The Full Circle

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“Knowing is not enough. We must apply.”  – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I blame powerlifter Dave Tate for putting the original germ of this idea in my noggin, which has since been washed around by the spam and lime jello between my ears into my “concept of perpetual learning,” or, to borrow from my guru terminology kit, the “Principle of Continuing Education.”

The Full Circle is the alchemic process that transforms learning into knowing. Learning is simply the acquisition of information. We stockpile an impressive menagerie of learning daily. Often we’re one step away from being information hoarders, stuffing our skulls with enough data flotsam that our brains have a tough time finding the remote to our inner eye’s big screen. In other words we learn stuff all the time, but that is only half the journey around the full circle. Learning is not knowing, just like having a gym membership, gym shoes, gym shorts and a gym bag is not actually working out.

Take a look at your own personal biography. Think back to 4th grade, for example. There was a heap o’ lurnin’ to be done, but I’ll bet my used undies you don’t know everything you learned back then.  In my case I don’t remember how to properly diagram a sentence (as might be horribly evident), but I could tell you all about a brontosaurus (now known as the Apatosaurus, for the astute and pedantic amongst you… yeah, and Pluto’s not a planet? C’mon!). Why? I came Full Circle with dinosaurs, but English composition took a priority just above having rocks thrown at me and a bit below wondering what these fascinating creatures called girls were all about.

Apatosaurus… got it!

Girls… weird.

The Full Circle starts with, of course, the desire to know something. This is often where education halts, since a lack of enthusiasm for the knowledge means an aborted quest, even if the information if freely abundant.  But if we want something bad enough, then to know it begins with the climb up one side of the circle, where we read, listen, and fill our heads with the desired information.

But then? Oh, but then!!  Then we come back down the other side, putting this fresh, newly acquired data in action.  We Apply!

In the gym, the Full Circle means that memorizing every article on T-Nation or even spending years earning your degree, doesn’t mean squat… literally, since nothing in your brain will prepare you to squat until you actually SQUAT. We need Time Under The Bar, as it is known by coaches world wide (Under The Bar is even the name of Dave Tate’s tome of powerlifting motivation), or The TUB Principle, as we’ll call it. This is where learning becomes knowledge, where a true iron head understands that all the schooling they’ve been feeding their brains has no place except as reference material for the real action of actual force development. (Yes, this applies to just about anything. Swimmer? Time in the Water. Climber? Time on the Mountain.) That’s the full circle, and we have to start at the beginning of the circle every time we embark on learning/knowing something new, whether in the gym or out in that scary world beyond the iron.

How did this work with the brontosaurus in the 5th grade? Books and films were fun and all, but getting covered in sand and mud with my models and toys of the giant lizards was my true research, and made more effective by everything I DID read. I was a dinosaur (some say I still am) and I wanted nostrils on the top of my head too. I KNEW about dinosaurs.

Take a few trips around the Full Circle and you’ll hone a discerning mind, making the trip up the first half of the circle quicker. You’ll assimilate information efficiently, testing it against what your noggin and body already know, letting superfluous information fall aside while having a well-tuned application process that can put the absconded information into personal law much faster than anything our government has ever achieved.

Learn and apply, learn and apply, over and over, for the rest of our lives.

If enough people made the journey around this circle, the fitness trend industry would crumble.  There is a level of knowledge that separates those who’ve made the journey enough times to know better from those who follow a program without questioning it, or still post on internet fitness forums looking for exercises to ‘tone the lower abs.’

The Full Circle will always bring us back to the three basics:

Train Well
Eat Well
Rest Well

How DO I train well, eat well and rest well? Now the answers aren’t as easy, because any answer is useless unless processed through the Full Circle.  And, to the dismay of many, that takes work.

Learn and apply, learn and apply, over and over, for the rest of our lives.

The First Lifters

Let’s pretend.  You’re you, maybe a tad younger (in my case, let’s make that a pretty big ‘tad’), and the calendar reads 150 years earlier.  You want to increase the ability of your body.  Basic wisdom seems to be that hard work will help you to your goals.  It seems to then reason that picking up heavy stuff might be a good way to create a sufficient workload. That was it for information acquisition. That’s the sum total of their learning.

The closest thing to an ‘internet’ in most parts of the world is a system of letter delivery that seems to be run on prayer and dreams. The librarian, if your town even has one of those new-fangled big-city book houses, might think you a ‘bit touched’ after you tried to explain your quest for a book about lifting stuff.

Ultimately it would be just you and the iron.  No DVD’s, no Weider magazine empire, no websites, no 24-Hour Pump neon McGyms, just you and a lump of something heavy.

(Ironically, infomercials were alive and well back even in this early date.  They were called medicine shows, and the snake oil they sold was about as effective as the garbage hawked in the name of fitness and health today.)

Vigoral was touted as “both meat and drink.” Ewww.

Today we seek help, often in the form of ideas and knowledge pre-digested so we don’t have to think much. This makes sense, knowing our need for NOW combined with our desire to do as little work as possible.  Leaving free thought at home to rot with those veggies you promised yourself you’d eat keeps you at the mercy of snake oil salesmen.

So what did these early lifters do? Grabbed a chunk of iron and got busy. Oh, and they created a system of lifting and moving that is still the foundation of all true, pure strength training. They spent the great majority of their time APPLYING, doing, understanding and ultimately embodying strength, and their lessons, their knowledge, still forms the basis of what we’re striving for today.

The miscalculation these days is thinking that doing more is the key, upping the volume and workload without actually knowing the movements. That’s not application. In fact, there is one more step towards embodiment… turning knowing into wisdom. That’s when we understand that doing better trumps doing more, and grokking the difference between the two.

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  • […] Full Circle, is a great read focused on the difference between learning and knowing. Check it out here. Below is an early excerpt from the piece. The Full Circle is the alchemic process that transforms […]

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