In this episode of the Handstandcast, Emmet and Mikael discuss “The Fight” and what it means, the various levels of fighting for balance and how it relates to handbalancing.
We hope you enjoy it!
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EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me, Emmet Louis, and my cohost Mikael Kristiansen. How are things going Mikael?
MK: Better. It was sunny outside for actually two days. That was amazing.
EL: We had two days of sun here too in Ireland. We were outside training on the lawn, walking around.
MK: It was not particularly warm outside; I was wearing a winter jacket still. Just sitting in the sun and feeling some heat coming from the great sky orb was an experience I haven’t felt for many aeons. That helped the mood.
Otherwise things are pretty much the same, but the sun does change the mood.
EL: I got my new place, no degenerates hanging around, which is awesome ! Things are all looking up.
MK: For you listeners, Emmet sent me pictures of the sheep hanging outside his house, it’s pretty cool.
EL: We’ve got four sheep and a goat now. We rented a farmhouse outside Dublin. The lady who was living in it has moved out but still has a pet farm. She owns a petting zoo, that’s how to describe it – four sheep, a goat, two pigs, and I’m not allowed to eat them. They are pets and not food. Also five horses.
If you know me, I like animals and playing around with them. Sheep are super friendly, they are my friends now. I always thought sheep were a bit skittish, like deer.
Once the sheep get to know you they want to hang out, come get scratched, and everything. It’s awesome.
The pigs are super friendly as well, but also fucking scary. They’re huge! We’re in the field with them the other day, and someone, who won’t be mentioned, and it’s not me – we had some visitors – the pigs came into the section of the field we were in. Suddenly three people were diving over the fence in any way, shape or form, to get away from the pigs. They’re super friendly. Maybe one of them is a model for Handstand Factory, maybe not. Who knows.. Maybe it was our producer. Who knows?
MK: When I was a kid, if we left the gate open, the entire garden would be full of cows. They would herd cattle past our house. That place was outside the town, and literally the forest, with only farm land you can see out there.
Suddenly there’s cattle all over the yard.
EL: I have an unsavoury story to tell you about sheep, from another friend of mine. It’s not that kind of unsavoury. I’ll just tell it.
A person I knew through people, he decided to go from Dublin to this house his family was holding onto somewhere in Ireland, and move there to grow cannabis for one winter where they weren’t using it. He set up the living room with all these grow lights and hydroponics and shit like that.
He blacked the windows out completely – so the light wouldn’t get out. But every day he’d come home, and the sheep would be staring at the windows, one on either side of the wall. They were staring like it was Sheep Jesus about to appear through the window.
Maybe the lights gave off some frequency, or they wanted the weed. But they weren’t eating, they’d just stand there. He had to get a dog to scare them off. When the dog was inside they’d come back. Countryside is weird.
MK: What are we talking about today?
EL: Sheep. Are you a handstand sheep? Do you just do the straight line? The Federation is actually the farmer from Babe.
We are talking about the fight. The eternal fight with gravity and your face, and everything to do with it. It’s a topic that is vague…how do we describe fighting? I know it when I see it. I think that’s one thing.
There’s fighting, giving up, and failing. And failing to fight. These happen..the fight occurs at every level of handstand training, but different reasons. But it’s all the same thing. Fighting to keep balance, to achieve the task you decided to do.
For me, we see it with beginners – fighting and surviving are one of the things I like to think about. Fighting is when you’re actively trying to use force to save your predicament. Surviving is when either, it’s an easy thing to say, but difficult to explain.
Surviving is when you manage to find the perfect alignment, or keep the balance waves, and it keeps you on top of it.
Fighting almost has an element of pre-empting to me. I can see people are reacting fast enough and trying to reestablish their positioning.
MK: I’d like to also define the fight a little bit. It’s a very extremely simple concept. It must mean it’s about doing absolutely whatever it takes to save your balance, or manage whatever you’re trying to do. That’s not necessarily the point of it.
The easiest image to imagine is someone almost falling from a handstand. Their arms are red. They struggle and their arms scream to get back up – yes that is also a fight. It’s more the principle of trying to be in the mental space that is required to balance. It is concentration, the focus you need to have to execute the task.
Within that, I love to describe it as, you are fighting the impulse to fall down, whenever you kick into handstand and it’s not completely perfect. But you make a quick correction, and then it’s perfect. You’re pre-empting, ready for it.
It’s also that thing where you’re almost holding the handstand, barely surviving, struggling and then drop. That can be valuable too. It’s important to make sure to speak about it as a concept and notion. It doesn’t mean that every single time you kick into handstand, you should do whatever you can to stay up. It’s not necessarily that.
This will have to vary between different stages of learning, different skills, so on. Let’s say you’re doing a negative press to handstand. You start out well, pull your legs to your body as hard as you can. You’re doing eccentric strength training at a very maximal level compared to what your body can do. As you approach bottom, you’re going to struggle and fight and use a lot of force. If you’re working on extremely precise, super tight, minimalist balancing, let’s say on one arm. Your task is to stay as still as absolutely possible – you also need to fight.
I’m going to stay in one place. All my mental and physical focus goes to that. Boom. You stay very effectively, very locked, very tight. It’s still part of the same concept.
EL: You have to choose when you’re going to fight as well. I put this into programs, specific cues like, do not fight for balance in these moves. We’re training pure precision in this set, that’s it. You lose it, you lose it.
There’s other times I want you on your hands and you stay there. I don’t care what happens. I think it is good to make a choice, or know what you’re doing in a set before you go into it.
A great thing Yuri said on the podcast: you can only focus on one thing, so pick it, rather than decide on the fly when you’re up there. You can change focuses as well, not that you can’t. But if you focus on just staying on, not on the line, or to get the best line you can. The fight becomes maintaining the line over all else. If you fall out, you fall like a falling tower. Still pretty good, you still maintained the line. This kind of thing, the fight can happen at many levels.
The simple fight a lot of people can relate to, for all you 30-60-90s two arm handstand, it’s keeping your feet from flailing around. That’s a fight, when you can balance and the foot is doing the foot radar. That’s a fight. To deal with the cramps that come from a toe point or foot flex also can happen.
MK: One of the most common ones I see and am excited by with beginners, after having taught so many beginners at this point, when I see someone is able to get up, regardless of if they use the wall or not, they’re learning to balance on two arms. There will be some imperfections and dents, but at the point they’ve already held a handstand a little bit, but the point where you stay and everything is ok. You see the shoulder move slightly, maybe it closes and the legs pike a little bit. You see the reaction towards under balance, and the reestablishment from there. Those first hints towards catching under balance. That makes me go, yes, the body and proprioceptive system has understood how to respond in both directions. Shoulder control is good enough to also handle the shoulder moving forwards. Flexion strength is there, reaction is there, the person is able to pull back. That is the huge one, it usually comes when people have developed the strength.
The first time it happens people are usually mentally exhausted. Later on it’s taken for granted as a very simple thing to do. You need to embrace that moment of expanded time, when you’re balancing the handstand and it feels like 10 seconds. You’re staying and staying and trying to handle a situation. Allow that moment to be very focused and stay up on the hands; that is your job right now.
EL: The first time someone saves under balance – and not from being in over balance then coming back to straight – but a proper shoulders closed, hips closed save, then straightening back out, it’s definitely a big stage in your training. When you start it’s one of the first things I’m looking for as well, when setting the two poles of over and under balance in a person.
Another thing you touched on there – those sets that might not even last long or push that person’s conditioning to their max. But it mentally destroys them. I enjoy watching those, and it happens at all levels. Something about, having pure focused engagement in both mental, physical, and possibly emotional, into that balance. You put everything into it, then come down, then rest ten minutes before you do the next set.
You might be perfectly strong, but if you’re doing a press, decide to do 5 reps. You get to rep 4, get out of your groove, but can still kind of do a pause rep. The body shakes and goes a bit weird, and then you get it. Normally I can do 5 or 10 reps, but something went wrong. That’s a thing about fighting and why we use the terms.
There’s training, and it’s nice because it gives you a chance to be precise, and practice, and all this. A fight is chaos. You don’t know what’s going to happen in a fight. That’s the state you’re looking for – you’re here and present and willing to deal with whatever comes up.
MK: it’s cultivating resilience, ultimately. You want to be efficient. You want to use the terminology of circles of balance. You want to be equally good in that smooth, perfect point, as you are in the rougher ones.
You want to make sure each circle….Imagine you have several circles around each other growing larger. Within the smallest one is your perfect form. Everything feels good, it looks good, easy to execute and it’s perfect. These rarely happen. It’s when you have your really good day, stars are aligned, you feel glorious.
Outside you have a circle that looks good and feels good, but you’re putting a little bit of effort in. It’s not stellar quality. It’s good and a standard where you want to be.
Outside of that is a larger circle that still looks good to the untrained eye, but you’re putting in some effort to stay. Another professional or someone, might see you’re putting effort in there. Good job but not “perfect”.
Outside there, things start to get rough. Form starts to break, anyone can see you’re expending effort to stay.
Outside here, it’s super rough and unless you do absolutely whatever it takes, you are going to fall.
Outside of that, you are falling.
It is cultivating resilience and the ability to move inwards from the outlying circles, so you are able to catch mistakes and fix them instantaneously over time. The fighting is about cultivating that, the mind state of staying on the hands. Sometimes that requires you to literally go to war, but sometimes it requires you to be fresh and ready and say, I’m going to do this properly now and be focused and dedicated and concentrated.
Hence you have a higher likelihood of succeeding. Just to strengthen the point, it’s not about the rougher corrections, although they have their place too. It’s when and how you apply and why you apply it.
There are certain techniques or moves you cannot do by trying to rough them out. There are some you cannot do by trying to be only ultra precise. It’s about this range and different things require different levels.
EL: One of the things is the idea of choosing what you’re fighting. Not all fighting is the rough ones. But single point fighting. I was talking to one of my students today about this. He’s flexible, got a split now, pretty good at handstand, one arm balance is good enough. His one flaw and thing is he drops the shoulder. Once he drops the shoulder, the set is gone, no matter if he’s at his endurance limit or not.
This is my motivational talk today: keep the shoulder high. This is your fight. If you keep the shoulder high, you will balance the handstand until your fingers collapse. If the shoulder drops, it’s gone, he doesn’t have the capacity to save it to the inside yet.
We can train that, but not going to, because his technique is so good on the straddle arm. This is it, picking one cue. If he maintains the shoulder high, everything looks effortless. If the shoulder drops, it’s chaos.
Going with the fight metaphor, his shoulder height is Leonidas and the Spartans. If he can keep the shoulder high, then..was it the Turks? Xerxes and the Persians will not be able to pass.
Once the shoulder drops, there’s 10 000 different things that can go wrong with his handstand. It will be unsaveable. If his Spartan shoulder can stay high, he can maintain the pass and not get all the crazy corrections go in.
It’s that idea, pick one thing, fight one thing or front. If you know you will make a constant mistake, every other mistake is a trickle down effect of that. Fighting all that and putting all your might and intent on maintaining that correctly can go a long way. When you do maintain it, then your position and changes and corrections will be effortless.
If you have one flaw and make it, everything goes to chaos. It can be as simple as that. There is one form point. You pick the form point. If you can maintain that, everything else is correct.
If you drop that one thing, it’s the lynchpin of your balance. It’s different for everyone. Pick one thing and fight that, that’s your battle. Make your Spartans.
MK: Regarding the chaos metaphor- whenever you enter into a new skill, something completely not done before, you need to build a frame of reference for it. The most striking examples are obviously the beginner learning two arms, and the intermediate learning one arm. You’re entering something that you don’t how it’s supposed to feel yet. If you can stand on two arms, and everything else you learn on two arms will feel like a variation of the thing you can, so the frame of reference exits.
Same with one arm. If you can straddle one arm, there’s a bunch of things that change, but most of the regular shape, balance wise, will feel exactly like that.
When you’re learning, your brain is trying to handle all this new stimulus. Picking a thing you’re focusing on. For me, when I think about my primary focus point when I do all these things, it’s a general point or area in my shoulder. It’s the fleshy part of my thumb. Those are the two main points I generally focus on. Depending on the position there might be a reach with the arm, or pulling of the leg.
Obviously since I’ve reached a reasonably high level of handstands, I would assume I have more points unlocked in my handstand skill tree, so I can slot in several more focal points than someone who’s completely new. I would also assume the same, put me on a trampoline and have a thing to focus on…then take a boss trampolinist who can concentrate on several things.
The level of difficulty of the thing you’re working on, and your ability level, you’ll need to concentrate on fewer or more things.
Take a beginner working with the wall. On the wall they can then focus on getting correct form, then moving into balance. They have the form, then the balance. Then put them in freestanding, and some stuff will give, but because they have more chaos to deal with. They need to fight more variables, handle more stuff that happens when they get up.
There it is going to be very obvious that it will be harder to maintain all these focal points at the same time. In general it is a good cue to make sure I am going to concentrate on this particularity…
Some of my trainings where I mess around a lot, get an idea, and mess around with that mind state where I don’t know what I’m doing and try to freestyle, I often go up and mess up something easy. The level of readiness isn’t there.
You’re putting your mindstate somewhere where you can direct your energy, basically.
EL: We’re going deep today…I have to think more. I’m mulling things over as you’re talking. Two things I’d like to say. One is a quote out of context, I don’t know who said it. “Precision beats power. Power beats speed. Power wrestling gets you choked out.” This is obviously about MMA.
But the idea of precision, hitting the right bits but being precise about one thing, using big corrections. If you can hone your fight to the one precise thing, the lynch pin, then it beats all the power you use for that. Then timing. If you can do all your things at the right time, you don’t want to be doing them fast at the wrong time. Then panic wrestling is like when you’re already falling and you kick your legs, and get some suspension moments out of it.
MK: It’s a cool philosophical concept and application towards the entire learning process. As we said, the fight is a kind of concept, nothing to do with handstands. It’s a metaphor and symbol, and way to express a certain thing to focus on at certain times in your learning curve.
That term is much more easy to describe, if you take conventional strength training or repping out. If you go in for your 1RM, fight is the only thing you need to do. You put in all your force and technique then go all out. Then again, if you do a 1RM deadlift, sure there are technical things to focus on, but there are fewer, and more about applying all that force in the right manner, compared to doing a perfect one arm kick up to handstand.
The mental state and direction of force in the proper way, and being fucking ready. It’s so much about having that kind of extreme readiness. The faster you are with corrections, the less violence you need too.
A lot of people tend to also misunderstand certain things, particularly with one arms. I’m sure you’ve seen on the upper back of people doing one arms, the traps twitching-
EL: I call it the Gremlin.
MK: I’m sure if we could somehow image the rotator cuff muscles keeping the humerus in the socket, we’d see a lot more twitching. That’s where loads of minute corrections happen several times a second. Those need to be extremely quick. That makes it so that the more stable you are, the longer you can stay – you’re using slow twitch fibres – but there are a lot of fast stuff happening while doing this very slow moving position.
By being ready and having that focus, you’re allowing yourself to correct faster, making you move less large.
EL: Precision beats power. Smaller and faster corrections.
You reminded me to segue into some hardcore training stuff – I remember one time I was having some kind of rotator cuff jank that wasn’t making me happy. I was working up to normal rotator cuff strength.
I got the idea from reading that the rotator cuff actually contains a high percentage of fast twitch muscles, which makes sense with the rapidly correcting stabilizing aspect. A lot of the rotator cuff I was training was the normal physio stuff. I was at circus school at the time, so slow band work and dumbbell work, stuff like this.
I started training dumbbell snatches, first with a Kettlebell, then when I ran out of weights I used a barbell. That did wonders for my shoulder. You’re pulling, pulling fast, then a sudden shock loading with a barbell overhead you have to stabilize and catch quickly.
It definitely works, just to throw out a training tidbit. If it isn’t working, try going faster.
We do know moving fast is good for strength training. Handstands move slow. Training some of the handstand like aspects of your training, even when doing dumbbells, but replicating the positions and going fast can be beneficial.
MK: When turning one arm on one cane, high, in Knitting Piece, I performed that probably 270-80 times. It rarely went wrong. I think I fell from it one time when the structure underneath was unstable. It was a very safe move. That night when I did it, I did a press when I went up on the cane. When I pushed, I accidentally turned the block slightly too far. I had to keep the block in place when going up, but I turned it too far.
As I rotated doing the turning one arm, my hand was always turned a little too far, and I was trying to catch up to it. It was terrible, I was so hard focused on doing what I usually did. The entire show at that point was running a script. You just press play and went through the motions with the music. It was super easy, in one sense, because of that habit.
I went like normal, but was so far behind the arm in the end. I made a mistake and my legs started dropping. I quickly whipped my arm in the opposite direction. I bent my arm super heavily because there was no way to do anything else; the wrist was so far turned. I was able to save it and go back down and finish the show.
The day after, ow, some shit happened.
It’s something that’s happened several times in stage. Stuff you drop in training because there’s no point, and you let it go. But on stage you have that death and glory kind of attitude to it, and do dumb shit. That’s something to pay very close attention to, also in terms of fighting.
Don’t push yourself to pain just because you want to go hard. That’s just making bad worse. Last time I did this kind of thing is last year. The shoulder issue I’ve been going through this year, I think it came from a bad switch in straps when I performed last year. The classic switch problem. I started with good spin when I went up but lost too much spin at the point where I was going to do the switch. I rushed it a bit, was on stage, full on music. I opened too quickly from front to reverse meathook. I was basically in a one arm back lever and pull it into the reverse meathook position. You’re not supposed to do that, it’s a really bad idea.
If this was in training, I’d let it go easily. I was 5m in the air, the last thing I was going to do. I ripped it in, and hey ho. I remember my shoulder wasn’t feeling very pleasant after that. In those contexts there’s certainly a negative aspect to this.
EL: I’d almost say fighting on straps is something you should avoid. Straps have claimed so many…there’s time to fight and time to run. Straps are not the time to send your Spartans in, in my opinion. It’s claimed a lot of shoulders.
MK: Including mine several times. The same goes for showing off. If you’re like, “hey guys, check this out,” that in general is not a good idea. Never try to style it; you’re going to fuck yourself up.
EL: If you’re going to show off and you have to fight during it, just quit, because you already failed. It has to be smooth, boom.
The next thing I want to talk about: a lot of us would be training by ourselves. One thing I noticed, as I’m wont to do, the ability to fight is directly proportional to the group energy. Maybe you’re a bit more introverted or extroverted, or ambivert – what are these crazy labels kids give themselves these days?
This is why handstand classes, one, there’s a bit of learning from the group, visual kinaesthetic learning. Then there is a bit of doing this act to show off to the group, or get validation, or because I want to and am inspired. It increases your fight quotient. You see people on all levels, beginner to one arm, When there’s a group, people have settled in and it’s not new, that’s when the interesting thing happens.
Someone tries to do something, like a simple straddle to tuck handstand, but they normally wouldn’t. They get that fight and the perseverance. They’re not going to come down, because the group is there. It gives that certain je ne said quoi. It kicks the fight into extra gear.
MK: Totally. When I was breaking, you just had to have the juice. You got the juice from those situations. I remember it when training flare to 90. If the music is booming and everyone is there, you’ve got it and could fly. Then you go in alone…
Something I experienced a lot, and I’m sure others can relate to this. Not just Corona related ‘my life sucks.’ But if you’re training, your physical capacity to do things has felt like it’s dropped, please get back to us.
For me, I’ve trained almost exclusively alone for almost a year now. There’s been so many times where I come in, had a coffee, ate, then I’m just a dead flesh heap that won’t do anything productive whatsoever. It fluctuates up and down.
The sensation you described having fun with a group and a social interaction, of course part of it is showing off or showing to each other. It’s part of human nature to interact and to get something from the group, to give something to the group, and have this vivid relationship that happens. It’s obviously very important for the general sensation when you train. It would be interesting to hear how others experience it.
For me, it’s impacted me massively.
Tomorrow I’m going to an open training at the circus hall, not too many people, but I will know several. I can’t wait to be in space with other people and do this thing again. It is such a different experience. You get an edge you rarely see when that secluded.
EL: That edge is an interesting thing in the fight. While we’re on the edge analogy, the ability to fight gets you closer to the edge – of your skill, your conditioning, your total technical ability. It can be really precise; an edge is really fine. Or it can be a blunt edge like an axe, or something. There is an edge, your ability to fight is how close you get to the edge before you fall off.
I’m having a very profound day today. I said a few other profound things.
MK: Walking around, being profound.
EL: I was talking to…I was explaining my marketing process to someone. It follows this thing that says Personality, Progress, Process. 3 Ps!
Wait that wasn’t it. My marketing tip: people buy in fitness based on your personality more than anything else. But they need a firm thing. They need progress, which is showing people get results with you. Most of the time they want to see a process you do. If you have the 3 Ps and someone can see them and likes them, you have a sale, or they are interested in training with you. Or they will watch your videos, whatever it is.
So there’s some marketing tips.
One more element of the fight I really want to talk about, we should almost call it the Chase.
It’s like when you’re just on the edge of getting a skill but can’t do it yet. You need to do it a lot. It’s a different quality than mindlessly throwing reps out.
It can happen from people who can jump into straddle or tuck handstand, already over to coming onto four finger support for a one arm, or something else. You have the scent of this move. You can feel it’s going to happen, but it’s not happening yet. You need to keep doing it. That perseverance comes in the fight as well. I might need to try this 100 times, 200 times, 300 times, before I get it. But I know I’m going to get it.
There’s a confidence to it, but almost an anger to the movement. People are generally angry on the chase. “This move is dishonouring me by not happening when I want it to happen.” It’s different than when you see someone mindlessly doing tuck up to handstand but it’s not going anywhere. When someone can control it, steer it a little, but the reps are always slightly different, you see a certain Anger. “Why are you disobeying me, move?” It becomes a fight with the move in particular, not just handstands or training.
This move can be the sole focus for my existence at the moment.
MK: Yeah, that’s the obsession. I remember when I said that to Helgi years ago in Portugal. He was really close to getting his one arm, training outside after the classes. I said, now you will get it, because you can’t leave it alone. Watch out for your wrists, but now is when it’s going to happen.
It becomes, like you say, the sole reason for your existence. You need a touch of that for certain things or breakthroughs. It happens a lot for people who are quite new, who tasted it.
I had clients come to me, say they did the program for a few weeks. “But at work, there’s this wall. Sometimes I just go there on breaks and do 50 kick ups.” Okay, watch out for your wrists, but great, you’re officially a nerd.
It’s a transformative moment, where you find this excitement for it. It’s really important, and something to not be misunderstood with this fighting metaphor, where it sounds like a violent, miserable and depressing process. Of course it’s depressing enough of the time, all the energy you need to invest to learn. You need to remember there’s quite a lot of excitement to be had at certain points.
EL: We’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek, we killed Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. The Klingons are a perfect example of fighting. They go do their fighting, are Klingonish, basically Vikings. After the fight, they’re into glory and blood wine and songs. There is this “I’ve achieved the fight, now I have glory I can show on Instagram.”
MK: We are basically all Klingons.
EL: Handstand Klingons.
I think I’m at the end of my fighting points. I’m fighting to get more metaphors here, so I can continue to make bad jokes.
MK: It’s a good topic, and one for a philosophical touching on a lot of things. Again, to bring it back to the starting point, it’s about mindset and the…the concept that you need to do something to stay on your hands, it’s not a dead balance. You need to learn to do that.
It’s also understanding that while you learn these things, it might feel rougher for a while until it becomes smoother. Whenever you go outside your comfort zone, it will start feeling rougher than it feels inside of that comfort zone. Over time, most of the stuff moves within your comfort zone.
It doesn’t matter who you are; you’ll always find something that can put you outside it. Say you’re the best hand balancer in the world. Your next task is to do it while carrying a 15kg block of cement. Good luck, it’s going to be a struggle again.
EL: I’m going to wrap it up there. Other than that, we will see you next week.
One more point, hold on. The philosophy got me thinking. We should do this topic once over, then get drunk and do it again. That’s how we really hone in. We should get a bottle of mead or something.
MK: We should do the drunk cast. Holy shit, that will turn into a total shit show. I’m up for it.
EL: If someone can sponsor us some booze, we will do it. Or every time we say handstand, you have to do one shot. Everyone has to join in with us.
MK: We need to do it, then upload it without editing. We don’t know what we said, we say something outrageous, and are smack down cancelled.
EL: Cancelled! Right.
Please sponsor us some booze. Other than that, we’ll see you next week.