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Photo by Will Swann on Unsplash

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
~ Zen proverb

The best thing you can do to accelerate your personal growth is to find yourself a teacher. A good teacher will pass on the knowledge, a great teacher will inspire you. I was lucky to find those who became a source of inspiration for me when I enrolled in what I find to be the best coaching program for men in Russia — “Sparta”. Here is my story.

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The name of the man in the picture is Anton Rudanov and he is the founder of “Sparta”. In the media, he is famous as Anton Britva. In Russian Britva means “razor”. He got his nickname when he was a regular in one of Moscow’s underground fight clubs. It is there that he first saw that there were many men just like him who seek strength, men whose longings to find the meaning of manhood were not met. With a group of allies, Anton started to organize meetups in basements where they trained focusing on the strength of the spirit and mental resilience. That was the inception of the “Sparta”.

Today “Sparta” is a 3-days immersive coaching program that takes place in many cities of Russia and several other Russian-speaking countries. This program doesn’t have analogs in the west. It is designed specifically for men, women can’t enroll.

It was a rough road that led me to the day when I found myself sitting among the men who like me came to “Sparta” to become better. I was methodically destroying my life since the age of 14. I was physically and mentally weak. I sucked at dating. I was an alcoholic, a smoker, and a drug addict. I was a complete loser.

After 7 years of self-destruction, I started to exercise slowly eradicating my weaknesses one by one. By the end of 2011, I had some progress. I finished my Master's degree top of the class, exercised regularly, I quit smoking and was drinking much less and what’s important, I finally overcame my chronic depression.

In fall 2012 I applied for Ph.D. in South Korea. I’ve sent my documents to the university but something went wrong with the delivery. My package arrived 2 days after the deadline. I had to wait for another semester to reapply.

I was mad. Waiting another 6 months in my home country seemed like a waste of my time. At that time, I couldn’t imagine that this delay will change my life forever.

Full of dedication to spend the next six months focusing on personal development, I became a tenacious seeker for different ways to improve myself. “Seek and you shall find” — I kept searching and eventually I stumbled upon something of great value. In June 2013 I’ve discovered “Sparta”.

Back then I knew nothing about “Sparta” and about its leader. I’ve seen Anton’s profile on a social network — clearly, the man was living a dream and was capable of achieving his life goals. I learned that he is running a coaching program but I had very little idea of what it was about. Originally available exclusively in Russia, his coaching program was too far from me to start seriously thinking about it. I was following Anton for a while when one day a fresh post in my newsfeed caught my attention — Sparta was coming to Almaty for the first time.

At that time, I was broke. I’ve called relatives and friends to borrow the money for the program. My resolve to pass Sparta was adamant.

On the following day, the organizers posted an ad announcing an online competition that granted free participation in the program for one man who could get the maximum reposts for the ad on his profile page in a social network. It was a sign. In 48 hours, I have collected 247 reposts, leaving the 2nd guy behind with less than 40. The free ticket was mine.

I gave my word not to disclose the details of what happened on the program but I will give you the general idea of it. In point of fact, even the detailed insider’s information wouldn’t help anyone to understand what “Sparta” is about. The only way to benefit from “Sparta” is to live it through.

Day 1. The Feedback.

And so, I was sitting in the conference hall — one of the thirty guys who came to become stronger. The atmosphere was light, we were introducing ourselves to each other, joking around and laughing. Our coaches were late so we enjoyed our carefree mood for quite some time. Suddenly, the doors of the conference hall opened. A man stepped into the room. Britva.

It was just like a scene from one of those cowboy movies, the guy comes into a bar and everybody in the bar knows that some bad shit is about to happen. We all felt it.

Anton had a gravity. When he entered the room, it felt like we were all pushed to the walls by his incredible presence. I have never seen a man with such strength that is physically sensible by others but on that day, I was lucky to meet two of them.

A second coach entered the room following Anton — a huge, bold guy who looked like an ex-military. He had this look in his eyes that was saying that you don’t want to look for trouble with this guy. His eyes indicated that he is capable of inflicting serious injuries in a variety of imaginative ways. Ed Halilov.

This man is a beast. Tremendously strong physically and mentally, he transformed his body into a weapon and his mind into an encyclopedia of survival skills. Having a man like Ed by my side I wouldn’t be afraid of a zombie apocalypse. I was lucky to have had him as my coach our “Sparta” was one of his last, soon after he launched his own survival training program “The Science of Victory” which I dream to pass one day.

And so, they were standing in front of us — Anton and Ed, two very intimidating men. The room was filled with silence. Our Sparta had begun.

The first day of Sparta was the day of talking, or should I say, the day of the honest feedback? Very honest.

We went through exercises that showed us how horribly disfigured our mindsets were. We were turned inside out spilling all of our pain points and shitty excuses, shortcomings and weaknesses, inferiority complexes and fake identities that we had been accumulating for years. Our souls lied exposed on the coaches’ anvil and were mercilessly hammered by the scorching blunt truth. It was rough.

On the first day, we had to choose our codenames for the duration of the program. Mine was “Soul”. I wanted my codename to be a reminder for myself and for the team that whatever challenge awaited us during the next three days we would be able to outfight only by the work of the spirit, not the work of the body. Little did I know how close to the truth I was.

Day 2. The Inner Bitch.

The second day started at 6 a.m. We arrived at a gym at 7 a.m. and the drill has begun.

I have been working out for about two years prior to Sparta, so I considered myself physically prepared, but the training program of the second day was unexpectedly tough. In fact, it was the most physically demanding training I’ve ever done in my life. The whole drill lasted over 10 hours.

Few guys puked in the bucket, many wanted to give up. Every single one of us had to face the inner voice that was howling one thing: “I cannot do this anymore”. Yet we kept going. When we were thinking that we were done and there was no more energy to move our tired bodies, the coaches were throwing our will under another test, and we were doing more, and more. And more.

Looking back, I realize what an empowering experience it was to live through the second day pushing beyond the limits of what I thought I was physically capable of over and over again. I have learned from personal experience that limitations exist only in my head. Knowing this is not enough, only living through this experience allowed me to embody the philosophy behind it. I realized that no matter how loud and powerful is the demotivating voice inside your head, giving in to it is always a matter of choice.

But this understanding sunk in later. On the second day of our “Sparta”, there was no space to think about it. We all just tried to focus on taking one more step, enduring one more moment of pain, and telling the Inner Bitch one more time to shut the fuck up.

At the end of the day, we were exhausted. Physically and emotionally drained we finished the training just to discover that the day was not over. The next task was waiting for us.

Our next assignment was to collect a certain sum of money and not by our own contributions but by gathering donations from strangers on the street. We also couldn’t tell anyone that our begging was part of the training program.

Without changing and taking a shower we headed to the streets. Even though we tried hard we couldn’t close the objective amount of money until midnight so our deadline was shifted until 6 am of the next morning. All of us, about 30 men, split into 4 smaller teams. Each team had to collect an additional 5000 Kazakhstan tenge (about 40$ at that time).

It was 1 a.m. in the night. We all didn’t know where we could possibly find people outside and get the rest of the money at that time. Our 4 teams separated to try luck in different parts of the city. My team was depressed. They saw no solution.

“I have an idea,” I said. I asked out teammate to drive us to one of the most luxurious restaurants in the city. “Please, stay in the car,” I asked, “I will do it myself.”

I walked alone into the restaurant. Dirty clothes, a black eye, covered with bruises and limping on one leg, I was one hell of a beggar.

I spotted one table where 4 Kazakh guys were having a party and approached them. The target was right, all of them were in their mid-40s, and clearly well-heeled.

“Gentlemen,” I started my line, “may I have a minute of your attention.” They froze. Everyone was staring at me suspiciously.

I took a deep breath and exhaled: “Once in a while, I and my friend play a game — we challenge one another. Today my challenge is to collect 1000 Euro of donations. According to the rules, I can’t contribute to this amount myself. I almost closed my goal.” I put my hand in the pocket and pulled out a thick wad of cash (I was the one who managed the bank for the whole team). “I need 5000 to close my goal. Would you guys, help me out?”

They were looking at me surprised. Their tipsy faces were reflecting an effort of thought, they were trying to process what I said and understand if I was lying or not.

One guy nodded at the roll of bills and said: “What if we take all your money right here right now?”

“You could do so,” I looked him in the eye, “but then you will be stealing from the children of an orphanage where this money will go.”

They were boring holes through me with their eyes. The tension was real.

A minute later I was sitting back in the car handing my teammates a bill. A 100 bucks.

Their emotions were only comparable with the size of their eyes: “How the fuck did you do that?”

“Let’s go to sleep,” I smiled, “tomorrow is an important day.”

Day 3. The Death.

On the third day, 7:00 a.m. sharp we gathered to depart for our last assignment — rope jumping. Don’t confuse it with the jumping rope. Rope jumping is jumping off the roof of the building with a rope attached to your torso. The day promised to be fun.

I was in the car on my way to the jumping site when my Mom called me: “Uncle Radik passed last night”.

I knew my uncle, my Dad’s elder brother since I was little. The news of his death was a bolt from the blue. It felt like something inside of me cracked and started to leak but I couldn’t allow myself grieve. I couldn’t let myself either be weak or show weakness to my fellow Spartans. I was too exhausted both physically and emotionally. “Not now,” I told myself, “you need to make that leap.”

When we arrived, everyone was excited. Guys were standing on the roof and babbling all the way about the jump. The bravado was necessary, it helped them to pump themselves up a bit because the jump…the jump was indeed frightening. The building that was about 40 meters tall was promising 34 meters of free fall. With all this chatter around, I was sitting alone in the back in silence. I wasn’t thinking about the jump. I snapped out when someone called me by name. My turn.

On the previous day, Ed was demonstrating a correct low kick technique using me as a partner. Or should I say as a prop? My legs were dead. I couldn’t take a running jump, in fact, I could barely walk. I had to jump from the edge. I stepped to the edge, I looked down, and I felt it. Fear.

It was there, it was real, and it was paralyzing. I knew that the more I hesitate the more it grows. So, I didn’t. I heard the voice: “One! Two! Three! Go!” and jumped.

I can clearly remember the image of the fast-approaching ground and a single thought in my head: “That’s it. Now you will die”. It wasn’t even a thought, there wasn’t enough time for the thought to be worded. It was a flash of raw primal terror that pierced through the whole essence of my being rushing deep down to the bone marrow — an undeniable absolute knowledge of your own certain death.

Seconds later, even before my feet touched the ground, the sense of reality started to come back to me. I lived through the moment of surreal mind-altering experience. I felt the breath of death on my face. This memory remains one of the most precious memories of my life. That was as close to death as I had ever gotten to.

Closing ceremony.

On the evening of the third day, we were sitting in the dark conference hall waiting for what was going to happen next. Anton told us to bring mouthguards and boxing gloves for the closing ceremony. Some guys were whining about it: “What if we have to fight again?” “If we have to fight again, we’ll fight again,” I thought to myself, “after what we’ve been through a couple more punches won’t make much difference.” Suddenly, the door opened. Anton and Ed.

We were ready for the worst. Anton started to talk but the way he talked to us caught us off guard. His voice was completely different. It was warm, calming, and kind. His energy was like the one of a father.

I can’t remember the exact words he used because my brain refused to believe what he was saying. It took several seconds before his message finally sank in — he was letting us know that the training was over. We passed.

The crack inside me that I was so carefully sealing all day burst out. I finally let myself grieve over my uncle. The days we had family gatherings in his house, his welcoming smiling face, all of the warm childhood memories have flooded my mind. Anton invited everyone to open mic to share thoughts after 3 days and my fellow men were stepping up to talk. I was sitting on a chair with my eyes closed and tears were flowing down my face. Those who noticed them might have been thinking that I was overwhelmed and those tears were about Sparta. They weren’t. “Are you with us, Soul?” I heard Anton’s voice. I nodded. I had to get my shit together for one last mile.

“The training is finished,” Anton said, “now, I want to offer you a gift. It’s yours shall you accept it. You can either go home and rest or you can stay for one final practice. What do you choose?” Of course, everyone stayed.

What happened next appeared to become one of the most transformational experiences in my life. We turned off the light in the hall, coaches turned on the music, and Anton guided us into a deep trance. He initiated a regression to the time where we were traumatized. Five minutes in the exercise and I was crying again.

I was split into halves and turned inside out. All the pain and anguish, that were concealed within me without me being aware of it, rose like a tidal wave into an overwhelming tsunami. I sobbed violently. My body was shaking. It was a nerve storm. Hysteria. Incineration.

I don’t know how much time we spent in this state, maybe 30 minutes or more. When the exercise ended many guys were like me — drained, exhausted, and still in shock of how much pain that was conserved inside for years they had just vomited.

When we all calmed down Anton gathered us all in a circle. “Now, it is time for the best part of Sparta,” he smiled, “t-shirts and pictures.” We laughed.

Here is the picture from the last day. Our victory. Our triumph. Our Sparta.

After 30 minutes, I was sitting in the car of my friend-spartan who was driving me home watching through the window and feeling it.

Serenity

I was completely empty. I was calm. I was fearless. And I was happy. Yes, I was truly happy, maybe for the first time in my conscious life.

I still had the last words of Anton ringing in my ears: “Your Sparta didn’t end. It has just begun. Live your life bearing in mind what you learned during these 3 days. Live with no fear.”

When I came back home the first thing I’ve done was that I came up to my parents, I hugged them and said: “I love you, Dad. I love you, Mom. I love you both so much. I just want you to know it.”

When I went to another room, I heard them laughing behind the door: “What’s wrong with him today?” But I saw it in their eyes after I had said that I love them — they knew that nothing was wrong with their son. For the first time, in a very long time, something was finally right.

These are the lessons I learned from Sparta. They will forever live inside me.

Lesson #1. Face your darkest fears.

“Sparta” is a peeling machine. It exposes and strips off your bullshit layer by layer until you stand naked and completely vulnerable before the truth of who you really are. You are a being that was born a creative dreamer but got covered by the moss of your own shitty excuses that force you to settle down to a mediocre life. In the war for yourself, there is no place for self-pity. You’ve got to be ruthless. The weakness that hides within must capitulate to your fearsome resolve to manifest the best version of yourself. Facing your fears teaches you something important. It teaches you that in reality there are only two ways of living — either you conquer your fear or you live in it.

Lesson #2. A man is a sum of his choices.

After we finished the physical part of the second day, we had to move on to the next task immediately. One guy showed up late. When we asked him where he had been, he told us that he went home to take a shower. He left while there was a clear direction not to do so. Even though, he knew that all his teammates went straight to the next assembly point sweaty and dirty he still chose to do what was good for him. At that very moment I knew, he learned nothing even from a 10-hours drill and by the end of the training, he will have left empty-handed. He was a failure before “Sparta”, he remained a failure after.

Men don’t change unless they deliberately choose discomfort. Opting for what’s hard — that’s the only way to man up, that is the whole difference between a mind of a boy and a mind of a man. If you are doing things half-way, you are living your life half-alive.

Lesson #3. “I want” doesn’t work.

When you say “I want”, some part of you starts to believe that by vocalizing your goal you took an actual step toward its realization. It’s a mind-trap. Ditch the expression “I want”. Do not divulge your longings, keep your goals to yourself. Work in silence and let the materialized results speak for you post factum. Substitute “wanting” with a concept of Pure Intent — refuse to desire things, implement the mindset of readiness to simply go and take what’s already yours. Do not seek consolation in anticipation of what lies ahead of you. Whether or not the desired reality will have a physical manifestation is only defined by the strength of your intent and the factual actions.

Lesson #4. Tame the Inner Bitch.

The voice of the Inner Bitch is ever-present. Are you familiar with it?

  • “Don’t get up. Stay 5 more minutes in this warm cozy bed!”
  • “Skip the cold shower today! You will get sick!”
  • “Skip the gym today! You are overtraining! You need to rest! Let’s watch a movie and eat good food.”
  • “Finish this set! You did enough reps! That’s enough exercise for today, go home.”
  • “Don’t write today. Take a day off. Nothing will happen.”
  • “Stop working. Take a break. Let’s watch some YouTube.”

No matter what you do, chances are you won’t be able to get rid of this sabotaging self-talk. I know I can’t. The Inner Bitch always lived in me. Clearly, she doesn’t plan to vacate my head anytime soon but now I can see that between hearing her voice and listening to it lies a choice. There were times when her influence was so strong, she made me kneel before her falling victim to my weaknesses. Today I can shut her up in seconds.

By all means, I have not gained complete mastery over myself. I am still learning how to be more disciplined, more dedicated, more confident. Bettering oneself is a never-ending journey. I am grateful to “Sparta” for exposing the real face of the Inner Bitch. Now, when I hear her whining, I know that the only antidote against her toxic presence is absolute refusal to indulge in self-pity. In the words of Watchmen’s Rorschach: “Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.”

Lesson #5. If you don’t ask the answer is always “No”.

My experience of fetching 100$ in 5 minutes shifted the paradigm for many guys in our “Sparta” team. At the closing ceremony, one guy approached me. He hugged me and said: “Thank you for showing me that everything is possible.” These words are such a precious memory for me as they remind me that before proving it to others, I first had to prove it to myself.

You take a dive, you allow the life experience pass through you, you internalize the received knowledge, and it changes you — that is the only logical sequence of becoming something you’ve never been. Great things happen to those who show up, step up, speak up, and never give up.

Lesson #6. Limitations are only in your head.

The second day taught me all. There were countless moments when a thought: “I can’t do this anymore” had almost got the best of me and yet I stood up and did 10-times more. My will was pushing my body beyond the limits of what “the reasonable me” deemed possible.

One of the trainees was a scrawny young boy only 16 years of age who made it through the whole program, putting in work on par with fit men. He put many grown-ass guys into shame. I never heard a word of complaint from him while many of the big boys whined. He was more of a man than them because he at his young age understood something of vital importance: the way you hold yourself when the urge to give up is the strongest, that what defines you as a man.

Lesson #7. Service to others.

All money we collected on “Sparta” was donated to Almaty orphanages. After the training, I continued the charity work. In a short time I had before my departure to South Korea, I participated in the organization of three more charity events to collect money for the children’s oncological hospital. I learned so much from this experience.

Muhammad Ali once said: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” With that being true, serving others is not a high price to pay as what you learn along the way is far more valuable. Service to others is a way of self-education — you make sense of things that are impossible to learn in school. Making someone’s life easier fills you with gratitude for what you have. You learn that helping others feels good. You realize that a desire to help a fellow human being is not just a personality trait we occasionally encounter in others. It is encoded in our very nature. But most importantly, you learn that your journey on Earth is not about you.

The natural fabric of our lives, what we do, what’s done to us, and all the things we intend to bring to this world — everything, should we choose to accept it, can be not about us. It is in times when we come together and do things for one another that a sense of a higher purpose reveals itself. To be of service to others — that is the worthy reason to live.

Lesson #8. Love and Forgiveness

“Sparta” is not a military service squeezed into 3 days crash course. Its purpose is not desensitization and toughening of men. The purpose of “Sparta” is to show that the path of a man is a Path of Love.

A man must find his way to love himself, his family, his partner, his friends. He must find his own ways to protect his country, his community, and the whole of humanity. A path of a man is a tireless effort to manifest cosmic all-embracive omnipresent Love that exists within every living thing.

I am grateful to my mentors for showing me how to not be afraid to acknowledge the fact that I am the source of infinite love. Being hard as a bolt of lightning is not necessarily a strength and being soft as a lotus is not always a weakness. Thank you for teaching me that true strength is in balance.

Lesson #9. Here and Now.

Two Russian words on Anton’s left wrist say “Здесь и Сейчас” — “Here and Now”. They serve him as a personal reminder to stay present in the moment. This is what I teach myself to do.

“Sparta” made us feel alive. The physical pain we were going through was constantly holding us in the peak state of presence. We were hard pushed to keep our minds on the immediate reality. Forced to process an immense amount of incoming information, we discovered that staying present and finding strength to get through just one more moment of “torture” was the only option.

After “Sparta”, I started to practice meditation and it opened the whole new world for me. Through meditation, I learned more about myself than I ever knew before, I reached new levels of presence. “Sparta” showed me the way to the life of freedom.

Lesson #10. There is fear.

I asked the rope-jumping team if after hundreds of jumps they still feel fear. “The fear is always there,” they said, “It never goes away, you just learn how to control it.” I know what they meant, in the words of Mark Twain, “Courage is the resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.”

The tattoo on Anton’s back says “СТРАХА НЕТ” — “NO FEAR”. This is his message to those who follow him. When I asked Anton, what is the meaning behind the tattoo he said: “The danger is real. The fear is not. Every time you take a step into your fear, you will see that it is your very step that makes the fear retreat. Your fears never become a reality. Your horizon moves with you.”

I know what it feels like to overcome my fears but there is one fear I deliberately choose to live with.

Fear of being a mediocrity.

This fear is the driving force that sets me in motion. It wakes me up in the early morning, it pushes me through the pain of a workout, it throws me in the cold shower, it keeps me working when I am tired. It is my compass that always points in the direction of discomfort. My fear has become my fuel.

Lesson #11. Leave a legacy.

In Russian we say: “If you want to make God laugh tell him about your plans.” Similarly to many other pearls of Russian wisdom, this one has been frequently proved in practice. Most of the long-term plans I have made have never unfolded into projected scenarios. Whenever you make plans, rest assured that life will introduce its corrections.

However, there is one thing you can be certain about. One day you will die. Ask yourself: what will you leave after yourself? How will you be remembered? Whatever you do, wherever you are, live your own “Sparta”. Call it whatever you like — a way, a path, a mission. The name does not matter as long as you stay true to it.

I know, sometimes you feel like a tired lone warrior. You are not alone. Stay strong. Stay dedicated. Fear nothing and no one. Quoting the words of a Sir Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night.

Never.

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Thank you for reading my book “Meditations of the Millennial”.

If you want to support me on my mission, please, share this book with someone you love. Maybe they will find what they seek on its pages.

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