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TENSILE STRENGTH

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.

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