The Mind is Primary (Part 2 of 2)

This year we launched our Gym Jones Tactical program. Over the next 6 months, we’ll be writing about how and why it fits into the greater Gym Jones curriculum and why it might matter to you, even if you don’t consider yourself a tactical athlete.

Jacob Bailey

Read part 1 of this article here!

We say “The Mind is Primary” at Gym Jones because it is the  guiding principle in everything we do. In every situation we put our athletes through in the gym and, much more importantly, everything they seek to accomplish outside of the gym, mental toughness is  the deciding factor between failure and success. It’s not meant to be esoteric, but “The Mind is Primary” does mean something different to everyone. How one achieves the mindset is an individual journey; we talked to four athletes in our tactical community about what “The Mind is Primary” means to them.

Ryan Mueller

Ryan is a Gym Jones Fully Certified Instructor and co-founder of Iron Village Strength & Conditioning in Boston. He has worked for the last 20 years as a flight and ground paramedic in the Boston area. He is also  a contracted instructor for medics in the Air Force pararescue and Navy SEAL communities, specializing in  trauma training and education.

“I first stumbled upon some of the Gym Jones website way back in 2012 or 2013. What was coming through the writing and the photos that they were posting was really more than just the workouts themselves. They were communicating the effort of the individuals involved, and the fact that they were trying to break through the self-imposed limitations that we all place on ourselves.

At the time, I was training a number of people up here in the Boston area. I was also involved in martial arts, and still am. There was this natural synchronicity with the type of training I was already trying to do, and what I was reading from Gym Jones. Really what had caught my attention and resonated with me was the overall mindset and attitude that came through the website, which resonated a lot to me because what it spoke to was the notion that “the Mind is primary.” I started to realize that I had found a place that really captured the essence of what meaningful training was, and had figured out how to express it in written word and present it to the rest of the world. The more I consumed the more I got interested in going to Utah to actually see what this was all about.

Finally, I was drawn strongly enough by the spirit of the Gym that I went out to Salt Lake City. The second I walked in the door and started training there, it was just an absolute “aha” moment. I realized, this place has pulled together everything I have tried to accomplish in my training and my coaching and really my whole life. Everything we did in the gym was structured around reinforcing that we are capable of doing more than we think we are, and all of that is led by strengthening the mind. So that began my journey towards being a Certified Instructor, but really more importantly of integrating this mindset into everything I do in my whole life.

The core concept of Gym Jones has remained fundamental for me, not only in the gym but in all of life. The more work that I’ve done with these elite military teams, I realize the mindset there is no different than what we try to develop in the gym. What you hear over and over from these guys that go through selection courses, is that it’s really a mindset, and if you’re unwilling to quit, if you can strengthen your mind to push you through times when your body might be giving up, that is the key to succeeding and getting through selection and making it into these teams. And then when you’re actually operating in the real world, whether it’s on missions or even domestically; firefighters, doctors, nurses… that mindset becomes even more important. Especially these last few years, there’s been such an inordinate amount of external stressors on everybody, having a fundamental idea that if we can continue to try to strengthen our mind, not just to grasp how much weight we are capable of lifting, but to remind ourselves, hey, I can get through this. I can keep moving forward in a positive way and see what I’m capable of whether it’s academically, professionally, or athletically.

I look at Gym Jones as more of an idea than just the physical place. And that whole idea, in my mind and in my world, continues to be relevant every day. Whether it’s in the gym, at work, when I’m teaching, when I’m talking to others about their struggles and their victories and everything else. There is just this repeated recognition that the fundamental tenets of what Gym Jones was built upon, the importance of showing people what they’re capable of just manifests itself in all aspects of life. It goes so far beyond the gym, and that’s why it continues to keep me engaged.”

Jacob Braich

JB has been training at Gym Jones since he was a literal child  and is our youngest Fully Certified Instructor. He is the co-founder and owner of JB’s Garage Gym, a fitness collective that aims to provide practical training and preparation for young adults at no cost. Currently active duty military, he is pursuing a master’s in modern military history. His athletic pursuits include free diving, trail running & scuba diving.

“The first time I heard “The Mind is Primary” in the gym was before doing Tailpipe. When the workout was explained, I felt that I understood the surface level concept: the idea that you need to buy in and crush yourself for the sake of your partner, and hopefully that person was going to do the same for you. You think you can comprehend pushing yourself that hard, but until you do it, you don’t realize that there’s this mental barrier to cross to put yourself in that place. That place where you’re winning but really you’re losing, because in helping your partner you’re destroying yourself.

So the workout starts and I’m sitting there, rack holding two kettlebells thinking dude, this is hard, I’m panic breathing, there’s weight on my chest. Here I was thinking  I was a good free diver and a good runner, and not knowing how to handle my breath was something that had never happened for me. I felt like I had asthma. It caused a lot of  psychological stress, and with that came self doubt, self deprecating thoughts, and ultimately just a desire for the end of the pain, frustration, and stress. It’s really a feeling that you can’t imagine until you’re in it, and you don’t realize where your mind is going to go until you’re in it.

I think there are two keys to learning and practicing this mindset without having it forced on you, before you have to “learn it the hard way” as they say. The first is confrontation, and the second is action within that confrontation. So you’ve got to do something hard, something that challenges you every single day. If life doesn’t present you with a situation that challenges you, go out of your way to challenge yourself. Even if it’s just a little hard. Some days, you’re running errands all day, it might be just park far away from the grocery store. Or if you just did your workout and you feel like you have a little more to give; do 50 burpees for time. Sometimes I just jump on the airbike and sprint 30 calories just to do something a little hard, just to remind my mind and  body what it feels like to work, to push yourself a little harder than your life typically requires.”

Jared Wihongi

Jared has been training with Gym Jones since the early 2000s and is now a co-owner of the gym. internationally recognized as an authority in the area of Close-Quarters Combat Instructor (CQC). He has over 34 years of training in various martial arts, 20 years of experience working as an Operator on three USA SWAT Teams, and is one of only a handful of people globally who hold the advanced rank of ‘Tuhon’ in the Filipino combat art of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali. He is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the modern tactical application of the combat art of Kali.

“The Mind is Primary” is a creed that I have always lived by, even if I may not have specifically used those words. I was always taught that there’s nothing that can stop an individual from doing something that they set their mind to do, and the only thing that can get in the way of that determination is self doubt and failure to execute. 

I have always believed that a lot of  life lessons can be learned in the gym; the physical and mental work we do there requires discipline, determination, and grit. It’s a setting where people can learn a lot about themselves in terms of overcoming adversity and reaching their goals. The principles that we learn in the gym can be applied to everything else in life, so I’ve always thought that iIf someone can be successful in the gym, they can be successful in pretty much anything.

To me, “The Mind is Primary” means learning to push yourself beyond what you think you are capable of. The first time I remember really having to push past my own limits was when I was a young police officer and had set my sights on getting onto the SWAT team. It was a very competitive process; I had to go through what some would call a “hell week” selection. I had to endure  a number of different tests; some of them physical, some of them mental, some having to do with the ability to retain knowledge you’ve been taught under extreme physical fatigue and then being able to execute on that knowledge. Being prepared for the experience was just a matter of understanding that if I was ready physically, I would be able to perform mentally when put under extreme stress and fatigue. Many times during the selection I found myself thinking, ‘this is all I think I can do,’ and then all of a sudden I was doing more. This was in 2003, and right before my selection one of our SWAT team members had been called up to active duty, was deployed to Iraq and was actually killed. I was reminded of him often throughout the process, and in moments when I had to dig really deep, I reminded myself what a luxury it was–although I was in physical pain–to be in a very peaceful and comfortable place while many of our service members were in war zones. At the time those were the motivators that helped me to surpass what I thought my limitations were, but I think any number of things can push you to find that mental space where you discover that your limitations are self-imposed, and that you are capable of much much more.”

Kelli Poole

Kelli is a wildlife biologist, specializing in Big Horn Sheep and other mountain ungulates. She started training at  Gym Jones in 2019 to improve her fitness for the physical demands of her job; hiking 40-50 miles per week while tracking and collaring animals in, and leading clients on guided hunts at 20,000 feet in high alpine desert climates.

“I’m always thinking about what would make me a better biologist, and what would make me a better hunting guide. This job isn’t 9-5. It starts before the sun’s up and it ends whenever it ends. So you have to have not only the drive and the determination to get it done, but you have to be physically capable. So I’m always looking for ways to train myself for the physical and mental aspects of my job, and that’s how I originally found Gym Jones. I didn’t know much about the history of the gym, I honestly  didn’t really know what it was about at all. I just saw, physically, what it was producing, and I thought okay this looks like it could be the level that I need.

I know the saying “The Mind is Primary” has a very emotional connotation to a lot of people, but I don’t really think about it that way at all. For starters, I’m not a super emotional person in the first place. But being a biologist, thinking about “primary,” I think about, if we strip this problem down to the very bare bones of what it takes to solve it, what is left? So in the gym, what are the bare bones of what it takes to be successful in something physical? What do you need physically and mentally to succeed in something like this? It doesn’t have to be dramatic or complicated at all. Ultimately there isn’t any more drama than there is from getting from A to B, or to Z, in the alphabet. It’s straightforward. You have to know what your capabilities are now,, and what you have to do to get to the next level. At the gym, I’m not fixated on the numbers themselves, but I am concerned about which direction the numbers are moving and if that’s indicating improvement or digression. Sometimes I feel like people get in the gym and don’t have that outside application, and then that’s all that there is, that’s where the unnecessary drama comes in. If the goal is just an 8 minute 2k, for no reason, why? Maybe it’s just a personal goal or something, and that’s fine, but that can cause you to prescribe all this meaning to a number that is ultimately meaningless. When I’m on the rower all I’m thinking about is, I’m climbing a mountain. I’m at 17k feet. If I don’t finish these last 1000m, I’m  not going to shoot that Ibex. I’m not going to bring my client up this mountain. In the real world it doesn’t matter if I can row an 8 minute 2k or not, but if last year I could row a 9 minute 2k and this year it’s 8, that means I’m stronger and  more capable of doing my job, and that does matter. I think that’s what really defines mental strength, is the ability to focus on the root of the problem you’re solving and on the parts of your situation that really matter.”