Craftsmanship, and a multidimensional life

“Now he’s going to build choppers…oooh-K.”

I don’t talk about my plans openly much (at least until started blogging) but when I do, I find that I will often catch wind of responses like the one quoted above. In fact, in the last year or two I actually left a friend behind due to how he reacted to me sharing about my desire to open another custom shop, albeit a private one. 

I even had my artist, Lorin Michki, do me up a straight BADASS logo for my shop, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone when it’s all properly protected and set up. I shared my logo and my plans with my friend, who I thought would be super receptive to the idea and think it was pretty cool. He wasn’t at all cool about it. In fact, he openly just pretty much doubted me and even trash talked some of my plans.

As they say,
“don’t nobody got time for that kind of negativity”
Adios, hombre.  

So, dovetailing off of my last blog post The One-Dimensional Dilemma, I wanted to dive deeper into the topics of craftsmanship and artistry, two things I spent a good part of my life chasing and will be returning to very soon. 

Roots run deep and wide

I’ve lived many lives. It’s true. I hit the ground running and I have never stopped. I go all in. I succeed or fail, walk away or crash and burn, and then get right up the next day and go head first into the next endeavor. I’ve chased many dreams, lost many fortunes and made more mistakes than I’d care to remember (some I am still paying for). But I fucking do it, that’s for sure. 

Way back into my youth my burning desire was to build custom cars and motorcycles. As a poor kid with no one to show me the ropes I just hustled my ass off, traded and bartered for blown up cars and parts, read every Hot Rod magazine or book I could get my hands on, and did the best I could. This was my small hope in between all the violence, drugs and drinking that went on in my whole world, and that I was a participant of, back then. 

I didn’t grow up with a dad that had nice tools or any decent skills. I was lucky to have a garage, even though it had no door and no heat. That’s where I got my start. 

I think I was 14 when I dragged home my first car, a running 1976 Camaro. Probably bartered or hustled to get the $200 I paid for it. Between then and when I went to prison at 19, I probably had over 20 cars and a few bikes, swapped a dozen motors and transmissions and had collected a respectable collection of parts. Man, I’d give anything to have those parts today, they’d be worth ten times as much as they were then.

Straight out of prison at 24, while I continued to train and workout, I attended the auto body program at Owens State in Toledo, Ohio. I graduated that program in less time than allotted by taking 20 hour weeks of coursework while I did 40 hour weeks at Larry Pahl’s Body Shop in Bowling Green, Ohio.

I also lived in an abandoned apartment that had no electricity for $150 a month. The nice landlady’s son was my cellmate in lockup, so she hooked me up. She even let me run an extension cord over, so I had that going for me. I spent 18 months there, and it was not a bad life at all. 

I left there and enrolled at Northwestern University in Lima, Ohio for high performance mechanics. I didn’t even finish two semesters though because I was offered a job from one of my hero’s, Scott Guildner, at Scott’s Rod and Custom in Van Nuys, CA. I mean, at that time Scott was literally on the cover of Rod and Custom magazine like every other month, so this was a fucking dream job. 

About two years out of prison, living on my own from day one, I owned about 8 cars and trucks: two 72 Torino’s, a 78 Camaro, a 70 Newport, etc. So I had to sell some off, move some around, and I took a beat up Chevy K20 with a smashed fender and slapped a brand new crate 350 4 bolt in it, and I broke that bitch in hauling my Uhaul trailer from Ohio to Van Nuys with my doberman pup, Thor. 

As it turned out, I hated LA, so I wasn’t there long at all. Thor was also killed there at the young age of 9 months old, so I was over it. But I had seen what I needed to see. I got to watch and study the work of a master fabricator. I lived in an apartment over the shop so I was there 24/7. My driveway was full of Barris customs, chopped 49 Merc’s, chopped 32’s…just endless cool shit. 

I high-tailed it out of LA (which I regret in some ways, I wish I would have stuck it out longer) and headed to Tennessee. I stayed with a cousin there and went straight to work for Bobby Alloway, back then the king of street rods and basically on the cover of Street Rodder magazine every month. I was the guy who slicked frames, and I slicked much of the Alston-built custom frame on the 1956 Ford Skyliner that went on the cover of Popular Hot Rodding March 2002 issue. 

Can’t say I stuck around Alloway’s place for long either. As with many industries, meeting your “heroes” can be pretty disappointing, to say the least. 

I worked in some production collision shops, and did a ton of insurance job painting, but eventually, I opened my own shop around the Oak Ridge, TN area. I was ahead of the curve and opened just before Fast and Furious hit the theaters. I was slicking body kits and building bagged cars and trucks like crazy very quickly.

This is where I really came into my own as a fabricator. I didn’t have any fancy tools or machinery. Luckily my exposure to both Larry Pahl and Scott Guildner gave me that old school fabricator’s eye, able to bend and shape metal using torches, hammers, dollies and whatever else is laying around the shop. I was back-halving trucks and cars, chopping frames and building completely new designs that came out of my head. I barely put any of it on paper, I just figured it out and built it. 

As I mentioned in my last post, I won some shows, too. The Ford Ranger pictured below actually took 2nd Place Ford at NOPI Nationals that year. I built it for a kid named Jordan Fox. He drove that truck for 2 years that I know of with no issues after I built it. A chopped up, bagged truck that can place high at the Nats and drive for a few years with no issues? That’s winning. 

I closed that business down about three years into it for personal reasons. I went on to work in a few more shops but the business had lost the luster for me. I started to hate it. 9/11 had knocked the market out, there just wasn’t the money being spent on custom cars anymore it seemed. I got swindled by some shop owners. I never even finished a car for myself enough to drive. I was done. 

Custom Guitars

Upon leaving the car world, I went and opened up a guitar shop. I had to have a place for my creativity to go, so I struck a deal to clean up a shitty old storefront on the main drag in Girard, Ohio for two free months rent. I had very little money, so I spent one month cleaning it up and the second month earning that first rent coming up. 

I’ll spare you the business details and save that for another story someday, but the fabrication work I did was next level at this spot. I took a course in Michigan under Bryan Galloup for luthiery, and began repairing guitars. It wasn’t long before I had the busiest shop around and hired a few techs to work under me.

I quickly became known as the guy who could fix stuff other shops would turn away. I didn’t care about the value of the guitar, I cared about how much the customer valued it and that they were willing to pay. Check out one of the crazy repairs I did:

It wasn’t long before I was hand-carving and custom building guitars myself. I was already a finishing pro, and shaping wood was a lot like shaping bondo and metal. It was easy, honestly. I also understood the wood really well. I could look at a neck and tell how it would bend and react to tension. Being a player myself I loved the guitars and I loved making them from scratch.

 

I built six total customs. They sold for $1800 to $2500 a piece. I kept one for myself, my Douglas fir topped tele. They were all beautiful and visually flawless. In the end, my bolt-on neck design wasn’t great, but my neck-thru and set necks were rock solid. 

One thing I will say about that adventure is that I owned about 175 guitars at the peak of my inventory. I literally had 2 floors of guitars and they were all paid for. I can remember years before, sitting in prison where I learned how to play guitar on a piece of shit $60 Hondo, and being super pissed because I couldn’t play a real guitar. I swore, “Someday, I’ll own a building full of guitars.”

Motherfucker, I did it.

Coming Home

I’ve told the story several times about growing up around the biker lifestyle, and how prison probably saved me from going too far down that path (or maybe it would’ve been better, who knows?) I wish I had pictures from my youth, the bikes were so fucking cool. I idolized those guys, my uncles and their friends, living the club life and riding built shovels and pans. I remember one in particular had a 56 panhead chopper with a springer front end and an open belt driven primary, it was my dream bike as a kid. 

Random old school chopper pic

Yeah, there were a lot of problems about the way I grew up. But there were a few amazing parts of it, too. The bikes, the fun, the way they treated me as a kid–as one of their own coming up–it was great. I will miss that for the rest of my life. I’m going to fulfill a few of those other visions soon, though. And I definitely have the skills to do it just the way I want it. 

So, 30 years after I first started wrenching, chopping and fabricating cars, bikes and guitars, I want to build stuff again, badass stuff, and I want to do it for myself. Fuuuucckk a customer build. I will have a shop, probably off of the side of my gym, and I’m going to build the old school choppers I grew up around as a kid and have wanted my whole life. 

Back then when I was learning and working all those jobs, I mistakenly thought that being in that business would lead to me owning all that cool stuff. It didn’t really work out that way. Add in trying to play by the rules, a few marriages and two daughters and all my cool cars and bikes disappeared. Now, it’s time for them to come home.

Not a chopper, but my current rider, 21 year old HD Road King, getting new rubber here after I installed the 14″ apes and new lines and cables.

It’s time for me to come home, too. Not “home” in the sense of where I came from, because honestly that would be my personal Journey to Ixtlan, that home doesn’t exist anymore. My home now is on the coast of Florida where I am working to open a small hardcore gym, hang out on the beach a lot, and build cool fucking bikes that I will ride up and down A1A until I can’t ride anymore.

And let me say, none of this comes fast or easy for a poor kid. Even today, at 45,  when I speak of opening my gym and having a small hobby chop shop, I have literally been buying and storing gym equipment for 6 years now (from when I opened my first gym), and I have started slowly buying equipment to work on my bikes here and there. It’ll take ten or fifteen years to accumulate what I want, but I will own it when I do. All mine, no debt. Screw the banks. 

To some, this story sounds like a full life, when in reality it was just a slice of my life. There is a similar story about my life-long pursuit of strength and fitness knowledge and business, much of which happened parallel to and in-between all of this. And of course, everyone knows my story about violence and training. Maybe it sounds outlandish because so many just live inside the safety of the common rules: don’t take risks, save your money, work really hard at one job…all that jazz. 

I lived in abandoned apartments, trailers with no interior walls, traveled on way less money than was ever safe to do and repeatedly gambled everything to get these experiences. 

I probably went as far as I could each time until it broke me, and perhaps shouldn’t have tried to do things I didn’t have the money or support to achieve fully. It has taken a toll on my life, on my financial and physical health as I age, and on my spirit.

But I wouldn’t change it for anything. I had zero guidance or positive examples or support in my life. Zero. I did my absolute best with what I had to work with, which in most cases started with nothing but myself.

 It’s not for the weak. I can work on my own stuff, and fix just about anything that breaks.

Go ahead, live that multidimensional life. 

A Writer’s Pilgrimage

This week I journeyed out for a pilgrimage that has been over 25 years in the making and covered 1300 miles. There’s quite a backstory, so here goes:

Beginnings

Somewhere around twenty-five years ago, I was a troubled young man sitting in the “hole”, a solitary confinement metal cell that measured about 7′ x 5′ x 8′ with a 4′ fluorescent light that stayed on twenty-four hours a day. I had been in there for a few months maybe, having attracted the wrath of the prison’s punitive system for fighting. Fighting was the biggest symptom of my problems as a youth, of course, which led to me serving five years in prison starting as a teen and into my adulthood.

Warrior first“, 21 years old in the penitentiary 1996

While in that terrible place, the prison inside the prison, I grabbed a random book from the library cart that came to our cells once a week. That book was The Return of the Ragpicker by Og Mandino.

That book had a profound effect on me.

Although it took years to germinate and bear fruit, it’s effect was powerful enough to have me on a 1300 mile journey–a full twenty-five years later–specifically seeking something from it’s pages.

The book was set in the beautiful countryside of New Hampshire, with the story starting right at the end of fall as winter was preparing to settle in. The scenery that Og so eloquently painted with his words took my mind from the horrible place that I was in to the most beautiful place I could imagine.

It awakened in me the more subconscious attachments I had with New England. Having heard stories of how great it was when I lived there with my mother as a child. Those stories were something of a dream since her choice to move back to her hometown in Ohio led to the bleak and tragic life that we ended up living there. In my mind as a kid, New England was the place where our dreams could have came true, almost came true, if we hadn’t left…

Growing up I was just fascinated by the region. It was featured in some of my favorite TV shows, like This Old House and The Yankee Workshop. The big old houses, the quaint towns where life seemed simple; I would watch those shows and imagine having an old house there, with a wood shop and a writing studio. 

It all ties in to my lifelong dream of being a writer. So many great writers came from or lived in New England during their best work, Mr. Mandino being my all-time favorite among them. It always seemed a place that just inspired words to come forth. A place to retreat and create. 

And though I am not a fan of the horror genre, Stephen King was a huge inspiration to me as well. As one of the most successful writers to ever live, nearly all of his writings and subsequent movies were set in New England and vividly featured the region throughout. I was drawn in to it every time and would often watch his movies just to catch a glimpse of that beautiful place. 

You have to imagine that these “dreams” and visions were at a time when the reality of my own life was colored by despair. My upbringing and family life was ransacked by the drug and alcohol addiction and the violence that surrounded me growing up. The lack of drive and absence of creativity in my environment (that seemed to occupy only my mind) left me feeling pretty lost and longing for a different way of life. 

A hidden place

As part of my journey to the “secret” location described by Og in his book, I rode a vintage train through the White Mountain notch region. Og’s explanations of the landscape, with endless rolling hills and mountain views painted with the beautiful colors of the changing seasons all became real as I rode through the same mountains of New Hampshire that he wrote about. 

That same scenery that my mind escaped to all those years ago, was now unfolded right before my eyes, and it was every bit as beautiful as I had imagined. To top it off, I was heading to the magical place where Simon Potter reappeared in Og’s life after 15 years away, just outside of the town of Langville, NH.

Simon was a ragpicker, a mysterious old man that never aged and had a knack for disappearing after things had been set in order. He would show up in someone’s life when they were seemingly at the end of their rope and in despair, and guide them to a better way. He first appeared in Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World, and made his second appearance in the sequel Return of Ragpicker (which I read first). 

Sitting at the literal bottom of despair in the inhumane solitary confinement of a prison, the concept of a Simon Potter was something I wished for in my life. Someone who cared, who offered guidance.

I guess most people get that from their parents or family members, something that just wasn’t available to me. But there is no doubt that if someone had stepped up to a young me all those years ago, things likely would have turned out quite different and better for my life. 

It caused me to want to be that person for other people. To solve my own problems, find my way to a happy, “normal” life and then use that experience to be the one who steps up for the less fortunate. Too many just look down on people and never truly understand the blindness and confusion that poverty and tragic culture creates in those people. So many answers that seem so simple to average folks are just not conceivable to people from the broken parts of our society.

Too many people judge and not enough people care, and I believe that is why eventually we will fracture our society as a whole. I believe we are seeing it happen now. 

It took me 20 years of intense, hard work and literally struggling to climb out of poverty for me to make any headway on my own. I had no inheritance, no guidance and no financial advice. There was no one to co-sign loans for me, or teach me about how to build credit and have nice things. I made so many incredibly costly mistakes and in many ways damaged my life forever along the way. 

But here I am, twenty-five years later, making the pilgrimage largely paid for by my income from writing. I have one successful book out, and I get paid “OK” as a writer of articles for businesses on the internet. I am not rich but I am starting to do the things I dreamed about doing. I am writing, getting paid, and walking in the footsteps of the giants before me. 

The Old Stones

According the the Langville Historical Society, the structure was built in 1817 by the town for the purpose of “pounding” cattle, a practice that is no longer in use. 

After plane rides, hundreds of miles of driving and train rides, I set eyes upon the supposedly fictional place. There it was, in front of me, just how Og had described it nestled in some woods off of Blueberry Road. The fallen stones partially covered by dead oaks and leaves, the walls still nearly four feet high in some places.

Even the entrance was there, just as he described, where the townspeople would lead the animals in and stack some stones to prevent them from leaving. 

How strange to be standing there, inside of an old structure placed together over 200 years ago in some quiet, tiny hidden town in the mountains of New Hampshire. It was very surreal, to see the moss covered stones where Og undoubtedly sat and wrote; where I also now have sat and wrote (part of which would become this short story). 

It’s mid-October and fall is definitely underway here, with the wind loudly swooshing through the trees like a gentle but stern warning of the winter months soon to come. I sat still and listened to it as it blew the orange and golden leaves to the ground all around me. 

What a beautiful day to make this pilgrimage! It was sunny and clear and although fall in New Hampshire, if I wasn’t so acclimated to my Florida home’s weather I would have been comfortable in a T-shirt like the locals. 

The few locals who rode by eyed me with deep suspicion, which I tried to disarm with a friendly wave. It’s very easy to see why Og wanted to protect this place. It is a town of people who like their simple, rugged life up here in the mountains and they don’t want any “flatlanders” coming up here and messing it up. 

The area is presumably much busier than when Og sat there and wrote almost 30 years ago, but the road next to the pound is still not paved and the area is still quite hidden in the edge of the woods. It would be easy to miss for anyone who wasn’t really looking for it.

Sitting there, I almost expected old Simon to appear. I imagined hearing a voice from behind me and turning around to find an old man standing there by the wall. He never did, of course, but it would have been a great time for him to show up! I could use some of his advice right now…

I did imagine Mr. Mandino’s presence there as I touched the stones, and I tried to absorb the hundreds of years of history that these stones have seen in this spot. It’s been a truly inspiring journey. I feel like I completed a circle; like some task I started decades ago has been finished and I can now begin the process of looking back at what I learned during the process. 

The moss covered stones around the entrance to the pound, just as Og had described them 30 years before

Who is Simon?

Simon may not have shown up in the form that Og described him, but perhaps he was there after all. If I go on to do the things that I desire to do, and gain enough success to be able to offer some guidance for those who are navigating deep adversity, perhaps that is Simon living in me. 

I do understand that Mr. Mandino was somewhat of a religious man and that the story of Simon Potter was very Christian at it’s core. I am not any of those things but I can still embrace the meaning and message of the book. Finding the simplest of guidance during the most complex adversities, and then passing that wisdom on to others, this is what we should be called to do. 

It’s nice to come to New England as a writer–though not a very good one in comparison to Og and others. It’s nice to see that some of my dreams have came true. They came true despite the obstacles, the people who didn’t believe in me or my visions, the naysayers who said I should work menial jobs and conform to accept my lot in life. None of that stopped me, nor will it stop me going forward. They came true because I never gave up. Because I believed in goofy things like finding inspiration under the palm trees of Florida, or in the mountains of New England.

Of course, I am still struggling to make it happen. I don’t have an abundance of money, and much of what I get paid to write about is still not what I really want to write about.

But, we start out writing about what we know and unfortunately that topic for me is violence. That opened doors for me to begin exploring other topics, and this article is an expression of that. Not many writers make a living wage from their writing, so I am already successful in some very low-percentile ways. 

What happened this week was a synchronicity of deep events that developed over many lives, many miles and many decades.  In the next day or so I’ll leave the mountains and head to the Northeast coastline, which I will follow up to Maine for my last few days. Then back home to Florida, the other place that I am in love with.

Note: Don’t bother looking up Langville, NH. It doesn’t exist. From Og Mandino himself:

“Please waste none of your precious time searching any New Hampshire map for the town of Langville, the setting for this book, because you will seek in vain. Out of respect for the proud, stubborn, and hard-working Yankee townspeople who have a tough enough time tolerating “summer folks,” much less “curiosity seekers,” I have altered the descriptions of all easily identifiable landmarks as well as changed the name of that lovely green and granite hamlet that is the locale of my story.”

I found it, Og. After 25 years, I found it. I quietly visited, paid homage, and didn’t leave a trace. 
 

So I disappeared for a little bit

You may not have heard from me much for the past few weeks. I decided to take a vacation. It wasn’t one of those decisions that is based on the best time off work, or whether the budget worked or not. Nope. I HAD to go, and I had to go right then. I was really losing my mind, becoming irate and snapping on everyone, and as a friend put it, it appeared I was going off the deep end. It was certainly true…

Anyhow, my vacation started with what was supposed to be a “quick” project on my Harley, install a set of 14” ape hangers, new cables, new brake lines, new rear brake system, new rear shocks, and change all the fluids. Easy, should have been a few days on the side, tops. 

Hell no. 

Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I worked on that bike for 6 days straight. I didn’t do anything else other than the minimal contact with my strength and fitness clients. Every other minute awake was spent in my shed (actually a converted chicken coup) working on that damn bike. I was trying to get it done because I was leaving for a week and returning right when Daytona fall bike week starts and I did not want to miss it. 

By day 6 the bike wasn’t done, but I jumped on a plane and flew to Boston because it was time to go. After spending the afternoon with a good friend in Arlington, I drove to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I stayed with a friend of a friend in an 1850’s farmhouse with the most amazing porch views.  

On day one, my first full day there, I drove up to Conway, NH and rode the vintage Conway rail through the mountains and out to the base of Mt. Washington. I sipped wine and wrote in my private booth while the train slunked its way through the notch and some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. 

On day two I drove south to an undisclosed location in NH to see a relic that I have wanted to see for 25 years. (Read about it in my upcoming article, A Writer’s Pilgrimage.) It was amazing to make that journey after so many years. 

On day three, I hung around the farmhouse with the two dogs that live there, which I inherited as companions when the owner went off to work. I wrote on the porch and took in the beautiful views. 

Day four sent me on a drive out to the coast to Hampton Beach, NH. What a cool little spot. Although everything was pretty much shut down for the winter I could tell it was a fun and happening place in the summer. I found one place open on their last day and had two whole lobsters for lunch. I really caught that 80’s beach movie-boardwalk arcade-fun place vibe there, and my mind labeled it the northern counterpart to Daytona Beach in Florida (my other favorite). I’ll be back in the summer for sure.

From there, I drove up the rocky coast on 1A to Ogunquit, ME where I met another friend for a memorable dinner. I ended that night in a beautiful “cabin” (more like a mid-sized modern home) in the woods of Maine. 

Day five was rainy but very comfortable temperature wise, which was great for northern New England in October. I drove back south to Portsmouth, NH. I couldn’t see much in the rain, but what an amazing little town, founded in the early 1600’s!! Like, the town was founded in 1630, and the streets for the most part still retain the original layout. I would love to go back and spend some time there in the summer, and as luck would have it, it is not far from Hampton Beach. The rain prohibited any pictures unfortunately.

I finished that day out meeting with yet another good friend for dinner in Maine, and had a great conversation about strategic planning and what is to come professionally for me next. In fact, this trip was largely for the purpose of me getting some clarity to make some tough decisions, and we ironed out the final draft of that that night. 

Day 6 I boarded a plane back to Florida. I cut my trip short by one day because the bike still was not finished and I wanted to end this vacation in Daytona Beach for bike week. I drove from Maine to Boston, flew from Boston to Orlando, drove from Orlando to north of Ocala, and then went straight and worked on the bike for a little bit. 

Woke up the next day and spent the whole day on it again. I literally put in the 7th full day spent on that bike and I finally had it up and running again. What a pain in the ass it was. Literally just complication after complication, but I finally got it back together, mostly. 

On Day 8 I got my daughter on the back and we rode the 75 miles to Daytona Beach. The first thing I did was to make a quick stop at Ormond Beach, strip off my boots and jeans and headed straight into the ocean for a walk around in the warm water (don’t worry, I had swimming trunks on). We were privileged to watch two dolphins playing and jumping right near us. I really love the beach, it’s my place for sure. 

We got suited back up and hit A1A for some cruising. The bikes were crazy. We hit Main Street a few times, cruised up and down and then parked to go walk and watch all the bikes go by. We went for another nice drive through the back streets of Daytona and stopped for wings and fries before heading out for the 75 mile ride back through the forest to home. 

I have to say, riding a motorcycle through the national forest in Florida at night is quite an experience. I’ve had a bear run out on me before while I rode through there, and there were signs this week about “high bear activity” with orders to not stop on the highway. So, it made sense that I saw a bear and a deer on my side of the road on the way back. It’s pitch black out in that forest, and it’s like a 40 minute ride through that section and at 65mph+ it’s pretty exhilarating. 

I’m ending my vacation with a day at home, a beautiful Central Florida day on my farm, relaxing and collecting my thoughts about the trip and my upcoming plans. I made a lot of decisions over the last few weeks, from the long nights of solitude cussing at my motorcycle in the shed, to the flying, driving and scenic sitting covering roughly 1700 miles or more, I did a lot of thinking. 

I will be making some big changes in my life and businesses very soon. Make sure to keep an eye out for those announcements.

Advanced Safety: A recent podcast

“Advanced safety” is a term I began to use about a decade ago when I started training firearms on a professional level. It refers to a level of safety that is required if you are going to operate a firearm in a public space, under extreme pressure, with innocent bystanders around. 

This goes way beyond the “range safety” taught to everyone by their local gun instructor guy, all that stuff about keeping the muzzle downrange or down, and not treating the gun as if it’s unloaded, etc. But what about the complex problems of controlling your muzzle during a real fight, when there are running, screaming and freezing panicking people all around you? What about when you have your family, or small children with you? 

In this episode Daniel Shaw and I go in depth about our unique views on safety and how to train it for the fight. 

165 – Advanced Safety | Thinking Beyond the 4 Firearm Safety Rules

Lessons from Seattle: Shooter Rughi

Lessons from Seattle

I recently co-hosted an interview with @_shooter_rughi_ on the Gunfighter Cast with Daniel Shaw. He’s the guy often referred to as the “Weapon Snatcher” during the Seattle riots a few days back. This is a particularly good episode for several reasons. He did it right. He was legitimately the “grey man” (a badly overused term) in that crowd. He went into the operation with mission clarity, an understanding of deep concealment, pragmatic weapon and gear selection (not just carrying a bunch of kit because it’s cool or people say too)…there are a lot of good lessons in that one, including a couple practical demonstrations of things I talk about in Violence of Mind.

For a little background, “Rughi” (the moniker is a nickname turned into an Instagram handle) is a former Marine turned security contractor who was working personal security for a local news team. He was actually in comms with Shaw before he went into the Marine Corps back in the day.

Check out The Weapon Snatcher: Shooter Rughi.

DIMINISHING RETURNS: OVERTRAINING AND LIFESTYLE

In the firearms training world we preach “practice practice practice!” In fitness it’s often, “Train hard! Train often!” However, there is a point where putting in more effort will result in negative results rather than positive rewards. I’ve personally hit my own wall of degradation of skills many times as the result of putting a massive effort out. I’m sure most of you have as well.

There are 3 ways to look at diminishing returns for training.

  • Diminishing Returns in the Training Session
  • Diminishing Returns over the Long Term
  • Diminishing Returns of Lifestyle

 Saturation: Diminishing Returns in The Training Session

This is a pretty simple concept. There is a certain point during one single training session that if you keep going, you are not going to gain any more improvements. In fact, in fitness or firearms training you could actually hurt your progress or yourself. Think about physically working out to the point of exhaustion, where your muscles can not successfully perform the movements any more. Continuing to work through that post-fatigue level of exhaustion can not only work against you but eventually it becomes dangerous as the muscles can no longer do the job of protecting the tendons, cartilage and joints from damage while under load.

The same thing happens in firearms training, and it can be as much mental as it is physical. I’ve found in running my own courses that the average student typically hits a serious wall at about 6 to 7 hours of range time and coursework. There’s mental and physical fatigue, lack of concentration, degradation of skills and most importantly, a degradation of safety awareness. You can tell when it begins to happen. Groupings that were good all day will begin to open up, and mechanics such as draw stroke and reloading will become sloppy. When the instructor calls out another course of fire, your eyes slightly roll back and an expression of “oh joy” drapes over your face. You’re tired, spent and your commitment to each movement is waning fast.

When it comes to firearms, this is the point to call it a day and be happy with a full effort for a full day of training. If you did not hit specific goals, it’s ok. Pushing past this point won’t help you reach them and the harder you try to push it the farther away those goals will get. It’s also the point where safety awareness begins to fade under the weight of mental drain and physical fatigue and mistakes become more likely. With firearms, there is no room for mistakes, since they can be life-changing or life-ending.

There is a technique of training just into the point of diminishing returns that I am a fan of. Basically, it means not quitting at the first sign of becoming weary. There’s that point where sometimes you’re ready to quit, but it’s well before you’re spent or drained. There’s a short opportunity there to push your limitations, force yourself to pull it back together and perform at your higher level for just a bit longer. 

I would argue it’s more of an exercise for mindset than for improving skills. Overcoming the desire to shut down and forcing yourself to focus is a form of stress training and does work. Doing this correctly will help you perform better under stress and helps to build stronger character. But remember, this in no way means pushing into that dangerous territory of mental and physical fatigue or forgetfulness when it comes to safety awareness.

The same holds true for accomplishing strength gains or increases in capabilities in fitness training. Pushing past that first urge to quit, to give in and not do another set, another run, is where the boundaries of your work capacity begin to get pushed out. But eventually fatigue both physical and mental will take over and your form will deteriorate with your capability. You will, at that point, be doing too much damage and risking injury. 

The trick is knowing when to actually walk away and save it for the next session, which is another reason to have the guidance of an experienced coach or instructor. 

Adaptation Threshold: Diminishing Returns over The Long Term

This is the one unavoidable instance of diminishing returns. Basically, the better you get and the more capable you become, the less improvements you will gain from training sessions. This applies to fitness activities as well as to fighting skills such as firearms training. In the early days of your training endeavor, you are brand new and have close to zero skills or fitness level. When you start at the bottom you get your first gains quickly. 

In fitness training, nearly any program or method you try at first will give you good results. Basically just getting off the couch and becoming active will make you better rather quickly. But as time goes on, those methods, workouts, rep ranges, etc. will not have the same affect. Your body will adapt and you will become more resistant to adaptation, which is the desired result of training. That is where quality coaching, experimentation and good programming come in to help you continue to grow.

For firearms, with decent instruction you can go from unsure and cumbersome, lacking the ability to hit a target, to confidently handling the weapon and hitting a target in really short order, often after just one day. Spend a little more time and you start to get better groupings of your shots. However, as those groups start to tighten up, the improvements begin to come a bit harder. It’s easier to go from not grouping your shots to shooting 10” groups in the torso of a silhouette than it is to work 5” groups down to 2.5” groups. Patience and persistence will overcome this. You just have to be aware that you will hit plateaus and you have to push through and keep working at it.

Diminishing Returns of Lifestyle

Diminishing returns due to lifestyle is a bit more complicated, and probably the most important one to fix. There are endless factors that combine to affect your training abilities and the rewards you will get from that training. I am speaking mainly to those of you who are ambitious and are actively pursuing an increase in your shooting performance and/or physical fitness on a regular basis. I mentioned that I’ve hit my own walls of diminishing returns. The worst wall, for me, is due to lifestyle. 

Everything affects your performance: how much sleep you get, what you eat, when you eat, stress levels, work schedules…every factor will enhance or diminish your performance. As you get older, the impact those factors have on your performance becomes magnified. Once I hit 40, even something as simple as not getting a full night’s sleep can seriously affect a day of fitness or shooting performance for me. 

We all have our own physical and mental issues that need tending to on a regular basis. For example, if you are sensitive to carbs, or you are diabetic or hypoglycemic, you can forget about shooting nice groups at any considerable distance if you don’t eat correctly that day. Likewise, if you try pushing through a hard workout you could end up unconscious on the floor. The examples are endless but it’s easy for you to understand what your own issues are if you take the time to log your inputs and your outcomes and compare the notes after a few times. 

Using my own example, I used to have a habit of letting my ambition run me straight into the ground. I can remember working 80 to 100 hour weeks regularly. This resulted in a multitude of problems. The administrative tasks of my business ran late into the night causing me to lose sleep consecutively day after day. The busy work schedule prohibited proper eating. The stresses wear my mind down to mental fatigue. Do you see the negatives stacking up there?

Nothing will destroy your performance or your ability to recover from performance like the accumulative effects of insufficient sleep, poor nutrition and stress. On top of this, we can allow a busy schedule to prohibit regular practice and training. It can happen even if you work in the business; it’s easy to be the proverbial mechanic who’s own car doesn’t run properly. So, it’s no mystery why over a few months you will watch your groups begin to open up, your mechanics become sloppy, and eventually you venture out onto the range or into the gym and your performance is nothing other than bad. 

Why is this an example of diminishing returns? All of our hard work each week is put toward a goal. At a certain point you’re just putting out maximum effort but you are spread out too thin and you are hurting your performance and thereby hurting your ability to attain your overall goal. The returns for your efforts are diminishing. 

In some ways, you are hurting your goals because you are repeatedly performing things incorrectly, which makes them a trained performance. You are training yourself to do it poorly. 

Of course, this is reversible. When I get fixated on a goal I pursue it relentlessly and will burn myself down to get to it. I’ve ran across a lot of students and athletes who exhibit this same intensity in their desire to shoot well or perform well on the field or in the gym. If you are forcing your shooting training into your life where it doesn’t fit, you will not get what you want out of it. Sometimes we need to sit down and prioritize and, sometimes, sacrifices need to be made. The fix is there. If you are unhealthy or unhappy, figure out why and fix it.

 Breaking the Plateaus of Training

When you reach plateaus, places where diminishing returns seem to halt all progress, take the time to examine your regiment and your lifestyle to determine what you can change to disrupt that plateau. It’s that old saying about not getting different results as long as you keep doing the same things. Sometimes, it’s technique related. For example, if you have spent a lot of time doing speed, tactical and “combat” type drills, your accuracy could easily suffer. For fitness, if you spent a lot of time doing slow, heavy lifting, after a while your body is trained to move slow, it makes sense that you will find fast, explosive movements to be subpar in performance. 

The easy remedy is to change up your routine and start doing some work to push your effective range out to farther distances and holding yourself to higher accuracy standards, or to change your fitness training to include more movements and methods. You have to cycle your workouts, vary your rep ranges and intensity levels and venture into different programs to reach new goals.

Lifestyle causes are a bit harder to change, but it can be done. While most people can’t quit their jobs and go on a quest to achieve a mystical level of skill, you can adjust how you sleep, eat and improve your fitness level. Shooting, especially the active endeavor of defensive shooting, is also a physical activity. Improving your strength and fitness level will improve your abilities in defensive or competition shooting. Your core and grip strength increases, your speed improves, and your “combat stress” is more easily regulated due to a lower resting heart rate, a slower climbing heart rate and a faster heart rate recovery time.

The point is that there is a solution for most problems leading to diminishing returns. But it does require change. It requires doing things sometimes that are not fun, or working on things that might not be the “focus” of your goals but will hoist you over the plateau and on to the next level of your performance potential. Working hard is a good thing, but working too hard for diminishing results is not working smart. Identify your goals, work hard to reach them, and improve or change any factors in your routine or lifestyle that might slow or obstruct those goals in any way.

Physical Conditioning: In Conclusion

         There are many great ways to get in shape, be stronger, healthier and live longer. Some are definitely better than others so you need to find what fits your lifestyle and your goals. Seek out proper guidance and coaching if possible; if not, then get on YouTube and make a go of it.  Much of what I talked about in this section can be done with moderate equipment at home that can be purchased $50 to $100 at a time. The important thing to remember is that no matter what your “mission” is, whether it is to be a warrior, a professional in law enforcement, or a hard to kill civilian, none of it is realistic without the physical fitness to carry your ass through to it. And, as I have said before, if your mission is to be safe so you can live a long and happy life with your family, then you will be just as concerned about your health as you will about all of the cool tactical shit.

Helping others

This past Sunday I had a great, sold out pistol class in Okeechobee. This class had a lot of new faces that I had never met before, and a few things really set in on me while I was teaching it…
 
The class had a good amount of beginners in it. For a few it was actually their first real training course, while some others were still working off of 15 to 30 year old government/law enforcement training (that probably had not been practiced in that time gap).
 
There was also a wide spectrum of gear, from unacceptable holsters that I had to immediately remove from the range for safety reasons before we even started, to Serpa’s and other subpar examples. There were also some very tuned up shooters in the course with tricked out Glocks and solid gear to run them with.
 
After spending some time working in the training industry at a national level (traveling throughout the year to teach, attending SHOT Show and NRAAM, training at national level events like OTOA, working for companies in the industry, etc.) I’ve seen the spectrum of students and instructors from the local levels to the widely known popular level.
 
One of the things that sticks out to me is how the level of student can change the more well known you get. It’s like a hierarchy, and the higher you are in popularity the more you can charge, the more you charge the more “serious” the students become, and so on.
 
At that level, “the industry” (everyone who considers themselves “in the know” about gear, weapons, training and tactics and falls into similar choices and beliefs) gets pretty harsh in their views of the average gun owner. If you are on social media, which seems to be where “the industry” actually lives, you will no doubt run into this harsh attitude.
 
Name calling and shaming for weapon and gear choices, making fun of people for being poor (“the poors” as they call them) and just a general negative attitude towards anyone who is not at least making a good attempt at being in the cool club is pretty much the norm.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I do get it. The gun world is full of absolute bullshit. The NRA, the glossy magazines and the TV shows all pump out garbage information about garbage guns and gear and the masses eat it up because they don’t know any better. In fact, they believe it is good information because all of those named sources are actually the most well funded and best looking sources out there. I mean, they’re on TV, right?
 
So, we have this general gun culture that is at best misguided and misinformed on a large scale. It is a problem. I am saying this after years of working in gun stores, working at public ranges, working for holster manufacturers and other companies in the industry as well as running my own training company for many years. (To the NRA, the magazines, the gun shows on TV, the manufacturers, you ARE the problem.)
 
Many of the people at my class this weekend would fall into those categories of dislike: less than optimal gun choices, a lack of fundamental skills like grip and trigger press, beliefs in myths about gunfighting and, especially when it came to gear and holsters, it was a serious struggle.
 
I even had one contraption calling itself a “belly band” that was basically an oversized Ace bandage with no velcro and a patch sewn into it to “hold” a gun. (If you make such a contraption and sell it to the public to carry guns around, you should be absolutely fucking ashamed of yourself, whoever you are.) It literally hit the top of my list as the worst holster ever seen with my own eyes.
 
To the guy’s credit, he immediately recognized that his rig was unsafe and told me it was not going to be suitable for the course, so he did recognize his poor choice just by being exposed to the introduction of the course in the morning.
 
It took some of the others a few hours of struggling with gear failures to get the idea that their choices were not only poor for training, but that such failures in a life or death situation on the street would be catastrophic.
 
I was patient. I was helpful. I kept the class safe. If something was unsafe, it was not permitted to be used. The failures that did happen, were well within the safety margin so I let them happen for their educational benefit. I didn’t attack anyone. I didn’t shame them.
 
I did my best to balance the class out and deliver the goods to everyone who showed up, no matter their skill level. People learned on Sunday, and when I asked the question at the end of the day, “Did you feel like I provided a safe and comfortable training environment for you today?” It was a quick and resounding “Yes!” that followed.
 
I ended up with this group for a few reasons. I am not established yet in Florida locally, so I am attracting new people into the fold by design and that is a good thing. Another reason is because the course was intentionally priced very affordably. My overhead is lower because I am a short drive away, and I want to build the type of local training culture that I had successfully built in Ohio for so many years.
 
I am intentionally declining more and more opportunities to travel and teach, opting to stay close to home for my family now. So, I end up with beginners, newbs, bad gear, and all that comes with them.
 
All I could think about at certain points throughout the day is how interesting it is that I have traveled full circle to come back to where I started: teaching average people how to be safe and effective with the guns they carry.
 
Average people. People who do not eat, sleep and breath training. People who work jobs, raise families, have hobbies, who do not live on social media talking about grip stippling, flashlights and triggers for the 57,000th time. I was very happy to see these people showing up for a course. I am happy to be of service.
 
I am happy to be of service because that is why I am here. To help people. I did not become a firearms instructor because I thought it was going to be super awesome, or because I want to be some famous instructor guy. I sure as hell don’t do it because it’ll make me rich, because it definitely will not. I started out doing it because I saw bad things happening and I wanted to fix it as much as I could.
 
I saw cavalier attitudes with little experience to back them up, macho personas based on purely bad information, and flashy bullshit based on just plain garbage (the days of plate carriers at “pistol” classes comes to mind).
 
I saw good people trying to be prepared to defend themselves and stay out of the cemetery or prison while doing it, and they were being fed information that would lead them directly to those places.
 
That is why I started this, and that is why I still do it.
 
As I make my long talked about and planned for partial exit from the industry, I look to maintain my ability to help the average people who are genuinely looking for help. I intend to teach a limited number of courses annually.
 
I have very little interest in making the cool club person feel “cooler” by having attended my course. I have very little interest in working with someone who is looking to shave that next 2/10ths of a second off of their Bill Drill time. Not only is it not my lane, but it’s not what I prioritize in fighting and self defense. Glory seekers will not find satisfaction in my classes.
 
That is where the most money is. But unfortunately, it’s not where the greatest need is. The greater good is served by welcoming more good people into the fold of the knowledgable and trained populace, and eliminating the dangerous misguided information that saturates the concealed carry population as a whole.
 
I have also found over the years that many professional students who think they are really tuned up are nothing more than great shooters. This is because there is still a shortage of classes about fighting, and a ton of classes about shooting.
 
At best you can work your way up to CQB courses, which are limited to working inside of structures and largely founded on team-based military or law enforcement doctrine. Solo foundational fighting knowledge is hard to pass on in a one or two day course, and even harder to find someone attempting to do it.
 
If my course is “open” enrollment without prior training requirements, you are welcome to make it your first training course. Those who are “tuned up” are also welcome to attend. You will see the foundational levels of how I prioritize what is important in fight training.
 
If my course lists having “developed fundamental skills and equipment choices” as a requirement to attend, then you should not show up unless you clarify with me directly that you are where you will need to be.
 
It was no shocker to me to get these students of course, because it was a no pre-requirement course. I am just happy that I have retained the ability and humility to be able to help these people raise their skills and equipment to be safer in their defense plans.
 
I will still run advanced level courses, as well as my favorite: the application-approved-only limited spot courses where I take 6 hand picked people out and we go hard on a specific skillset or procedure. There is no money in that, I do it because I love it.
 
I don’t have any tolerance or time for shithead people who think they know something, that they actually have no idea about, and they are unwilling to learn any different.
 
I have all the time in the world for the average person who doesn’t know any better, but they are genuinely out there trying to learn what they don’t know and improve their position.
 
As I go forward, progressively I want training to be something I do because I enjoy it and because I enjoy helping people, not something I do to strictly for money. It has a higher purpose than that for me.
 
 

 

Writing your life into your fitness programming

Dealing with life events that “disrupt” programming is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in a fitness routine. Time consuming work projects, travel, vacations, family and other intermittent life demands all have a way of knocking you off of that “perfect” workout groove you’ve been trying so hard to stay in.

Here’s a way of looking at it from a programming standpoint that can help keep you on track by actually turning these temporary situations into opportunities rather than disruptions. 

Programming is not just a static workout plan

Programming, in its most effective form, is individualized. The best program is not only one that is written specifically for you, but one that constantly evolves as you change physically and psychologically, and as your life changes around you.

If you are paying a trainer or a coach, hopefully they are listening to you and asking the right questions to take all of that into consideration while guiding that evolution towards optimizing the results of your efforts. 

Listening to, recording in detail and then synthesizing the information from your workout performance, your results and your life are the best practices that separate high-level programming from the rest of what’s out there. If you are self-coaching, you need to be doing these practices

This includes taking into consideration vacations or travel that will remove access to your regular gym/equipment/schedule, as well as any psychologically stressful events in your life and how they affect your drive and susceptibility to fatigue.

For many, sticking to a program and not missing the workouts, meals, and rest required for success is a huge struggle even when everything else is going right in their lives. Throw a change in that pattern and it’s extremely easy to “fall off the wagon” and lose your momentum.

It can take weeks to get back on track, only to have something else come up the following month and here we go again…

Disruption vs Microcycle vs Back-off Week

If you are like most normal people, this will sound familiar to you. Jobs, kids, taxes, life…they all can be emotionally stressful and cause real fatigue, if not keep you from getting to the gym at all.

Much of the internet would yell, “Power through it!” or “No crybabies!” But this just is not always practical or even safe. Not considering fatigue in its these forms can push you into dangerous territory resulting in injury or burnout if you “just power through it.” And sometimes, you just can’t get to the gym as planned.

There is a better way. 

Instead of viewing these events as disruptions, we need to look at them as opportunities to work in microcycles (single week plans) or back-off weeks (rest microcyles) that can optimize and sometimes supercharge your results and performance. 

For example, last month one of my online personal coaching clients had two “disruptions” coming up in his schedule. He had been working very hard for about three months uninterrupted and was disappointed and very worried that these events would set him back. This posed a real threat to his progress, as well as a psychological threat to his motivation.

The first event was a 4 day conference that involved travel and a hotel stay. This, of course, basically knocked out a week of his time. The second event was the physically and psychologically stressful task of moving out of his apartment and into a new space. These events were spaced with only one week in between them. 

Where he saw worry and disruption, I saw an opportunity. We programmed a very light week for him during the travel utilizing the hotel gym just two nights, reverting back to some hypertrophy and maintenance intensity and volume levels.

This allowed him to focus on his conference, network with associates, and have a much needed rest from what had been an unbroken eight week mesocycle of moderate intensity and volume work. It also served the purpose of preventing the emotional stress of feeling like he was sliding backwards (this is very important). 

We used that time to prepare him for a maximum effort week that would fit perfectly in between two weeks of being off program.   

The following week, we set a maximum effort goal for a microcycle (one week) of high intensity/high volume. It was perfect timing for a test of strength, work capacity and will power, and an awesome way to kickstart his mind back into feeling motivated about his progress, even though he had “missed” a week of regular programming. 

That week he produced the highest numbers of his life. He was well rested, he felt good about his work, and lifted an astounding 42,600lbs of tonnage for the week. His usual tonnage prior to the trip was just under 30,000lbs.

This obviously took a lot out of him, which created the perfect time to take a week off and get that functional movement and cardio work of moving his household items to his new place. He still managed to get to the gym that week once as well, making up a great active rest week. 

Upon returning to the mesocycle phase, he is putting up numbers that are 15% higher than before the three weeks of back-off/max effort/rest, and doing it at the same perceived exertion.

This is success. He feels great. Not only did we not lose momentum, but we were able to write his life events into his programming in a way that actually maximized his results during that time period.

This produced great results emotionally and psychologically as well, turning what would have been a negative situation into a very positive one. This will work for functional training or sports specific training cycles just as well as it worked for his strength training cycle. 

Thus we see, under good coaching, “disruptions” don’t have to exist as much as you may think. They are merely back-off weeks or focused microcycles that need to be written into the program to extract maximum value from what is available. Any good programs will have back-off weeks written into them. A little bit of adjustment in a program goes a long way toward creating a positive out of a negative. 

The trick is to plan ahead as much as possible using naturally occurring life events to implement them. Sometimes this has to be done on the fly and can’t always follow the pre-planned schedule. Use it in your program and it will push progress forward rather than slow it down or stop it.  

You may even be able to work a little harder when you realize how often life forces in rest days and back-off weeks where you did plan them. More rest can allow for higher intensities and volume in your program. 

Instead of fighting the realities of life to fit a “cookie cutter” program, we can use our real schedule and results data to optimize our program to come out even better in the end. Just a few things to think about. 

Olympic Weightlifting Seminar with Greg Everett, Catalyst Athletics

Course: Catalyst Athletics Level 1 Olympic Weightlifting Seminar/Coaching Certification
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Date: August 24-25

This past weekend I was fortunate to have the opportunity to train with Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics at his Level 1 Olympic Weightlifting Seminar in Salt Lake City, UT. This is a two-day course covering the performance and coaching of the two lifts that make up Olympic weightlifting competition: the snatch and the clean and jerk. The course was a great experience and I learned enough information to keep me busy for a few years practicing these very technical lifts.

Background

I have been teaching myself the “proper” Olympic lifts for about 2 years (more seriously for the past 8 months). Prior to that I had only really performed the clean in my lifting routines, so the snatch and jerk are both very new to me. I am definitely a “novice” Olympic lifter.

In all honesty, it takes several years of dedicated practice to be an accomplished and efficient Olympic lifter in it’s pure form, and by “dedicated” I mean it is the emphasis in your fitness goals for that entire time. This is differentiated from forms of the snatch and the clean and jerk that you may find in other sports, like Crossfit. (Many of those sports perform the lifts for time while sacrificing form, which is different.) Traditionally, the lifts are extremely technical, and the form is critical for maximum, safe performance.

Despite being a novice at the Olympic lifts, it did help that I have a background in fitness training, sports training, lifting weights and coaching spanning nearly 25 years.

I was coming off of a 4-week cycle that was preceded by 4 weeks off due to re-injuring my lower back. I made the mistake of attending a group Olympic lifting class where we did a bunch of good mornings prior to doing muscle snatches. Even though I knew better, the pre-fatiguing of the lower back proved to be a critical mistake. It was my responsibility to coach myself and I failed at that. 

After not being able to lift for 4 weeks, I had 4 weeks leading up to the seminar to get back to being strong enough to handle to two, 6-7 hour days of bent over and overhead lifting. I peaked that cycle 1 week before the class with a 4 hour workout of explosive and functional movements. That preparation went a long way to make the 7 hour days with Greg and the barbell not only doable but also enjoyable. Keep this in mind if you plan to attend the seminar.

Greg Everett

I became aware of Greg several years ago as my interest in the traditional sport of Olympic lifting began to grow. Having come from the “old school” of weightlifting the clean had taught me that explosively lifting heavy weights was not only beneficial for my body, it improved my athletic performance, and my ability to fight and grapple, immensely. It was quite natural to gravitate toward Greg because he simply has provided the largest library of intense knowledge ever offered to the public on the subject of Olympic lifting.  

Greg has several sources of information out: his book, Olympic Weightlifting, his website library of articles at catalystathletics.com, his YouTube channel with his Library of Movements, and much more.

I had his book and older DVD, and I had planned to attend one of his seminars for a few years now. One day, Catalyst Athletics sent me a message on Instagram. To my surprise, it was Greg telling me how much of a fan he was of my own book, Violence of MInd. A coach and author I admired and followed for years was also a fan of my work. What a great experience that was. We struck up some good conversations and I was eventually invited out to his seminar in Utah. I booked my flight and hotel, thrilled I was finally getting to attend.

Goals

My goals for the course are two-fold: First, I obviously want to improve my capabilities in the performance of the snatch, clean and jerk. I don’t have any desires to compete formally, but I do have goals to reach a moderate level of performance with a high level of form and execution, just because I want to.

The lifts have become meditative to me. I have my platform outside on my farm in Florida, and the pursuit of the challenging and elusive execution of the movements, by myself and outside in nature, takes my mind away from everything else. It creates a place that only I go to. Just me and the lift. I want to always have that in my life for as long as I can, and longevity in this type of activity comes from doing it well and doing it safely.  

My second goal is professional: I am working on segueing back into the fitness training business more in the coming year or so. I have been building my self-defense and weapons training business for several years and I really miss being a fitness and conditioning trainer, which I did full-time for several years. Getting Greg’s instruction and (eventually) his certification, while also reaching a demonstrable competence level as a lifter myself, will allow me to integrate Olympic lifting into my own programming in a safe and effective way.

With all of my gym equipment quietly stored away in a warehouse in Florida, I plan to re-open my gym eventually. When I do, Olympic lifting will be a component of the programming there, programming which will center around general physical preparedness and self-defense conditioning and capability.

I have no desire, nor do I have the background, to be a competitive Olympic weightlifting sport coach. I do, however, fully believe in the benefits of Olympic lifting in GPP fitness and self-defense/fight conditioning, hence my desire to integrate the lifts into my coaching and programming.

I want that integrated method to be in the purest form I am capable of delivering, without sacrificing form or execution for any reasons. Greg’s course is a definite source of that pure form.

Equipment and Facility

The facility used for the seminar was Proven Strength Training in American Fork, Utah, owned by USAW Coach and IWF National Referee Jenny Shumacher. Jenny was super hospitable as a host, and was available both days for any questions or help concerning the facility.

There were approximately 7 nice, but well used, standard 2-layer plywood and rubber platforms in the lifting area. There were more than enough pvc pipe lengths and regular bars of different weights and lengths for everyone to participate in the lifts.

The overall space was huge, with a Crossfit gym sharing space in the building which was also opened up to us for warmups, stretching, rowing and whatever else we needed to use or do.

The main equipment used for the seminar was pvc pipe, barbells and bumper plates. Brands ranged from American Barbell, to Eleiko and others. The equipment was well maintained and in good working order. The bars all had great spin and seemed to flex very well. It was easy to see that Jenny’s facility was a serious level weightlifting location.

The Seminar: Day One

We started at 10AM on Saturday. Greg was very personable and had a great demeanor right from the start. There were about 20 attendees with a fairly even distribution of men and women. The backgrounds were mixed, with most coming from Crossfit gyms and just a few being pure Olympic lifters and serious competitors. In terms of experience, most attendees had several years of qualified experience, while a few seemed to be novice/beginners.

Greg started by having everyone introduce themselves around the room. When I very briefly introduced myself, Greg took a minute to tell everyone how great my book is, suggesting they should buy it, which was a kind gesture.

He also humbly emphasized that what he would teach us was not necessarily new and he didn’t invent it, he just found what works and developed a unique way to teach it.

The atmosphere was not intimidating at all, everyone was very nice and positive, and the facility was extremely hospitable and welcoming. This made for a great class environment. The space was a little tight for 20 lifters, but we made it work with cooperation and courtesy. Other than wishing I was capable of lifting more comparable weights with my fellow attendees, I have no complaints.

Day one curriculum consisted of the Snatch Progression as Greg teaches it. (I won’t get into specifics here, you’ll have to take the course for that.) The snatch is a very technical lift where you start with a barbell on the floor and explosively lift it up and receive it over your head in a deep squat position and with locked elbows in a wide grip. You complete the lift by standing up with the barbell elevated over your head with locked elbows.

The basic progression we followed is:

  • Foundations, fundamentals and terminology
    • Trunk stabilization
    • Breath control
    • Foot position
    • Double knee bend
    • Hook grip
  • Snatch Receiving position
    • Overhead Position
    • Overhead Squat
    • Pressing Snatch Balance
    • Drop Snatch
    • Heaving Snatch Balance
    • Snatch Balance
  • Snatch from the hang
    • Mid-Hang Snatch Pull
    • Tall Muscle Snatch
    • Scarecrow Snatch
    • Tall Snatch
    • Mid-Hang Snatch
  • Snatch from the floor
    • Snatch Segment Deadlift
    • Halting Snatch Deadlift
    • Segment Snatch + Deadlift
    • Snatch

We began work with pvc pipes to assist in understanding the movements and positions. Greg’s breakdown of the movement into components is phenomenal and easy to understand. His choice of beginning with the receiving position is very intuitive and quite similar to how I teach firearms movements in my courses. As Greg says, you have to know where you are going to build a good path to get there.

His choice of nomenclature seems to be the most sensible I have heard of so far. He was very clear about the explanation of the use of words like catch and drop and explaining them with meaningful words and phrases like receive, and forcefully move ourselves under the bar (push or pull), among others.

This is an important distinction especially for new lifters that may not know how the lift really works. For example, if we simply call it a “drop” movement it implies that we are simply dropping into a position by relaxing and letting gravity carry us downward. This would be an incorrect mental image for a new lifter.

We know this isn’t the case because we must employ speed when getting under the bar, specifically a much greater speed than gravity itself can produce. We should be aggressively pushing ourselves down under the bar against the mass of weight going over our heads, (or in some other lifts pulling ourselves under the bar for position.) Therefore, creating accurate mental images for the lifter is easier to achieve with better explanations to accompany old terminology.

I’m definitely paraphrasing here (maybe poorly) but I think I am conveying the idea well. Greg’s use of speech and nomenclature made the learning process much more productive for sure, for both students and coaches.

Greg also emphasized aggression as an important part of weightlifting. As we moved into work with the bars and eventually with weights, that aggression would play a big part in our success in the lifts. This led to talks about the importance of mindset and focus throughout the weekend.

By the end of the day my understanding of the snatch had increased immensely. I was able to execute a few of the nicest snatches I’ve ever done, and I have gained enough knowledge of my own technical issues to go forward and begin fixing them through training and practice.

The last hour or so of the day Greg sets the class loose to snatch as you see fit using your own judgement on weight and variation choices while he walked around and coached. This was no easy task since we had been doing pulls and snatching in the different variations for approximately 5-6 hours already. Some of those hours were spent repeatedly holding isometric positions bent over in mid hang or low hang, which is extremely taxing on the back.

Despite having lifted for 5 hours prior, many of the attendees were hitting impressive lift numbers, with snatches climbing into the mid 100 kilo range (mid to high 200lbs range). There were definitely some seriously competitive lifters there and it was awesome to be in the room with them.

We ended class around 5PM and I headed for the hotel pool and hot tub to enjoy the 97 degree Utah weather and reflect on the day.

Day Two

Day two was clean and jerk day. We began the day with a quick review of the snatch progression, which included doing a few movements with pvc pipes to refresh our memories.

The progression we followed for day 2 was:

  • Receiving Position
    • Split Position
  • Jerk Progression
    • Press behind the neck
    • Press
    • Push press
    • Tall Power Jerk
    • Power Jerk
    • Split jerk behind the neck
    • Jerk balance
    • Split jerk
  • Receiving Position 
    • Clean Rack position
    • Front Squat
  • Clean from Hang
    • Mid-hang clean pull
    • Rack delivery
    • Tall muscle clean
    • Tall clean 
    • Mid-hang clean
  • Clean from Floor
    • Clean segment deadlift 
    • Halting clean deadlift
    • Segment clean + clean
    • Clean

We moved on to the jerk first, which I found to be more challenging than the snatch, personally. I simply suck at the split jerk right now. I was able to improve that quite a bit during the class, but I certainly have a long way to go.

Again, Greg’s progression is phenomenal and very intuitive towards how someone could best learn the complex series of movements within the clean and jerk. It is easy to see his years of experience and success as a coach shine through here.

I have been in front of a few local coaches here and there and never have I experienced the level of explanation or clarity that came from just a few hours with him.

The clean portion of the instruction was very fluid since it mimicked the a very similar progression as the snatch from the previous day. Most lifters understood the squat and the floor pull very well, so there wasn’t much need for remedial work. 

Just like day one, we ended the day with a blast session of cleaning and jerking at our own pace. I chose to stay very light to work on that jerk technique, while some of the others went on to clean and jerk well over 300lbs successfully. It was truly a marvel to see in person.

Conclusions

Olympic weightlifting is an amazing activity. It requires a mixture of mobility, explosiveness, strength, precision, speed and a kinesthetic awareness that few other sports require. There are few movements you can do that can provide so much benefit. They are safe, when done correctly. They are difficult to master, which can be excellent if you are looking for something to really focus on.

If you are looking for an edge in combat sports or fighting, Olympic lifting will provide it. If you want to be stronger and fitter in your daily life, well, it will help you do that, too.

The course was phenomenal and well worth the time and money. If you are serious about doing the Olympic lifts correctly, this course is a must attend event. I learned enough about Olympic lifting to keep me busy practicing and correcting my issues for the next two years.

I know there are lots of “methods” out there and some like to say that some particular method or country of origin is better than another, and so on.

I personally don’t prescribe to that philosophy as I’ve trained enough skills in my life (gun fighting, combatives, powerlifting, bodybuilding, etc.) to know that all good methods center around the same concepts, and that variations on those skills are not only good to learn, they are necessary to achieve a deeper understanding and development in the discipline.

It doesn’t matter if it’s weightlifting or gun fighting. I will listen to all of the successful methods and pick the ones that work for me the best. Greg Everett seems to understand this as well and is very humble in paying homage to his coach own Mike Burgener and acknowledging other sources when talking about concepts specific to the lifts. The Catalyst Athletics method really resonates with me.

Another one of my favorite aspects of Greg’s teaching style is that he quite intentionally avoids using big scientific words or making the class into an “anatomy and physiology” course. That was not what I was there for. That was not what anyone was there for. We wanted to learn how to better snatch, clean and jerk, and how to better help other people snatch, clean and jerk.

I’m not saying A&P knowledge is dumb or useless. But I do loathe trainers and instructors who constantly have to let everyone know how smart they are by using the scientific names of body parts every chance they get. Even when they aren’t showing off, using that hyper scientific language is annoying for most clients or trainees.

If you can’t have a normal conversation using language everyone can understand, how do you connect with your clients? Unless we need to address a specific issue with a specific part of the body, let’s just talk about movement and how to achieve it. Greg does a slamming awesome job of just that.

Being a long-time instructor myself (personal training, firearms, self-defense) I am very impressed by Greg’s teaching progressions. Teaching people complex movements that require slight, personalized variations in technique and application is difficult because, well, people are all different. Everyone has their own issues. Developing progressions that are scalable and modular to a large extent is really the Holy Grail of teaching capabilities, and Greg has that in spades.

He offered insights and instruction on the proper assessment of both athlete and movement throughout the entire course. He expertly weaved this into instruction on customizing the programming of an athlete (or yourself) around the issues that manifest in the performance of the lifts, and how to use the progression with addition and omission of variations and supporting exercises to correct the issues. 

Personally, I was lifting among the lowest weight in the gym, which I was perfectly fine with since I wanted to train strict technique while I had such a great coach around, as well as not wanting re-injure my back again by trying to impress anyone. It may have stung the ego a tiny bit, but it’s good for you to get out and see where you really are in comparison to others. It helps to prevent Dunning-Krueger from setting in.

It was great to be in a room where people are lifting more than me BUT they were doing it with correct form. This is not usually my experience when doing Olympic lifts in many gyms. These were lifters who had both had proper instruction and had also exhibited the dedication to performing the lifts correctly over years of hard work, and it showed.  

While I was among the least strong attendees there, I was not the least conditioned. I held up just fine and flying back on Monday the only complaints I had were those damn cramped economy seats. I recommend if you are going to a weightlifting seminar that you train your work capacity up to a high level. The weekend before the seminar I had reached a peak with a 4-hour workout of explosive and functional movements. That prepared me well for the low/moderate intensity 6-hour days of the seminar. Be in shape, I do recommend it.

You should also have a basic understanding of the lifts. There is no reason to walk in to a seminar of this magnitude and not know anything relevant to the material. Buy Greg’s text book, watch the videos on YouTube, try to learn the movements or at least understand them. Know the basics about how to stabilize your trunk under load, how to breath, how to back squat, etc. There wasn’t anyone in the room that didn’t have a clear understanding of these things and that was notable.

To be fair, I’ve gotten to know Greg and had the opportunity to spend a few hours one-on-one with him after the course. We did not talk much weightlifting, or gun training. We talked about life, and coaching, and family and business. He is an outstanding guy, very down to earth and humble, which makes it even that much better that he is one of the best Olympic lifting coaches alive today.  

The most valuable thing that I walked away from the seminar with is the ability to be a better coach to myself. I learned how to spot my own issues, assess ways to fix it, use the progressions in a modular, customizable way to address those issues, and simply just get better at the lifts. That’s money in the bank.

Bottom line:

Without any doubts, I will attend more seminars and training with Greg in the future, and I recommend anyone who is interested in learning about the snatch and the clean and jerk should do the same.

Get off your high horse

I try not to be self-absorbed when I am engaged with people. I also try to learn, to not have “expert’s paradigm” when I am talking to people in casual or business conversations, even if it’s a topic that I have a lot of experience in.

This amounts to being interested in the other person enough to learn about them and learn about what they know. It requires not assuming that I know more than them. It also involves a lack of talking about myself and what I know, until it’s truly appropriate.

This doesn’t work as well in today’s world. Perhaps people’s real world views are morphing into the “social media paradigm” where you have a very short time span to sell a persona or a knowledge set to someone. I swear 8 out of 10 people I meet consider themselves pros, or awesome in some other way, and if you don’t literally fight for attention you get demoted to a learner who knows less, has less or has done less. I watch people do this to each other all the time.

Thus is the way of our social hierarchy in the social media era world. What you look like, talk like, drive and have are somehow proportionate to your capabilities and experience. “If he was as good as he says he is, he wouldn’t be driving that.” “He doesn’t “look” like he knows that much.” And so on.

Sometimes, competitiveness is the tone, “You started working in this field in 2002? Oh, well I started working in it in 2001 so I’ve been around for ALL of it…” Instead of being cooperative, “Oh, what have you learned in that time?” and then they in turn try to learn what you’ve learned in that time. Sharing knowledge and ideas. What a concept.

Most often, I would say, people are just self-absorbed. They think they know a bunch of shit, probably more than you, and so they don’t even really listen when you talk. They are here to disseminate information because they know things.

It’s not that they even thought about competing with you, they just automatically consider themselves and their knowledge more important and there’s nothing you could say that would be that interesting to them, so you are tuned out. Their own voice is in their head rehearsing for their turn to talk.

Are you a student, or a know-it-all?

Sometimes just simply asking a question will cause the other person to automatically assume that they know more than you, and they will assume authority in the conversation. This is a tragedy. For example, you see someone doing a workout and posting about it on social media. Now, imagine you yourself have been working out a long time and you know quite a bit about the topic, but you are always curious and looking for new information so you ask them, “Hey, I see you are doing this workout. Where did you get the programming for that, and how is it working for you?” Instead of actually answering the question, they reply, “If you want to understand programming you have to start with [insert arbitrary favorite program here] and research the subject.” Often, they’ll even go on to instruct you or offer suggestions for what you should be doing, even though they have no idea what you know or what you want to accomplish. They are full of themselves. They lack listening skills. The question goes unanswered and another chance to assert social dominance has been exploited. End result, no one learns anything. 

What happened to the concepts of beginner’s mind and always being the student? Sad.

Even worse is the feeling that if you are paid to do a job, like being an instructor or trainer, then you can’t ask any “average” person questions because you are afraid it will make you look like you don’t already know what they know. You somehow think you’re supposed to know everything, so you can’t be seen being “weak” or taking “instruction” from an average person.

It’s a legitimate feeling because people judge you for the surface presentation you put out. Hell, that’s what this post is about. It’s a vicious cycle.

What is even more sad is that you are vulnerable to concealment even when you think you are protected. You can’t even give people a chance to learn who they are and what they’ve done when they are open about it. The one who wants to hide those facts from you? You’ll never see him or her coming. (If you are in the self-defense, tactical, or cool guy badass world and you act this way, your mindset is truly out of touch with your stated goals.)

Listen to people. Ask questions.

People are interesting, and there are a lot of people out there you could learn from. Many of them, though they may not look like it, have done way more shit than you will in 3 lifetimes.

My best conditioning coach–by far–was a fat, silver haired guy that always had a cigar hanging out of his mouth. By today’s standards, no one would even have a training conversation with that guy. The truth is he helped produce several world champions in his younger years (as a trainer for a U.S. Olympic team) and he knew how to pull the best out of every athlete he worked with.

The most capable class attendee I have ever had in terms of self-defense, and who I would put my money on in a street fight, was a skinny, gray haired Nicaraguan guy well into his 60’s that didn’t look like he could do shit. The guy was legitimately dangerous, and though he was small, he was strong as an ox. He grew up in the Revolution Era of a country at civil war. He knew a lot of things about violence and about survival.

Sometimes people are retired, or injured, or have changed careers or family situations and they don’t “appear” to be anything special, but they are. It doesn’t matter what business you are in, this is true in every profession.

And guess what? You aren’t that fucking special, and you probably don’t even know as much shit as you think you do. Putting on a good presentation doesn’t make you a special expert, nor does having popularity on social media, or making a bunch of money (especially if you flaunt it).

Many of the people who maintain these “perfect” images are deeply flawed, and if you look hard enough you will see it. Marital problems, financial problems, regrets, and some are just plain out miserable people seething with envy, jealousy, resentment, fear, cowardice. People can present however they choose to, if they are disciplined enough. Still doesn’t make it real.

Don’t mistake this post as me being upset about someone doing this to me. That shit has been happening and will continue to happen my whole life. I like to keep quality people in my circle, and if you are self-absorbed and full of yourself then you are self-selected out of my circle. If you have anything valuable to say, I’ll listen from a distance. But it’s like everyone does it to everyone, anymore.

What does upset me is how much society suffers and how much our communities suffer because we can’t be real with each other, because everyone has to be damn “expert” or a “pro”.

It upsets me that innovative, creative people are afraid to be vocal or do things because they will be judged harshly. If the old guys that have experience aren’t respected because they don’t look cool, then how can a new guy with no experience survive that social thrashing? (And I’m not even touching on the bullies and trolls, that’s a whole different topic.) They are forced to play the persona game, where substance doesn’t matter as much as your IG game and your wittiness on FB and Twitter.

We all lose

This is my encouragement to you to take the time to actually learn from one another. If someone is trying to learn a new skill, don’t assume they don’t have ANY developed skills. Don’t be afraid to learn a new skill or to ask questions about other people’s views, even if it is what you are an “expert” in. And don’t demote someone’s social rank because they asked a question. Maybe they have a bunch of answers and experience and just want to hear your perspective. Maybe they know more than you because they aren’t afraid to ask questions.

If you are engaging with someone and they don’t ask one follow up question about any of your statements, or about you, they just talk at you, then that person has little interest in you or what you are saying. They are too busy thinking about themselves. It’s not hard to tell.

Take the time to actually listen to someone talk. Ask questions about what they are saying about themselves, ENGAGE with them. You just might start learning things again.

Being self-absorbed is a failure, and it’s one from which we all experience the resultant net loss.