Sankofa is a Ghanaian term (Twi language) that mean “go back and get it”. In fact, the term is often coupled with a proverb: Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi, or “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.
In today’s world, evolution is all the rage. We want our technology to evolve, our policies to evolve, and our understanding to evolve. We find that gaining is so critical to our lifestyles, especially with the consumerist nation that is America. Fitness is not exempt from this mindset; we all seek newer machines and pyramid training programs that the hottest magazine promotes, so that we can align our health with the trends.
Yet these “evolutions” are shallow at best, and damaging at worst. It’s a progressive fitness philosophy that will simultaneously teach “train until you puke blood” and “squatting is bad for your knees”. It’s a world where, instead of training outside in fresh air as the elements condition you and you’re connected with the Earth, people train in big, air conditioned rooms where you aren’t allowed to deadlift, but you’re allowed to eat half a pizza and some bagels.
The only fitness there is fittin’ dis slice in your mouth.
I’m hear to tell you that it is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten. We have forgotten the days of true physical culture, when men and women trained the basics, developing themselves on the fundamental principles of strength rather than the latest craze.
We have forgotten the days when martial arts students would wake up early in a dojo, preparing for an early morning run and a day of conditioning that would make even today’s wrestlers buckle. We have forgotten the true meaning of warrior, and have diluted the meaning of beast.
Beast is what we were when we had to literally run for our lives from bigger, stronger animals in the wild. That was a time when our ability to move was never hindered by the short and tight hip flexors we earn from hours a day sitting down, or the weaker tibialis that we suffer from walking with shoes on. We didn’t need to warm-up, we simply had to move, hunt, eat, breathe, and live.
Now, how well and often do you move? When is the last time you’ve trained outside? Are you exercising for your strength and health, or for your trends and the pockets of “fitness gurus”?
Sankofa: go back and get it. Go back and get the culture that was once thriving with men like Eugen Sandow, Arthur Saxon, Maxick, Hermann Goerner, and the like. Return to the martial arts as it was meant to be, for true warriors who dedicated themselves to training like Li Shu Wen, Mas Oyama, Yagyu Munenori, the Shaolin, and Yasuke. Return to the strength and freedom of movement that was ours from the beginning, as anyone can witness with the combination of strength and mobility that toddlers often show.
So maybe evolution isn’t the goal. Maybe fitness isn’t about gaining so much as it’s about re-gaining.
As much as it’s about remembering. It’s not wrong to remember. It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.
Well, how does what “go back and get it”? What does going back look like?
Going back looks like eating big to get big, but eating natural and filling foods. Going back means training for intensity and bumping weights up, but rarely to failure. Going back means partial training, support lifts, muscle control, isometrics, hojo undo and makiwara.
Going back means being outside, barefoot, and moving. Climbing a tree, or tying a rope around it as if to throw it down. Going back means lifting odd shaped objects, because few things that you’ll need to lift in realtime will have the convenient balance of a barbell.
Going back means learning how to breath, and actually treating your breathing as if it were one of the main functions keeping you alive…funny that. Going back means emptying your mind and being formless, shapeless, like water as the great Bruce Lee once said.
Do not seek what you have not had until you regain what you’ve lost. If you want to build a house, you make a foundation.
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