Thursday, June 18, 2009

Physical Culture

What does that mean?

I get this question quite a lot. I guess my lifting started in earnest with Pavel's Power to the People to which I still refer people when they ask about basic strength training or more specifically about relative strength.
I bring this up because Pavel and several russian influenced authors have frequently made reference to a publishing house and magazine that I have in fact never seen:

"Fizkultura i Sport"

You don't have to be a linguist to guess what that means in Russian. I would compare these guys to Human Kinetics here in the states, the only difference being that they seem to have covered a wider range of sports in more depth and had more of an eye towards science a long time ago. I guess when I say 'science' I mean that other authors cite the publisher as having published literature on periodization, power and olympic lifting specifically decades ago (50's, 60's etc).

Whatever the specifics of this publishing firm may have been, this idea of 'Physical Culture' really captured my attention. But I have to admit, not unlike answering 'What is Crossfit' I do sometimes stumble to explain 'What is Physical Culture?'.
I would like others to understand the appeal to me, so I will do my best to explain. I'd like to start with the culture part.
I hit Wikipedia first. I got a lot of information about English Romanticism. WTF. Anyways, I had always learned culture (history, language, psychology or anthopolgy classes) as the following concept:

Language, food and custom. A commonly shared set of practices, beliefs or ways of doing something.

With this understanding I always felt that culture was something shared. Hence, one could not so much 'gain culture' or possess it. One could only hope to understand it better. I liked this idea A LOT as well.

In martial arts (and other more 'mystical' physical disciplines like Yoga etc) it is often made very clear that there are practitioners who have come before you. Call them coach, Sifu, Guru or Sensei there is always someone that has already traveled the path you intend to set upon. As such, there is a guide and even the best are reminded that we are standing on somone else's shoulders. With the admission that the human body hasn't changed much over the course of our recorded history the best martial arts (and by extension physical disciplines of any kind) admit that there's really nothing new under the sun.

There isn't. It has ALL been done before. To hope to invent something new in the strictest sense is to delude yourself and to dilute our shared pool. Everytime I see an infomercial for some piece of exercise equipment I think about this. What was once comical ( youtube ) has actually of late made me angrier and angrier. Well... not that video, as that is pretty funny. But seriously. If you are a serious trainee or even coach, how many times has a less discerning but earnest fitness enthusiast asked you a sincere question about some total piece of crap toy or some ridiculous exercise that is obviously a total waste of time?

Think about it; in this sense our shared way of doing things has been so polluted that we spend more time refuting false claims, answering ridiculous questions and convincing others that we are in fact not crazy that we lose significant swathes of training time that could have been devoted to (get this) training. As unscrupulous schiester look for a quick buck, the rest of us scramble behind them frantically trying to REDUCE the complexity of this field.

I must admit that in this way, I feel like someone protecting a 'dying culture'. One that in some way or another has found itself made less competitive by the vagueries of history. I think of the steady erosion of specific cultures throughout the world (the Maori or the American Indian or what have you) and I feel the same sense of loss and anger. The funny thing is that these cultures are neither obsolete nor inferior. They were well adapted to their environment until an external force changed that environment more rapidly than the culture could adapt. And it remains to be seen whether or not the culture that in essence replaced it (if you are reading this... 'your's') is in fact truly 'better' in any way.

To clarify; Is Gold's gym truly better suited to it's environment? I argue yes. Does that make it a better species? Darwin wouldn't use words like that, nor would Jared Diamond. Is the environment changing? I would also argue yes.

Are we the dinosaur or the mammal? Am I mixing too many metaphors?

I would argue that Crossfit is more like so much algae. Simple. Efficient. Adaptable. PROVEN. Prettier plants have come and gone. But algae has found a way to make what it needs out of what is available. And to not only survive, but thrive. For milennia.

Olympic Weightlifting has only changed so much since the 60's. Before barbells there were weights of all kinds: Stones, scales or other people, the challenge to pick something up off the ground and put it over head has been with us since we started recording stories. Gymnastics has changed only so much for the last few hundred years. Yoga like disciplines the same. Martial arts disciplines the same. The list could go on.

This is Physical Culture. This is what we should be sharing, enjoying and protecting. Becuase it's at the heart and soul of how we enjoy inhabiting our bodies. Think if someone came along and just wiped out the collective knowledge of cooking, and all that remained was simply nutritious, flavourless paste. How many of us would kill ourselves? You can't avoid the eating issue. And you'll not likely soon escape your body. It's your's and your gonna have to deal with it.

The point is this; there are plenty of things that people have enjoyed and in fact devoted their lives to for generations. And as the world 'gets smaller' we get to share them all. Hence my adoration of the Olympics, which does encapsulate one of the loftiest ambitions of international diplomacy. So why look for something new? Why not look around, and take notice of so much of what has been there all along?

I will leave you with the motto of Fizkultura i Sport, care of Wikipedia:

"Когда серебряные трубы возвещают победу, они зовут на пьедестал не только победителя, они славят СПОРТ: разум и силу, мужество и волю, верность, отвагу и честь; они славят ЛЮДЕЙ, отдавших сердца спорту, зовущих своими делами, своим примером на жизненный подвиг!"[1]

A rough translation into English would be:
"When silver trumpets announce the victory, they invite on the pedestal not just a winner, they sing the praises of SPORTS: of mind and of strength,
of courage and of will, of faithfulness, of bravery and of honour;
they sing the praises of PEOPLE, who gave up their hearts to sports,
who call upon the life exploit by their example!"

May we continue to be so lucky. That our culture should be enriched by people, efforts and share experiences such as these!


Jenn said...

Jason, I can't believe you haven't gotten any comments on this post. I love it - very insightful, and you obviously put a lot of thought into it. I'm going to link to it from my blog - hope you don't mind.

I would argue that Crossfit is more like so much algae. Simple. Efficient. Adaptable. PROVEN. Prettier plants have come and gone. But algae has found a way to make what it needs out of what is available. And to not only survive, but thrive. For milennia.

Actually, the comparison that came to mind for me was cockroaches. They've been hanging around for 100+ million years with other creatures constantly trying to eradicate them. :p

Jason Struck, RKC said...

thanks Jenn.

i sent you a 'bill' for the T...

and i think your comparison is pretty apt to.


Crandall, CPT, AFPA said...

Jenn, oh my, please help to bear in mind that Jason has made his blog so that he can hide comments that scare him and that he does not like, so simply because you don't see comments does not mean people are not trying to comment. I will email you separately to tell you about how Jason is scared of Crandall.

Crandall, CPT, AFPA said...

Wow, Jason actually posted my comment. I am being very happy now. Jenn, I guess I don't have to email you after all. Peace be with all of you, may you all ROCK IT!

Jenn said...

Yeah, Crandall, I can see that he's absolutely terrified...STFU.

Jason Struck, RKC said...

jen sweety, don't feed the trolls.

Crandall, CPT, AFPA said...

Jenn, how are you? If Jason is telling you the truth, he will tell you that he has prohibited many of my comments. He doesn't like to post what I have to say. He probably would not say he is "afraid" per se, but if you are not fearful, why not post and let it play out as it may? good reason. But you seem like a sweet girl Jenn, no need for you to besmirch your sterling reputation with crude language. Be up and up and keep your reputation as one of a lady, a true lady, ok ok? Crandall loves what you bring to the table though and understands you. Jason is still banning my comments on other posts though. did the monks teach Jason to curse and lose control? I don't think so. He needs to learn to be Zen and keep control even when I post something he does not like, even though what I say is true.