Motivation - An APK Member's Journey to Fitness

At APK we get a lot of email (think 70-100 a day!) so we see a lot of this:

"I'm really interested in getting into Parkour. To start out, I'd mainly like to just get into shape …”

When Sean Simpson sent me that email in July of last year, I gave it the same courtesy and seriousness I give all the emails that come in, I asked questions and I made suggestions for a workout program. Most people I never hear from again - it's easy to get motivated about something, get fired up for a day, seek advice, and then go back to our old ways. Sean Simpson turned out to be a bit different, and has emailed me the results of every one of his workouts since then, progressing from struggling with the APK warm-up all the way through doing some of the workouts, and now kicking the crap out of the warm-up as a high-intensity workout!

Sean has written an article about staying motivated. You’ll see from the recap of his emails that it isn’t always easy, but that progress does happen over time with consistency and determination. Read on for a recap of some of Sean’s emails and the article he’s just written.

Excerpts from Emails:

10/13/06-  it took me about 25 minutes…give or take 15 seconds.  I was SOOO tired by the end.  I had a tough time getting through the latter portion of the work-out as I was really pushing myself…

10/16/06 –

SS: "Does a difference between 25 and 23 minutes really make that huge of a difference? "

M2... how did you feel after 25 minutes? 23 minutes is almost 10% faster ... :)

10/19/06 ….but I did my entire work-out in 21 minutes and 21 seconds…and yes…I was pretty much dead by the end of it

10/21/06 Yesterday I just went through my work-out at a moderate speed and did it in 29 minutes

10/31/06 - 18:35 - Yeah Biatch!

11/06/06 RE: Workout #46 -16:03!!!! YEA! WHAT?!!!!! Yea yea yea yea yea!!! You should have been here to here all the shouts and screams through out my work out to get me through it! Before I started I was DETERMINED to beat my time REALLY good! AND WHAT DID I DO?! I beat it by 2:22 seconds!! THAT’s what I did!! 

11/10/06 - SUBJ: RE 100 week Challenge - Sean did 100 Burpees in 14:54 - not bad for a first timer with Asthma!

11/12/06 SUBJ: Where do we go from here? - "I was wondering what your thoughts are on what the next month might look like in terms of my work-out.  As you know I succeeded at getting my timed “Warm-Up” to 16 minutes, compared to 25 when I first tried it fast (which can even be compared to 45 minutes sometimes when I wasn’t even pushing myself fast)…I am still exhausted after these so-called warm-ups, so should I just keep doing them until I’m not dying afterwards?"

11/21/06 SUBJ: About Workout #53 - "I’m getting frustrated about my stamina with my work-outs.  Will I never be able to get good stamina because of the asthma?  Am I just cursed with no hope?  Ehhh…"

1/22/07 SUBJ: RE Workout #57 - 15:10 - That's 52 seconds better than my last time of 16:02 - I was stoked!!

1/26/07: SUBJ: RE Workout #60 - Hell yea! on the pull-ups.  I had a HUGE grin on my face as I did those 31 pull-ups straight through

1/30/07 SUBJ: RE: Workout #63 -  14:42! That’s' right, beat my time again!


 I could have included a LOT more "I really didn't feel like working out today" excerpts, there were plenty over the last 6 months! there were "excuses" that came and went, reasons not to train or workout, but on the whole, Sean has stuck with it and really made some incredible progress. He's also been kind enough to put together his thoughts on being committed to a routine and finding motivation when the going gets tough - which it will, don't kid yourself. It's not whether hard times come that determine our character, it's how we push through them that determine our character.


ZEN 24/7


Sean Simpson 

In all areas of life there is the inevitability of having times when we’re unmotivated and frustrated; unmotivated because we might be tired emotionally or physically, and frustrated because we can’t overcome our lack of motivation. Being a perfectionist myself, it can be very draining on my soul when I can't find my motivation; because even though I may not be aware of it at the moment, I'll be struggling to overcome my weariness and just exhaust myself more.

How do we get past these times? How do we overcome the mind and body and just "do it anyways?"

I've found that absorbing the wisdom of others can be very helpful. In an effort to constantly improve myself as a person, I am always looking to learn new things and gain new insights, even when the advice I'm receiving doesn't follow step with my previous conditioning or beliefs.

Through my journey of self-improvement, I have found wisdom from many different sources: parents, teachers, friends and writers, ancient religious and spiritual texts of Judaism, Christianity, Mormonism, Buddhism, etc. Now, I'm not saying I subscribe to the beliefs of each of these persons and religions. To the contrary, I may disagree with much of what such persons say or do, and I am generally turned off to the fundamental idea of some religions.  But despite one’s belief or disbelief in a specific person or religion as a whole, there is much wisdom to be gained from each person and every religion. We need only to keep an open mind and heart to gain beautiful insights of such sources.

So how does the wisdom of such sources relate to the Parkour community? How does it correspond with our determination to overcome the physical body with our mind? Well, just the other day before my regular workout, I needed a boost to get myself working on my routine. I was feeling tired and needed to "re-route" my mind onto a path that would lead me to the completion of an effective workout. Having recently purchased a book called "Zen 24/7" by Philip Toshio Sudo, I decided to open it up and see what wisdom I could find about "working out." Here is what I learned.

Zen Exercise:

When doctors talk about the importance of exercise, they typically emphasize the physical benefits, but of course there are benefits to mind and spirit as well. We build mental strength by overcoming the body's reluctance to exert itself. We all have excuses for not exercising--we don't have enough time, we're too tired, we'll start next week. It takes self-discipline to cut through those excuses and get the body moving. When we start to get lazy, the mind has to focus its attention. As the samurai say, "The only opponent is within." It is up to the mind to overcome the body's feelings of fatigue.

We continue to build mental focus by paying attention to each task at hand. Carrying the gym bag, changing into workout clothes, tying our shoelaces--every moment is an opportunity to keep the mind from laziness and wandering. The more we maintain focus, the more it carries over into everything we do, no matter how large or small the task.

Through the continued, willful exertion of effort, we sweat out our impurities and build a strong spirit--a willingness to overcome obstacles, a hunger to press on, a relentlessness on the path. The Japanese word for exercise, undoh, carries those very connotations. The word is rooted in the idea of an army on the move, pushing heavy equipment with strength and vigor. The first written character of the word also has the meaning of "luck," suggesting the divine movement of fortune that accompanies a traveling army. Thus, inherent in undoh is the notion that, through self-exertion, we make our luck. There are no excuses. The only opponent is within.

Zen Stretching:

The benefits of stretching before and after exercise are well documented. A limber body is less prone to injury and enables the body to move more fluidly.  In the Tao Te Ching it says,

When people are born they are supple,
and when they die they are stiff,
When trees are born they are tender,
and when they die they are brittle,
Stiffness is thus a companion of death,
flexibility a companion of life.

We can apply those words not only to our bodies but to our minds as well. The more flexible our thinking, the more easy-going we become. Anytime we start to view the world rigidly, locked onto a track, we lose the flow that characterizes Zen.

Here's an exercise to add while limbering up. When bending over to touch the toes, bow humbly to the earth. When stretching arms overhead, give praise to the sky. That is stretching the mind.

Zen Jogging:

"One foot in front of the other foot in front of the other foot in front of the other foot . . ."

Taking this advice to heart, I had the best work-out I'd had in months the day I read it.  Of course, even with wisdom such as this, sometimes we're just not able to overcome the body on a particular day. And you know what? That's OKAY. Sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we need to just give ourselves permission to take the day off. It takes a lot more than one reading of wisdom such as this to be able to apply it to our lives holistically. The "Zen Masters," "Priests," "Rabbi's," and "Teachers," who seem so wise and so "perfect" at what they do, have been practicing these ideas and concepts for many years. They have dedicated their entire lives to this one area. While we may not have particular interest in their religion or teachings as a whole, there is no doubt we can learn from them and apply their wisdom to our lives as well.

So I encourage you: If you're feeling completely unmotivated one day to complete your workout or finish other tasks at hand, either make a conscious decision to let it go for the day, or decide that you WILL do it. The internet is a wonderful resource, and all you have to do is Google "Motivation", "Inspiration", "Wisdom", "Zen", etc., and you'll find a plethora of advice to help you get through your day! Be creative! If you can't find the strength within yourself, find it elsewhere. It's out there. All you need to do is look.

--Sean Simpson

From the back cover:

"If you're searching for revelation and contentment, look no further than a handshake, the mirror --- even your laundry pile. The most mundane details of life contain Zen's profound truths, says Philip Toshio Sudo, if you're of the mind to look for them." "With his signature wit and modern-day wisdom, Sudo uses koans, parables, and meditations to challenge and encourage you to stay rooted in the here and now. Look inward, urges the author, and open your mind to eternal truths. Regard each day with wonder, hope, and gratitude, as you recognize the divine in the ordinary. By awakening to and embracing the zen in your life, you'll; listen, watch, eat, work, laugh, sleep, and breathe your way to truth -- every moment of every day."

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Written by Mark Toorock   
Saturday, 03 February 2007 12:14
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 22:03