Saturday, March 3, 2012

Badass Defined

Bacon. I could end this post here with a title like that. What's badass? Bacon is. Have you ever thought to yourself, "How can I make this breakfast better?" The answer is always, unconditionally, bacon, even if you already have it on your plate. Think about it; is there anything in the world of breakfast that bacon doesn't go with, either on the side or in the dish itself? Consider how bacon has branched out into the lunch and supper realm: in sandwiches, wrapping filet mignon, and as a means to make damn near any vegetable or edible morsel better by offering it's supreme wrapability that can simultaneously provide crispy, salty, mouth-watering protein goodness. Take a moment right now and google "bacon products" and click on the images search. Go ahead, I'll wait. You found the motherload of bacon-inspired goods, didn't you? Bacon band-aids, shoes, lingerie, wallets, flavored products such as toothpaste, and even a statuette of St. Anthony, patron saint of bacon. Not only is bacon the badass of breakfast meats, it's simply badass all around. Several of my friends - and I've heard stories of countless more - lost their vegetarian fidelity to bacon and never returned to meatless consumption. Bacon has even become a sponsor for athletes, and badass athletes at that. My proof is in this video:

Bacon as "kryptonite?" Nooooooo! It's the secret weapon, you ignorant reporter! A thirteen-year-old with common sense (and some serious strength) is all you need to attest to that, although her coach does phrase it well; "Bacon is sooooo good!"

Now that I've got you all obsessed and drooling about the world's perfect meat (feel free to fry some up for a snack while you read, because this one's a long one), I'll continue on into an exploration of what badass truly means, seeing as it's the title of my blog. Here are the essential questions I posed to myself as I embarked on this task:
  1. Anyone can do something badass, but what makes a person a complete badass - a well-rounded, balanced-diet of a badass, if you will?
  2. What are the absolute necessary qualities of a badass, and which qualities are simply a bonus?
  3. Can you learn and practice to be a badass, or is it simply innate?  In other words, we're talking about ye ol' Nature vs. Nurture debate.
Let's get started, shall we?

Question #1 - There are many ways in which someone can do something badass. It takes daring, intelligence, and oftentimes a certain amount of style, but it's certainly possible, and I would gather that almost everyone has done something badass at one time or another, simply because humans tend to thrive on adversity. The world would be a seriously boring place if everyone were happy and there were no obstacles to overcome. Such badass accomplishments could range from enduring prolonged exposure to harsh elements under extreme pressure with few materials, such as the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, or facing one's own inner demons to overcome some insurmountable mental, psychological, or physical task, such as the myriad success stories on "The Biggest Loser." The difference between that, however, and being a badass, deserves note.

Let's take, for example, an irrefutable badass like Bruce Lee. If we refer back to the original tenets of the definition I gave in my first post, we can all agree that Mr. Lee was intelligent, technically proficient, and driven by challenge. There was something distinct in his character that caused him to exude badassity...badassness...badassitude. He continually pushed the limits of martial arts, challenging not only himself both mentally and physically, but also the structure and format of martial arts in general. To this degree, I would say that being driven by challenge should also include challenging the status quo and not just oneself. A true badass, I would argue, is a source of change in the world, whether they know it or not.  I shall continue more on this when dealing with question #2. When asked to define what a badass is, many of you might simply answer similarly to the statement in the picture below.

"You'll know when you see one"

We can all picture someone who embodies this word, and in many cases it's just plain clear, but is there more to it than just following the three points in my definition? Are all three points of my definition valid, or do they need to be altered? Let's look at the general qualities of a badass first before we make the call.

Question #2 -As I've pondered more and more, there are quite a few qualities that come to mind when considering various badasses: toughness, ingenuity, skill, calmness under pressure, grit, control, strength, doing things on one's own terms, defying the status quo, and disregarding other's opposition and doubt, among others. Which of these, however, is an essential and necessary truth shared among all badasses?

Let's look at the original three first: intelligence, being technically proficient, and driven by challenge. The first seems like a no-brainer to me (no pun intended). Can you think of any true badasses who are also total meatheads? There needs to be something more substantial upstairs than a box of day-old doughnuts and reruns of Tom and Jerry. It should be noted, however, that intelligence isn't just how well you do math, knowing all of the German philosophers and what they stood for, or having a PhD in Science like our favorite TV scientist. According to the Multiple Intelligences Theory of psychologist and Harvard professor of neuroscience Howard Gardner, there are at least nine different types of intelligence that humans have in various combinations of aptitude and preference, and they are: linguistic, logical/mathematical, bodily/kinesthetic, musical rhythmic, spatial, naturalist, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and existential. Does this mean that a person could be an interpersonal badass? Do you know any naturalist badasses? The possibilities do seem viable, and when we talk about intelligence, there are certainly many ways to determine this.

Technical proficiency, being the second tenet, implies an amount of skill and precision in what the badass excels at, or in other words what the badass is known for. In order to be a badass, you must not only be good at something, but be able to do it in a way that stands out, which further implies proficiency, be it proficiency in a particular athletic discipline, proficiency in follow-through, or just simply at kicking ass, like our good friend Bruce Lee. Although a person may not seem proficient at the main goal they strive for, I would argue that proficiency in some other trait that will help them achieve that goal must be present.

Finally, to be driven by challenge seems ultimately vital to me, perhaps more so than the first two. There is no such thing as a lazy badass. Achievement must be among the traits of a badass, and not simply easy achievement, but conquering adversity in some way, shape, or form. As previously mentioned, the adversity conquered often changes perception in human possibility and alters the status quo, proving that the impossible is possible, just like Gordy Ainsleigh did in 1974 when he ran 100 miles in under 24 hours along side racers on horseback competing in the Tevis Cup. This is a badass who changed the face of trail running forever. He is also a badass with a heart of gold, still competing in the Western States, and giving hours of free chiropractic adjustments the day before the race at the pre-race meeting. Living life on your own terms, while simultaneously caring for and connecting with the people around you is truly the ideal badass, in my opinion. "Be the change you wish to see in the world," says our peace-loving badass friend Ghandi. I bet you never thought of Ghandi as being a badass, did you?

Furthermore, I would like to clear up what I find to be misuses of the word. The first is for a person who is simply strong or tough. A guy who can do 100 lb. bicep curls is not a badass, he's just strong. The same guy might be wholly unable to lift his own body weight over a fence (or wipe his own ass with all those muscles, for that matter). In the same light, having only toughness might help you make a name for yourself, such as with this guy:

"I pity the fool who tries to get me on a plane!"

But toughness alone does not a badass make, especially when you attempt something like this:

It's awkwardly cute, isn't it, folks?

The second case of misuse invovles people who are labeled a badass because they do everything their own way and don't care what anyone thinks, regardless of who they hurt or what they destroy. Now, don't get me wrong, I believe that following one's own path and living life on one's own terms is key to being a badass, but without concern for others and the world around you, you're not a badass. You're just an asshole. It seems there's a fine line in that distinction, but it also appears with all this rambling that we're closer to finding a few necessary truths: intelligence/reason, technical proficiency, driven by challenge, confidence in following one's own path (aka daring), and concern for others and world, which may manifest itself in various ways.

Let it be said that I do not consider myself to be a badass, and mostly for one reason - my follow-through. I have always been a little ADD (I use that term non-technically) with my endeavors, following my passions as long as they inspire me, and if I lose steam before accomplishing the goals I've set for myself, it hasn't usually bothered me if I relinquish my hold on those goals and move on. Periodically, however, I look back on the many things I've given up on and feel a bit depressed, as if I haven't done anything truly amazing. Since the inception of my new passion for ultrarunning, I've read a lot about treating it like a survival challenge, which does in effect blur the lines of success and failure, and it certainly changes the rules of racing. Success in its greatest form is finishing the race, and even perhaps in a good position. It might also mean making it farther this time than the last before you're yanked from the course because you haven't made the time cutoff. Failure, on the other hand, might mean not finishing, or worse yet by ending up in the hospital with kidney failure. This has challenged my definition of success and failure. If I don't finish the race, but I'm still upright and all body processes are functioning within the normal range (or maybe just slightly outside of it), that's not a total failure, because there was an adventure involved to which I gave my all, and most likely I learned something for next time. Because of this unique notion, I feel more inspired to go for it, because the stakes are what you make them, and failure will provide a positive learning experience.

For whatever reason - how I was raised, something I experienced early on in my childhood, or just my general wiring - I have never been ok with failure, and therefore have simply not done things that might cause me to fail, and I believe I've missed out on some huge opportunities for adventure, growth, and self discovery. Thus, I must add grit - otherwise known as perseverance - to my list of required qualities of badasses, because it acts, in and of itself, as a catalyst for self-discovery, which in turn leads to the daring of following one's own path, a necessary truth already on the list.  Quitting is not an option, even if failure is evident. I will refer you to "the Rules" that were laid out by my friend Sam Jurek (no relation to Scott), as he also embarks on his personal quest to be a badass, although he may not qualify it in that way. The version we discussed last summer at Western States included slightly more harsh language for #3, and rule #5 was slightly different, something to the effect of "It's probably your fault," but no matter. The key here are Rules 1 and 2. If you want a good example of these two rules, check out this read, and you will surely see a badass in action, although I guarantee some of you might question his intelligence, which brings me to the final point in question #2.

"But what about those people who refuse to give up and drive themselves to near oblivion in the process?"

It seems there must be a distinction between being a badass and having a death wish...or being just plain stupid. In this current age in particular, there has been a surge in people wanting to test the limits of human potential, going bigger, faster, or longer. I could list a ton of examples, some of which are truly inspiring, and some which make me question what on earth is going through the person's head, other than a stiff wind. The key here, however, is to "know thyself," just as free solo climber Alex Honnold does, seen in this segment of 60 Minutes, with the key comments starting around 9:09. An outsider can certainly look at someone and say that they are crazy, but only the person themself can know what they are capable of and willing to risk. The intelligence piece is knowing yourself well enough to not risk everything, but rather to walk that fine line as an art in itself.

Ok, so let's take stock of what we've got so far. We have the original three tenets I posted in my first post, along with the qualities of daring, concern for others and the world, and grit. Now on to the final question.

Question #3 - This question is the toughest one for me. Of course, I want to believe that anyone can become a badass, but something inside me says that one must be born with a certain amount of natural BA DNA, if you will.  Most of the qualities mentioned above can be practiced and honed, but I would argue that for some, a major trigger event is necessary to set them in motion, for example fighting and beating cancer. Let's face it, people are lazy, and you can't be a lazy badass. Intrinsic motivation can make a huge difference, but I don't think it's a necessary truth, because extrinsic motivation can be equally powerful. To this effect, I have noticed two types of badass:
  1. The Obvious Badass - This person may be intrinsically or extrinsically motivated and is clearly focused and driven. People in this group are not only those who don't give up in the face of adversity, but also excel in this state in an open and public fashion on their quest for personal glory, such as climber Chris Sharma. Note that I use the term "personal glory" not to allude to selfishness, but simply as a means to make a name for oneself.
  2. The Unassuming Badass - These are people who may be somewhat reclusive and introverted. They don't look for outside validation or fame of any kind, and in many cases, they may not even know how badass they are. They may also be people who are simply following a passion that takes them well into the realm of determination, toughness, and challenge. After watching a Discovery Channel documentary on the Iditarod sled dog race across Alaska, labeled as one of the toughest races ever, and certainly the toughest sled dog race in the world, female musher Dee Dee Jonrowe came to mind. The most successful female musher in the world today, she simply has a love for her dogs and watching them work. Straight-shooting, practical, and determined, she has made a solid name for herself in the world of mushing. Although definitely not reclusive (she certainly isn't trying to hide with the amount of hot pink on her dogs and her own person), her interviews show a person preoccupied with her dogs and less with herself. Her concern for others and the world sets her apart, as proven by the P.R.I.D.E. Foundation she created to promote healthy lives for the dogs.
I will say no more to this last question, as I think it's still very much open for discussion, but I will end with the question my wife posed to me while discussing all of this:

"Why do you want to be a badass?"

A relevant question indeed. To be perfectly honest, the title of this blog and my quest to become a badass are both tongue-in-cheek and ancillary. My true quest is simply to improve and excel at not only my athletic endeavors, but in my personal and work life undertakings as well. Consider it my New Year's resolution, as much as I hate the idea of that. I've reached a point in my life where I've grown tired of the undesirable qualities I have, and want to work on them by using sport as the modus operandi. This is all an experiment to see if I can awaken my intrinsic motivation, change patterns and habits in my life that are useless or detrimental in some way, and discover my utmost limits (or at least prove to myself that the self-imposed limits I've presumed for so long are completely worthless). If successful in some or all of those feats, the bonus result would be that I am a bit more badass.

So, my dear readers, as always I will invite you to comment, as I'm very curious to hear your thoughts on the matter, because most of this is just musing on my part, and there certainly is much more to discuss.

Until next time, cheers!

Your parting shot
"He sprints on his hands"

1 comment:

  1. When I think of BadAss, I think of someone who accomplishes something most people wouldn't be able to. Like an NFL lineman doing a backflip, or an ugly guy who charms the ladies. It's when someone pulls something out of somewhere than no one would have predicted they'd be able to do.