The timeliness of me (coach Seth) writing this couldn’t be more apt for not only describing my journey in the world of sports and fitness, but also the general flow of my life.
I have just landed in South Africa again on a quick trip to try and sort out issues with my Spousal Visa application. I am through 2 of my 4 weddings (all to the same woman, I promise!), while holding finances, work, hobbies and relationships joyfully in tension with each other. I’d love to say that this is all new to me but that isn’t the case. I’ve been living and loving this life for the past 10 years and I’m not likely to set it aside simply to have a more “stable life.” Telling you about this latest rush of events helps set the scene for me to talk about training and working in the sports and fitness world.
There’s part of me that wants to tell you that the all-consuming thing in my life is calisthenics and sports – but I’d be lying.
I’d want you to believe that so you can think highly of me in terms of my credentials as a coach because every fitness guru is consumed by fitness, right? Well, that isn’t true of me and from observation, I don’t think that’s true of the most influential people in the sports and fitness world. More often than not, the people who stand the test of time in the industry are those who have found a suitable place for sports and fitness amongst a whole and fulfilling life.
So, after having just told you that calisthenics doesn’t consume my life, why bother reading further if you’re currently reading in search of motivation and a hit of inspiration for your workout today? Well, stay with me, because there might be something in here for you. I’d like to propose that in order to find a successful way to apply fitness/exercise into the big picture of your life, you have to first put it in somewhere rather than believing that you have to make it the entire picture.
But listen, I’ve been there; all-consumed by sports and I know it’s a long journey.
Growing up, I played all kinds of sport on a daily basis, and I loved it, but it didn’t go so well for me. During my teens, I suffered from a condition called Severs Disease which can be incredibly painful. Usually it lasts for 6 months in active teenagers, but instead 8 years was my prescribed period of agony! Severs Disease causes intense pain along the Achilles and in order to relieve that pain, the body assumes plantar flexion (pointing your toes) as your foot’s new resting position.
Thus, during my formative years of growth, I generally struggled to walk. I went from being the fastest sprinter in my school to being a hobble. I battled between loving sports and it being the main source of my agony for many years. You see, I grew up with the “grin-and-bear-it” attitude. I believed that I simply needed to push through the pain. I proceeded to apply this mentality in my late teens through to my early twenties. Once Severs disease eventually subsided, the next joint to feel the brunt of my obsessive exercise ethic were my shoulders.
Now you must know, my biggest sporting love is boxing, but boxing and obsessive bodybuilding don’t complement each other so well. I had agonizing shoulder impingement, but I would simply jab away through the pain until my arm became numb. Once again, obsession became my downfall and today, the scars of that mindset can still be seen. Ankle dorsiflexion is still painful for me and my left shoulder also needs a lot of ongoing work and if it wasn’t for finding beauty elsewhere in life, I’m sure I’d still be grinding my body into more and more pain.
The reality is that I had to learn the hard way that there’s more to life than sports and fitness; and damn, it hurt.
It has, however, been the best thing for me in many ways. The biggest perk of all is that I’ve developed so much better as a whole human since learning to put exercise in the picture rather than making it the picture. Incredibly, my progress in training has excelled, so has my knowledge-base, and I’ve learnt the beauty and art of periodizing and planning my training and life.
I see my life as an orchestral group who are going to perform whether I like it or not. I can either choose to organize it and give it direction, creating a beautiful symphony with every piece flowing and playing it’s appropriate part at different points or I can let my feelings bang away in any old fashion. The mantra of our day is that we are all free to live by feelings and if we feel something makes us happy, we should go do it. That sounds nice of course, but the insanity that has come from such a hollow idea has thrown the orchestra of society into a mad display of noise.
As each person lives by their fluctuating feelings, so society reels from trying to accommodate every colour of human emotion and passion. I’m not saying that these things shouldn’t be part of our lives, in fact I don’t think that would be healthy at all. However, I do believe we have to learn how to create a symphony by putting certain desires and emotions in the correct spaces. For example, having passion for social justice is key to the health of a human and a society, however it can run riot when it becomes the outright destruction of others who refuse to agree or take action. Thus, it has a place in the symphony, but it will certainly cause pain if it becomes the only drum being hit.
I have found it easy to be consistent over long periods of time with learning and physical development after having applied this idea to my life. In fact, at the time of writing this I have been ill for 4 weeks and haven’t been able train at all, but I’m not panicking! Instead, I have progressed far in learning ancient Greek – Yeah, I have some strange hobbies – and have also spent a great amount of time with people who I love and also love me. During this time, my life has still been full of all the beauty of life. My brother’s wedding, my 2ndwedding, the celebration of new children being birthed in my friendship group – all of these things add up to a very rich life experience that has been nurtured over years of time and investment. To give you a glimpse of some of the more fascinating areas of my experience, I’m going to run through a few quickly (some may shock you).
I have lived with both missionaries and murderers and learnt that those titles require investigation before judgement. I have been brutally trained in hand-to-hand combat under ex-Recces (the South African Special Forces), and I have put money in from my own fitness business and hands to build houses in remote areas in Africa, protecting children from rape and abuse. I have travelled to coach some of the wealthiest people around in places like Monte Carlo but have also held poverty-stricken children in my arms in some of the poorest areas in the world.
I aced my dissertation for my intercultural studies degree but also decided to spend my money on marrying my best friend rather than pumping my savings into further studies for the sake of my own career path. I lost my mother but gained a mother on African soil. I have been hurt and hurt others but have also loved and been loved extraordinarily. The ability to experience all these things and still progress in my career has not been a juggling act, however. Rather, these things have been periodized and released to flourish in their own timing because my goals in life, instead, are holistic and not driven down a single avenue. I wish to develop emotionally and relationally as well as physically and mentally. This means that I can set out long-term goals and not panic when I have a few weeks off from either reading or training.
Which leads into my top tip for reaching your calisthenics goals: Simply, relax, it isn’t that serious. Go and explore life and love people. Throw in some consistent, structured but fun(so key!) training, give yourself adequate time, and you’ll progress.
I’ve quite enjoyed writing this without too much focus on what I do in the sports and fitness world and what my role is at School of Calisthenics. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that I don’t love my work, because I do. I love my work and I study my field with a fine-tooth comb. Every programme I write is well thought-out and every client receives a heartfelt approach to what they get. But, I love my work the most because of the incredible people I get to meet and the journey I get to see people walk from a life of calisthenics (beauty and strength), in just the physical sense, to a calisthenics life, full of beauty and strength in all areas.
So in my story, what’s the reason why I’ve ended up only really doing calisthenics? It’s because I’ve found that it facilitates a robust and mobile life for me. It was organic and unforced and, I love how big my life is and I appreciate the beautiful picture this tool is helping me to paint.