The Iron Code

I’m going to steal Henry Rollins’ term and use the “The Iron” here. I know some gyms exclusively use bumper plates, but you’ll just have to accept my use of The Iron” to refer to all gyms for now.   

I’ve lifted in many different gyms while traveling. Some big, some small. Some with new fancy equipment, and some with old stuff that has seen better days. Some clean, and some that probably haven’t been scrubbed in a few years.

No matter where I go, there’s a universal code, a sort of Iron Code. It’s an unspoken Code, but it universally exists.

I feel comfortable in any gym I go to. I don’t have to speak to anyone, and I usually don’t except for logistics – i.e. asking how many sets someone has – but I know we are all there for the same reason.

Wherever I have trained while traveling, whether for a day or a week, it’s clear each person in there is trying in some way to improve themselves, to level up their lives.

They are dedicated. They are driven. They are motivated.

In short, they are my kind of people. Each person lifting in every gym has choices and options. They don’t have to be there. They could take the easy way out, like so many other people do, and accept the status quo.

They can stay unhealthy and overweight, but they want something better for themselves. They don’t want to stay average.

Our specific goals may differ; some may be interested strictly in weight loss, some in health, and some want to get jacked as fuck, but whatever our goals we are all looking to improve some aspect of our lives.

We all get some kind of positive physical and mental effects that keeps us coming back for more.

I know that whenever I walk into a new gym, I may be out of sorts because I don’t know where anything is and don’t see any familiar faces, but I know I am amongst friends. I know, whatever our specific goals may be, that our general goal of self-improvement is the same.   

My Most Recent Time in the YMCA

My most recent experience was in a YMCA in Central Florida. It will be my gym home for a week. Thankfully, it is among the nicer YMCA gyms I’ve been to. It has all the equipment I need.

The average age of patrons is probably around 75, but age means nothing when it comes to the Iron Code. My goals definitely differ from most of the patrons in there, but it doesn’t matter. The facility is alive, and I felt that. From the ladies waiting for their Yoga class to start, to their husbands bench pressing light weights and encouraging each other, to the older gentleman with a full tattoo sleeve on both arms in the squat rack, they all make the choice to not take the easy way out, to continue their daily self-improvement.  

Those are the kind of people I want to be around. No socializing is necessary. We all know implicitly that everyone else in there is a follower of the Iron Code.  

I will close with my favorite quote from Henry Rollins’ famous Iron And The Soul, which has always reflected my own view of my gym time:

“The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”

You Are Vulnerable. Do Something About It

I am by no means a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) expert.

It has been years since I’ve trained and, although I keep saying I’m going to get back to it, thus far I haven’t.

Although I haven’t trained in a while, I still carry with me many lessons from my time on the mats. Foremost among them is a recognition of just how vulnerable I am in a physical altercation.

BJJ is different than many of the more traditional martial arts. In BJJ, from the beginning you are actively sparring against resisting opponents, “rolling” in BJJ parlance. In some other martial arts you might learn different movement patterns that include kicks and punches, you might also learn to dramatically break boards, but you often never get to test your skills against resisting opponents who are also trained. That can breed an overconfidence since you are never quite sure where you truly stand.

Rolling lets you know exactly where you stand. After all, what good is knowing how to perform particular techniques if you are unable to pull them off against actual opponents who are fighting back?

While rolling you can’t hide from your opponent or from yourself, and your weaknesses will be exposed.

If you haven’t sparred with resisting opponents you truly have no idea where you stand, and you have no clue of your true vulnerabilities.

How Tough Are You?

Every man likes to think he is physically tough. That’s part of being a man. But what we think is reality is often very different from the truth.  There is often a false confidence and sense of bravado that infects many men, especially when they are putting on a show for a woman.

If you have never been in a physical altercation scenario against a grown adult, you likely overestimate your own abilities. This overestimation can be deadly for you if you aggressively go after a trained individual. This obviously doesn’t only include someone trained in BJJ, it also includes boxers, Muay Thai practitioners, MMA fighters, judo players, and those trained in other legitimate martial arts.

Men who have never trained simply cannot imagine a scenario where they can be physically dominated, particularly by someone smaller or less physically imposing than they are.

Those who train know better.

They’ve likely been choked and had their arms almost ripped off and been forced to tap by those with more skill hundreds of times.

This act of physically submitting in a fight to another man humbles you like nothing else does. It shows you that there is always someone more skilled and tougher than you are. How can you be overconfident when you’ve been humbled so often?

The average wannabe tough guy doesn’t get to experience this forced humility on the mats in a safe and controlled way and doesn’t realize how easy it is for a man who has trained to obliterate him if he chooses.

We’ve all been out somewhere, perhaps at a bar, where there is a loud drunken tough guy challenging all-comers. It is very likely such individuals never trained, which is why they have no respect for the fighting abilities of the other men present. It simply never crosses these fools’ minds that they would have no chance against a trained individual.

Don’t be that guy.

Recognize that you are vulnerable, and if you want to decrease that vulnerability, start to train.

You will get defeated, often. That’s good for the soul and is the best teacher of humility there is. Embrace your vulnerability and take steps to mitigate it by training. You will tap often. You will have aches and pains. You will get discouraged. But, you will get better. And, as you get better you will improve your abilities to protect your family and yourself.  

Just whatever you do, don’t be that guy with an outsized confidence that hasn’t been earned on the mats, in a ring, or in a cage.  

I intend on getting back on the mats to continue the process of increasing my own humility in the near future.