New generation and old generation athletes haven’t always mixed well, be it in the surfing community, the cycling community, and in this case, the climbing community.

Sure, we share the same passion that for many reaches obsession, but there still lies tension. There’s still at times a lack of …I’m just going to say it, love, between the two generations. If a 24-year-old climber, be they new to the sport or a world class climber, and a 44-year-old climber, be it a doobie-smoking Yosemite climber from the 60’s or one of the first record-setting speed climbers both share the same passion, love, obsession for climbing, then why the tension? Where is the love?

But, this is not always the case. In fact, there’s much the two groups can learn from one another. The Sensei takes us along for the ride as climbers, Danield Woods of the younger generation, and Yuji Hirayama of the older generation, venture out to Malaysia’s Mount Kinabulu as they join forces on two of the most difficult climbs of their lives.

I had a chance to sit down and talk to Woods at the film’s premier here in Boulder, Colorado. We talked and sipped our local UpSlope beer before the event as over 1,000 climbing addicts awaited entrance, and he shared with me a few of the most important lessons he and Yugi experienced on their quest.

The first is much of why the film was titled The Sensei. Woods, at the age of 24 and of a new school generation of climbers, is full of focus, determination, and a fire to complete each project he sets his mind to, no ifs ands or buts. But that simply wasn’t doing it for him on the project he chose in the thin air at 13,000 feet above sea level on Mount Kinabulu. The crux move was not giving him any easy way outs. Pure reliance of force, strength, and will can go a long way, but there’s one very important aspect missing from that: soul.

And that’s when Hirayama came in with sensei fashion. At the age of 44, and from an older generation of climbers, comes wisdom, experience, and patience. But furthermore, much of his outlook and mentality towards climbing is heavily influenced by his Japanese culture. In Japan there is a Shinto idea that all natural objects have a life. For instance, when climbing, one worships the rock. That deeper connection takes the climber beyond the goal of sending, beyond the razor-sharp focus, beyond the pain and obstacles, and brings them into the present in a deeper, more connected way.

Woods took this to heart. And it made all the difference. He got it done, along with his mentality towards climbing forever changed.

The lessons learned between the two doesn’t stop there though…

The catalyst for these 2 world-class climbers joining forces in Malaysia stemmed from a 9a+ (5.15a) (for the non-climbing folk out there, that means really really really really really ridiculously hard and technical) called Return of the Soul that Hirayama had once attempted without success. He was ready to go back, but he needed a partner. After witnessing Woods compete and win in one of his competitions, Yuji sensed he’d bring an energy and spirit to his project, and invited him to join.

During those days atop Mount Kinabulu, Hirayama knew that it was now or never. This was his moment. Through combining the Japanese Shinto ideas with the inspiration drawn from Wood’s fierce intensity, overall psyche, and inability to give up no matter what time, effort, strength, pain, or fierce grunting is required to send, he went for it.

And this too, made all the difference. Hirayama got it done, along with his renewed sense of how he climbed in his younger days. 

There will always be new ways and old ways of doing things, new schools and old schools, and newbies and legends. We must combine, share, and be open to the different mentalities, experiences, and cultures that these different groups possess. This is what takes every athlete to the next level. And more importantly, it’s foundation of truly giving into your sport, of coming full circle from novice to seasoned, of going from student to sensei.

You can check out The Sensei and other ReelRock climbing films here.

About The Author

Lauren Rains is the editor at large of Outdoor Minded Mag. She is struck by wanderlust, and spends most waking hours of her life either exploring the outdoors around the globe or working on various passion projects be it film to microadventures to cooking chili. You can read about her adventures in life, biz and travel on her blog, and catch up with her on Twitter at @LaurRAINS.

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