I fall I may hit this. However while climbing I concentrate on sending the route and overcoming obstacles that I never imagined being able to do if I fall I fall if I cut my toe open so be it. For those of you who have climbed with me you know that I have no problem taking a few falls on a hard route and getting right back on trying to send untill my forearms are dead. I love the people you meet while climbing, people from all walks of life come together and enjoy eachothers company no regard to politics, sex, creed, or anything else we are all there climbing enjoying each other and that is all that matters.

Last edited by firedawgUSAF : 05-19-2006 at 09:39 PM.
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Unread 06-01-2006, 05:01 PM
Ricky's Avatar
Ricky Ricky is offline
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Mokpo
Posts: 252
I went to Halmae on the weekend...This was my chance to practice buildng my confidence, controlling my fears, focussing...and I blew it! I chickened out again....because I was afraid. The sad part is that I was afraid even though my last clipped bolt was almost at waist height. And then I climbed a really easy climb that has like a 10 foot gap between the clips... at that point....I almost completely lost my shiznat before I clipped the next bolt. It was easy, I knew I could do it no problem, but I just kept thinking "what if my hold chips off, or what if my foot slips. I'm so dead. ' I was actually almost paralyzed with fear. This whole fear thing...it's becoming such a huge problem in my life right now. I don't know where it came from, but I wasn't always this way. Anyway...I'm just venting. But anyone have any ideas about how I can overcome my fears. Where do I begin??? And I'm like at the very bottom here.... So let's start small eh!
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Unread 06-01-2006, 10:36 PM
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Shagymb Shagymb is offline
Belay Caddy/Slave
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Pyeongtaek
Posts: 224
Have you climbed at an outdoor wall lately? You have less to worry about as far as the rock and bolts go so maybe you might want to try the falling drill on an outdoor wall. Just a thought.


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