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Training with Intent, An Apache Lesson by Mark Hatmaker

I wager the vast majority of those who take the time to read an essay with the title “Training with Intent” are involved in some physical training of their own. You may be a combat sports enthusiast, a street-combative operator, or simply trying to get in front of the waistline spread that comes easier with the years.

I also wager that those of us who do train put the vast majority of our thought/intent into the raw data of training. That is, “I will lift such and such weight this number of reps, then I will run this far, then I will bang the bag for this designated time, and follow that up with a mat-roll that emphasizes this or that pre-selected technique.

This raw data approach to intent engages our Western-minded penchant for the quantifiable. Numbers are easy hooks to benchmark progress or to place numerical goals on the horizon. Numbers let us know how long we did something or how fast we were. They allow us to graph where we are, where we were, where we’d like to be, and they give us the illusion of full-engagement.

Quantified training does indeed have its uses, but it might be short-sighted in that it treats the body as something to merely provide comparative data which may not necessarily engage the limbic/emotional aspect of the human animal beyond “I’m meeting my goal, I’m happy” or “I’m falling short, I feel sad.”

You may now be asking yourself, “Well, how else are we supposed to train, Hatmaker?”

With intent.

The word “intent” pops up as the loose English translation of a concept found in many indigenous cultures. [“Suaru” to the Comanche people.]

Physical training, whether that be for combat and future raids, preparation for festivals that will feature athletic endeavors, or any of the myriad personal rituals that must be endured by both genders to mark rites of passage in the different stages of life—each of these will include the Western concept of training, that is, “Run this far,” or “Run this fast,” or “Carry this to over there.”

These commands are usually followed by the usual Western concept of “He was faster than you, you must do better.” Or “She is not tired after all of that, we must work on that.”

The raw data approach.

But what these indigenous practices do incorporate that is rarely found in modern training is the concept of “intent.”

That is, each training bout is usually engaged in with an emotional attitude brought to the fore. The emotional/spiritual intent is expected to be held at the forefront not just as a pre-cursor to the training, but held consistently in the mind, heart, and body of the athlete as the activity is engaged in.

There is no plugging in, tuning out, earbuds to distract, hamsters on treadmills eyes on screens.

There are chants, songs, mantras recited internally or given voice to that are meant to bring full engagement to the intent, that is, the purpose of the physical endeavor.

One example of “intent” can be found in the instructions of an Apache father to his son whom is required to run. Run daily, run hard, run long, run in cold weather, hot weather, run when soaking wet, to run under any and all duress that an elder can conjure for each day.

The Apache lad needs endurance and strength to be a warrior to conquer his enemies and he also needs stamina and perseverance to evade his enemies. But notice that his instruction is not merely to run—it is to run with intent. The Apache father creates an emotional landscape to run within.

My son, you know no one will help you in this world…You must run to that mountain and come back. That will make you strong. My son, you know no one is your friend, not even your sister, your father, or your mother. Your legs are your friends; your brain is your friend; your eyesight is your friend; your hair is your friend; your hands are your friend; you must do something with them.”-Nabokov, Peter, Indian Running.

Now, that may sound harsh to our ears, but the historical and cultural context shapes the necessity. I can offer numerous examples of boys, girls, men, and women being offered severe words, and many examples of gentle words of urging harmony of mind and body in the given endeavor but they all share the same concept of asking to unite mind, body, and spirit with intent.

Now, let’s assume you see some merit in the concept of this unity of intent, does your current approach to training reflect and embody intent or are your ears, eyes and thoughts somewhere else while your body goes through that days prescribed motions?

If we are not training with intent, are we training at optimum engagement?

Perhaps just as important as the numbers on the scale, on the clock, on the Olympic plate, are the words on the tongue, the phrase embedded in the mind, and the response the limbic system has to this unity of mind and body.

[For additional Training Ideas and Drills with intent see the ESP RAW Subscription Service.]


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