David Graham philosophy interview

So this is a pretty cool video, for anyone who has not seen it. The interviewer is the incredible Udo Neumann (www.udini.com) and they are in Ceuse (if i understand correctly) during the time where Graham was working Realization/Biographie. So, for those who know a bit about climbing this video may make sense, but for others it may be a complete puzzle, so here’s what I’m hearing from Dave Graham: lots of great advice, life advice, climbing philosophy and general insight.

Wizardry and general hard climbing

So what is this guy telling us? That he’s a magical creature that is the opposite of Patxi? That that buff knucklehead at the gym is overpowered and is just a total idiot if he can’t climb (it makes sense he can grab hard, he’s huge!)? Nah, Dave is pretty much just telling us about how he subscribes to the idea that there is something unique about climbing where magic kind of exists. The same type of magic that exists in other sports, but maybe to a different extent. It’s really about the mental aspect. Let’s read on!

Personal beta and finding sequences

So we start at a good place. The first part of being a wizard is believing that wizards do exist and that there is a certain part of your mind that is made to move your body (or help your body reach its potential). Secondly, that your body is unique to everyone else’s (in Graham’s case he sees this at the elite level where many overcome the bad climbing technique with pure force) and that you have what your body has given you. So, obviously, there is going to be a personal element to this.

(not realization)

“I cannot [climb realization like] Chris did!”

Realization is a pretty hard climb: 15a, to be exact. So, he tells us about how this really is: how realization was really a show of beta and fine tuning. Most people were telling him to do it the way someone else did, to try the obvious harder beta and to stop whining. Obviously that just isn’t possible sometimes. Maybe you’re too tall, too short or whatever. But by using what you can find properly you can unlock key essentials to hard climbing, since it is the means to making things possible for you. So if you have small fingers, use smaller holds. Experiment. Tinker. Try beta that seems improbable. Try beta that seems impossible (but could work)!

Forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do

Trying hard is really the name of the game, but generally there will be easier ways to do certain things. If you do end up finding a way around a dyno, that’s awesome, especially if you hate dynos. The thing is, really, at the end of the day we climb best the way we want to climb, the way that is easiest for the mind and body. That’s why some beta doesn’t always work for some people and why it works for others.

However, this isn’t the same as not trying something you don’t want to do. There will be times where climbing will feel near impossible and that’s because you might not be ready. This isn’t to say it isn’t something you want to do. Just the whole “shut up and stop complaining and do it” attitude isn’t the right way to go about it.

Essentially the difference is this: if it hurts you and there is a better way that works for you, do that. If you can’t do it, it doesn’t mean “don’t, it wont work,” it means find the thing that will.

However, up to 8a/5.13b this seems to be more of a mental thing and a finding your own way thing. I believe that until I reach that level that climbing will stay about finding your own way to crush. There is some amount of hard climbing, strength wise, that you must be able to do, but up to that grade it’s probably pretty easy as long as you can give it your all.

A good point that I wanted to add to this is that there have been studies on the mind: generally when you start getting pain from over work you are hitting about 50% of the available energy left in your muscles. That means you have 50% of your glycogen left after you are completely wrecked that could still be used. This is explained in the Radiolab episode titled “Limits” and is a great episode for those wanting to know more about mind over matter.

Focusing through the hardships

Even the pros have hardships, I think that is what is important. However, how did Graham remain in the pro league? By continuing on after injury (after letting it heal, babying it and being generally unhappy). He’s not incredible, he’s just human. He hurts just like you. But when he doesn’t hurt he goes climbing, hard.

But really, there will be hardships and getting back into the swing is just as important as climbing continuously. You don’t regain what you had by picking your nose and saying “too hard” under your breath.

“watch me send Story of Two Worlds”

So, it is obvious though (to me) that Graham is blessed with a good climbing physiology. He’s strong, slight and smart. He’s doing it right even without trying very hard. Just as Chris Sharma doesn’t train. Both of them have something mental above everyone else, so much so that just climbing will do. Frustrating, yes, but inspiring!

“i don’t train […] but i’m going to have to train to do certain thing to develop certain things […] i always injure myself doing things I want to do”

I guess a good thing to maybe read between the lines however here is that if you want to continue being strong, training the right way is a good idea. That will make sure you never get injured in the first place and are able to climb strong that your mind. Perhaps that’s the idea that Graham is wrestling with here as he explains he has to do this now, or else he might get injured as time goes on.

But know your limits! You can’t grow your wing span, so don’t train like you’re tall. Train your body as your body needs. If you start feeling it, train that. You can climb on 5.12 crimps! You just need to be ready for them.

What not to do: try a campus routine a pro uses. Try tweaky problems that hurt you. All that shit will just injure you in the long run.

Learning how to use your body (being weak)

So much of climbing is being smart enough to out maneuver the climbs that you are attempting. I have seen some really incredible things both climbing ropes and climbing boulders from people that shouldn’t be able to climb as hard as they look. But realistically, what is the real problem with people? Is it that they are too weak for the climbs? Maybe, but it’s probably more about making it work for you. For your own body. For you!

That’s what this entire video is about. Your body is your body. There is a way for everyone. Focus brings clarity and that’s what is needed to go hard. You just need to climb things full well knowing you may be the weakest, but that you can focus and get it if you will yourself to climb your best. Graham may not be the strongest, but he climbs hard and knows how to climb hard for a weak person. Being weak has helped him more than being strong.

Being strong generally leads to this: I’m strong! Why can’t i do this? I must get stronger!

Being weak generally leads to this: I’m weak! I can’t do it that way! Which was is best for me?

If the strong guy climbed like the weak one, he’d get projects that he wouldn’t even dream about. That’s the take away i think about the weak bastard rant.

Never being as strong as the strongest


That’s it. You’ll never be Patxi, Chris Sharma, Ramonet or Jimmy Webb. Magnus will be stronger than you always. Why are you training to be that?

Be what you are and climb. Really, people seem to rely on that too much, the training aspect. You can will yourself to climb hard no matter what, just need to find that sequence. Training is a way around hard mental training, since you can do more. You have more skills. But knowing to use your skills that’s where people get really darn good.

So next time you think: hey, if i could just campus like Jimmy, i’d kill this! Stop. Think. There is another way!

You can always fool yourself (finding confidence)

Losing the confidence is a real bummer. Once you lose sight that you can do things then you become really badly worked. At the Red this year I thought I may never climb another 12 since I wasn’t strong enough. However, I hopped on a 12c and climbed it to the top, dogging up it. That’s 3 grades above my hardest to date. The moves are all there, i just need to learn how to climb that hard.

So, how am I fooling now myself? I’m going to get an endurance that wont quit and then I’ll climb these hard routes. I’ll lose weight and double down. But I’ve seen people with shit endurance and incredible weight climb into the hard 12s. Fool yourself if you can’t believe.

Believing in yourself is a mindless thing, but you need to be 100% or else doubt will creep in and you wont be able to send as hard as you actually can. Stop doubting! And if you do, try to trick yourself out of it! Set a plan, lose some weight, hit the hangboard, send some easy climbs.

Understanding how bouldering/climbing works

Graham is a big believe in understanding the mechanics and geometry of climbing. I think that’s why I think he’s so cool and interesting when it comes to being a climber. He doesn’t just beast the shit out of each boulder he can find. He does them with his mind first and foremost. He says that people struggle on V9 and he can do them in his gym shoes. So what the hell?

“7C (V9) isn’t that challenging!”

Obviously, again, he’s at that point where he’s got the strength and knows what his body is capable of and now can do things easily due to his body being perfect in certain situations. So essentially, he’s saying this: “I can do hard things that aren’t that hard to accomplish due to my ability to see how they work from the inside.” His perspective is really, really good. Something to work at if you haven’t thought about that before. If you’re strong enough you just need to figure it out. Climbing doesn’t come naturally and he seems to think that a lot of people are not doing it right.

“your ass is out of the box!”

This is an idea that I haven’t heard many people tell me, but many people understand on a primitive level. Climbing is about body boxes. Every hold and stance is possible from certain angles and bad from others. Take a 90° crimp. your best place is right under it pulling hard and down. Now put it at 45°. it sucks if you pull down at 90° to the ground, but is good if you pull in that new direction. So if your body sags when you are holding it, you are now forcing way harder on an angle you aren’t supposed to use. Same with feet, slopers and everything else. It’s hard to understand this when climbing on jugs, but pretty soon you figure out the boxes when the holds seem desperate.

staying in the box makes impossible holds possible
staying in the box makes impossible holds possible

There’s the true wizardry of the boxes. Stay in them. I’m not strong but if i find that box, it’s a jug! However, don’t be fooled, I’m not a wizard like Graham (yet!).

Gathering beta and friends

Lots of people seem pretty selfish about beta at the higher levels, but I think that this is less of a problem at lower levels (sharing) but more of a problem (taking). Beta is all around you, even now, in this very room, Neo. But seriously, you need to take the information and make the most of it. The best climbers I know use slight beta to make the impossible seem easy to them.

So bring a friend to climb. Climb with people who are psyched on your projects. Talk to people. Work it out. It’s really fun when you start getting a brain storm going.

Beta, however, can be your worst enemy. I was at the gym one time and figured out a heinous beta that worked for me. My partner told me I wouldn’t send the project if I tried that stupid sequence (that involved a forearm smear on a hold). Too bad, sent it! Obviously he couldn’t know how it felt for me, but it was okay. Do what feels okay.

The plastic to rock transition

Not going to say Graham is right about this, but he is. It is amazing how people in the gym don’t seem to get basic ideas. Even gym holds are getting more complex and really, the way around hard climbing is touching every where on a hold and finding the spot. And trust me, there is a spot.

“They (gym climbers) focus on grabbing things on a single way”

Yeah, that’s the thing, there is really this idea that holds are just a “grab it, stop whining.” That’s not true. Even on hangboards you see this. People cheating, using the pockets to help themselves. Obviously this isn’t wrong, it’s just funny that even in the place where you shouldn’t cheat there is a cheating happening. Want a good hangboard? pick up a slab of wood and cut it. stop using the sides of pockets to cheat.

However, the opposite is true about climbing outdoors. Find those sweet spots. Use your thumb. Squeeze. Move your hand 1mm left. There is really that difference, even if it is slight, over time pennies make dollars, so to speak.

And also, concurrently, don’t waste your time training indoors if you want to get amazing at outdoor climbing. Stop thinking you should do huge dynos and impossible gym moves. Use your wizardry and continue climbing hard and work it out. There is no gym that replicates climbing outdoors. Stop thinking you’re on plastic!

Alright, that’s about all I got!




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