As humans, we tend to learn by watching others do. It is a well known phenomenon that something once believed impossible, will be quickly eclipsed once the first person proves it can be done. Realizing what is actually possible, it seems, provides us with the courage to take a step in a previously unforeseen direction.
In this episode with the indomitable Mark F. Twight, we touch upon the profound effect he and his cohorts seem to have on the people they encounter. In living by example through his philosophy of effort, Mark is transcendentally giving others permission to move.
Throughout our conversation, we run down a number of rabbit holes that lead us through a deep labyrinth of hows and whys. We discuss Mark’s uncanny ability to plunge himself obsessively into everything he does, which stands in stark contrast to my dilettante-ism or “professional dabbling (with a capital D)”, as he generously puts it.
While some may see his “obsession to the exclusion of all else” as a negative, it has allowed Mark to develop a laser-like focus in pursuing whatever he sets his sights on. This is apparent in his achievements in the world of climbing, the fitness industry, his writing, photography, and firearms proficiency to name a few.
Moreover, this incessant pursuit of perfection is most readily observed in the fruits of his latest endeavors with his business, NonProphet. The name is a tongue-in-cheek response to being accused of creating a cult-like following in his gyms. True to form, “the Space” (what they call their training facility) and what is regularly produced there, is nothing short of transformative.
I’ve been fortunate to observe Mark in his element on many occasions. Both in my interactions in “the Space”, as well as attending several NonProphet symposiums. I was also able to experience his obsessive nature while teaching him some hand-to-hand combatives, which we delve into quite a bit in this episode.
Witnessing in real-time the learning process of what many would consider a master, was an exercise of watching someone who is an expert at getting out of their own way. It became obvious that his ability to *empty the cup is what allows him to take on so much water and not end up drowning.
“From my perspective it was super cool, I hadn’t been in a situation of learning something, having to completely empty the cup [and say] ‘Yeah, I know nothing here’… I studied a Chinese martial art when I was 21 or something, long enough ago that it doesn’t matter. It was really nice to be a student, but [also] practice being a good student.”
He goes on to reflect upon the importance of this lost art of continuing to learn:
“...if we keep learning and practicing and becoming a student…[for example] I did 2, two-day courses with Ian Strimbeck with RuneNation last year shooting, 3 days with Bill Rapier of Amtack Shooting … and then every chance I get, I’m wringing some knowledge out of somebody...because it’s absolutely important to keep learning...because the world’s changing and we are changing.”
Mark reiterates this, saying “It is more essential now to continue learning as we age because of how rapidly the world is changing...someone who is born around now, they will have [multiple] careers in their lifetime.” Using his own life path as an example, he admits that he himself had to learn a lot in order to make these many transitions.
This is perhaps his most profound (yet overlooked) skill, which is Mark’s ability to pivot. We talk about one of his recent books, Refuge , that denotes his coming down from the mountain and integration back to life in the valley. He attributes his transitional abilities by drawing on the overlapping aspects from one stage of life to the other.
“One reason I don’t see too much disassociation between climbing/not climbing, and then going into the ‘fitness industry’ and that branching off into training military or training sort-of Hollywood types etc… [is that] I couldn’t just get rid of [my experience]... Oh I’m an expert in this__, I reject that and that identity and I shall become somebody entirely different and new that has no rearward reference points” he says facetiously.
Instead, he has been able to use all of his past knowledge to inform and guide his future, rather than hinder it. Too often, we can cling to the identity of our former selves instead of embracing the change and attacking it with the same passion and vigor that got us to where we are.
It would be easy to compress the bulk of Mark’s impact through the narrow lens of “just fitness”. But his influence and the life changes that ensue in his wake, point to something bigger at play. One of the underlying principles at work here is through Effort and his personal philosophy around it.
By demonstrating what can be achieved through diligence, intentionality, and exertion, Mark gives the license for others to do the same. This is the “secret sauce” that people are always looking for when they ask him how he got “X” actor prepared for “Y” movie role. It all stems from his experience and leading by example and is a great formula for those who wish to positively affect others.
Mark alludes to a recent development, where after only about a year of training, a “member” was inspired to leave a job of almost 30 years to venture out and start his own business.
“Something that happened in our orbit and something that has happened numerous times through life or since I’ve had a gym and have been training people...or I’ve existed and steered my life...or lived it in a way that some people find my behavior gives them permission to behave in a non-traditional way...”
In giving the ability and permission to literally “move” in a gym setting, he endows the same freedom for others to move themself or transcend in a figurative sense. This is a theme that seems to occur quite regularly for those fortunate enough to feel the gravitational pull of what he does.
From his seemingly inhuman accomplishments in alpine climbing, to his adherence to following a non-traditional path, Mark continues to live with supreme autonomy and inspires and encourages others to do the same. For my part, it was an absolute honor and pleasure to sit down with such a venerable mentor and dear friend. I look forward to many more conversations in the future.
The above synopsis only covers the first hour of our exchange, with the remaining 90 minutes containing just as much if not more bits of wisdom from a life lived to the extreme. If you’re interested in hearing the entire conversation, then I highly recommend giving it a listen by clicking the link below:
*To empty one’s cup comes from an old Chinese proverb of a wise Zen master that loosely goes as follows:
A scholar once came to visit the master to learn the way to enlightenment.
“I have come to ask you to teach me about Zen,” the scholar said.
Soon, it became obvious that the scholar was full of his own opinions and knowledge. He interrupted the master repeatedly with his own stories and failed to listen to what the master had to say.
The master calmly suggested that they should have tea.
So the master poured his guest a cup. The cup was filled, yet he kept pouring until the cup overflowed onto the table, onto the floor, and finally onto the scholar’s robes. The scholar cried “Stop! The cup is full already. Can’t you see?”
“Exactly,” the Zen master replied with a smile. “You are like this cup — so full of ideas that nothing more will fit in. Come back to me with an empty cup.”