Craig: Welcome to the Movers Mindset Podcast, where I interview movement enthusiasts to find out who they are, what they do, and why they do it. This week, Andy Fisher discusses being a teacher, why he loves it, and how his pursuit of his passions relates to the classroom. He shares his unique and unexpected movement journey before explaining how all of that relates to the passion projects he regularly pursues, such as the Thronin and Hero Forge projects. Andy discusses his thoughts on efficacy, his current struggles, and how he manages and works towards overcoming them. But before we begin, I’d like to ask. Have you noticed there are little Easter eggs at the very end of each episode?
Craig: Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.
Andy: Hi, I’m Andy Fisher.
Craig: Andy Fisher is a teacher, photographer, author, husband, and father, among many other things. A man of many talents, Andy is also an obstacle course racer, a wilderness survival instructor, and has been a longtime teacher of practical self-protection skills. In addition to survival, and protection, Andy also teaches English at a secondary school in Norwich, and finds that to be the most dangerous job he’s yet experienced. Welcome, Andy.
Andy: Thanks, I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Craig: Andy, let’s dive right in and talk a little bit about secondary education. In the states, we would call it high school or middle school maybe, and then you’re teaching English in secondary. Can you just unpack a little bit, what exactly is in that subject?
Craig: And where do you teach?
Andy: Yeah, sure. I’m based on the east coast of the UK, kind of middle of the country where it bulges out, and it’s kind of sleepy little city really. I’ve taught there for 22 years with a couple of little breaks which we can come to maybe later in the conversation.
Craig: I hope so.
Andy: I teach 11 to 18-year-old children, boys, and girls, and it’s a combination of English language skills. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and literature. Yeah, it’s a job that I love doing, but it’s also very frustrating as well because… we can get into this about-
Craig: I was gonna say, do you? I can barely remember English class when I was in high school, it was a couple days ago. But does the curriculum that you’re working in, what level do they dictate? Do they give you, you have to teach, I’m assuming there’s a test, you have to make to the test, but do they also give you a lot of latitude on? A, if you can manage to turn on the spark of love of literature that’d be great, but how do they manage that?
Andy: Sure, I’m really lucky in the school I teach in, it does give me that latitude. I’ve got a really good head of department who I work with. Essentially, it’s a really busy school, and they’re very results-driven. They’re expected to get first place University choices, they’re bright kids, and they’re motivated.
Andy: It’s not a behavioral issue that I have to manage on a daily basis, a lot of teachers in other schools, their primary purpose is to keep the kids in the room, and not running up the walls, that’s not my problem. My problem is, I got very bright engaged children who want to do well, and I’m forever trying to steer them towards those more [inaudible 00:03:04] goal.
Craig: Better target, right?
Andy: Yeah, feeling the passion for the literature, and the skills take care of themselves, and I’m blessed to do that. I think in part, that’s because I get the results so they kind of ignore how I get there.
Andy: And in part, because it’s so busy, no one’s really looking at what I’m doing. I push the envelope on what I can get away with, with them, yeah.
Craig: I first discovered, I think the first place that I heard mention of you, was when Dan Edwards was talking about the… It’s Thronin, like as in Ronin. Thronin when you did the, what I’m going to say, although I totally understand this. Is a ridiculous attempt at throwing for a 1000 days, and trying to actually get world-ranked.
Craig: This strikes me as a very disparate, like world-class, and I’m not trying to draw a funny line but throwing knives at the kids. That’s a huge discretion, the difference between knife throwing, at the world-class level, which is, I have to imagine deeply, deeply, you have to really be committed, and teaching English literature.
Craig: I happen to know, but can you unpack a little bit, some of the other things you do outside, knife throwing is not really that off the path for you.
Andy: No, I’ve always had the attitude, and it does tie in with education. I’ve always had the attitude that teachers have the responsibility to be outside of their comfort zone, and learning. Because if you just teaching to your skillset, you can lose touch with what a learner’s experience is like.
Andy: And also, I think, that we’ve got one wildlife, we want to throw ourselves in, and expose ourselves to as much as possible. All the way alongside my teaching career, I’ve been pursuing other passion projects of various kinds, and I tend to bring those things into school as well. As you said in the intro, I’ve got a qualification as a Wilderness Survival Instructor, I’ve been a Close Protection Officer, and I teach self-defense, and I had this sort of, yeah, this weird thousand-day challenge to become a world-class knife-thrower.
Andy: And the way that they almost inevitably end up coming into the classroom in some way. I’ve taken kids out into the woods on long weekends and, taking away all their gear, and teach them how to survive. I’ve taken groups, and padded them up, and basically beaten the hell out of them. It’s a nice way of resolving interpersonal issues with the students you teach, with no legal ramifications.
Andy: And yet, with the knife-throwing I haven’t taught them to throw knives because of-
Craig: Yeah, you need to draw the line at this thing and that, but-
Andy: Yeah, the school’s insurance policies don’t stretch quite that far. But it’s really interesting that one of the things that, that project bought out for me was, how do you become really good at something in a limited time frame?
Craig: Did you want to bring in that concept into the classroom?
Andy: Yeah, exactly.
Craig: Because I didn’t want to interrupt your story about how you became really good, and then I also want to get to the part how the story ends, that’s also a really interesting.
Craig: But I just want to know. Do they talk about it, are they like following you, they’re lurking like, “Oh, how did you do at this tournament?”
Andy: Yeah, yeah, they really actually got into it in a big way, and I had a YouTube channel that tracked what I was doing, and the kids would follow that. Again, it has to be a one-way relationship because for safety reasons, and safeguarding. Kids can follow me if they want, but I can’t follow them.
Craig: Follow them.
Andy: I didn’t engage online in terms of what that project was like, but in the classroom, they’d often come in and say, “Oh, have you got a competition this weekend sir?”
Craig: Yeah, what happened over there?
Andy: yeah, and how did it go?
Craig: Why did you say this?
Andy: Exactly, I’d use that to talk about what is it that you’re passionate about, and what would it take to get really good, and we looked at the mythology of the 10,000-hour rule, and all of those things, and because kids are, what they should be thinking about, is that they’re basically professional learners, and yet so little of the curriculum is invested in learning how to learn.
Andy: I try and make it a kind of a meta cognitive thing were with the successes and failures of any of these projects that I get involved in. I bring back into the classroom, and it also means that they’re engaging with me beyond the idea of being an authority figure that teaches them a subject. I’m a human being with interests and passions, beyond the classroom.
Craig: Right, and I think there’s something… I have limited, very limited teaching experience, as a teaching assistant at the collegiate level, and I didn’t realize this at the time, but I think the mistakes that, one of the big mistakes I made was that. I felt that it was one way, and the professor, lecture hall with 300, that’s pretty much one-way. They’re just going to deliver the material, but I think the mistake that I didn’t realize, and the more I’m listening I’m like, “Oh yes, that’s a mistake.” Is that, it really needs to be a two-way communication. I mean there’s definitely going to be lopsided on one direction, but I think that, that feedback or that ability for them to feel that they are actually being heard, seems like a critical component.
Andy: Yeah, yeah, and that’s about authenticity as well. A long time ago I realized, I went down cynical, the pastoral route in teaching. Which is, I teach my subject, but I also, my career development has not been towards becoming a headmaster or a head of department. It’s been about being responsible for the pastoral care of the peoples I teach. For seven years, I was Housemaster, I had 116 kids who I was responsible for.
Andy: And if there was a bereavement, or a divorce, or significant illness. I was the front-line of call for that family, and for that child, and you don’t have authentic connection, unless you come authentically yourself, and a good example of that is that during the last four or five years. My father had a very rapid onset of cancer, and he died, and rather than hide that from the kids, I bought that into my conversation in the room with them, we talked about death, and we talked about bereavement, and we… Because when you’re teaching literature those themes come up in time.
Craig: They’re in there, right.
Andy: Yeah, you can either pretend that you are not a human being, going through what you’re going through, or you can take the risk of saying this is where I’m at, and this is what I… You know, guys if I’m struggling a bit at the moment, this is why. What was remarkable about that, was the degree of compassion that they bought to that relationship. I’ll always stand by the idea that I’ve learned more from my kids than I’ve taught them, and any decent teacher I think that’s the case. Because these young people are remarkable in terms of their integrity, and their openness, and their willingness to embrace [crosstalk 00:09:05] change.
Craig: In a variety, there’s so much difference.
Andy: Yeah, and it’s really easy to adopt this idea of. I’m older, I’m the teacher, they’re the child, they don’t know anything, and my God when you get into their worlds, and the things they’ve gone through. It’s really humbling that they’re able to turn up, some of these guys, and be in the classroom at all.
Andy: In that sense yeah, It’s a career that’s a privilege, and the challenge of teaching these days is all of the politics, and the hoop-jumping that you need to do in order to get the grades that they’re required to have, but I think of my teaching as, my subject matter is a closed source, upon which I hand the important stuff. Which is, having an authentic connection with these young people, and becoming a role model in the truest sense, and that not a model of how to get it right, but a model of what you do when you get it wrong as well, you know.
Andy: I love it, it’s a great job.
Craig: We skipped quickly through there, we mentioned the knife-throwing, the Thronin project, and I kind of want to circle back to that. Before we go there, I want to just paint a little bit more of a picture of where you are in the total activity movement space. People, now that they’re like, “Okay, this guy’s interesting. Yes, he really is. Check this out.” We know that you.
Craig: Where I first bumped into your name, was actually in the Thronin project because I was following things Dan was talking about. But I think most people would have heard your voice on the Hero Forge Podcast, and by the way, mad props kudos those are really great, I love the project, and I’m gonna be a little… When you started it, I was like, “Oh, this is gonna be great, but you’re gonna burn out.” I could just, I was like.
Craig: I just saw it coming on as like having done this, I’m like. “Oh.” And I was just so excited to see that you went the whole arc of a whole year, and that it didn’t just burn and blow up. I really applaud you for really going all-in, which now I see, oh I see why you do that. Having gone all-in on that, and having had that opportunity to go talk to all those really amazing people, and it’s really. I thought it was exceptional that you… I don’t want to sound critical, but that you managed to get to so many really well positioned, and famous, and well-spoken people, in such a short time. Normally, and the reason I know that you managed to do that is because you’ve done a lot of other things. The Hero Forge Podcast is really the last of a series of cool things.
Craig: You also did the Thronin Podcasts, which was the podcast about the knife-throwing, and you also wrote the Hero Forge book, and you’ve done a lot of presentations that obviously the Hero of the Roundtables. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you got into wilderness survival, and where did that whole EC, and where did that grow out of?
Andy: Yeah, okay. It probably makes sense for me to do a kind of a timeline.
Andy: And given that we’ve, placing an emphasis upon movement. I’ll try and show the kind of through-line of movement in all of this.
Craig: Sure, thank you.
Andy: I was a really badly asthmatic child, I spent a lot of time off school with significant illness, and it was always assumed that I’d be one of these reasonably bright, but sickly kids who didn’t really do very much.
Andy: And my father was a soldier, we traveled around a lot, and my education was suffering. At the age of 11, I was sent to a boarding school in the UK whilst he was stationed out in Germany. Every morning at seven o’clock, an alarm bell was rung, and all of the kids got up, and we had to do a two and a half-mile run. You plan it four K, five K, and before breakfast every morning. I was the last to come through wheezing and coughing, and by the time I showed up, all the breakfast had gone.
Andy: There was just a certain point where I just thought, ‘Enough, I’m not going to have this define my life.” Every afternoon, I then go out on another run, and that was the beginning of my introduction to physical culture. I made the decision that I wasn’t going to be defined by my condition, and that I could grow.
Craig: Okay, self-efficacy, out of the gate, that’s a huge thing for you to realize that. No wait, screw this, I’m taking over.
Andy: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: Do you know where that spark came from or just? [crosstalk 00:12:53]
Andy: I think, maybe to the extent that the role model of my father, because he was somebody who just seemed larger than life, and didn’t quit on anything. But I think some of it was probably an eight, but more than anything else, it was anger and frustration. I think I was an angry kid, I had a lot of that, and I converted it into-
Craig: To proactive.
Andy: Yeah, proactive rather than [crosstalk 00:13:13] whining and complaining about the world, yeah.
Craig: Sorry to interrupt you, afternoon running?
Andy: That then, led me to starting to get a handle on my condition without needing so much medication. That led me to first 15 rugby team and athletics, and I competed at county level. I started to get some sort of standing it within my peer group, and I was capable physically.
Andy: The other thing that was happening parallel to this was that, at the age of 10. My mom was a dinner lady at the local school. This is before I went to boarding school, and anyone who said anything about my mother, insulting. I didn’t matter how tall they were, how big they were, I’d step up, and every time I would get beaten down because I was a small kid with a big mouth, and no skills.
Craig: You are not a small kid anymore.
Andy: I’m still short, but a bit broader.
Andy: My father sent me to a martial arts class, and I thought at the time it was because he was trying to skill me up to be able to defend my family’s honor. In reality, what he was hoping, is a little bit of self-discipline would rub off, and I wouldn’t get into so many fights, and that became a journey that’s ongoing now. [crosstalk 00:14:21] I studied various forms of martial arts, and that continued in boarding school, I studied karate on the weekends.
Andy: I had these two things going on, I had my battle with cancer with- I say that as [crosstalk 00:14:35] it is going to come up [inaudible 00:14:36] as Asthma.
Craig: Asthma, right? [inaudible 00:14:36]
Andy: And I also had this evolving passion for the martial arts. I fell in love with Bruce Lee, and his represent to everything that he represented about breaking outside of cultural norms. That’s my schooling, I carried it on through university. I ended up at a point where I had a degree, I was working in advertising, I was hating what I was doing. I just didn’t fit that mold, and then I placed an advert for a client, which said ‘Wanted circus performers’. And I phoned up to get copy for this advert, and there was a cross conversation, this guy thought I was applying for a job.
Andy: He said, “Well what do you do?” And I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “You know, can you?”
Craig: “What’s your special power?”
Andy: “Can you dance?” And I was like, “Sure I can dance.”
Craig: That’s great, that’s an awesome story.
Andy: Yeah, yeah. And I suddenly realized that, ‘Oh no, he thinks I’m applying for a job.’ And then I realized, ‘I wanted that job.’ Because I didn’t want this one.
Craig: And you’re on the phone with the guy, and you’re halfway through the interview.
Andy: Exactly, I went over to his house, I kind of fessed up and said, “Look, I’ve got physical skills, I can do basic acrobatics and things, but you know I’m not a dancer.” And he said, “Do you think you could become one in the next eight weeks?” I was like, “Yeah, sure.” And eight weeks later, I was running a dance group. I hired people who could dance, and hid behind them basically.
Craig: Sounds like an excellent plan, right?
Andy: I was on a stage in Kuala Lumpur, in a professional circus as a dancer, and then as I stayed out there, I learned other skills. I became a clown, and a tightrope walker, and all these other things. I started to explore performance, and I traveled with the circus, and had a great time. But then I realized that what I loved most about all of this, was when someone came into the circus, a new recruit. Because you’re always getting people rotating, and out through injury, or they’ve got to go home. I loved the teaching of people, the skills that are required. That’s what I enjoyed, so I thought, ‘Well, I can’t do this forever. My body is going to end up giving out on me. Why don’t I teach?’
Andy: I came back to the UK, I trained as a teacher for one year to top up my degree. Moved to where I live now, and for 10 years taught, and everything seemed to settle down on, and my parents finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Craig: Like, “That was a long journey.”
Andy: Yeah, our aberrant circus performing son has got a job, he’s being sensible. I kept the martial arts up, and I got to the point where my martial arts instructor said to me, “You now need to face real-world aggression and violence.” All this kind of stuff that’s happening in [crosstalk 00:17:04] the dojo, it’s fun, but it’s not going to prepare you for what you need, and I got a middle-class upbringing. I got into scraps as a kid, but not proper fights.
Craig: Yeah, I would agree, I would say I’m in exactly the same boat. Never actually been punched in the face by somebody who surprised me, Right?
Andy: Exactly, exactly. I decided that I would take his advice, and I signed up and trained as a door supervisor, and I worked the doors at the nightclubs, in my city, on a Friday and Saturday night.
Craig: Three weeks in, you get punched in the face by somebody.
Andy: Yeah, yeah. I faced all of that, I was teacher by day, and then bouncer by night, and I used to have to post a notice in the [inaudible 00:17:38] noticeboard saying, “Don’t come to this nightclub because I’m on the door, and I know you’re under 18” They go somewhere else because that was a continuing problem.
Craig: Saving the trouble, right?
Andy: And the school could have got really funny about that, but I just don’t think they ever really realized, and I didn’t often come in with kind of black eyes. I did that for two years, I was headhunted by an organization that was offering training to people in high-risk jobs. I already had the teaching skills, I was an organized, go-getter. The security industry in the UK at that time was starting to become licensed, to make sure that the industry was cleaned up, and I became the Training Director for this startup company. That led me to going to Hereford, which is where British Special Forces are based, and I trained as Close Protection Officer. In order to be more than just a school teacher, as a bouncer.
Andy: And that was great, it was lots of fun, and then that gave me other opportunities. I trained with SWAT in Toronto, and various other things, I had this developing set of physical skills. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out with the company I was working for. I had a very different kind of ethical set of standards than the man who was running that company, and I had this situation where I needed to walk away, and it was… Financially, it was a disaster, I stepped away, six months from before my marriage, I had a mortgage, I wasn’t able to go straight back into teaching. I hustled to do whatever I could, I did some close protection contracts, I was a barista in the café, I marked exam scripts, I did whatever it took to get through it. That led me back into teaching.
Andy: But now I’m suddenly my teaching CV looks really strange, because it’s, Circus Performer, Teacher, Bouncer, Close Protection Officer, Teacher, and I settled down again and my parents had another sigh of relief like, “Okay, that’s out of the system, now he can be a teacher again, and hopefully see out his career.” And it was going along quite nicely, but all of that stuff has given me this kind of itchy foot. I wanted to have more than just my classroom experience, and I felt that, that was enriching what I was doing with the kids.
Andy: I still had contacts with the Special Forces guys, I was never in Special Forces, I just work parallel with them at times, and one of them approached and said, “Look, we could give you the opportunity to train as a Wilderness Survival Instructor, it’s a one-year course. We’d love to put you through it, it’s going to be physically challenging, you’ll need school’s permission to do this. Because every three months, you’re gonna have to be with us in the field for four days, and we will give you everything you need to skills up, and then you can use it as you see fit.” I thought, ‘That’s awesome, a great opportunity.’ It took me almost four years, not the one-year that I promised because I was awful.
Craig: Day two, they’re like, “All right, well maybe…”
Andy: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I very nearly quit, and it was only pride that kept me going really. There were 15 people in the original cohort, and three of us passed, and everybody else either quit, or got injured, or got maimed. It was an amazing journey, halfway through that, I tore a cartilage in one of my knees jumping across a ditch with a heavy backpack on, I had to, that’s why I took four years. One of the years I was rehabbing, and alongside that, Dan and I had done it, with Parkour Generation’s CEO, and I have been long-term friends.
Andy: I was always on the periphery of the PK Gen movement, and that training helped me rehabilitate as well, because of the multi plane and the movement, and it was during all of that, that the Thronin project evolved. My knee was starting to recover, but I couldn’t go back fully into the wilderness survival training. Dan’s 40th birthday happened, and we had decided… I was placed in charge of the organization of the events for Dan’s birthday.
Craig: With a film director.
Andy: Yeah, exactly. Basically, if you take someone like Dan Edwards, and me, and our friendship group, and put us in a very big room, or in this case of a mansion. [crosstalk 00:21:23] For a weekend, weird things happen.
Andy: In this case, we all dressed up as various characters. We had two teams, and we went head-to-head, in what we call the Warrior Games, and that involved a whole bunch of things like, tug of war, and wrestling games, and sumo wrestling, and one of the events, which I created, was a knife-throwing event. I’d never thrown a knife in my life, I built a target, I bought three throwing knives, I didn’t get any practice because I didn’t want to cheat.
Craig: Cheat, right?
Andy: And have an advantage. Showed up on the day, and thought, ‘Okay, well. I’m at least going to be middle of the field here. I’ve got good hand-eye coordination, I’ve got a background in martial arts. Surely I’m going to ace this.’ And I was bloody awful, I sucked, and I don’t like sucking at things, you know.
Craig: We’re you middle of the pack though?
Andy: No, not even close.
Craig: Oh, wow.
Andy: I was beaten by computer programmers, and there was…Yeah, no. I sucked.
Craig: Right in the ego.
Andy: Yeah, yeah. No, I was awful.
Andy: As that weekend went on, I went out, and I keep throwing a bit. There’s got to be a way to get better at this.
Craig: Well there is, but guess what?
Andy: And so often, this happened on my journey, I found that there’s this weird serendipity that occurs. That if you’ve got a passion for something, and the universe seems to call back to you, and goes. “Okay, I’ll meet you halfway on this.” I Googled, ‘Knife-throwing World Championship’ Thinking does even such a thing exists. Well, not only do they exist, but the European Championships were happening in the UK that year, a month later. I was like, “Okay, well I can go along, I can watch, I can meet these guys, and see what they’re doing.” I called up, and said. “I’d really like to come along to the event.” You can only come along if you’re a competitor.
Craig: How do you enter?
Andy: Yeah, so what do I? What standard do I need to be? “Oh, you don’t need to be any particular standard, just sign up you’ll enjoy it, it’ll be fun.”
Craig: Sign up and pay 10 pounds, you’re in.
Andy: Right? “Have you got throwing knives? I have. You’re in. Okay.” A month later, I find myself in a field with hundreds of other competitors from all over Europe, and some from the States as well, throwing knives, and that became the Thronin project. I decided like, “Okay, to get good at this. These guys are amazing, and they are committed athletes in their practice.” I decided to set myself a target, to make it transparent, to put it out in the world so that I can [inaudible 00:23:41] on it.
Andy: I made the Thronin project, which was. I will throw for 1000 days, and attain some kind of world-ranking.
Craig: Get in the rankings.
Andy: I created the podcast because it gave me an opportunity to get in front of people who are better than me and pick their brains, and also, nothing like that existed in the throwing community, that was the Thronin project. I’m mindful, bless you if you’re listening to this, it must be, it must feel like just a brain dump of weirdness. My life doesn’t really make sense [crosstalk 00:24:13] in millennial fashion.
Craig: Oh, I’m waiting [inaudible 00:24:13]. I’m pulling, I’m just waiting for you to finish it. I’m not waiting impatiently, I’m just waiting, keep going.
Andy: Okay, all right. I did reasonably well, I won some UK titles, I competed internationally at the European Championships, and ranked there, and I’d love to give you this happy ever after story. That it all worked beautifully, and I stood on that podium on day 999.
Andy: It didn’t happen, I ended up to… There were a couple of barriers. One was that I got physically injured, and that was because I wasn’t training intelligently. I was, as always, I throw myself in earnest into what I was doing, and I was throwing a minimum of 1000 throws a day, which was two hours of practice per day, and because I was only throwing on one side of my body, and the torque and the twist that’s involved in that. I created a repetitive strain injury, spinal injury, that became severe enough that after 10-15 minutes of throwing. I had to sit down and stretch, I was in quite a lot of pain, and I tried switching my stance, I tried throwing with the other hand as well, and it’s-
Craig: It’s a balance, yeah.
Andy: I’m still actually managing that injury now, it’s getting much better, but that was almost two years ago now.
Andy: That was a pain, and then also financially. I’m a school teacher, we’ve got a son, I’m the only breadwinner in the family, teachers aren’t paid very well, and I just ended up realizing that unless I crowd sourced or fundraised in some way. I wasn’t going to be able to get to Austin Texas, where the World Championships happened. I decided to draw a line under that, and the bad news about that, is that it was a huge dent to my ego and my pride, but the good news, is it created the space for me to go into the Hero Forge project.
Craig: So, the Hero Forge project, let’s talk about that.
Craig: The book came first.
Andy: Yeah, the background for that was. Dan, again, it’s Dan Edwards fault, basically, most of it.
Craig: That’s pretty much, yeah. [crosstalk 00:26:05] It’s always the case.
Andy: Most of the screw-ups in my life, and these massive projects are because Dan stuck his oar in, in some way.
Craig: I love that British expression, I need to pack that into my- [crosstalk 00:26:16]
Andy: Stick an oar?
Craig: Yeah, stuck his oar in. It’s like it’s the perfect metaphor, “Things were going great it was going straight, and then you stuck your oar in.”
Andy: Exactly, Dan was invited as a guest speaker to the Hero Roundtable, run by Matt Langdon. It’s a great event, it happens a couple of… Well, now more than a couple of times a year in different parts of the world. They were coming to the UK, and Matt had asked Dan, “Do you know anybody who might be to contribute to this? And given the weirdness of my journey, and the fact that Dan and I often sit down and talk philosophy, and all kinds of things, he put me forward.
Andy: And I didn’t know what I had to say about heroism. I have no idea, what do you want me to talk about? And Dan said, “Well you’re going to have to figure that out, just go away and put…” The Hero Forge the book, was a book I wrote to figure out what I wanted to say on that stage in a five to 10-minute talk. Now it became far more than that, but that was the impetus. I need to write to figure out what I have to say. It came at a really poignant point in my life, in that I become a dad, and I became a dad quite late. I was 44, when my dad had me, he was 26, and my father was dying of cancer.
Andy: It came at this point where I realized that the chances are that I won’t be able to mentor my son all the way through adulthood, in the way that my father had with me. Because I started later, [crosstalk 00:27:35] and who knows how short Your life is you know, things change. I started thinking, ‘What would be the legacy, the message that I’d want to leave Kit, my son, on what it is to be a good man, and to lead a good life, and to make a difference? The Hero Forge became the instruction manual that I’d want to leave to my son of here’s what I figured out. Not necessarily that I embody or live, but what I think are some of the answers to living a life where you are able to look back and go, “I’m comfortable without it.”
Craig: Life well lived.
Andy: Exactly, yeah, and heroism for me has always been a verb, not a noun. It’s a doing thing, and it’s transitory, and so it was about how do you conduct yourself on this journey through life.
Andy: I wrote the book, I wrote what I had to say, and then I went along and delivered this talk at the Barbican in London. Which we’re not too far away from now actually.
Craig: I’m like, “Hey, well that’s where we-“
Andy: Isn’t that strange? Yeah, we’ve come full circle.
Andy: And it went down well, and then I stayed in touch with Matt, and I realized that the most useful thing. Well, the thing I enjoyed most about that journey, was actually meeting other people who I’d talked to about this, and they were remarkable people, and I thought. ‘Well, maybe this is the, it could be the beginning of an ongoing conversation [crosstalk 00:28:48] not the end of it.’ The podcast emerged out of that, and yeah, I never intended it to be something that went on forever.
Andy: It was going to go on for as long as the energy was there, and I felt that I had something of value to add to it, and I interviewed just remarkable people, and it was as you say, it was, I didn’t realize that the pace I was setting was by most people’s standards, unrealistic. It was just once a week I committed to put something out, It had to happen in the evenings and weekends, and usually, the people I was talking to were in different time zones. All the production of that was all a one-man team, the social media, everything I did myself. I came to a natural end at that point, I went out with Dan again, we both presented a Roundtable in San Francisco, which was April last year I think.
Craig: I believe so, I seriously considered getting a plane ticket. I was like, “Oh.” But I was really busy in April.
Andy: It was wonderful, and I got to meet Phil Zimbardo, and it just… Incredible people, we had a wonderful time, I went to Alcatraz, and I had a couple of days of being at a play there as well, and when I came back, I just had this feeling like, ‘I think I’m probably done on this now. I think, what I had to say, and what I had to contribute.’
Craig: And what you had to figure out for yourself.
Andy: What I had to figure out, had been done, and I needed to release space for whatever the next thing is. I’d rather do one thing well, then two things badly. I basically said to Matt, “I think this is me. You know, you guys. I’m very happy to still be involved peripherally, and I can come in, and ill be very happy to say what’s going on in my life right now.”
Craig: Tap me when you have things that you think I should be doing. [crosstalk 00:30:23]
Andy: Yeah, yeah. But the energy seems to have shifted, so we’re going to call it a day, and that’s what happened. It was a wonderful year, year and a half journey I loved it, and it’s informed how I travel now. Yeah, that was the Hero Forge.
Craig: One of the first things that strikes me, there’s a lot about the journey that’s really interesting, and amazing, and lessons can be drawn in multiple places. But the first thing that I see is, self-advocacy, I don’t want to over stereotype it. That first run as the kid, to solve the problem that you were just sick and tired of, I see the same theme over, and over. Not the sickly kid, I don’t want to get punched. But I see the same theme over and over, of. “What this is, how can I possibly suck this bad?” And then off we go on that particular thing, but somehow in a healthy way, you managed to rein it in, that like. “I think sometimes, I go way too far.”
Craig: You seem to be able to rein that in, and I’m wondering. Have you ever sat figuratively, or literally, and taking the time to think about how has my, I don’t wanna say my skill of self-advocacy, but that the only way I think to put it, how has that skill changed over time? Have you ever tried to actually intentionally deploy that, or is it always seemed like the journeys begin, when there’s a tipping point of frustration or anger?
Andy: Yeah, it’s not been. I don’t think it’s been purposeful or conscious, I think it’s yeah, it’s been…
Andy: I’ve always just thought, ‘Right, where’s the energy?’ And follow that energy, whether that energy comes from anger or frustration, or passion or whatever. I think what I got better at, if anything over time is, being a bit more kind to myself. I was always my worst critic, and I persuaded, I believed that, that was in some way necessary in order to become very good at something. I had to hold myself accountable and be unforgiving and unrelentless, and in part, I think that was informed by the mythology around martial arts training, and that kind of austerity.
Andy: In Okinawan karate, which is my predominant form I studied in. In the early days, they had the [inaudible 00:32:25] of Misogi, which is translated as [inaudible 00:32:26] training. If it didn’t hurt, if I wasn’t suffering.
Craig: You weren’t doing it right.
Andy: Yeah exactly, and that’s still there to an extent. Dan’s got this great distinction between the training session, and the challenge. If you don’t know whether you can complete it, it’s a challenge, but if you know that you can do this, it’s not a challenge, it’s just training. I’ve always tried to push the envelope and embrace challenges. I, a couple of years back I did as many burpees as I could within six hours, to raise money for charity.
Andy: It was to raise money to have a well dug in the Congo for the Pygmy peoples there, who were suffering dysentery unnecessarily. I didn’t know how many I could do, and rendezvous it happened the week before, and I was a guest instructor there teaching self-defense, and I dislocated a finger, whilst I was instructing it, and somebody just collided, and I popped it back in. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Craig: You still have soft tissue damage.
Andy: Exactly, I knew I had 1500 burpees to do in the six hours. I had no idea whether I could do that, but it’s just a nice round number, and…
Craig: What does that divide out to in burpees, how many seconds per burpee is that?
Andy: You know what, is wasn’t… If you do it that way, it doesn’t look too onerous, it wasn’t too bad. But the problem was, that after the first two hours I started cramping, and it was trying to make sure that I could still stay on volume whilst taking out the cramps, and it, with all of these things. You do anything for volume, after a certain point. For me, it was about the four-hour point, your body goes, “Okay, you’re not going to stop. All right, I’ll take the cramps away.”
Craig: Yeah, right? “Oh, you’re not kidding.”
Andy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. “You are going to do this.” I actually sped up in the last two hours, those middle two hours sucked, and I didn’t make it. Another example of something where I didn’t achieve my objective, I think I came in at about 1350. I was shy of the 1500, but it was the not knowing whether I could complete it, that attracted me to the project. Because you enter a different space, and for me, there’s something really beautiful and graceful about being in that space where you are turning up, on a frontier going, “Let’s just find out what happens, I’m open to whatever might occur.”
Andy: What I’ve got better at is, I don’t feel any shame now in not having made 1500. I made 1350 by reaching beyond myself, and if I hadn’t gone in with the intention of 1500, I couldn’t have probably wouldn’t have done the 1350. My efficacy has become more compassionate if anything. That’s probably the only change, my ambition is always still out of whack. I still aim way beyond what I’m actually capable of.
Craig: Andy, I’ve been doing all the leading here. Is there something in particular that you’d like to share?
Andy: Yeah, I’m mindful that a lot of what we chatted about might not seem to be directly related to movement practice.
Craig: I think it’s directly related to self-advocacy which is related-
Andy: That’s true, but one of the things that in the last few years I’ve been involved in with Parkour Generations, is that I’ve come in as a guest instructor for a number of the night missions that they run. If people aren’t familiar with what that entails, essentially, a group of people who are trusses of one description or another. Will come together, usually a couple of hours before dusk, and we take them out, and they train through the night into the morning, and they don’t have an end stop that they know, it will just be some time after dawn, that they end.
Andy: It’s usually themed, so we’ve done Avengers themes where they had to find the various gems for Thanos’s gauntlet. We’ve had themes around [crosstalk 00:35:53] apocalypse or prison, exactly.
Craig: Prison escape?
Andy: It’s a really good example of what I think is really important in the physical practice, and we’ve talked a bit about it, about the difference between challenge and training. Which is this idea of hormesis, or exposing yourself to hermetic experiences. A potentially toxic influence to which we respond by becoming stronger, or more resilient, and I’m really fascinated with resilience. What makes one person resilient, and another not, and I think that probably comes back to my early experiences as an asthmatic, and not being defined by our conditions, I think the body and the mind are far more plastic than we realize, and that we can transform ourselves through intentionality.
Andy: The night missions have been really good fun. Also as an instructor, they are interesting. Because of course, you’ve got to be on point all the way through, because, as people get tired, their energies fluctuate, they’re more likely to make mistakes, and you want to make sure they get to the end of it, and have a positive experience. You’re trying to manage their energy whilst also having a metacognitive awareness of where you are in that process, and we run them on a Friday night.
Andy: I’ve just finished a full teaching week, I’m up at five every morning, and then doing my training, then teaching, then jumping on a train to London, and then running a night mission. That’s been a really good example more recently, of bringing all of [inaudible 00:37:09] these strands from survival instructor training, and close protection, and situational awareness, and bringing it all together in a physical training culture to be able to serve that community, and I’ve loved it, It’s really good fun.
Craig: Looking back at all of the different components of your journey, and then especially just talking about the night missions. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share something that you’re currently struggling with.
Andy: Yeah, I’m always struggling with multiple things.
Craig: Objective honesty, check mark.
Andy: Yeah, there is a few things at the moment. One of them is I’m 50 this year, and this-
Andy: Thank you very much, I survived that far. I’m very much aware that my body is doing different things than it did when I was in my 20s, and I’m still demanding of it what I think I should be able to do. I’m trying to negotiate this relationship, where I’m aware that I need to be respectful of the fact that I’m getting older, but also not copping out and saying, “Oh, I’m older now, therefore I shouldn’t hold myself accountable.”
Craig: “Get off my lawn!” Right?
Andy: Managing that, and realizing how the consequence of being high energy, passionate, high-driving, the way I am. Is that sometimes I can be neglectful of those fundamental practices, like sleep management, and hydration, and diet, and letting those things slip and just. I’ve been blessed with, being apart from the asthma, being a fairly resilient human being. My body can take a fair bit of punishment, but I can still look like I’m functioning, but it’s look like I’m functioning. I’ve noticed certainly since becoming a dad as well, that I have placed my own health and well-being secondary, but still been required to look like everything’s good, and I’ve been like that classic Swan, floating, but I’m paddling like hell underneath to just keep up.
Andy: The struggle recently has been owning that, and recognizing that I need to reinvest in my longer-term health, and my physical movement as part of that. Because what I’ve tended to do is, the burpee challenges is a good example, I jump in with both feet into something that’s physically very demanding, but if I’m not putting time into those foundational practices that allow me to be healthy in my everyday life. What happens is that, that incurs micro-injuries and fatigue, from which I don’t recover necessarily. It’s not a big dramatic one, it’s more a case of actually needing to honor the fact that my body needs restoration time.
Craig: Do you have any strategies that you’ve developed to help you? You must have a good Angel and a bad Angel.
Craig: Do you have strategies, like when the bad angel says, “Let’s do 1,000 burpees.” And the good angel’s like, “Let’s go for a walk.” You know like, do you have strategies to sort of help you make decisions, or rubrics, or?
Andy: Yeah, as always with these things. The key is not what we know, but what we apply, right? Because I teach mindfulness to the kids, I teach mindfulness strategies, I have a whole hinterland, I’m a qualified instructor in the Oxygen Advantage Method. Which is a bit like Wim Hof Method. In terms of breath management in order to create a good-
Craig: Temperature control, and blood flow.
Andy: Yeah, and there’s evidence now about epigenetics as well coming to bear. I have all of these things, the challenge is actually applying them. What I do, is I have to put things on autopilot, I’m a creature of habit. I every other day, I start my day with a sauna and steam room, and do breath work in the sauna and steam, I do burpees in the sauna as well, which is highly recommended.
Andy: That’s what, if you want to make it-
Craig: That’ll warm you up.
Andy: If you want to get a good sweat on that, that works.
Andy: I automate things, I do that, I have a heart rate variability monitor, and I will do a committed practice every morning, and every afternoon before I go home. Whatever stress that accumulated by the day, I don’t then dump my family, I decompress before I go home. In terms of diet, I still, I yo-yo on that, I got a really sweet tooth, and I’m busy, and sometimes there are biscuits and, yeah. I just find that I wolf a couple of those down with the coffee and that’s, you know.
Craig: There are no biscuits or… Well there’s a scary old bag of crisps in the Airbnb that I am not touching, but there are no biscuits, no crisps, no cookies, there’s no candy in this flat.
Craig: When I got here I went to the market, the refrigerator is full of veggies and I’m like, “It’s just me, I don’t know or not.” Because I’m the same way, if I have access to food that I shouldn’t eat. I know what my demon want- I have a couple demons, but I know one of them is food, and I just like… You have to put it on auto-pilot.
Andy: Yeah, yeah, and I guess that, going back to the angel and the devil on the shoulder. Weirdly, one of the things that keeps me most accountable, is the fact that I work with young people every day. Because they have the most dialed-in BS detectors you’re ever going to come across, and they know of what I’ve done, and what I claim to stand for, and what I represent. If I don’t seem to be walking my talk, they will call me out.
Andy: They, in some ways, weirdly they are my perfect coaches. Because I have to walk the talk, because one, I think, if I don’t, they’ll call me out, but also I want to be the kind of person that I advocate for them. That is-
Craig: Is real…
Andy: Yeah, It’s really useful, and also having a son. I’ve got a seven-year-old little boy who looks to me, and will want me to still be around in the long-term. As long as I can be, and be healthy, and functioning. I know that these little incremental choices I make daily, will dictate my destiny and my future. I try and keep that as something that keeps me in checks and balances.
Craig: Andy, I also want to take the opportunity to ask you if there’s any books that you would recommend that people read, or maybe even, are there any book that you normally recommend or gift to people?
Andy: Yeah, is as toughy as an English teacher, is that it-
Craig: I mean, honestly. People should read your book, your book is really good.
Andy: Thank you.
Craig: But in addition to that one.
Andy: Yeah, it’s really tricky because… I’m going to mention a couple of books that you wouldn’t probably expect from an English teacher, and that they are not great works of literature. But they were really key things that shaped me, growing up. One of them is a very short parable by Richard Bach, called Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and it’s a story about a seagull that decides that it doesn’t want to fly with the flock and just chase fish, all the time. Actually wants to master aerodynamic flying, and therefore it’s stepped away from the flock and gets all of the attack and criticism from the flock for being different.
Andy: And it’s a beautiful book, and it’s really simple. It’s a children’s story book, essentially, but everything you need to know about charting your own course-
Craig: Is in there.
Andy: Is in there. The other one is, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman. Which again, I read in my teens, and his other books since, I don’t think have been anywhere near as good, but that first book. Which is a story about a young gymnastics scholar in America, who goes to a gas station in the middle of the night, and comes across this weird pump attendant, called Socrates. Who ends up becoming a mentor, and teachers him. It’s very much in the same style as Carlos Castaneda, and Don Juan and these ideas. It’s kind of a pseudo-spiritual book, but again the philosophy inside of that book is wonderful, and it definitely helped shape the direction I traveled in, from my teens, into adulthood. They’re two formative books, and then if you’ve got any time left, anything about Bruce Lee will be inspiring and useful. The other thing I’d share about selecting books and so forth is, there’s more books to read than days in our lives remaining [crosstalk 00:44:42] and all good books.
Andy: The thing I always say to my students is, “If you pick a book up, and in two chapters you’re not hooked, dump it. Because there are more books waiting for you.” And I’m somebody who feels that, it doesn’t matter what your profession, or what you’re passional direction in. Investing some time and energy, and study skills will pay dividends. I’m really interested in how we learn efficiently.
Andy: Memory techniques, and reading strategies, and note-taking, and time management, all those things. If you put 10 hours of study into something like that. The hours that you will save, the days you will save down the road, and the efficiency with which you would’ve acquired new skills and new knowledge, will be exponentially paid for itself. Definitely explore that, and it’s more available now than ever before with YouTube, and you don’t even have to pay a lot of money. You can find all this stuff for free. But if you learn how to learn, and if you follow your passion. Then you’ll be surprised at just how much you can achieve in a short period of time.
Craig: As I say all the time, I love to collect stories. Because the stories that people choose, and how they tell them, that gives you a deep insight into their personality. Andy, is there a story that you’d like to share with us?
Andy: Yeah, there is, and it’s something which connects to physical culture and movement, and also some of the themes that have come up already. This story is something that occurred, right at the end of my days as a circus performer. I ran away from the circus, not to it.
Andy: The guys were working for. Basically, were connected to it turns out, to some of the local organized crime in Kuala Lumpur, and we got wind that our visas might be revoked, and we might find ourselves in prison. I took that opportunity to get hold of my passport, and leg it to the east coast [crosstalk 00:46:36] of Malaysia.
Craig: Exit, safe left.
Andy: And I’d already decided that I was going to be a teacher at this point, and I only had a couple of months to go anyway. Myself, and one of the other guys, great guy called Keith. Found ourselves in Teramin Ghana on the east coast of Malaysia, we charted a small speedboat to a place called Tioman, which is an island paradise. It’s gorgeous, it’s the inspiration for the musical South Pacific, it is glorious.
Andy: We spent two weeks just hanging out on the beach, barbecuing fish that we’ve caught. I mean it was just idyllic, waterfalls, and on the last day we thought, ‘You know what? The locals have been so amazing, why don’t we do a show for them? We’ve got circus skills. Why don’t we do something?’ Keith could do some juggling, and I did a bit of close up magic, and one of the things that I had with me was this set of fake escapology chains. It looked like you were chained with your wrist separated by a bar, you couldn’t possibly undo them, but it was just a very simple act of bringing your wrist into a certain position, you could get out, it was 10 seconds work. We thought, ‘Okay, why don’t we? As the dramatic end to our performance. Why don’t we go down the pier?’
Craig: Chain my-
Andy: Get chained up, I’m going to have my legs tied together, bag over my head. Keith’s going to read something dramatic from Joseph Conrad, and then he’s going to push me into the South China Sea, with the monsoon brewing, and torch light.
Andy: It’ll be amazing, so that’s what we did. We did a little rehearsal in the afternoon, and with all of that I could escape in 30-35 seconds, not a problem. Then I actually was able to swim up underneath the pier, and appear behind them. Then we’ll be looking into the dark water right? “Where is he?” And then-
Craig: “What are you all looking at?” Right?
Andy: Yeah, yeah. Then I’d appear behind them like. [crosstalk 00:48:19] “Thanks for the [inaudible 00:48:19].”
Craig: This is terrific stage craft, this is right.
Andy: This was the plan. Everything’s going to, the audience is great, and they’ve all taken me down there. The first mistake was, that Keith got a bit excited, and he pushed me a little sooner than I had anticipated, and I haven’t got a full breath, so I gasped as I hit the water, but the biggest mistake was we’d rehearsed at high-tide, and It was now low-tide.
Andy: Instead of gently floating to the bottom. I thumped the bottom of the water quite hard, and an urchin spine stuck right into my backside and snapped off. I had basically a small dagger in my ass, and with my hands tied, my legs tied, the bag over my head, at night in the South China Sea. I let all the air out of my lungs because I was shocked, and then realize I had to do this escape, and I did obviously because I’m here.
Andy: I made the escape, and I came spluttering to the surface, and they were all very dramatic. “Very impressive, it really looked like you were struggling there.” No one ever knew that the end of that night was with Keith and with pair of tweezers, trying to take this urchin spine out of my backside. It’s the closest to death I’ve probably come as in terms of physical. The lesson is prepare, preparation is everything. My dad used to have this phrase which is the Seven P’s, proper, preparation, and planning, prevents a piss poor performance, and that was a case in point.
Craig: Forgot about the tide, and of course the final question. Three words to describe your practice.
Andy: Okay, I’m going to work on the assumption that my practice is defined by more than my physical movement, it’s my philosophy or approach in general. I have a tattoo on my right arm, and the top, it’s the date of my marriage, and at the bottom, it’s the date of my son’s birth, and in between, there are three phrases, and it’s basically the summation of my philosophy in life. It’s hard to read because it’s in Elvish. But essentially it says, ‘Be here now, Speak softly, or tread softly, speak kindly.’ Of those three, I think, ‘Be here now’ Would be my philosophy.
Craig: Thank you very much. Andy, it’s been a pleasure.
Andy: Thank you, it’s been great fun.
Craig: This was Episode 60. For more information, go to moversmindset.com/60. There’s more to the Movers Mindset Project, than just this podcast, visit our website for more free content to join our email list, where to read about how you can support this project, and I’ll leave you with a final thought from Dag Hammarskjöld. “You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy does not reserve a plot for weeds.” Thanks for listening.