I am here to tell you that you can command your body to perform no matter what kind of pain you are in. It takes desire, determination, and the willingness to push yourself to your limits in order to succeed. … It’s a matter of how much you want it. If you don’t have the desire then the pain will be your main focus and you will give in to it and never experience those second, third and fourth lives. If finishing is what you are concentrating on than I can guarantee you that you will overcome.

“How to Run 100 Miles” – RelentlessRunner.com (Dave Bursler)

Andy, a long-time reader, writes in with a question:

I would like to see if you can write something about why you’re so fond of “kick-ass”.  In other words, would you present your rational to readers why kicking ass is such a big deal.  I have been often told that that kicking ass needs courage and skills, but “fixing ass”, if I may say, needs more skills and courage.  Or can we say, construction is more difficult and productive than destruction.

I love that concept – “fixing-ass”. Andy brings up a good point. Why am I so obsessed with “kicking ass”? And is that necessarily tied to a love of destruction. One of the most universally negative actions is terrorism – wanton destruction/violence and the fear associated with it.

So here’s the short answer:

Creation and destruction are two sides of the same coin.

Think about building a building. To build a building you have to cut down trees to make 2 x 4’s and smelte ore to make pipes and grind up limestone to make cement. In order to create, we must destroy.

On the flip side, when you erase a whiteboard, thus destroying whatever’s on it, you pave the way for new markings to be made. When you destroy (aka disprove) a scientific theory with conclusive evidence to the contrary, you open up opportunities for newer and better theories to emerge [1].

The Art of Ass-Kicking is about transforming yourself so that you can achieve more in your career, your business, your sport, and your social life. But we all have bad habits and limiting attitudes that hold us back. In order to make the break through, you have you eliminate the junk that oppresses us.

As the koan of the Zen Master and the scholar goes – “before we can truly understand, we must empty the cup“. [2]

It takes skill and courage to destroy, even if it’s toward a greater good. And after we make the difficult decision to destroy, we must then begin again the process of creating. Of building and fixing.

So go forth and kick some ass today. But if you break anything, remember that it’s your job to help build it back up better than it was before.


[1] A more straightforward reason for destruction in the scientific community might just be that old scientists need to die for new theories to emerge. As Max Planck, Noble Prize winner and creator of quantum theory once said:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grow up that is familiar with it.

[2] The full story varies depending on where you source it. Here’s one variant from the Nebraska Zen Center:

One of my favorite stories concerns a Buddhist scholar and a Zen Master. The scholar had an extensive background in Buddhist Studies and was an expert on the Nirvana Sutra. He came to study with the master and after making the customary bows, asked her to teach him Zen. Then, he began to talk about his extensive doctrinal background and rambled on and on about the many sutras he had studied.

The master listened patiently and then began to make tea. When it was ready, she poured the tea into the scholar’s cup until it began to overflow and run all over the floor. The scholar saw what was happening and shouted, “Stop, stop! The cup is full; you can’t get anymore in.”

The master stopped pouring and said: “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas about Buddha’s Way. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.”

If you can’t see the video – click through to the post!

Nice little gymnastics montage pared with a great talk.

Get back and do it again indeed. That’s what I thought when I blew out my knee. My doctors tried to set expectations low but I had already decided my injury wasn’t going to hold me down. While you still draw breath, there are no excuses for not pushing ahead.

(hat tip to Gymnastics Coaching)

Full transcript below:

Life is tough, that’s a given. When you stand up, you’re gonna be shoved back down. When you’re down you’re gonna be stepped on. My advice to you doesn’t come with a lot of bells and whistles. It’s no secret, you’ll fall down, you’ll stumble, you’ll get pushed, you’ll land square on your face. But every time that happens, you get back on your feet. You get up just as fast as you can. No matter how many times you need to do this.

Continue reading

Sometimes it takes very specific moments for people to realize their intense desire to change (I wrote about these ‘focal moments’ in another post). A friend that I have a strong affinity to (we think alike in many ways and treat our work and life with huge amounts of enthusiasm and a touch of masochism) sent me an email about three epiphanies he had over a recent evening. He clearly had a focal moment and I wanted to share a sanitized version of this email for you guys.

How dissatisfied are you really with your appearance? Or your career? Or your chances at starting a startup? These are the words of a man who has drawn the line and is going to do whatever it takes to make shit happen.

I was dancing shirtless to crazy techno at a party with some friends amid a huge crowd of half naked energetic people. Strobe Lights, Fake Smoke, Stage Dancers, Energy.

Looking around the crowd I noticed more beautiful girls than I’m accustomed to seeing in SF. Dancing shirtless (with arms flexed and stomach pulled in) right next to an attractive girl I was also aware of lots of guys with smaller stomachs and bigger arms. I could probably beat most of the guys there in a fist fight but from just looking at me I didn’t seem particularly special and potentially even below average. There and then I decided that I had enough. I was never going to be in that situation again. Starting that day I would start a consistent training program focused specifically on biceps mass gain, abs, and reducing fat.

I’m terrible at closing physical distance. It’s not that I’m never able to do it but it’s something that I’m so aware of and so bad at that it needs to be fixed ASAP. I would call it my #1 problem. My friend started grinding against her later in the night and it wasn’t a big deal while I danced close to her but not touching – I was afraid to do it and didn’t know how.

So both an amazing night but also a call for action. I’ve been thinking about many of these things for a long time but now I’m going to be laser focused on them. Athletics, Appearance, and Social Skills are only one side of the coin but I need to stop making excuses and work on them.

That night I went to sleep at 5 and that morning I got up at 8am to go to Muay Thai. Then I lifted weights. Then I climbed. Then Monday I went to Crossfit. I was scared of it like I always am for some reason but I went and I did it. Then Tuesday I sparred even though it scared me even more. And I’d love to say I kicked ass or really overcame most of my fear but I didn’t. But I did persist and I’m going to keep persisting and pushing. I don’t know if I really want these things as bad as the quote is describing – I don’t think I’m there yet. But I want to get there.

All photos are copyright Randy Pang and featured with permission

Have you heard of Burning Man? It’s a week-long festival that’s been happening in the desert of Nevada for over 20 years and unlike pretty much anything else on the planet. I went for the first time a few weeks ago and it was an amazing experience. As my friend Randy said it was:

Like being on the moon illuminated with neon, bass, and the warmth of the human spirit.

If you’re more of a visual type, check this video I made of my Burning Man experience:

Burning Man 2011 from Jason Shen on Vimeo.

I have some more to share but before reading on, here are some definitions:

  • Burners – What people who go to Burning Man call themselves
  • the playa – the name of the plot of Nevada desert land where Burning Man is held
  • Black Rock City (BRC) – the name of the horseshoe shaped city that is created as part of Burning Man
  • Theme Camp – a group of Burners who camp together in order to share the cost of shelter/food and to create a home on the playa
  • Virgin – someone who’s never been to Burning Man / is going for the first time

The Journey

My friend Kalvin had gone to Burning Man in 2010 and told me all about it, which is what piqued my interest. But with all the work happening in my startup, I wasn’t sure if I was going to have time to make it out. Additionally, Burning Man sold out of tickets for the first time in it’s 25 year history, which left people scrambling to find a way in and scalpers had a field day.

At the last minute, it looked like there was an opportunity to go. I found a ticket via a friend of an acquaintance, who was looking for help with a ride. I was able to find a ride using a site I had helped put together: Burning Man Rides, and also found a theme camp to stay with at the last minute. Burning Man has an ethos of “Radical Self-Reliance” (one of its 10 major principles) so you have to bring everything you need with you: water, tents, food, supplies.

The drive took about 12 hours total: my rideshare partner Billtron and I drove the Uhaul from 9pm to 6am, where we arrived at the Burning Man gate. It was another 3 hours waiting in line before we could finally enter Black Rock City. (This is where you see me ringing the bell as I become de-virginized.

We stayed for three full days (Monday through Wednesday) and left on Thursday morning on a plane (also found via Burning Man Rides). It’s extremely hot during the day (80’s – 90’s) and relatively cold at night (50’s). Dust gets in just about everything so you have to keep all your stuff in ziplock bags and just accept that your tent will never been fully clean again. Our camp welcomed us and it was great to help cook and eat dinner together.

There was a lot of dancing to techno/house/dubstep music, stumbling through the dark (there are no street lights so you have to rely on your head lamp for visibility at night) and amazing conversations with people from all over the world and from all walks of life. The art structures and mutant vehicles (you see quite a few in my vide) are incredibly creative.

Overall I have to say Burning Man is an amazing experience and I highly recommend it.

Takeaways / Thoughts

People are yearning for self expression

One big expression at Burning Man is “Welcome home.” Indeed, many Burners consider this event the time when they can truly be themselves and that the rest of the year is simply passing time in the “default world” until the next Burn. I think this is because they feel immensely stifled by the contraints of Western civilization on how they should dress, talk and behave.

Kindness and welcoming nature of the event

It was incredible to see how open and welcoming people are. People are extremely helpful, offer their resources generously and are effusive with greetings and praise. If you’ve ever lived in a well-run co-op, it’s sort of like that, but at least 3x stronger. It’s sort of a shock to go from hugging pretty much everyone you meet, to the (relatively) cold sterile attitudes of people in the default world.

Self-selecting communities can hold their culture through growth

Burning Man is now 50,000 attendees – and it started as a few hundred people burning a wooden man on a beach. The ten principles it espouses (including Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Leaving No Trace) still seem quite strong today. It’s amazing what how strong a self-selecting group of people can do to maintain a clear culture while growing dramatically. [1]

Obsession with fire is a primal thing

People like burning stuff. ‘Nuff said.

For more information on Burning Man – some good places to start:



[1] Granted I got a limited view of the event because I was there from Mon-Wed while a lot of the “weekend warriors” don’t come in until Friday. Apparently there are a lot more cameras and a lot more spectators (people who are not there to participate but there to be tourists).