Free-solo rock climbers and the way of the samurai

Flickr - Mal Fraser free-soloing Tryfan FachHot on the heels of my post about rock climbing and mountaineering, I saw jonno‘s post about the “sport of lunatics” and his link to the article Free-Solo Climber Prefers the Unencumbered Ascent in Sunday’s NY Times. The article discusses the sport of free-soloing (climbing without ropes or other safety gear) in general, and the climber Michael Reardon in specific.

While jonno sees free soloing as “the work of a madman,” in many ways free-soloing is the ultimate test of a person’s rock climbing mastery.

In rock climbing … the free soloing that Reardon has mastered is considered by some to be the purest and highest form of climbing.

“There is absolutely no cheating,” Gaines said. “It’s a real bold and naked form of climbing with no safety net and nothing to fall back on. You have to be 100 percent committed.”

You also cannot be afraid. “If any fear creeps in, your body tightens up and you lose technique,” Gaines said. “Then it’s all over.”

This attitude of full commitment and holding fear, or any other considerations, at bay brought to mind the way of the samurai, as described by George Leonard:

Long and arduous training contributed to the samurai’s presence and clarity in combat, but there was also another key factor: The samurai had to be totally free of considerations. If, for example, he was to think, “Why didn’t I have my sword sharpened?” or “I should have settled my debt with Takeda-san,” the break in ki would be fatal. The ultimate consideration is one’s own death. For the thought “I might die” to creep into his consciousness would mean sure death. That’s why the samurai was trained from earliest childhood to go into battle with no thought of either life or death. Being ready to die, he was more likely to live.

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