I have never been a big fan of Henry Rollins, even though I tried, mostly because a bunch of my friends liked Rollins Band a lot. But neither Rollins Band, nor Black Flag did it for me — I liked the metalz more than the hardcorez. Later on I read some of his essays and listened to some interviews and I just can’t get beyond how full of himself he is. There is not a trace of self-irony to be found in all that armor of muscle, sinew, and chin.
However, Rollins is ripped like a motherfucker and his essay called “Iron & the Soul” is actually for the most part not that bad.
There are two parts that resonate for me:
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.
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.
Over the last weeks I haven’t been lifting as much as I usually do, mostly because I’m doing kickboxing/savate 4x a week right now and need some R&R days, but if I find the time I notice that both work-outs address very different needs and are deeply satisfying in their own way.
The exercises and drills in the different forms of kickboxing are, obviously, much more interactive, social, and dynamic and require absolute presence. Lifting, on the other hand, requires presence as well, but your interaction is with the iron. It’s not social or interactive, but focuses on the Self in the movement. (This is not to say that there is no flow or state of ‘non-present presence’ in martial arts; for example, the use of your peripheral vision to counter and to not telegraph your punches or kicks has something very serene about it.)
The simplicity of weightlifting, especially in the big movements, really appeals to me. It’s not more complex than moving a weight in a straight line against the force of gravity, be that in a deadlift, squat, or any of the presses and there is something meditative and pure in that process. The biggest mental change came for me when I stopped bothering with the barbels or the programs you sometimes get when you sign up at a gym, stopped worrying about building muscle, and just started lifting for the lifting itself. The other stuff — the muscle and the mental and physical aspect — comes by itself.
PS: Ross Enamait, who posted the essay on his blog, has a ton of strength training and fitness-related information on his website that’s really worth checking out.