I travel a lot, and by the end of this year alone I'll have been to Finland, Germany, Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Singapore and Australia. That's a lot of time zones. Fortunately this is not new for me, and I’ve been working on solutions to jet lag for many years. Here are my top seven tips.
1. Morning routine
The blogosphere abounds with morning routine advice. Really, from Tim Ferriss (it’s a question he asks every guest on his really interesting podcast) to this great article on BrainPickings it would seem that all the major players have a set routine.
The problem has been that my days vary hugely. From the times that my kids have to be off for school (0745 some days, 0840 on others), to the amount of my energy it takes to get the little beasts fed and dressed, every morning is different. I have found that having a set morning routine made me fragile; if anything derailed it, then the whole morning (my most productive writing time) was shot. Instead, I have developed a more flexible approach, and can switch on productivity mode pretty much instantly. However, this autumn, having to operate professionally after a 30 hour trip on a 10 hour time zone shift has made me create one.
The point of a set morning routine is to make my body associate specific stimuli with a certain time of day. My current morning routine looks like this:
As you can see, that’s a pretty strong set of stimuli, none of which require special equipment except the kettlebells. I am also pretty strict about the rest of the day; Earl Grey at about 4pm, for instance. Lots of little triggers that tell me what time it is, and trick my body into believing it.
The problem with jet lag is fatigue, which is best cured by sleep. It doesn’t matter so much what time of day I’ve slept, so long as I’ve had enough in the past 24 hours. One of the privileges of my job is that I set my own schedule, and I almost never work in the afternoons. They are for playing with my kids, reading, or naps. I usually nap at least twice a week. This means that I can sleep in the afternoon at the destination without it telling my body that it’s night time, so it doesn’t interfere with my time adjustment.
3. Get ahead of the curve
The moment I get on the first flight of the trip, I set my watch and all other clocks to the destination time. Then I am careful to follow the proper routines for the time of day. So dinner on the aeroplane might be called “lunch”, or even “breakfast”. And sleeping on the plane, which I’m not great at, is either done at “night”, or is an “afternoon nap”. This means I’ve been adjusting to the new time zone for at least a full day before arrival.
4. Noise cancelling headphones
Oh my. These make such a difference. I was deeply sceptical until a friend of mine in Singapore (Chris Blakey, top chap), suggested I try them. They massively reduce the background noise on the plane, making sleep much easier, and reducing fatigue (again, the real problem of jet lag). I wore out my first (cheap) pair in about 7 years, and bought myself a pair of the Bose QuietComfort 25s in Sydney. Something about the exchange rates made these half the price there that they are in Europe! And the sound reduction is STELLAR. They also make watching movies on the plane much nicer, as you can really hear every bit of the soundtrack. Quiet and very comfortable!
5. Melatonin supplements
I tried these for the first time on a trip to New Zealand in 2015, and they were great for getting me to fall asleep at the necessary time. One of the curses of jet lag is waking up too early, after not enough sleep. These seemed to put me right back out again, in about 10 minutes, without any of the side-effects or other problems of sleeping pills (which I never take). At 13 euros for 30 pills they are not cheap, but they paid for themselves in sleep on the first day.
6. Eat early
I got this idea from Dr. Rhonda Patrick on Tim Ferriss's podcast. Basically, your muscles have a metabolic clock in them, which is strongly affected by the timing of your meals. Eating early, and leaving a solid 14 hours between last bite at night and first bite in the morning, co-ordinates the metabolic clock with your circadian rhythm. You know the feeling of being awake, but your body seems to be still asleep? This knocks that right on the head. I was astonished at the difference it made the first time I tried it.
This is so obvious I left it out of the first version of this post, but I shouldn't have. Get sunlight in your face in the morning of your target timezone, and avoid it in the afternoon and evening. It makes a huge difference; the slowest t jet-lag recovery I ever had was after a return from Seattle to two weeks in the UK where I didn't see the sun once, it was cloudy the whole time. It was awful.
I hope you find this useful, wherever and whenever you travel!
Archives for October 2015
In the week I spent in New Zealand I met more geologists than in the rest of my life put together. That’s because in Finland, the interesting geology happened thousands or millions of years ago. There, it’s happening right now.
After the Sword Symposium, and before heading off to Sydney to teach a seminar, I took a couple of days and headed up to Rotorua. This is in the heart of a super-volcano that blew up a few thousand years ago, and is still rumbling away just enough to make geysers, mudpools, and all sorts of sulphurous geological features. The earth is alive, and curiously sterile.
I drove up with a couple of the symposium attendees (thanks again, Les), who dropped me off at my hotel after the seven hour drive from Wellington. It’s not that far, about 450k, but the roads are small and twisty, and often occupied by trucks. I drove some of the way, and was glad of my experience learning to drive in the Peruvian Andes. The drops here were laughably shallow, and the roads luxuriously wide in comparison.
I spent the first morning in Te Puia, a park occupied by the biggest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. [This video shows right-way-up when it's on my desktop, and is rotated here for no reason I can figure out. If you can tell me how to fix it, please do!]
There were also some amazing holes in the ground, perfect for chucking rings into (and a lot easier to get to) such as this one:
And even pools of bubbling mud. Perfect for chucking people you don't like into, I'd imagine.
There is a Maori craft centre as part of the complex, which as an ex-cabinet-maker I found fascinating. This chap is working on a traditional Maori weapon, the Taiaha.
This is about the same length as longsword. Part of the experience included a traditional Maori welcome ceremony. I videoed the second one I saw, because watching the first made me think of hmm, I don’t know, medieval longsword?
The stances, the twirls, all seemed very familiar. Which comes as no surprise if you think that the weapon is about the same length, and medieval Italians were human too. I think I’ll take this video and subtitle it with the guards and strike names from Fiore…
Speaking of traditional Maori culture, my lovely hosts at the hotel lent me a bike, and I rolled gently into town in the evening, looking for dinner. I found an all-you-can-eat Mongolian barbecue place that seemed to be full of locals, which is usually a good sign. It was an excellent feed for a reasonable price, but that wasn’t the best bit. It turned out that most of the diners were there to celebrate a young man’s 21st birthday, which is a big thing here. This included the usual speeches (I assume they were the usual, it was all done in Maori, but the pattern of laughs, and bored shifting about, is universal), but then about 25 people got up and started singing in harmony, with the hand waving and so on like that which you can see in the video. There were several rounds of this; everyone sitting down, somebody talking, then another song, all accompanied by a single guitar.
I didn’t take photos or video because it was a private gathering in a semi-public space; they were not putting on a show for me. But it beat all the tourist stuff into a cocked hat. I’ve lived much of my life in tourist traps, and find that packaged stuff for tourists is just much less engaging than similar activities that the locals do for themselves. It’s like the difference between staying in a hotel and staying at a friend’s house.
After an early night, I went out on the bike again, into town then round the geothermal trail. Oh my. The sulphur, the stench, the freaky smoke coming out of the ground… the earth is not supposed to do that, dammit!
It was amazing. And on my little tour, I came across these fine specimens, which, if I’m not much mistaken, are the famous Black Swans.
After lunch and a nap, I went back into town, and was very glad I did, because I stumbled upon the cultural heart of New Zealand. Atlantis Books is amazing, especially when you think that Rotorua is basically a one horse town. I got chatting with the owner, who may be stocking my books there at some point!
I have an established approach to visiting new places. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed with the distracting stimulation of everything around you, because it’s all new. So what I do is choose one thing to go and see or do, and then burble about randomly for the rest of the time. In this case, Te Puia was the one big thing. Having done that, I had done what I came to do, and it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d felt like spending the rest of the time reading a book in my room. I follow this approach on every trip. This means of course that I don’t see as much stuff as I might otherwise, but planning and scheduling is kept to a minimum, what I do see I remember, and I am exposed to serendipity. Such as the Black Swans, and Maoris singing out of love.
I do the same thing in very many other areas of my life, from teaching a class to writing a book. Put one solid achievement in the bank, and let chance have a chance to surprise you.
On Wednesday I flew down from Rotorua to Wellington. Rotorua airport is miniscule and, get this: there’s no security checks. If I’d had one handy, I could have taken a gun onto the plane. It was amazing how much that lack of hassle improved the experience of flying.
I followed the same basic pattern of “do one thing then burble about” in Wellington, which I'll write up in due course.
I am now safely home in geologically stable Finland, unbitten by spiders and unscorched by volcanic activity. This will hopefully improve my writing schedule a bit, so the next instalment should be up a bit quicker.
After Wellington I went to Sydney to teach a two-day seminar. For those who came, I thought you'd like to see the notes published somewhere, so here you go!
Day 1; Dagger:
Whaaat? you can't read my writing?
Guess I'd better type these up then 🙂
Watch this space!
This is the furthest I have ever travelled to go to a swordsmanship event. 12 hours to Singapore; 9 to Sydney; then another 4 to Wellington. Plus about 6 hours of layovers. Needless to say, I was a tad weary when I arrived, to be met by Heather, the most crucial person at the event: she was in charge of the food!
The event was held in a scout camp, which was actually pretty civilized, especially when the excellent Selwyn pulled out his single malt whisky supply.
I come to these things for three reasons; to help students I don’t normally get to meet, to catch up with old friends, and to meet new people. Of my fellow instructors, Paul Wagner, Rick Cullinan, and Stephen Hand were old friends. Stephen I hadn’t seen for a decade, so it was especially good to catch up.
In a long list of new friends, I got to meet the legendary Peter Lyon, maker of the Lord of the Rings swords, Colin McKinstry, and Callum Forbes the organiser of the incredible Harcourt Park International jousting event . Among the students were several backers of my various crowdfunding campaigns; it’s great to be able to shake their hand and say thank you in person. And then to kick their sorry arses in round after round of Audatia 🙂
I was there to teach, of course. I had a full day on Saturday; three hours of mechanics in the morning, and three hours of tactics in the evening. I heard from the students, and Selwyn (aka Gimli from now on)
that they went down well; the groups were both very easy to teach; keen and enthusiastic. The key thing in my experience is to only teach one thing in a class. In the morning, it was using groundpaths to apply a line of strength to the opponent’s line of weakness. In the afternoon, it was how to construct a tactical drill to solve decision-making problems.
Sunday morning I spent wandering about taking photographs and talking to people, answering the occasional question, and generally not doing very much, because a posse of students lead by Matt Mole had roped me in to run an unscheduled rapier class in the afternoon. I did manage to explore a little, and found all sorts of interesting things, like this tree:
After lunch the rapierists and I bagged a hall, and spent over an hour and a half going through the footwork form, how to hold a sword, plates 7 and 16, working on the attack by disengage, and finishing up with a quick overview of how I teach the core skills of rapier and dagger. The “one thing” there was how to use the footwork form, for breadth and depth.
At the end of the day I hopped into a very full little car, and drove North with Les and Devon. They were heading back to Auckland; I was going to Mordor…
All world-class tournament competitors in low-contact combat sports use this method to succeed in tournaments. Whether you want to treat your tournament career like this is a whole other question, but, at the top level, everybody is doing this because it’s the only method that works.
1. Analyse the Rules
Analyse the rule-sets, equipment, and every other aspect of the tournament environment. Your job is to score more points than your opponent in that environment and that’s it. You are not there to look good, be popular, or gain respect. You are there to win, and win only, according to the rules that are set.
Here’s an example of this in action: in 1999 Tim Ferriss, with a couple of months of preparation, won the Chinese kickboxing US national championship. He did this only because he found a loophole in the rules that allowed him to win by dehydrating himself before weigh-in down to 165lb, rehydrate back up to over 180 between weigh-in and the tournament, and, avoiding kicking and punching altogether, pick up his much lighter opponents and throw them out of the ring. Did he beautifully represent the spirit of the Art? No. (In the article I link to, he writes about “how to win at kickboxing the wrong way”!) Did he win? Yes.
Here’s another example: Johan Harmenberg, who pretty much single-handedly destroyed sport fencing (in my eyes at least), by ignoring conventions and analysing the rules to figure out a new and more effective way to score and not get scored on with the electronic scoring apparatus. He got from nowhere to World champion and Olympic champion in a few years. I highly recommend his book Epee 2.0 which recounts the details of how he did it. Did he beautifully represent the spirit of the Art? No. Did he win? Yes.
2. Create an Area of Excellence.
Pick one, or maximum two actions that lead to you striking, and train the hell out of them. Start with the action itself, and then work back to create the situation in which you can pull it off. Harmenberg’s action was the parry sixte-riposte. Ferriss’ was throwing people out of the wring (he has a background in judo and college wrestling). In every match, your only job is to lead your opponent into your area of excellence, where you can beat them. You need one world-class action in your repertoire. But only one, and it should suit your physical and mental strengths. Don’t waste time getting good at things you are not going to get world-class at. Will you beautifully represent the spirit of the Art? No. Will you win? Maybe.
3. Analyse your likely opponents
Who are the few individuals you are most likely to be beaten by? Go over every second of their tournament footage and analyse exactly what they are doing to win. What is their area of excellence? Your job now is to train ways to keep them out of their area of excellence, and lead them into yours. Your coach’s job is to model their behaviour to give you the opportunity to train against their specific game. For lower ranked opponents, you have to rely on your general skill at leading people into your area of excellence; you can't train specifically against more than a few opponents, there just isn't enough time.
Will you beautifully represent the spirit of the Art? No. Will you win? Probably.
The problem of course is that all world-class competitors are doing the same thing, analysing you (once you become successful enough to become a threat and so warrant attention). This is why every now and then a complete outsider comes out of nowhere and wins: he or she has prepared to fight the best; but the best have never seen his one area of excellence before.
The best books on this subject that I’m aware of are Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning, which details how he went from chess champion to world champion in push-hands (the moment when he realised that the one opponent he had trained to beat was now in a different weight class was priceless. As was the moment when they realised that the ring was now a tad smaller), and the aforementioned Johan Harmenberg’s Epee 2.0.
This process is simple. But it is not easy. And, personally, I am much more interested in the spirit of the Art. Which is why I don’t normally train students for tournaments, but will if I’m asked to. I have the necessary skill-set, but it’s not a terribly interesting field for me.
I would also note here that I do not think that everyone should train like this for tournaments; there are plenty of ways to have fun and learn useful things from tournaments without going all-out to win them. But the topic of this post is not how to use tournaments, nor how to enjoy them. It’s how to win them. And this is the only way to train for that in any truly competitive field.