In this latest of the posts spotlighting those in our community who are into actively pursuing healthy lifestyles I am happy to bring you a conversation with Comrade Black. Many know that Black is a prolific poster on PE, is actively devoted to animal rights and politically aware. I am happy to bring you Black’s story about fitness and health.
I’ve read that you were into martial arts as a young person, has fitness always been important to you? Or has dedication to physical activity been a more recent occurrence?
Physical fitness has been a big part of my life at some points and not at others. Kinda had an on again off again relationship with fitness for many years to be honest.
I started Judo at 11, in large because I was picked on growing up because I was so small in a town known for sports and jocks (the sign on the way into town actually reads “Western Canada’s Biggest Little Sports Center”). I wanted to be able to defend myself. Turned out Judo wasn’t that useful for that, but once I started I loved it. I competed in tournaments across Saskatewan, and won a few silver and bronze metals. I even went to Judo camp at 15 yrs old where I was lucky enough to train with people like Sensie Hiroshi Nakamura and Ralf Ibanez.
Also when I was really young I was a geeky kid and was super into professional wrestling, and super hero comic books; so I always wanted to be huge and built and strong. I convinced my mom to buy me weights from an auction sale when I was around 11 years old and for a few years I lifted as much as I could. I didn’t really know what I was doing as I had no training but I would read bodybuilding magazines and try to make sense of it. I did get pretty strong, I could almost do an iron cross on the rings when I was in gymnastics in about grade 8, and for a lot of years the only reason I passed gym class each year was gymnastics, weightlifting, and the ne or 2 years we did Olympic style wrestling. Years of Judo helped me with all of those.
I did judo and weight lifting until I was about 16 and started getting to much into traveling and drinking, and left town to live on the streets. When I was around 20 II spent about two taking Muay Thai kickboxing, and submission grappling and later took Jujitsu. After that I ended up back on the streets again. I have also taken a small amount of Ninjitsu here and there.
It has been an on again off again thing throughout those years; but what’s different now is that I really fucked my body up from all of it, so now paying attention to health isn’t an option – it’s fucking necessary just for me to be able to function day to day. If I don’t eat well, sleep well, and keep fit I deal with more pain.
What is your main form of physical exercise?
These days I primarily do weight lifting, and my current goal is to pack on muscle. I am a lot more serious with it now, training about 5 to 6 days a week for about an hour a day. I plan my meals around calorie and protein intake, and I don’t skip workouts. Basically I do a standard body building routine. I loved martial arts, but with all my injuries and my degenerative spinal condition, my joints just can’t take the impact any more. Where as weight lifting is super low impact on the joints but the work out is hella intense. A perfect match my my needs.
What is the motivation behind it?
In large, I want to get large… I always have. Not to become more conventionally attractive or anything; the type of body I actually want is the kind where you hear a lot people say shit like “eww, I find that much muscle unattractive.” Seriously, I wanna be that guy, big as I can without roids. I think of it kind of like a form of body modification, similar to tattooing.
But there are other aspects too. I have a degenerative spinal condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), as well as fibramialgia, and struggle with depression and anxiety. I also have tons of injuries. The more fit I get the less pain I deal with, the less fatigue, and the less the depression affects me. The AS is degenerative so it will never get better, but I can slow the progression of it by keeping healthy and active. Fitness and diet are one part of my overall strategy. Heavy lifting has also been proven to increase bone density which can help a lot later in life.
Do you feel that being physically active and fit helps your self esteem?
Definitely. The other night I did legs day and I did 2 sets of squats at 315 lbs! Last week I was at 290. I started at about 140. I feel amazing every time I add another 10 or 20 pounds on and am able to do it. Never thought I could be that strong! And when I look in a mirror and see that my body is literally transforming, there is something hella empowering about that.
I am also getting older, when I was young it was easy. I had a 6 pack at 13, and maintained under 5% body fat. Our school would test you with calipers every year in gym class, I was told I was supposed to be between 10-16% but I was always closer to 3 or 4%. But I am not a teen anymore, I am in my 30s. When I turned 28 I started putting on fat for the first time in my life. Now some folks act like men don’t deal with body image issues, but I know I sure as fuck did. First I was too small, and now I had my mom tell me I was getting fat! Like fuck. A couple years later and after getting back into lifting I have dropped 5 inches around the waist while putting on nearly 20 pounds of muscle.
Does diet play a role in your fitness regimen?
Definitely. Diet is key, both for athletic ability and in my case it is extremely important to managing my fibramialgia and depression. It wasn’t always that easy though, in part cause most of us never learn fuck all about nutrition growing up other than this 4 food groups bullshit; and when a lot of people go vegan they don’t know what foods have what nutrients, or what nutrients they actually need. So they often just cut out the meat and dairy and don’t replace it with anything, except maybe fake meat and Oreos. Then you end up with people getting health problems cause they don’t eat right for years, and so they quit being vegan and blame their health problems on veganism.
I have been Vegan and straightedge for over a decade now, but that didn’t always mean I ate or lived healthy. A lot of those years I was on the streets, so I lived off shit food like shelter meals when I could actually get something vegan, and Mr Noodles. It’s hard to live healthy when sleeping outside, and honestly I think half the reason I now have fibramialgia is from years of getting woken up by cops at 4am, and eating shit food.
After I got off the streets and when I started getting serious about lifting, my mentality about food changed. People would offer me chips or something and in my mind I would be like “no thanks, that won’t help me gain muscle.” The more I got into it the more I only wanted to eat foods that would help me reach my goals. These days I eat a ton, and I track my foods using a diet diary website so I know exactly what I am putting in my body. 160g of protein and 4000 calories a day. I wouldn’t recommend that for most people, it really depends what your goals are.
I also love to cook good vegan meals and be creative. I been part of Food not Bombs for years so I get to experiment a lot with cooking and making up recipes. I also highly recommend the blog Militant Vegan Cooking, great recipes and simple.
Do you prefer exercising in a gym? Or do you exercise at home?
When I first started, I was kinda scared of the gym. As a kid I always worked out at home. When I restated year later I had this conception the gym was gonna be all bros and jocks and there would be some weird rules that I didn’t know. So I bought weights off craigslist and lifted at home for about a year. But I wasn’t getting enough results. When I had the chance to get a nearly free session with a personal trainer, I went for it, and it was the best thing I could have done. I actually paid for a second session with him, and have worked out at the weight room in the local community pool ever since. In part I just love being able to hit the sauna after and soak in the heat. A lot of good political debates happen at my local sauna, and the crowd is a lot more diverse than most overly white and middle class activist bubbles where everyone’s the same age and thinks the same. But the other reason I go there now instead of working out at home is because they simply have nicer equipment. When I was working out at home I could only squat what I could lift over my head; but the gym has a squat cage, so the amount of weight I was able to press has increased dramatically. And it is a fuck of a lot safer.
I can’t stress enough how much I benefited from seeing a personal trainer. They are definitely worth the money. Not only have I doubled my results since, but also now whenever I hit the gym I see lots of people working out who clearly have no clue what they are doing. Not only are they not getting the results they want, but it can actually be quite dangerous, especially when you see guys trying to curl 60 pounds dumbells by swinging their backs and shoulders since their arms simple are able to lift it. That’s how you get injuries. I mean, I do this every week and have for a couple years now and I only curl 30 pounds per arm! You can’t just fuck around with heavy weights and expect to look like Hulk Hogan or some shit. You need to know what you are doing. There is a recipe to how many sets, reps, and how much break between sets, etc based on what your goals are.
Do you feel like punks look at overall health and physical fitness as a sort of waste of time?
I think a lot of punks and people in activist circles tend to often have a really fucked up view on health, fitness and body image. In my experience, a lot seem to see sports and fitness as privileged, vein, and narcissistic; and so they view anyone who is interested in fitness as buying into mainstream beauty norms. There is this rhetoric that says we are all suppose to just accept our bodies and should all just be happy with who we are; and so doing anything to change it looked down on. I mean it is a nice ideal in theory, but in practice if you look at who a lot of the people are that are popular in these circles, they are often people who have conventionally attractive bodies without doing anything to stay healthy. It’s pretty easy to be accepting of your body when everyone thinks you’re hot and people are lining up to date you. Not so easy for everyone else. And of course none of those folks have disabilities, and most are also white.
So you end up with a bunch of people who treat their bodies like shit, eat shitty food and justify it because it’s “freegan” and “shouldn’t go to waste, and get drunk 5 days a week – and because they can do this and still look conventionally attractive they are popular. Meanwhile if someone decides they aren’t happy with their body and they want to change it; they are practically treated like they are fat shaming just by going to the gym. Your actual intentions don’t really matter, you might not give a shit about body fat, maybe you just want to be able to run or bike faster or lift more.
There is also a lot of weird double standards – like there is some types of fitness that are ok, systema for example is considered really cool around where I live, or rock climbing, where as other athletics are seen as though only jocks should be interested. There is also the one about how we should all except our bodies and not need to change them, but hey – cool septum ring! Or, check out my new stick and poke!