The Ice Tank at Kokoro

This was one of the hand full of videos that made it out of Kokoro 20 (Fall of 2011). This video was at the end of 50 hours of learning, and getting my arse handed to me: one of the best experiences (excluding the ice bath) I’ve had in my adult life.Also, here is a LONG entry that I wrote for my coach – Mark Divine, after the experience:

Kokoro Class 20

Brief reflections (abbreviated) by Kenny Kane

As I sit down to reflect on my experience at Kokoro Camp there is certainly a part of me that is proud. Pride however isn’t the primary emotion or feeling. Rather, a deep, profound sense of thankfulness and gratitude are what I’m experiencing. It’s amazing that in 50 hours, lessons and principles that take years to grasp, handle and comprehend can hit you with such vividness and clarity. It’s also amazing that in such a short time you become immediately interdependent with all of you teammates… Maybe that’s just survival? You either learn with humility and acceptance or you don’t. Kokoro Camp is intended to teach the basics of the “Warrior Spirit”. People might look at the language of “Warrior Spirit” implying that you are some super human cyborg. That of one being a badass physically – enduring endless workouts as some kind of ass kicking ninja. NOBODY can endure the entirety of the physical work without breaking. That is the Kokoro protocol and the job of the coaches – to make sure that each individual breaks… In a way, the sooner you break or accept that you are broken the sooner you can get past your own macho BS or egoistic walls. The Warrior soon understands that focusing on the moment and getting help from teammates is the ONLY way to survive the camp. Coach Divine referred to Emerson early in the camp: “When a man is beaten, tormented and defeated… he is ready to learn something.” I didn’t realize just how many times I could be ready to learn something in 50 hours…

The first 12 hours of camp was endless physical beatdown… We were moving 8 of those hours with intensity…. I did extremely well in the only individual WOD of the camp, “Murph” coming in just a minute or so behind a Marine 15 years my junior. But I was immediately humbled by the next 4 hours with failures…. Their strategy was effective.

Sometime during that first night maybe around 4am? We had to dig a hole in sand – big enough for all 21 of us to fit in and lay side by side in an attempt to generate some warmth. Of course we weren’t digging fast enough so we’d have to sprint to the surf some 150 meters away and back with rucksacks. Eventually, we got the job done. At this point the coaches gave us a job – keep them laughing and entertained! Nothing in the world couldn’t be more suitable for me. 15 years of making people laugh, 10 professionally and a lifetime of entertaining. The coaches intentionally saved “KANE” for last knowing that I was the ringer, the pro. In general I relish being the “closer” – in sport and performance. “Haskell” had some wonderfully dirty jokes, and so did some of the others. Most of the jokes were internet derivatives – boys being boys, dirty, locker room style and it was all hysterical… The laughter did help us keep our minds off the cold and the desire to fall asleep. After some time, it was my turn. And for whatever reason, I chose to tell the most boring, laboring, rambling story that actually ended with me saying, “… and that’s it!” Whenever you end a story with the words, “…. and that’s it?!” you have told a joke or story that simply sucks. Not only did I lay an egg, I layed an egg with something I do professionally! Be funny on the spot! Not easy for most but I’ve made my living doing that! I’ve been part of the 1% of artists that supported themselves off of their art and I couldn’t do that! Are you kidding me?! You could feel the groups disinterest in me and my story grow by the second as I rambled through a horrible. When I finished the coaches rode me hard – as they should given the expectation for hilarity to ooze outta me. Nothing awesome was coming out of me and the things that I was good at were gone. Finally some space to grow. I was indeed beaten. And as such, ready to take something in….

The night wore on. Coach Devine helped us reset with a the lesson that “Kokoro Spirit” is one of never quitting – to always stay in the fight. To lead when you are strong, follow when you are weak, and to never quit. In the first 2 evolutions I was already a leader and a follower, one of the strongest and the weakest. The other thing Coach Devine hammered is the warriors ability to stay in the moment. Focused on the task at hand, not the future, not the past, just now. As a black belt this was trained into to my psyche early. From 6 years old this is language that I was familiar with and to a degree well practiced in. As a competitive athlete and performer my entire life I had a lot of experience stepping up and into the “moment” – to be focused with singularity and perspective all at once. I would have to rely on this skill more than ever before to get through. Stay in the moment – with humility and focus, breathe calmly as a warrior does, as Coach was reminding us….

As the sun came up, the coldest part of any day, the coaches had us lie in the surf with locked arms and legs with our head toward the oncoming surf and feet to the shore. A human raft, really. 20 of us locked as a unit, freezing, side by side. The sound of the waves became ominous, and for me haunting. I was so cold. God it was cold and those that know me know just how easily I get chilly. I was the only guy with goose bumps the entire weekend. Even when working out I was cold, constantly. Once we dipped in the water, it didn’t stop. I was shivering. Each wave would end up forcing water up your nose and into your mouth. Breathing calmly and deeply kept me calm and relaxed despite the horrible discomfort. After roughly 30-45 mins of this water torture we were instructed to get out of the water.

My legs simply didn’t work. As all the other guys unlocked their arms and got out, I couldn’t bend my legs! I reached down to bend them but this wasn’t successful. I laughed and shouted to my teammates, “Guys my legs don’t work!” Selflessly several guys doubled back to help me not even considering that they might be punished. They got me upright. With my hip flexors I could kind of get my legs moving. Once I got onto sand I could move independently, not well or quickly, but I could move in a peg leg kinda way – like a 40 year old pirate with a blazing 24.2 40m time…. Immediately we were working out again. At this point for me – it was performance art, more than working out….

We were constantly being beaten, physically for sure and mentally with all of the heckling from the coaches… The difference on day 2, at least for me, was that I wasn’t personalizing the verbal attacks. Part of this is exhaustion, part of that is humility, part of that is confidence. You simply hear a command/heckle/verbal rape and you take it as information, that’s all. So I evolved from my narcissistic self where it’s like, “How dare they abuse me like that!” to, “Coach is giving me information.” It’s a lot less emotionally exhausting to hear things as the latter… Again, this is all stuff that I’ve practiced for over 3 decades in martial arts, soccer, track, triathlon, yoga, dance, comedy, acting, crossfit… Shit, I’ve studied and taught it!!!! But now, I had no option to step away from my ego and being stuck in how things should be to staying in the moment truthfully with teammates.

This was to come in very handy in the next “Evolution” – the 24 mile night ruck hike.

The mood was good as we started up the mountain. We were executing our strategy of stopping every 30 mins well. Another team aggressively charged ahead. Compete? Let them go? Careful ego, careful. Over time we gained ground on the other team. Slowly we passed them, they were clearly tired, as we all were. The exhaustion was really starting to set in by about the 3rd or 4th hour of the uphill hike. My feet were blistered and bleeding and I just kind of accepted this. Perhaps I was distracted by hallucinations? On the way up the hill I saw a couple of things: 1) a Nun selling strawberries. I remember feeling a bit annoyed that she wasn’t stopping to share the berries! She just kept moving… I had been told that you start to see things so I had a sense that this is what was happening but it was so vivid and so real! A little while latter I saw a gospel choir leader conducting and doing side lunges at the same time?! Both spiritual, one with nutrients the other exercising – I guess in some ways this makes sense? I asked one of the guys next to me, “See that?” “What?” …. “Nothin’?…” Your rational brain knows that there aren’t nuns and gospel choir leaders up there but they were man, and it was REAL.

At this point I was trashed, knee was hurting, feet mashed and swollen, yet there was this growing sense of confidence. The sun was coming up! The coaches were going to keep dishing and my teammates and I were going to keep taking it. The relationship was inverted: as the body weakened, the mind strengthened – ALL of us, our entire TEAM was still in the fight and we beat the night! Another collective and individual win. Thousands of squats, pushups, burpees, OH Squats, pullups, sprints, buddy carry sprints in the sand (remind me never to do that with a guy that is 65 pounds heavier than me…), The ruck sack (or slicer of flesh), the death march up and down a mountain, it didn’t matter. I was so past gone, yet knew there was more in me.

A little after sunrise we were divided up into 2 units: I was in a unit that went to the beach, dug a hole with our hands big enough for 10-12 of us to climb into and cover ourselves with seaweed and kelp. Walkers, runners and visitors to the beach had no idea that there 10 of us under kelp. This was, to me, the hardest thing we did the entire weekend. Mostly because none of us, once positioned, couldn’t move, at all. Literally you couldn’t move, an inch!!! I was on my left side, one side of my head was pressed firmly against the sand wall, the right ear an inch from the right shoulder (kinda like a a confused dog – except I was really stuck), legs slightly scissored, tangled into the kelp and legs of the others. The heel of somebody’s boot was wedged deeply into the tissue on this inside of my shin. I’m sure the bottom of my boot was wedged in someone else’s leg. There were hundreds and hundreds of pounds of kelp covering us. Qualifying this as “claustrophobic” would be an understatement. Painful? also an understatement…. But the feeling of claustrophobia and pain were not as significant as something far more important: Breath. I had trouble breathing because there was so little space for my ribcage to expand. My legs and part of my upper body had fallen asleep. That tingling is always annoying even when you can do something about it (i.e. move into a position to allow blood flow). The drill was complex: observe my limbs falling asleep, lay contorted on my side, know and trust that it was just pain, get that I was in a, “non mechanically advantaged” position, be silent, feel crushed and smashed, understand that my ribcage can’t expand hardly at all because of space issues, and somehow stay fucking calm. I was bitchin’ a lot at the start of all this. I was trying to convince the guys next to me to move. Of course this was done in a whisper… After a long while that acceptance, sincere, deep acceptance set in. We weren’t moving until we were told to move. Once I got that I was able to stay calm. Again, acceptance in these situations is a bargain for the mind. Yes my body was fucked, royally, but so was everybody else. Re-learning to breath into the situation helped me profoundly. Finally after maybe 90 mins, the command was given to get out. This turned into a real clusterfuck as we all writhed to get out I had somehow managed to get tangled and wrapped in sea kelp. I was now pinned underneath hundreds of pounds of kelp and with coaches yelling at me… thankfully 2 larger teammates recognized my predicament, grabbed ahold of each of my arms and yanked me from the kelp monster. Not easy for them.

What Coach Divine gave us was more on Seal Code, character and breath – things that you can never stop learning. Coming back to your breath was critical not only to performance, but life. Again as a martial artist, this was trained into my being as a little boy. But years of using similar techniques and mental toughness as a practice had never been as powerfully condensed as I was experiencing it in these Kokoro moments. I get that in that in many ways, it has taken me my whole life to ready myself for this camp. And once you really get it down and know that you are always going to be in the fight, and that you will never give up, it simplifies everything to it’s most purity: Breath. Just one at a time. Slow it down, deepen it. I often think of my grandfather for important moments as I’ve always wanted to emulate him in so many ways. I remembered a conversation in 1990 with my grandfather (“Pop Pop”) in which I asked: “Pop, you need anything?” He responded so simply: “I’ve got my breath.” Could it be this simple?

The last few hours of camp were brutal, abusive, amazing and beautiful all at once. The evolutions worked. Things got simple. Coach took us through Yoga and of course ALL of us fell asleep even though you know what is about to happen: wake up to horns, yelling instructors, getting dunked in ice tanks, hundreds of squats, hundreds of pushups, work with logs all while getting verbally assaulted. None of it was personal and all of it would pass. But the ability to simply observe it while being in it was strong, keen almost. To me, this is spiritual. To be a witness to your self without attaching much good, bad, right, wrong… just staying on task and keeping control of your breath. Simple pure, and beautiful.

It goes without saying that the Kokoro experience was epic, one of a lifetime etc, etc.. The truth for me, was that it was more of a spiritual experience. In the past I’ve experienced seeing “The Orb” – old running myth about seeing an orb as you run – it guides you, your breath, and the movement happens. For sure, I saw “The Orb, nuns, gospel choir leaders, and all sorts of things at Kokoro. What I learned is that self mastery isn’t about the the bragging rights of completing the 50 hours. Actually, it has nothing to do with that. It’s more about character, team, honor, single minded focus when the moment necessitates, and breath.

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