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  • 12570 Mike Kennedy: Perspectives on Physical Fitness – Part II

12570 Mike Kennedy: Perspectives on Physical Fitness – Part II

Feature photo: “The Old Samurai” a.k.a. Mike Kennedy.

First of all, I would like to thank all of those took the time to post a comment for sharing their own perspectives on the article. Readers’ feedback is always of great interest to me, especially when the subject of discussion is one as important as physical fitness. Given the variety of comments that were posted, I’d like to take a few moments to respond to some of the points that were made, and share a few additional perspectives of my own.

Article by 12570 Mike Kennedy

Judging by the feedback received on last week’s article about the PPT test and its relevance, it would seem that my opinions struck a chord with at least some readers of e-Veritas. Comments were posted by a variety of readers, including the mother of a young man now at the College; several Ex-Cadets (one of who I understand is a former DCdts); and of course my old buddy of 40 years standing, Doug Southen, who was without doubt one of the most MEMORABLE seniors we had back during our recruit year of 1976-77.

As Doug Southen firmly asserts, there is no question that warriors need to be fit. The question is, in this day and age, what should be an appropriate and suitable way of ensuring that future warriors have the requisite level of fitness that they will need in combat? The same PPT test that has been in use at the College for nearly 50 years now does provide a certain basic set of benchmarks. But as I attempted to point out in my article, the test does have its limitations, and it is highly debatable whether some of the criteria are really relevant to the kinds of tasks that RMC graduates will be called on to perform once they are commissioned.

Doug also made the point that failure should have consequences. Again, that is most certainly true, not just with the PPT test, but also in a great many other situations in life. But the question that this raises is, what should be appropriate consequences? Should the act of failing a PPT test be an automatic career-killer?

I would argue not necessarily. I’d suggest it would be far more effective, and would much better serve the best interests of the Forces, to assess individual PPT failures on a case-by-case basis, and take the action that is most appropriate for the situation in question. This is where some informed judgment comes into play (I believe it is otherwise called “leadership”.)

Consider the case I mentioned of the champion swimmer who was released midway through his third year for failing the PPT test. This individual was only about a year away from graduation and commissioning. By all accounts, he had apparently fulfilled all of the other requirements of the program satisfactorily. A great deal of taxpayers’ money had already been invested in his education and training. When he went out the door, that investment (which was no small sum of money) went out the window with him.

The problem with this individual wasn’t that he was not fit; obviously, if he was unfit, he would never have been able to do what he did in the swimming pool. The problem was that he had unusually great difficulty with running, and the mile-and-a-half was what did him in. Had this guy been permitting to swim that component of the test (as we know, swimming is equally valid measure of cardiovascular capability as is running) his test scores would very likely have been off the charts.

But the inflexibility of the system 40 years ago wouldn’t permit it. Hence, for the sake of an inability to meet one arbitrary standard, this cadet’s time at RMC came to an abrupt and unhappy ending, and the Canadian Forces lost forever the benefit of whatever else he might have contributed over the course of his subsequent military career.

Is there not any better way of developing and training our future military leaders?

In my comments last week on the PPT test, I alluded to the fact that perhaps one of the biggest problems with the test itself is that it measures only certain types of things, and that the results achieved can, in certain circumstances, be somewhat misleading. I’d suggest that, in some cases at least, a cadet’s results can be as much a reflection of their understanding of how to perform the test events, and their overall state of mind, as their actual level of physical fitness. Allow me to relate an experience from my own time at RMC that may more fully illustrate the point I am trying to make.

About a month after I arrived at RMC in the late summer of 1976, I sprained my ankle quite badly. The injury was serious enough that I was scheduled to have surgery at National Defence Medical Centre (NDMC) at Christmas, which as things turned out was cancelled by my doctors literally at the very last minute. However, as a result of this setback, I had to wear a cast for about six weeks, and was directed not to participate in sports or physical training for several months.

When my medical restrictions were finally lifted, I went back and attempted the PPT test in March of 1977. It was an event that I looked forward to with considerable anxiety, not having any clue as to how I would likely perform. As it turned out, the results were a disaster – I bombed the test, badly. It was a terribly embarrassing moment in my RMC career, and one that left me seriously wondering whether I would be able to carry on at the College.

Luckily, I wasn’t kicked out over that debacle, which I suppose is something that could have been a very real possibility. I was, however, required to participate in remedial PT sessions, which back in those days carried a pretty big stigma for cadets unlucky enough to find themselves in that situation. But the really remarkable thing was, when I went back again only about a month later to re-attempt the test, my score the second time around increased dramatically – by over 100 points. (It would actually have been more, but I recall doing two chin-ups for which I wasn’t given credit)

Did  a few weeks of training really result in such a dramatic improvement in my overall level of physical fitness ? Maybe, then again, maybe not. Reflecting back now, when I went into the second test, I had a much better sense of how to perform certain of the events, and was in a correspondingly more relaxed state of mind. My test scores apparently showed it, and I recall being pleasantly surprised by the improvement that was achieved. I didn’t realize it at the time, but maybe this was just one more illustration of the “measurable improvement” that takes place in test results over time.

There’s another question relating to this whole issue that goes through my mind. That is, it’s all well and good to meticulously test people for physical fitness, presumably with the goal of ensuring that they are sufficiently fit to perform well in combat. But assuming they pass muster on the fitness test, what should we/could we be doing to teach them how to actually fight ?

Again, allow me to relate some observations from my own personal experiences that may put this question into somewhat greater perspective for readers.

Shortly after submitting my earlier article, I spent one Saturday acting as a volunteer at the Peel Region Judo Tournament. This is an annual competition that brings together judo practitioners from all over Ontario, ranging in age from young children to adults who in some cases are in their 40s or even 50s. Through a series of round-robin bouts that last throughout the day, the winners in each class of competitors are determined.

The competitors in the more senior age groups tend to be higher-ranked judoka, typically those who are either already have attained their black belts, or those who hold a brown belt, which is one level below the black. Watching the matches that take place, the fighting invariably gets pretty intense, as participants grapple furiously for an advantage, and relentlessly seek the ippon (a powerful, cleanly-executed throw) that gains them a decisive win over their opponents.

Walk into any high-level judo tournament, and you’ll see a wide range of ages and body types on the mats. But the one thing all competitors share in common is, they have to be pretty fighting fit (not to mention also highly skilled and determined) just to be able to go all out and survive, let alone win over an equally motivated and tenacious opponent. Watching the various fights, which involved some pretty impressive judo, I wondered how our cadets might fare if they had to go one-on-one with some of these people. I suspect that in a great many cases, even those who might have aced their PPT test at RMC would have had to be carried off the mats on a stretcher.

And yes, that is me in the photo you see with this article, wearing my brown belt. I started judo late in life (in my early 40’s) and now closing in on 60, I’ve got no illusions of ever being a high-level competitor. But in the 17 years I have now been doing judo, I have gained enormous value from my practice of the art. (See “Commando Training at Age 58” for more detail). And I would dearly love to see a quality martial arts program made widely available at RMC, as I believe it would be a great way to prepare our aspiring military leaders for the physical and emotional challenges they may later encounter on a real-life battlefield.

The debate about the relative merits and drawbacks of the PPT test is a subject I am sure we’ll hear a lot more about in the months and years to come. One might very legitimately argue that the standard set by the test, however arbitrary and flawed it might be, is a lot better than having no standard at all. Maybe so. But my point is, maybe the time has come to start looking at the bigger picture. In this day and age, there are many different ways in which people can strive to develop and maintain a reasonable level of fitness. Let’s not allow our thinking to be restricted by stubbornly clinging to time-honoured practices for no other reason than they represent what we have always felt familiar and comfortable with in the past.

And for record, my own personal best time on the mile-and-a-half, which was the subject that started this whole discourse, was 9 minutes 46 seconds, recorded almost exactly 40 years ago at this time in Borden, during the first week of May 1977. (This not even two months after my PPT disaster at RMC). It wasn’t a record-shattering result, I will admit, but I think it was certainly a perfectly acceptable one. And by the Canadian Forces’ standards of the day, that time was good enough to earn an “Excellent” fitness rating for men in my age group.

I guess those 133 circles Doug and his classmates gave me during my recruit year must have done some good after all !

 

4 Comments

  • Sandi MacDonald

    April 10, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Another good article Mike. I am the mother of the second year cadet. I am going to add a couple of points I did not include initially. My undergrad degree is P.Ed(Hon.), so being active has always been a personal lifestyle, as well as active in various sports. I love the emphasis RMC has on fitness. Many gyms and trainers are now using the military Obstacle Course types of activities for overall fitness of clients. That is a feather in your cap, I would say! I was also going to add, my son was his squadron leader for the obstacle course. He kept it secret to surprise us at the presentations. We were so proud, and so was he. He told us how he planned where to start and why, lots of problem solving and leadership. The next part of the story is the PPT. He did not pass because of 2 push ups deemed inappropriate. And yes, he had to get up at 5:30 for the extra training. That is when we learned also about the possibility of loosing all RMC recognition if not passed in later years. As an outsider, this seems unbelievable. In fact, I really had a hard time believing it to be true. Could 2 push-ups seriously derail a career??And, after witnessing the Obstacle Course, did that not prove the cadets in pretty good shape?As a mother, of course, mother bear comes out, but as a tax payer, seems a horrible waste at many levels.
    Having stated this, there is no argument whatsoever from me that fitness is a needed piece of the overall RMC graduate. A fit body is a key component in times of stress, overall well being and alertness. Like you Mike, it is the instrument doing the measuring.

  • Mike Kennedy #12570

    April 10, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Dear Sandi:
    Thank you for your most recent post, and for bringing your son’s situation to our collective attention.
    First of all, congratulations to your son on being selected as squadron leader for the obstacle course. That is a significant honour, and to be selected, he must have demonstrated some real leadership qualities very early on in the game. Undoubtedly a lot more than I did when I was a recruit 40 years ago ! Clearly, he is a young man who must have a great deal of potential to be a valuable asset to the Canadian Forces, so all of us wish him well in his future career.
    With respect to his situation with the PPT test, you are absolutely right. To suggest that a difference of precisely TWO pushups can mean the difference between someone being “fit” versus “unfit” is absolutely ludicrous. It defies common sense. From what you have told us, your son is undoubtedly perfectly fit, and probably a lot more so than a great many other people who are now serving in the Canadian Forces.
    I remember my old platoon commander at BOTC in Borden in 1977. He was an overweight, clearly out-of-shape Captain who for reasons no one could figure out had been pulled off some desk job in Halifax to instruct on BOTC. I remember him trying to take the platoon on morning runs; what seemed like an easy jog for us was a pace he could barely keep up with. Had he ever attempted to run the mile-and-a-half with the platoon, I suspect he would have fallen flat on his backside. Why the Canadian Forces ever put people like this in front of impressionable teenage officer cadets just beginning their training, I will never understand. Hardly an inspiring figure of physical fitness, but back in those days, there was no shortage of obviously unfit people serving in the CF. And the amazing thing was, many of them just did not seem to care.
    I am sure that with the passing of time your son will have no difficulty meeting all the required standards at RMC, and will very likely make an RMC graduate and commissioned officer we can all be proud of. That being said, should you or any other parents have continued concerns about the PPT test, or about any other component of the education and training at RMC, I would encourage you to take your concerns to your Member of Parliament, and request him or her to raise them with the Minister.
    I hope it will be understood that as Ex-Cadets, we know from our own experiences just how demanding life at the College can be at times. We expect the cadets to work hard and perform well, just as we ourselves were expected to do. But we also want nothing but the best for them, and we want your son and his contemporaries to get the most out of the time at the College. RMC is a profoundly life-changing place for anyone who has the guts to march in through the Arch, and in my view at least, as Ex-Cadets it is our responsibility to do everything we can to encourage and mentor young cadets like your son, and help them realize their potential.
    Should you wish to discuss your son’s situation directly with me, you are welcome to contact me. Please contact Bill Oliver at the RMC Club and he will provide you with my contact information.
    Again, congratulations to your son for everything he has achieved thus far. Please remind him that any difficulties he may have encountered with the PPT test are but a temporary setback, and we all had them at one point or another. (Like for example the guy who got 11% in calculus, but still graduated with his degree in history, and later became a fine infantry officer) We know your son will make it, and will do well both at RMC and in his life after the College. And we hope that your son and his contemporaries will remember that the Ex-Cadets are proud of them, and will always be there to cheer them on. Just like the old boys did for us !
    Thanks for writing, and keep us posted on your son’s progress.

    Best wishes,

    Mike

  • Sandi MacDonald

    April 18, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Hi Mike
    Wow..thanks for your personal response. I really appreciate it. We are very proud of our son. And he is so proud to be at RMC. Frankly, I am in awe of all cadets who choose this path and persevere.
    I am encouraged by people like you who are taking a stand. Thank you for that. I am also encouraged by the Military/RMC making changes. That takes courage.
    Most sincerely…thank-you!

  • Mike Kennedy #12570

    April 19, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    Hi, Sandi:
    My pleasure, glad if I was able to help. Your son sounds like a fine young man and I am sure that if he keeps working at it he will be successful in all aspects of his training at RMC, and in his future military career. We the Ex-Cadets are equally proud of young men and women who are now at the College, and we are behind them 100%.
    Remember too that more than anything else your son owes his success to the guidance and support he received from his parents. It was as a result of your efforts that he has become the person he is today. You have given your country a fine young Canadian, and in that respect, you too have rendered enormously valuable service to our nation.
    Thanks for writing, keep us posted, and best wishes from all the Ex-Cadets.

    TDV,

    Mike

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