Eryk Banatt's Reviews > The Rock Warrior's Way: Mental Training for Climbers

The Rock Warrior's Way by Arno Ilgner
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I wasn't a huge fan of this book at first but I'll admit I warmed up to it as I read it. Overall this book is climbing problem solving advice, intro Zen Buddhism concepts, pop psychology, and some loose climbing history all rolled up into one book. It wasn't the greatest book I've ever read but it was surprisingly motivating and I had a good time reading it.

My thoughts on a few of the ideas in this book:

"After taking a long time to lead a pitch, it may be accurate to
say, “I climbed slowly.” It is a great leap, however, and not a
logical one, to say, “I am a slow climber.”... A warrior takes
responsibility for each time he gives up. To talk as if giving up was
a permanent personality trait is simply a power leak."


The idea of power leaks in this book is fairly interesting, and seems pretty befitting for a book about climbing where so much attention needs to be placed on efficiency to not sap away all of your energy. A lot of this book so far is just "things are as they are, not as you would prefer them to be" and by extension "caring about anything that isn't 'what is' is merely a waste of effort in a sport where effort is a scarcely limited resource"

One thing that I think I'm going to start doing in my own climbing is stop referring to holds as "bad" or say that "they suck". I think usually I get the picture describing the holds in that way, in that I'm referring to them as "not very positive" or "very small", but I think the habit will likely make me approach climbs in a negative way if I let it continue that way. Problems are problems, and the elements of a problem should be described in a way that allows me to think of how to solve them rather than my opinion of their usefulness. The book puts a lot of emphasis on questions like "what does this climb offer me to allow me to climb it" which seems useful as a sort of shortcut for thinking about things.

There was a bit about Bad Posture Wasting Energy. Points on the mental game being affected by posture, a lot of which is pretty hotly contested in psychology and is the subject of a high-profile reproducability crisis example (see: Amy Cuddy's research and criticisms). That said I liked the bit about "Soft eyes focus" which suggests maintaining a more relaxed, nongrimacing, composed face as a cue to your body to be composed and relaxed. On a related note, he mentions focusing on the entire field of vision which contrasts with the advice I typically hear from elite osu! players who suggest laserfocusing on your current move instead of looking at larger patterns. This could be more because "reading" in climbing is more widely visual and less rigidly sequential compared to a rhythm game, but I thought the comparison was interesting.

The author mentions listing exactly what the worst case scenario for a fall would be, which would avoid you overdramaticizing the risks involved in a fall. This is similar to what I've seen in Tim Ferriss' work, so it seemed like pretty good advice.

"If a climb you expected to be difficult proves to be easy and doesn’t
challenge you, then it loses most of its benefit. Remember the
importance of feeling challenged. Once in the thick of things on a
climb, we quickly forget why we are there."


It's so easy to forget in climbing that the whole point isn't really to achieve a number, the point is to get to the top of the rock. If something was supposed to be a hard problem and it turned out to be easy, no amount of convincing yourself it was actually hard because it was labeled a certain way will change the fact that, for you, it was easy. Pushing yourself constantly is an intimately personal affair and climbing lets you confront this.

I was unsure if I really like the idea of frustration suggesting that your focus has shifted to wanting things given to you, rather than dissatisfaction with yourself. I think that approaching challenges and knowing you can achieve it but falling short feels very frustrating and I don't think that is quite the same thing as complaining that something should be easier - perhaps this is since I come from a more competitive background compared to being a relatively beginner climber but when I lose matches I know I was capable of winning it's usually not a sentiment that suggests that I wish my opponents made worse moves so that I could win, it's an expressing of how dissatisfied I am with my own moves and by extension my preparation.

That said I think the idea of directly modifying your internal narrative from statements like "I can't do X" to "I know how to do Y, so how can I use this info to do X" or "What can I do to do X?" is a good one, and even if the latter usually follows the first, making an explicit mental note to always take that type of path is a good habit. "You can't give what you don't have"

It’s important to reaffirm our commitment to learning and remind
ourselves that we really do want to make “risky” choices.
Paradoxically, taking risks actually increases our safety and
comfort. Sudden danger lurks everywhere—losing our jobs, being struck
by a car, contracting a mortal illness. A cowering, protective
approach to life doesn’t reduce the peril. It only serves to make us
slaves to fear and victims of con- stant anxiety.


In general it's pretty heavy on the "play to learn" rather than "play to win" subtext, which is probably *even more* applicable to climbing than it is to competition, where I first explored the idea deeply myself.

That said some stuff about this book was definitively weird and at times it veered off into preachy territory. The anecdote about his wife wanting mexican food struck me as a really sort of ridiculous example for defending the etherealness of human intuition. In general this section was pretty woo-y and I was not a fan of the anecdotes / general pervasiveness of spirituality in it (really
just wanna get better at getting up rocks). Bits like "Intuition is always truth. You never have faluse intutions. Falseness can only occur during interpretation of intutive messages" were flatly
ridiculous and even if his general thesis as it pertains to rock climbing (i.e. "listen to your intuition because sometimes your body knows better than your mind") I thought this whole section was a
little nutso.

Overall though I got a lot of enjoyment out of this book, and the buddhist vibes I got from it was a lot less ridiculous than I initially expected them to be - climbing is ultimately something you do for fun, but it's so easy to allow yourself to not feel the fun as it is actually happening. As cliche as it might sound, existing in the moment is so important, especially when the whole point of your activity is to have as good of a time as possible.

"Your attention had already moved on, ghost-like, to dwell in a hollow
fantasy of your future success. You were only partially present at the
scene of the climb. You were climbing in order to be finished
climbing. Now that you are finished climbing, it is as if you never
really climbed."


Some cool misc quotes:

"Once you’ve had a performance, it’s over. You can’t change it.
Dodging the facts hinders real learning. Your performance, whatever it
was, was the best it could have been at the time. Accept it. Phys-
ical strength, your technical skill, your ability to focus your mind,
your level of motivation, and many other factors all contribute to
per- formance. Saying, “I could have made it if only I had really gone
for it,” is similar to saying, “I could have made it if I was a better
climber.”


"You might pretend that climbing well isn’t important to you. If you
state, “I don’t care about climbing well,” you’re probably pre-
tending. You pretend in order to dull the dis- appointment of a
substandard performance. You’re coddling your Ego. You aren’t being
truthful. Pretending that climbing well isn’t important makes it more
difficult to climb well."


The moment you have the thought, “I expect to make it up this climb,”
you project yourself into the fu- ture when the effort is over. This
drains attention from the effort itself, reducing your
effectiveness. Your effort is what’s import- ant. It is your act of
giving. Without giving, learning or growth is not possible. The exer-
cise becomes rote and motivation drops. As you enter a climbing
challenge, make sure you expect to make an effort.


"You know exactly what you want to do physically—the moves, the rests,
etc. So why are you feeling anxious?"


"If the route follows some bizarre feature that your conscious mind has
no idea how to climb, listen to the rock. Notice the subtleties. Avoid
tunnel vision. Leave the comfort zone of your limited repertoire of
techniques and learn."


Remember, your level of receptiv- ity determines your speed of
learning. If the conscious mind begins to engage in thinking, direct
your attention to your breath, which helps put the conscious mind in
neutral.
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Reading Progress

July 20, 2018 – Started Reading
July 30, 2018 – Shelved
July 31, 2018 – Finished Reading

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