In the movie Star Wars, Luke Skywalker must learn to harness the “Force”, a mystical power latent in all things, including himself. In yogic practices, this power is often referred to as Prana meaning “life force.” Similar references can be found in most civilizations throughout the world. In China such energy is often described as chi, while in Japan it’s ki. A common thread these cultures share in describing “the force” is that it surrounds us all, and through practice can be harnessed, directed, and even controlled.
Recent experience has led me to ask the following question: Can this “force” be tapped into and utilized in the sport of rock climbing and, if so, how can we go about the practice of doing it with consistent and therefore replicable results?
To begin this discussion let me first tell you about the experience I had a few weeks ago during the finals round at the Dark Horse climbing competition. I must first set the stage. It is the Dark Horse finals round and I am the last competitor to climb the final problem. All eyes are on me and though I don’t know it, a top on this climb will secure me the first place finish. The problem begins on a stunningly difficult first move then traverses left through a gauntlet of difficult compression sequences leading up to a left handed toss directed at a slope-y triangular finish hold. I manage to stick the first move after a few attempts, work my way through the compression section and toss left hand to the finish hold, both feet off. And then…fall on the last move! It is here my story begins. At this point I’m exhausted, I know I don’t have it in me to complete the problem. After a few minutes rest I stick the first move, but fall half way through the compression section. With 90 secs left on the clock, I’m beat, done, no more energy, my reserves depleted, and my last attempt used up what adrenaline I had left. I face the crowd and shrug, an apologetic gesture on my face. I know its anti-climactic to throw in the towel early but I’m too exhausted to give another go. I’m about to collect my chalk bag and exit stage left when I notice a young kid in the front row yelling at me. The kid is screaming encouragement and at that moment I know he is right, I can’t leave. A flash consideration of the situation provokes the thought that if I can even make it past the first move again it would be a feat in and of itself. So I dig deep, yell a battle cry, and begin to channel the “force.” With thirty seconds left on the clock I stick the first move, and then the next! I direct my chi, I scream, I stick the next move. I breathe deep, I channel my prana. I scream again, and again, and again, conquering three more moves. I focus my ki, a bestial roar pours from my lips, I stick another move. Mana runs through my veins as I shout grabbing the final hold before the finish and I give it everything. I lunge, I scream…I fall. I’m stunned, not because I didn’t finish the problem, but because I climbed through exhaustion, past my reserves, beyond my adrenalin, and exceeded a threshold I was not aware existed. Until that moment, “the force” was just a novelty concept, a movie gimmick, someone else’s culture, but now it was substantial.
The science of physics informs us that a better part of what we’re experiencing here on earth is unseen to the human eye. And yet, as we grow increasingly absorbed with the world of matter and of all the things we can observe with our eyes and touch with our bodies, we loose site of the world beyond our grasp, the world many advanced cultures have strove to understand and work within. What if this world holds the keys to unlocking our hidden potential as climbers?
With my recent experience pushing past the apparent facts of the moment, one may suggest I was using “the force” to open myself to the unlimited possibilities which exist just outside of my minds limited perception. Many of you out there reading this may have had similar quantum experiences climbing past your known limitations. However, it seems that despite how miraculous such incidents may seem in the moment, we all to often return to limitations of the mind and let it guide our actions.
Scientific facts are based on the premise that an experiment yield consistent results and be replicable. Keeping this in mind I invite you all to consider your less than usual experiences, times when you pushed a little harder to gain a hold than you thought would actually yield positive results. Furthermore, I invite you all to begin amassing a personal database of results by testing your limitations beyond what you know to be true. Once you’ve amassed a months worth of data, take your results and match them against what you believed to be your limit and your actual limit of tries on say your favorite bouldering project at the gym or crag? I would not be surprised if what your end up with is a tangible testimony to the unseen potential which lies just outside the limitations of what your mind knows to be true. In the meantime I know I’ll be taking the concepts of prana, chi, ki, and “the force” with far more interest and intent as it relates to gaining a deeper understanding of my climbing and the never-ending project of taking it to the next level. Cheers, and may the force be with you!