I’ve known Commander Mark Divine for almost a decade, and he’s as solid as they come. I had a chance to do a quick Q&A with him about his new book, 8 WEEKS TO SEAL FIT, and dig a little deeper into his training philosophy and personal background.
1. Before joining the SEALs, you worked on Wall Street as a CPA. What inspired this dramatic career shift?
I started a martial art that had a deep focus on meditation, which began to re-wire my mind a bit. Over the course of a year or so I began to see and feel like I was out of alignment in my life – meaning, more simply, that I was not in the right place doing what I was meant to do. I was waking up to this awareness that I was inspired to be a warrior and leader, and that I was not meeting that purpose as a CPA.
So I began to think seriously about making a dramatic change and tossing out the MBA and CPA and joining the Navy as a SEAL officer. It was a bold move that met with little approval on the home front, but it proved to be the right move and I never looked back.
2. How did you go from being a SEAL to getting into designing fitness programs? What were the biggest challenges when making this transition?
I was hired by the US Navy to create a mentoring program for SEAL and other Navy Special Ops candidates in 2006. The program was very successful, but I was limited in what I could actually do with the candidate trainees – there was no experimentation allowed and our hands were pretty tied.
So I decided to start a program where I could develop a model that would combine best practices from my SEAL physical training, the new model of CrossFit that Coach Glassman had evolved, and my martial arts and yoga training. The result was the integrated development programs I call SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind. SEALFIT is for warrior and endurance athletes, and Unbeatable Mind is for anyone who wants to learn to think and perform at an elite level without having to be a physical stud.
3. In your experience training Navy SEAL candidates, what seems to be the make or break point for recruits?
Two things: first is mental toughness. Mental toughness is an obscure concept, though, and can be different for different folks. Proper functional training and being strong have a lot to do with being mentally tough. So does familiarity with the elements being challenged, or faced. Being a good teammate and not going it alone are also important elements. So candidates who come with all of these already developed tend to fare very well.
The second thing that makes or breaks a SEAL trainee is emotional resiliency, the ability to bounce back quickly after an upset. And SEAL instructors are masters at creating uncertainty and upset! So can the trainees develop thick skin and grit, can they always find the lesson in the setback, can they maintain optimism and a forward focus, or do they fall back and lick their wounds.
These are crucial skills that I try to teach in the book, 8 Weeks to SEALFIT, and through my training programs.
4. You talk about the Kokoro (warrior) spirit. What is the Kokoro spirit and how can one cultivate it?
Kokoro spirit is a warrior spirit where you connect with your heart and learn to use your mind wisely. It can literally mean to merge your heart and mind into your actions. Warriors are fully integrated when they master themselves – that means that they are physically, mentally, emotionally, intuitionally and spiritually strong and aligned.
When operating out of this paradigm, the heart and belly become valuable aspects of the warrior’s mental self – he or she does not just try to think their way out of challenges, but they think, see, feel and imagine their way through with their team. That is what it means to have kokoro spirit.
5. What are some challenges facing veterans as far as keeping in shape once they are out of the service?
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing vets is lack of direction and a sense of not having a team at their side and back anymore. SEALFIT is a team-based program and the athletes who do SEALFIT training with a team have the same sense of camaraderie and team spirit that elite military operators experience. This can be very profound if it is the first such experience, and for vets, it re-connects them with that critical aspect of their military experience.
Another challenge is that the military had an institutional need to keep their members fit – it made them better fighters and teammates. In the civilian world, there is little institutional drive to keep the workforce fit and healthy – that is left to the individual and the broken health care system. So those vets who did not internalize a training mentality and migrate that to the civilian sector find themselves without the support systems (base gyms, team training sessions, mandatory testing, etc.) that they had in the military, and they fall off the treadmill.
6. What is it about the SEALFIT athlete that makes him or her unique?
SEALFIT is a character development program that uses physical training as a primary tool for forging a strong ethos of discipline, drive, determination, honorable integrity, trust, teamwork and leadership. Quite frankly, the trainees become better people when they train consistently with SEALFIT because we ask them to step up to a higher standard of training, thinking, and acting, and then to step out to be a sheepdog and serve their families and communities better.
It is a lifestyle more than a fitness program in this respect.
7. You talk a lot about the unbeatable mind. What is the unbeatable mind, and why is it important to this program?
Whereas SEALFIT training uses physical tools to forge mental toughness and emotional resiliency, as well as the character traits described above, Unbeatable Mind uses mental and somatic tools drawn from my many years of martial arts, yoga and energy practices. So we use breathing, meditation, visualization and a powerful belief system to develop elite performance in any domain (not just physical). We do this by re-wiring the subconscious patterns and nervous system of the trainees so they can enter a flow state at will and find more meaning in their training and life.
8. What is the most grueling physical challenge you’ve ever faced? How did your training prepare you for it?
Hell week, where we trained around the clock for 6 days, was grueling, but in reality I found operating as a SEAL to be more challenging than the training program to become a SEAL. This is because the risk is so much higher and the checks and balances of the training command are not there to catch you if you screw up.
There were many times I was so excruciatingly cold that I wanted to throw in the towel on an operation, then when I finally got through it and had a warm cup of coffee and a binky I was able to laugh it off and convince myself it wasn’t that bad! That was resiliency in action and it kept me and my teammates in the game over long periods of hardship.
Trust me when I say that what you see in the movies makes SEAL operations look like boy scout camp (with the sole exception of Lone Survivor, an excellent and very real depiction of a SEAL mission).
9. What can the average person expect to take away from the SEALFIT program?
Nobody is average – everyone has the potential to achieve at least 20 times what they think they can. The first thing they will take away is the confidence to know that this statement is a fact and not just a marketing line. Next, they will develop a love for training their mind and body that will re-orient their entire life. Finally, they will learn to strive for excellence in every thing they do, every day, and will inspire others to do the same.
10. You’ve trained thousands of athletes and military professionals. What does it take to reach this elite level of physical and mental toughness?
It takes the commitment to start, the discipline to train daily, weekly and monthly for the rest of your life, and the determination to stay the course even when you hit the inevitable bumps in the road. Anyone who has some physical aptitude can do SEALFIT. If a person is not ready for the hard charging Operator WODs, then they can start by scaling, adapting and modifying exercises to fit their particular situation.
SEALFIT is not a rigid training program where you have to do the workouts of the day exactly as prescribed day in and day out. It is better to use the principles, tools and methods to build a powerful training regimen that you can do with a team, and alone when necessary, that will keep you inspired for the long haul. In this way, SEALFIT is being used by special ops units on the one hand, and husband and wife teams on the other.
Setting a goal to attend a SEALFIT Academy, a 20X Challenge or Kokoro Camp, are great ways to get started and begin your training with an event that will deepen the skills and accelerate your growth.
Hooyah! – Coach Mark Divine