What I learned at KOKORO #55

50 hours that I will never forget

Published by Trent Allan
on Oct 19, 2020


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In a world of pain

Hopefully the photo above gives you an insight into just how difficult, gruelling, and punishing the 50 hours I spent completing KOKORO #55 really were. A year on from the event (18th to the 20th of October, 2019) everything I learnt during it is even more reinforced, and I realise now how the decision to attempt KOKORO was the best decision I made all year. It helped me get ready for the challenging year that laid ahead, while also ensuring I have the energy, willingness, and the must needed high-pain threshold to help build this amazing business we call ActivePlace.

Here is my story.

It was around 3:30 pm on the 19th of October when disaster struck. I was part of a twelve-man squad on a mission to discover an enemy base in Vail Lake, California, when one of our team members, Blight, was injured by an explosion. In an instant, things became chaotic as we realized the considerable challenge that lay ahead. Urgently, we needed to lift Blight, as well as his gear and rucksack, onto a stretcher for immediate evacuation.

Far away from our home base, with the afternoon sun blistering and the nearest safe zone, a high area, several hundred meters away, it again dawned on us the dire situation that we had found ourselves in. With Blight, the stretcher, and all his gear, the total weight we had to carry was 110 kg, and with only four people able to hold the stretcher at any one time, teamwork was critical.

Blight being carried on a stretcher by Donahoe, Nur, Barret and myself

Our squad had been up, and without sleep for 33 hours at this point. We were low on energy, low on brainpower. Too exhausted to think ourselves out of this precarious situation. If you have ever found yourself in a place or time where you would rather not be, you can imagine how I was feeling, unsure how on earth we were going to get ourselves out of this one.

Introducing The KOKORO 50 Hour Crucible

This year I signed up for and attended the 55th Sealfit KOKORO Crucible. Modelled after the U.S. Navy SEALs famous "Hell Week," it's described as the most challenging physical, mental, and emotional training available to civilians anywhere in the world.

To successfully finish KOKORO, you must stay in the game for the full 50 hours, which includes no sleep as well as constant tough physical fitness. The challenge is beyond brutal to even the most hardened individuals. It's why, on average, only 30% of all people who sign up make it to the end.

We started at 7 am on a Friday and didn't finish until 9 am on Sunday. We trekked a total of 88 km (or 55 miles), most of which we did with a rucksack carrying 13 kg in weight. We were made to do hundreds if not thousands of pull-ups, push-ups, scissor kicks, air squats, bear crawls, and burpees. If that's not hard enough, we were wet the majority of the time and were ordered to take regular ice baths even during the night when it was miserable and cold.

One of the many ice baths we were ordered to take

During the event I wore my Oura ring, a device I wear everyday and one I regular mention on ActivePlace. It was how I knew how far we walked, how many steps we took, and how many calories we burned.

While attempting KOKORO is a great stepping stone for anyone looking to become a U.S. Navy SEAL (we had one in our group), the majority of us weren't there for that reason. The question then is why, why would we pay money and give up our time to be subjected to so much misery and pain?

My Big Why

When I would tell friends about what I was doing, here are some of the things I would hear back:

  • "Don't you have something better to spend your money on?"
  • "What, are you serious?"
  • "I always knew you were crazy."
  • "Seriously, why the fuck would you do that?"

These are all valid points until you understand my why.

My 'why' comes down to personal growth, attempting to be the best version of me I can be. At KOKORO, they had a saying, which is that "pain is just weakness leaving the body" and that accurately describes the way I think and feel. It's the same reason why I take cold showers morning and night, and why this year I quit my well-paying job given it was no longer challenging me enough.

You see, as humans, we do our very best to avoid pain, thinking that because it hurts, it's not good for us. It's why the majority of the U.S. population is overweight and why most dreams of starting a business or doing something great never see daylight. We want life to be as easy as possible, and we wonder why depression and anxiety are at all-time record levels.

KOKORO is not for everyone. Still, it's something I highly recommend for anyone who is trying to be a better version of themselves. I can say without a doubt, it's one of the greatest things I have ever done or achieved in my entire life.

Five KOKORO Takeaways

Ever since I started following and learning from Jocko Willink, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL, I began to understand how much regular civilians can learn from the way Navy SEALs are trained. Not just in terms of physical fitness but more so through mental and emotional strength.

Now having had my own Navy SEAL experience, here are five things I learned that I know you will benefit from.

1. Get your shit squared away

It only took us close to 35 hours to get it, but finally, we understood the meaning of having your shit squared away.

We were back at base camp on the second night, lined up straight in our usual columns of four. Our rucksacks were each neatly placed to our right, all facing the same way, and our drink bottle placed to our left, with everyone facing straight, and all shirts tucked in. As our commander came over to take a look at us, for the first time in the entire camp, we had got it right.

All lined up, ready for our next evolution

In the event something happens unexpectedly at war, you want to know where all your gear is so that you can act quickly. Scrambling to find your equipment in a moment of panic can be the difference between life and death. This can be applied in the modern world. It's the little things we do every day, that matter the most. Not doing the little things is what makes doing the big things, well, impossible.

Getting up when the alarm goes off. Making your bed in the morning. Ensuring you're well presented. Leaving the house nice and clean. Being on time, and always putting your keys in the same place so you can find them. Little things, right? You should get the idea. How well you do these things, in my opinion, is a significant indicator of how well you will do in life.

2. Suffer in silence

Navy SEALs call this suffer in silence; I prefer to call it no complaining because that is what it is.

We were about halfway through the long 7-hour hike up Palomar Mountain on our first night when I started to hear someone whine behind me. This person was clearly in pain, not just from the demanding hike but also from the events of the day just gone. I am not sure which squad member was making the awkward noise, and if that person made it to the 50th hour, but I do know what the person walking next to them said, "suffer in silence."

If you were hurt or not feeling well, you were urged to talk about it. Communication was a big part of KOKORO and an essential part of working effectively as a team. On more than just a few occasions, we helped struggling squad members by carrying their gear after they communicated they weren't coping. Nobody minded this too much, but no one wanted to hear complaints.

Complaints don't help the person doing the complaining, and they certainly don't help the people hearing it. Next time you're frustrated about the events of the day just gone, before venting your frustration to someone, try to come up with a plan for how you would have handled the situation differently. Try being grateful for things you have, or just let it go and focus on the things you have control over.

3. There is only the present moment

Being 'present' is something you have no doubt heard before, but it is what helped me get through and finish KOKORO.

It was around 10 pm on the second night, and we were standing on the soft sand at a beach somewhere near San Diego. After having failed the previous challenge, which involved getting wet and then covering ourselves head to foot in sand, we were ordered to line up, link arms and walk as a group into the shallow area of the water. On command, we fell backward, while remaining in a straight line with arms linked.

We were about to do what they call "surf torture."

What started as something not too bad, turned quickly into something that made me wanting to quit

Wading in shallow water at the beach, and being subjected to whatever the next wave decided to do to us, was for me a real form of torture. Remember, it was night time, it was cold, and at this point, we had been awake for close to 40 hours. Each session of surf torture lasted for around 20 minutes, and all up, we did five rounds. One of the hardest parts of this was not knowing how long we would be there for, the wait was agonizing.

By thinking about the future or when this would be over only made me anxious, and thinking about the past only brought me pain. By staying in the present moment, reminding myself how lucky I was to be alive, and noticing the beautiful black sky above us, I was finally at peace. In the book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle talks about how there is never pain in the present moment, and now I finally truly understand this. If I could find peace during something they call surf torture, I know I can find peace during any other tough situation.

4. How your actions always affect others

During KOKORO camp, we were continually punished for not following orders. It wasn't because we were a poorly behaving group, it was because at KOKORO you are, in a way, set up to fail. It's the only way you're sure to learn the lessons they are trying to teach you.

We had just hopped off our bus to begin the long hike up Palomar Mountain on the first night, the hike that would almost bring me to my knees, the hike that would almost break me. Earlier that evening, when preparing for the walk, we were instructed to have one nightstick light attached to our belt buckle, and one attached to the top of our bag. Shortly after starting our trek up the mountain, the commanding officer noticed that one of us was missing a light.

On command, we got down and lay face-first on the rough, brutally sharp asphalt and began to crawl forwards up the hill. We were only made to move about 10 meters at a time, but even that was enough to make this a shitty thing to be doing. At KOKORO, if one person made a mistake, everyone paid for it. We truly learned how our actions impacted those around us.

In the ordinary world, it is no different, it's just a lot less noticeable. Anything and everything we do on a day to day basis has an impact on those around us. The only question is if the impact you're making is positive or negative.

The way we speak to our partner, the way we treat strangers, the way we carry ourselves in tough times. We have way more power and far more influence than any of us realize. I am now more eager than ever to attempt to leave everyone I come into contact with, better than I found them.

5. Knowing your why

I already talked about my why for doing KOKORO; however, I felt it deserved it's own little section here as well. Our group started with 19 people (many more didn't even show up), and we finished with only 11. Of the eight people who quit or got injured, the majority of them were bigger and much stronger than I was, which is why it didn't make any sense that some of them would give up.

Those that quit did so because their reason for being there wasn't strong enough. Without a why it was too hard. Without a why it was too painful. Without a why there were other better places to be.

Always alert, always waiting for the next instructions

If this is true at KOKORO, it's true in ordinary life as well. Knowing our why is not just important in business, but in our personal lives too. Just like at KOKORO, life gets hard, and by knowing your why for being here, you're going to ensure you have what it takes to stick those tough times out.

I know what my why is, to be the best version of me I can possibly be. I work every day to get closer to my vision, and no matter what life throws at me, I can remind myself why I am here and why I must continue to fight on until the day I can't fight anymore.

How We Got Blight Back to Safety 

With no plan or strategy on how we were going to get Blight back to safety, argument ensued, and before not too long, we did the unforgivable.

We dropped the stretcher, sending it to the ground, all while causing additional injury to Blight. As if he had not already been through enough, we failed him, not being able to figure our shit out quick enough.

Picking Blight back up, we started to work as a team. Knowing that no one person could hold part of the stretcher for more than 15 seconds at a time, we assigned squad members to each handle, ensuring swaps happened regularly. As someone got tired holding a handle, their buddy swapped with them, giving them a much-needed break.

The system we had designed started to work. Working as a team, we were able to move Blight the distance required, finally getting him towards high ground for immediate evacuation.

You may have figured out by now that this was only a training drill, Blight was uninjured (apart from the injury we caused by dropping him!), but none the less it was a considerable challenge for us to solve as a team.

After 50 big hours, we had finally finished, and with the little energy we had left we celebrated as a team. Out of a total of 30 who signed up and paid for the event, only 11 of us remained at the end, a tell-tale sign of just how big of an achievement this really was.

At last, just 11 of us reached the 50th hour

There is a big lesson in this, but instead of pointing it out, I want you to ask yourself. Where in your life, or in your business are you lacking systems, processes, and teamwork? KOKORO would not have been possible without our team working together, supporting each other, and figuring out methods to solve problems. I know the same is true for you and your situation.

To finish up, I would like to say thank you to the phenomenal Sealfit staff as well as the amazing individuals who were there supporting me to the end. A big thanks to Reddick, Barret, Donahoe, Blight, Sai, Nur, Lessons, Louis, Primat, and Snyder. Syring and Duruyscher you didn't make it all the way to the end but you both should be proud of the effort you put in.

Put your mind to it, and you can achieve anything no matter how big it may seem at first

Now over to you, do you think you have what it takes to attempt KOKORO, or what other challenge have I inspired you to take on in 2021?


 

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Published by Trent Allan
on Oct 19, 2020


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