Last August I decided to challenge myself; to get out of my comfort zone. I committed to doing the Sharkfest Alcatraz swim (swimming 1.5 miles in the San Francisco harbor from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park in San Francisco) on June 4, 2017.
Let me be clear, I'm not a swimmer. But I loved the idea of facing the obstacles that the Alcatraz swim presented:
Wind and chop
All of these would give me practice in finding my mental anchor, staying calm, and committing to the training / learning process. Things I use all the time in Jiu Jitsu ... but Jiu Jitsu has become very comfortable for me having trained over twenty-five years in it. It was time to become a beginner again.
After 8 months of swim lessons (THANK YOU Coach Dennis Baker - you're my swimming Yoda) I significantly improved stroke efficiency and comfort. I still have more work to do ... but I was encouraged by my progress.
I did ice bath training to get used to the cold water. This was challenging in its own right. My best (it took about 8 weeks to work up to this) was 40 degree water for 15 minutes. It definitely puts you in a different place, mentally and physically.
My 1st time in open water was extremely humbling ... I panicked and couldn't catch my breath. Being in the open water (not in a pool) all by myself was far more unnerving than I expected. I realized that I had work to do (this was in late April).
During the month of May I swam in open water approximately 15 times (between a recon trip to San Francisco to swim in Aquatic Park for 2 days, Hagg Lake, and Blue Lake). I found myself getting better and more confident.
Nonetheless, I hadn't faced the chop and bad weather conditions that San Francisco Harbor is infamous for until my second to last swim at Hagg Lake and it rocked me. The chop was rough and I had a hard time finding my rhythm. It wasn't pretty, but I made it. This experience really pushed me to find my mental anchor and get my head on straight at the beginning of the swim so I'd be ready for whatever I'd have to face.
On the day of the Sharkfest Swim, the conditions were perfect; not a cloud in the sky, no wind, minimal chop. It was amazing. And in a strangely bizarre way, it was over way faster than I expected. I completed the swim in 44:30 minutes. The time didn't matter. The fact that I finished did.
The key for me was that it wasn't a race. It was a swim. I was doing it to face the challenges.
I'm pleased with my accomplishment. I still don't consider myself a swimmer. I'm a grappler and martial artist. But, it's the lessons and skills I've learned from a lifetime in martial arts that allowed me to successfully train for the physical and mental components of the swim.
We strive to embrace and embody the spirit and mindset of a modern-day samurai at Five Rings. We strive to become the best version of ourselves. This challenge helped me grow and face my fears. It helped me remember what being a white belt is like (because I absolutely started as a white belt swimmer). I appreciate having gone through the process. It was fantastically fun.
Thank you to my swimming partner, Katherine Webster, for her support. And thank you to my wife, Coby Schneider, and Katherine's husband, Keith Molesworth, for all their support throughout the year. And thank you to everyone at Five Rings for the support ... it meant a lot.
And I challenge all of you ... find something that will force you to stretch and commit to it. You'll be glad you did. Life is meant to be lived, embraced, and experienced fully.
A nice in-academy challengine is the upcoming Grapple-a-Thon on August 12, 2017 ... I'm committing to doing 50 five minute rolls that day. The key isn't the number, but the stretch ... the growth ... the challenge.
To the next challenging! ! ! :-)