A Lion in Iron: There Can Be Only One!

“There can be only ONE!”

For anyone that is a fan of the Highlander film and television series, these should be familiar words. For those that are not familiar, the narrative of these films is based upon the existence of a small number of immortal men and women, all of whom are required at some point in their lives to fight to the death in battles of swordsmanship. The end game is that there can ultimately be only one living immortal.

What the hell does this have to do with anything, you may ask?

Right now, in the strength training world, there has been a spate of recent debates and arguments over what methodology is the best for powerlifting. There has been questioning over the effectiveness of the dynamic effort method, optimal training frequency, exercise selection, raw vs. geared, gear being useful for raw, anabolic vs. natural, intensity vs. the technical definition of intensity, raw records vs. geared records,  and more than anything else—which ONE system is superior to ALL others.

I’m going to make a metaphor here and say that a system/method is simply a sword. And a sword means NOTHING next to the man that wields it. Everyone has their swords out at the moment and are viciously swinging the damn things around, declaring that they are going to behead everyone else.

Well guess what. NO ONE is going to win and be the last one standing because this isn’t the fucking quickening, people! There is no “One Way” that leads to a pro total. Everyone is looking at their swords and thinking that they are going to cut heads. However, this isn’t a one-on-one fight, and that sword doesn’t mean a damn thing next to your skill at using it. There are many different kinds of swords and many different methods of swordsmanship, and all of them are unique to the particular properties of the weapon; the experience of the swordsman; the swordsman’s teacher, and the swordsman’s personal commitment, abilities, and limitations.

A sword is a sword is a sword. Someone with little skill can easily pick one up, hack at something, and think that he or she is wielding bloody Excalibur. The immortals all used different swords. Some had claymores, sabers, katanas, longswords, rapiers, scimitars, and everything in between. What “sword” was superior when the immortals battled? NONE OF THEM WERE. Everyone got beheaded constantly by everybody else because the sword didn’t matter. The sword was just a tool—it was the man that was dangerous. And who was the most deadly immortal?

The ones who OUT TRAINED all of the others.

“The Way does not act, but nothing remains Undone.” Your Way takes no action unless it is YOU who puts it into effect.

Now, before I start an argument over what constitutes training, hard training, practice, etc. etc. etc., I am going to ask that you please shut up. Every hour you spend under the bar is training. The time you think about training is, in and of itself, training. The time thinking about the training you did is training. And I’m not trying to make some pseudo-intellectual reference to the 10,000-hour rule. I am making the point that the sword—the system, the way—doesn’t matter nearly as much as the time you spend actually DOING it, studying it, and studying what you have been doing.

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Every system has an example of a lifter who “made” that system work for him or her. There is no ONE WAY among champion lifters. The only thing they have in common is that they found “A WAY” that they fervently followed, refined, and utilized to beat everybody else. Finding your one way/system/method is a process— a general experimention with many different ways. You cannot learn something that you don’t want to know, and you cannot do something that you are not willing to learn.

If you tried something and it did not work, THEN DON’T USE IT. Similarly, if you try something and it keeps working, then keep using it.

Don’t swing a claymore if it’s too heavy for you just because the bigger immortal has a huge claymore. Don’t use a rapier if your reflexes are as slow as a sloth’s. Don’t use a katana if you’ve spent all of your years fighting with a double-edged long sword.

How does this compare to training systems? I have no idea what the direct comparison would be, but that’s not the point. The point is, depending on who is wielding the sword, all are capable of killing you dead. It all depends on the person and how they have trained and studied and studied training.

So you think your sword is that much better than all of the others? I can tell you right now that certain swords are ill-suited for certain people. I will also tell you that whatever sword you first learn on, eventually a true swordsman will forge his own customized weapon because that is HIS WAY—that is what he knows suits him best. And this process takes a long time and never really ends.

If everyone was an immortal and this was the quickening, pretty much everybody would be dead right now. You know why? Because everyone thinks that he has the best sword in the world. That’s wonderful, but this is a SPORT. It’s a competition. Were competing with and against each other, not trying to kill each other. Even if we were (and some of us honestly want to right now), do you really believe that a single weapon is going to beat everyone else in the world? Even if it did, there’s not going to be a sport if everyone is dead.

So put the swords away (not that they even existed in the first place), calm down a bit, and accept that people will use different ways than you. You may vehemently disagree with them, but that’s their way. If it works for them, they have the right to keep on doing it, just as you do. If they question your way, then question there’s right back. No one is going to learn anything if everyone believes the same thing. Whichever way you personally follow, whichever system you find most effective, whichever WAY you believe truly works, carry the perspective that your way is one of many. And it is up to YOU to learn which ONE is most valuable for yourself.

You will never learn the ONE if you don’t first learn that there are MANY.


Related Articles:

Why Every Training System Sucks, but Mine

In Defense of Dynamic Effort Work


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About the Author

Alexander Cortes started lifting heavy five years ago as a way to rebuild his body after severely injuring his back and hamstring during ballet training. Yes, you read that correctly. After using a cane for nearly a year, he decided to make a change to his training and become strong(er). From his personal experience, his programming approach on muscle, strength, and athletic development is a blend of dance and strength and conditioning methods. Having worked with a predominantly female clientele for most of his career, he is very passionate about empow(her)ing women to change their mindsets regarding training and nutrition. As a coach, he works alongside John Meadows at Mountain Dog Training. It’s here that he coaches physique athletes and non-competitive individuals. He can be contacted directly at cortes.ajax.training@gmail.com or through Facebook.