“I’m going to jump back to the diving, because this fascinates me in my experience with Great White Sharks. They know when you’re not present. ” – William Winram
Mark’s new book about the seven commitments of leadership has just come out. It is called “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams,” and is available now from Amazon and from staringdownthewolf.com. Commander Divine writes about many of the great leaders he met in SpecOps to give examples of the commitments that one has to make to the 7 key principles of Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency and Alignment.
William Winram (@williamwinram) is a free-diving world record holder, an ocean explorer and conservationist, and the founder of the Watermen project, dedicated to helping to conserve the ocean. He often dives with sharks, including Great Whites. He talks to Mark today about his experience with Internal Martial Arts, as well as his beginnings and some of his experiences as a freediver.
- Tai Chi is a Martial Art, not just a fitness regimen
- Sharks are ultimately shy and curious creatures, unless they are triggered to “go postal”
- William began freediving as a kid, because of a bad experience with adult scuba gear
Listen to this episode to get more insight in how the mental control from martial arts is also a large part of diving.
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Hey welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. We’re gonna have an amazing show, with an amazing individual William Winram.
Before I introduce him in more detail, a couple things. One, I hope you got to watch my podcast or webinar that we had on Thursday. I’m gonna make sure I get the date right Thursday the 26th. And so if you didn’t see that webinar, and you want to see it, then go to unbeatablemind.com and learn about all the cool things that we’re offering for free to help people through the coronavirus nightmare. Maybe we’ll talk a little bit about that on this podcast, because I’m recording this on March 24th. I’m not sure when it’ll drop.
At any rate, also my new book came out – what an interesting time for two reasons – one, “Staring Down the Wolf” is the title. So it’s all about overcoming your fear, and your biases, and the things that hold you back from being an amazing leader. And unlocking the vast potential of your team.
So it’s really timely that I’m talking about overcoming fear in a time when the fear contagion is sweeping across the world.
So that’s the good news. The book could be really useful.
The bad news is, it’s been completely drowned out by the chaos and the constant news cycle. So I’m gonna have to talk about it more and more. So people can find it.
But we sold a ton of books in the first week and we didn’t hit the bestseller list because it just got completely drowned out. It’s really puzzling, but it doesn’t matter. As long as the book gets into your hands, and it’s helpful, that’s all that matters to me.
Staringdownthewolf.com, you can learn more and also access some free training there. Around the principles – the seven commitments – I call them. That help you stare down your wolf of fear and unlock the massive potential of your team. And those principles are courage, trust, respect, growth, excellence resiliency and alignment. So check out staringdownthewolf.com.
At any rate, let’s get back to the show here. William Winram – what an interesting guy. He’s a free diving world record holder, which I am super-curious about… and I’ve taken a little tiny bit… I was telling William before – I’ve had a little tiny bit of free diving training and I’d love to do more.
He’s the founder of the Waterman project, where he’s really committed to preserving the ocean, he’s committed to researching sharks and other wildlife. And that’s another thing that’s near and dear to my heart, as a waterman myself, spending 20 years in the SEAL teams, and living on the ocean. I just absolutely love the ocean and I’m really committed to helping anyone who’s committed to protecting it, and preserving it, and restoring its natural beauty, and whatnot…
And I actually think this global pause we’re having right now with this coronavirus is probably really good for the ocean. And good for mother earth. And she is rejoicing.
Probably at the expense of our pain, but maybe we caused this who the heck knows be fun to talk about that.
At any rate, William, thanks so much for your time here. I’m super stoked you’re on the podcast.
William. Thank you I’m super stoked to be on your podcast, so thanks for the invitation.
Mark. It was my pleasure and it was an unbeatable mind coach who referred you to us. And he’s over in Europe, and you’re in Switzerland. And we were just talking about what’s going on over in Switzerland and the mindset over there, but it sounds like everyone’s holding up pretty well.
William. Yeah, I mean, what else you going to do?
Mark. (laughing) Exactly, right? I know. Are you getting out into the water during this thing?
William. No, because we…
Mark. That would be a good place to be probably. Underwater.
William. I would love to be underwater right now. But the lake is freezing cold, so I’m staying away from it.
Mark. Okay but you don’t do your free diving in the lake, do you? Or do you practice there?
William. I used to, but generally it’s dark and cold. And it’s just not really conducive to what I would need for the depths that I’m trying for.
Mark. Now I love to start with all the guests and just kind of get a sense for how you ended up where you were. What did you do in your childhood? And what were some of the influences, either from your parents or mentors that got you in the track for you to become the world champion free diver? And all that type of stuff that you do?
What shaped you, in other words?
William. Well… my father was a coast guard. His passion was diving and he was a coast guard search and rescue diver… that was his kind of volunteer thing he did
Mark. In Canada or the US?
William. In Canada. And he taught diving on the side, so he’s the one that introduced my brother and I to… we were supposed to go the whole way into scuba diving.
But we were little kids and I was the eldest so we snuck into my dad’s workshop and strapped me into an adult scuba tank. And then I tried to stand up with the thing, and obviously couldn’t. And the closest I got, then I fell over. And then my brother and I were like “no, no, no. We don’t do this.”
So we ran upstairs and told mom. I said, “Mom, we don’t want to do the whole thing with the tank.”
My mom was like, “oh it’s okay, boys. You just have to tell your dad.” My dad never asked why, he just accepted it, but he had already ordered small tanks for us. But from that point on it was kind of… we just stuck to free diving.
So that was my initial foray into free diving. But how I wound up in the competitive sport is a much… well there’s a longer story to it. But ultimately – I was in Hawaii and I was spearfishing with a buddy who didn’t have as much experience, or the same level as I had. And we found a spear fishing shop which I’d never seen a spear fishing shop in my life.
And long story short – was looking for any kind of training, just to see what was out there, what was new. And I got introduced to a guy who was the US free diving champion. Which in the conversation I was like “okay, so what is that?”
And the guy said “well, they compete for depth in different disciplines. Or time, as in how long you can hold your breath? Or distance in the pool.”
And I was like “okay, whatever. Does he spear fish?” That’s all I really cared about.
And the owner of the shop said “yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s a really good spear fisherman.”
So I connected with this guy. Did a half day training with him. And discovered something different because I had never dove pulling down a line. I had never gone for depth, I’d always gone for just exploring underwater – hunting or not hunting – it didn’t matter it was just about being there.
And I think the first day I wound up at 47 meters, and I was excited about what I was experiencing, because I was experiencing things – when I passed a certain depth there was an effect of the ocean pressure that created what in osteopathic manual therapy we call stillpoint, a cessation of the cranial rhythm in the body, but it was also a hugely profound inner silence something…
Mark. This is a mental effect, you mean?
William. Yeah, a mental effect.
Mark. What you would experience from deep meditation, where all thoughts just cease.
William. Yeah exactly. And it would take me – at that time – it would take me an hour and a half of moving meditation to achieve what I pulled down a rope and “boom” I was there. I was like “holy crap. This is amazing.”
Mark. And you’re saying the pressure has an effect on the mind to cause that to happen? Or is it just the deep stillness and the silence. And the deprivation of all the senses?
William. No it’s actually… well, my theory on this is the following… you have in the skull the cranial bones move. Now any doctors that are listening to this, may say that this is BS, but it’s not. They actually move.
So that movement pattern has a normalcy to it. All of the different bones that make up the skull move in a particular way. So using osteopathic manual practice you can follow it into its narrowing – and I’m simplifying this – and then when it tries to expand again, you don’t allow it.
And it’s a very subtle manipulation of it, but you basically restrict it. And what happens is it narrows further, and further, and further and then essentially it stops. And you basically induce, and it varies. It depends on the person, on the day. Sometimes it’s incredibly profound. Some days it’s not profound at all.
So my theory on this was that it was a combination of the pressure. And the reason I came to this conclusion is that I’m living in Switzerland and I would go away to the sea to train at depth and I would come back and my osteopath friends – the first couple of times – I go in for tune-up…
Mark. Do they do craniosacral work on you?
Mark. Yeah, I’ve got that done and it’s really profound.
William. Yes, it’s quite amazing. And so one of these friends of mine – he was the head of the Swiss osteopathic federation – he asked me “have you been doing a lot of qigong or energy work?”
And I looked at him and I said “why are you asking that?”
He said “the amplitude of your cranial rhythm is off the charts.”
And so I said to him I said “okay, so when else have you ever experienced that?”
He said when I worked on a on a qigong master that was visiting from china.” And he said “I’ve seen improvements in people’s amplitude when they do qigong, and when they do specific breathing exercises or Tai Chi.”
And then I explained to him I said “I haven’t done anything abnormal or different from what I normally do, except for the deep diving.” And so him and I ran an experiment, because I was gonna be back in Switzerland for eight weeks. And I basically upped my qigong exercises, and introduced a few other exercises, and then I would visit him once a week and then we would start to see what the impact was.
Now I know from one of the masters that I studied with, that the ocean also has one of those things that until you can feel it, you just take somebody’s word for it. But it has several layers of different energies in it which lakes don’t have.
So anyways there was there was this effect that immediately drew me to just going into the depths and seeing what would happen. And then the competitive side of it, there was going to be a competition in Hawaii and initially I wasn’t interested.
And my business partner sent me the film “grand bleu” which… I watched that and I was like “oh my god. I got to do this, I got to do this.”
So I signed up for the competition. And how the competitions go, you announce what you’re gonna do the day before. So the competition was Friday, Saturday, Sunday – and I thought Monday. So Thursday we announced for Friday, which was the static breath-hold. Which is basically laying face down in a pool holding your breath.
Friday we announced for Saturday, which was depth. Saturday we announced for Sunday, which is distance swimming underwater in the pool.
And then Sunday I’m looking around and I went to one of the officials I made a motion of a pen in my hand “where do we announce?” And one of the judges he goes “announce what?”
And I said to him, “Well, for tomorrow.”
I said, “The sled.”
And he looks at me, he goes “what sled?”
I go “the sled. The sled. The ‘grand bleu.’ the sled! I want to do the sled. It’s tomorrow, right? It has to be tomorrow, because it’s…”
He looks at me and he gets this funny smile on this face. And he goes “dude, there’s no sled as a competitive discipline. They stopped that years ago.”
William. Yeah. And I was like “what?”
Mark. Why? Because it was too dangerous?
William. They stopped it when at a certain point the CMAS, which was the governing body stopped adjudicating records or competitions, because they felt that the depths were becoming too dangerous. And that’s when IANTD international formed. Formed by the athletes and the people that felt that it could be done safely. And they separated. And at that point, in that juncture sled as a quote “competitive” – as in done in competition – stopped. But you can still do it as a game.
Mark. Can you describe what that is for the listeners?
William. Sled is basically you take… and there’s various designs, but in its simplest form, you take a weight down and you swim back up. That’s called variable weight.
Mark. So pulls you down pretty fast. How fast?
William. Yeah, when I did the variable world record, I was at 147 meters in a minute and 17 seconds.
Mark. Wow. That’s impressive. Do you hang out down there or do you immediately start swimming back up?
William. No, you immediately start swimming up, because while you’re down there… you don’t want to spend too much time down there, particularly below 100 meters, because you’re building up a lot of nitrogen bubbles. And historically anybody who has had an issue in their dive and wound up spending too much time below 100 meters, winds up embolizing. So having an air embolism and it’s not pretty.
Mark. Is there a depth is considered like your max depth? Like people just won’t go beneath that? The human body just can’t sustain it?
William. We don’t know. The limit has been equalization, and my friend who coaches me on the equalization skills, he’s been to 185 meters in what’s called “no limit.” So you take the sled down and then you inflate a lift bag and you go back up with the lift bag. For him the limit was narcosis. The narcosis was dangerous he was not able to keep his faculties together down there. And so he became a higher risk to himself and to his team.
And when he made an effort to try and deal with it in different ways, and when he realized that he couldn’t… there was nothing he was doing that was making an impact, he said “okay, that’s it that’s where his limit lay, and he’s not going to attempt anything deeper.
Mark. Narcosis is blacking out?
William. No. Narcosis is the same thing that happens if you’re scuba diving on air. At a certain depth you’ve got so much nitrogen in the system that you’re like drunk.
Mark. Yeah, yeah. That makes sense.
William. So back to trying to – and the long way of answering your question that competition – qualified for the world championships. And the world championships were twofold. They were in the pool which was in Switzerland and they were in depth in the south of France. And so I decided “why not? Go to the world championships? It’ll be fun.’
Mark. (laughing) I love it. What the heck? This is the second time you’ve done it. Just go straight to the world championships.
William. (laughing) Yeah I mean, literally it was like that. I was like “I never been to Nice. Ok, that would be cool. Yeah, why not.”
And literally so I went. And when all was said and done, I placed in the top ten in three of four disciplines. And I literally said to my business partner, “I would like to take what I know from mindfulness, breathing, internal martial arts, my career as a coach and osteopathic rehab etc.… all the stuff that I learned from different shaman and I said “I want to apply this and see where I can get to in this sport.”
And that’s kind of why I got into it further and why I kind of stuck with it. And why I’m still involved in it.
So I mean, you’ve mentioned a couple times now qigong and martial arts – Tai Chi martial arts internal arts practitioner. I’ve been training that stuff for years as well. And it’s a big part of my life.
I’d love to hear a little bit more about that, and then we can come back to the freediving – and I know they kind of intertwine now in your life – but how did you get involved in that and what does your practice look like? And what’s been the effect for you?
Because I think a lot of people would really benefit from getting more involved in the somatic practices. And it’s a big part of our program, as well.
William. So to answer the first… I got involved in it I was an elite age group swimmer. And at the age of 16 I left home with my parents support, because there wasn’t sufficient coaching in my town.
And I was living on my own. And my day looked pretty much like up at 4:30, in the pool by 5:00… and I was getting home at 8 in the evening, eating, studying till midnight, and doing that cycle.
And our assistant coach decided to introduce meditation. And I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor with an algebra exam and a biology exam the next day. Going “I can’t believe I’m losing time to this.”
I like to move. So seated was not my thing. And I was like, “is anybody else irritated by this?” And I was trying to be respectful but I was like “Jesus! I got an exam tomorrow. I wanna…”
Mark. Meditation is almost impossible for someone under 22 or 23… it’s hard. They’re too agitated. They gotta get up and move.
William. Yeah, exactly. And so I got up and I was like in my head I’m like “you’re gonna put on the calendar and I’m not coming to train on those days.” And the assistant coach, he’d obviously seen that I was agitated and he said “what do you think?”
And I said “coach, I really appreciate you thinking outside the box.” But I said, “I got too much shit to do man. I got studying.”
He goes “how about martial arts?” Now keep in mind, I gave up skateboarding, was not allowed to learn to ski… we weren’t allowed to do anything that we could potentially get injured at. And I was like “what? Martial arts?”
And I was a huge Bruce Lee fan and he said “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. This martial art you could do.”
And I was like “the head coach knows about this?”
He’s like “yeah, yeah. It’s cool.
I was like “oh, yeah, yeah, man. Totally. Like, yeah.”
So he gives me the address of the place and I go… it’s like a week later and I show up and the place is closed, but I hear voices around the back. I go around the back and it’s a bunch of women around 65… between 65 and 70 years old, and I’m like “excuse me ladies, I’m sorry to bother you. There’s a martial arts class or something?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. The instructor will be here in a few minutes.”
I was like, “oh, okay.” So I’m 16 years old, I’m thinking there’s gonna be other guys. Guess what? I was the only guy. It’s a bunch of women 65 to 70 years old, and the teacher shows up and we’re doing Tai Chi.
And the whole time I’m sitting there thinking “he got me. He set me up. He suckered me.” And I’m trying to think payback, but as I get caught up in my head, I totally blow the movement. So essentially what happened was – in order to pay attention and follow his movements, and that of his wife’s – my brain stopped focusing on all of that, and focused on the actual movements.
And so there was this effect. Although it was probably three or four years later when I started to twig at what had happened there. But I was like “okay, I’ll be nice.”
And at the end of it, the teacher came up to me and he said “you’re a friend of so-and-so’s.
And I said “yeah, yeah, yeah.”
He said “what do you think?”
And I’m trying to be polite and respectful. I said “um interesting. Never done anything like this before.”
And he says “you know, it’s a martial art”
And then I couldn’t hold myself back. I said, “So yeah that’s what he’d said. So if I understand this correctly, you bore your opponent to death?”
And he laughed, and then he called his wife over. And would they said, “let’s do this, this, this.” And they full-on went at each other within the confines of Tai Chi, push hands. And it was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen.
And in retrospect when I look at that moment, I recognize… I grew up in small redneck towns – so you don’t do dance, you don’t do these kinds of things. And I’ve always had a pleasure in movement and in dance, and here was this… I was like mesmerized by this.
And then he said “so you see this movement?”
And I was like “yeah.”
He goes “so you remember in this film Bruce Lee did this?”
So I was hooked, and that hook was to last for – well, it continues to this day – and in part I stayed with it, because my swimming career ended, because of a chronic back problem. Which was quite severe. Which would put me in bed for six, eight, sometimes twelve weeks, and essentially ended the swimming career.
And then throw in a couple car accidents, and it was the one thing that allowed me – on my own – to regain my functionality, to improve my functionality, and to maintain it.
So obviously, I continued with it. I continued with – depending on where I was – with different masters. And then I became, because I started… my intellect started reading started studying. And the three Taoist internal martial arts are Xing Yi, Tai Chi and Bagua. I had heard about Bagua, and I had read about Bagua, and I had read about what it was capable of doing for someone – which is mystical…
I’m kind of a skeptical guy so I want to believe it, and I wound up finding this master who in six weeks I learned all eight palm changes. Which is – I can tell you now that that’s not possible – what I learned was empty forms. I could do the form properly, but I had no internal connections, no root, no power, nothing.
But he was teaching me what he could teach me, what he knew. And it was really… there’s this pivotal moment in my timeline… I was actually living in a small town. I was in my garden. Phone rang. Ran in, picked up the phone…
It’s like “yeah. Dave?”
“Yeah, dude. Listen. I don’t have much time. You got a pen and a piece of paper.”
“Yeah, dude. What’s going on?” Like, I’m thinking like shit, what’s going on?
He goes “I found him.”
“Who? What are we talking about? Dude, you can’t just you just can’t freakin’ call me up and say ‘I found him. Do you have a pen and paper?’ what are you talking about?”
He goes “I found a real Bagua master.” And I was like… because Dave and I had trained with another Tai Chi master and we’d had lengthy conversations about Bagua. And I was like really like “seriously, dude? In phoenix?”
He goes “no fuck, dude. Look I’m in Vancouver.” So he gives me the address. I organize everything. I go over to Vancouver, stay with my aunt and uncle Friday night, and Saturday morning I have a meeting with him. And the first interview is an hour and a half, two hours… he’s trying to ascertain if I was a good or bad person, because if I was a bad person he wouldn’t teach me.
And he accepted me. I trained with him all day… trained with him all day Sunday. Went back home. I was on Vancouver Island.
Monday morning took me 30 minutes to figure out how I could sit down on the toilet. I had never been that stiff and sore in my life. Took me another half an hour to figure out how to get down the stairs, in the house.
I went back the following weekend. Trained with him all day Saturday and Sunday. I came back Monday and I had already decided that I was going to sell my house. That I would figure out an irregular treatment plan with my patients, so I would be coming back… I would make the commute every two weeks or whatever with my patients.
And I was gonna sell the house. Take the equity in the house, and I was going to train full-time with this guy, because this guy was the real deal.
And yeah I did some crazy stuff with him. There’s stuff that I had read about, which I thought was fantasy. That I wound up experiencing.
One of my favorite stories in all of that is I’ve got a friend who’s a couch potato. He hates exercise.
And the guy he tickled me and I could never grab his hands. So the internal martial arts, you have to spend a long time with all of the conditioning and energetic work before you actually do any sparring. So it’s not really something that’s useful for self-defense.
Mark. Right. Not for many years, like you said.
William. Yeah and I just… I mean I wasn’t into it for the fighting aspect of it I was interested in it for the internal movements, and what it did for me in terms of my back and things.
But my friend would tickle me and I’m not ticklish. I said, “Dude, those are bruises.”
But I thought that I sucked, because I could never grab his hands. So his name was rob, I had another friend who was ex-military… who is ex-special forces that I had met through a mutual friend who taught self-defense to people. And had done Tai Chi. So I had wanted to meet this guy.
Long story short. I connected with him and he was going to introduce me to the system that he was teaching. And he was going to train me. And how he starts the first lesson… we’re in a parking garage, because he doesn’t have a studio, he doesn’t have a dojo or anything.
And this is one of those moments where I realized that I really wasn’t paying attention, because I was so excited about what I was going to learn. Because he again interviewed me, to make sure I wasn’t a bad person and then we wind up…
He says “do you want you want to start?”
I was like “yeah, yeah.” Super-excited.
He goes, “let’s start now.”
So he says “hit me in the face.”
And I immediately went “uh, no. I’m okay.” And to his credit – he should have got an academy award – because he just he said “what?” And his whole tone, his whole demeanor changed. Keep in mind, the guy’s thirty five pounds heavier than me…
I said “no, no. I don’t need to.” And he slaps me across the face. And now I realize I’m in an underground parking garage. There’s nobody around. And that maybe I just was a dumbass and this guy just wants to get in a fight with me.
And now I’m like “shit.” And I can see he’s bigger, he’s stronger. I can see how well-connected he is. “Uh-oh. If I have to fight this guy, I’m getting my ass kicked.”
So now I’m Mr. Negotiator. I’m trying to take it down a notch, and he whacks me across the face again. And he achieved the end that he wanted, because he got me pissed off and I took a shot at him. And I never connected with him. I wound up unhurt, pinned to the ground. He goes “good, good, good”
But now I’m pissed off. I’m like “what the fuck?”
And he goes “it’s okay.”
I go, “what the fuck?”
And he goes “no, no, no. I’m sorry. I just need to know what it takes for you to hit somebody.”
I said “just fucking ask me! I have to be really pissed off. I don’t like fighting, man.”
He goes “yeah, I get that.”
So this is how he starts. So imagine my friend rob decides that he wants to learn self-defense. And he said Tai Chi, and I said “no, no, no.” And I said “you need to learn basic, gross motor skills. It’s kind of like a hand-to-hand combat thing, with somebody who’s competent.”
So I sent him to my other friend and forgot about it. And then I got a call from Alan, and he’s like “Will, it’s Alan. Listen buddy. I just had a question for you.”
And I was like “yeah, what’s up?”
He goes “Your buddy, Rob.”
“What’s his martial arts background?” And I start laughing. He goes “what’s so funny?”
“Seriously? The guy’s a couch potato, he’s overweight, he doesn’t exercise – he hates walking even. He hates exercise.”
He goes “no, I’m not screwing around, will. I need to know.”
And I was like “dude, he’s never done martial arts in his life.”
And I heard stress in Al’s voice. I also heard a different sound in his voice, which makes sense in a second… I said “Al, what’s wrong?”
He goes “well, you know how I start the lesson.”
And I was like “remind me.”
He goes “punch me in the face.”
“Oh yeah, yeah.”
He goes “yeah, he broke my nose.”
And I’m like “whoa, whoa. What are you talking about? Rob? No, no, no, no. He’s the least violent person I’ve ever met.”
He goes “no, no, dude. He’s a genetic freak.” He goes “I can’t train a guy like that. He’s a genetic freak. He has reflexes that in 25 years I’ve never seen. I can’t trap his hands.”
Mark. Did he actually have any training? That he hid from you? Or was he truly just a weird…?
William. No he’s truly genetically gifted. The guy doesn’t exercise but if you have him sprint 100 meters, it’s just off the charts. He’s strong like you can’t believe. You can throw him on a leg press – because he has no skill to do a squat with free weights – but he’ll press massive amounts of weight. And he doesn’t exercise.
And I’ve met his brothers – it’s like the whole family are genetic freaks.
But so this guy had…like I was ecstatic I was like, “maybe I don’t suck. This guy has these wicked reflexes.” And so imagine this. We never with master Yang – was the master that I relocated to train with – we never did speed work. Ever. We walked the circle when I had the skill set to walk the circle. I stood the pole – sometimes for six hours – all of it was internal work. And one day I was talking on the phone and rob came in to tickle me, and with one hand I threw him across the room into the wall.
And then I was like “I’ll call you back.” I’m like “dude, are you okay?”
And he jumps up, and he goes “how’d you do that?”
I go “I don’t know. Are you okay?”
And he goes “yeah I’m fine.” So he comes at me again, so I toss him across the other side of the room. And he kept coming at me, and it was like his hands were in slow motion. And my reflexes – without doing any speed work – had improved. So there was this whole host of things that I started to experience that to this day… and then with the stuff diving out of the cage with great white sharks a lot of the mindfulness comes into play in terms of managing the risk associated with that.
Mark. Let me pause there if we may, and then I want to come back and then really go into the underwater work that you’ve been doing. But a couple things come up for me, because I’m a martial artist. I started with karate – external art – but then when I went into the SEALs, we started training something that was based off San Soo Kung Fu called SCARS. And so that was perfect for operators, because it was just like brutal, offensive, street fighting.
And I had that under my belt, and the karate actually wasn’t that useful for me. Except that I started my Zen training through karate, and that gave out a lot of the mental tools. And I learned how to land a punch and a kick so that was useful.
But the actual techniques didn’t do much for me. In fact, my instructor – Jerry Peterson – told me that I had to unlearn that karate shit, or I was gonna get myself killed. And he was right. So I had to unlearn it.
And then the San Soo Kung Fu I trained that for many years. And we used to go blazingly fast, thinking that fast was better. And then – about 10 years ago, maybe more – I met this guy named Tim Larkin. And he was actually one of my instructors in SCARS at BUD/S. But later on, he spun off from Jerry and started his own thing called target-focused training. And he wanted to teach basically the same type of training to moms and people who’ve never had any training before.
And so he taught San Soo Kung Fu at the speed of Tai Chi. And it is unbelievably effective. Like, it was a real innovation. It’s almost reverse engineering it. And when I thought about that, it was like “oh yeah, that makes total sense.” And so I started… I took up Aikido, and when I train alone or even in the dojo – unless it’s like a randori, where we’re going at each other – I try to train at Tai Chi speed, which is like really slow. If you can have perfect practice in your mind and align your body with that, then what you’re really trying to do is just basically have that reaction there as perfectly as you can.
If you’re in a situation that actually, you need to apply a technique… but if you do everything really fast, you’ll never have that perfect movement. And you’ll never have the alignment of the body, mind and the spirit. Cause it’s all physical.
I just wanted to throw that out there. Is that your experience? And I love that because Bagua is very, very difficult to learn. I don’t think you can learn it fast.
But by greasing the groove or the neurobiology over, and over, and over again slowly it’s going to be there for you eventually.
William. Yeah. Absolutely. And one of the things that I think’s important around the Taoist martial arts – as I was taught – however many thousands of years ago. Number one) the Taoist sages recognized that it’s a very rare person that will pursue their spiritual development. That’s just reality. That’s just human nature.
So what do people need, and what did they need back in those times? They needed health and they needed self-defense. So they created these systems that would embed the spiritual trainings into it. So the thing… I totally agree with what you’re saying… when you move slowly you can feel the purpose of the… when I’m circle walking I’ll decide what I’m gonna work on. What is the internal aspect? Because in a sense I’ve got different hand postures, while I’m walking the circle. And those different hand postures correspond to different meridians. And different energy systems.
But at the same time I’m creating a compression and a decompression. There’s all of these different things going on inside the body and you can’t do it… you can’t maintain the connections fast until you hardwire them. It’s like anything.
So slowing down to speed up is actually the reality. And like Tai Chi is a classic example. When somebody does it quickly, it looks really smooth. But when a beginner slows it down, it’s not very smooth at all. When a master slows it down, it still has that same beauty of movement.
Mark. Well we used to have this thing in the SEAL teams, slow is smooth, smooth is fast. And we used to teach shooting that way, right? And at first everyone’s going too fast. And then through thousands of dry fires, and thousands of just real simple movements at the range – 25 meter target – you begin to connect the movement, with the breathing and you begin to get into that mindful state that you just mentioned.
Where all of a sudden… just breaking it down to the fundamental basics, and just drawing the pistol, leveling it, getting your front sight focus. Inhaling, holding the breath and getting the trigger-pull down – it seems like it’s taking forever, but you’re landing the rounds and it’s actually perceived by an outsider as pretty fast.
So it’s interesting. We were actually using these same principles for firearms training. Probably without even recognizing that they’re connected to the same principles that you’re talking about for developing that alignment and that slow is smooth, smooth is fast, from Bagua or Tai Chi.
Will. Yeah and it’s interesting… one of my earlier teachers… it was the first master that gave me the nod to teach Tai Chi, because my alignment was perfect. As in I knew in the different movements where everything was supposed to be in relation to everything else. And I could feel the difference when they weren’t.
And you can put somebody in the standing, static posture and push on them gently, and there’s a solidity that even a rank beginner can feel. And just subtle millimeters of change and there’s a complete disconnection and uprooting. And it’s interesting, because back when I was training with master Yang I’m 6’ 2” and I was like a 168, 170 pounds. So I was pretty thin. And I can remember, we had guys coming that would find out about master Yang from various sources.
And Yang liked to do this thing where you’d stand in the horse stance and then the other guy would two hands together, full slam you in the chest to move you. And he’d pick one of us. And I remember multiple times he picked me.
And I remember one time, this guy was pretty stocky. He was probably 5’ 10” but he was like 210 pounds of muscle. And he’s a super nice guy and he didn’t want to hurt me. So he kind of hit me.
And Yang’s like “woo. Boo how. Boo how.” Which means “no good.”
And I’m like “uh-oh.” And the guy goes, “what’s he saying?”
“He means that sucks, dude. You need to hit me. You need to use force.”
And he goes, “yeah, but I don’t hurt you.”
I go “dude, just hit me as hard as you can.”
So he hits me again. A bit more, but not really enough. And then Yang’s like “whauu!” He’s really…
I’m like “okay, dude, listen. If you don’t freaking nail me, he’s gonna nail me. And then I’m gonna hurt you afterwards. And trust me I can hurt you. So please – I know you’re a nice guy. Don’t worry I’m not gonna be angry at you if you launch me across the tarmac. I don’t care. But just please give it your all.”
So the guy hit me full-on and he just kind of buckled and he grabbed his right wrist and he goes “shit, I think I broke my wrist. He didn’t move me. Didn’t move me at all. And it was the root… this was one of the things that Yang was talking about, was developing root and that relaxation. And that suppleness that allows force to pass through you instead of kind of breaking you.
And it was interesting. We even had we had a jiu-jitsu guy who asked one day “what do you do if you go to the ground?”
So I kind of translated for master Yang. And he said “no this one.”
And the guy said “what does he mean?”
“I don’t know – no this one.”
And he’s like “yeah, but if somebody takes you to the ground, they take you to the ground.
“Dude, don’t ask me. I’m just trying to translate here.
Mark. You wouldn’t go to the ground? Is that was he’s saying.
William. Yeah. He said it wouldn’t happen if you’re properly trained you wouldn’t be taken to the ground. And so Yang challenged the guy to take me to the ground. He couldn’t take me to the ground. Couldn’t. It just didn’t happen and then the guy was like “okay well…” he was a black belt in jujitsu but there were six of us. So six guys between 5’ 10” and 6’ 2”. Strong. To try and move master Yang. Couldn’t do it. Just couldn’t do it.
And there was things that to this day, I can only speculate as to how he did them.
Mark. Yeah, the stories from Ueshiba – who’s the founder of Aikido are extraordinary. And even videos. I watched a video and this guy is like in his 80s when this video is taken. Where he had the entire school – either his school or wherever he’s teaching that day – basically pin him down and pig pile him so you couldn’t even see him. He was just under this big pile.
And all of a sudden, the pile just started to move, right? And it started to oscillate. And all these students are like starting to oscillate. And then they just start flying off the pile. And there’s Ueshiba, stands up, kind of like dusts himself off.
And then the famous a story where he this is all mental spiritual stuff like he challenged anyone basically to shoot him with a firearm. And so these five guys lined up, and he’s kind of sitting maybe 25 yards away. Like he’s their target.
And he gives them the signal that he’s ready, and then the next thing you know, he’s behind one of the five, and had basically disarmed him. And the guy was on the ground. And like, this is before the bullets were even halfway out of the barrel or had departed the part of the barrel. He was gone. It’s crazy
William. Yeah. Well, this reminds me of Master Xu. One of the masters that I studied with. One day I showed up and there was a translator. Because he didn’t speak a word of English and my mandarin was lacking. And what he was gonna do is punch me – kind of like a slap – it wasn’t a hard punch in the chest.
And what I had to do was trap his hands. And I was totally unable to. And at the end of it, I said to the translator, I said “please…” I made the palms together and the thank you – I said “please thank master Xu. I’m so inspired.”
He was 83 at the time. At his age he has such fast reflexes. So that the gentleman translated in mandarin and then I heard “budva, budva,” which means “not correct.” That I understood. And when the translator came back at me he says,“ Master Xu says not correct. Not a reflex. You in here…” and he pointed at my head. “Here, no here. When you no here, he move. When you back, too late.”
Basically it’s that because… and this is one of the things that I like about Bagua or Tai Chi, is that for example Bagua I’m walking a circle, I’m in a very specific position. There’s very specific movements – which most of them are hardwired. My eyes are open. I am present and aware of the room, but my attention is not out there. My attention is internal. It’s internally in my body, and what’s going on. Whether I’m checking my breathing or today there’s a restriction here, so I’m trying to dissolve it outwards.
But if you were to come into the room or put your head in front of my face, I’d immediately bring my awareness back out to check who you are. It’s being able to be present and this is what… I’m gonna jump back to the diving, because this fascinates me in my experience with great white sharks. They know when you’re not present. When you’ve spaced-out. And they take advantage of it.
Not to predate on us. They take advantage of it because they’re worried… initially, actually the first couple years that we were diving with them, they really weren’t sure what we were. So they would keep a distance and then they would slowly move their way in.
But the moment you space-out “boom,” you’ve got a 5-meter great white less than arm’s distance away checking you out.
Mark. What are they doing with you? I mean are they a threat at that point or…?
William. No they’re… I’ve had them – because somebody triggered them – go postal on me. But in that instance what I’m describing there – they’re curious, and they don’t know what we are. And the problem for us arises that if in that moment that animal is sitting next to you. And it’s visually checking you out.
It decides okay “next,” and then the next thing it might do is take a bite. Because it wants to taste you and that’s it. You’re done, effectively.
So we don’t allow that to happen. I don’t allow… sometimes I want the shark to come in really close because I want to photograph it for id purposes, or I want to tag it. If I’ve got the camera I’ll look through the camera, so it doesn’t get the intention of my eyes.
And it’s really funny, because then it thinks I’m not I’m not looking so it comes in, and then I’ll purposely put my head somewhere else and it comes in and literally it’s sitting a foot and a half off my dome port. And I lower and look at it, and bam that shark is gone. It takes off.
Mark. It feels your intention.
William. Yeah it feels your intent…
Mark. And your intention, right? Well, it’s kind of like stalking a deer, right?
William. Yeah in a sense
Mark. If you’re looking at it, if you’re thinking about it, it’s gonna feel you. But if you’re completely calm…
William. Exactly. Exactly.
Mark. I did that… I was at a meditation retreat recently in February – actually up in Santa Cruz – and I love the meditation retreats just because they force you to go deeper. But also I’m aware – just like you are with Tai Chi and Bagua – the real practice is day to day. Off the map. Your everyday interactions. You’re always practicing.
And so I was taking a walk at lunch. Everyone was herding to the chow hall, but I used to use the meal hours to go outside and walk or to do my 200 burpees or whatever. And then I go grab a PB&J or whatever was left.
And in one of these walks I was – they had like 400 acres there at this Mount Madonna center – and I’m walking through the woods. And I come across a family of deer. And I was completely in a deep meditative – kind of walking meditation state – and the family of deer they’re looking at me, they’re checking me out, I walked right up next to them and I just kind of sat down with this family.
And I was really just having this amazing connection with them, all of a sudden these two other workers – like they’re on some sort of work-share program there – come strolling down chit-chatting. And they were like 50 yards away and the deer just bolted.
It’s fascinating. That’s similar to what you’re talking about, I imagine – but underwater these mammals have the same kind of sense. They can feel your mind somehow the orientation to it.
William. Oh for sure for sure. For sure.