Steven: Yep, it’ll go free for sure. I did al l the moves up to the last 30 feet. The climb will be mega. Like really classic. And the gear is bomber.
Me: Dude, YES! Best news I’ve heard all month! I’m sofa king psyched!!! You said you did all the moves up to the last 30 feet…what’s after that?
Steven: An awesome looking headwall! Looks like it might be pretty runout but you’re high off the deck at that point. The roof section is hard and that’s before the headwall so it’ll be a toughie!
I was buzzing.
The story behind the name is that, when I was on a surf trip in Santa Cruz about a year ago my friend and I were watching the Karate Kid movie from 2010, the one with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, on commercial TV in our hotel room, as we were getting ready to go out for an evening session. For some reason, I found one quote from the movie inspiring and applicable, and it stuck with me for months. It spoke not just to the focus and strength my climbing projects required but the focus everything in life requires.
In the film, the first step of Jaden's training is that he has to remove his jacket, hang it up on a post and then put it back on with attention to form countless times for no apparent reason at Jackie's request, while Jackie barked "Jacket on. Jacket off." (Undoubtedly a reference to the famous "wax off, wax on" scene in the original) Jaden is obviously annoyed with Jackie for making him do this for days and days, rain or shine, but when Jaden starts to slack off and go through the motions lazily, Jackie forces him to continue to do it properly with good form. Eventually Jaden tires of it so much that he tries to give up on Jackie's training and leave, but Jackie tricks him into a faux sparing match. Jaden automatically uses the motions he's been practicing to hang up his jacket to defend himself from Jackie's attacks to his utter astonishment and surprise. Afterward, the lesson Jackie bestow's upon him is, "Karate Lives in everything we do; it lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket, how we treat people; EVERYTHING is karate." Or so I thought the quote went.
Months later in Pine Creek Canyon, I was getting close to the project. Whenever I get that close to sending a climb that is important to me, without really intending to, I start to conserve as much mental, psychical and emotional strength as I can for it. That quote from the Karate Kid that had randomly been bouncing around in my head for months surfaced frequently and reminded me that every breath, every movement, every thought, must be executed with strength and deliberation. On the day I sent, I joked with George, Andrew, and Brian that "everything is karate" while I did my little pre-attempt breathing meditation. I felt strong and focused that day more than I had in a long time. After the send, back in town at the mountain Rambler Brewery, we couldn't stop saying "Everything is Karate" and applying it to things it had nothing to do with. It seemed like that had to be the name.
A week or so later a friend sent me the link to a youtube clip of that scene in the Karate Kid, asking if that was the scene I was referencing with the name. I watched the clip and what Jackie actually says is, "Kung Fu lives in everything we do... everything is Kung Fu." Oops.
But the lesson still stands- everything requires strength and firmness, focus and deliberation; every moment, every interaction, every breath. Everything is Karate.
“The climber’s strongest muscle is the brain” – Wolfgang Gullich Mad Rock athlete Stephan Vogt spent over 20 days in a span of 5 years projecting one the most famous sport climbs in the world. Action Directe 5.15a
Working through the first few moves of the Final problem. Photo: Tim Gillies
I step onto the wall, and grab the first hold. “Oh geez,” I think, “this feels terrible!” It’s slippery and small. I squeeze. I imagine the scenario of me falling here. Of course I would laugh at how ridiculous it would be to come all the way to Denver to blow it on my first move of Finals at Sport Open Nationals. But I want to do whatever I can to not let that happen. I pull with my arm, push with my foot, and grab the next small crimp. “Phew,” I think. One move down. One out of over 40!
I’ve been in competitions before where I’ll make a small mistake in the beginning, and that’ll be it. That mistake will consume me and affect every move after it. Instead of thinking of the next actual move, part of my mind will be thinking of the mistakes I’ve already made. “I could have been more efficient – I already blew it.”
Sure enough, I’m a little hesitant for the next few moves. There’s nowhere to rest and recover, I just have to keep pulling away, one insecure-feeling move after the next. I change my thinking.
I shift my attention from the last move that I might not have been efficient on, to the move in front of me, and that’s the key.
I think that failure is often thought of as essential to climbing. We talk about how we made a mistake, we learned from it, and won’t do it again. We’re put in the same situation over and over again – a situation that we’ve often failed at before – and we’re given another opportunity to prove what we’ve learned. But we can go too far with that approach.
At last year’s Open Nationals, I remember my final problem; the holds were bad, every move felt difficult for me. I squeezed very hard on the first few moves and I didn’t try to learn from these challenges – I let them consume me for the whole climb. I continued to think about my mistakes rather than my potential successes.
Coming into this year’s competition, last year’s mistaken approach was in the back of my brain. I knew I couldn’t allow my feelings about how I’m climbing, if this or that move felt good, affect my overall performance. Instead, I have to focus on all of the positive experiences happening – like the fun I’m having, the excitement of climbing on some of the best set routes out there, and having a supportive community cheering me on. These aspects of competing are why I enjoy it so much, and they’re the reason why I did so well at Sport Open Nationals this year. I was focusing on the positive rather than any troubles I was having with my climb.
This year I wanted to work harder at prioritizing what I really wanted out of this competition. It wasn’t a medal. It was to perform at my best on the National stage. That was it.
I’ve devoted the majority of my life to climbing, every time I perform I want that love of this sport to show through. When I step onto the wall, that passion consumes me, and makes me the climber that I am.
Getting ready to climb in Finals – Photo by Tim Gillies
Half way up the final route. Photo by Greg Mionske
Before I know it, I’m at the second to last clip, and looking up I can see the last few moves and the finish looming over me. The next holds are large, black, and sloping. I remember them from a collegiate championship last year. I hadn’t been able to hold onto them at all. This time would be different. I had a bone to pick with them. There were four and I wanted to get through each and every one of them. I turned on “try-hard mode.” I didn’t want to have anything left when I came back to the ground. I grabbed the first one, then the next one, I could feel my arms starting to give way. “Fight!” I thought. I grabbed the third one. I don’t think I can reach the last one. I just want to jump for it, but no – I know that’s the easy way out. I look down, maneuvering my feet in a new position. I get both hands on that third large black hold. I throw for the next one, and to my surprise, I’m still on the wall! One more hold!
Getting near the finish. Photo by Tom Condie
Now, I glare at the finish, just in time for my hands to give way, and for my body to explode off the wall. I’m breathing hard. But I had just given it my all. I had gotten through the section that I most wanted to. I smiled as I touched the ground, rejoining the cheering crowd.
To come in second place at this competition means so much to me. It makes me think that I really succeeded at my goal of prioritizing what’s important to me: staying focused on what’s in front of me and controlling my feelings about what’s behind.
The podium at Nationals this year. Photo by Kerry Scott
I’d like to give a huge thank you to everyone that supported and encouraged me to do my best at this competition. To those who gave me an extra belay after their workouts even though they were exhausted. To Mad Rock for supporting me to follow my passions. And of course, to my coach Randi, my parents, sister and friends for always being there for me. Thanks you all!!