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Listen to the Master: mental training by James Person
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Interview by Piotr Dro┐d┐

James Pearson (photo: Piotr Dro┐d┐)

Long time ago Wolfgang Güllich said that the brain is the most important muscle in climbing. Do you agree?

I would agree with this.  Trying to keep my answer short is probably the most difficult part of this question, but essentially, the brain is in control of everything, and your thoughts, feelings and focus all massively influence your performance at any given moment.  Having said that, I feel like my best performances come when I “switch my brain off”.  Perhaps that sounds a little misleading, I am not climbing without thinking, more a case of “flowing”, being so involved in the moment that external thoughts are non-existant.  There is no stress, no worry and no fear – just climbing.

There is another nice saying “belief is a Mother of reality”. How about that one?

Everyone works in different ways and you need to learn and develop what works best for you.  I like to play with realistic beliefs that I know I can achieve.  No amount of belief is going to make me able to fly, just as no amount of belief is going to make me on-sight 9a+.  On-sighting 8c however is something that I feel is possible, given the right situation and circumstance – belief in these situations can be incredibly powerful.

Visualization is a powerful tool in climbing but also in life in general. Do you remember routes you used it extensively on?

I used to use visualization only for dangerous routes.  To give myself an idea of what it would feel like to be climbing in that potentially deadly situation.  These days I am using it more and more in all styles of climbing, especially when on-sighting or flashing.
Not only is it a powerful tool for experiencing feelings, but it is also great for understanding movements, and becoming faster and more efficient when you are actually climbing.  
The route I used it most on recently was Muy Caliente, the E10 I recently tried to flash in Pembroke.  I only had a video of the route to work from, but after watching this several times I knew many things about the route, and started to get an idea of what it would feel like to climb.

There are climbers who use technique to visualize past performances that went well to give them confidence before trying an important or dangerous route. Do you do the same thing?

Not so much, I tend to stay more in the present, and focus on feeling good about the current route in question.

Breathing is called “bridge between mind and body” and almost everybody’s using breathing in some way to control level of arousal during climbing. Do you use some special breathing techniques or you just use it intuitively?

Breathing is an aspect of control I have been working on significantly over the last 6 months.  How you breathe can have big effects on how you climb.  From deep slow breathing on pumpy endurance sections, allowing you to stay calm and relaxed, to fast intense breathing just before a crux, telling your body and mind to get ready for intense work, and providing your muscles with a boost of oxygen.  Trying to “remember” all of this whilst climbing is difficult, but no way as difficult as “forgetting” all of this and doing it naturally!

How do you cope with “peer pressure”. Probabaly you experience pretty often situation when many people watching you climb expecting you to make a good performance and send the route quickly. Do you have some personal tips for dealing with this kind of pressure?

Despite regularly climbing for videos and photos, I do have issues with climbing in front of people, especially people I don’t know, in an area or style I am unfamiliar with.  I’m trying my best to improve on this, by purposefully “performing” in areas where I am likely to fail.  Ultimately, no one cares if they see you fall off, they are too focused on their own climbing to remember yours. Moving to Austria was a good example of this – I moved to the home of the best sport climbers in the world, to work on the weakest aspect of my climbing.

Many climbers have concentration problems – when they have bad day they are mentally “wandering” through different thoughts instead of being “here and now”.  Do you also experience it sometimes?

Sure, there are some days you are just not with it.  From time to time you can notice this and do something to correct it, maintaining the quality of climbing.  Other days, something is just missing, and despite every effort, you can’t find what it is.  On days like these, I try not to fight it, and accept that it is just my body telling me he needs a rest.  Go home, do something different, relax, and remember how amazing this life is.

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