Henry Rollins’ Iron and the Soul

This essay by Henry Rollins was originally published in Details Magazine in 1994.

Iron and the Soul

By Henry Rollins

I believe that the definition of definition is reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself.


When I was young I had no sense of myself. All I was, was a product of all the fear and humiliation I suffered. Fear of my parents. The humiliation of teachers calling me “garbage can” and telling me I’d be mowing lawns for a living. And the very real terror of my fellow students. I was threatened and beaten up for the color of my skin and my size. I was skinny and clumsy, and when others would tease me I didn’t run home crying, wondering why. I knew all too well. I was there to be antagonized. In sports I was laughed at. A spaz. I was pretty good at boxing but only because the rage that filled my every waking moment made me wild and unpredictable. I fought with some strange fury. The other boys thought I was crazy.

I hated myself all the time. As stupid at it seems now, I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, carry myself with the ease of knowing that I wasn’t going to get pounded in the hallway between classes. Years passed and I learned to keep it all inside. I only talked to a few boys in my grade. Other losers. Some of them are to this day the greatest people I have ever known. Hang out with a guy who has had his head flushed down a toilet a few times, treat him with respect, and you’ll find a faithful friend forever. But even with friends, school sucked. Teachers gave me hard time. I didn’t think much of them either.

Then came Mr. Pepperman, my advisor. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class. Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard. Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no. He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn’t even drag them to my mom’s car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.

Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.’s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn’t looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing. In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn’t want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in.

Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn’t know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn’t say sh–t to me.

It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn’t want to come off the mat, it’s the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn’t teach you anything. That’s the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can’t be as bad as that workout.

I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn’t ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you’re not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.

I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone’s shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character. It is the difference between bouncers who get off strong-arming people and Mr. Pepperman.

Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.

Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body.

Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn’t see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads.

I prefer to work out alone. It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it’s some kind of miracle if you’re not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.

I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron Mind.

Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.

The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.

 From Ross Training

Hat tip to Carl Monster in the Community for this.

{ 147 comments… read them below or add one }

pool builders on Landscaping Oz September 16, 2013 at 1:56 am

545781 388407great post. Ne

mifi israel September 16, 2013 at 2:04 am

628398 339987Quite very good post, thanks a good deal for sharing. Do you happen to have an RSS feed I can subscribe to? 735577

fat loss factor September 16, 2013 at 4:24 am

913034 171970A person necessarily lend a hand to make severely posts I

work at home jobs September 16, 2013 at 5:52 am

795424 133373light bulbs are great for lighting the home but stay away from incandescent lamps because they create so a lot heat;; 582860

Quit your job September 17, 2013 at 8:21 pm

493151 860138I adore your wp design, wherever did you download it via? 339160

strength and conditioning, strength and conditioning programs, strength and conditioning workouts, strength & conditioning, click here, more, now, more info September 18, 2013 at 4:27 am

660008 627410I discovered your blog website on google and check a couple of of your early posts. Proceed to keep up the outstanding operate. I just extra up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. In search of ahead to studying extra from you in a whilst!

hcg diet September 18, 2013 at 9:08 am

319546 248047I

Reverse Osmosis Filter September 18, 2013 at 7:06 pm

772460 78910I admire the beneficial facts you offer inside your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and also have my children verify up here often. I

Gaastra kleding September 19, 2013 at 6:00 am

746871 818121Quite educating story, saved your internet site for hopes to read far more! 93966

Kikugarden.com September 19, 2013 at 6:47 am

263118 568594But wanna say that this is very helpful , Thanks for taking your time to write this. 958028

Source September 19, 2013 at 12:26 pm

899504 228346Hello. Cool write-up. There

jamey September 19, 2013 at 6:03 pm

917389 178772Spot lets start work on this write-up, I really believe this incredible website requirements additional consideration. I

Plano luxury custom design closets September 21, 2013 at 4:00 am

581510 30701I gotta bookmark this internet site it seems extremely helpful invaluable 79848

buy instagram followers cheap September 21, 2013 at 11:58 pm

565336 977351I also recommend HubPages itself, and Squidoo, which is related. 254727

lainat September 22, 2013 at 10:11 am

642936 455361Some truly quality posts on this web site , saved to favorites . 239041

Great Stuff September 22, 2013 at 6:25 pm

725688 285950I see something genuinely intriguing about your internet internet site so I saved to bookmarks . 708237

Nicholas Fasci September 23, 2013 at 9:31 am

440600 511623This internet internet site is my intake , real very good layout and perfect topic material . 788850

Psychic Readings September 23, 2013 at 11:04 am

536663 305663Some genuinely nice and utilitarian info on this web site , likewise I believe the style and design contains superb features. 20329

Buy Houses In Maryland September 23, 2013 at 11:25 am

220219 452645Outstanding post, I conceive men and women really should larn a good deal from this weblog its quite user friendly . 591954

Buy Maryland Homes September 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

166947 235070Some truly nice and utilitarian info on this web website , also I believe the style and design holds great functions. 871323

REI 360 September 23, 2013 at 6:48 pm

201094 888213Nice blog here! after reading, i decide to buy a sleeping bag ASAP 718958

www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5houvY1h3k September 23, 2013 at 9:48 pm

469282 455935Hi there, I identified your weblog by way of Google even though looking for 1st aid for a heart attack and your post looks quite intriguing for me. 979588

Obuvi September 24, 2013 at 12:13 am

508883 440750This is an outstanding article and I totally comprehend where your coming from in the third section. Perfect read, I

The Goodwood September 24, 2013 at 11:08 pm

740135 153469Oh my goodness! an incredible article dude. Thanks a ton However We are experiencing issue with ur rss . Don

WAKE UP NOW SCAM September 25, 2013 at 5:29 am

962420 598809I genuinely enjoy seeking by way of on this internet internet site , it holds superb articles . 180480

Click here September 25, 2013 at 9:24 am

580540 505163I will tell your friends to visit this site. .Thanks for the article. 194516

lactobacillus acidophilus probiotic review September 26, 2013 at 4:12 am

530755 3932Wohh exactly what I was looking for, regards for putting up. 523023

Alpha Lipoic Acid September 26, 2013 at 5:36 am

23592 189098I

kiku garden September 26, 2013 at 6:18 am

430841 137608I believe other internet site owners really should take this internet site as an example , quite clean and amazing user genial style . 446136

ตุ๊กตา September 26, 2013 at 7:46 am

67318 692820There is noticeably a bundle to know about this. I assume you produced certain good points in attributes also. 87075

ukulele September 26, 2013 at 8:04 am

4762 457638As a result you will call for ultra powerful online enterprise tips to maintain operating in acquiring into matters proper your incredible web-based function. MLM 579722

Password Reset Disk September 26, 2013 at 11:10 am

683523 60359I dugg some of you post as I thought they were really valuable handy 733508

muscle factor x nutrition facts September 26, 2013 at 11:48 am

508982 524486I got what you mean , saved to bookmarks , really decent web site. 435596

gain more twitter followers September 26, 2013 at 4:42 pm

96424 427129Some truly howling function on behalf with the owner of this site , dead excellent topic matter. 861133

listen to yoga nidra for sleep September 27, 2013 at 10:54 am

990372 366199Thrilled you desire sensible business online guidelines maintain wearing starting tools suitable for the certain web-based business. cash 289721

Buy Art September 27, 2013 at 2:19 pm

799906 626400if the buffalo in my head could speak german i would not know a god damm thing. What i do know is that the language of art is out of this world. 37937

jak se zbavit celulitidy September 27, 2013 at 4:24 pm

925190 196226some genuinely choice content material on this internet internet site , saved to my bookmarks . 479534

Fred Cedrick September 27, 2013 at 9:46 pm

962822 890394Some truly excellent articles on this internet site , thankyou for contribution. 92341

FL Lottery September 28, 2013 at 11:41 am

96726 688134I certainly did not comprehend that. Learnt one thing new today! Thanks for that. 574696

Day Trading September 28, 2013 at 11:41 am

610249 78067I like this post quite considerably. I will surely be back. Hope that I can go by way of far more insightful posts then. Will likely be sharing your wisdom with all of my pals! 522219

garcinia cambogia September 28, 2013 at 9:23 pm

411780 598203I really like forgathering utile info, this post has got me even more info! . 423472

360 Celsius your lifestyle magazine September 29, 2013 at 11:00 pm

690101 129787Intending start up a enterprise around the web involves revealing marketing plus items not only to ladies locally, yet somehow to several buyers who are web-based as a rule. e-learning 707129

junior resource stocks September 30, 2013 at 12:07 am

93283 919526

match.com promo codes October 1, 2013 at 2:15 pm

535971 475705some genuinely choice content material on this internet internet site , saved to my bookmarks . 595183

How To Make A Million Dollars In A Week October 1, 2013 at 2:44 pm

509621 83823There is noticeably a bundle to know about this. I assume you created certain nice points in functions also 837770

Discover More Here October 16, 2013 at 8:19 am

How goes it, well put together online site you’ve gotten presently.

Https://Www.Youtube.Com/Watch?V=OrGx1I1Iv68 April 20, 2014 at 12:31 am

We are a bunch of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
Your web site provided us with useful info to work on.
You’ve done an impressive process and our entire neighborhood will likely
be thankful to you.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: