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My Kettlebell Journey…

October 5, 2007 11:25 AM

So there I was in New York City, heading to the gym. I was going over my upcoming training session in my mind and while I knew what I was going to do, there was an element of sameness. Warm up, jog on the treadmill, and hit a few machines, maybe some free weights, abs, a shower and I'd be done. I travel a lot and no matter where I was, this was the template for my training. Let's face it; I was bored out of my skull with this "routine" (for routine it was).

I arrived, changed and went to stretch. I was about to start, when I saw something unfamiliar next to the weight rack: a collection of black balls with handles. I asked a trainer whom I had trained with before what they were. "Kettlebells" he said. I asked how they were used and he proceeded to show me. Swings, snatches and a rotational clean/snatch hybrid (ouch!). I fumbled around with a 12 kg, banging my forearms, tweaking my back and generally putting dollar signs in the eyes of every physical therapist and chiropractor in a twenty-mile radius.

At the end of it, he showed me one last drill, the Get-up. I was blown away. While I saw how it was done, I just couldn't get my head around it. I tried with limited success but I knew I had found something. With the words "Dragon Door" buzzing around in my head I hurried to the nearest computer, ordered Pavel's Russian Kettlebell Challenge book and DVD, three KB's and waited. When they arrived, I devoured both book and disc and started "practicing".

While the physical gains were quick to come, something else happened. I began to look forward to practicing with kettlebells. Understand, I have played competitive sports for many years and have done sport specific strength training as well as some martial arts, but I have never experienced the NEED to train so much. The training was going well but I had to step it up a notch. I enrolled in a Mike Mahler Level 1 course. I had been working with a 16kg bell exclusively, but that weekend we cleaned a 32kg. High-tension strength training was beginning to take hold.

I read an article in Hard Style by Bill Fox in which he talked about using your practice with kettlebells as your own private dojo, a place to escape the noise and occasional pettiness of the outside world and go within. Now the transformation was accelerating; my physical gains were quickly being outpaced by my mental gains. I decided to go for the RKC.

I had just moved to Denmark when I saw that the next one was going to be in Copenhagen! Clearly there were larger forces at work. I ramped up my training by getting "Enter the Kettlebell" and went from four days a week to five days. When it was time for the RKC, I was primed.

There was one small, nagging doubt though: the snatch test. My PR was 60(30/30) with a 24kg. But I needed 15 more. During the test at the RKC, I got to 30 on my left and switched arms. I heard someone behind me say to someone else "He switched early". "Uh Oh" I thought. When I hit 60, the instructor saw I was struggling and told me: "It's all in your mind". At that moment, of course, it was. I completed the test successfully and learned an unforgettable lesson: without doubt, the practice of kettlebells trains the physical form. For me, this practice trains my spirit and mind far more.

When I first read Pavel's statement that practicing kettlebells sets you on the road to "becoming a better man" I didn't quite get it. After that weekend at the RKC, however, it became abundantly clear that this training synchronized my body, mind and spirit. Awesome.

But the best part of that weekend was when I found out that Steve Maxwell's father saved my father's life in World War II. They were both in the Navy and my father's ship had sunk. After spending roughly 17 hours in the water, the ship on which Steve's father served arrived and pulled the survivors from the water. I knew I was onto something when I first picked up a kettlebell but now I know I am doing what am supposed to do.

This past fall I finally fulfilled a lifelong dream: traveling to Russia. I was working on a film and as soon as I got there I was able to lay my hands on a pair of 24kg bells. I trained mostly in the hotel room, either before or after work.

I soon found two guys who not only had been Spetsnaz but also had continued to train. I showed them the few things that I have learned and was greeted with a slightly bemused silence.

I found out later that while they thought my Renegade Rows and TGU's were nice, swings, snatches, squats and long cycle clean and jerks were the order of the day. And the tools of choice were the 16, 24 and 32 kg kettlebells only. And after they finished, a no filter Sobranie to help heal the lungs! While I think they were glad to see a foreigner training "the Russian Way" they seemed slightly miffed that their secret was out.

And recently my 16-year old son, Jasper, attended the Naked Warrior Intensive and is starting up his kettlebell training. So the cycle continues.

Thank you, Pavel!

Sam Robards, RKC is now available for training in New York City. He can be reached at Sam has a background in competitive soccer and rugby, weight training, Martial Arts (Tang Soo Doo Mu Du Kwan/Soo Bahk Do), backcountry telemark skiing, Ashtanga Yoga, and is a Shiatsu massage practitioner and high school soccer coach. He has been practicing with kettlebells since 2004.