Part 1 – Gi
(See the introduction HERE)
In Japanese, the first of the 7 codes of the Samurai is “Gi”, which can be translated any number of ways, the most common of which is “rectitude”. However, the word “rectitude” is rather obscure. (When was the last time you used it?)
Other common translations are “morality” and “justice”, but I don’t like those much either, as they give the wrong impression in this very specific case of warriors education and training.
Maybe it’s my own Evangelical/Southern-Baptist/American background, but I find that the translation that rings truest to me is “Righteousness”.
To be sure, that word carries with it its own connotations – some of which aren’t appropriate. So, we’ll need to unpack it a little.
The Samurai Takes Righteous Action
“I did not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword.” – Jesus
There is an air of the hard-core to this word “gi” when applied to a Samurai Code, that seems – at first blush – to be quite out of balance with it’s connection to “morality”.
It IS about morality, but it is more than that. It is something beyond ethics, and having nothing to do with being a “good” person, as we’d normally define it – though, living by this principle WILL aid you in your quest to be one.
“Gi” is a deep sense of doing what is right given the situation at hand – based upon reason and judgment – and doing so with fervor.
“… the power of unwavering decision upon a certain course of conduct”(1)
“Gi” is a super-set of morality. That is, it includes personal moral action, but includes other courses of action as well (like snatching, sword fighting, etc).
The Samurai were steeped in the Taoist conceptions of balance (qua Zen). They beleived in avoiding violence and winning battles before they are fought. But they also believed in killing when killing was the only option.
The key is that when killing was the only option, they would engage in it as though they were striking their opponent down with the right hand of God himself.
Thus, the Christian-esque usage of the word “Righteousness” – particularly the way it is used by the prevailing American Protestant strain of Christianity – fits this conception quite well.
Violence is to be avoided if at all possible, but if it can’t be avoided, do what must be done in the full faith that your actions are blessed. Anything less is failure.(2)
For the Samurai, if there was no other option but to fight, they would commit to this course of action with everything they had: Their will would be unwavering.
Act as though the only option that has ever existed is the one you are about to take.(3)
This way of thinking about how one makes choices – particularly choices about things that are frightening – applies directly to sports and weightlifting.(4)
The Sword And The Snatch
I have only 3 principles for snatching, and they are the 3 that you will learn how to do in your sleep when you train with me.
- Lock Out
- Hit Your Hip
- Stop Being A Pussy
I say it like that so that the vibe remains lighthearted – that’s my style – but I’m also dead serious.
The first two are easy enough to get down.(5) But the last one will take you the rest of your career to polish.
I could translate “Stop being a pussy” to a positive statement as:
Take righteous action
Or: follow the first principle of Bushido.
When you lift – AS you lift – every move, every action must be taken as though it is the only action that could ever be taken, and like God has commanded it.(6)
The Righteousness of your actions must always be apparent in the manor in which you carry out those actions.
Learning Through Example
There is no quicker way to fail on a snatch attempt than to start thinking right in the middle of it. Yet this is why you fail most often.
Some part of your brain – mid-lift – drags you into a negative-feedback loop of self-doubt and self-judgment. You become a fence-sitter, your fear response ramps up into high gear, and you avoid doing what must be done: FINISH.
You stop believing that what you are doing is RIGHT. Because of your doubt, you shift and waver.
Fence-sitters make crappy weightlifters. They refuse to make decisions. Worse, they refuse to ACT upon the decisions they have made.
To be great at anything in life requires that you own your own shit. The decisions you make must be followed through on. Anything less is playing to lose.
The Game Of Life Is Poker
Have you ever watched world champion Poker players? At some point, when the stakes are at their highest, when all of the best of the best are at the same table… they will go “all in”. They bet the farm, their house, everything they have on the next move. There is no hesitation – not even a hint of it.
Weaker players refuse to do this. They “hedge” their bets. In their fanatical attempt to avoid losing everything, they make tiny bets, small moves, no-risk.
A great poker player knows something about life the weaker players never learned: Hedging your bets is playing to lose. You won’t lose it all, but you have taken winning-it-all off of the table.
In order to win – and win big – you have to go “all in”. There is no other way.
Every snatch attempt is EXACTLY like this. Take this to heart. Finishing that snatch – making the lift – is like winning it all in a poker game.
The heavier the weight is, the higher the stakes of the game, the more natural it becomes to (desperately) want to hedge your bets, not go “all in”, avoid the risk, and not finish what you started.
That is a guaranteed miss. You played to miss. You CHOSE that result via your actions.
Mid-lift (usually somewhere around the knee-position) the weight will begin to feel heavy – really heavy – heavier than it “should” – Oh God, what if I can’t do this? – what if I drop this huge fucking barbell on my head? – what if, what if, what if… I’m wrong?
You just made your next FAIL video for Youtube.
The Righteous Snatch
Snatch like you mean it.
I don’t care if you think you screwed up the technique, pulled the bar off the floor wrong, been too far forward on your feet, pulled too early, pulled too late, blah blah blah…
There is no turning back. “Not snatching” is no longer an option. The only course of action in front of you now is to snatch RIGHTEOUSLY.
Once you start, you MUST finish.
You don’t get to start over. You don’t get to pause halfway through and rethink it. You don’t get to fix whatever you did wrong leading into where you are now.
Go. Act. Do. Pull. Finish.
You are a Samurai. The barbell is your katana. Snatch Righteously.
Now go lift something heavy, Nick Horton
- see the book Bushido: The Soul Of Japan, by Inazo Nitobe [↩]
- It is – of course – true that in application, members of any type of religion rarely follow the principles laid out by it. That is equally true of Protestants in America today and of the Samurai who purportetly were Zen Buddhists. As Ghandi said, “Christianity is a great idea. It’s too bad no one has ever tried it.” That (admittedly hyperbolic) statement could be said of all religions. [↩]
- This is a principle that is talked about at length by the Zen Buddhist monk, Takuan Soho in his book The Unfettered Mind. RANDOM: “Takuan” is also the name given to a kind of Japanese pickle made from radishes, and is thought to be named after the monk. I love takuan, FYI, and have some in my fridge right now. [↩]
- It also applies directly to “moral action”. Doing the “right” thing is often oppressively hard and scary – imagine being against slavery as it was happening – and to being HONEST with others (and especially with yourself). It applies to anything that is both frightening and the right thing to do. [↩]
- In our seminars, lifters learn how to do this in about 20 minutes. There is simply no excuse for allowing athletes to get away without doing either of these. Period. [↩]
- It’s worth noting that despite my background growing up as a Southern Baptist (both of my Grandfathers were preachers, and missionaries to Japan – which is why I lived there), I am an atheist and a practitioner of Zen/Taoism. However, I’m not one to throw the baby out with the bath water. There is much about Christianity generally, the Southern Baptist brand of it specifically, and Jesus particularly that resonate with me deeply – and have influenced my thinking in a big way. I’ve been called “The Great Evangelist” for a reason. [↩]