The definition of TENSILE STRENGTH is the amount of force required to pull something to the point in which it breaks. Within the arena of tensile strength, there is a sub-category – YIELD STRENGTH – that is the stress level something can take without permanent deformation.
For the martial professional, both aspects are encountered and are critical – on three tiers – to long-term development and application along the path. Early on, initial effort is largely applied to developing physical strength and its primary output partner – power; endurance – to include muscular and cardiovascular modes; and work capacity to fuse the two. As the exponent becomes more and more attuned to the actual skill sets needed for action and success, the second tier-level physical emphasis is gradually merged with mental aspects – to include understanding the neural drive component as well as the functional connection of “exercise” with skill development. In the third-tier “mature” phase of the professional, all aspects are blended with the rigor of time and mileage on the body and the perseverance to continue along the path – as well as pass on lessons of a lifetime to oncoming generations of the like-minded.
CHARACTER, CONSCIOUSNESS, and CAPABILITY is tested by its own distinct tensile strength parameters. This path is NOT for the masses. Many – through no castigation or lack of ability – simply are not wired to pursue it. Life’s travails provide obstacles, excuses – or combinations of the two – to distract, deter, and divert. In many cases, rationalization becomes the easy alibi: “I just need to be happy and find more out of my life….”; “I have too many other responsibilities to do this…”; or the most common, “it takes more commitment than I can give right now.” All these reasons have merit – but it is in effect a tensile – or yield – strength limit for those who perhaps for a moment, month, year, or period of life were moving and improving along the martial road. Many use children, loved ones, and occupations to justify it. Alas, they often intend to come back – but as Robert Frost laments in his classic poem THE ROAD NOT TAKEN, “Oh, I kept the first (road) for another day – Yet knowing how way leads on to way – I doubted if I should ever come back…”
I had a nadir moment in the 1990’s in the cauldron that was – and sadly remains – Somalia. Young, eager to prove myself, and possessing what I felt was strength and power in nearly inexhaustible quantities, I sat on the outskirts of Mogadishu after a particularly grisly three days and wrote a letter to someone I was very close to in which I described what had happened recently in these terms: “I had visions of liberty… now tarnished by reality… these are thoughts in a far-flung place all alone… but hardened by the savagery, and longing for sleep, I just move on in a trance for my body still goes….” When I finally left Somalia, I said to myself, “We did no good here…. all that effort for nothing.” I was exhausted.
Nearly 25 years later, I remember that young man – so strong and so ready to rumble – and I smile. He had – to that point – judged tensile strength on the physical tier of youth. I see that time as the first crossroads of choice; and soon after I silently – but completely – chose the path of the martial professional. During that assignment, I had the first inkling of what my strength level actually was – and what my commitment would have to be. In the years since, I have had moments in which I felt weak or uncertain; I have been wounded and tired; but through it all only re-doubled my efforts to further develop.
I was born and remain ugly in appearance. But I was also born driven to roads less traveled and called to an often moonlit – but always martial – path. And driven by the calling, I march on, both solo and in kinship with a company of like-minded individuals – all training, operating, experiencing, testing, calibrating, and continuing to define tensile strength.