Iron and the Soul

This essay by Henry Rollins was originally published in Details Magazine in 1994.

Iron and the Soul

By Henry Rollins

I believe that the definition of definition is reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself. 


Completely.

When I was young I had no sense of myself. All I was, was a product of all the fear and humiliation I suffered. Fear of my parents. The humiliation of teachers calling me "garbage can" and telling me I'd be mowing lawns for a living. And the very real terror of my fellow students. I was threatened and beaten up for the color of my skin and my size. I was skinny and clumsy, and when others would tease me I didn't run home crying, wondering why. 

I knew all too well. I was there to be antagonized. In sports I was laughed at. A spaz. I was pretty good at boxing but only because the rage that filled my every waking moment made me wild and unpredictable. I fought with some strange fury. The other boys thought I was crazy. 

I hated myself all the time. 

As stupid at it seems now, I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, carry myself with the ease of knowing that I wasn't going to get pounded in the hallway between classes. Years passed and I learned to keep it all inside. I only talked to a few boys in my grade. Other losers. Some of them are to this day the greatest people I have ever known. Hang out with a guy who has had his head flushed down a toilet a few times, treat him with respect, and you'll find a faithful friend forever. But even with friends, school sucked. Teachers gave me hard time. I didn't think much of them either.

Then came Mr. Pepperman, my advisor. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class. Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard. Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no. 

He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn't even drag them to my mom's car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.

Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.'s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn't looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing. In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn't want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in.

Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn't know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn't say s--t to me.

It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn't want to come off the mat, it's the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn't teach you anything. That's the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.

It wasn't until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can't be as bad as that workout.

I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn't ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you're not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.

I have never met a truly strong person who didn't have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone's shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character. It is the difference between bouncers who get off strong-arming people and Mr.Pepperman.

Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.

Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body.

Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn't see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads. 

I prefer to work out alone. 

It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you're made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it's some kind of miracle if you're not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.

I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron Mind.

Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.

The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it's impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you're a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds. 

This article originally appeared in Details Magazine

Celebration of Life

A soon-to-be birthday had me cringing with the anticipation of the date drawing closer. You see, I've now surpassed the hump of "older" and felt like I was about to crest the mountain and start the downhill descent. Always a person excited about birthdays, I had also never had an issue with getting "older," until recently... 

Meet Mary! Inspiration to find an attitude adjustment and a change of perspective. Mary is a fellow June baby and had recently celebrated her birthday. Her story inspired me to re-evaluate my crappy perspective.

 

2006. At age 27, still a relative honeymooner, Mary was also a new mom. All the joys of being a young, new mother were overshadowed by some unusual health concerns.

Headaches. Pounding. Pulsating pain. Mary was in the Army working at a medical facility at the time she started having extreme headaches. She was four months pregnant and the headaches were continuing to become more severe. Throughout her pregnancy the headaches continued and became pulsating and more extreme. Since she was pregnant, there was not much the medical personnel could do at the time.

A beautiful baby girl, Ava was born! After eight weeks post partum she returned to work, and it had been about a year of dealing with extreme headaches. Finally, she was able to have a CT scan and followed up with an MRI. Although the headaches had been a continued issue, she was not prepared for the results of the scans. She felt the scans were more procedural and would not show anything out of the ordinary. A close friend in her medical profession revealed that a mass was found on her brain and more tests would be needed.

Say what?!!! Shocked! Dumbfounded with the news! What does this mean? Through further testing it was concluded that she had a Stage 4 cancerous tumor. She had two options: 1. take medication to reduce the size of tumor and manage it, or 2. surgery to remove it. Mary instantly thought she just wanted it out and wanted the surgeons to remove the tumor. She opted for the removal of the tumor as soon as possible!

Continued precautions. In addition to the surgery to remove the tumor from her brain, follow up treatment included six weeks of radiation, five days per week, then chemotherapy cycles. She also had been a candidate for an experimental drug therapy and continued on that course of medication.

Waiting. Uncovering unexpected and previously unannounced news. Once treatment had been concluded, Mary was awaiting her Army discharge papers. Upon receiving her papers, she saw that the prognosis for health was listed as one year to live.... A prognosis that her doctors never discussed with her! Not even 30 yet, a new mom, and she had one year to live?!!! A million thoughts went racing through her mind... One year??!!!

BAM!!! 2013. Mary has kicked cancer's ass! She was given a year to live and she is currently cancer free now just over six years later!! She still returns for regular MRIs and blood work, but even those have been pushed out now to every six months since all tests have come back clear.

 

Finding your inner strength and motivation. Superhero strength! Mary found strength in doing all that she could by being the best mom she could to her beautiful Ava! Cancer has given her a whole new perspective on life and the way she perceives the world and people around her. Throughout her chapter with cancer, she found out who her real friends and family were, and learned to not take life for granted. She continues to look brightly forward and appreciate what each day brings her. Currently, she is in school full time in anticipation of earning her bachelor's degree next spring. All while being a single mom with a whole appreciation for life!

Each birthday is a reminder to celebrate life! Not all get to enjoy the continued annual celebration. Mary, you inspire me! Your story is one I will not forget and will continue to reflect upon. I will not take life or birthdays for granted! Wisdom learned.

 

 

 

The Genuine Gracious Competitor

 

                                        Source: bellafayegarden.tumblr.com via Dynamic Edge on Pinterest

 

 

There's something to be said about a genuine and gracious competitor. You know, the kind of person that will annihilate you in the competitive arena, or at least try to, yet after it's said and done, wishes the best for you, encourages you, and supports you in a genuine way? Not in a phony way. Not in a vicious way. Just a person with an amazing heart with respect for competition, including a push in a positive and healthy way that points you in the right direction. These types of people are few and far between, in my opinion. I seek those kind of competitors.

Competitive by nature. I've always had the competitive bug or spark. Whether it was in athletics, school, on the playground, or adventures in life. By nature, events and life experiences have turned into a competition for me. Competition inspires me and motivates me whether I'm good at something or not. Now, this definitely can be and has been destructive at times in life, but it has also been a wonderful character trait. The challenge has been trying to find BALANCE within this trait to make sure it does not turn destructive and doesn't eat away at the psyche.

Wisdom learned over the years. As time goes on, I've learned to find the balance and be more acceptive of embracing where I am right now in life. Sure I've got goals and aspirations that I am motivated to achieve, but I can only focus on what I can control at this point in time. It's a daily challenge, and I'm determined to make progress here even if it's imperfect progress. It's finding a way to give yourself grace and be ok with where you are in life right now even if the competitive spirit finds you fell a little short.

Gratitude and empowerment in motivating others. I want to be a positive example for others. I love coaching, encouraging, and celebrating others successes. Sure I love to set the bar high, but why wouldn't you want to reach for it? It brings me joy and a rush of excitement when I see what maybe you couldn't see in yourself. I love seeing the confidence grow in others and the strength in their spirit thriving. I want to celebrate your successes no matter how significant or insignificant you may find them! To me, there is more joy and gratitude in that celebration, than what I personally may have accomplished in the competitive arena. Honestly, there was a point in life when I couldn't say that. Does this mean I'm a big kid now?? :)

 

                                      Source: strengthfromstruggle.tumblr.com via Dynamic Edge on Pinterest

 

 

Don't get me wrong. I will continue to compete with you, but I will drag you alongside me if you aren't giving the effort to keep up. I will not let you stop. I will not leave you behind. I will yell at you if you are self deprecating. I will shake you silly if you don't believe in yourself. I will give you a big kick in the heiny to get you up that hill (and you may also have to drag me to the scooter store to keep up due to my decrepit joints-minor detail...). Once you pass me or if you were always ahead of me, I will also genuinely praise you, and encourage you to better yourself. Keep going! I hope in return you take me along for the ride as well. I will always try to keep up.

In the grand scheme of life, we're all just trying to be better people. I hope you choose to identify, embrace, and share the genuine, gracious competitor in you. Don't be a phony. Be real in a gracious way. We all could benefit from what you have to offer.

**A special shout out to some genuine, gracious competitors who have influenced me as of recent-- Thanks to Trish, Dave P., Camille, and Ms. Tali. You inspire me, motivate me, and challenge me in multi-faceted ways!

 

Unbroken Heart

Mike after doing WORK! “Crossfit isn’t for everyone, but anyone can do it.”

Dizzy. Hazy. Off. Strange. The sound of blood flowing fluidly through the chambers of the heart. Wait! Uneven. Broken. Staccato. Heart attack!

That was September of 2012. “It had been one week and one day from starting CrossFit. I wasn’t feeling well. I felt hazy, had some shoulder pain, and what seemed like, indigestion. I thought my shoulders were sore from the week of workouts,” Mike Fitch says. He blew off the other symptoms. The symptoms continued, and Fitch said he “just felt off.” A visit to the doctor confirmed he was having a heart attack.

The doctor informed Fitch he didn’t have any abnormal heart conditions, and it appeared to be a rare instance of a piece of plaque breaking off in his artery that created a blockage and thus the heart attack. A stent was put in, and he was prescribed blood thinners for a year. After a month of recovery, Fitch was given clearance and encouraged to continue CrossFit from his doctor. His doctor informed him to take it easy, and ease back into the workouts.

Mike Fitch is like many Americans. He was extremely active up through his mid-thirties, and then marriage, work, and family took over his time and priorities. Now at 56 years old, and after a 20-year hiatus from fitness, Fitch was looking to regain his health back. He was ready to make a change and quit letting life get away from him. “It was like my 40s just blew past me.” Fitch walked into CrossFit Loomis off the street and inquired about the program, ready for a fresh start. His daughter has been an active crossfitter in Korea and had suggested he give it a try.

After seven months, Fitch has lost over 52 pounds and is getting stronger every day. His mobility has dramatically increased and he’s motivated to take his health back.

Throughout the CrossFit Open season, Fitch has been driven like none other to leave his mark in his first experience with the open. He’s dedicated, consistent, and reaping the benefits of his change in lifestyle. He’s reclaimed his physical, mental, & spiritual health, as well as, his life back.

Coach Dave Pabalate shared, “Mike Fitch’s story is a perfect example of what is available through this program.” He’s a father, a husband, and trying to regain his health back. He is like many others out there. Pabalate states, “He has worked through the psychological process in coming to the gym. He is continuing to conquer the fears and stereotypes of what CrossFit is.” Just making it to the gym on a regular basis is progress. Progress is also learning functional movement again to conquer what life throws at you.

“Mike is an entrepreneur and he knows what success is,” states Coach Pabalate. Fitch owns two businesses and knows what kind of work it takes to be successful. Without a doubt, Fitch is a fighter and will continue to fight for that success. 

Most would take a step back with Fitch’s health scare. With a HUGE heart, Fitch is NOT broken and will continue to fight on in getting better along this journey of life.

Mike with his CrossFit Loomis community

Copyright Β© 2010-2013, Dynamic Edge Fitness, LLC. All rights reserved.