The Yamori Principle

When I lived in Okinawa, I had a whole pack of lizards living in my apartment. I still don’t know how they got along with the cockroaches living under my kitchen sink, but somehow they managed.

Every day was a struggle.

For me, that is.

My plan was generally, every night that I came home from training, to bang open my door very suddenly, backfist the light switch as fast as I could, and then, seizing the moment, I would grab one of my zori (Japanese flip-flops) and immediately bang every lizard I could see to death.

“How cruel! Did it even work?” you might be asking.

Yes, it did.

I think they were stunned by the sudden light or something, because it worked quite a few times. (Lizards are made of goo on the inside, in case you’re wondering.)

Of course, when I told about my lizard infested apartment to my sempai at the neigbourhood dojo, he became very surprised. Lizards (or yamori, as these kinds were called) are considered good luck charms, and having many of them is very good. Killing them is not recommended.

I would always reply that the moment the lizards started paying rent, I would leave them alone.

Actually, I took this lizard thing very seriously. I even had this big sharp Rambo knife that I’d use for the nasty black king lizards.

(Incidentally, when my mom visited me in Okinawa that year she actually used this very knife for cutting a loaf of bread, but don’t tell her.)

Anyway, what I’m trying to get to is that often we humans are a lot like lizards.

Ever heard of the term “lizard brain”?

Situated near our brain stem, the area known as the “lizard brain” is the part of your brain responsible for anger, revenge, fear, anxiety and reproduction. It’s the original brain, the one that wild animals possess. The caveman brain (or amygdala). We still have it left, although we successfully control it most of the time.

The lizard brain is that part of us that says one thing, when we really want another.

For instance, we say we want to be successful but we somehow sabotage the job interview. We say we want our vacation to be relaxing, but we bring work along. We say we want to be fit but we eat too much crap. We say we want to be smart but we skip school or don’t read those books we should read.

You know exactly what I’m talking about.

We say we want to be good at Karate, but we skip class, making up a hundred different excuses.

We want to, but our lizard brain doesn’t want us to.

In fact, it would not be an understatement to say that we spend our whole lives fighting the lizard brain.

Consider this:

What is the purpose of religion?

When you speak of sins, or karma, heaven and hell, you are talking about handling the lizard brain, and the consequences that always follow. Every culture on earth has realized, identified and labeled this. It is a fact.

Or look at famous people:

When a movie star just shoots movies, or an athlete just does his sport, or when a writer just writes the words, we can’t help but watch, amazed at their “innocence”, or “virtue”. We find them to be supermen! When somebody says “I’m going to lose weight” and actually does this, we’re astonished. We can’t believe they actually did it! Because we weren’t really expecting them to. We were expecting them to succumb to their inner lizard.


Why is it so difficult to do what we say we’re going to do?

Because of the lizard brain.

And this pre-historic lump of meat is just as real in your brain as it is in everyone else’s.

I have it.

You have it.

Your sensei (gasp!) definitely has it.

The only difference is, we all handle it differently.

As an example, let’s briefly turn our attention to health.

Think about health. What does it come down to, really? Eat fruits and vegetables, right? Get enough sleep. Take long walks. Easy on the cakes and pies. Have a positive mental attitude. Laugh a lot. Get some sunlight.

You can’t really argue with any of that, can you?

These are things that your mother, and her mother, and her grandmothers mother could have easily told you without a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.

These are the basics of health.

The kihon.

Sure, the antioxidant pills, triple-impact nitro cushioned Nike shoes and the latest DashTrak GPS pedometers are all fun and great. Sometimes useful even.

But they will never replace the basics.

Because they can’t.

They just feed the lizard.

So, knowing these facts, what do many adults do? They never sleep because there’s “no time”. They eat fast food because they’re really “busy” or “on the move”. They consume the near maximum amount of legal drugs (cigarettes, alchohol, you name it) that their wallets will allow them to. They sit around for ages and watch bad TV shows at night before they’ll eventually drag themselves to bed and read a “useful” book. Oh, and then comes the weekend, where you can double the amount of everything I just wrote.

Except remove that part about reading books. You can’t really read books at a nightclub.

Then they wonder why their bodies are falling apart!

You know the answer just as well as me!

Somewhere along the way, we all forgot about the basics. We let the lizard brain take over, and you can bet that the lizard brain doesn’t like basics.

It likes to be itself – a reptile.

And that, to me, is reason enough to revisit the basics – kihon – as often as possible. Because everything that fights the lizard brain is worth fighting for. Again and again. Not killing it, but controlling it.

In conclusion, let me ask you this:

“Who decides over you?”

Really, tell me. I want to know.

Because that’s a decision you make.

Many people decide to let the lizard brain decide for them. But even worse, many people decide to have other people decide over them. They’ll gladly have the world telling them exactly what to wear, who to be, where to live, how to live, when to go, where to go, what to put in your mind, what to expect, what not to expect, what to accept, what to believe, what to read, what to put in your mouth, what to watch, what to listen to, when to wake up, when to go to sleep, when to be sad, when to be glad…

It’s all very convenient.

But if it’s one thing that’s even worse than letting your lizard brain rule, then it has to be letting other people’s lizard brain rule (over you).

Is this really how you want to play?

Ever since I can remember, my number one goal in life has always been to dominate that lizard inside, just like when I went on a killing spree with my rusty Rambo knife in my humid Okinawan apartment a year ago.

And the paradox is that those nasty lizards were just as real as the one in your brain.

Except I could never really control them.

You can.

So, the last question I have for you simply has to be: Does the lizard own you?

Or are you going to bite its frickin’ head off, spit it out, wipe the fresh blood off your face and start making decisions for yourself?

Nobody else will ever do it for you.

“Rule your mind or it will rule you”

– Horatius, 65 BC

That’s the code I live by.


  • JK
    A slightly different angle (I think), but here's a post I enjoyed about the relationship between the lizard, monkey, and human brains - the monkey brain specifically being dangerous:
  • GREAT article! I've been having many a firm word with my lizard brain this week having started back on a clean eating plan (along with a weights/cardio programme). Do I need to eat that cupcake? How badly do I want that chocolate bar? Could I get away with eating this massive bag of crisp? So far I'm beating my inner lizard into submission. Long may it stay mashed into pieces I say. Your post reminded me of one of my very favourite sayings. "Excuses are like ar$eholes. Everyone's got one!". These days I try to choose NOT to have one (an excuse that is, all the healthy eating in the world wouldn't do me any good without my ar$ehole! ;) ). xMx
  • John Arena
    Great post as usual. Is it possible you were actually giving in to your lizard brain when you smashed the lizards? Perhaps there is something quite primal about our desire to crush things that are different from us even when they aren't really doing any harm. Just a thought
    • Well, I found them nasty to be honest, and didn't really enjoy the thought of them freely crawling around my food, clothes, bed, dishes etc. I killed plenty of cockroaches and spiders too. I'm probably a control freak. However, I certainly never enjoyed smashing them.
      • Alan
        One of the hardest adjustments I've found to living in Hawaii is the roaches... that are everywhere. Lizards are, too, but the lizards eat the roaches. So I don't mind them so much. (well, plus they were rare in the cities of Tidewater Virginia. So there's a bit of a cool factor.) Aaaand that's about all I have to contribute. Brilliant article, though. I just found this site recently and have been reading it as much as I can.
  • Noel Minay
    Hi,Jesse! Some people call it the reptilian mind. It makes us survive in the wilderness. It helps us increase in number (reproduction); it helps us express some of our emotions (anger,etc). Yes, it can control us in a negative way (unprovoked or unreasonable anger). Like the devil in us it brings the best in us. It helps us to climb higher in our physical or spiritual well being (how? by lifelong struggle against it for example). But sometimes while under its control we are blinded by its constant stimulation (overture, hehehe!). Finally, when God is able to tie the ropes of the devil in armageddon it will commend the devil (yin) for the job well done (by testing all human beings in the cleansing fire: spiritual alchemy). Sounds religious? (My own thinking). Hehe! NM Thanks for the article--good job. NM
  • Noel Minay
    Corrections: ....tie the ropes around the devil (or the devil is finally bounded and thus becomes non-functional ...and reptilian brain (one functional process is called mind). NM
  • Andreas Quast
    Man, I just don't get to read all of your stuff. It's toooo muuuuuch! How can you write more than I can read? ;O)
    • WHAT?! And here I am, thinking it's too little!!!! :O All those sleepless hours...
  • My dad scolds the lizards

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