“The only easy day was yesterday.”
--Navy SEAL Commandment
You know when Hell is coming. You think about it. You watch that week get closer and closer, then the day get closer and closer. The anxiety builds, the doubt builds, the fear builds. Hell Week lasts six days and five nights, but when you’re in it, it feels like the rest of your life.
Still, if you want to be a Navy SEAL, you have to go through it. I wanted more than anything to be part of the premier special operations unit in the United States Military, perhaps the world. What I learned through the experience, and from the resulting ten-year SEAL career, is this: If you want something bad enough, you have the power to make it happen--no matter what other people have to say, no matter how tough the odds at first appear. I’m not telling you this to make you feel good, I’m not telling you this because it sounds nice. I’m telling you this because I know it’s true. I’ve lived it. And you can, too. By using the principles in this book you’ll develop the courage and confidence to unleash the warrior within you. In doing so you’ll accomplish more than you ever thought possible, because this is not a book ideology. It’s a philosophy of performance. It’s about how to get things done.
There’s an expression used by SEALs, and I knew it by heart before Hell Week even started: “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” SEAL training may seem cruel and extreme, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what actually happens in combat. SEALs have died in combat, but not one has ever been captured or left behind enemy lines. To hone us into men of that caliber, the Navy was going to test our mettle and mold us through nothing short of the fires of Hell. That is the reason for Hell Week, the sixth week in the six-month initial training program of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training, better known as BUD/S.
Funny, the day I walked into the Navy recruiter’s office I didn’t know what I was asking when I thumbed through the description of naval jobs and stopped on the page that showed three tiny photos of guys holding machine guns, scuba diving and jumping out of an airplane. “What’s this?” I said. The recruiter explained that the acronym SEAL stood for sea, air and land. “SEAL Team can attack from any environment, under any imaginable condition. The so-called ‘frogmen’ of World War II are the grandfathers of SEAL Team because they were the first underwater demolition units. SEAL Team was created during Vietnam to beat the Vietcong at their own game,” the recruiter told me.
I was nineteen; I still had my collection of Batman comic books. I couldn’t believe my ears--I could actually get paid to be a superhero? “Sign me up,” I replied. “What do I have to do to get in?”
As it turns out, the odds of anybody getting in aren’t good: Only 15 out of every 1,000 Navy enlistees who take the screening test to enter BUD/S pass it. And of those who do get in, more than 70 percent don’t make it through. The smart money would have bet I’d be part of the 70 percent, because at 6 foot I weighed maybe 155 pounds soaking wet. In high school my performance as a student was...let’s say uneven at best. A teacher went so far as to tell my mother I’d never amount to anything. In boot camp I quickly rose to become the recruit chief petty officer over the other enlistees, but even then I wasn’t given much of a shot: During one of our required boot camp classes a big, meaty officer--the kind of guy who looks like he spends too much time in the gym--began asking everyone, “What do you want to do in the Navy? What job are you going to go for?” When he looked at me I said, “I’m going to be a Navy SEAL.”
“There’s no way you can be a SEAL. I know, trust me,” he said with a dismissive laugh. “You’re not SEAL material. You’re too small, you’re too skinny...”.
“Sir, I’m going to be a SEAL, sir,” I reiterated.
“There’s no way. Period. I bet you $100,000 right now there’s no way you could be a SEAL.”
“Sir, I’ll take that bet, sir,” I replied.
And if I could find him now I’d tell him to pay up, because I earned every cent of that $100,000. Never let anyone discourage you from your dreams or goals, no matter how big or small, because no one can ever guess how much you’re capable of doing. You’re the only one who can decide that.
Every man who’s been through BUDS shares an intimate acquaintance with The Bell. It’s a huge, brass bell, about a foot and a half wide and two feet high. It’s tied to a white detailed rope that’s thick, heavy, and beautifully braided into one big knot at the bottom.
The Bell has a few little scratches on it, but as a first-phase BUD/S classmen your responsibility is to make sure that bell is so clean and shiny it reflects like a mirror. Each of us had touched that bell, so we all deeply understood its importance and significance: At the end of training, each candidate rings The Bell to signify he has made it, to say, “I did it.” But ringing the bell before the end of training has an opposite meaning that’s equally powerful: Once you ring it, the show’s over. You ring that bell before the end of training, you say to the world: I quit. I can’t handle it. There’s no changing your mind, there’s no coming back.
To remind you of this fact, all the way through the first phase of training the helmets of each candidate who’s quit are lined along the compound. Your helmet is green with a white stripe down the middle, and your name is stenciled on the front and back. Every time you go to clean The Bell there are at least 10 more helmets, 10 more names to read of guys who quit even before Hell Week. In class number 136, my class, a hundred or more helmets lay stacked next to each other, forming a kind of hedge that went all the way around the compound. Every morning I’d read names of guys I knew, and it hit me that, man, if I don’t stay in the game, my helmet could be there, too.
That’s the image I had in my mind the day Hell started.
Coronado Island lies off the coast of San Diego. One half of it is a tourist resort, the other half is where the Navy conducts the toughest training imaginable. At noon Sunday, the 120 from Class 136 who hadn’t already dropped out, found ourselves in this giant tent on the shores of Coronado.
Inside the tent, there’s a persistent hiss of hushed whispers from guys trying to talk to each other; we’d all heard the legends about what happens in Hell Week. Some guys try to act cool, playing cards in the sand. Those are the guys who think they’re going to waltz in and breeze right through this--it’ll turn out that they’re the first ones to quit. On the other side are the guys who were really nervous--I was one of them. But I tried to keep my body relaxed, and tell myself, “Whatever it is, you’ve just got to do it.”
Hours stretched out and most of us tried to get a couple minutes of sleep if we could. None of us had packed much in our backpacks--a pair of skivvies, maybe some socks, just some basic things to be able to hopefully change into during the week--but we used them as pillows.
Everything quieted down. People started to relax. The sun set as the day faded into early evening. It was like the lull right before the storm.
Then, Ra-Ta-Ta-Ta! Boom! Boom! All of a sudden machine guns are sounding off over our heads, big flash explosions go off. A violet haze hangs in the air from smoke grenades. You can’t even see your backpack, you can’t see anybody, and you’re bumping into each other. “GET THE HELL OUT!”Came this thunderous bellow. They ran us out of the tent, screaming, “Go here, go over there, you guys can’t get it right, drop on the ground, get up.” We’re trying to do what they’re telling us to do, but there’s too much at once, it’s impossible. They’re spraying us with hoses, shooting off guns. “Hit the ocean,” they order and we’ve got to jump in the surf. It was a cold night, and we were freezing. After we were completely soaked they hauled us back out and scream at us to do push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. Then, we run back in the tent, and before our eyes they pull out all the fresh clothes that we packed for later in the week, and have us drag it through the sand, then soak them in the dirt and salt water. After that, we’re ordered to bring it in and fold and organize it again. Then it all gets kicked over and knocked all apart.
They’re just constantly messing with you. There is no way to do anything right. All of a sudden some guys just say “Forget this”--except they don’t say “forget”-- and one or two quit right then in the first half hour. But the instructors just went on and on. We’re never fast enough, always late, and that meant you always paying for a mistake, yours or somebody else’s.
I was on the brink of saying “I quit” when I first arrived for training then I remembered the words of Crow, the guy who helped me train to get into BUD/S. He was much older than me and he had said, “Mack, you’ve got to understand something. The system is designed for you to fail every single time. They’re going to push you to see where your limit is.” I didn’t understand what he was saying at the time, but in that instant everything made sense. It’s purely a survivor’s game, it’s about who makes it through and who doesn’t. The process still irritated me, but that one little piece of advice was exactly what I needed. It let me keep a sense of perspective even when I was so tired I couldn’t remember my name. Once I understood the rule then it was just a matter of sticking to it. I told myself the only way I could be defeated was if I give up or die. And I wasn’t going to give up.
During the training, we lose all concept of time and normalcy because you can’t get a moment’s break. Days turn into nights and nights turn into days. Sometimes you got sleep when you’re lying down freezing, sometimes you got sleep when you’re walking, believe it or not. I don’t ever remember sleeping in Hell Week. I’d heard that the only way you could make it through BUD/S is to take it one evolution at a time: If you’re thinking about what’s going to happen next, you forget to focus on where you were at the moment and if that happened, you drowned, or you broke your leg, or you froze.
If you went anyplace, you ran. Everything was made into a drill. Not only that, but you ran together as a crew with a boat on top of your head. We lost two classmates due to broken necks--a thing that easily happens when you are running over slimy rocks and huge soft sand berms. One guy slips out, two guys slip out, and all of a sudden the entire weight of the boat comes down on one person’s neck. If your team was the last to get anywhere, they threw sand in the boat, or they put in the coxswain, the boat driver, or they put in the guy who seems to be not carrying his share of the load, so you have to carry even more weight, ensuring that you couldn’t win the next sprint. The whole thing is designed to put pressure on the boat crew so that you learn to work together as a team, and you learn that you’re only as good as your weakest link, so there better not be any weak links. It was true about a team, and I understood it was also true about me, the individual. No matter how well I could do one thing, it didn’t matter if my skills in other areas were weak. But above all, what mattered was this: You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it. Stand up, shake it off, and keep going.
Surf Torture formed the rhythm of our lives, it marked the next descent into another ring of Hell, the only way we knew one drill had ended and another would begin. Everything always came back to sitting in the water, arms linked together like a barrel of monkeys to form a chain of freezing bodies. As the surf came in it pounded you and made it hard to breathe because of all the salt water, sand and shells that went up your nose and down your throat. When a strong wave came in, the line got snaky and uneven, but you couldn’t let go. If you broke, the punishment wasn’t worth it. If somebody broke you tried to grab their arm so quickly that, hopefully, the instructors wouldn’t catch it. But, again, they knew the game, you didn’t. They ordered you to stand up, and just when you thought you’re about to go out and get warm again, they turned you around and put you back in.
One session went on for 45 minutes, maybe an hour.
Suddenly the instructors said, “Stand up,” and we marched back out of the water. “We’re going to have a race right now. First five people back don’t have to go back in the water. Anybody else, back in the ocean,” the instructors told us. I was cold and I was not going to get back in that damn water. There was just no way. So when they said “Go,” man, I took off like greased lightening toward the rock jetty. Once we reached that we had to turn around and run back to create a two-mile loop. I was just flying, ahead of the pack, but all at once I began to feel a burning, cutting feeling in my feet. It took me a second to realize what was happening--all the broken shells drudged up in the surf had collected in my boots and become tiny razor blades, slicing my heels and toes to ribbons. I just knew that could be a problem later--my feet would swell and be painful. Still, anything was better than feeling my blood turn to ice in that surf.
So I kept running, but I was losing speed. Two guys passed me, then a third and I realized, “Oh crap, I’m in real danger of not making it.” Somewhere inside me something screamed “No!” and let lose a power that felt like a volcano erupting inside. My arms pumped. My feet moved faster. Before I knew it I was at the line--the fourth guy in, with another right behind me. As soon as the rest got there they had to line back up and sit in the ocean while the five of us were rewarded with a chance to at least huddle and get some warmth going through our bodies for a while.
The line between winning and losing was clear. I may have done some damage to my feet, but it was a kind of a morale victory that meant so much to me. It gave me a small victory to hold on to. It provided the confidence to know that, if I could win once, I could win again. I huddled tight against the others and understood that you have to create little moments of victory for yourself, no matter how small or how long they last. Those are the moments that carry you through the next big challenge--and there’s always another challenge, waiting just around the corner.
The next hours and days blurred into each other. You knew it was day because you were sweating and near heat exhaustion. You knew it was night because that’s when Hell freezes over.
Off the island there were metal piers that jut out into the water, with nothing around them but ocean and sky. The orders are to strip down to your underwear, if you’re wearing any. If you were not, too bad. Strip anyway. Then, one by one, we were thrown into the open ocean. “Tread water” is the only command.
After 20 minutes of that, you’re hauled up on to the metal pier and told to lie flat at attention. And so it goes back and forth like that, about every ten minutes. Just when you got a chance to rest for a second, you had to do push ups or sit-ups and then it was back in the water. Over time it got cold, colder than you’ve ever been in your life. Lying there and shaking and shivering, I looked to my left, and I looked to my right, and only see bodies flopping around like fish on a deck after you’ve hooked them out of the water. All of a sudden there was nothing but the noise of ja-ja-ja that turned out to be the chattering of teeth. Added to that was the sound of bodies hitting the metal deck, making it hum like a tuning fork. One thing became clear: this was a deliberate attempt to freeze us into hypothermia.
* * *
Forty-eight hours later, things had only gotten harder. The instructors put us out in the ocean again, like they did on the day of the metal piers. But this time, they were not letting us out. They bring out The Bell, making it as accessible as possible, within reach of any of us. “We’re not going to let anybody out of here until somebody quits,” the instructors yell.
It went on for twenty minutes, then thirty minutes, and everyone was shaking and waiting for somebody to quit. Nobody would, because there was no “You can start over again,” there was no coming back. You were either in the game or you were out of the game. But mind-numbing cold has a way of shattering any resolve.
“This is screwed up, forget it, forget it,” guys start saying out loud up and down the line.
“Shut up, man, get it together,” I yell back. I knew all that talk would eat away at everyone’s determination and make it collapse. Mine was just as much in peril as anybody else’s. And, finally, the first domino fell--one guy jumped up and grabbed the rope on the bell, cracking the gong against the brass three times. Dong, dong... dong. All at once ther was a stampede of who could get to that bell the fastest. A little ambulance pulls up right next to us, with piping hot chocolate, coffee and fresh donuts. The instructors offered towels and big wool blankets to warm them up, telling them they had tried hard, that anyone would understand why they’d quit. Class 136 dropped in size by 80 people within 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, while it seemed our classmates were being rewarded for quitting, the few of us remaining in the water hadn’t stopped shaking. We each were looking back and forth, seeing who would be the next to give it up. People had quit but they still weren’t letting us out like they said they would. How long would this go on?
Somewhere in the corner of my mind came the realization that the instructors were weeding us out by playing negative games with our minds. The only way I would be able to win this one would be to play a positive game. I looked up at the moon and repeated like a mantra, “The sun is beaming heat rays to the moon. The heat rays are bouncing off the moon like a mirror and warming my body. I’m getting a moon tan, I’m getting a moon tan, I’m getting a moon tan.” It seemed like a pretty meager tool I had for making myself warm, but it was the only one I had, and it worked. My core body temperature raised maybe one or two degrees, but it was enough for me, at 155 lb., to stay in while hypothermia hit guys with much higher body fat percentages and they ended up quitting.
Soon the sky started turning pink like the inside of a conch shell. Dawn was breaking. I made a huge mental connection that would stay with me forever: The name of the game is to make it through the night to see the morning. It’s such a big thing to create those moments of courage, because that fuels commitment. You can always do more than you think, you can always go a lot further than you think.
* * *
It was the last day of Hell, almost a 122 hours had passed, and the instructors showed no signs of letting up. They brought food to us in boxed lunches, and by then we’d all learned to protect our food, because if the instructors came by and you weren’t paying attention, they’d kick sand at your food or spit on it with tobacco juice, leaving you to eat whatever you could stomach. All I was thinking was, “Just make it a couple more hours...”
The lunch break went by too quickly, and before we knew it we were back carrying the boats on our heads, doing this drill and that drill. By three o’clock in the afternoon the sun was starting to go down and all the instructors had to say was, “This is the worst class in the history of SEAL training! You haven’t done one damn thing right! You guys are the worse maggots to ever crawl on Earth!” The instructors start hammering us, leaving us in the ocean to freeze again, ordering pull-ups, push-ups when we’d get back out. By this point you were lucky if scabs and scratches didn’t run up and down the length of your legs as if somebody had spent hour’s just raking and raking sandpaper across on your skin, making blood trickle down your legs. The lymph nodes in my legs swelled to the size of golf balls because the cuts in my feet from seashells had opened the way for infection. I doubted I would ever be able to walk again, because I couldn’t move my legs. I thought, “I hope this is worth it.” My legs were almost frozen in one position because the swollen lymph nodes had started to cut off blood circulation to my lower body.
One instructor we called Doc Knock came up to me. He was a corpsmen the Navy’s version of a medic. “Do you want to quit, sailor?” he yelled.
Although every inch of my body screamed “yes” I said in the strongest voice I could manage, “No Instructor Knock!”
“Then get up right now,” Doc Knock said, picking me up with an arm around my rib cage. He gave me five minutes of his time, walking me in circles for five minutes until my legs started working again.
The sun was getting low in the sky now, and the instructors yelled, “You dirt bags still haven’t got it right! You need more practice. We’re going another night, and after that maybe another.” Conventional wisdom said Hell Week is secured by about two o’clock in the afternoon, and it was far, far past that. Nothing had lightened up, it was only getting harder. Everyone was probably thinking exactly what I was: “This is unbelievable.” They put us back in for more surf torture and we looked at each other, trying to quell this rising sense of panic that, “Man, this could actually go into another night...”
Then all of a sudden we heard a roar behind us. Over the megaphone came the order, “Turn around!” We turned to see a figure rising over the sand hill. It was the captain of the naval amphibious base. I knew then I had made it. Tears just started flowing out of my eyes. I had done something no one, not even I, knew I could do. Again I heard the voices telling me I was too small, there was no way I could stick it out. Then the voices faded; from that moment on there was no doubt I could measure up. No one would ever be able to take that from me, ever.
* * * *
The end of Hell Week was the beginning of my 10-year career as a SEAL. When I left the Navy, I served for a time as a personal protection specialist for a number of business leaders and celebrities. Drawing from my experience as a SEAL hand-to-hand combat instructor and from almost two decades perfecting various forms of martial arts (including Arnis, Muay Thai and Jujitsu), I created a self-protection training system called Bukido™.
The word Bukido was formed out of Japanese characters to describe the journey an individual must take to bring out the “warrior within.” I designed Bukido as a serious combat training system to be used for self protection and in deadly situations, not for sport or tournament amusement. All of my Bukido clients are extremely successful in their fields of expertise, whether they are scientists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, psychologists or journalists. Despite--or maybe because of--their own accomplishments, each has been intrigued by my background: How, they want to know, did I manage to motivate myself to such a high performance standard year after year? What is it like, they ask me, to commit every fiber, every molecule of being, to completing a goal? How do you train yourself to not ever consider the option of quitting under the most stressful situations?
I believe the reasons people make it through BUD/S are so personal they never share them with their teammates. I certainly didn’t go around asking, and nobody asked me why I made it. They only cared that you made it. We never really sat around analyzing why we made it: “I tell ya, HoJo, the reason I made it through is because I had a miserable childhood” wasn’t exactly conversation over a couple beers. But for someone to drive themselves to those extremes, I believe they’re ultimately trying to create something of absolute value. They’re trying to define a life for themselves, to establish a different, higher standard for the rest of their lives. Being a warrior is not about the act of fighting. It’s about being so prepared to face a challenge and believing so strongly in the cause you are fighting for that you refuse to quit.
When I look at why I made it through Hell Week, why I went the distance through the pain threshold, through the cold threshold, why I pushed myself and continued to keep going was because it was something I really wanted. I didn’t have the words to describe it at that point, but when I look back now I was clearly driven by the image of me someday wearing a big gold trident on my chest. I loved the thought of the respect I would earn from others having accomplished this. I loved the fact that, unlike money or fame or material possessions, this accomplishment could never, ever be diminished or taken away from me. This experience was not something that I was forced to survive; I could have gotten out of it anytime. I put myself in the situation. The value wasn’t just about surviving, it was about choice. It was about the fact that I tested myself and I passed the test. I would always be a SEAL, I’m a SEAL now, even though I’m not doing the job. That means not being the strongest, or the fastest, or even the smartest. It’s simply a matter of being the one who does not quit--and that’s an ability available to anyone.
Where did I get the mental ability to make it through the toughest situations? SEAL training doesn’t bestow this quality; they want to see who already possesses it. That surprised me when I realized it. I went into the military looking for masters, the people who would deliver all the secrets of the universe. It came from studying the martial arts for more than half my life--you’re always told there is a guru out there who will teach you if you do x, y, and z. As a kid I would go from dojo to dojo. I would do x, y, and z, and would learn some really valuable things, and learn a lot of things that weren’t really valuable at all. I came to realize there are a lot of people out there with a lot of great information. They are called teachers. In SEAL Team, I was trained by some of the greatest teachers on the planet, and had the finest resources that money can buy. But ultimately, to find a master, you have to find that master within yourself. Find what works best for you. Always remember that you are trying to master yourself, not find a master for you.
The concepts you will read about in this book are tools I developed to master myself. They have been tested in combat under the worst situations imaginable. Most have been written in blood. Along the way I’ve discovered that people who have created success never tell you can or can’t do it. They only want to know, how badly you want it? It’s the people who are afraid to take the chance or have inherited someone else’s success who tell you about everything you’ve got to lose. The people who are afraid of risking it all quit the first time the going gets rough. It’s not until you risk it all and go for the thing you really want that life becomes unlimited. All the shackles are released.
Other books on the market have given eyewitness accounts of SEAL Teams in combat, as well as autobiographical works on SEAL careers. Unleashing the Warrior Within offers something no other book has: A plan for thinking like a SEAL--at least, one SEAL-- so that you, too, can reach incredible goals, to “live on a different, higher standard,” and achieve more of what you want out of life. Bukido students learn these ideas in the process of mastering a physical discipline. While it’s impossible to bring the full visceral impact of my teachings to the page, I guarantee that if you participate completely in the drills incorporated in the book and apply them daily, something inside you will change. By the time you finish the chapters that follow, you will have gone through a seven-step process to free that warrior within yourself.
The metaphor of combat and fighting may seem over the top but I promise you, the more you push yourself to accomplish anything that seems beyond your comfort level, the more you’re going to hear from yourself and others how it is impossible.
I am saying this as nicely as I can, but when those conversations come up about how you can’t do something or accomplish your dreams, they will not be pleasant conversations. They will seem like attacks. There are times when it will feel as if someone is trying to reach inside you and take out your heart. It may seem as if they are only looking out for you, and you know what? That may be the truth. But here is an idea you may want to take on board: It is your job to prepare for the worst so that you can still perform at your best.
My opinion of my existence is that I can accomplish anything I put my complete mind, body, and energy into. I will remain as flexible as possible to do this, and I will stay open to the central idea that for every problem that comes into existence so does its solution. The hardest part of that simple equation is that I must be patient and mentally clear about all the mental baggage that must drop away long enough for me to even be able to see the solution—and then be able to act on it.
The hardest and most important part of every fight is all of the moments that exist just before the first blow is thrown. I must bring my very best to all of those moments in order to be ready for the actual moment that my dream is on the line.
That is why strategic considerations, mental preparation, and physical training are so critical in the making of a warrior.
Everybody knows life isn’t easy. Sometimes it even feels like a war. Often we have to fight to make even our simplest goals and dreams possible. But if you know how to fight, and what you’re fighting for, you can always come out on top. I’m going to teach you how to fight for what you love.
Buy your copy today from Amazon
Buy your personalized copy from NDCQ.com