12-DAV-IMG_8930-r34Last month David Villegas, our Spanish trainer, and I were teaching clinics at Chacabuco in Chile. During our last clinic we heard a girl asking her belayer a question: “Is it okay to fall here?” She was traversing away from her last bolt, pumped, and facing a pendulum fall. David turned to me and said, “I guess you have another topic for your email lessons. How do we want to know if it’s okay to fall, by someone else determine it or by us determining it?”

Asking a question infers a decision needs to be made; we’re deciding whether or not to commit to action. Decisions separate preparation and action. We prepare by thinking about the risk, collecting information. We act by doing it, by climbing through the risk. The purpose of decisions is to weigh what we discover in preparation against our experience and take an appropriate risk.

What does it mean to take an appropriate risk? “Appropriate” points toward us, risks that push us out of our comfort zones, but also diminish possibility of injury. Pushing too far out of our comfort zones can cause injury, increased fear, or death.

So how do we determine what’s an appropriate risk for us? First, we evaluate if we’re in a yes-fall or no-fall zone. Yes-fall zones mean we’re likely not to get injured if we fall. No-fall zones mean we’re likely to get injured or worse if we fall.

Now, this is where it gets tricky. How do we know if we’re likely to get injured? The key word here is know. The Warrior’s Way emphasizes that intellectual knowing is only the beginning. To truly know something we have to experience it. Therefore, to know what is an appropriate yes-fall zone means we have experience with the kinds of falls we’re facing.

Also, decision-making about what is an appropriate risk isn’t an analytical process, it’s intuitive. The decision includes more than a analytical assessment of all the past falls weighed against the current fall’s statistics. It also includes how often we’ve been practicing falling recently, what types of falls we’ve practiced, and where we practiced them. That’s too much information to weigh analytically.

Intuitively, however, we can weigh it accurately. We do this by paying attention to how much resistance we feel about taking the risk. If there’s too much resistance, it means the risk is too far outside our comfort zones. “Appropriate,” then, means risks that push us a little outside our comfort zones where we feel a moderate level of resistance.

Falling is the consequence of decisions we make in climbing. If we rely on others to make those decision for us, then we’re likely to get injured because what is appropriate for others isn’t appropriate for us. We’ll blame others if we get injured because we relied on them to do our risk assessment instead of taking responsibility for doing it ourselves. It’s better to accept responsibility for our decisions and rely on ourselves to determine what is appropriate. Doing that retains our power and gives us direct information about the consequences of our choices. There’s no one to blame. We’re able to focus more directly on what we can learn from the outcomes we create.

If we have to ask someone else “Is it okay to fall here?” then we need to become aware. We’re giving our power to others and need to reclaim it. We do this by doing falling practice to gain experiential knowing about falling, practice weighing risks against our falling experience, and paying attention to the level of resistance we feel about taking the risk. Doing this focuses our attention on us, on a process that will help us take an appropriate risk. It brings our attention back to us so we can build our mental power and know what is appropriate.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Julius

    I almost thoroughly agree, though my disagreement may be semantics according to some. If you ask your partner “Is it okay to fall here?” it does imply, but not necessarily mean the climber wishes to absolve themselves of the responsibility of the consequences of falling in such a spot. Like any responsible adult, one wants to make decisions, especially risky ones as wisely as possible. In this case, the other implication (or interpretation) of the question is “You may see something I don’t and I could use your counsel/observations.”

    However, like you focused on in this article, you should not diffuse the responsibility of your actions by relaying them to another, considerably more so in pursuits such as climbing. The mindful warrior is the responsible warrior.

  2. Chaoqing

    Julius, I thought of the same point as well. But, in this case, the climber should ask “do you see something I may hit if I fall?” This would be gathering information. Using this information, you could decide either it is not ok to fall, or it is ok to fall, based on your experience or by avoiding the obstacle. On the other hand, I think the question “Is it ok to fall here” is asking the belayer to make the decision for you, hence giving up the opportunity to improve awareness and power.

    Of course it is helpful to explore the implications of the questions so we can understand the climber’s intentions behind the questions. But words have power. At these arms-pumped critical moments, only the experienced and mindful belayers would respond wisely and guide the climber back to the right path. As the ones on the wall, we ought to take the responsibility to ask the right question.

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