Everywhere, I read now is when I should be mapping out my career and personal goals for 2016 in order to prepare for, well, the rest of forever. If 2015 taught me anything it is that you can only set goals and expect to change your route at every turn on the journey. Whilst travelling on my Gap Year before university I developed a ‘planned spontaneity’ mind-set. This meant I drew up well-informed plans to make the most of my travels but left gaps for better suggestions and mishaps I discovered en-route. According to 17th century samurai Miyamoto Musashi this wise flexibility is the best approach to life and work.
Musashi, not only a master swordsman, but also a poet, artist, and philosopher, upon request near the end of his life wrote a book called The Book of Five Rings containing what he considered to be the ideal qualities of a samurai. The premise of the book is a samurai master must explore and understand all crafts and remain open to them all in order to be the best possible warrior. The book is chaptered according to the five elements of Japanese Buddhism: earth, water, fire, wind and emptiness.
- Earth:A samurai must have rigorous knowledge of swordsmanship, practice with discipline, stand firmly, and maintain good balance. In your line of work you too must have a solid understanding of your industry, a clear vision for the future of your business, a sound strategy, as well as patience and resilience to deal with uncertainty, contradiction, and stress. Likewise, in sport, you must know your techniques, opponents and equipment better than your family. Awareness of where you stand will empower you to know where improvements are needed and how to take advantage of others’ weaknesses.
- Water:A samurai must be nimble and handle his sword in a fluid yet overwhelming fashion, imposing his own rhythm in combat and disrupting that of his opponent. Adaptability is the maker or breaker of success. You may have the best product on the market now but should economic conditions or supply change and you do not shift alongside them someone will rapidly take your place. In sport, no race is ever alike: some come hilly, others flat; one day it will be blue skies, the next raining cats, dogs and pitch forks. Keep your head; if you have followed the advice of earth above then you will be well prepared to adjust your strategy quickly and race your race, not that of other athletes. Fluidity and flexibility to look at problems from different points of view, reformulate the current strategy, and often reinterpret your knowledge will enable assessment and positive manipulation of new opportunities and threats.
- Fire:A samurai must be vigorous, agile and strike his sword cleanly at any angle, thus forcing opponents to retreat and make mistakes. Conviction is key to creating opportunities and inspiring those around you to seize them whilst also avoiding sudden but serious obstacles.
- Wind:A samurai must be in tune with his surroundings in order to use topography, weather, lights, and shadows to his advantage, while also learning from his opponent so as to use his skills against him. You must continuously learn from competitors and be at the forefront of developments in order to stay ahead.
- Emptiness:Once a samurai has mastered the combat techniques from the first four elements, he must forsake preference for one technique over another. The samurai master must become one with his sword, contemplate all techniques at once, and choose the best for each given moment until victory is achieved. Filling a market void is the driving force of every business. Then also train and race each day with all you know; that plan at the beginning of the season may have worked in race one and two but new competitors or different courses may require a strategic shift.
Life can erupt Lord of the Rings-esque volcanoes during your journey, some are detailed on the map, others are not yet marked out by the Ordinance Survey team. There may be a corporate culture change meaning the promotion you thought was coming your way is now going to an outsider, or your season training plan is disrupted by injury or the need to travel for work. Yes, new tactics need to be pursued but by remaining calm and utilising your wisdom you will find them and be all the stronger.
Take my coach Fiona Ford as a pragmatic example. Before becoming a pro athlete she maintained a sales job which required her to drive around the country and stay in cheap hotels. Some would give up training but she packed her turbo trainer and bike in the car ensuring she got speed sets in. There are also many bodyweight core exercises you can do. Model and exercise coach Roger Frampton has a fitness club and regime which requires no gym membership, weights or equipment. The bodyweight training consists of isolated and controlled movements, teaching the body to work in unison. These workouts mirror those of Olympic gymnasts, a high-powered way to get the body functioning for any sport. In a Sunday Times feature he describes how to use your home as an impromptu gym.
Gunnar Peterson is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is an editor and writer for Muscle & Fitness magazine. He claims stairs are one of the best pieces of cardio equipment available. “…your feet constantly break contact with the ground, they’re demanding on your body. Balance and proprioception [awareness of the body’s position and posture] is challenged, so you core muscles fire continuously.” Stairs are great for switching on your glutes and core which are the driving forces behind all running movements.
Here is a stair workout ideal for around 15 steps. Perform each move with no rests in-between:
One-legged hop (strengthens ankles and targets the core): hop all the way up the stairs; walk down; repeat another 19 times alternating legs.
Crawling on all fours (targets core, abs, shoulders, arms and builds endurance): keep your body low to the ground, climb to the top of the stairs then back down facing backwards. Repeat for 4 mins with no rest
Double jump (challenges co-ordination, skill and timing): jump stairs two at a time; do 20 times with 5-8 sec rest between reps.
Quick feet (watch your heart rate soar whilst strengthening ankles, sharpening eye-foot coordination and increasing foot speed: quickly step on/off the bottom step using alternate feet; complete 50 steps in 30 sec.
Side steps (fab cardio drill working the glutes and calves): face left, run up the stairs sideways with high knees, walk down; complete 10 on each side.
If you want to step the workout out (sorry, pun intended!) wear a 10kg vest, pre-fatigue your legs by doing 10 bodyweight squats or focus on one-legged versions.
(Workout by Dan Roberts, first seen in Shortlist magazine).
So where can you cut corners? In cooking! Simply learn to love your left overs. No doubt over Christmas and New Year the food and drink intake rose yet perhaps the training level, we might say, had a negative correlation. Hopefully brussel sprouts featured in your diet. My family had plenty left over from our Christmas dinner so I finished them up in this piquant recipe by Allegra McEvedy. It is meant as a side dish but can also be used in a novel take on Bubble and Squeak (here’s a Wiki link by way of explanation for non-Brits). Your Christmas leftovers may be long consigned to the bin but as a seasonal veg you may still be cooking them, here is why you should.
These bulbous green fellas fall into the cruciferous category of vegetables which also includes broccoli and cabbage. A 1/2 cup of boiled, unsalted sprouts, contains a mere 28 calories and only trace amounts of fat, making this an ideal substitute side dish for higher calorie foods. They provide 2 g of protein per 1/2 cup and although lack several amino acids necessary to make it a complete protein like meat or dairy by including grains, such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta, it is possible to obtain all the amino acids you need.
Due to the high level of saturated fat in crème fraiche it may be wise to opt for lower fat varieties for use in this recipe in order to not outweigh the low fat benefits of the sprouts. When it comes to processed vegetarian ‘meats’ I am very divided in opinion. Just like their genuine processed meat counterparts, vegetarian meat substitutes are constituted from highly manufactured ingredients, unrecognisable to most but scientists. Studying GCSE biology I learnt one brand manufactures its high protein veggie products from the mould grown off fungus! That said, they are an incredibly protein rich product easily added to recipes. Bacon rashers from Quorn pack an impressive 12.8g of protein and merely 4.6g of fat per 100g, opposed to 13g and 40g respectively in pork rashers.
Then there is the punch in flavour and nutrition you will get from the mustard. Not only does this condiment contain calcium and potassium but also phosphorus and magnesium. A tablespoon of mustard contains 16mg of phosphorus and 7mg of magnesium. Phosphorous contributes to the body’s use of protein, carbohydrates and fats for the functioning of the kidneys and heart as well as aiding the processing of the B-complex vitamins. Magnesium then is needed for processing and using energy in the form of ATP molecules. Essentially, this spicy ingredient will help you utilise all the nutritional benefits from your meal.
My favourite product this month are arm warmers bought by my mum from Susan Harris in Toronto. London has had an incredibly mild Winter so there has not been a real need to wrap up like normal but wearing my thermal layers beneath a coat on my work commute has not been enough, yet jumpers would be too stuffy on the Tube. Harris’ collections are crafted new, stylish lives from recycled textiles, my arm warmers for example are made from pre-loved jumpers.
For 2016 then, I will be a resourceful sponge absorbing all the knowledge I can and utilising what I already possess in order to adapt to each and every moment in the best way I can.