Our brains can only process and retain so much information. There’s been a bunch of research over the last 10 years on the prefrontal cortex, the region in your brain that is responsible for decision making and controlling emotions. With our world becoming more flooded than ever with digital distractions, it’s negatively impacting our brains. When we’re overloaded with information, the prefrontal cortex suddenly shuts down, leading us to feel tired and less effective. Our brains have limited resources and energy—the choices we make, multi-tasking, what we choose to give our attention to…these things drain our mental reservoir. The takeaway: Don’t let distractions suck your precious mental energy. Make sure you reserve it for the good stuff that aligns with your values and life goals.
Meet this week’s featured fighter, Russell Clarke, a 3rd degree Black Belt in Karate and Voice Principal & Songwriting major at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. We recently shot part of our SS18 brand campaign with Russell and had a chance to dig a little deeper into his approach to minimizing chaos in his life in this week's Lovers & Fighters blog post...
YORK Athletics CEO, Mark McGarry: How do you identify as a 'fighter'?
Russell Clarke: I think that my adaptability and planning are what make me a fighter. Sparring matches are both a mental and physical game so you always need to be able to read your opponent and change your fighting style to effectively win. Staying stagnant in your movements and becoming too predictable is the easiest way to hand a match to your opponent on a silver platter. Although I have my base fighting style, I also have a number of combinations that I've practiced that can help me switch up my attacks. It's also really useful because you always have a trump card up your sleeve. Even if someone's watched you fight in multiple matches and can see what you generally do, there's always at least one attack that they haven't seen and therefore haven't prepared for.
I think that being a fighter extends to more than just throwing some punches in a ring. You're always looking at ways to better yourself in all aspects of life and looking to find balance in it all. To be a fighter, you have to build both your mind and body and use them to develop your craft, whatever that may be.
MM: Most of us understand the importance of exercise and strengthening our bodies--do you do anything to exercise and strengthen your mind?
RC: I think the biggest thing that I do to help me achieve my goals is to really only stress about things that are worth it. You've only got so much capacity to deal with everything that life throws at you so to sit down and freak out about everything that goes wrong is pretty unproductive. You've got to get pretty proficient at prioritizing what matters most to you and work hard to take care of that first. In terms of strengthening my mind, I meditate a few times a week. Most of the time I practice mindfulness meditation where the goal is to be at peace with my mind and to give myself the grace to process whatever emotions, good or bad, arise in the process.
MM: You're a 3rd degree Black Belt in Karate. How did you get into karate? How do you benefit from your karate discipline in everyday life?
RC: I always wanted to do the weird things when I was growing up. Karate and archery just happened to be the sports that I stuck with the most. I ended up starting karate at 9 yrs. old and then got REALLY into it because I had a good friend that was fantastic at it and I refused to be second best to him. I think the biggest lesson that I learned in karate was patience. You have to go slow in order to go fast. Form is everything. If you jump ahead to try more complicated things without a solid base, you'll always be sloppy and have a mediocre result (and probably injure yourself).
MM: Can you tell us more about being a Voice Principal and Songwriting major at Berklee College of Music? How did you get your start in music? Can you share some of your vision of where you'd like it to take you?
RC: I actually got my start in music playing piano. I remember for a while that I HATED having to go to piano lessons. I think it was because I was more being forced into it as another extra-curricular activity and I wanted more time to watch Saturday morning cartoons. Eventually I took some time off but got more into it after I got to walk away and refresh for a bit. The singing came from being in one of the choirs at church. I had a lot of fun singing with them but eventually ended up going to college for Civil Engineering. At some point, I began singing in some of the a cappella groups on campus and eventually became the musical director for one of the groups and sang in two others. After a few semesters, I ended up auditioning for Berklee and now I get to live the musical dream. The ride has been weird. First there's the fact that you have so many talented and hard-working individuals around you and you need to figure out how to get yourself to their level. Then, it's finding where you fit in the industry. I'm primarily a songwriter and I specialize in commercial music. I love writing catchy stuff and my piano background really helps since I can do some harmonically interesting things, which allow me to break slightly out of the generic pop mold. I do eventually want to get into recruiting artists for major labels and also want to work with them to produce some amazing music. We'll see how things go!
MM: How often do you train during the week?
RC: I try to work out 4-5 times a week at the gym. A lot of times, my classes and studio sessions get in the way of being able to go to karate classes in Boston so I self-train a lot after my workouts. My gym has a really good basketball court with an amazing hardwood floor, so it feels really good to train on that since it's what I grew up training on at my dojo back home.
MM: Any good morning rituals to share with our YORK fam?
RC: I generally try to sleep in as late as possible, then I get up and take a pre-workout shower because water helps center me. Next, I make a tropical protein smoothie instead of taking pre-workout because I hate the weird buzzing feeling and the sugar gives me enough energy and then I hit the gym. So, I guess my morning ritual is having two showers before I do real life things. I honestly wish I could live in the water and I really miss swimming.
MM: How do you balance training, school, life…what keeps you centered and grounded?
RC: It's water. Just being in it for a while helps calm me down immensely. In terms of balancing everything, I need to keep a constantly updated schedule and have everything planned out. Sometimes I have friends book hang out appointments with me a week or two in advance so that I know that I have the time carved out and that there aren't any other commitments that might conflict.
MM: Was the YORK Athletics shoot your first photo shoot?
RC: This wasn't my first photo shoot but it was my first athletic shoot. I was a little terrified because I was in the middle of bulking when I got the email so I went into a small panic about if I would be in good enough shape, but I think it turned out well. The team is absolutely fantastic and my photo shoot partner Alice Liao was so so SO much fun to be around. There were a good few times that we were supposed to be serious and we just ended up full out laughing because we enjoyed hanging out with each other so much and connected so easily with each other.
MM: What’s your favorite YORK sneaker and why?
RC: I'm actually in love with the Henry Cloud Mesh in Palm. Like LOVEEEEEE them. They're really lightweight so it feels like there's absolutely nothing there and the other colors are awesome but all shades of pink were LITERALLY made for me. I'm usually a bit iffy about fighting in shoes since they throw off my balance for the most part, these just fit perfectly and most of the time I didn't even realize that they were there. Then I'd look down and be like, "Oh damn." The level of comfort is unreal. I swear I could live in them.
All photography credited to Buck Harlan Squibb
Mark’s writing explores mental & physical conditioning and mindfulness meditation. He is the CEO and Co-founder of YORK Athletics Mfg., a training footwear brand that honors the fighting spirit. His work can be found on their on-line journal, Lovers & Fighters, where you’ll discover healthy living tips and inspiring stories from his circle of athletes, professional fighters, meditation teachers and entrepreneurs.
Mark is married, a father of two boys, a surfer and co-owner of YORK Athletics MFG and MCGARRY&sons. He trains with the Rajasi Muay Thai martial art team and is a student of mindfulness meditation at the Benson Henry Institute at Mass General Hospital. He lives in South Boston, MA.