Best Old Fashioned Neighborhoods To Stay In In London Legionnaire Success Lessons

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Legionnaire Success Lessons

The French Foreign Legion was founded in 1831. Their spiritual home and ancient training centers are in former colonial French North Africa, although they now train mainly in southern France. What made them the legendary force they were and still are? What success lessons can we learn from them?

Recently, 12 volunteers chose to do four weeks of basic Legion-style training in the Western Sahara desert. They were under the harsh but experienced and encouraging regime of three ex-Legionnaires, Chef Sergeant Peter Hauser, Sergeant Glenn Ferguson and Corporal Richard Sutter

Their experiences were filmed by Channel 4 TV and can teach us a lot about motivation and success. I also spoke with Sergeant Glenn Ferguson and gained some more insight into what motivated him and the other legendary legionnaires.

He joined the Legion at the age of 19. He was motivated first by fear of punishment and then by pride. He hated to fail and could also appreciate the pride of an elite group. One of his favorite sayings is:

“You will never be the best if you constantly have to lower the bar so that the weaker elements can participate”

Throughout the program, the three ex-Legionnaires seemed eager for some of the volunteers to ring a bell as a symbol of their desire to leave the group. They wanted to weed out the weaker elements. Legionnaires with low standards can have their fellow Legionnaires killed.

Elite groups have no time to tolerate the weak or half-hearted. They only want members who are willing to give 100% effort. They would rather ‘losers’ (people who are lazy and half-hearted) not come along. Another saying by Sergeant Glenn Ferguson expresses this well:

“If you didn’t come to be the best, stay with the other losers”

In the modern world where everyone should be encouraged to participate in everything, this seems very old fashioned and elitist, but note that this saying actually makes sense even today. It is not said that you have to be the best before you join.

You just want to be the best. This leaves room for the less talented as long as they have the right attitude. Any weakness will soon leave them as they endure the pain of the Legion’s harsh training regimen.

As the sergeant commented on his suffering protégés on the TV show:

“Pain is weakness leaving your body”

Several of the volunteers started the training as ‘the weak’, but ended as ‘the strong’. A former Legionnaire commented on the program that when he entered the Legion he thought he could do nothing. When he left after five years, he believed he could do anything. Such belief is a key element in any success.

I was a teacher for over 30 years in London Comprehensive Schools. Everyone is accepted in these schools, regardless of whether they are ‘weak’ or ‘strong’. They all get the opportunity to learn. Unfortunately, a minority are not only ‘weak’; they don’t want to be ‘strong’ or are too lazy to be ‘strong’ and they don’t want anyone else to be ‘strong’.

When such lazy and disruptive students leave school, the rest make much faster progress and may even enjoy their education. A touch of the French Foreign Legion’s attitude towards the half-hearted and disruptive might well improve our comprehensive system.

Occasionally a ‘loser’ appears in my martial arts classes; they don’t want to work hard except on the things they enjoy, and they distract the others. I don’t care about their ability or lack thereof. The key factor is their attitude. Fortunately, I am not forced by the government to keep these students. I can either ask them to leave or give them a chance to improve.

I usually give them a chance, but if their attitude doesn’t improve, I’m happy when they leave. I do not want the majority of the class with a sharp attitude to lose their ability to concentrate and make rapid progress. Training with like-minded people is the fastest way to success in any business.

The French Foreign Legion doesn’t usually give lazy people a second chance. They are out on the hook immediately or are quickly disciplined to accept the rules.

I was impressed by the ‘aperitif’ of the French Foreign Legion. This took the form of 10 pull ups before the evening meal. The volunteers found it tough, as most of us would.

Sgt. Glenn Ferguson explained that this ‘aperitif’ was important in battle. It is no use being able to travel miles on foot and then not being able to pull yourself up over a wall when you reached the battle site. Upper body strength is essential for a soldier. One of the sergeant’s favorite sayings makes the point:

A man who cannot pull his own body weight is a waste of oxygen

I particularly liked the ‘aperitif’ exercise because it involves daily effort at a precise time. Any consistent daily effort produces impressive results. Doing the exercise before a meal or reward is also a good idea. Having an immediate reward after an action makes it easier to perform the action. Daily effort is a key factor in any success story.

Sergeant Cook Peter Hauser, who had served with the Legion’s elite Parachute Regiment around the world, taught the volunteers about the Legion’s weapons and tactics.

The volunteers were in similar territory (in the Western Sahara desert) to that where the Legion was the last line of defense in the sixties as France’s colonial empire crumbled.

Simon Murray was a Legionnaire from 1960 to 1965. He described the enormous amount of equipment a Legionnaire had to carry:

“It’s a hard life because you carry six days’ rations. You probably carried about 40 kilos and you have 4 hand grenades; you have 200 rounds, you have a rock gun; you have you have a couple of water bottles, you have a shovel, you have your sleeping set and half a tent. You are quite weighed down, and very often you go u phil and long, long, long hard and often men would be quite done and collapse; and then the sergeants would kick them and move them on and started screaming at them. You can have a fever, you can have this and the other. Nobody cared.”

The ruthless attitude of the sergeants did not allow for excuses, and excuses are a major cause of failure in any venture. Sergeants like Sergeant Glenn Ferguson believed in pushing men beyond their limits. Most success stories contain this element of expanding your boundaries and breaking through your limitations. One of the sergeant’s favorite sayings is:

“If you’re never shown that your limits can be pushed, you’ll never know how far you can really go.”

At the end of the 4 weeks, the volunteers had to do a regular 60-minute legionary run in 60 minutes with an ill-fitting 12 kilo pack on their back. They had to walk two hours to get to the start of the race after a night on guard duty. Will, one of the volunteers, had very sore ankles, but with the help of Corporal Rutter he managed.:

“You can do it—little steps. One before the other. Come on Will—one last little effort—you can do it. Come on; last little effort; you can do it; it came now. Come on! Bit grit your teeth! You’re there!”

Will just made it with ten seconds to spare. He attributed his success to Corporal Rutter’s help, but the Corporal blamed it on him. “If you dig deep within yourself, you can do it – it’s a mind thing – it’s all in your mind.”

Again, this kind of attitude and the encouragement that came with it lead to success and achievement. I believe that taking small steps in anything is a big factor in achieving success.

The main reason recruits to the Legion drop out is due to foot problems caused by the frequent long marches and runs. Why do some stick around while others drop out?

Bobby, one of the remaining four volunteers, gave one reason:

“The positive people seem to be still here. It shows that a smile and a good nature can carry you through most things.”

On their last day, the four successful volunteers faced the kepi march. The night before the march, they are told the heroic story of Camerone. During the Franco-Mexican War in 1863, the Legion retreated to a farm called Camerone, where they were surrounded by 2,000 Mexican soldiers.

As the legionnaires fought down to the last three men without surrendering, the Mexican captain let the three surviving men go with their weapons and wounded comrades. He said:

“What can we do with men like you?. You have shown such courage.” This esprit de corp is what the volunteers need on the Kepi march.

Will compared the Kepi march to giving birth. “At the time it’s very painful, but later you forget all the pain and think it would be a good idea to have or do another one.”

An Irish ex-legionary who was briefly on the TV program commented that the kepi march is difficult, but that’s just the way it is. “If it wasn’t hard, you wouldn’t be there. The blisters came out and then the blood came out.”

Sgt Glenn Ferguson described the real march through the Pyrenees: “180 K’s in 3 and a half days; 18 hours of marching a day. You’re walking on these bloody stumps that used to be your feet. You know they’re in a bad way because you can feel it (the sergeant’s description was more colorful) but you just keep going and in about ten minutes your brain just shuts off and you just keep going. Eventually your boots had to be cut off – lots of blood and lots off of skin.”

Eventually all three staff and the four remaining volunteers, Bear, Bobby, Will and Loic completed the march and reached the Atlantic Ocean. Loic liked the symbolism of walking through the desert and then landing in the sea. Everyone rushed into the Atlantic to celebrate.

Later, all four were presented with kepi blanc as a souvenir. They would not be allowed to wear it, but could keep it to remember their experience. Only real legionnaires could wear the Kepi blanc

Loic had learned that in the end he could live a very simple life on a miserable bed with a cold shower and that the materialistic problems that bother us mean absolutely nothing.

Bear, the leader of the volunteers, commented:

“We didn’t find the Beau Geste and the romantic myths of the Legion. We only found pain, but from that pain came pride and honor. Whatever you say to the Legion, you have to realize that for the people who come through it, it gives a tremendous sense of pride. And the strength of the Legion is that it gives people family and pride and a second chance. It builds good things through hardship.”

The following important success lessons can be learned from this account:

Surround yourself with eager, hard-working people who want to be the best. Drive out the lazy and half-hearted.

Take daily actions to make yourself stronger in every way.

Push yourself beyond your imagined limitations

Keep smiling and be kind.

Accept pain and adversity as a path to strength

Remember past achievements of yourself or others

Encourage each other and, if necessary, take small steps to achieve your goals

Stop making excuses

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