A 9a David vs. Goliath Story|Matyas Luzan

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"Do what you like, do it now and with passion – fuck everything else!"

M. Luzan

If I were a sixteen moves sport route under such a dogged and sustained siege as this of Matyas Luzan from Romania I would either run and hide in the forest or surrender filled with meek adoration.

However, this is not just any route. We are talking about the legendary “Action Directe” in Frankenjura – the first recognized 9a line in the world climbed by Wolfgang Gülich in 1991. This piece of rock is still proudly standing on its place, doing anything but hiding. Seems like the only option left for our guy Matyas is to find his own way through it’s iconic limestone overhang.

His approach looks like one of those quest games where you examine unknown spaces, search for a hidden door or the proper tool in order to arrange a complicated puzzle that unlocks the gate to wonderful places of joy and satisfaction. Chatting with Matyas I realized how he understands his initiative perfectly and for almost three years he’s been walking the path to the big dream – climbing Action Directe. In a curious and intricate way, he is developing his ascent by watching videos, comparing pictures and beta schemes, training obsessively on his own AD replica, and even collecting weather data to build a chart in a search for the best conditions.

It’s a David vs. Goliath battle and our “Dave” will impress you with his extreme levels of dedication if you only do what I suggest and read the following interview.

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AP: Who should be the first Romanian to climb 9a?

M: The one who wants it the most.

AP: Are you close to achieving this score?

M: If the conditions are right and I am peaking in shape, then – yes!

AP: When and how did you discover this sport?

M: When I was 13, my father who’s been an alpinist ever since he was a teenager, started taking me on some old school trad climbing routes. This way, at a young age, I learned how to climb safely, how to get down safely, about mountain ethics, etc. Then, in 2008, One Move climbing gym opened in my town and I discovered the athletic side of climbing.

AP: What does climbing mean to you?

M: An expression of mental and physical power in its purest form.

AP: You know some people change their motivation with the time, some do it for fun and others are pushing themselves from day one. You obviously consider yourself an athlete; tell us more about your climbing history!

M: It’s fair to say that I’ve been trying to get better from the first day. At the gym, I was working the projects of the others until I succeed. I was just forcing all these diverse boulder problems upon myself and it was a really good way to learn; I never got discouraged by the grade. This way, on a rock I jumped from 7a to 8a without climbing 7a+, 7b, 7b+, 7c, 7c+. I chose a route on tufas, trained pinches, drank a cup of coffee and sent it. Right now, I am facing something very similar.

AP: Indoor or outdoor?

M: I train indoors and during the summer I try to visit the crag as much as possible. Having said that, I am mainly a gym rat.

AP: In different ways we all know about “Action Directe”, it’s a legend. How did you find this route and when did you decide this must be your climb?

M: Until this day, I still don’t know whether I like climbing on pockets because I am good at them or I am good at climbing pockets because I like them. I YouTubed “pockets” and “climbing” – AD was the first thing that popped up, and regardless of my level back then, I found the moves to be very doable and basically the whole route seemed “cut out” for my style. After I tried it the first time I decided that I will dedicate myself and it wasn’t something “I might do”, it was much more profound than that – more like “I am already doing it!” A very clear and definitive feeling of what I want to accomplish.

AP: Tell us more about the first contact, what was the impression? I bet it was a shocking experience, or not?

M: The handholds were the same as expected (seen in videos), the moves were the same, so I was familiar with these aspects. The big shock (and what you cannot decipher from videos) were the footholds, which are absolute slippery-sloppy glass features. That introduced me to a completely new world of body tension.

AP: How often do you go there? When was the last time?

M: I’ve been to Frankenjura three times until now, about two weeks in total. Last time was in September 2015.

AP: It’s been years since the beginning. How did this battle change you, your climbing style and your redpoint approach? I’m sure such a process teaches a lot.

M: It’s a humbling process that wakes you up to reality and calibrates you. It gives you purpose & self-confidence; it creates focus and makes you a calm, goal-oriented, meticulous person. The process also makes you a student who’s learning every single piece of beta, documentation, secret, history, evidence, and rumor about the route that exists on this planet.

AP: Your concept of progressing between the lower grades inside the bigger “9a picture” is very interesting. Sounds logical but isn’t it one big lack of satisfaction – progressing but still not sending anything for such a long period?

M: Where is satisfaction? Your question describes the process exactly. Once I found the joy from every minuscule bit of progress on AD, I realized I am enjoying the process. This is fundamental and if I wouldn’t perceive it like this then I would have no chance. Ever. With time, I only understand exactly how much more I need to do it. If I fall on AD halfway on a redpoint attempt, which is about 8b+, great! I feel really satisfied that way. If I would climb an 8b+ route somewhere else, I might be equally satisfied but more than that I would get direct recognition, appear on various sites and webpages, get likes and other media attention, which would indeed motivate most climbers, but not me. In the case of AD, I do not get anything more than support from those who care, and I appreciate that very much, it’s enough. Satisfaction is a very subjective concept. I am doing that for me, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone or to explain myself. There are many climbers (non-sponsored/non-professional like me) who stick their send into your face and feed their ego off the recognition they get from people. That is so wrong. I share my process to inspire. It’s a completely different approach.

AP: What about your famous replica of the route, is it really the same thing?

M: It is not 100% the same thing, of course, because it’s handmade without the usage of molds. But it does meet functionality: same moves, same muscle groups, same forces applied in the same directions. Almost all holds are made out of wood and coated with resin. I can recreate every hold from memory, set AD and it will be still a 9a. It’s very simple after I “learned” the 3D shapes and features of the holds, really. Most grips are not hard to recreate even from a picture; however, there are three holds which are very difficult to make! But I will never touch AD with a mold.

AP: I can imagine there is a bit of yo-yo effect – one week you’re OK and the next you struggle with the same moves. Is that so and what’s the ratio in your rises and downfalls?

M: It was like this last year when I climbed on it obsessively. After a certain point, that exhausted me completely and I was unable to perform anything on AD itself. The replica, even with a mat and not a rope, is a mentally consuming tool and overdoing it results in a yo-yo effect. Now I train on it more seldom and combine it with sloppy bouldering for power plus basic resistance training. It’s better for my fingers this way. I’m climbing the replica in two parts flawlessly and this relaxed method seems to work well so far.

AP: Sounds like hardcore stamina and power endurance sessions. Do you follow any program or you just crush the wooden Action Directe the way you feel it?

M: It might be the best power endurance test piece out there. I don’t follow any program, I never did and don’t see myself following one anytime in the future. Everything goes instinctively. I don’t see myself stubborn or not willing to go out of the comfort zone. I just try and work on those parts of the replica where I am weak. When I feel weak at some move, I will break down the move itself, train those muscles individually, break down the hold itself, train those grip positions individually also. I have basically broken down all 16 moves and holds and trained every crucial muscle individually. It is a tremendous amount of complex time-consuming work for 16 moves, but it’s a bullseye attitude. I filmed myself on every move and tried to figure out which muscles are engaged. Then I developed specific exercise on the campus board with slings, always targeting what needed to be. After saying all this I still can’t call any of it a “training plan”, they are exercises that “pop up” when I am weak at something and I start doing them momentarily as my instinct whispers.

AP: Going on the 9a platform is a serious challenge; most of the climbers around the world will never step there no matter how much they want it or not. When did you decide you can be the 9a messiah in Romania? Under what circumstances did you feel you’re capable?

M: After I tried it in summer 2014, I believed that someday it will happen; I felt it in my hands so to say. The circumstances… only if totally detached from what was going on in Romania as far as climbing and only if I focus on the route and not the grade. So what if it’s a 9a? When I pump out stupidly on a 7a the effort is the same as if cruising an 8a. Totally irrelevant. It’s not a vicious 9a with shallow pockets and powerful moves anymore; it’s a small piece of rock with beautiful features. The perception…

AP: What if somebody else does it before you? Do you think there is such person in Romania right now? 

M: I think there are people who could do it if they started training for it, otherwise – not now. However, I believe I am much more experienced or better on AD than anyone from the country. But if somebody would do it, I would probably abuse that person for beta!

AP: Draw us a quick sketch of Romanian climbing in 2016! What's the level there?

M: I have no idea. I have heard things and checked some 8a.nu profiles; we have some 8b+/8c first ascents here in the country, which means what it means. But I don’t know about the hardest redpoint abroad, which in this case has much more value… certainly far from 9a.

AP: What kind of person are you? Most people will never try such thing – going from 8b straight to 9a, it’s a scary thing, and it just sounds irrational. Please, describe yourself!

M: I’m the kind of guy who shoots a fly with a cannon! (dad’s saying, ha-ha) I’ve always been a “hell no” or a “hell yes” person. I tend to choose extremes. There are a handful of people who really hate this but it’s just the way I am. When I do something, I do it full power until it gets perfect. I leave everything else aside until then. With the case of AD, the sentence would be: “I will do Action Directe 9a, I will only train for AD, this is all I will do and nothing else because I want to do it, and I can do it.” This sentence should reflect a pretty accurate image of my thoughts.

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AP: One of the best things during trips is that you meet experienced climbers, some stars, and unknown crushers. Tell me about the community around Action Directe andhow it inspired you?

M: I’ve met several amazing climbers there: Melissa Le Nevé, Felix Neumärker, Jochen Perschmann, Alex Megos plus some “unknown” monsters. Seeing Alex cruising AD is basically witnessing the most excellent execution of the route in the world.  I took that as a benchmark for perfection, the top edge of sports performance on that route. It’s imperative to know what is possible and what is not, and it’s also important to talk openly with these climbers about the route and learn! I questioned Alex about his beta, why not use other beta and so on. I basically interrogated everyone who climbed on the route. I also saw that I was moving on some segments the same way as some climbers mentioned above. That is something that really gave me a boost. Sadly, I couldn’t stay long enough to see Felix’s ascent shortly after I left.

AP: I guess it won’t be a “Sweet, it’s over!” moment when you finally send the route. What will that ascent mean for you? Do you expect any “nirvana”?

M: I don’t want to expect. My imagination can go very far but I am confident that what I am going to feel after I do it is something I can’t imagine yet… but I reckon it goes somewhere very similar with a childhood joy.

AP: What will be the next step?

M: Some easier projects in Herculane, and I’d also like to take a look at Wallstreet, Hubble, and Demencia Senil.

AP: Last question: People are more and more just trying to survive these days and you’re pursuing such an irrational goal. What does that mean to you? Would you say you’re some sort of idealist?

M: No, I’ve been labeled in many ways, but the truth is so simple yet so misunderstood by most of the population: Do what you like, do it now and with passion – fuck everything else!

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