“There are no contests in the Art of Peace. A true warrior is invincible because he or she contests with nothing. Defeat means to defeat the mind of contention that we harbor within.” – Morihei Ueshiba
When I initially joined the Marines Corps in 2004 I was 22. I was leading mostly a directionless life thinking that the most important things to be apart of that week were women and alcohol. Or, some other meaningless pursuit… I just needed something. Something other than myself… something to fill a hole full of angst and insecurity. I remember a feeling of not being powerful, but scared. Scared of life and all that it could throw at you. I felt like a small boat in a huge storm, with waves thrashing the sides, the boat filling with water, and the wind whipping my face with rain, lightning cracking against the water around me… and I was hopelessly engaged in a battle that I was ultimately going to lose.
Then, I enlisted. I was scared shitless. I was literally staring the largest, most intimidating thing I have ever seen in my life, right in the face. I had a ship date and this was at a time of war. I didn’t really know what I was doing… just that I must do it. Perhaps a calling of some sorts. I went to bootcamp, faced endless challenges… failed at some, succeeded at others, and ultimately came out a different and stronger version of myself… but that was the easiest part. Bootcamp is one large mind-fuck, set up to only introduce to you the tools you will need to develop to handle the stresses of a war zone and military life.
Later, I shipped off to Iraq for my first tour. I can remember my first night driving out to our Forward Observation Base (FOB). It was night time and I could feel the warm, Arabian air with sand particles whipping through the air and drifting into my nostrils. I was green, sitting in the back of a 7-Ton with a platoon of grunts and my squad of Sappers. I was sitting on the floor as the benches weren’t made for the many people to be in the back, near the rear door. As I peered up I could see the silhouettes of the other marines, and the moonlight piercing through the window slits. At this time in the war we drove in complete blackout at night. The drivers used Night Vision goggles and IR lights on the trucks, or, “cat-eyes.” We approached the edge of “the wire” and heard the command to load our weapons. My heart rate was racing, I was sweating, and my hands were shaking. I was fumbling with the chain-link ammo (I was a SAW gunner at the time), and chambered a round incorrectly. I started panicking, trying to fix it as the trucks departed the wire…. Oh Fuck! I thought, I’m not ready, my weapon is down. Shit… Shit! Then, my Fire Team leader (Kyle “Nelly” Nelson), who had been in Fallujah just months before said, “Riddle… calm down. Listen to me….” In a very calm voice, he walked me through the instructions of how to clear the weapon, and re-load. He did this in the dark, without seeing me or my hands… just listened to the sounds, and knew where I was. I knew what I was doing, but I was so nervous…. completely intimidated by my situation. I loaded the weapon, took a deep breadth, listened to the evening Islamic Prayer Call being sang over the radio… and thought to myself: Well… here I am. Now it’s time to do the thing.
When one first starts Weightlifting it is a daunting and intimidating experience. This isn’t “bro-repping”, this is something much more demanding, technical, and fearsome. Everyone seems to be much more relaxed and better than you. Everyone is stronger than you. They seem to hit all their lifts, and you’re bombing at 50% of your max. It is humbling to watch someone Snatch Balance your Front Squat Max. You train and train. Lift after lift after lift. You come in, sore, tired, hungry… and lift some more. The barbell life is relentless. It always feels heavy… and it certainly always technical. The days that aren’t extremely technical… shit, those are the heaviest. There is always a cost. I often have people ask me why I am so tired. CrossFitters especially… for whatever reason. Having been both a CrossFit athlete, and now a Weightlifter, I can say there is something about this grind that is much more demanding. It’s a tiredness that grinds right into your gut. It is very difficult to explain. And your first competition… that is an intensely terrifying feeling. This is why Weightlifters, like Marines, form this tight understanding of each other: The demands of it. It takes a special kind of insane.
I can remember the change in my personality from my first tours to my last. Early in my first tour, stacking on a door of a house you’re about to enter is overwhelmingly intense and surreal. I remember thinking to just cover my angles, stick with my team, and try not to fucking die. Although I was certain I was worm food every time. Slowly… over years, and houses, ships, and ambushes later… I was still alive. Somehow. With each experience I grew more and more into a warrior… into myself… into what this life demanded of me. Eventually younger marines under my charge used to compare me to “Hoot” from Black Hawk Down… if you want an idea. I was cold, calculated, experienced, and relentless. I had become a warrior.
Now, I approach my biggest competition yet in the Hook Grip Spartakiad on October 3rd. I am also going to lift the heaviest attempts in competition I have ever attempted. After training yesterday, I sat while taking off my shoes and thought to myself: Will I be prepared? Am I prepared? Am I doing what I need to do? I just don’t know, it is so big, it is so intimidating…. All the other lifters are going to be better than me.
Then I looked back at all I had been through, at everything I have accomplished in my life. This is just another door with an enemy behind it that I need to kick in and fucking smoke em.’ This is another step in the transition of moving from a scared kid in the back of a 7-ton, to a calculated, trained warrior. The difference between the first door I ever kicked in, and the last… was a simple realization:
Why did I have to be the victim? Why do I have to be the one that loses or dies? Why am I the small man in the boat getting drowned in a wave of relentless storm. The truth is… you don’t have to be. The difference in the first door and the last door was the realization that I didn’t have to be in the storm. I am the storm.