In the summer of 2011, my third child had just turned a year old. I was just beginning to feel reconnected with the world. My business was having one of its best years, in no small part to my part-time assistant. Yet, despite the optimistic signs all around me—I was working as if the world would end tomorrow. Projects I wanted to forget for clients I wanted to ignore. My regular exercise routine was pacing between my monitor and the coffee pot. I wouldn’t leave my house for days at a time. My temper was getting short. I would explode at the slightest inconvenience. I was making my life and my young family’s life worse. Not better. I didn’t know how to stop.
In early August, two of my favorite people visited from half the world away and set up this block game in my suburban backyard. A simple game of 11 square wooden blocks and six wooden sticks. They were a little unsure of the rules—though they knew that five of the wooden blocks were placed on opposing sides, the larger king—placed in middle, and each side took turns throwing the sticks at the opposing sides blocks. The other parts of game play weren’t as clear. It didn’t matter, we played game after game after game for was seemed like hours.
Kubb—they called it.
A few weeks later I purchased my first kubb. Then in the middle of a mild, Minnesota winter, I invited a bunch of friends over to play for my 37th birthday. We joked about taking this silly wooden game seriously. We joked about playing competitively.
I pulled together two friends and entered The Loppet Foundation's winter kubb tournament. Outside. In February. In Minnesota. Walking into the tournament I remember saying to my friend, “There’s this one part of the rules I don’t quite understand.” He shrugged and we waited for our first game.
That first game lasted no more than five minutes. Same as the second. In those two short games—my friends and I got a faint whiff of the game's bowling-esque short game and intense strategy. We applied our learnings as quickly and clawed our way into the Championship bracket.
After that tournament, when I had a hard problem on a client project—I’d step outside and throw some wood. Sometimes I’d play against myself, other times I’d practice some aspect of the game. A clear, focused mind brought a hit every time. Any other single thought guaranteed a miss. It felt like hours melted away. Yet the clock would say only 30 minutes. Sometimes 45. Always refreshing.
I slept better. I stopped drinking two pounds of coffee a week. My in-laws commented on how much color was in my complexion.
I thought my team was ready for the U.S. National Championship. We weren’t. We couldn’t hit anything. But we could hold on. If we didn’t lose immediately, we could hold on for an hour. A slow, painful slog only relieved by the tournament organizer calling time. Again we clawed our way into the Championship bracket. Again we lost immediately. Two long days in the heat of the Midwestern sun. Playing kubb. Nothing better.
Despite having two opposing sides there's hardly any defense in kubb. This means the throwing team is responsible for their own progress and only they're to blame for a bad throw. This lack of direct competition means both sides celebrate good hits, both sides shake off an unfortunate miss, and after the match teams share techniques.
Kubb is a simple game. 17 non-descript pieces of wood. No technology, no Internet, no Inbox. Just friends and family throwing wood across the lawn. It brought me back to life.
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