The 3 days that changed my life forever.
The name of the man that you see in the picture is Anton Rudanov aka Anton Britva and he is the founder of the best training program for men in Russia— “Sparta”.
“Britva” in Russian means “razor blade”. He gained this nickname back in the days when he was an active participant in an underground Moscow fight club. At that time he started to think about the club of men who wanted to become stronger. They were gathering in basements and training hard focusing on the mental strength and resilience. This was the start of the “Sparta”.
Today Sparta is a 3-days intense coaching and training program that doesn’t have analogs in the west. It is designed specifically for men, that is, no women can participate in it.
It was a long journey to find myself one day sitting among the men who came to become Spartans, but first things first.
I was methodically destroying my life since the age of 14. I was a weak “fat skinny” loser and sucked at the relationships. I became an alcoholic. I became a cigarette addict. I became a junkie.
After years of such lifestyle, I fell so low that I almost hit the bottom. I saw it. I knew that I had two choices: I either crawl my way back to the normal life or I will die miserably in some dirty motel. I chose the former.
I started to exercise slowly eradicating my weaknesses one by one. In 2011 I sort of got my shit together. At least, I thought I did. I was finishing my Masters, working out regularly, quit smoking, drinking less and finally overcame my chronic depression.
In fall 2012 I sent my documents to GIST university to start my Ph.D. in South Korea. Something went wrong with the mail delivery. My package arrived 2 days after the deadline. The documents were saved in the archive and I had to reapply one semester later.
I was mad. It meant that I had to stay in Kazakhstan for a half year more. I thought I was wasting my time. At that time I couldn’t imagine that the latemail delivery will change my life.
I decided to focus on self-development until I depart. I was a tenacious seeker looking for different ways to improve myself.
In June 2013 I found the Sparta.
Back then I knew nothing about it and about Anton. I just saw his profile and I thought that the man is living a dream and working hard to achieve his goals. I knew that he is running a coaching program but I had a very little idea of what it is.
Originally exclusively Russian training program Sparta arrived in Almaty for the first time.
I was broke at that time so I called several relatives and friends to borrow the money for the program. I was determined to pass it no matter what.
On the next day, I found out that the organizers posted an ad about the contest for the free participation in the training. The guy who will get the maximum reposts for the ad will get a free ticket.
It was a sign. In 48 hours I have collected 247 reposts, leaving the 2nd guy behind me with just less than 40.
The training 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 what the whole show is about because in fact even the precise insider’s information won’t help anyone as the point of Sparta is to live it through and get the life-changing experience.
Day 1. The Feedback.
When I arrived I was one of the thirty guys who came to make themselves stronger. The atmosphere was light, we were introducing ourselves to each other, people were making jokes and laughing. Trainers were late so we had enjoyed our carefree mood for quite some time.
And then came Britva.
It was like in those cliche cowboy movies. The guy comes into a bar and everyone knows that whatever happens next is not going to be nice.
Anton has a gravity. A huge presence. When he enters the room everyone can feel it. I was surprised to see a person who has such strength to him that it is physically sensible but at that day I met two of them.
Another coach who came in with Anton. Huge, bold guy. Looking like an ex-military (which he is) and the look in his eyes was saying that you don’t want to find a trouble with this guy.
Ed. Ed Halilov. He is a beast. Tremendously strong physically and mentally. I was lucky to have him as my coach because soon after the Sparta in Almaty he started his own new project The Science of Victory which I dream to pass one day.
When they started to talk the room filled with silence.
The first day of Sparta is the day of talking. Or should I say, the day of the honest feedback? Very honest feedback. It was rough.
The coaches set several experiments to show us what was wrong with our mindsets and what we were made of. We passed exercises that were very insightful personally for me as they revealed that I was full of shit. I clearly saw how many things were simply not working inside of me.
At the start of the first day, we had to choose our codenames for the period of the training. I chose the codename “Soul”. I wanted it to be a reminder for me and for others that the way we overcome whatever hardships that wait for us during the training program is a result of the work of the spirit, not the body.
I couldn’t even imagine how close to the truth I was.
Day 2. The Inner Bitch.
The second day started at 6 am. We arrived at the gym at 7 am and the drill has begun.
I was working out for about two years prior to Sparta, and I considered myself physically competent, but that training program was hard. It was the most physically intense thing I’ve ever done in my life. The whole training lasted over 10 hours.
There were many moments times when some of us wanted to give up — the moments when we all met the Inner Bitch. Many guys said afterward that the voice of the Inner Bitch was loud and strong: “Don’t do it anymore. Give up. Please make it stop.” Yet we all kept going. We all thought the same:
At the end of the day, we were exhausted. Physically and emotionally drained we finished the training just to find out that the next task was waiting for us right away.
Our next assignment was to collect a certain sum of money and not by our contributions but by collecting donations from the people on the streets. We also couldn’t tell anyone that this was part of the training.
We couldn’t close the objective until the midnight deadline so Anton gave us time until 6 am next morning. We were a team of 30 people divided into 4 smaller groups and each group had to collect additional 5000 Kazakhstan Tenge (KZT)— about 40$ at that time.
It was 1 am in the night. Where could you possibly find people on the streets and get the rest of the money at this time? Our groups split so we could work faster. My guys were depressed.
“I have an idea,” I said and I took my group to one of the most luxurious restaurants in the city.
“Please, stay in the car,” I asked my guys “I will do it myself”.
I walked alone into the restaurant. Dirty clothes, a black eye, limping on one leg, I approached one of the tables where 4 Kazakh guys were having a party. I chose the target right, all of them were in their mid-40s, and apparently very rich.
“Gentlemen,” I started “may I have a minute of your attention.”
They stared at me suspiciously.
“Every now and then I and my friend play a game. One of us has to pass a challenge. Today my challenge is to collect 1000 Euro of donations. Rules say that I can’t contribute a penny myself. I almost closed my goal.” I showed them the thick pack of money (I was the one holding the bank for the whole team) and continued “all I need is 5000 KZT to close my goal. Would you, guys, help me out?”
They stared at me surprised trying to understand if I was lying or not.
One guy nodded at the pack of cash 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 drilling me with their eyes. The tension was physically sensible.
A minute later I closed the door of the car and handed the other guys a bill. A hundred bucks.
Their emotions were only comparable with the size of their eyes: “How the fuck did you do that?”
“Let’s go sleep. Tomorrow is an important day.”
Day 3. The Fear of Death
7:00 am sharp we gathered to depart to our last assignment.
No. It is not the jumping rope in the gym.
It is a jumping from the roof of the building with a rope attached to your torso.
On our way to the building my Mom called me: “Uncle Radik passed away last night”.
Something cracked inside me.
I knew my uncle (my Dad’s elder brother) since childhood.
I felt that something started to leak inside my heart. I couldn’t let myself cry. I couldn’t afford to be weak neither I could show weakness to others. I was too exhausted physically and emotionally. “Not now,” I told myself “you need to make that jump.”
The guys were excited, babbling all the way on the roof about the jump. They needed this bravado to pump themselves up a bit. The jump was scary. The building was more than 40 meters tall, so the jump itself was about 34 meters of free fall.
I was silent all the way thinking about a different thing. I was almost the last one to take the leap.
When I looked down I physically felt fear. My legs were dead after Ed kindly shared the correct low kick technique with me on the second day. I couldn’t run out to gain the momentum like other guys did so I had to jump from the edge.
During the fall, I experienced the fear of death. That was as close as I ever got to it.
A thought piercing the brain so fast that it was not even formulated as words. It was just a possessing sensation in my body: “that’s it, you will die now.”
Seconds later, even before my feet touched the ground I started to feel that the sense of normality was coming back to me. I lived a mere moment when the experience was surreal.
In the evening of the third day, we were sitting in the dark room waiting for what was going to happen next.
Anton told us to bring mouthguards and boxing gloves for closing. Many guys were worrying about it: “What if we have to fight again?”
“If we have to fight again,” I said “we will fight again. A couple of punches more don’t make a difference after the second day.” I was too tired to be annoyed.
Suddenly, the door had opened. Anton and Ed.
Anton started to talk. We were wowed. The energy was completely different. It was warm and kind, their energy was like the one of a father.
I don’t remember what he was talking about but he was letting us know that the training was over. He invited the guys to open mic to share with others what they learned in 3 days. We passed.
The crack inside that I was stopping out all day burst.
I let myself to mourn over my uncle. All the days we visited him in his house, all of the warm childhood memories suddenly resurfaced themselves. I was sitting on a chair with my eyes closed and the tears were flowing down. Others thought that it was about Sparta. It wasn’t.
“Are you with us, Soul?” I heard Anton’s voice.
“The training is finished,” Anton said “Now, I want to give you a gift. It’s up to you to accept it. You can either go home and rest or you can stay for one final exercise. What do you choose?”
Of course, everyone stayed.
What happened next is that we turned off the light in the hall and did a collective trance exercise, a regression to inner child that was traumatized long time ago. 5 minutes in the exercise and I just burst into tears again.
I was turned inside out. The sea of pain, I had no idea existed hidden deep inside of me, opened wide and transformed into an overwhelming tsunami. I sobbed violently. My body was shaking. It was a hysteria. A nerve storm. An incineration.
The whole thing lasted around 30 minutes.
When it was finished many guys were like me, still in shock of how much pain that was conserved inside for years we had just vomited. It took us some time to calm down.
“Now is the time for the best part of Sparta,” Anton smiled “t-shirts and pictures.”
This is the picture from the last day. Our victory. Our triumph. Our Sparta.
When my spartan-friend was driving me home I was watching through the window and feeling it.
I was completely empty. I was calm. I was fearless. And I was happy. Truly happy. Maybe for the first time in my life.
I still had the last words of Anton ringing in my ears: “Your Sparta isn’t done. It’s just started. Live your life remembering what you’ve been through these 3 days.”
When I came back home the first thing I did was that I went to my parents, I hugged them and I 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 their laughter and them saying “what’s wrong with him today” behind the door but I saw it in their eyes when they looked at me — they knew that something for the first time in a very long time wasn’t wrong with their son.
Something was finally right.
Lessons of Sparta
These are the things that I learned on Sparta and they will forever live inside me:
A man is a total sum of his choices
After we finished the physical part of the second day our task was to head to the next assignment together and immediately.
One guy showed up late.
When we asked him where he had been, he said: “I went home to take a shower”.
At that moment I knew, he learned nothing even after a 10 hours drill. He was a fuckup before coming to Sparta, he is a fuckup still, he will stay a fuckup after.
Men don’t change if they don’t deliberately choose discomfort. The attitude makes the difference.
If I choose to perform half-way, I live half-dead.
Being a leader is a choice.
Stepping up, speaking up, taking responsibility for the team bank, supporting others when they want to give up, those were my choices.
No one is born a leader, being a leader is a result of conscious choice.No one is ready for the storm when it is coming. You are ready when you step in it.
I stepped on the mastery of a very simple way of living:
Do what you have to do, with what you have, where you are and let whatever happens to happen.
“I want” doesn’t work.
When you say “I want” some part of you starts to believe that you have already accomplished the desired. Ditch “wanting’. Don’t share your goals with anyone. Work in silence and let the success be your noise.
I substituted my “I want” with a Pure Intent — a feeling of readiness to own and to take actions. Strong intent — not “wanting” shapes your reality and changes your destiny.
Listen to your Inner Bitch.
I hear her voice all the time:
- “No, please, stay 5 more minutes in this warm cozy bed”.
- “Don’t get under the cold shower. Let’s stay under the blanket.”
- “Let’s skip the gym today. You need to rest. Let’s watch a movie and eat good food.”
- “Stop! You did enough reps! You worked out hard enough today. Let’s go home.”
- “Stop working, let’s take a break. Let’s watch some YouTube.”
- “Break your fast. Eat something tasty. You did well enough.”
- “Don’t write today. Take a break, man”.
I can’t get rid of her voice. The Inner Bitch always lived in me, and probably always will. But now I can feel the difference.
There were times when she was so strong that she made me kneel before her indulging in my weaknesses. Today I can shut her up in seconds.
I am still learning how to be more disciplined, more dedicated, more confident. I am grateful to Sparta for showing me the real face of the Inner Bitch. When I hear her bitching, I keep reminding myself of the words of Rorschach:
If you don’t ask the answer is always no.
The story how I made 100$ in 5 minutes twisted brains of many guys in my Sparta team. On 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 first of all I had to learn this truth myself. Great things happen to those who show up, step up, speak up and never give up.
Limitations are only in my head.
The second day taught me all. There were many moments when I thought: “I can’t do it anymore” and yet I stood up and did 10 times more. My mind was pushing my body to exceed the limits of what I thought was physically possible.
There was a skinny young boy who was only 16 years old who made it to the end, working on par with fit men all the way. I never heard him complaining. He made many older guys feel ashamed.
Service to others
All money that we collected on Sparta were directed to the Almaty orphanages. After the Sparta, I didn’t stop. In a short time that I had before departing to Korea, I had organized 3 more volunteer events to collect money for the kids in an oncological hospital.
Helping others teaches you the things you will never learn in school. It teaches you how to be grateful for what you have. It teaches you that when it is possible to be kinder you should be, and it teaches you that it is always possible to be kinder. It teaches you that helping others feels exceptionally good, so good that you understand that service to others is encoded in our very nature. But most importantly you learn that
It is not about you.
The whole life. What we do, what we can do, what is done to us is not about ourselves. When we are together doing things for each other we find a sense of a higher purpose. When we serve others we live a righteous life — a life of a virtue.
Love and Forgiveness
Sparta is not like an army. It is not about making men tough and emotionless. Quite the opposite.
Sparta is about Love. It is about finding the way to love yourself, to love your family, to love your partner and your friends. It is about the love towards your country, your community, and the whole humanity. It is about cosmic universal all-embracive Love that is present in everything and everywhere.
Thank you, Sparta, for teaching me how not to shy away from love.
Sparta taught me that a real man is neither hard as a lightning nor soft as a lotus. A real man is both.
Live Here and Now.
Anton has another tattoo. The left wrist says “Здесь“ and “Сейчас” — “Here” and “Now”. They serve him as a personal reminder to stay present in the moment.
Sparta made us feel alive. Having a cutting-edge presence was the only way to keep up with rapidly changing challenges and cope with the moments of immense pain.
After the Sparta, I started to practice meditations that in 4 years taught me more about myself that I ever knew before.
Living in the moment without being dragged by negative memories of the past or illusory worries of the future is a skill completely attainable by everyone.
Sparta opened the door to the present moment for me and meditations taught me how to enter the space behind it. I was knocking the door all my life to finally find out that I was knocking from the inside. I awakened.
There is fear
The tattoo on the back of Sparta’s leader says “СТРАХА НЕТ” means “NO FEAR” and this is the message to all of the followers behind his massive back.
I learned what is the real meaning that stands behind this tattoo.
When I asked the rope jumping team who were organizing the jumps if after hundreds of jumps they still feel fear. “The fear is always there. It never goes away. You just learn how to control it,” was the answer.
When I asked Anton, he said: “The danger is real. The fear is not. When you make a step forward to the place where your fear was before it dissipates. Your horizon moves with you.”
There are two ways of living — you either conquer your fear or you live in it.
I conquered many of my fears but I chose to have one.
A fear of living a mediocre life.
This is the thing that makes me move. It makes me wake up early, it makes me push through pain in the gym, it makes me stand under cold water in the morning, and keep working when I am tired. My fear became my fuel. This fear became stronger than a fear of death. Anton used to often say
Memento mori, my friend.
Remember about death.
There is only one thing you can be certain about. One day you will die.
What will you leave after yourself? How will you be remembered?
Whatever you do, wherever you are, you must be living your own Sparta. It’s a way, a path, a mission. You may give it any name you want but what’s true about it is that sometimes you might feel like a tired lonely warrior. You are not alone.
Stay strong. Stay true. Stay dedicated. Fear nothing and no one. And as Dylan Thomas once wrote:
Do not go gentle into that good night.