TRIBE

Sebastian Junger poses some good questions in his latest book. How DO we do this? What do you think?

5 Round Friday

5 Round Friday

THE EBB AND FLOW OF DISCIPLINE

It’s been quiet on The Black Toenail lately as other things have been needing my attention lately: new job, military duty, and household needs. It has kept me from the discipline of writing regularly, but sometimes that’s how it goes. Right? Seriously. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t found five things that might add to your disciplines. Check these out.

Chow  Organic PBFit Peanut Butter
This powder is crazy good and adds a quick 6 grams of protein and peanut butter flavor to… anything. Or add water to make peanut butter with 1/10th of the fat and calories. It’s a staple in our house.

Perspective  Disengaging the Lizard Brain, Common Sense with Dan Carlin
The focus of The Black Toenail is people, not politics. But there are times when they overlap enough that I need to comment on it. Dan Carlin offers a long history view while discussing history, foreign policy, and the current political climate. Open your mind.

Navigate  Theodolite
Back in the early days of surveying, circa 1571, there was a piece of gear that measured various axes using telescopes, seconds of arc, and lots of mathiness. In the 21st Century, you can now have this capability on your phone. As a navigation and documentation tool it’s a land nav dream. In a click you can capture info, plot a course, or triangulate your position. And it connects to your maps! It’s a bit of a learning curve, but worth every penny in the iPhone App Store (sorry Android users – not yet).

Medical  Duck Industries Duct Tape
Over Memorial Day we were in San Diego for the GORUCK HTL as Holly was pushing to complete it. Due to a series of unfortunate events, her feet blistered up like chicken skin over a campfire. By the time we were getting prepped for the 12 hour Challenge, her feet truly hurt. Medical tape wasn’t going to offer enough protection. But as any groundpounder knows, duct tape works great! Duck Industries has lots of patterns and prints to satisfy your girlish or badass sensibilities. Just beware once it’s time to recover.

Recovery  Body Health Perfect Aminos
Supplements. Most of us take something to augment our diets. Sometimes making us feel better. Sometimes making our pee expensive. Personally, I don’t like taking anything unless I know why I’m taking it and I can see or feel a difference. Essential amino acids have made a considerable difference in my recovery. Unlike Branched Chain Amino Acids (which only offer a select few amino acids), Body Health Perfect Aminos offer eight of the nine amino acids the body uses to rebuild… well, everything. Muscle, hormones, toenails, everything. Check out Ben Greenfield’s interview with Dr. David Minkoff for the science and backstory for more info.

Let me know your requests and suggestions. Which round is your favorite? What do you want to see more or less of? Let me know! Send a tweet to @getblacktoenail using #5roundfriday so I can find it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

GET SOME!

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Weekly Weigh-in

Weekly Weigh-in

THERE IS NO FEELING LIKE LEAVING HOME

I’ve been traveling. Over the last 10 days, I fidgeted in a classroom chair for 30+ hours, been in and out of uniform, perverted my gut with Voodoo Donuts (Cock n’ Balls, to be precise), interviewed for a new job, driven 30+ hours, connected with friends and family, delighted my gut with taqueria favorites (Carne Asada burritos, to be precise), ran support crew for a 40 hour event, and honored those who died in uniform.

I witnessed incredible fortitude, met interesting, smart, and strong people, and spent time in the best places one can find on the west coast: Portland, Highways 5 and 101, and San Diego.

THERE IS NO FEELING LIKE COMING HOME

As I sit in the quiet of home, coffee in hand and creek trickling outside, I can finally reflect on how powerful the past 10 days has been. It’s been busy, I’ve been distracted, and I’ve been away from writing. I feel fat from indulging and being away from my go-to meals. I don’t even want to look at the scale. Still nursing this injury, I’ve been away from training too. Divorced from those practices for the past week-and-a-half, I’m ready to sink back into the routine.

Such is the ebb and flow of Life. Too often we stress out when we’re not training every day, keeping our routine, and operate out of our comfort zone. We worry that we’re getting fat with all this eating, that the kids are alright, or that work will be miserable when we get back. It’s too easy for fat kid fears to keep us from appreciating exactly where we are.

But relaxing amidst all that is key to getting the most out of the chaos. We must, in order to negotiate the muddy obstacles, grab new opportunities by the huevos, and feed the brain housing group. To feed the soul we have to let go of all that wobey and be in the moment. It’s a true leap of faith. More often than not, there will be no permanent damage. It’s all recoverable. Push yourself. Seize the damn day. Live every moment like the Devil himself is trying to steal it.

Because he is. Fuck him. This moment is yours.

For now, it’s time to cleanse the system, pull the diet back into focus, and after a few days of active recovery, jump back into the training schedule. Time to soak up the lessons learned, apply them,  get back after it, and enjoy the feeling of being home.

GET SOME!

5 Round… Saturday

5 Round… Saturday

DISTRACTED BY RAIN IN PORTLAND
This week I traveled up to Portland to attend a class, so I’m a little late in getting my weekly list of stuff that’s been working for me lately. Better late than never – for the most part. I’m blaming the Oregon rain. It’s just not supposed to be raining this time of year.

Drinking  Bulletproof Instamix
Okay, I’ll admit. The thought of butter in my coffee seemed silly at first. But after trying it for a while, I found it really left me feeling satisfied in the mornings and staved off the hunger until lunch. The Instamix eliminates the need to blend it before tossing it into your to-go cup. Just mix it straight in!

Studying  About Face, COL David Hackworth
This 700-page epic memoir is a beast to take on. I have slowly been digesting it this year, even loading it into a Ziploc and packing it to the field while training. But it’s a beast of lessons learned, incredible military history, and a different perspective on Korea and Vietnam. Hackworth was a Soldier’s Soldier, and his lessons translate into any organization.

Tracking  Robb Wolf, Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast
Ben Greenfield interviewing the legendary Paleo author, Robb Wolf, and the result is filled with great info. From farming to binaural beats to nicotine gum to glucose monitoring – lots to learn here.

Supplementing  Reserveage, Grass Fed Whey Protein
Protein powder. We all take it, though usually it leaves me feeling empty. Moving to grass-fed whey has made quite a difference. I feel fuller, more satiated, and less foggy afterwards due to the low carb/sugar content. I really like this stuff.

Pondering  This is Now, Hatebreed
Cause this is now
If I can I change tomorrow if I can’t change today
This is now
If I control myself I control my destiny

Let me know your requests and suggestions. Which round is your favorite? What do you want to see more or less of? Let me know! Send a tweet to @getblacktoenail using #5roundfriday so I can find it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

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Beware the Old Man

Beware the Old Man

FAMILY REUNIONS ALWAYS LEAVE A MARK

I’m still recovering from the events of New Orleans. I came home sick, injured, and out of whack from a weekend of indulgence, excitement, and poor life decisions. I fucked up as much as I found success. Only now can I sleep through the night without waking up to the pain. I know that sounds whiny, but facts are facts. This hurts.

Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young.

Old warriors did not get old by accident; they got old by being wise, having the right knowledge, and being tough. Never underestimate an old man who has grown up in a rough profession or a rough environment.

These men have been around. They have done things, and experienced things, that you probably have never even thought about. They are tough, their minds are tough, and they have the knowledge, the skill, and the will to finish you off, if you force them to do so. A boy will fight you, but a older man will hurt you.

Bohdi Sanders, Modern Bushido: Living a Life of Excellence

10:00PM. New Orleans. The GORUCK GRT Reunion Welcome Party was just getting underway when I came to the Casualty Carry lane. We paired up with folks of similar size & weight. First round, no rucks. No problem. Next round, with rucks. This added 70-80 pounds to the move. I got myself set, lifted him onto my shoulders, and my core just gave way. I dumped my teammate and crumpled to the ground under his 270+ pounds. Not accepting defeat, I setup to try it again. Nope. Same result – crumpled to the ground under my teammate again. Frustrated, hurting, and angry, I caught my breath and pushed through the section with another teammate and forged ahead through the next 10 hours.

Such is the way of testing the mettle of an old warrior. Turns out I strained my internal & external obliques, lats, and lumbar muscles pretty damn good. It’s been 10 days since the event and I’m nowhere near doing full sit-ups or get-ups without pain. Hell, sneezing is a significant emotional event. But I have been at this long enough to know injuries are just part of the game, and the smart Marine knows when to slow down, recover, nurse that injury back to health, and not to give up.

Healing and recovery are difficult concepts to execute well, especially when drive and A-type personalities get in the way. We get scared we will lose fitness, get fat, or not perform well if we’re not pushing hard every day. But Scott Howard, Krav Maga instructor and coffee collector, said it best…

When we work out, we make ourselves weaker. When we rest and recover, that’s where we make ourselves stronger.

Or as Bobby Maximus, Director of Training for Gym Jones, puts it in his essay There is No Such Thing As Overtraining

There is no such thing as overtraining, there is only under-recovery. Most people don’t put in enough time, effort, or train with enough intensity to put themselves in a state of overtraining. Most people simply don’t recover well enough.

FALLING PREY TO MONKEY BRAIN

Recovery takes discipline. It takes carving out as much time as we do for training, and often it’s the first part of our programming to fall prey to Monkey Brain, deadlines, and shuttling kids to soccer school/practice/parties. It’s the first part of the discipline we work so hard to build for training to get sacrificed on the altar of Life. As we get older, I think this just gets more and more difficult. Life gets bigger, responsibilities get heavier, and time gets more limited. That’s why so many people rest on the laurels they gained in High School, College, or pre-parenthood. Marathons, Triathlons, Wrestling, Baseball, Football, whatever. All things of the past once Life – and a comfy couch – get in the way. “I can’t” becomes the infection.

Which is why we need to beware of the old man in the young man’s profession. They haven’t let Life get in the way, settled on their laurels, or discarded the power of the lifestyle required to stay in the arena.

Maybe we need to BE that old man?

I will never be a black belt. I will never successfully compete against similarly ranked opponents half my age, I will never be great at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There is an urgency to my training because I’m sure as shit not getting any younger, or more flexible. I’m certainly not getting any faster. And as I head down the highway on my Jiu Jitsu journey, the likelihood of the wheels coming off the car grows stronger every day.

A while back, one of my favorite writers – and yes, TV personality – built a whole episode around his addiction to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Anthony Bourdain directed his whole team to San Francisco just so he can train with Kurt Osiander at San Francisco’s Ralph Gracie Academy. In his Medium blog post, “Sweep the leg, Johnny!” Bourdain talks a lot about running out of time, the love of the challenge, and his “why.”

I do it because it’s hard. Because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And because it never ends. Every day presents me with a series of problems that I spend the rest of the day thinking about how I might solve — or at least chip away at. Next day same. And the day after that.

There is no way to continue to be in the ring, on the road, or under the bar, without solid recovery. Sanders, Maximus, and Bourdain all allude to it, if they don’t say it directly. While Bourdain doesn’t talk about his recovery plan much, it does seem to include artisanal cocktails, incredible food, connecting with people, and a creative outlet that feeds the rest of his soul.

WE CAN’T COME BACK THROUGH BEER AND CHEETOS

Recovery suffers from the stigma of not doing anything, especially when injured. Too often we feel pain and use it as an excuse to put our feet up, avoid more pain, and take “rest” as watching TV with beer and Cheetos. But there is so much we can do to recover from our training, as well as the knocks Life throws at us. Maximus spells it out completely – workouts, ice baths, yoga, stretching, foam rolling, etc. While most of us can’t afford the TV show style of recovery, we can build those concepts into our lives – live and eat well, connect with people, and be creative. We can always do SOMETHING. Even in the face of a strain, break, or falling off the wagon.

This is the only way we can remain in the arena to compete, build a team, get uncomfortable, get stronger, faster, smarter; and learn how to be the best we can be. This is the only way we can be that proverbial old man the rest of the world need to be aware of. As I recover from the GRT Reunion Tough, I’m learning that all of these lifestyle factors come into play and are critical to coming back stronger. But it takes considerable effort to overcome the mental obstacles and stigma to properly heal from this injury and not lose what I’ve built so far. We’ll see what I got to make it happen.

Do you have the discipline in you?

The ice bath is calling.

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5 Round Friday

5 Round Friday

SOOTHING A NEW ORLEANS HANGOVER
Last weekend we were in new Orleans for the GORUCK GRT Reunion. 225+ of us weirdos were in town for a Tough + Party. We overindulged. I hurt myself. So this week has been about recovery. Here are five things I’ve been pampering myself with in order to come back to reality, push off alcohol once again, and get back to training…

Cooking  Almost 5 Ingredient Pizza Spaghetti Pie
Juli over at paleomg.com has been making food magic happen for many years now. This recipe was originally published in 2014, but it’s new to our kitchen. And I think it’s going to be a weekly thing. Once you make it, you’ll see why.

Eyeballing  Tribe, Sebastian Junger
I just stumbled across this yesterday, but I am really curious to see what Junger has to say in it. I rather enjoyed his book War, and it seems this one is the next step in defining – from a civilian point of view – what it means for a Servicemember to come home. More to come as I get to read it over the next few weeks.

Headbanging  The Concrete Confessional, Hatebreed
Hitting us up with brutally honest lyrics about life, Hatebreed continues to motivate us with their latest record. It just came out today. I’m going back for a second helping – alongside leftover Pizza Spaghetti Pie.

Rolling  Lacrosse Ball
I have plantar fascia issues. If I don’t take time with it, rolling out my glutes, hamstrings, and everything upstream from my feet, they begin to hurt. This simple lacrosse ball is the best, cheapest mobility tool out there. Lots of ways to apply it to every muscle group. Painfully delicious.

Meditating  Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World, Kelly Starrett
“What’s even more disturbing, and what virtually no one realizes, is that inactivity is killing our brains—physically shriveling them.”

Let me know your requests and suggestions. Which round is your favorite? What do you want to see more or less of? Let me know! Send a tweet to @getblacktoenail using #5roundfriday so I can find it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

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Stop with the 22!

Stop with the 22!

THE PIT OF DESPAIR HAS A TALL PARAPET

It was Sunday. The weekend had been good, and we were winding down on the couch with dinner, wine, and brainless television. That’s when I got a phone call from “Bill” – a friend, co-worker, and fellow Senior NCO. One of our Soldiers was drunk, wrecking his place, and in a horrible state. The friend that was taking care of him called for help, as she couldn’t handle him anymore. So the two of us drove out to the house to see if we could calm him down, sober him up, and try again to steer him towards help.

This wasn’t our first trip out to salvage his situation.

“Jim,” at one point, was a good Soldier, a father, and husband. He deployed to Iraq with us in 2008, and was well respected in the unit. Along the deployment, he suffered a back injury. Once he came home and sought treatment, the road to recovery was long and painful. He fell in and out of depression, aggravated by pain medication and alcohol, that dark emotional hole became deeper and deeper. We all tried to get him the help he deserved, but it was getting more and more difficult to get to him. He became distant, wouldn’t show up for appointments, and wouldn’t sign the needed paperwork. Eventually he disappeared. A few weeks later we got word from his mother that he had passed away. Overcome by alcohol and medication, that good Soldier, father, and husband, was gone forever. Jim simply could not see past the tall parapet that surrounds the pit of despair. He couldn’t crawl out.

Jim’s story is nothing new.

All over the media there are campaigns to promote awareness of Veteran Suicide. In 2012, the Veteran’s Administration published a study that analyzed the death certificates from 21 states from 1999 to 2011. Their estimate was Veterans were committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day. The number 22 became the rallying cry for awareness of Veteran Suicide, spurning non-profits, campaigns, and websites all across the country. It was quoted in Congress and Senate to pass bills, it’s been pasted on signs at protests, and countless push-ups have been done in sets of 22 (all on video and plastered on Facebook). Being a part of that community myself, I am inundated with these messages, and every time I see them I think of Jim – and all the others I have lost to the burden of war since coming home from combat. Even more so, all the Soldiers and Marines I know live with this possibility an arm’s length away. Myself included. To all of it I have to say…

STOP WITH THE 22!

Just stop it. Stop the fucking t-shirts. Stop the push-ups. Stop the rings. Stop selling shit. Stop making a buck or drawing attention to yourself because you want to show you care. It’s not solving anything. It’s not a solution. Derek Weida, Veteran, fitness junkie, and internet personality, recently brought this to light in a video post that was seen by millions. I have to agree.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fderekweida%2Fvideos%2F1090366127689028%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Do I think Veteran suicide is a problem? YES. Without a doubt.

Do Veterans deserve to be taken care of after their time in service? YES. Absolutely.

Do I think people are making their money and careers on the back of troubled Veterans? YES. And that’s sad.

Please DO NOT think for a moment that I am against all of the efforts being made to help Veterans. But suicide isn’t just a Veteran’s problem, as noted recently by Task & Purpose.

The new CDC study shows that suicide is most common among middle-aged white men. VA research has found the same to be true in the veterans community.

This data point highlights a significant weaknesses in efforts to prevent veteran suicide: Much of the conversation has focused on post-9/11 veterans; even with a spike in recent years, post-9/11 veterans clearly account for a relatively small percentage of veteran suicides.

Yet because the majority of campaigns and initiatives to address veteran suicide are run by post-9/11 veterans, they invariably are designed and promoted in ways that reach post-9/11 veterans. A review of the websites of several groups working to prevent veteran suicide — such as 22KILL, Mission 22, Stop Soldier Suicide and the National Veterans Foundation — show that they do not effectively explain which veterans are dying by suicide, and commonly utilize photos of younger veterans as visual illustrations.

As long as I’ve been in the Army, we have had continual training on suicide. From annual Suicide Awareness training to ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) to Master Resilience Trainer. Huge budgets are being thrown at this problem. We are constantly being bombarded by messages and videos and posters and checklists and Smartcards in an effort to give us the tools to do something about this difficult problem. It gets to the point where we become numb to the issue due to the noise-to-signal ratio – and far too much noise. It’s missing something crucial.

It’s missing action. Execution. And facing hard truths.

AWARENESS IS LOOKING AT A FIRE AND QUOTING FACTOIDS

In his book The Warrior Ethos, Steven Pressfield wrote something that has stuck with me over the years:

The hardest thing in the world is to be ourselves.

Who are we? Our family tells us, society tells us, laws and customs tell us. But what do we say? How do we get to that place of self-knowledge and conviction where we are able to state without doubt, fear or anger, “This is who I am, this is what I believe, this is how I intend to live my life”?

In this task, our mightiest ally is the Warrior Ethos.

Directed inward, the Warrior Ethos grounds us, fortifies us and focuses our resolve.

Acceptance is the first action we all need to take. We – meaning Veterans, friends, and family – have to accept that death is a part of warfare. There really is no getting around it. As Veterans, we have to accept that people die under our trigger, under our orders, and sometimes by our mistakes. And people die by the enemy’s trigger, orders, and mistakes as well. That is the nature of warfare, as well as – and this is the tough part – the nature of humanity. Period. The sooner we can accept this, the sooner we can find a way to live with it, heal from these experiences, and use them as fuel to recover, teach, and perform.

But that’s not to say we don’t face other obstacles. Unwritten tenets we are taught from a young age about behavior, customs, and conduct. The Man Rules tell us:
• Do not cry
• Do not show weakness
• Take care of things yourself
• Do not ask for help
These are common in so many cultures, and they keep us from accepting our situations, seeking help, and healing from the punches life throws at us.

I believe it will take all of us – Veterans, Military, and Civilians alike – to have an impact on these numbers. All of us can apply the Warrior Ethos to our communities. One suicide is one too many, especially since each suicide impacts so many more people with each incident. On the large scale – meaning on TV, social media, internet, and mandatory training – the focus has been on awareness. Awareness is just the five-meter target. We need to look at the ten to three-hundred meter targets.

We need to change the message. We need to stop thinking awareness is a solution. It’s not. It’s looking at a fire and quoting factoids about Smokey the Bear and deaths by fire as we continue to watch. We have to run into that burning building, put out our hands, and pull whoever is in there out of their personal fire and back to their families, communities, and sense of purpose. Back to Life.

We need to stop focusing on the dark shit of the past, the adversity we face; and start focusing on the greatness we can become.

VETERANS ARE TEACHERS

ADVERSITY IS FUEL

WARRIOR ETHOS WILL SAVE WARRIORS

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Monday Morning Weigh-in

Monday Morning Weigh-in

244.8#

Up a few pounds after this past weekend. I was in New Orleans, LA; for the GORUCK GRT Reunion. It was a great event filled with great people in a great city. Which equals great overindulgence and some lessons learned.

NUTRITIONAL OFF-ROADING NOT WORTH IT: Seeing as how we were in one of the greatest food cities on vacation, we wanted to really taste New Orleans. Biscuits & gravy, beautiful pastries, sauces, and tasty salted pig parts. Not the way we have been eating at all, and we felt the response to it immediately. Sneezing, itchy, bloated, inflamed. I hate that it makes me sound like a narcissistic Vegan Crossfitter, but the response was pretty impressive. Better to keep to our Paleo-ish eating style, admit that certain foods are an emotional attachment, and listen to the biology lesson happening to my own system.

ALCOHOL, NOPE: Holly and I stopped drinking after our disappointing Body Fat tests. Over the past three weeks, we felt better than ever. But, vacation – right? Plus we are in NOLA with some great people, did a 12 hour event, so it’s time to celebrate and push “healthy” aside for a bit. Neither of us felt good during or after drinking, to be honest. Was it worth it? Kinda. No. Not really. In coming back to reality – AKA Home – it’s tougher to recover than it should be. It hurts. And I should be smarter about these things as I get older. Alcohol does not help with durability, resilience, strength, or endurance. And it certainly didn’t help me enjoy life, the people I was with, or the city I was in any more than I already was

KNOW YOUR LIMITS BEFORE FAILURE: During the Welcome Party of the GRT Reunion Tough – the part where we PT well past muscle failure to get our minds right – there was a Casualty Carry section. I paired up with another guy of similar size & weight. We carried each other the length of the soccer field and back no problem – without rucks. Next we loaded up with 35#-40# rucks each and setup for another round of Casualty Carries. I started getting him on my shoulders and my core just gave out. I dumped my teammate to the ground and strained my neck, shoulders, back, and abs pretty good. Of course, I couldn’t accept that failure – so I setup to try again.  Nope. I went down again. I failed. I failed my team (as I didn’t ask for help), I failed my teammate (as I couldn’t get him off the battlefield), and I failed myself (as I didn’t know my limits). This left me much less effective through the remainder of the event, and will impact training this coming week. Fuck. Lesson learned? Yup. Know your limits.

Great weekend. Worth the extra pounds as it lead to good learning. Now to get on with recovery and get back to training this week.

WHAT DID YOU DO THIS PAST WEEK? WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?

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5 Round Friday

5 Round Friday

PIXELATED NOOTROPICS FOR YOUR BRAIN

Smart drugs come in many forms, though it’s funny that coffee and tea are two of the most effective. So is the continual engagement of your Brain Housing Group. It’s Friday. It’s been a busy week. Here are five things I’ve been messing with that may make your coffee time on the deck or post-workout chill a little more enjoyable…

Pondering  Christopher McDougall
“Perhaps all our troubles – all the violence, obesity, illness, depression, and greed we can’t overcome – began when we stopped living as Running People. Deny your nature, and it will erupt in some other, uglier way.”
Born to Run, 2011 

Drinking  Tesora, Philz Coffee
Over the past weekend, we were celebrating a friends’ 40th birthday on the Russian River. Part of our crew brought a pound of the Tesora blend from Philz Coffee – a long favorite of mine. Most coffee is, well, coffee. But this is one of the few that really stand out to me. Worth taking some time with.

Headphones  Jocko Podcast, ep. #15
If you haven’t heard Jocko Willink’s podcast yet, you need to tune in. The format of his show starts with readings from a book that Jocko appreciates – with great vigor. Book Club with a pipe-hitter. Episode #15 has Jocko reading The Speech from Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” Intense.

Hauling  10# Sledgehammer
Over the last few weeks we have been training using Rob Shaul’s Military Athlete protocols, and a few of them call for rucking and running with a 10# Sledgehammer. It has been amazing to see the results of increased grip strength and endurance, as well as overall performance when running unloaded. People may look at you weird and ask silly questions, but it’s so worth it. Any sledge will do. Decorate it. Give it a name. You’ll need it because you will curse it.

Feeding  Thai Chicken Curry, Nom Nom Paleo
I find it great to have a few go-to recipes to use through the week. You know, those dishes you could eat at least once a week with a few variations? Those dishes you always have the ingredients for and can make from memory? This recipe established itself in our kitchen this week.

Let me know your requests and suggestions. Which round is your favorite? What do you want to see more or less of? Let me know! Send a tweet to @getblacktoenail using #5roundfriday so I can find it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

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Dog-Eared and Water Damaged

Dog-Eared and Water Damaged

THAT SMELL SHOULD BE MADE INTO A CANDLE

Weightless at moments, ground deep into my seat at others. Lit only by red lights and the occasional white-light flicker, that C-130 combat approach to Baghdad International Airport in 2004 was my first real taste of being in a Combat Zone. I gripped my copy of “Unholy Babylon” like others would grip their Bible – hoping I didn’t lose it and that its knowledge will guide me in the coming year. Dog-eared and water damaged, that book went with me everywhere since I had started training for the deployment. And while it wasn’t filled with existential lessons to save me in case I lost my way in the sands of warfare, it offered a glimpse into the enemy we faced amidst those same sands.

Abruptly, the plane landed and we coasted along the tarmac. The aft loading ramp dropped slowly as we cruised and the night air rushed in. A combination of burning trash, open sewage, and diesel exhaust followed, filling my nostrils with a stench I hadn’t smelled in 15 years. It’s a pungency not found at home, smelling of difficulty, death, and adventure.

Around the same time, General James Mattis was preparing to deploy as Commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, mission-bound for that same country. Before deploying, on 20 November 2003, General James Mattis drafted an email to a colleague answering a simple question about reading and history for military officers. That email went viral before “viral” was a thing. Twitter didn’t exist. Facebook didn’t exist. My Space was outlawed for military use. But email was our link to the world, personally and professionally. Mattis’ words soon made their rounds through the ranks of leadership. First in the Theater Command Group, then the Pentagon, eventually rippling out to servers around the world.

IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT COMBAT, BUT ABOUT LIFE

The crux of his email was the importance of reading and study. Through this practice he had “never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before.” Quickly crafted, his writing shows General Mattis’ no bullshit approach to everything. It also shows his reverence for history and the opportunity we have today to learn from those who came before us.

I know that many of you are not in the military or have not seen combat. We all have something to learn from this essay. The concepts General Mattis talks about can be applied to every aspect of life, from sports to parenting to business to Book Club. It’s about asking the question “Who has done this before me and what can I learn from them to improve my performance?” Your consequences may not be life and death. They might be quarterly sales or employee relations or triathlon times. But they are important enough for us to study, learn more, and apply what we’ve read to what we are doing. And that’s important enough.

RIF ONLY WORKS WHEN GROWN-UPS MAKE IT WORK

Mattis opens with the most poignant reason to up the ante in our reading game. He’s not just writing an 80’s Reading Is Fundamental PSA, but rather giving us the “So What?” we need to realize.

“The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.”

A very key point here is not only is it ourselves that suffer the “consequences of incompetence,” but that our “men” do too. That means all the people around us. Our children. Our employees. Our parents. Our clients. For all those times we are moving too fast to learn better ways of doing things, how often do we fail to realize how that impacts others? We can do better.

“Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun.”

A number of years ago I read “Warrior Politics,” by Robert D. Kaplan. In it, he goes through all of the big issues we faced in foreign and domestic policy at the time and related each issue back to points in human history. From ancient Mesopotamia to modern United Nations, through every war, pact, and victory, we have experienced all this before. Mattis, again in his no bullshit fashion, reminds us of this fact – and that we have so much to learn.

“…leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.”

Studying versus reading. Today we are so flippant and consuming with our media that it’s hard to stop long enough to get past the Twitter-feed-style of reading. We read a little bit, nod our head “oh yeah,” and move on to Like or Retweet. Digital Post-It’s with a tasting menu of information, but never a whole meal. But to read something – to really read something – write about it ourselves (in a journal, blog, or Facebook post perhaps), and apply that learning – that makes the difference, I think. That bridges the gap between reading and study.

“As commanders and staff officers, we are coaches and sentries for our units: how can we coach anything if we don’t know a hell of a lot more than just the TTPs?”*

Coaches and Sentries. As leaders, is it not our job to set our people up for success? As a parent, as a CEO, as a Non-Commissioned Officer; don’t we have to look out for our people, take care of them, and give them the tools and knowledge they need to succeed in the jobs we give them? TTPs – or Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures – is a military term for the ways we do things. To Mattis’ point, we need to know more than reciting the textbook answers in order to effectively coach and watch out for our people. The only way to do this is to study more, practice more, and apply that learning to those we lead.

WADING THROUGH THE COLLECTION ON THE SHELVES

Unholy Babylon,” by Adel Darwish and Gregory Alexander, was only part of my study of Iraq, it’s politics, and it’s personalities. I was working in Human Intelligence at that time, and needed to know all of the backstory I could. I could well be meeting these people, or those loosely related to them, and had to be armed with all the knowledge I could collect. It was a turbulent year, 2004. We got shot at and blown up on a regular basis as the insurgency was kicking into high gear. Our job was to get the neighbors of the bad guys to sell them out so we could stop the attacks. It wasn’t an easy gig. But I could not have done my job well or set my team up for success if I hadn’t taken the time to study before heading in-country.

Today, I share General Mattis’ penchant for learning in order to better lead and teach. I was impressed with the number of takeaways I found in his short email. I’m sure your bookshelves are full of things you’ve collected over the years. Thanks to Amazon, it’s cheaper and easier than ever to line your living room with knowledge. But how often do we sit and study a topic, and then share what we’ve learned from that lengthy chat with the author with others around us?

What are you reading right now?

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LINKS_____________

Business Insider article on General Mattis Email http://www.businessinsider.com/viral-james-mattis-email-reading-marines-2013-5
Reading is Fundamental PSA via YouTube https://youtu.be/XIKiFB3xzEQ
Unholy Babylon, Adel Darwish and Gregory Alexander on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Unholy-Babylon-Secret-History-Saddams/dp/0312065310
Warrior Politics, Robert D. Kaplan on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Warrior-Politics-Leadership-Demands-Pagan/dp/0375726276