The Toronto Academy

I was talking about John Pilger being the only journalist worth anything in the world, with perhaps George Monibot as a distant second, and how there’s really nobody of any substance writing in the USA right now and hadn’t been for some years, all the time looking in on myself and disagreeing – one of the lessons that long distance running teaches one is to recognise the self as made up of several opposing points of view. My body is always telling me to stop, my mind is always urging me on, and the spirit blows this way and that, like the island winds, it’s normal for me to conduct fierce debates in my head and think of myself as several different entities – when she said that she had to disagree, that she was sure I was wrong, that there were good writers in the States, that I should look at the New York Times, I’d find something there.

And although a large part of my proud self doubted I’d find anything to suit me in the NYT I did at that moment recognise a shallowness of thought, a great laziness within myself that had to be put right. Naturally, just after that, I tried to pause longer in that moment between thought and speech, to give myself distance between the child within and it’s many beliefs – forged from prejudices bestowed on me long ago – and the man I want to be now. And yet, it wasn’t enough. I had examined myself, been examined perhaps, and found my mind severely lacking.

I went running to think more, I’ve just started training for the Marathon des Sables, thoughts of how I needed to sharpen my mind merged with those of how I was to develop the character and fitness to do well in such a tough race as this desert epic. Miles later it came to this; that my training had to be harder than anything I’d ever done, that it had to be beyond my ability at the moment, as did my mental capacity-building. There was no time to waste, all this had to be part of the same self improvement push. Running would morph into reading, listening, discussing, working out, ridding life of what seemed like pointless chatter and silly jokes about things that I could see little merit in.

So I formed this idea, that I’d train hard, alone or hopefully with friends, according to the old style, doing bodyweight exercises outdoors, also jumping, skipping and other elements that are sometimes known nowadays as Parkour, and that as we ran long distances we’d discuss matters that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Athenian Academy. Firstly I’d thought of the Spartans as role models but then I reasoned that the Spartans were mostly only admirers of the physical being, and I want to improve all round, mind, body, spirit, the lot.

The subjects we’d be encouraged to talk of as we ran and worked out would be philosophy, literature, high art, independent travel, poetry and most of all, history, so that we might understand more of what humans are capable of, and we might judge those around us with a more informed eye. Perhaps we might learn to discern when to offer opinion and when to hold off, and to exchange knowledge that might benefit our whole beings.

We’d meet weekly to work out and take turns to suggest books to read, films to watch. We’d become fine physical and mental specimens, people to be proud of. Forget this stuff about loving yourself as you are, instead become your own master, your own dream, reach for a seat besides the gods, give Apollo and Athena good reason to look over their shoulders.

Because the group was to be formed as a training camp for the MDS, we’d greet each other at the start of each session in Arabic.

The Toronto Academy; Socrates not Garmin, Al Kindi not Adidas.

My initial training goals are to run 50km every other Saturday, interspersed with 10km on sand by the lakeshore, 50 pull ups, 250 push ups and 50 dips on outdoor equipment. I can’t even do 10 pull ups at the moment so it’s a good goal for me to aim for.

Then, on the other Saturdays we’ll do track speed workouts, 20 x 200 metres full steam with 200 metres jog and 25 push ups between sprints, and 16 x 400 metres with 200 metres jog and 25 push ups between sprints.

Others can choose their own track workouts, there’s nothing to say we have to have the same goals.

Then, when that goal is achieved, the bar is raised. Nothing is ever enough, the idea is simply to strive to improve, forever, in whatever way you can.

The first reading list, for those who might wish to join me this Saturday or next, starts with Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’.

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