Strong people alone know how to organize their suffering so as to bear only the most necessary pain. – Emil Dorian, Romanian poet, (1893–1956)
When standing in the shadows of the Colosseum, people see different things. Some gaze at the crumbling walls, and the way they cut against the blue Roman sky. Others creep timidly through the gates, craning their necks, imagining crowds of fifty thousand whose cries have lingered for two thousand years. Then there are those who, even though present, only look through their mobile phone screens, and it’s as if they were never even there.
Yet still there is another, more peculiar type. They are men of a certain, well-knit physicality. They rarely speak, and walk with a careful assurance. When they pass the corridors, you can’t help but notice these imposing men, as each and every one unknowingly performs the exact same solemn ritual: they watch the ground.
Where others stand in awe of the structure, these grim pilgrims gaze at the space that was once an arena, seeing neither ruins nor artifacts, but visions of the sands whereupon fought warriors whose stories have proven immortal. Deep in contemplation they peer about, realizing that today there is no sand upon which they themselves might crouch, no dirt consecrated by the blood of gladiators to clutch and let fall through their fingers. For that is the legacy they keep, though perhaps they might not know it. It’s an ancient tradition of men who train. It’s a heritage for those who are driven to be something more than spectators in life.
Who are these modern gladiators? Many are veterans. Many are students. Many are simply fathers and sons who will never travel beyond their hometowns. Yet no matter where they come from, all are members of a brotherhood defined by its adherence to the lasting tenets of masculinity. They exist everywhere, teenage athletes, men, retirees, in a constant struggle to better themselves, training for battles that may never arise, driven by forces etched deeply in their genetic code.
Yet members of this brotherhood aren’t easily found in modern gymnasiums. They aren’t at all like the common trainees one finds on Internet forums. Common trainees demand entertainment. They believe that the body and skills of a warrior are easily purchased with a credit card. With no true struggle or fear of death, the common trainee wastes years of his life agonizing over programs and injury prevention, viewing himself through the distorting lights of bodybuilding and professional sports, not training as much as choosing a tribe to join. They strive without awareness, with no clear purpose, and thus only succeed in growing weak. They are not of the true brotherhood.
The true brotherhood has purpose. The true brotherhood seeks abstract qualities – strength, resilience, persistence, control, and courage – but seeks them in concrete forms. When training, they focus. They shun distractions, for there is little socialization in a blacksmith’s forge. They train to meet certain physical standards, and in doing so evolve into men who know how to work, who breed strong children, and who need not rely on anyone else to defend the people they love.
Perhaps most importantly, members of the brotherhood never walk alone. They follow the instructions of battle-tested mentors, coaches who know that men are not built through branded programs and gym memberships, but through years of brutal work. Even so, they rarely ask questions. Instead of feeling entitled to debate, they quietly and stoically follow the path of hard men before them. They know that eventually they’ll meet the standards passed down for generations, and in so doing, gain true wisdom themselves. This is the true brotherhood. Welcome to its humble Ludus.
Inspired by the illuminating work of Coach Dan John, the Ludus presents a pyramid of standards for men who seek to physically prepare themselves for a life of consequence. It is not a program, but a path. Those who chose to follow this path can expect to spend many years striving to attain the standards within. The journey consists of six distinct levels, each containing a list of feats which will be a trainee’s sole and deliberate focus at each stage of their journey.
After achieving these feats with grace, the trainee shifts focus to the next level’s standards, and thus over time, will become a man worthy of respect. They begin with Strength, training the Starting Strength novice linear progression, and then whatever means necessary, to achieve the defined weightlifting standards. Then comes Resilience and its basic criteria for strong and supple joints. Next is Persistence, or the ability to run, swim and work like a man, then Control and its template for bodily mastery. Courage, the longest and most brutal level, which should be trained across a lifetime, will make a trainee proficient in the timeless arts of boxing and grappling, and only upon surmounting this level can a trainee reach the pyramid’s pinnacle, and so earn the chance to be called a Champion.
When training to meet the standards of Strength, a trainee should not be concerned with progressing through the standards of higher levels, except one. Meeting the standards for the fifth level, Courage, or proficiency in boxing and grappling, can only be attained through many, many, long years of work. Even when pursuing basic strength, a trainee should consider spending time each week in combat classes. Doing so will only make other standards easier to achieve.
To pass from one level to the next, a trainee is required to exhibit mastery of each of the previous level’s standards. Even after spending an entire year improving his flexibility (Level 2), a trainee must once again prove his ability to exhibit the standards of strength (Level 1). When proving his mastery of body-weight strength (Level 4), a trainee must, yet again, prove his mastery of Strength, Resilience, and Persistence. Injuries or tragedies may at times set a trainee back by years. So be it. The path of the brotherhood is not a contest, but a lifelong pursuit. It is true north. The direction never changes.
Trust in the path and rewards will come. The door is open. It will always be free. All you have to do is work. The arena awaits.