A Leaner Pack

A leaner packA Leaner Pack

Anyone who has had to carry a pack over any distance will know the value of making that pack as light and lean as possible.  Imagine this scenario:

You park up at the car park and check off the kit list: tarp, sleeping bag, bivvi bag, roll mat, hammock, stove, food, warm kit, map and compass, knife, dry kit etc… check.  As you are closing it you see a trusty top and an extra wooly jumper better throw them in just in case, it may get chilly you think.  You also throw in an umbrella and small folding chair, just in case of a shower; an extra pair of wooly socks, a couple of extra snack bars and a light rain jacket for those occasional downpours.

Okay pack ready and I am now set for any eventuality.

You go to lift the pack out of the car boot and rather than it coming to you, you go to it. Its that heavy. You eventually get the pack on and almost buckle under the weight.  You brace yourself and set off on the trail with the pack digging into your shoulders.  Its okay you say to yourself, I will get used to it. Its good training.

The road less travelled…
However, ten miles in and the pack is really starting to weigh you down.  The straps are digging in, your back is covered in sweat and your feet have ‘hot spots’. All that extra stuff that you put in is taking its toll and what’s worse?  You haven’t used any of it.  

You come to a fork in the path.  You have heard about a glorious spot about 8 miles further up the trail to the left.  People have waxed lyrical about how stunning it is and how good they felt when returning from the spot. It is a small secluded glade by a pool at the bottom of a waterfall that almost no one goes to.  It is quite a steep path with some loose rock and all uphill.  Any other time you would do it but after walking so long with such a heavy pack you are thinking of taking the more traveled route down to the riverbank.  Not as spectacular, quiet or secluded but still nice and rewarding with good spots to pitch camp.

You catch yourself mid thought.  When am I next going to be taking this trail?  The last time was over a year ago. Carpe Diem. I am going to do it.  You make the commitment, move into the bushes and take out everything except what you will need for the trip.  Out come the rain jacket, wooly jumper, socks, umbrella, seat and extra snack bars and you hide them under a bush. You put the pack on and it feels so much lighter, almost half the weight.  You almost float up the hill, its not just the reduced weight, its knowing that you are lean and clean of clutter.

The principle of minimalism
I know that this resonates with many of my experiences.  In the Army we would go to huge lengths to lessen the weight of the pack.  Cutting the bottom half off toothbrushes, cutting a roll mat in half, squeezing half the toothpaste out so that you only had what you needed.  Cutting towels in half, trimming the edges of the map.  It sounds crazy I know, but all of these things added up to a significant lessening of weight.  We were ruthless with it.  Take care of the ounces and the pounds will look after themselves.  It was also mentally important to know that you were as lean as you could be.  When you know you have extra clutter it is not just the physical weight. Mentally every step reinforced in your mind that you were carrying more than you should be.

A lighter pack for martial artists
Lightening our pack is vital as a martial artist.  It is possibly the most important aspect.  Correct training works to create an environment where the training pushes our buttons.  It triggers our fears, tensions, anxieties, pride, ego, frustrations and other unwanted ‘heavy’ emotions.  It gives us the tools to be aware of these emotions and simple reliable methods of removing them.  In battle, be that a combat situation, self defence situation or a high pressure negotiation, we need to be free of these inhibiting emotions.  We need to be relaxed, fluid, loose and creative both physically and mentally.   We are often blissfully unaware of the fears and anxieties that are running constantly through our bodies and minds.  Our body and our movements are the physical barometer for them.  Unchecked, these fears and tensions inhibit spontaneous, natural, creative movement and a response that is ‘just enough’ and appropriate to the threat.

Lightening your emotional pack
Then there is the mental fatigue of carrying anxiety, stress, worry, and tension. These mental things very quickly become physical.  Worries and fears quickly become physical tension.   Usually in the back, neck and shoulders.  These sap your energy levels, drive, motivation and enthusiasm.  They cause poor posture, knotted muscles, headaches and worse, and they rob you of your vital energy.  Spend just 10 minutes sat on a bench or at an airport watching people as they walk.  The majority won’t be walking naturally and at ease.  Most will be hunched in the shoulders, back, legs or hips.  Most of the time this will be worry or anxiety related tension rather than an actual physical injury.

Lightening your pack in life.
The worries of everyday life can be seen in the same light.  Worrying about meeting the costs of ever increasing outgoings for things that we know that we don’t really need.  Meeting the demands of commitments to friends, family or co-workers that we couldn’t say no to even though you know that you should have.  Wading through a life cluttered with stuff that we haven’t used in years. Items from old hobbies, an office and drawers overflowing with manuals for things we don’t even own anymore.  Go through them and ruthlessly de-clutter.  It will feel great afterwards.

Daily Ablutions
As well as normal cleaning, the warrior would need to ‘wash’ themselves daily of these unwanted emotions. The tightness, headaches and knots are the roadmap of the fears and thoughts of the mind.  Daily training, floor rolling and breathing exercises help you to firstly notice and then release these tensions.  The amazing thing is that once you notice and remove the physical tensions, the mental ones go too.    Think of the body as your alarm clock.  Once you start to do this you will find yourself much more aware of the daily tensions and be able to drop them, leaving you with more energy, feeling more relaxed, moving more smoothly, being more creative and much, much healthier.

I have 3 trips organised this year where you can put some of this to the test:

UK 4 Day Systema Summer Camp – 29 June – 02 July  – Wiltshire with Matt Hill. Click here for more information and to book.

River Wye Canoeing and Camping Trip – 22-23 July – 4 spaces left Click here for more information

Sweden Total Immersion Systema Camp with the Systema Twins – 28 Aug – 02 Sept – 2 spaces left. Click here for more information

Respect and best wishes,

Matt.