Principle #3 — Know Your Enemy

Know their strengths and their weaknesses precisely.  Learn from them, adapt your approach to take advantage of their weaknesses, and then defeat them before they realize that you have changed your tactics. — Samurai Strategies.

The ancient Chinese military sage Sun Tzu taught that one of the primary principles of victory in war was to know your enemy. — Samurai Strategies

The phrase, “win first, fight later,” can be summed up in the two words, “win beforehand.” — Hagakure.

Skill can only take you so far, especially at the higher levels of competition or combat.  But skills combined with superior strategy?  That equals unlimited success.  The most crucial aspect of designing an effective game plan or battle strategy is to know your enemy inside and out:  their strengths, weaknesses, habits, tendencies, instincts, and psychology.

Miyamoto Musashi is widely recognized as the greatest samurai warrior of all-time.  He was a ronin — a masterless samurai — that wandered the land engaging in duels with the best warriors of each province, school, and town.  There were many reasons for Musashi’s unparalleled level of success, but probably the greatest factor was his in-depth knowledge of his opponents.

Up until his time, samurai warriors fought with only a single sword.  Musashi, however, never believed in following traditional dogma.  He routinely broke away from established traditions, found his own path, and used whatever tactics he could to give himself an advantage over his opponents.

Part of this involved creating his own unique fighting style called  “Niten Ichi-ryu”, which involved fighting with two swords.  This strategy evolved from understanding his enemies’ conventional fighting style, taking advantage of its weaknesses, and exploiting its limitations.  This made him an unbeatable adversary. In fact, when Musashi laid down his two swords for the final time, he was undefeated in over 60 individual duels, not to mention the other full scale regional wars and battles in which he was a participant.

The way I see it, there are two types of warriors in the Iron Game, and both can benefit from the practice of studying their enemies.

COMPETITIVE ATHLETES

There are a wide variety of competitive athletes:  bodybuilders, power-lifters, sport-performance athletes, mixed martial arts fighters, figure and fitness competitors, etc.  These athletes engage in actual competitive events, and thus must literally study their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses to design an effective strategy that gives them the best advantage.

There are numerous examples of how this can be practically applied:

1.  Bodybuilders:  If the strength of your competition is their sheer size, then maybe you blow them away with your ripped conditioning.

2. Powerlifters:  If your competition is weak in the deadlift, then maybe you make it your strength so you gain points in the overall totals.

3. Strongmen:  If you know you are weak in a certain event (no matter how hard you try to bring it up — maybe its just leverage factors), maybe you concede a lower placing in that event.  You save your energy for your stronger events where you can make up the point deficit.

4. Mixed Martial Artists:  If your competitor’s weakness is ju-jitsu, and that is your strength, take that dude to the ground.

5. Performance sports (this case football):  If you know the opposing QB crumbles under pressure, and you have an aggressive defense with a maniac safety, blitz the hell out of that them.

You, your training partners, and/or your coaches should design these targeted attacks.

NON-COMPETITORS

There are many Iron Warriors that live the lifestyle and love to train, but don’t necessarily want to compete in any particular event.  That’s cool.  You are just as much of a warrior in my book, as long as your dedication and commitment remain on the same level.

For non-competitors you have 2 enemies:

(1) The Iron — the dumbbells and barbells that wait to challenge your mind, body, and soul.  There is not much to know about this enemy, other than that they will always be waiting for you.  They never sleep, they never eat, and they will never stop, just like the Terminator.  Their mission is to break your will and destroy your spirit, and they will succeed unless you fight back with everything you’ve got, every time you train.

(2) Yourself.  To truly know this enemy can take a lifetime to learn, but it is a worthy endeavor.  Being humble, and admitting you have weaknesses and faults can be highly valuable.  Once you identify problems, you can develop a strategy to fix them.  This pattern of honest self-assessment and vigorous self-improvement can go a long way in helping you maximize your potential.  This is true not only in strength training or physique development, but also in business, and life in general.

5 WAYS TO KNOW YOUR ENEMY

1. Take a picture of yourself: If your goals are bodybuilding or appearance related, take a picture, because unlike the mirror, pictures don’t lie.  Don’t look at your strong points, which everyone does.  Identify your weak points in development.  Get an opinion from someone you trust, or even better, an expert in the field.

From there, you can come up with a strategy to improve your weak points.  Lets say you need more upper chest development.  Now you can do things like starting with incline work first in your training, changing the plane of motion through which you press, altering technique to improve motor unit recruitment of the target muscle, eliminating rebound and lockouts to maximize muscular tension, avoiding “shoulder and triceps” pressing, maybe including some extra upper chest work that overlaps with other muscle groups on a different training day (70 degree incline press with medial rotation on shoulder day), etc., you know the drill.  The solutions exist, but it all starts with identifying the problem.

2. Perform strength/performance tests — If your goals are strength or performance-based, perform sport-specific tests.  Do you need to improve your deadlift, vertical leap, or correct some strength/muscle imbalances.

Write down the results from these tests. Are your scapulae retractor and rotator cuff strength miles behind your bench press strength?  Can you squat a house, but only pull a broomstick?  Design a program that prioritizes your weaker lifts, and fix the imbalances.

3. Film yourself — How many people would you say train with bad technique in your gym — 70%, 80%, 90%?  Now, how many of them do you think know they train with bad technique – 0% right?  Nobody purposely goes to the gym to train with crappy form, waste their time, or injure him or herself.  Many people are just uninformed, or don’t have an objective eye critiquing their mistakes.  Maybe your technique sucks and you just don’t know it.

If you are not working with a qualified coach, then the next best thing is to film yourself during some of your lifts.  You can play it back and watch your own exercise execution.  This is an objective instructional tool that is highly valuable.  Maybe by watching yourself on video you discover that you are not using a full range of motion, you are using too much momentum or rebound to lift a weight, or you’re rounding your back too much during a lift.

4.  Keep a 7-Day Food Log — If you can’t take a couple of extra minutes each day to write down exactly what you eat, at what times, and in what portions, etc., you are a lazy, and you really don’t care as much as you think you do about changing your physique.

This simple exercise will probably unveil numerous hidden enemies that are ambushing your strength and physique development.  You may be eating more or less than you think.  You may be dramatically off from your prescribed calorie/macronutrient totals.  You’ll see what nutrient timing patterns you follow, and how those impact your energy levels and recovery.  It all starts with writing it down, and seeing your true dietary downfalls right in front of you on a damn piece of paper (or computer screen).

And 7 days because you need to see what is going on during both the weekdays AND the weekends.  If you eat like a machine all week, but are downing whiskeys and ice cream on the weekend, you are not maximizing your athletic or physique potential.  Save it for the off-season, or when your priorities shift.

5. Identify Your Kryptonite — You are a bad ass.  We know that.  Superman is a bad ass too, but even he has one weakness that he must stay away from to maximize his superhero powers.

As an elite strength or physique athlete, chances are you have the commitment and discipline of a warrior.  But each of us has our own kryptonite.  There is one environment or situation that has the potential to pull us off track more than anything else.  We know we have immediate short-term goals we are working towards, but if we are exposed to our kryptonite we are powerless to its draw.  This takes us off the most efficient path to achieving our goals.

For me, it’s the booze.  I don’t sip to socialize.  I drink to get drunk.  And it’s not because I have a physiological need or am unhappy or need to drown my sorrows or use it as an escape from dealing with the world.  I just like to let loose and party every once in awhile.  It’s fun.  I’m a happy drunk, I like to goof around, and if you and I have a drink together some day I’ll tell you how much “I love you, man”.

But I also know that when I drink, I eat like crap.  It’s a trigger.  I feel like crap the next day, and I train like crap the next couple of days.  If I’m trying to peak for something or achieve an athletic goal, the answer is simple.  I stay away from the bars and clubs.  I know my kryptonite, and I don’t put myself in situations where it will overtake my otherwise rock solid discipline.

Identify your kryptonite — the situation(s) that always seem to pull you off track.  Be honest with yourself.  With a short-term goal in mind, maybe it is time to avoid those situations for a little while so you can stay focused on the task at hand — getting strong getting ripped, performing at a high level, etc.  Sometimes you have to make sacrifices, hard sacrifices, to reach the top of the mountain.

WRAP-UP

The summary of The Iron Warrior Principle #3 is this:  Know your enemy.  Learn your competitors’ weaknesses and exploit them, and learn your own weaknesses and correct them.