Keep Moving Forward: Lessons From The Rocky Franchise – PT. IV
Of all of the movies in the Rocky franchise, this one holds a special place in my heart–it was the first movie I remember seeing in theaters, way back in 1985. It should also go without saying that this movie has the best training montage and soundtrack of the entire franchise, arguably fueling more workouts than any other movie ever movie.
Set in the mid-eighties, the US and the Soviet Union were in the Cold War and the specter of thermonuclear destruction was never far from anyone’s mind. Even children knew that something bad could happen, even if there wasn’t a full understanding of what that could be.
No doubt that the political climate weighed heavily on Sly as he wrote the script, and on the viewers who were old enough to grasp the import of current world events. Like previous sequels, this movie starts off where its predecessor left off, right after the private rematch with Apollo.
Rocky already decided to retire in the previous installment. Fresh off the heels of beating Clubber Lang and settling the score with Apollo, albeit privately, he had nothing left to prove in the ring and was ready to leave the sport at the top of his game.
“Stand by my Side, This One Last Time”
Apollo, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to hang it up. Already a few years older than Rocky, Creed fears that time is passing him by. He hears about a young, up-and-coming Russian boxer, Ivan Drago-an Olympic gold medalist, and amateur boxing champion. Never failing to capitalize on an opportunity, Apollo sees the East/West dynamic a great way to market the fight and get back in the ring for an easy exhibition match.
He books it and asks Rocky to be in his corner for this last fight. As they watch old footage of their previous battles, Rocky rightly discerns that Apollo-now a boxer past his prime is looking to relive his glory days. Balboa tells him that he needs to face reality, which is that both Apollo and he are no longer young men; they’re no longer able to take the punishment of training and boxing.
Apollo refuses to adjust to his new realities. He’s a fighter, and without a war to fight, the warrior may as well be dead.
“If He Dies, He Dies.”
Apollo would pay dearly for his stubbornness. He makes his way to the ring displaying his usual hubris, not taking his challenger seriously. After a punishing first round, Apollo returns to his corner where his friend Rocky begs him to stop the fight.
Apollo’s mind was made up. At that point in time, it’s likely he already knew what the outcome of the fight was going to be: he was going to die in the ring. Struggling between wanting to obey his friend’s wish and keeping him alive, Balboa is left holding the towel as Apollo falls to the canvas for the last time. Ivan Drago kills Apollo in the second round.
What Apollo suffered from is called “Sunken Cost Fallacy.” Apollo tied his identity to being a boxer; it was all he thought he could be. He was so afraid of losing who he was, that he never considered who he could be.
This is important for a number of reasons, but especially as you get older. When talking about training, maybe a certain routine has worked well for you, but now it doesn’t work as well. Instead of trying to find a new approach, you realize that you have a hard time letting go of your old ideas about training and nutrition.
As we get older, the way we train has to change. Joints don’t recover as well from heavy lifting when you’re forty as they did when you were twenty. There’s no need to drive into a wall full steam ahead. Change course before it’s too late.
“We can’t change what we are.”
The inability to adapt can have consequences that can never be fixed. In this case, and under the political climate of its day, this movie was an allegory for The Cold War. The attitudes and actions of the world’s greatest superpowers would eventually lead to mutually-assured destruction. We’re all fortunate that it didn’t have to come to that.
The Lesson: Don’t be afraid to let go of who you to become who you want to be.
Being closed-minded about any subject is only going to limit you in a number of different ways. And this doesn’t just apply to fitness, of course, but life in general.
Life isn’t static; things change; ideas change. Ideas that were once thought of hard truths are relegated to the trash heap of time. You can either move along with the world or get left behind.
It’s never too late… until it’s too late. The world won’t wait for you. Time won’t wait for you. Every day that you delay on your fitness plan, or any other dream you have, is one day lost to the sands of time. You’re never getting that day back. And you’re now one day further from getting to where you want to be.
“…To beat me he’s gonna have to kill me... and to do that, he’s gotta be willin’ to die himself.”
Motivated by loss, anger, guilt, and a desire for revenge, Rocky accepts a match with Ivan Drago. Rocky knows the dangers of heading down the same road as Apollo, and he fully accepts whatever consequences may come. Both Rocky and his Russian counterpart, Drago, were headed down a path of self-destruction which would only lead to more pain and suffering. They believed this course to be inevitable; there’s was no way to avoid the confrontation.
Rocky, much like Apollo, also fell prey to sunken cost fallacy; he’d gone this far and there was no turning back now.
When you think of what’s at stake, this seems noble. But considering that this was an allegory for the Cold War, we can’t help but notice the inherent danger of being inflexible and unreasonable. Both the United States and the Soviet Union, like Rocky and Drago, saw each other as intractable enemies and nothing more.
After training his face off, he’s ready to step into the ring with Drago. In what was probably the best-choreographed fight of the entire franchise, Rocky knocks out his opponent in the final moments of the 15th and final round.
After Balboa avenges the loss of his friend, he proclaims that “everyone can change.” I believe that he wasn’t just talking to the fictional spectators, but also to anyone watching the movie, which would become a recurring theme with future installments of the franchise.
“Everyone Can Change!”
Have you always been overweight, afraid to take your shirt off at the beach? Have you always been the “skinny” person who can never find clothes that fit, because the clothes either reveal just how “skinny” you are or they’re too baggy and ill fitting?
The Lesson: If you continue to identify with a state of being, it can become an immutable part of your identity. A reason why many people find it so hard to transform their bodies is because they just don’t think that they’re capable of being something other than how they seem themselves. Furthermore, it’s also the reason why some people can’t maintain the changes. They suffer cognitive dissonance between who they were and who they are now.
Instead of being limited by the thoughts of who you are, I challenge you to think like the person you want to be. Would the person you want to be sit in front of the TV while mindlessly eating chips? Would the person you want to create excuses for skipping the gym?
You don’t have to continue down the road that brought you here.
Everyone can change. Start today.
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