The Bottom Line

“If you eat less, you spend less.”

With all my jabbering, this summer about the west and everything that is wrong with it… (There is a lot of good too, but I’m trying to make a point.)  The reality across cultures and across time is that being financially affluent usually leads to big guts. (Henry the 8th) So the trick is to not allow your prosperity to punch you in the gut. (intentional)

Examples:  My wife and I have moved to Boston. It is an expensive city, but not our food. We buy vegetables, fruits, some eggs and Salsa and do so every couple of days. We eat it all up and we don’t throw anything out. I will add we are a 10-minute walk from the grocery store, so we have been less concerned with having to shop for an entire week. We are not buying any junk food there. We are working hard at keeping the lessons learned in Africa and are being more Stoic in our lifestyle.  The caveat being we are not in Africa. Within a 10-minute walk (or train ride) we have a craft brewery, rum distillery, Chinese, Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Ethiopian and Brazilian food. There’s more; like 5 Irish Pubs and all their grub, and I’ve lost count with the pizza shops (Italian).  The point is that we are surrounded by opportunity and temptation. We had to create rules. I will admit it helps I’m working every day of the week. But here are the rules. Veggie trays, fruit, eggs during the week.  We get two date nights on the weekends and on one of those nights it is usually Asian, or Latin cuisine.  They just happen to be inexpensive spots here in Dorchester. The other night tends to be a couple slices of pizza from the joint a block away.  We are both practicing intermittent fasting and I am enjoying my coffee. This all has kept our grocery bill modest and our overall expenses on food minimal. The result. We are leaning up again. Yesterday I went to a fast food joint called Qdoba. It’s Mexican. It’s fast. Their Burritos are amazing. They are also 1400 calories. I bought one. I ate half in the restaurant for my lunch/brunch/first meal of the day. I took the other half with me into work. I ate the second half on my dinner break. The burrito was $9.00. Each meal only cost me $4.50. I don’t recommend Qdoba Burritos every day, even if you remove the wrap and just do the burrito bowl like I did, but if that is what you ate, and you only ate one whole Burrito a day, every day, your monthly food budget would be under $300.00 dollars. Obviously shopping at the grocery store would be even cheaper.

Now that I am working as a Personal Trainer at a commercial gym.  I am meeting with clients and going through the their “Needs Assessment” establishing how I can help them best and sell my services to them. It’s Boston, so I’m not cheap. But it is also Boston so a lot of these members are spending a lot on food.

I think you can imagine what I am telling my potential clients. If they took an honest hard look at how much they wasted on non-nutritious junk food and eating out at relatively expensive places (along with alcoholic beverages etc.) I think they would be easily able to take that money and instead of spending it on food that went directly to their waistlines, instead take that surplus and follow the advice from “The Richest Man in Babylon” or put it towards a holiday, or buy books or do courses online.  Or maybe spend that money having a qualified and competent Coach crush their soul.  By not buying the extra and unnecessary food. Weight loss will almost be a certainty. Spending the surplus on personal growth and development is just a wonderful bonus.

If you are looking to lose weight; here is the homework. Look at how much you are eating. This time let’s not look at the calories, but the actual money spent (yes, I see the monetary loophole but work with me.) and look to reduce what you are buying and how much you are spending as well as what you could purchase differently that would be far more nutritious and still far less expensive. Then look at your left-over cash and see where that could go instead. That surplus could be used to either pay off credit cards, or get put into savings, or into your Retirement plan. Or you will be able to hire a trainer/coach like myself.


I Was On Sabbatical

Okay I’m a huge Star Wars fan and there was a lot of buzz with the new trailer for The Last Jedi coming out and I came across some fun videos that brought up some interesting questions regarding Luke, The Force, and the light saber dueling.  As great as the theories were that came out that tried explaining these fun facets of the Star Wars universe.  I thought they missed a couple points that would make their cases even stronger in explaining these nagging questions. Being in Guinea, I also had the time…

So, what were the two key issues that I came across that compelled me to write about it myself? The first was the dueling aspect of the films and canon. How would you really fight with an energy sword? Would it be really fast like flailing a flash light about etc.? Or would be like a samurai/medieval knight having to really power through with that two-handed broadsword? The second concern was how did Luke get so good, so quickly, in what seems to be a very limited amount of time training as compared to the villain he fights, the evil Darth Vader, who trained for years from being a young child all the way to his older adult age as well as also being in several conflicts and saber duels along the way?

Let’s address the first one. Why are they not saber dueling in a way that looks more like western fencing, whipping there lightsabers around like flashlights? Why did JJ Abrams change it up from what we saw in the prequels? Here are my thoughts. First, the obvious is that they used sticks to allow them to fence on camera, so their props would never move like a flash light. But we can get into the nuances of sword balance, as Mr. Easton explains in a second. Because the second obvious point I want to address is that real Olympic fencing is not conducive at all to good cinematography or good story telling. Sport fencing might be more realistic than most cinema sword fights, but not that realistic and definitely not fun for movie goers. But here is what these fun videos and explanations could have added. They assumed that because it is an energy beam, all it would take is a simple quick touch to your opponent and that would be it! Dead! Or at least missing a limb. That might be cool, but I think they forget that just because it is this sci-fi energy sword full of laser/hot plasma/electrons whatever, it won’t cut through every object it encounters as if the object is air.  My case in point is that knifes can be very sharp. Samurai swords are very sharp. But just because someone “touches” me with the sharp side does not mean I’m a goner. It my break the skin, but you’re really going to have to put your back into it if you want to slice me in half!  This is where the new line of films gets it more correct. You want to cut that tree down? Slice that storm trooper in half? You’re going to have swing that ancient Jedi weapon like you mean it!

Now we can get into a little science that would actually stack up if we had batteries that could somehow magically produce that kind of seemingly unlimited and huge amount of energy. Einstein, believe it or not, proves that if we did in fact have these kinds of energy sabers, they would in fact behave more like a real samurai or broad swords and not like simple flash lights. This comes back to the point about the balance of the weapon. With real swords, the weapons center of gravity can be placed close to the grip, or near the end of the blade depending on how it’s made. An axe for example has its center of gravity at the top were the axe is and not at the grip. Makes great for swinging and allows the weight to do most of the work when chopping. There are swords with huge blades which are designed to mimic this. So, with this type of weapon you are going to swing it, swing it hard and let the heaviness of the blade deliver a maximum amount of force. On the opposite extreme, there is a European short sword or modern day foil in Olympic fencing. The balance of the weapon is close to the hilt and grip. This means your swing will be less effective, but your thrusting dexterity will be impeccable. You are literally taught to foil fence with your thumb and index finger. Therefore, a foil contest moves fast, but it is hard to stab with power and you will still really have to lunge and put your back into it to actually penetrate and “kill” said opponent.  Alright weapon balance explained so what does this have to do with Einstein, well his equation of E=mc2 is much more than just a way of calculating the power that can be unleashed from a nuclear explosion.  You see he originally wrote it as M= E/C2, minor detail, but what he’s getting at is the energy unleashed still carries mass.

Here is the thought experiment. If you took a kilo of radioactive, and thus decaying uranium and left it out in the open for a few days given enough time there would be less mass. It would, instead of being a kilogram, for easy math be 900g. The missing hundred grams will have been the energy evaporating away into space. Okay but if you put that same kilo into a lead box, therefore the emitting energy could not just escape into the universe, and then did let the kilo of uranium do its thing and check on it again in a week or a month from now, it would weigh the same. That’s right! The actual chunk of uranium rock would be a little smaller, but the weight on the scale would be the same because the “missing mass” of rock would still be there as energy. (Particles and wave functions. Etc.)  How does this relate to the lightsaber? Well it is not a flash light, it is a closed system of intense energy. That energy has mass. If their light sabers had a power source that could generate that kind of power, (it is science fiction, so they do,) then that powerful energy blade has the equivalent mass inside, so it would be a little heavy. Possibly the weight of a real Katana or broadsword.

Another fun line of reasoning we can follow to help explain and enjoy JJ’s style of dueling in the new movies and why there was/is so much “force” behind each strike is… Well, they are using energy blades. This means there is no “flat” to the blade or back side. No matter what, a lightsaber has a 360-degree cutting surface. Which means you can be cut by your own sabre if you fail to put up enough resistance when blocking. With a Katana if your opponent over powers you and your own blade comes back on you, it will hurt! But it’s not going to break the skin, cut you, or kill you. The same can’t be said for the lightsaber, which will.  Ergo there is a legitimate argument to simply whack at your Sith enemy as hard as you can, so much so that if he/she fails to put up the correct resistance in the block/parry, their own saber will be their demise.

So, a quick review to justify a saber duel mimicking or looking exactly like a katana or broadsword fight… 1.  Einstein’s equations give credence to there being the feeling of weight to the blade when swung/thrusted.  2. Even without that tad-bit of science. No matter how powerful the energy blade, cutting through anything would require far more effort than simply passing it through air. So, the thicker and harder/denser the object, the more force you’d require to cut through it.  And lastly 3. Hit them hard enough and you could hurt them with their own blade being pushed back on them.

Next, what was the missing argument as it pertains to Luke’s training in the build up to dueling Vader the first time and then going into his second duel. Okay the arguments I liked from the video was that there are real passages of time between each of the original 3 films. So, Luke gets some time with Ben’s force ghost to train after a New Hope ends and before Empire begins. He gets 3 years. That’s a lot of time being fully dedicated to such a craft. Okay after the snow planet incident and almost dying at the Intro. Obi wan tells him to go to the Dagaba system to train with Yoda. So, he goes and trains with the Master of Masters.  The movie doesn’t say how much time passes, but the video I watched estimated a month. Okay so a month of full time immersion with The Master to really hone, sharpen and perfect certain skills might be enough time.  My example is using the Clarinet.  My Mentor was a professional Clarinetist for 20 plus years. He’s good! So good that professional clarinet players come to him for lessons. Not full time, come once a week, every week lessons mind you. They come to play an audition piece. They pay him to be a consultant/coach in that moment. While playing that particular piece, they might be having a hard time with a particular passage, or hitting particular notes. He solves that problem for them. Helps them perform that piece better. Then they are off. Only returning to him when they need his expertise in solving an issue they can’t solve themselves.

This is how Yoda fits into Luke’s training. Old Ben could only teach so much and do so much as a “force ghost” But Luke needed the basics and some experience before he would be ready for Yoda to polish him and tweak his training and skills.  Sniper school might be another good analogy. You’re already a good soldier before you get Sniper Training. You’re also a good shot before Sniper School. So good at being both a soldier and shooter that you honestly probably don’t need Sniper school and yet those 6-12 weeks of Sniper school can teach you more than you could ever hope to learn on your own in a lifetime. That’s Yoda.

But the real point I want to add to what I thought was already a pretty good video is this. There is a difference between learning a fancy “Martial Art” in a Dojo and learning real combat skills. There is a difference between spending 20 years studying Aikido techniques versus learning WW2 Combatives. Or how Samurai were trained in the first place. Samurai didn’t have “Belt Systems” They would learn what they needed to survive and thrive on the battlefield. They would learn those skills as quickly as humanly possible! Belts come after wars. Belt systems (white, blue, green etc.) evolve as a way to rope in a civilian population to keep them coming back every week to learn more. Learning mostly very cool and fun techniques that in real combat, don’t stand a chance at being remotely useful.

My examples come from first, MMA and Street fighting and Urban or WW2 Combatives.  You don’t see Aikido Masters, despite all there very cool abilities and techniques winning. There are basic techniques that really work and a basic formula to winning an MMA fight. You just don’t need that many years in a Dojo to get good at kicking ass in the Octagon. This is even truer of a street fight or urban combat situation. Hence the success of WW2 Combatives. You only need to know how to palm strike someone’s  chin really hard, stick a thumb in their eyes and kick/knee them in the growing and you’re going to win. You just better do it to them before they do it to you.  As I’ve have heard a Shaolin Monk once say, “Kung Fu is a superior system (He had to say that, but he might be right.) But boxing will teach you how to fight much faster!”

Another Modern example is Krav Maga with the Israeli Defense Force. Every recruit spends two years in the Israeli Armed Forces. They learn how to live, they learn how to kill. There is no “Belt” System. In fact, they pretty much stay true to the Krav Maga founder’s original teachings.  The belt system and “fluff” comes later. The belt system is designed for civilians and to put them through a curriculum that ultimately leads to one day becoming certified to teach it themselves. Also, to keep them coming in the door every week as you build a belt system, you are going to ultimately fall into the trap of adding stuff just for the sake of a lesson. Even if it has no real combat application.

We can ultimately summarize this with Miyamato Musashi’s famous quote, “Teaching people a large number of sword techniques is turning the way into a business of selling goods, making beginners believe that there is something profound in their training by impressing them with a variety of techniques. This attitude toward strategy must be avoided, because thinking that there is a variety of ways of cutting a man down is evidence of a disturbed mind. In the world, different ways of cutting a man down do not exist.”

Or as Bruce Lee we would later say, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Ultimately Luke’s training was this. To the point. I will argue that the Jedi, as an order were much like modern day martial arts dojos. A long training curve learning a lot of unessential material. This is the training Anakin had. A curriculum a mild wide, bunch an inch thick, while Luke’s was an inch wide and a mile thick. Which is ultimately why he could get so good and so powerful in the story’s allotted time frame.





My Thoughts On Becoming/Being Batman

”What is the point of all those push-ups if you can’t even lift a bloody log?”

– Alfred Pennyworth, Batman Begins

I had some spare time and fell into the trap of watching a handful of YouTube videos on what it would take to become Batman. There are the back stories and information referenced in the various comic book incarnations, which serve as the primary sources for these videos, along with Paul Zehr’s book, Becoming Batman. The book basically breaks down what gets referenced in the comics and points out just how long it would take someone to get to that level of proficiency and conditioning, followed by how short the career would be.

To summarize Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming Batman: he inherits, due to the murder of his parents at a young age, a remarkable family fortune. Due to a corrupt city and such an injustice and tragedy, he is so driven by hate and revenge and the overriding desire to prevent such a thing ever happening again to someone else, that he transforms himself into the ultimate crimefighter. In doing so, he studied virtually every Martial Art known to exist. At age 14, he goes to Europe, where he studies at every major university in every applicable course he can, running the gamut from chemistry to electrical engineering and a whole host of subjects in between. He never sleeps, which is partly why he can do so much. He has an unworldly high IQ, world-class genetics, and a training regimen every day that makes gymnasts and top competitive bodybuilders seem lazy, all the while solving the case and beating up the Joker and his hired goons.

Even though he is not a “superhero” in the sense of having “super powers” like Spiderman or the Flash, what they did was create a character with the superhuman ability to train, study, and learn. He may not be a superhero, but he is in the 1% of human potential and capability in all aspects of abilities. Not that it would be impossible for such a human superhero vigilante to exist, but it is somewhat implausible… (yes, I realize I am saying this where in such a comic universe there are aliens in blue suits flying around, shooting laser beams out of their eyes). But what if we flipped it on its head for a second, and rather than see Batman/Bruce Wayne as this remarkable genetic phenomenon with an amazingly unrealistic training and study regimen, we used an “80/20” approach, and examined his lifestyle from a Tim Ferriss perspective? What would Batman’s existence look like then?

As a kid having such a tragedy happen to him, I think we can agree that – superhuman or not – his parents’ death creates the motivation to cultivate the discipline required to be such a crimefighter. Bill Gates has been quoted as saying, “We over-estimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can accomplish in ten.”  If we also add (although misleading at times depending on the activity) Malcolm Gladwell’s use of the 10,000 hours to mastery, along with the 10-year rule for accomplishing high proficiency in sports, his initial training and beginning is not so out of the realm of possibility. Learning how to learn would be his initial advantage. Teaching himself to speed-read would be massively advantageous. Using memory techniques such as the “Memory Palace” for remembering concepts and the Peg system for remembering large chunks of numbers would help immensely. Although the comics have him going to Europe to study anything and everything at all the major and famous institutions, with his inherited fortune (and thus, sufficient passive income), I would argue that his education would have been far less formal and far more personal and home-schooled, hiring tutors and experts in the various fields that would serve him most. Alfred would ensure he got enough of a well-rounded liberal arts/classical education possibly modeled on St. John’s University’s (Annapolis and Santé Fey Campuses) Curriculum, which tackles a lot of the great works from Plato’s Republic to Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica – but also in the subjects most conducive to aiding him in crimefighting, mainly criminology and forensics. It is here that I want to remind all the Batman fans that the comics started out with him as more detective and far less “superhero.”

But you can accomplish a lot in 10 years. He could have trained for several years in gymnastics, especially if receiving private instruction. He would not have cared about competitive scores out of 10 performances where his moves had to be “perfect,” but how to do it well enough to strengthen his body and to perform without getting hurt. This is totally doable. He also could have skipped it entirely and gone straight into parkour, but the gymnastics has been proven to be the best at being transferable across other sports. Plus, it would be easy to have a set of rings, bar, and tumbling mat placed in the Bat Cave to do the basic exercises on a semi-regular basis.

As it pertains to his education from, say, age 14-24, much of the comic books are not so far-fetched; we’ve just dialed in the focus and created a more accurate and systematic approach. Bruce Wayne would likely still have a high enough IQ in the 120s or 130s. He isn’t an outright outlier with an Oppenheimer IQ, but it would be high enough that he would be (if he so chose) a successful doctor, lawyer, or engineer. He would have an initial aptitude for solving difficult puzzles and cases, but would also spend a lot of time immersed in that kind of critical thinking and work.

Going back to his physical training: gymnastics, for sure. Strength-training and Martial Arts? This is where we get into the reason why I wanted to add my two cents and write this. The comic books have him studying every Martial Art and lifting all kinds of weights at incredible volumes and with, honestly, ridiculous amounts of weight. For being “normal,” the comics still have him as super strong. I think we could create a very realistic “non-superhuman” approach to his training that would still garner remarkable results and, once being Batman “fulltime” as an adult, still allow him to get in the training he would need, but at realistic volumes and within a realistic time frame.

My ideas would be that when it came to fighting hand-to-hand, he would likely have had a Bruce Lee mindset. During this hypothetical 10 years, I can imagine him having opportunities to take classes, such as boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Aikido, but he would then only incorporate what we found useful while discarding the rest. I imagine he would not care about belts and belt systems, so in his private lessons, he would be far less concerned with Katas and rituals of each respective Martial Art and, rather, only be interested in the most effective, applicable, and easy-to-learn techniques. He would not be concerned about style points, so I would infer his fighting would be modeled far more on Fairbairn and Sykes World War 2 combatives, or Krav Maga for surviving close-quarter fighting with the thugs. Once he was Batman full-time, he wouldn’t have to spend very much time, if any, having to constantly practice the fine motor skills and wide ranging, varied, and often not-so-effective techniques that do exist in most Martial Arts. Because he is not training for sport, he would only need a simple and straightforward toolbox of gross motor movements that have been tried and proven to get the job done.

Strength training would follow this same vein of logic; although he might initially start out making the same mistake that many of us make (training like a professional bodybuilder), I think he would ultimately settle on HIIT principles, adopting a Barry Ross, or Charlie Francis, approach to heavy strength training and, for improving endurance, using a HIIT approach as researched and prescribed by Dr. Gibala with the occasional strength and metabolic conditioning routine Arthur Jones – and more recently, Dorian Yates and Dr. McGuff – would design. These protocols/approaches are remarkably effective while not requiring huge amounts of time, in conjunction with minimum time on the rings or bar and mat to keep up the specific strength gymnastic movements require.

His job as Batman would take care of the rest. As pointed out by Dr. McGuff and John Little, “competition is training.” So, we can also allow for the reality that some nights, he will be getting into fights and having to use his parkour skills to get himself in and out of trouble. He would be spending many days not needing to train, but recover from the action of the previous night.

Throw in some meditation and an understanding of alpha and theta brainwaves, or “in-the-zone” states of consciousness and breathing exercises like those taught by Wim Hoff, and I think you could take a lot of what is described in the comics and create a weekly system that could still garner most, if not all, the results he would be seeking to attain and maintain without the ridiculous amounts of volume and time in training. I also think that this could all be done without going without sleep or adopting the “Uberman’s” sleeping protocol.  He could do that, but I think simply being a night owl would still all work out just fine.

I am also going to go out on a limb on this and add that I don’t think Batman would be “out on patrol” saving Damsels in Distress (as fun as that is in the comics and movies). He would only be out in the city when he needed to break into the crime scene to do his own forensics, or be on a stakeout of his own, and/or breaking into suspects’ locations for his own reconnaissance. He could take some computer courses and learn the art of hacking to get into the Gotham City Police Department mainframe, or into any other computer system he believed necessary.

To recap what his daily and weekly schedule might look like: 2-3 times a week, for only about 20 minutes, he would spend time doing a Barry Ross protocol of two heavy sets of deadlifts for strength and neuromuscular development/maintenance. (He could be a 500-lbs deadlifter, which would mean he is more than strong enough to fight bad guys.) He would probably jump on the rings or high bar for 20 minutes or so every couple of days for maintaining his gymnastic abilities, helping keep him agile and flexible.

Every now and then, as Bruce Wayne, he might do a Martial Arts seminar, but likely would just need to use a heavy bag and punch and kick the snot out of it using Dr. Gibala’s protocols to knock out a 10-minute HIIT session. He also wouldn’t need to do that the days he used the rings or practiced other gymnastic movements, so he could be active and do something every day, but it would never leave him overtrained and/or overly sore. He could keep it to less than an hour, if not only 30 minutes a day, to build (and keep) his physical skills and conditioning up to snuff, while every couple of weeks throwing in a solid Arthur Jones/Dr. McGuff routine for good measure.

He would likely have a meditation and breathing practice, which he could do every day. He might even use a sauna to aid in recovery.

Then, it would be an hour or two to oversee his affairs with Wayne Enterprises. This is where his speed-reading would really pay off. Then, it would be getting to work on the latest case, because that is when he’d get the Bat Signal from Commissioner Gordon, who would apprise him of the latest unsolved case with all the clues and evidence they had gathered so far. At this point, he would get to work like any other detective, but with the deductive reasoning powers of a Sherlock Holmes as he worked on the case. He may spend some nights on stakeouts as he closed in on the next Gotham City villain. Then, just as he blew the case wide open, he would get captured, and we would have to “tune in next time! Same Bat time! Same Bat Channel!” He would then escape in time to catch the villain and goons, getting into and epic close-quarter combat situation using his gymnastic/parkour and hand-to-hand fighting skills to subdue said villain and goons. After all the fighting was over and the criminals arrested, he’d return to the Bat Cave for an ice bath and sauna, and go to bed. The next morning, he’d begin his day/week again with his morning rituals of meditation before hitting the weights for a couple sets, and because of the big fight the night before, he would take a couple more days off before hitting the rings or heavy bag again.

Having a passive income would allow him to, at any time he wanted or needed to, always be able to consult experts, whether that be in the realm of survival skills and combatives or seeking out former SWAT or Special Ops instructors. He’d be in the world of neuroscience and psychology, seeking out those doctors and professors to help him understand a villain’s pathology, setting time aside to study computer science or apprentice as a mechanic. He would be/is the walking embodiment of self-improvement; seeking out that which is useful to him and discarding the fluff and unnecessary. He would have developed a whole array of skills and skillsets because (1) he would not be wasting hours of his time strength-training or practicing Martial Arts, and (2) he would not waste his time watching some MTV program.  Batman would be more like a “Navy Seal meets Sherlock Holmes meets MacGyver,” spending a little time each day honing these skills, little by little.

The Struggle Is Real

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
T. S. Eliot

Coming back to the U.S. this time has been less of a culture shock, but allowed for renewed perspective, which has always been a pretty cool consequence of living abroad. It’s the commercials! My last post I talked about the ads while visiting friends in Djibouti and seeing ads for weight loss while you are in a place like Djibouti, but it’s full-on here: infomercials for the next exercise system and DVD set courtesy of Beach Body; Chuck Norris and the Total Gym he endorses; more Nutrisystem, and other products.  Between the infomercials, and regular commercials, one might have to ask… How do we have an obesity problem with so many options and opportunities to crush our souls and be in world-class shape?

Well, there are other kinds of commercials. Mostly food. I didn’t google what the percentage of ad time is devoted to food, but anecdotally, it’s a lot. All the major franchises from, of course, McDonald’s to Dunkin’ Donuts, to Subway, Chipotle, TGI Friday’s… you get the idea. They are everywhere! Images of food on all kinds of billboards and all the small shops with their posters. You walk into a Starbucks to see all their delicious looking pastries right there in the glass case. Eating at a family diner, which we have, the portions are ginormous! I’ve talked about how it was easier where we were living in Guinea (West Africa) because we couldn’t eat the street food, so we only shopped once a week. We had a great deal of control over what we bought with very limited outside influence. I would buy a can of Pringles for the weekend, but when they were gone, they were gone. I was not in a position to just run down to the corner store after seeing that commercial advertising them.

In three weeks of being home, I have eaten more here than I have in the last 6 months there! The struggle is real, and I am sympathetic to the reality of how difficult it is to resist the “bad” foods amidst the constant media bombardment.

But there might be a solution; a way of circumventing our brain so that it is far less influenced by all the Subway and Burger King ads. What all this bombardment creates is a ton of temptation. The trouble, then, is the reality that it takes a lot of willpower to resist those temptations, and willpower is finite; you only have so much in a day. Each day you have X amount, and as you tire and fatigue, it runs out. So, the second link is a video that discusses techniques to help manage your willpower and how to, over time and with small steps, increase and strengthen your willpower – not necessarily by facing temptations and forcing yourself to resist like we would train our muscles – but, in fact, how to build habits and create environments for automatic behavior so that you don’t have to fire that frontal cortex so much. This is important, because the first link with Professor Robert Sapolsky talks about that very thing. He cites John Green’s study of allowing study participants to cheat on a test. What they found was those who did cheat, their frontal cortex lit up like a Christmas tree. They were wrestling with the “do I, or don’t I?” The initial hypothesis, then, was that for those who did not cheat, their frontal cortex must have really lit up and simply overpowered the temptation. But that was not what they found. For those who didn’t cheat, there was very little activity. He describes it as a state of grace. It was automatic. For those who didn’t cheat on the test, it was because, “You don’t cheat on tests.” It was that simple. The challenge will be (and it’s not easy) to reach a point where you don’t eat crap, because you just don’t eat crap. You will no longer even consider it, despite all the ads and ease of availability. The second video will offer some techniques to help in that transition of it becoming an automatic behavior.

I will finish with my personal example. I used to smoke. I used to love smoking! It went great with a cup of coffee and it was great when having a beer with the boys.  Oh, and road trips! Fantastic. I was never a pack-a-day smoker. I would rarely touch one during football or track season, but during the summers when I was working in the factory, it was perfect during those 10-minute breaks.

I also had a unique challenge.  Unlike so many who are addicted, yet hate smoking (but do so anyways), I loved it! But I also loved playing rugby and all my other sports, and it is a no-brainer how bad one is for the other. So, on my 26th birthday, I said enough was enough. Casually smoking even as little as I was, is still too much for the lifestyle I wanted and the profession I was in. I had quit in the past every sports season, but as soon as exam week started, or my summer back in the factory began, I would give myself permission to have one, which always led to another. This time around I created a rule for myself. It was a simple rule: I would never inhale again. This would defeat the point of having a cigarette, but would allow me, on very rare and special occasions, to enjoy a proper cigar. Good cigars are expensive, so I knew I wouldn’t be buying them all that often. That has been my rule, and I haven’t given smoking a cigarette a second thought in 10 years. I also, this past spring with a couple mates who worked at the Embassy, kicked back with a glass of fine Merlot and, as the sun was setting over the peninsula and a slight breeze took the edge off from another hot, dry day, we enjoyed our really good cigars as we contemplated and discussed just how different where we were is from where we have been.

The Neuroscience of Lies, Honesty, and Self-Control | Robert Sapolsky

Diet Science: Techniques to Boost Your Willpower and Self-Control | Sylvia Tara

Shake Shake Shake! Shake Shake Shake! Shake Djibouti! Shake Djibouti

“Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.”
— Bruce Lee

Over the last couple of weeks, my fiancée and I enjoyed an actual holiday: our first real holiday/trip/pretend-I’m-Captain-Kirk-and-explore-a-new-world, in 3 years. This meant we did a lot of flying from Conakry, Guinea to Nairobi, Kenya, then to Djibouti, Djibouti, and then to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and then back home. We flew Ethiopian Airlines the whole time, largely because it is affordable, but it is also one of the only safe African operating airlines.

But this isn’t a post about the trip and the safaris where we were blessed to see real lions, elephants, zebras, wildebeests, and other antelopes and gazelles along with a few hippos and rhinos.  This is not a post about survival and the eat-or-be-eaten world of the African plains. This post is about the food I got to eat on the plane. The amount I ate on the plane. Even better; it’s about the food I did not eat while flying, because the portions on an airplane are, by North American standards, small! They would, on any tray they served, only give a couple of ounces worth of food. You get one bun, one 1-ounce desert, and the choice between chicken, fish, or beef, each only being approximately 3 ounces, and in the same dish you have about an ounce of mashed potato or rice complemented with an ounce of cooked veggies. A separate tiny dish would contain about 2 ounces, at a guess, of a small salad.

If this was what was served to us at a 5-star hotel, we would likely flip our lids. But when you are 39,000 feet above sea level, in a cigar tube with wings accompanied by 300 other people, we tend to be less angry and appreciate that we are getting a meal (or two) and that they have the room to do so despite everyone trying to carry everything they own as a carry on.

I am into health, fitness, and nutrition. I read, podcast, YouTube University all the time on and about these subjects. There is a lot of science and studies on how to get the most out of your food sources for nutrients; how to, even when busy, maximize your time to build a strong fit body. At the end of the day, though, it’s just not that complicated!

While in Djibouti, we were staying with friends. One of them works for the American Embassy, which means they get some of those Embassy perks of having access to American television. So, while enjoying a glass of wine and enjoying their company, we had the news on in the background. It wasn’t that Fox News went on and on about Amazon buying Wholefoods and MSNBC going on and on about the healthcare bill (which was odd/ironic) that struck me. It was the commercials. Did you know there is now Jenny Craig for Men?! Or a new miracle procedure to help you lose those last pesky few pounds that you have spent years trying to get rid of, but keep failing? There is also a new cream to target your lower back pain. Everything advertised was not some cool new product that will help me fly to Mars, but to fix something wrong with us, which, honestly, if we just took care of ourselves, wouldn’t be wrong with us. It is hard to watch so many commercials about weight loss when you’re in Djibouti*.

People will object that eating less is easier said than done. They are right. To eat less, until your body becomes used to it, will feel awful! We talked about that in a previous post. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable for a while. But also, remember that we can live several weeks without food. Eating less and less often will NOT kill you. In fact, quite the opposite! At least, when it comes to the First World, eating less will save you.           Food Tray

*Djibouti is a tiny country, originally uninhabited with exception to some nomadic goat herders and considered part of the Axumite Kingdom (Ethiopia) before being deemed a strategic location for a port by the French, who occupied the small gulf beginning in the 1890s. Djibouti is on the Horn of Africa with the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden on its respective coasts, and with Ethiopia on its western border, Eritrea to its north, and Somalia on its southern border .

If You Don’t Use It. You Lose It.

“Mens sana in corpore sano.” – Juvenal  from Satire X


Since living in Guinea (West Africa) I could not help, as a coach and health guy, notice how many Guineans just naturally have bodies that we, in the West, seem to spend a great deal of money on trying to attain. Now there is a whole host of reasons for this. Diet, genetics, more genetics, and diet. But even with such admiration, the adults here fall prey to the same main issue we fall into. Lack of activity leads to a loss in flexibility, balance, and coordination. I made this discovery a couple weekends ago when I had the honour of being MC at the US Embassy’s inaugural “Fun-Olympics.”  A day with some fun physical challenges (Burpies, Chinups, etc.) Which included both American staff as well as Guinean staff. Overall it was a huge success and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. It was a great way to build comradery between both nations who work at the Embassy as there has been some turn over in US staff; as there tends to be every couple of years in the Foreign Service.

So here is what I noticed which is like home. The kids here are generally very athletic, light on their feet and play a lot therefore exhibiting those key fitness components of balance, coordination, flexibility and to some extent power. As adults, we lose this and it happens here as well. During some of the events we had more than our share with the adults experiencing scrapes and bruises, falling, tripping, and face planting into the pavement with a couple hamstring pulls in the final race event. The solution is obvious in avoiding this from occurring and, the good news is, if you have lost it, you can get it back. Don’t stop being a kid!  Really!  We should be sprinting intermittently while on our walks. Even if others think were nuts. Horse playing in our homes or in the yards with or without the kids. Sports help in this, but it is not necessary. Dancing is great for this too. The point here is as adults we do have to grow up (I suppose,) and keep growing, learning and developing both intellectually and emotionally striving for wisdom. But when it comes to play… Don’t grow up. Keep playing! That is what will help keep your body young and in good condition allowing grace and functionality as we climb in years.

Along this train of thought, I was listening to a podcast featuring Arthur De Vany. He has a PhD in Economics, but is most famous for his “Evolutionary Fitness” approach to diet and exercise resulting in being one of the “Grandfathers” of the Paleo movement. His Power Law Training, which emphasizes HIIT and specifically targeting our fast twitch fibers is also moderate regarding diet focusing on a plant based diet. (Links to both the podcast and a short PDF will be below.)  I gleamed a lot of wisdom from both and learned what he still does now as an 80-year-old that keeps him looking in good shape. He still plays Ultimate Frisbee during the week. It will be worth the time to listen to and read both. 

He also happens to provide a great example of the “Greek Ideal.”  I have been watching a lot of videos from the “SchoolofLife” YouTube channel created by Alain De Botton.  He has a wealth of material worth listening to, one of them being, “History of Ideas – Ancient Greece.” The ten-minute video discusses 5 key ideas the ancient Greeks were known for, one of them being, the “Greek Ideal” which extended beyond the mere proportions for body building and beauty, but also responsible for the mantra/belief that “A healthy mind could only reside in a healthy body.”

Milo of Croton was a famous wrestler of the 6th century BC, but he was also an associate to the great Mathematician Pythagoras. In our times, there has been a real division of these ideas. Computer programmers generally being guilty of such poor posture they can barely keep their heads up. Athletes being dubbed “Jocks” who take “Basket Weaving” in College to keep their GPA’s high enough to be allowed to play. Even our public schools, despite an overwhelming amount of research proving its value, cut P.E. and after school sporting activities in the misguided belief both the time and money would be better spent raising math scores through more class time, etc.

Although we are very aware of the mantra and throughout history great thinkers and philosophers point to the importance of having a healthy mind in a healthy body. We are currently failing, on-the-whole, to put this into practice. So, to conclude I’ll simply say, don’t grow up.

History of Ideas – Ancient Greece

Hating Exercise

“Whenever I feel like exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes.”
– Robert M. Hutchins

The article below discusses depression, modern civilization as a root cause, and how we can look to our ancestors and modern day hunter gatherers for the cure.  In fact, I’d really like you to read it first to help set the context for what I want to talk about.

Okay so as you could tell.  Exercise is one of the best medicines. (Along with getting greater quantities of Omega-3’s, sunlight, healthy sleep, anti-ruminative activity and social connection. But as you also will have read exercise is not natural. We don’t like it!  Exercise for its own sake just does not seem be enough. (I liked his Hamster wheel example) All the intense and moderate activity Hunter Gatherers get is a by-product of living. Doing their “chores” so to speak, as they hunt and gather their food and water and other materials required for living. We can also add in that these cultures do dance a lot too (something that wasn’t discussed in the article or video.)

What can we do about it. How can we incorporate the physical activity into our lives in a way that gets us off the couch and moving while tricking our brains, since it can smell a treadmill a mile away?

I don’t have the answers but I do have some ideas. Ultimatley it will fall on us as individuals to figure out how we can trick our bodies into moving and therefore start gaining more of the benefits that exercise provides. Which are numerous.

First idea that comes to mind is what one of my former grade school teachers calls “Yard Play.” When he is out working in his yard, He’d create games for himself. How fast could he do something, how many times could he lift something.  Making it something of a “Strongman” competition with himself doing the various activities that needed to be done in his yard.

Another idea that comes to mind right away is joining  a sports team, martial art, a competitive individual sport or take dance lessons. With this the skies the limit.  But as I’ve mention in a previous post, for most of us, simply wanting to change our body image (as in get a six pack) tends to fail us as being a strong enough motivator. Where if you get into one of the above activities. Firstly, just doing the activity will lead to huge benefits, but depending on how competitive you are, you may find yourself willing to hit the gym to do a little extra strength training to build your body up to withstand and then thrive in that competitive environment.

The last one I have for this post is to build a reward system for yourself for after you exercise. And this could be anything, from fast food to the movies to anything in between.

Here is what I have done in the past and what I am doing now.  Before when I was either a highschool, then college athlete before  really getting into rugby, that took care of most of my conditioning needs. I happen to be a little competitive and had dreams of professional rugby, so I did a lot of extra training. (Initially too much as I’ve highlighted in previous posts.) I liked beer, but that can be very counter-productive if you aspire for the professional ranks, so that was generally limited to after games and some practices. In other words, I only drank when I felt I earned it.  If I had a social event in the off season and was going out with friends during the week? Well I’d hit the gym beforehand or workout with my kids. (Being a gym teacher lent itself quite nicely to being a “Hunter/Gatherer”)

Okay that worked for me back then, but right now I live in Guinea, don’t play rugby, and am not gym teaching.  Here’s what I’m doing.  Friday is my hard Dr. McGuff/Arthur Jones training day. My reward… We get Pizza afterwards! Then we grocery shop. Pizza is my reward and we only eat it after hard training. We now virtually never shop hungry which keeps us from buying too much crap. Hence the one can of Pringles and not five.  So that took care of one day, what about the rest of the week. Well I must do chores here.  We don’t have a washing machine. I do all the laundry by hand. We don’t have a vacuum cleaner. I must sweep and wash the floors by hand. It’s Africa, the city is dirty (Thanks Harmattan!) I have clean often. And lastly, and possibly because of  lifelong training habits as an athlete, I will do an additional 1 or 2 HIT calisthenics routines. But now I add it is part of my job description. I train and post a photo or two on to the app platform I’m now working for. (

What I won’t tell you is that I also pretend to be a Samurai/Jedi Master and pretend to do Sword (Saber) fighting techniques in the spare room when my fiancé is not home.

So, in conclusion, if you hate exercise, you’re not alone. Most of us do. The trick then is to trick your brain and body into working at something you enjoy, or don’t enjoy, but know there is a wonderful reward at the end of all that physical exertion.

Junk Food Paradox (Or is it Irony)

“Animals’ taste systems are specialized for the niche they occupy in the environment. That includes us. As hunters and foragers of the dry savannah, our earliest forebears evolved a taste for important but scarce nutrients: salt and high-energy fats and sugars. That, in a nutshell, explains the widespread popularity of junk food.” – Mary Roach

Would you spend money on a can of Pringles if it amounted to what you earned in a day?

Probably not. Junk food isn’t cheap here. In fact, only the wealthier can afford it. I can afford it so I buy a can once a week. (Part of my cheat day.) But the observation here is that the driver the University hired to drive my fiancé and I around the city is only paid a 1,000,000 Guinean Francs a Month. With the current exchange rate that works out to approximately $111.00 US. Being paid monthly that works out to $3.70 US a day.  (This is about, or slightly above what the average Guinean makes in a year.) My can of Pringles – $4.00 US.  I get vegetables and now fruit delivered to my house each week via a friend of mine who has a couple businesses over here. He charges me approximately $22.00 US for the 2 baskets and that lasts my fiancé and I the entire week.  I spend a couple extra bucks for some extra onion and potato and a about $3.00 for a tray of 30 eggs and we pretty much have our food for the week. But our total grocery bill will climb closer to the $80.00 to $90.00 range because we will buy some other items. A couple cans of beans, maybe some spice, dried cranberries, some cheap, but delicious, Rum imported from India ($5.00) and of course some junk food. The junk food is the most expensive portion of our shopping bill.  That is not the case back home is it.

The poor here are generally lean because they can’t afford the crap. Our poor in North America are experiencing an epidemic because they can’t justify spending their limited income on vegetables and fruits. Never mind organic!

I’ve been here nearly 8 months and lost 20 lbs. of fat. Largely because the junk food is more expensive and because of where we are living we just can’t run to the corner store to buy a bag of chips and a coke. The nearest market doesn’t sell that stuff. The guy I buy my bottled water from across the street doesn’t sell it. After my can of Pringles is gone while watching some French Rugby. It’s gone! That’s it for the week.  Along with lifting heavy once a week and incorporating a session or two a week of some high intensity body weight training (Lots of burpees) I have lost that 20 lbs. and Have a current resting heart rate of 50 beats per minute. (Yes I’m bragging.) The heart rate could be lower, but I do like my pan roasted Guinean coffee.

Now I’ve addressed the problem, but I do not have a solution.  Because will power is also not something you can count on! A couple weeks ago we house sat for some embassy friends. Because they are in what us outsiders term “The Embassy Bubble,” they have access to all things American. Foods, Amazon books etc.  So they just happened to have snack food around. Healthier than my Pringles, but they had some cheese and crackers and peanut butter and more crackers and a couple cans of canned Jalapenos and some more crackers.  Over the few days, my fiancé and I house sat… We binge watched Trueblood and ate almost all of it!  So much for will power…  It was there, so we ate it.  (Then we replaced most of it because we felt bad.)  What is in your control is to not have it in your house. If it is in your house you will eat it. My Pringles last me one day, and I as mentioned before, then that is it until the next big grocery run.  But how do we control it in society when so much of it is subsidized by the US Tax payer and made so frickin’ Cheap?  My suggestion is limit your purchase to only a one. (Two at the most.) And resist the temptation to walk or drive down to the corner store when it’s gone. This of course is much easier said than done I know.

What I do know is that we will be returning to North America this summer. The question and real test will be, can I keep these “rules” when I’m home and surrounded by the abundance of cheap, all the flavours you can imagine, Pringles? We will have to see.

How 5 Seconds Equals One Minute

“Being open minded; it doesn’t mean believing everything because you would like it to be true. Being truly open minded is about being prepared to change your beliefs based on the evidence, or the lack of evidence. Otherwise, you can be so open minded that your brain falls out.” – Darren Brown (Infamous, 2014)

In my last post I talked about fitness and health and making it a part of our identity. But that is easier said than done. Habits are hard to break, change, replace, etc. It just so happens that 2 days ago I came across Mel Robbin’s 5 Second Rule (link to a YouTube video below). After watching her in the video below and a podcast she did with Lewis Howes, I bought the book (Kindle version, ’cause I’m still in Africa) and I’m liking it. I am even starting to use it. It’s been a productive couple of days, even when the power is out. So I recommend checking it out and seeing if it works for you in helping make some key changes in your life. In case you’re wondering: yes, as soon as you get the impulse or thought to do something productive, count backwards from 5 to 1 and “blast off,” as she would say. It really is so simple, you will be wondering why you have never thought of it yourself.

This leads to the second book I’ve read: Dr. Martin Gabala’s “One Minute Workout.” Spoiler alert! Your workout will take longer than a minute, but this book is all of his research on High Intensity Interval Training nicely compiled into an easy-to-read-and-follow document.

If time is your biggest excuse for copping out of exercising, he nips that one in the bud with his research. So, I suggest you get a hold of this book, too. If you have been following me for a while, none of what he writes will come to you as a surprise. I’ve been using his research since he first started publishing over 10 years ago, but it’s still a nice book to have on the shelves as a resource.

This is where I piece to the two together and get my totally mathematically-incorrect equation, because time is not the only reason for copping out. Exercise is hard. It’s difficult. When done right, it’s a real stress on the body. Who wants that? But we need it! If we really want to enjoy the benefits it provides, we have to suck it up and do it. That is where Mrs Robbin’s 5 Second Rule comes in. As soon as you think about jumping on the bike and doing a few sprint sessions, 5-4-3-2-1… get on the bike and crush it!

Something else I’ve been thinking about when it comes to Dr. Gabala’s research and time constraints has been clothing. A great deal of time can still be lost when it comes to getting to the gym, changing, getting out there, crushing your soul, then likely changing and showering again and then getting out of there. I’m as big a fan as having and wearing a nice tailored suit as the next guy. But the reality is, unless you’re Daniel Craig on a James Bond set where you have had Tom Ford make 50 of the same suits for you to do that fight scene in, we’re not exactly inclined to really move or work in our office clothes, risk them getting ripped and torn or too dirty, and need to have them replaced. Good suits aren’t cheap. This might just be a little overkill, but wouldn’t it be great to have clothing you could move in, move vigorously in, and still look good for the boardroom or that parent/teacher conference? I know there is clothing and shoewear out there that already exists, I just think I’m going to try some of it out when I get back and see how it feels and how it stands up to doing a ton of burpees, wind-sprints, and lunge jumps and my next job interview.

Billionaires and Perfect Abs

If information were the answer, wed all be billionaires with perfect abs.” – Derek Sivers

I was re-listening to a Tim Ferris podcast which featured the guest, Derek Sivers. He created CDBaby in the 90’s, sold it for a few million, has some Ted talks, and all and all tells a remarkable story of how he started and how he got to where he is now, while sharing some terrific tips and pieces of advice along the way. But this quote during the interview really struck a chord with me.

We almost all know that we should eat healthier (we even know what that actually means and looks like). We should exercise (there are a gazillion different ways and many will actually work). We know we either drink too much alcohol or eat too much chocolate, or can’t stay away from the potato chips. And yet, there we are doing it anyways, or not doing it, and not seeing results or being the person we wish we were or could be.

Ironically, there is also a boatload of information about habit formation. Creating new habits, replacing old ones, why we will often – even when doing well with a new regime – experience what psychologists call an “extinction,” where we seem to have a massive reversion to the old destructive habit.

So, science is figuring out the psychological tricks that can help us defeat that pesky sub-conscious mind that seems to derail us at every turn. Yet why are people still not billionaires with perfect abs?

This is where NLP practitioners (the most famous one being Tony Robbins) will talk about state of mind or being in the right emotional state. This is good, and they’re on the right track with this. There is a huge difference between knowing you should get off the couch and being in a state where you take action, and actually getting off the couch; being a mover and shaker; a doer and not just a bystander. But I think it takes more than just being in a resourceful state, or energetic state. This gets you started, for sure. But how can we avoid the ‘extinction?’ The reversion to the old way? “Falling off the bike,” so to speak?

If you are really serious about exercising, training, getting in shape, eating better…. It has to be part of your identity. You have to literally decide to be that which you want to become. People who hit the gym regularly do so because it is who they are; it has become a part of how they identify themselves. This is actually where ego is useful. Their ego will no longer support the idea of not doing these things. An athlete will identify themselves as that of the sport they do. They don’t row – they’re rowers. He doesn’t play soccer – he’s a footballer. I don’t play rugby. (Well okay, I do…) but – I’m a rugby player. She doesn’t practice kung fu – she’s a martial artist. Having this be their identity has huge implications for how they behave to the point of dictating their behaviors.

You may not play a sport and I don’t want to get into the identity crisis issues that can come from when you retire from some of these sports. But the point here is that while you don’t have to be a martial artist, you can decide to identify yourself as someone who is strong and fit. Someone who could handle themselves in a sticky situation, or be counted on when it comes to helping your friend move that damn piano.

Creating this identity, pretending to be ‘super-human,’ or an action hero (James Bond) will help dictate the type of behaviors which will help you first become, then protect, that identity.

I’ll finish this post with a fun little experiment: I want you, for a minute, to simply think about raising your hand up like we were in school. Just think about it. Imagine it moving up over your head, imagine the shoulder muscle contracting, feel your back stretch as your hand goes higher up. Just think about it…

Now, actually do it.

It feels different. There was less thought and you just moved. It is that same idea with making a lifestyle change. We can think about it all we want, but ultimately… Move.