Walking the Camino del Norte

Time to unpack some memories and write about those times when I was roaming the roads of the great Camino without any answer to the following questions: Where am I heading? When I will get there? What will happen tomorrow? I had no answers, I just walked and walked and lived. On the endless road you become a ship without a rudder. Almost two years after, I’m still thinking a lot about it. It’s still the greatest adventure of my life yet and I haven’t done anything else to match it.

Walking the Camino

Camino de Santiago Road Sign

On the road you are alone with your thoughts, sometimes you share your loneliness with a fellow traveler for a short while but it’s your thoughts that are your loyal companion. Your world now is a foreign land with a foreign language and all your possessions are the ones you carry on your back. Your world is both drastically reduced and drastically expanded at the same time. It’s hard, it’s uncertain, you start considering yourself crazy for doing this but it’s the best time of your life. I’ve wondered ever since if it’s not best for all of us to live our lives endlessly walking, to know only the reality of the road, no more sedentary life, no more sitting on a chair, to start being humans again, to start using that upright walk that differentiates us from other creatures, to stop living in the webs of the Internet, to stop wasting our lives watching what others do, to stop asking for validation from social media “friends” and their “likes”. On the road you will find real kindness and likes. People will help you with more than what one ‘like’ will ever be. What you will learn, experience and become on the road can never happen on social media. Social media is information clout, artifice, propaganda and deceitfulness. The road is very real, it doesn’t care who you are, where do you come from and where you are heading. You are free to walk on the road but the price you are paying for doing it is high. You are paying it with your feet, your health, your time, your energy, your faith but what you pay is never as high as what you gain and what you gain is never lost. On the road you will find the true meaning of Carpe Diem. On the road you will find what getting to know yourself means.


The 100 Days to Run a Marathon Challenge

It’s important to always challenge yourself, to get out of your comfort zone, to set goals and to have systems to achieve them. There can’t be growth without getting out of your comfort zone. I’ve been wanting to run a marathon for about 7-8 years now, yet I haven’t succeed yet to achieve this goal because of various reasons. It’s time to stop wanting and to start achieving.

The 100 Days to Run a Marathon Challenge

forever running into the sunset
Source: Pixabay

The challenge is to run a marathon – 42 kilometers in the next 100 days. Day 1 was yesterday, 18 of March and day 100 will be on 26 of June 2018. Yesterday I’ve run about 3.5 kilometers in cold, through snow and a patch of ice and did a few ups and downs on a big 55 steps stairway which is about 100 meters from where I live. The weather is a bit problematic at the moment and it seems that it will still be winter until the next week at least. I will be running outdoors only and the compacted snow and ice on the streets is increasing the risk of injury. Hopefully I will not end my journey as soon as I am starting it. I haven’t run today but I will do.

I don’t have any special training plan, I only have a simple system: to run almost daily and push myself a little bit more each time. Running daily is not a realistic and even recommended because the body needs time to recover.  I will make up the plan as I go.

Realistically speaking, I’m a bit reserved towards my chances of achieving this goal. I’m in a relatively good physical shape, I’ve run before, but I’m quite bad and slow at running! I have bad long-distance running genes (I’ve done a DNA test a few years back, I will most probably write a future post about genetics), I have fast-twitch muscle fibers, fast-twitch muscles fatigue faster, all the elite marathon runners have slow-twitch muscle which are great for endurance. I have bad running form, my options are limited here because I have a problem, don’t like to talk/write about it but I have some limits in the use of my left arm and I can’t do the proper arm running movements. I don’t know my VO2 max but it’s probably lower than the average, I took a test some years ago because I had a pulmonary infection, i’m not sure how the test is called, it’s the one where you have to blow as hard as you can into a device – and the doctor asked me if I smoke after reading the results – I’m not a smoker, I tried smoking but didn’t found it appealing, smoked 5 cigars tops in my whole life.  Probably my VO2 max improved since then, I’m less sedentary now than in those years.

Like I said earlier, I tried running before, I have my in-built limitations but I’m not a beginner: I succeeded in running semi-marathons before. I participated to an official trail running competition, even though I worked very hard, I  was among the last ones to cross the finish line. What stopped me from running a marathon until now is the lack of consistency I guess,  I had periods of weeks, months and even years in which I didn’t run because of various reasons. I don’t know about others, but in my first runs after not running for a month or less my lungs are burning like it’s the first time I’m running.

This bucket-list goal has been evading me for too long. I will check it off by 26 of June.

I won’t be writing daily about how this challenge, goes, I will most probable write an update on day 50, day 99 or day 100 or earlier if something unexpected like breaking a leg happens.

N.B: I’m also on day 11 in my challenge to write a post each day for 100 days. I haven’t wrote about doing this challenge before, you are finding it now for the first time.

Bobby Fischer and How to Take Over the Initiative

Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011) is a great documentary with rare footage about one of the best chess players ever, the Mozart of the chess world, Bobby Fischer.
The documentary tells the story of his life, his highlights as a chess player and his later troubled years.

Usain Bolt playing chess
Usain Bolt playing chess without a king. Source: chessgames.gr

May 1972, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, two titans of the chess world meet for the World Championship. In play it’s the World title. In the context of the Cold War the Americans and the Soviets were looking to outdo each others in every way possible. Chess was considerate the ultimate sport of the mind and the national game in Soviet Russia. The soviets invested heavily in chess schools and wanted to prove their superior intelligence over the Americans.

I’ve only heard and read about this colossal match before watching the documentary. I’ve read about it in Robert Green’s book titled The 48 Laws of Power. In the book, Fischer’s eccentricity and flakiness is depicted as a calculated, psychological move, as a way to keep Spassky always guessing. From the documentary you can notice that Bobby is very thoughtful of what he is saying in interviews, his eyes are moving in all directions as he does his thought process and is coming up with the answer, just like when he was at the chessboard, seeing several moves ahead with the eyes of his mind. However, this can’t be said for his later years, it seems that he was suffering from some kind of neurological problems, in interviews he would just spew out words without thinking too much.

“In previous games between Fischer and Spassky, Fischer had not fared well. Spassky had an uncanny ability to read his opponent’s strategy and use it against him. Adaptable and patient, he would build attacks that would defeat not in seven moves but in seventy. He defeated Fischer every time they played because he saw much further ahead, and because he was a brilliant psychologist who never lost control. One master said, “He doesn’t just look for the best move. He looks for the move that will disturb the man he is playing.”” Robert Green – The 48 Laws of Power

Fischer was quite well known for his eccentric behavior even before his match against Spassky, complaining, quitting tournaments, delaying actions, (literally) running away when the press showed up. Critics described him as a prima donna.
Fischer was also a tormented man struggling with his inner demons, grew up without a father figure, his biological father died when he was 9 years old and that was also the moment when he found out the identity of his true father, grew up by himself because his mother left him alone in the house since the age of 3, had a childhood-less life because he spent his childhood always playing and studying chess.

Choreographed or not, it seems that Bobby Fischer eventually made Spassky lose his temperament and focus. What Fischer actually did with his chaotic actions, with his delaying, with his numerous complaints about the cameras, about the noise, about the location and his requests to change the location of the match – was to gain the initiative. Spassky wasn’t obliged to agree to put up with all the eccentricities and location changes, he could have refused, but he didn’t, he let himself to become a pawn inside a game.

Not only that Bobby created a chaotic environment outside of the board, he surprised his adversary with unusual chess openings and moves that didn’t seemed to make much sense.
Quoting from the documentary: “We can see Spassky sitting in the edge of his chair, he is very tense. Fischer seems a little more relaxed than Spassky.” Spassky was out of his comfort zone because he didn’t studied those unusual moves and positions that were presented to him. By surprising his adversary, Bobby took the initiative on the chess board too.

“Spassky was known for his sangfroid and levelheadedness, but for the first time in his life he could not figure out his opponent. He slowly melted down, until at the end he was the one who seemed insane.
Chess contains the concentrated essence of life: First, because to win you have to be supremely patient and farseeing; and second, because the game is built on patterns, whole sequences of moves that have been played before and will be played again, with slight alterations, in any one match. Your opponent analyzes the patterns you are playing and uses them to try to foresee your moves. Allowing him nothing predictable to base his strategy on gives you a big advantage. In chess as in life, when people cannot figure out what you are doing, they are kept in a state of terror—waiting, uncertain, confused.” Robert Green – The 48 Laws of Power

The Political Farm

Politics megaphone
Source: Pixabay

Each time I go on social media sites and when I’m saying social media sites I’m especially referring to Twitter (I deactivated my Facebook account) – I cannot help but observe the ongoing battle between the liberals and republicans in America, and all the Trump this, Trump that.

I rarely check foreign news sites but when I do, it’s the same thing, a lot of propaganda, politics – I cannot help but notice that these news sites tend to support and promote the liberal side.

I’m not really interested in politics, I rarely follow the news in Romania, I hear from time to time about some new mass protest that happens, a trend that doesn’t surprises me anymore. I wrote about How Your Nation’s IQ matters more than Your Own well, Romania has a lower national IQ than other European countries and this fact is reflected in the political ecosystem that we have. When I found out that Romania has a lower national IQ it didn’t surprised me, it actually makes a lot of sense and can explain a lot of things. If you are wondering what is the value, it’s between 91-94 depending on what sources you want to believe. In comparison, most of the European countries hover around the value of 100.

I’m not interested in politics but I’m conscious of the fact that they affect my life. I’m not interested in American politics but America has a huge cultural, financial, political and military impact on the rest of the world. America is the equivalent of the Roman Empire of our days and what happens there you will find out sooner or later even if you want to or not.

Politics is nothing more than a struggle for power. Ideologies and political ideologies are imperfect and cannot satisfy all people with their different personalities. When it comes to politics I’m not satisfied with the direction in which my country is heading, America and the world in general is heading too. I’m reserved in my progress prognosis for my country, I think that things will continue to improve but they will improve at a slow pace like it happened until now.

It seems that you are more likely to die en route towards vote than impact an election outcome.

When it comes to influencing politics in my country I’m helpless because I don’t yield much power, I’m just an ordinary guy. When it comes to influencing the politics in America I’m even more powerless. I’m don’t follow politics but I’m not a naive, I see politics for what they really are: a struggle for power between ambitious individuals, politics are not what they should be: a way to improve the lives of people. The true nature of politics is illustrated in books such as The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Green.

There is a wise Polish proverb: “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. Politics are not my battle, most probable I’m better off ignoring them and concentrating on other things.

N.B: I don’t know if there is some kind of browser extension or filter option to block political content on social media. If it doesn’t exist I might build one.

Genghis Khan and the Art of Winning

One of my favorite books that I’ve read last year is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford. The author did a great job researching and tracking the footsteps of Genghis Khan and his ruling descendants through Mongolia and outside Mongolia.

It was a pleasant experience to discover the complexity and depth of the Mongolian way of life through this book and to see beyond the image in the popular culture, the image of the horde with blood thirsty brute savages.

Conan’s words are supposedly attributed to Genghis Khan

I’m not going to write about that complexity in this post, I highly recommend reading the book and finding for yourself. The purpose of my post is to illustrate winning Mongolian strategies and tactics that have applicability not only on the battlefield but outside of  it as well.

Genghis Khan empire
Genghis Khan’s Empire. Source: Wikimedia.

Throughout history it’s unity and discipline that usually made the difference between winning or losing. Break the unity of the enemy, seed chaos and you gain the upper hand over him even if he has superior numbers, divide et impera | divide and conquer are winning strategies and were used not only by the Romans but by other victors as well.

The Mongol’s success arose from their cohesion and discipline, bred over millennia as nomads working in small groups, and from their steadfast loyalty to their leader.

There is no honor in only trying, there is no second place, go for total victory and finish what you start:

The Mongols did not find honor in fighting; they found honor in winning. They had a single goal in every campaign—total victory. Toward this end, it did not matter what tactics were used against the enemy or how the battles were fought or avoided being fought. Winning by clever deception or cruel trickery was still winning and carried no stain on the bravery of the warriors, since there would be plenty of other occasions for showing prowess on the field. For the Mongol warrior, there was no such thing as individual honor in battle if the battle was lost. As Genghis Khan reportedly said, there is no good in anything until it is finished.

Use the element of surprise, vary your tactics, reward loyalty and punish treachery, create a few basic but unwavering principles that should become the “religion” of your group of people:

Genghis Khan recognized that warfare was not a sporting contest or a mere match between rivals; it was a total commitment of one people against another. Victory did not come to the one who played by the rules; it came to the one who made the rules and imposed them on his enemy. Triumph could not be partial. It was complete, total, and undeniable—or it was nothing. In battle, this meant the unbridled use of terror and surprise. In peace, it meant the steadfast adherence to a few basic but unwavering principles that created loyalty among the common people. Resistance would be met with death, loyalty with security.

You are invincible until your last dying breath, never give up, keep hope alive, don’t think about death and failure, think positive and think about solutions not the problems. 

On and off the battlefield, the Mongol warrior was forbidden to speak of death, injury, or defeat. Just to think of it might make it happen. Even mentioning the name of a fallen comrade or other dead warrior constituted a serious taboo. Every Mongol soldier had to live his life as a warrior with the assumption that he was immortal, that no one could defeat him or harm him, that nothing could kill him. At the last moment of life, when all had failed and no hope remained, the Mongol warrior was supposed to look upward and beckon his fate by calling out the name of the Eternal Blue Sky as his final earthly words.

We know now from neuroscience that each thought we have forms a  unique neuronal network in our brains. The more we use that thought the stronger that network becomes and the stronger the connections between the neurons become and the more readily available that neural network becomes to your reasoning process.  You are what you thinkThe limbic system is constantly searching for threats so it can trigger a fight or flight response to the first sign of threat. Don’t feed the limbic system with imaginary threats. You want to see solution not problems. The mind is great at creating imaginary threats,  evolution favored individuals with this characteristic. However, the environment has changed, there are not that many potential imminent threats, there are not that many bushes left in the city that have a lion or a serpent lurking in them.

Don’t give in to hedonistic pursuits, once you start following them you start forgetting your focus and goals, you will be no better than a slave:

In keeping with his own sober manner and simple style of living, Genghis Khan warned them against the pursuit of a “colorful” life with material frivolities and wasteful pleasures. “It will be easy,” he explained, “to forget your vision and purpose once you have fine clothes, fast horses, and beautiful women.” In that case, “you will be no better than a slave, and you will surely lose everything.”

As seen, these are the characteristics that make a winning mentality. The Mongol success doesn’t consist only in prowess with the bow and arrow and prowess riding the horse, you also need wise leaders with a winner mentality to funnel collective skill into achieving goals:

“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” Alexander the Great.