We talked with Paul Takunda Bako in June, 2020.
👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
Hi, my name is Paul Takunda Bako. I am 28 years old and I currently reside in Harare, Zimbabwe which is also where I am from.
I attained a business management degree in 2015 from Solusi University and I worked for the National Social Security Authority for a year after that. I then quit to pursue fitness full time.
Fitness has always been an integral part of my existence.
In primary school I tried out for a variety of sports but I chose to swim and practice karate because I enjoyed them the most and they challenged me in ways I liked. I have fond memories of my family coming to support me at swimming competitions and karate grading events.
As a child I loved watching martial arts movies. The way the students would find a sensei or instructor then earn trust before he or she started training them always fascinated me.
It also made me fall in love with the idea that anything worth having should not come cheaply or effortlessly.
I started to envision myself as one such student ready to learn any lesson and hoped to find a teacher who could and would break me in order to turn me into a heroic figure.
In my second year of high school I was involved in a terrible car accident. In retrospect it felt like a symbolic death that was necessary for rebirth. I suffered internal head injuries that led to blood clotting.
Prompt neurosurgery to remove the clots was needed. Arrangements were made and the surgery was performed. It was successful but when I came to I could not feel most of the left side of my body.
I had to start learning how to walk and the basics of using my body again. I felt vulnerable and powerless. It was a humbling experience.
When I was discharged from the hospital I started physiotherapy sessions at a rehabilitation centre. It was there that I gained a deeper appreciation of how much of a blessing it is to be healthy and able bodied.
I met people who were fighting degenerative diseases, recovering from accidents and others who were actually learning to use their limbs.
Those people became my friends and as we all worked on getting better a seed was planted in me. The seed of wanting to help people (me first, and included) learn how function at their best through training but it didn’t start germinating until I was in university.
I am an avid reader and in university I was exposed to a plethora of books. Amid them I found fitness books whose piquancy was bodyweight training.
I was enthralled by the idea of using the body to train because we didn’t have much of a gym at the university but I wanted to train.
I devoured the knowledge in the books voraciously and started programming small space workouts that I would practice in my room.
I also started practicing yoga at that time (another practice a book made me privy to). It helped me stay focused and disciplined throughout my whole university experience.
When I quit my white collar job in 2016 I landed a job at a gym called Total Fitness where I was once a patron. The work was simple enough. Help people train and keep the training environment clean.
A lot of people in my life thought it was a downgrade but it was exactly what I was looking for. A place to interactively learn about fitness, experiment with different ideas drawn from books, videos and watching other trainers in action.
It was my apprenticeship in the art of Fitness and it was here that I met my fitness mentor Lowson Muhambi (@lowson_muhambi on instagram).
He started teaching me the basics of fitness and the business side of it too. I asked so many questions. I still ask lots questions to this day because it is the most effective way to learn. I learned the ropes and began to lead fitness classes.
I applied the knowledge I acquired from books to deliver effective and challenging workouts. With practice I got very competent at bodyweight training exercises and after eleven months of working at the gym I resigned.
I then started offering my training method to those who appreciated it and accepted the fact that I learned about fitness the old fashioned way; through rigorous and progressive practice.
Through the videos I would post on instagram I garnered the attention of businessmen, musicians, academics and people keen to explore their daring nature. I had the pleasure of training these people and challenging their fitness in creative ways.
In 2018 I would host tyre tire Thursdays. All the people I trained would get together and we’d do an epic tyre workout. I would bring my portable speaker and play fun music while we trained. It felt like a fitness party.
A dear client called me sensei one day during training. I was taken aback by how effortlessly it was said. She said it like believed it and that’s when it dawned on me.
I had found the sensei I needed in myself and other people could see his work and appreciate him too. I was going to put his lessons to the test.
In that same year I competed in a number of bodybuilding and Fitness competitions to test the efficacy of my training method and ideology.
In the men’s Fitness category I placed 1st at the IFBB Marume Classic 2018 which granted me passage to the IFBB Arnold Classic Africa in South Africa where I placed 2nd in the same category in 2019.
I also competed in the 2018 Zimbabwe national bodybuilding and fitness championship and placed 3rd in the men’s fitness category.
The next competition I would like to compete in is a calisthenics street workout championship. The championships are hosted all over the world and in a few years I will be ready to contend for a few of those titles.
All my hobbies are functions of fitness the way I see it. I enjoy playing video games (Fifa is top of the list) because they sharpen my mind’s awareness and improve hand eye coordination. I also love to ride.
I own a bicycle (Hermes) and a sports motorcycle (Ares) and I ride them almost daily. I enjoy watching anime. Seven deadly sins, Bleach and, PsychoPass are a few shows that really get my mind racing.
Cooking tasty and nutritious meals is another pleasurable pastime of mine. It’s a different way for me to express my love. Cooking is an art and I feel like a culinary artist every single time I am in the kitchen working magic.
I love reading. It has changed my life time and time again. In the pages of the books I read I encounter experiences that wizen me up to the realities of life. Realities I don’t have to experience because I become aware of them.
Books are like mental floodlights in the expansive darkness of the challenging and rewarding unknown. They help you navigate past the unexpected obstacles to reach the rewards you desire.
They can also be the fun escape to a land where anything is possible. An excited imagination is the breeding ground of historical success.
The practice of gratitude all but defines me. I am thankful and it’s evident in my nature. I’m grateful for the life I live, the friends and family. I’m grateful for the downs (even though they suck) because they prepare me for the Ups (which are awesome!)
I am introvert but I enjoy being around people. Everyone has something to teach if one is willing to listen and learn.
I have a deep interest in philosophy and on Tuesdays I go to Star Fm (IG- @starfm_zw), which is a prominent radio station, to be part of a segment called ‘Choose Wellness Tuesday’ were we discuss matters of wellbeing like fitness, mental health, virtues and share ideas on how to live enriching lives.
Everyone I train is as much a teacher to me as I am to them. We share ideas on how we can achieve the best results.
I use the sensei approach to training. That means I push my people to do their best even in the simplest motions and I accept nothing less. I have been told that training with me is not for everyone and I concur.
I approach training with a level of creativity that excites me and because of that, the energy I bring to a session is intense. Not everyone can handle this intensity but those who can find themselves looking forward to each and every session.
⏱ Describe a typical day of training
To fully comprehend how I approach training it is important to refer to the martial arts movies I liked as a child. Watching them I noticed that a student’s training was versatile and it worked on the mind as well as the body.
I also noted that it only got harder as time progressed but the student got stronger too. In the same way I challenge myself when I train.
I usually train in the morning (anytime between 9am and 11am) however, whenever I have new exercises to try I’ll make time for an impromptu session.
I have access to 5 different gyms and I enjoy the times I train there but I prefer to train at home because I can make all the mistakes I want without any onlookers.
My training is a spectacle if people’s opinions are anything to go by. I train alone but of late I’ve been training with my clients quite a bit.
I train 3-4 times a week for an average of about an hour and a half. On non-training days I practice active rest activities like yoga, cycling, swimming, jogging or dancing.
My workout is split into warm-up, work sets and then freestyle motions.
For warm-up I either cycle, do shuttles on the driveway (when I train at home) or skip rope. From there I move onto work sets.
I believe the body should work as a unit so I compound exercises as much as possible. I aim to do anything between 6 to 10 compound exercises as a circuit then I execute it 3 to 4 times depending on my energy level.
I have a pair of 10 kg dumbbells, 3kg and 6kg medicine balls, 4 resistance bands, with the thickest one being able to withstand a load of 100kgs, and I also like to train with a wooden bo staff/stick.
I incorporate them all into my workout and I know I haven’t scratched the surface when it comes to the exercises I can do with these props.
I creatively mix motions such that I have to come up with names for them. One of my favourites is the double lunge cartwheel. Words won’t do it justice but it can be viewed on my instagram timeline to see what it looks.
The final stage is the one I like the most. When I freestyle I get to practice what I call fluidity motions. These motions are made up of capoeira, bo staff sequences, bar dances (dancing while hanging from the bar in a pull-up position), and any other ideas that come to mind.
I record some of these freestyles in order to critique my technique and form. Fluidity motions also serve the purpose of actively stretching my body.
After training I make it a point to eat a filling meal then I take a restorative break. I used log my workouts but now I apply a Taoist approach to training. ‘Tao’ means way and the Tao encourages a flow so I let my body, mind and environment determine how I train.
This keeps me mentally and physically nimble and I apply the same technique with the people I train although they get a more defined and directed flow that aligns with their goals.
When preparing for a competition I do not bulk or cut. I regulate the intensity of my training by focusing on muscular training as opposed to nervous system training.
As the competition edges closer I adjust my diet depending on my muscle conditioning. Again the Tao helps me here.
My peers are surprised when I share this information with them because they bulk then cut but I ascribe to the idea that centuries ago Spartans, Ninjas, Samurai and Egyptian infantry were training.
They didn’t have supplements yet somehow they had godlike figures and abilities to match. If they could do it more than 2000 years ago and do it well, isn’t there something to be learned from them?
My life and practice is a constant quest to unlock such buried secrets.
👊 How do you keep going and push harder?
Motivation is an inside job but it depends on external influences. I am motivated by my desire to see myself get better and I benchmark myself against fictional heroes.
My current wallpaper is Gohan (a character from the DragonBall anime) in super saiyan mode. It is pretty awesome and I put it there because to reach super saiyan mode a saiyan has to train beyond their wildest imagination and break through barriers that were thought to be non-existent.
I approach my own training like I am aiming for super saiyan mode. I am also inspired by Spiderman and my friends call spidey because they say I move like the webslinger.
Spiderman’s agility excites me and his humility teaches me so I consider Peter Parker a real role model.
The mentality I developed as a child that anything worth having should not come easy also pushes me to go harder each and every day. Performance varies from day to day but I always give my training the best I’ve got and over time the results encourage me to keep going because I see myself approach mastery.
The best hack I can recommend is showing up and really doing the work. I have seen countless people who show up, give the least effort and expect the greatest return. It doesn’t work that way.
To really do the work means giving the workout your total commitment. Your mind is present and your body is engaged. You have to feel the press of whatever you are doing. If it isn’t pressuring you, it isn’t helping you.
This is not to say over-train because that is detrimental to progress but putting in 100% every day you do train can seriously change your life and mind in the process.
I had 2 motorcycle accidents in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Both of them took me off my feet for about 2 months while I recovered from the injuries.
My greatest challenge was defeating the depressive episodes I found myself in while rehabilitating my body but I rose to the challenge, promising myself to be stronger after the accidents than I was before them.
I have kept this promise and learned from personal experience that what matters most is not how, when or why you fell. What matters is that you get up, head held high and continue the great trek of destiny.
I am obsessed with perfection even though I know it is a myth. It is a worthy ideal to aspire to and because of that I spend most of my day with fitness on my mind.
I earn my living from it so I’m grateful that I am always doing what I love but it does tend to affect my relationships with family and friends because I can’t be as available as they would like me to be.
I do my best to strike a balance between my passion and my life beyond it.
🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today I am doing better. The COVID19 pandemic has really changed life as we know it but I have taken its coming as a signal for impending change in the world.
On a personal level, I am putting to use the bodyweight training principles I learned years ago. Gyms are closed but people still want to train. They need to train and it should be just as challenging as it would be in the gym.
I am challenging myself and the people I train. We are getting stronger physically, mentally and emotionally (training without an emotional component never lasts long).
The interest in natural methods of training and healthy living is increasing world over. Yoga, martial arts, dance, calisthenics, crossfit, parkour and other disciplines are being actively taken up.
It’s becoming evident that there is a relationship between the agility and flexibility of the body with that of the mind.
I find myself tapping into powers of accuracy and focus I never even knew I possessed and the “will to power” in me constantly reminds me that it gets better with practice.
In the future I intend to compete in calisthenics street workout championships so I train with that goal in mind. I have a great desire to fuse physical and mental training.
The plan is to open a fitness centre that caters to all types of people. It will be a place where the body, mind and heart all get a great workout. Look out for that in about 10 years but be rest assured, its coming.
I have a keen interest in media and in the near future I intend to venture into content creation for the internet, TV and radio. I have a passion for writing so a few books will also be on the cards.
If I had to give my younger self some advice it would have to be that I should trust myself more.
It used to take me long to draw conclusions for decisions that matter but that is no longer the case so, I would tell young Paul to trust himself and trust that the universe is working in his favour as long as he is working on aligning with his true self.
🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
Recovery is a really important facet of my fitness regime. The most important thing to me is making sure that I get adequate sleep. An average of 7 hours is the standard for me. That makes sure that I don’t feel fatigued when I get down to training.
To avoid injuries I make sure I properly warm up my body before rigorous training begins. I progressively make the exercises more challenging so that I ensure that I do not bite off more than I can chew.
If I do and feel that I have, I do not hesitate to tone down the workout because it is better to do less today and be better tomorrow than to go extra hard and put oneself out for a month because of an injury.
If I do suffer an injury I use that as a signal to redirect focus. For example if I injury my shoulder I start putting more emphasis on my legs till the shoulder can withstand a workout again but I haven’t had to do much of that to date.
The mobility and flexibility training I do also serves a protective function. I also regularly go for deep tissue massages as I find them helpful in alleviating muscle pain.
🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
My diet is another area where I apply the Tao. I listen to my body and eat according to its demands. The quantities I consume fluctuate but only to a certain point.
The first meal of the day for me is always oatmeal. I put ginger and cinnamon powders in it to give it flavour and reap the benefits of the ingredients too. It also makes me feel so light when I train that I won’t be letting go of it anytime soon.
I generally eat whatever I like and what I like tends to work well with my body. I don’t count calories. I love fruits and veggies so they always find a way to be part of my meals or my snacks.
I get stricter on my carbohydrates when I am preparing for a competition and I reduce the quantities of food I take in at that time too. Because I don’t bulk or cut I look lean all year round.
People say I advertise my work whenever I present myself. I appreciate the sentiment because that is the intention.
I haven’t used supplements in a long time because I believe my body can regulate its needs and work with the nutrients I give it without any extras.
A legendary warrior of the past educated me here. In his military science classic ‘The book of five rings’ Miyamato Musashi talks about great potential and function. He said exercise is the only way to realize greatness so I just focus on that.
This is not to say that I think supplements are bad. They just aren’t for me right now. I don’t know if that will change but I am not closed off to the idea of using them.
I don’t ascribe to the idea of a cheat day or cheat meals. Who is getting cheated on? How does that person feel? I always ask myself these questions. Instead I focus on moderation.
When I feel like having junk food I occasionally indulge. I detest the idea of feeling like I am slave to the life I chose so I moderate. It is simple to type out the words but living it is an interesting challenge however, discipline prevails.
I am of the opinion that if you strike a balance between what you eat and how you train you can live the life you want looking exactly how you want to look and feeling how you’d like to feel.
I barely drink alcohol but I do like my coffee and other hot beverages especially before training. They give me the type of jolt I need to really push myself.
👍 What has inspired and motivated you?
The basis of my inspiration and motivation is my burning and never-ending desire to live a good life. To live a good life one must define what is good to them.
When I read ‘Mastery’ by Robert Greene I found the type of good I wanted to aspire to. He profiled one of my heroes, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the effort Leonardo put into every undertaking to become the legend that he is made me want to exert just as much in a vocation of my own choosing.
I want to be a master of fitness. I endeavour to have an intuitive feel of how the body must be worked in order to move elegantly and pose gracefully.
I also believe in and espouse the idea of a personal legend as defined in ‘The Alchemist’ written by Paulo Coelho. A personal legend is one’s destiny or life purpose.
It is said everyone knows what this is when they are young but over time and through suffering disappointments they forget. I am living my personal legend. I can feel it deeply and as the future becomes the present all shall become clear.
I am motivated by question, “Who is John Galt?” Reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand put certain things into perspective for me and changed my life in the process.
I am motivated by what John Galt stood for. The proud, independent, thinking and producing man. I am motivated by my desire to produce outstanding work and reap the rewards of the effort it would have taken to make it and if you really think about it that is alchemy.
I am motivated by the fact that I am the outstanding work I am working on and I cannot let up until I see how deep the rabbit hole really goes.
The people around me have played a pivotal part in getting me to this point. The encouragement, the support and the guidance has been invaluable.
The most recurrent and fundamental piece of advice I get is ‘keep going’. My uncle once said he knows I am going to shake foundations because I am driven to action by the questions I ask and action changes things.
I wake up with a game changer’s mentality and go to bed having consciously changed something each day.
When it comes to daily motivation music plays such an important part in my life. The rhythm helps me focus and count reps ;). I like Trap EDM (electronic dance music), rap, and anything that really delivers the bass.
Reading Jeff Goins’ book “Real Artists don’t starve” I learned that real artists don’t try to be original. They steal from their influences. Even Bruce Lee had to learn wing chun, kickboxing, escrima (Philippines martial art) and fencing before he developed Jeet kune do.
In the same way I watch and learn from some amazing people on instagram. These people include Dylan Werner (@dylanwerneryoga), Neguin (@neguinism), Aranha (@aranha_cdo), Sapir Tamara (@sapir_algeria_cdo), Malaika Salatis (@malaika_slt), Kaisa Karanen (@kaisafit) and Ryan Klarenbach (@rynosaurusflex) to name a few.
These people are like avengers all over the world and their superpowers are a sight for sore eyes.
✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
All is the mind. That is the hermetic principle of mentalism. The desire to improve the self must stem from the mind first because everything starts there.
If the mind is clouded then any goal undertaken will be shirked when trouble arises as it always does.
What does that mean? It means to succeed at anything you have to learn about yourself, define yourself, express yourself and believe in yourself.
The desire to change or improve has to be about and for you. You cannot improve for someone or something and be truly happy after.
All is the mind. What stays on your mind is what you will see, it is what you will become.
Choose habits that resonate with who you are and let go of those that do not. Train in ways that excite and challenge you. Be friends with people who express who you are. Real friendships allow you to be authentic.
The true goal of self-improvement is self-actualisation and what is self-actualisation if it isn’t becoming who you truly are? Who you are truly meant to be?
Get a trainer or partner who inspires you through their actions. Life is a team effort. When the person you train with pushes hard it forces you to level up.
A client once told me that his goal is to best me. That type of energy is exciting on both his and my part.
I used to champion the idea of training alone but I’ve since realized that all my best training sessions were always with someone or other people around.
We are social beings. We do better together plus, a little dose of competition is always healthy☺.
Do not be in a rush to see results. That only makes you detest the process when you should be embracing it. Fall in love with the process instead. Love every workout and celebrate its completion every time.
Clap for yourself often. Develop the type of self-love that pats itself on the back for every deed done because deeds compound and turn into blessings. That’s how results come.
Set your own milestones, develop your own metrics to define progress but don’t go easy on yourself. Practice gratitude. Be grateful for everything in your life. Take nothing for granted and you will see value in abundance.
Find the sensei in you. The person who is going to break you in order to turn you into a hero people can look up to. It is possible. That’s everyone’s destiny. That’s everyone’s personal legend.
🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?
I am not taking on any new clients. I am focused on giving my current clients such a refined and remarkable training experience that the efficacy of my method will be effortlessly displayed by their bearing, vitality and verve.
I also do not offer online training unless I have trained the client in person before. This is because I have certain standards that I communicate intensely in a session.
When you train with me at least once you’ll understand what I mean when I say, ‘higher, faster, power, control, slowly, control the come down’, etc. those are simple words I use in training but they have deeper meanings in the moment.
They should reverberate in the mind of an online trainee when I am absent. That will make the training effective.
I offer a mix of training methods. Fitness dancing, capoeira, yoga, calisthenics, bo staff sequencing and any other discipline I find useful to a training regime I will learn and incorporate.
The idea is to train people in ways they like then introduce them to new likes fitness wise. I always say training should be fun first. How else are you going to do it if there isn’t some tinge of enjoyment?
But don’t be fooled, fun does not mean easy. Never that. I also share quotes and philosophy during sessions so that I enrich not just the body but the mind too.
I have had the pleasure of training young boys (my nephew regularly trains with me and he turns 8 this year), older women (45+ years old, including my mom), athletes and people of different ethnic backgrounds.
I can train individuals, couples, groups, teams and families. Like Harry Houdini (legendary magician) I pride myself on being a versatile artist.
The most common training question I get is, “how long did it take you to get to where you are?” A part of me feels like saying I don’t know but the truth is it’s taken my whole lifetime.
I have started and stopped training so many times so it is hard to really put a timeframe to the journey.
The most important thing is that whether I sometimes get lost, turn back or just stop from exhaustion, I still continue the journey to my destiny and fitness is that destiny. I’m there and going there simultaneously every single day.
I am open training new people when schedules align. I can be contacted on instagram, tik tok or e-mail and we can start the conversation.
📝 Where can we learn more about you?
You can learn more about me on Instagram @theneroeff3ct.
I am also on Twitter and Tik Tok using the same handle.
I can be contacted via e-mail: [email protected]
2 thoughts on “How My Mind Helps Me Train and Become a Master of Fitness”
This was awesome!! So motivated!
This was such an enjoyable read full of vignettes!