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Book Review of: Stillpower
Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life
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Stillpower, by Author (Softcover, 2012)|
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Kramer addresses something that advanced martial artists, seasoned climbers, and real bodybuilders are well aware of and practice regularly. I know, because these are my three "sports" (I don't approach them as sports, though they are classified that way).
One of my early martial arts instructors was fond of saying, "To win in a conflict, you must defeat two enemies: the one in front of you and the one within you. Of the two, the one within you is the more dangerous." He would go on to explain that you had to relax, go into a non-thinking mode, and let your chi flow. Pretty much Kramer's point of view. I taught this, and one technique, to a student who, after six months of training, took second in his first martial arts tournament (no minor one, either, it was the Dallas Citywide Open Style).
Kramer's "be still inside" philosophy is a "secret" to excellence in many areas, from personal relationships to sports to business. But I disagree with Kramer's apparent opinion that it's "the" secret. It must be combined with other things. He is is correct in advising, "Stop trying so hard," but he needs to qualify that with several important caveats. I think he alludes to many of these, but it would be better if he made a list or in some other way made it clear that simply having inner calm is not enough. And I think he needs to be more clear that, no matter how well you prepare, lack of inner calm greatly diminishes your performance.
That's one way in which Kramer's book falls short. Another is he assumes the reader knows various pro sports celebrities and their career history. So he lost me several times when making his point with such remarks as, "The rest, as they say, is history," when he could have used about the same number of words to plainly state what actually happened. Like millions of people in the USA, I do not follow pro sports or college sports. I've never watched a televised basketball, football, or baseball game in my life. So the "obvious" references were a complete mystery to me and I didn't feel compelled to search online for the answer.
But even without understanding his references to particular pro sports celebrities, I understood what Kramer was driving at. He built his case in enough other ways so that understanding those references wasn't requisite to understanding his message.
These two shortcomings don't make the book a failure. If you're already an athlete who has all the "hard" training and can't seem to get off your plateau, the likely problem is you lack stillpower. Kramer's book is exactly what you need. And I stress "exactly."
This book makes an excellent addition to any athlete's training reference library. Just be sure you keep it in context and don't substitute inner calm for all other training. You need inner calm in addition to all other training. You may need to set aside some of your normal training time so you can focus on calming your mind. Kramer provides some insight on this, as well.
This book consists of ten chapters, an epilogue, and an appendix. It runs 177 pages, plus contains six pages of endnotes followed by an index.
How stillpower works for me
When I travel, I visit gyms and see "gym rats" focusing on the mechanicals of what they are doing as if counting plates and reps has any relation to what their body is actually experiencing. This discipline is good for beginners, but to really get the adaptive response you must focus much less on the conscious and let your body do the "thinking" for you. This was what Arnold Schwarzenegger was talking about when he said, "You must listen to your body."
Back in my younger days, I dominated sparring matches after I learned the inner calmness that just lets things flow. A once popular song had the lyric, "Still waters run deep," and this was great advice for the martial artist in my heyday. Today, it is great advice for any athlete.
In climbing, people hit a fairly how competence limit until they stop trying to muscle up the routes. I started climbing in the previous century. In the ensuing years, I have never seen people learn climbing techniques when their mental focus is on "getting to the top." Only when they move from that external motivation of result to an internal one of process do they begin to learn and enjoy climbing. Kramer repeatedly hits on this theme in his book, which as I write this strikes me as essential reading for anyone new to climbing.
As noted, however, any athlete will benefit from understanding these principles. It's not just athletes. Have trouble making friends? Stop trying so hard, and you will find that people click with your inner calm and want to be around you. Have trouble with a demanding boss? Rather than let the boss rattle you into making errors, calmly toss the demands back at the boss and ask the boss to decide what the priorities are. Can't stay on your diet? Your frustration is driving you to emotional eating, so calm down and your appetite will shrink to one that serves you instead of the other way around.
If you know you're good, you don't have to prove it; relax and get your best performance. In whatever you're doing. That's Kramer's story, and I'm sticking to it.