Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Plus One

'Adding one' is one of the most disproportionately powerful practices I have adopted.Its source is movement practice.

The genesis for me is the so called 'warm up' of the Yamakasi, as shared by Chau Belle, one of the founders of the practice of parkour.

The warm up is a series of repetitions of fairly basic movements, like sit ups, interspersed with traversals, like running up stairs.

Rumour has it, Chau Belle undertakes this very specific warm up drill prior to a parkour training session.  It takes him an hour, and by the end of it he is ready to go.  I have not met anyone personally who has completed it in under two and a half, and they definitely were not ready to go.  (Everyone does agree though, it makes you very warm.)

Sometimes you don't really know what to believe.  But it doesn't matter.  The moral is the same... Chau Belle is a superlative human, possessed of great strength and endurance — that would not be possible without a unique training philosophy.

51 Push Ups

The movements themselves are not particularly inspiring.  Things like push ups.

The first time I was led through it (by Stef), I was somewhat confused by our repetition counts.  First we did 6 push ups (and 6 step ups).  Then 11.  Then 16.  Then 21.  Then 26.  Then 31.  Then 36.  Then 41.  Then 46.  Then 51 push ups.

(No, they weren't full push ups. Who do you think I am?  Chau Belle?)

Having collapsed in a heap, Stef explained the rationale for all the odd numbers.

When we're doing repetitions, we do our set because Reasons.  We want to get stronger, we want to get fitter, we just want to move... whatever.  It doesn't matter.  A set is a set.

When we're doing the Yamakasi warm up, we add one more repetition to all of our sets.  Do one more, for something else.  Whatever you think deserves it.  Anything.

You might want to call it a dedication, a commemoration, an affirmation, whatever you want... but you don't need to.  I guess you could share it... but most of the time that would be kind of weird. (And as you'll find out, not as easy as it sounds.)

The only important thing is to do it.

That's it.

Philosophy of adding one

That's the story, and you can make of it what you will.You can do your own thing however you want.

But if you train with me, we will add one repetition to all of our sets.

I insist on this because of how powerful it has been for me, and because of how surprisingly deep it is as a practice.

When we add one, we make our practice about something other than ourselves.  I think about this as the 'gratitude effect'.  Some people do gratitude diaries, or check-ins, or things like that.  I just add one.  This is the least subtle impact, the poster child for adding one, and rightfully so.  It's immeasurably powerful to live with a disposition of gratitude.

When we add one, we infuse our actions with meaning.  We reconnect our physical and our semiotic worlds, strengthening the neural pathways of our practice, and the interellationships between the things we value.  We learn to decompartmentalise our experience.

When we add one, we are forced to check in with ourselves, and what is important to us.  (And realise that it may not be what we thought.)  When we're 5 pushups in, we can rationalise the 'right' response.  We can do one for our mother, or our partner, or our god.  But sooner or later we slip up.  We think about the guy with the beret and the colourful socks.  We think about the ring of the circular saw from the construction site on the other side of the river.  We think about the massaging effect of the pebblecrete on the bruised and scratched heels of our palms.  We think about the sister we've always taken for granted.

Adding one makes us think about things we never realised we valued.  It is like a technicolour shortcut to dream interpretation.  It's all right there.  (And if we keep doing it, we learn to listen.)

When we add one, we prove that we can continue. We prove that the first 5 or 50 or 300 were not a fluke.  We turn our nose up at the logic of those that say "well you only did 300, who says you could do any more?"  Adding one isn't the same as doing a set one longer or higher.  It is making our first step into the future an affirmation.

When we add one, we mess with the way we normally think about 'finishing' and 'winning'.  We undermine our belief that the end is ever the end.  That there is such thing as 'enough'.  Adding one loops an ending into an open-ended continuity that says "there will always be more".  Any victory is fleeting, as defeat may lay just around the corner - so nevermind winning, and just do one more.

This gels clearly with parkour, a passionately anti-competitive practice.  When you start adding one this same philosophy infects the rest of your life as well.

Don't worry - it's good for you.

When we add one, we tip our hat to the complexity and the diversity of the universe.  Nothing ever has a simple cause, effect, rhyme or reason.  There is always more.  There is always different.  There is always another angle.

What hits this home most of all is that the actual experience of adding one.  If you were to write your life out in linear, logical consciousness, then each extra one would have its own 'something'.  But the something doesn't matter.  What matters is the practice of adding one.  And adding one doesn't necessarily result in a particular something.  Sometimes it results in a feeling.  Sometimes it results in a list.  Sometimes it results in a whole bloody essay.

It doesn't matter - just add one.

So, this as my +1.#31Thousand



  1. Thanks John - I like it!
    I wonder if you can only understand this blog if you experience the Plus one for yourself. I knew instantly what you meant about the plus one being special because I had thought about what my extra 1,000 word effort would become and it was immediately clear to me that I wanted it to be different from the first 30,000 - something special.

    1. You're probably right. I felt writing it that trying to explain it in writing is... not how to make people understand. (But I was only at 400 words so I had to keep going! ; )

      Regards the extra 1,000 being something different... it will suffice if only the mindset is different. And in fact, if it is totally different, then it is not another one, but a different one!
      It probably needs to be felt out in each circumstance...