A Leadership Lesson From a Shaolin Monk

I came across some old photos from Shaolin Temple in China. I was there for a few days two years ago, and I still remember one specific conversation I had with my guide who was a local monk and kung fu master.  He talked about similarities between Zen and Kung Fu, and he explained how both had the same founder, Bodhidharma.

We talked about many things including leadership. One of the most profound things that stuck with me was his comment that a master of Zen or Kung Fu always leads from within the team, so to speak, not from outside or above. 

He said too many times leaders or coaches step on the sideline and do not get involved in the basics anymore. He believed great leadership was staying in the game and still doing the basics, still setting an example. It is unfathomable for a Kung Fu master not to practice, or a Zen master not to sit in Zazen, (or a CrossFit trainer not to throw down in a WOD, I thought).

In business, however, leaders often stop doing the basics that made them great. Sales leaders stop pitching, product managers stop coding, HR leaders stop recruiting and TV producers stop editing.

It was a good reminder to always stay in the game and lead from within and not from without.

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Crossfit Apps for Business Travelers

As this blog shows, I had the opportunity to travel for most of my business career. One thing I noticed though is that most of my fellow travelers rarely venture outside their hotels especially in foreign countries. One big disadvantage has nothing to do with fitness. To get to know people and cultures you have to be with them. For 5-6 years I was dropping in Crossfit gyms on my travels and it was a great way to have friends all over the place. As my workout preferences evolved and changed, I realized that I wanted to do the workouts my way, regardless of programming in the local boxes or lack of equipment in the hotel. As I added more running and hiking to my routine, I ended up using a set of apps for my trips. Here are my favorites and what I use them for.
(I do not include links to the apps as I don’t do affiliate marketing. Please Google the apps.)

WODTRACKER – Daily Crossfit Whiteboard

WODtracker from Adrian Juhasz is an App of a Hungarian Crossfit box started by a top wrestler. The structure of the WODs stay consistent with timed lifts and Metcon most days long workouts Thursdays or Saturdays. I was following their programming for years. This is the one WOD I’m motivated to do any time. No fancy features, no tracking, just plain good daily programming. The app assumes you have access to all CF equipment. All scaling and adjustments are up to you.

KEELO – Individualized Crossfit Programming and Coaching

Many use Keelo as a replacement for the local CF gym. I have been using it for a few months on and off and like the self-adjusting workouts that evolve with your athletic abilities. In particular, it maintains several CF standards I’ve always liked: allows to scale up and down based on ability, provides standards for all movements, maintains competition if you want with your peers. At $90 a year it costs less than 10% of a basic CF gym membership. What I like also is that you can adjust the workout based on available equipment around you, from bodyweight to a full gym. You have access to CF coaches for questions and programming adjustments.

TABATA TIMER – When You Only Have Minutes for a Workout

As we all know, tabatas took all excuses away from not working out. If you have 4 minutes, better yet 16, then you can have a grueling workout with a Tabata Timer. My favorite is from Anuj Seth. I punch in the number of rounds (typically 4) and off I go. Any movements are fine. My standby 4-Tabata WOD is: burpees, pushups, situps and squats. Does the job.

STRAVA – For Running and Biking

My all-time favorite GPS tracker is Strava for anything outdoor especially running. (Yes, running is Crossfit…)  It makes running and biking social by connecting to others running the same tracks or just following you. Running is a lonely sport, any social enablement is helpful.

ALLTRAILS – Hiking The World

I got into hiking recently for two reasons. One, it is a great way to see a new region or country. Second, hiking is great for rest days. Alltrails shows me the best rated trails anywhere I go and makes sure I don’t get lost in city jungles or real ones.

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Cities with the Best Hikes

There are a few great cities with mountain outdoor activities within their metro area, like San Francisco or Vancouver. Others have great options an hour drive away like Denver or Zurich. When it comes to quick access to great hiking, Hong Kong comes up on top.

I recently went on the Lantau Trail in Hong Kong, which is a subway ride away from the financial district. 45 minutes after your last meeting you can be heading up on some of the steepest climbs. While these mountains are not particularly tall, the hiking paths have a great (or terrible) feature: no switchbacks. Hong Kong has several islands scattered in the China Sea accessible by ferry or subway. Most give you a fantastic climb without distractions of switchbacks.

Many places in the US or Europe, hiking trails follow a switchback pattern to help avoid erosion of the mountain and those paths zig-zag up and down the slopes. Incidentally the moderate inclines make hiking a lot less difficult. Lantau trail (and most national parks I’ve seeing China) have steep and sometimes straight upward climbs on mountains.

Without debating the geological advantages of switchbacks, clearly the lack of them make for a great and arduous run. The climb up on the Lantau trail to the Great Buddha statue had endless hikes up and then down on the mountain ranges. (They have a gondola going up too, but this is a sports blog.)


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My Top 5 Favorite Places in the World to Run

A friend asked me what my favorite places are to run when I travel. I realized there are so many great locations. Some I had a chance to visit many times ( I made a promise that every time I’m in Hong Kong, I run up to Victoria Peak), others I visited only once but made an impression for a lifetime. This is my top 5, but more likely to follow in a later post.

5. San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

The run from San Francisco over the Golden Gate bridge to Battery Spencer viewpoint on the hill is my favorite in the US. It is a 7-mile loop with a steep incline to the top of the hill above the bridge and the view is simply unparalleled. There are sidewalks and running paths throughout the course.

4. Budapest Danube River Bank

This is the best riverbank run in the world. (Paris is a close second). In Budapest the sidewalks stretch on both banks of the river for dozens of miles and you can criss-cross from one side to the other on the city’s bridges. From most spots you see either the Parliament on one side of the Buda Castle and hills on the other. You can even run up and down the Castle Hill for an even more breathtaking view. Day or night, unparalleled.

3. Hong Kong Victoria Peak

As I said, I always make a point to run Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. It is a very hard uphill run and a fun, steep downhill. On top of the peak you can run further as Hong Kong has many connected hills and well marked paths. Lion Rock is a favorite. It is my absolute favorite city panorama, a great reward for the effort. I love mountain running and the city has fantastic runs on its many outer islands as well, a short ferry ride away.

2. Zhang Jia Jie (Avatar Mountains)

I have run on many mountains in China because the paths are well build out and the many signs prevent you from getting lost. Zhang Jia Jie is my clear favorite and not just because it inspired the Avatar movie. You can pick your adventure by running an easy jog on connecting paths on top of the mountain or take a long, arduous (20+ miles) run up and down the peaks (I didn’t do that). There is only one place on the planet with this view. Crowds can get very big to stop your run, so take the first gondola to the top.

1. Temple Ruins in Siam Reap

Cambodia’s Siam Reap is magical. With hundreds of temples dating back 900 years and a town that feels ageless, you are transported to a whole different place in time. While many go to Angkor Wat, there dozens of many smaller temples around town within running distance (it gets very humid so distances vary). Many temples are open and no fences around. If you watch your footing and are armed with a GPS you are guaranteed to be lost in the ages.

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Adventure Travel as Crossfit Lifestyle

For years I’ve posted to this blog when I was traveling and exploring Crossfit gyms during my trips. In the beginning (2011) CrossFit was still new and what I learned had new insights. By now Crossfit is a way of life for most of us. Something you do every day, like brushing your teeth.

While there are still things I learn about modalities and WOD formats that surprise me, for most of Crossfit gyms it is all about the same AMRAP, EMOM and RFT formats created for two dozen movements or so. So writing about them becomes less interesting to me.

Maybe a forgotten part of the original Crossfit 100-word prescription to world-class fitness is to Learn and Play New Sports. As I traveled, I always encountered new ways to work out, from the stone-and-steel outside gyms in Ipanema to the long and steep hill climbs on Huashan in China.

Going forward I plan to write more about what happens outside the gyms in places I go and what I may call “new sports”. At least, new to me…

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