Saturday, May 15, 2010

What The Iron Means 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.

The Henry Rollins essay that I posted before expresses so clearly the things that I've spent years trying to say. Iron is beautiful. It is kind. It is loving. It's something only those who love the Iron can understand. Those who misunderstand the Iron may think that we're talking about a location, a gym, a community, an activity or a hobby when we're talking about Iron. To think that we're talking about material is to make the fundamental mistake. To those who understand, to those who have the secret gnosis, to speak of Iron is to speak about that which is purely Spirit.

Prefontaine was a runner but when I read his quotes I resonate with a kindred spirit. "I don't run a race to see who is the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into the most exhausting pace, and at the end, punish himself even more." Pre knew about the Iron. Most likely he called it something else. Funny thing is, most people who know about the Iron don't even have a name for it. I like what Rollins calls it. It's simple. It's hard.  And beautiful. 

Those who see the end of Iron, the telos of Iron as building a body don't understand the Iron. Not at all. They think they do. They talk big and may in fact, be big. But they don't get it. They are not my brothers nor my sisters. The purpose of Iron, and this is repetition for those who know and silliness for those who don't, is to build the Soul. A friend asked me if my injury-speckled year had humbled me any and made me think about how fragile and impotent the body is and how catastrophe may overcome it at any time.

Yes and No. So far as I have thought about my own body's weakness in terms of how I trained improperly, how I improperly assessed my fitness and displayed my poor understanding of physiology, then yes, I am very much humbled. My iliotibial band and posterior tibialis have been wonderful teachers and my soul, an unworthy student. So in that sense, yes, I have thought about it. Do I believe that the accomplishments I earn with this body are unworthy or somehow diminished by someone else's accomplishments, or that they are cosmically insignificant because I am one of 6.5 billion carbon life forms on the far end of an unremarkable galaxy who's ever so slightly more fit than average... then no. I laugh at such thoughts. I laugh at the thought that someone would think that would deter me.

The Iron is not about your body. The Iron is not about material. The Iron is about your soul. The practice of Iron is only a method. Take away one method and I have others. Bar me from gyms and I'll work out in playgrounds, on trees, beaches, closets. Bar me from weights and I'll do pushups and leg lifts and rows. Stop me from moving and I'll work isometrically. Slay my body and let my soul laugh at you. The Iron is about strength and freedom. The accomplishments in the Way of Iron happen daily and they happen where only you can see it. The Day of Testing is just a day to show off, a day for others. All the other days are where those private victories, fought on the battlefield of the soul take place. Yet, as they are where private victories are won, so too must we recognize that they are where the bitter defeats take place. The times where I stop sets early, pull up in fear of injury, justify poor effort with "It just wasn't a good day." -- those are true defeats, true failures.

The Iron freed me from the 90s. I grew up being told that I was a special, little snowflake that was fine just the way I am. The Iron laughed at me. "If you really were fine, how come you can't move me?" It sat there and wouldn't move until I made it move. It was always honest. It never made things easy for me. It never told me I was smart when I was dumb, handsome when I was ugly, strong when I was weak. The Iron freed me from the hipster's sin of judgement. Can I really look down on fellow humans when I too was weak once? And what is the great democratic principal of Iron but the promise that anyone, with nothing more than effort, can become stronger? Anyone. With Effort. Can Change. And we all need to change. No one is ever fine just the way they are. Slacking is suicide. Comfort is claustrophobia. Entertainment is euthanasia. And Iron, the Iron teaches one to live!  

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