One year ago I attended Kokoro Camp 25 at US CrossFit. I blogged the following posts about it:
I think about the Kokoro experience daily. The tools I’ve gained from the camp I use every day in life and in training. I thought I would write a followup on how the experience has affected me one year later. If you know nothing about Kokoro, it’s a 50-hour military-style camp held at US CrossFit in Encinitas, California, a couple of times a year. The instructors are ex-Navy Seals and the program is designed by Commander Mark Divine.
Embracing the Suck
One of the biggest tools I gained was adaptability. You have to be super adaptable to handle back-to-back 4 hour evolutions on zero rest, shitty nutrition, and high discomfort, something you experience throughout the 50 hours of Kokoro. I bring that adaptability to my daily training now. It’s not such a big deal if I don’t get the perfect rest or perfect meal beforehand…I find a way to get it done. Often you have to look at the tasks in front of you and use the resources you have in that moment to maximize the outcome. (A resource can be something as simple as a moment of controlled breathing or a sip of water).
I’m much more aware of the present and maximizing the now. Living in the moment is a lesson that’s hammered into you at Kokoro and it really changes your perspective. You learn to literally enjoy discomfort and embrace the suck. When you’re deep in the suck, take a second to look around and realize that what you’re doing is actually fun and you’re fully alive.
Example: During one evolution we were sprinting back and forth into the surf, in the middle of the night, submerging, and running back to camp with ocean water in our mouths. Back at camp we had to sing the National Anthem or some other song while gargling sea water. Sprint back to the ocean, get soaked, suck water, stay cold, get sandy…Did I mention it was the Pacific Ocean? Back and forth. After that we ran 2 miles and then did Chelsea in the sand. It sucked but I realized it was a hell of a lot of fun. Now when I think about it, the sucky parts have faded (mostly) from memory and I remember how much of a blast I was having.
I learned you can recover from a long, taxing evolution in a short amount of time and still perform well on the next workout, even if the next workout is daunting. A two-minute ice bath, box breathing, or a quick yoga session can do wonders. Much of recovery happens in the mind, by maintaining positive thought patterns and knowing the difference between hurting and injured.
Kokoro instructors say you’re capable of doing 20x more than you think you can. At first I thought that was an odd number…why 20x? Why not 3x or 5x? 20x seemed totally over-the-top. After Kokoro, I believe in the 20x. I saw it and it’s real.
99.9% of us only scratch the surface of our potential, whether it’s athletic or intellectual or professional. During Kokoro I put out many times more effort than on anything else I’ve ever done in sport, and I caught a glimpse of the 20x. It’s a powerful insight and a humbling one. It made me change my standards and expectations on every workout I’ve done since the camp. My old scale was obliterated.
The length and depth of Kokoro made me appreciate the differences in the types of athletes present. Everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses, and I was able to see guys shine at certain moments and suck in other moments. I remember some guys were awesome at grinder PT but they sucked on the mountain. Or they were billy goats on the mountain and they sucked on the log. Or they were slow runners but could carry a ton of weight. Everyone had chances to shine. The right teams were especially powerful, as different guys complimented one another.
The Ultimate Experience
I’ve read a lot of war non-fiction and talked to a bunch of my buddies who have been in the Armed Forces. Two themes stand out: the intensity of the experience of war and the bonding between the men.
The vividness and intensity of the Kokoro experience is overwhelming, like it towers over any other athletic event I’ve ever done. I’ve been doing CrossFit for 4 years and I rowed at a decent level for 12 years and I’ve done tons of weekend warrior type events. Nothing comes close to the potency of the Kokoro experience.
I see why guys are addicted to the military experience and how those bonds are forged. The intensity and hours of living in the moment with your brothers is a powerful thing. Even though my experience was a civilian facsimile of the real deal, I find myself yearning to go back. I feel that yearning every day, and over time it gets stronger, not weaker. In many ways it is the ultimate drug. I have to fulfill that yearning with CrossFit competitions and trail marathons and GORUCK Challenges and other events or else I’ll get overwhelmed by a tidal wave of mundanity.
I feel it would be easy to lose yourself in these experiences, constantly doing them, and neglect other areas of your life. I have to restrain myself from getting too deep into the hardcore athletic-social experience or I’ll lose out on my other relationships. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for people coming back after many months on tours of duty, especially from the frontlines…it must be like returning to an alien world. The guys and gals who serve and keep it together in civilian life afterwards are some mentally tough m*therfuckers. It might be easier to get off of real drugs than it is to return to a “normal” life.
The tools you get from Kokoro are phenomenal and I use them daily. You become fully alive and learn to live in the moment. You have to be careful with these types of experiences or else they’ll take over your life…learning restraint and how to channel yourself properly is another tool I gained. I’d do Kokoro again but I’d probably do it like Tommy Hackenbruck did and try to bring a team. I’m definitely looking for the next badass experience.
The last lesson that is incredibly important is you have to be 100% sure of why you’re doing a crucible event like Kokoro and those reasons must be forefront on your mind at all times. It’s not a lark and you will quickly get consumed by your doubts if you’re there simply to test yourself or just check it out…there’s no room for that. You must have an edge and a purpose. I went into it with only a vague idea of why I was doing it and survived but didn’t thrive during the first night. During ice tub torture on the first night I discovered why I was really there and then on Palomar the knowingness of my purpose crystallized fully. I was there to find my warrior spirit and after I made that realization, everything came together. I don’t recommend my process because there were a lot of times I almost checked out. I would have quit if it weren’t for my teammates.
If you’re thinking abut Kokoro and you’re serious about it, I say do it. It’s pretty incredible.