Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summer Reading List for Kettlebellers

As the weather gets more blistering and folks have their summer vacations coming up, I've been getting more & more questions about what they should be reading to improve as athletes, as trainers, and/or as RKC kettlebell instructors.

Oddly enough, the reference tools are almost the same. If you want to be high level for ANY of those endeavors, you need to have a baseline knowledge of your "art", your modality, and your body.

To know the art & science of Russian Kettlebell training, there's only 1 reference that makes sense... ENTER THE KETTLEBELL!

To know your body, you need to be able to think in terms of the structures inside it. You might think that a simple coloring book is childish, but if you approach this well-constructed tool with the respect and knowledge that even med school students use this, then you might learn something other than how big your ego is.
Book Cover

To know and understand the systems manual for what's going on with your body as you move, there are two resources that are excellent.
Book Cover


Book Cover

Book reports will be due on the first day of class! Study hard! :-)

Friday, June 20, 2008

And for this weekend...

Man, I can't believe it... About to get on another plane. Luckily, this is just a short trip.

As I was writing a note for my KettlebellsLosAngeles Newsletter, I liked the content so much that I figured it might be beneficial if I posted the message here too.

Enjoy, Folks!
Hello, Kettlebellers!

One of these days, I'll be able to follow my own advice and PROPERLY moderate my workload, but right now, it's just moving at the speed of absolute insanity. I'll be heading out of town this Sunday morning, but there will still be plenty of KBLA's RKC-certified instructors and instructor candidates on hand to teach in my absence. My wife, Dr. Courtney Cheng, RKC II, may be under the weather, so don't expect her to be on hand.

For this week's training, there are 2 things I want people to work on:

1. Maximum Volitional Contraction (MVC), and

2. Efficient Explosiveness (EE).

Through my training with Pavel Tsatsouline and my conversations with Gray Cook, both mentors of mine, I've realized that more often than not, people think they're contracting a muscle to its maximum (i.e., generating an MVC) when they're really not.

How does this happen?..... Simple... we lose touch with our bodies and develop really awful habits of motion and of stability. Some people refer to this as having poor ergonomics, but it's also an issue of having rotten movement patterns.

What's the first, most vital movement pattern that people tend to unlearn?.... BREATH!

Why is breath crucial?..... Aside from the obvious issues of asphyxiation, how we breathe is one of the most fundamental factors deciding whether we're in an efficient and powerful state (parasympathetic nervous system dominant - i.e., calm & in control) or a highly inefficient and weak state (sympathetic nervous system dominant - i.e., fearful, panicked, defensive, & in denial).

When I was discussing this with Gray Cook this past weekend, I almost thought that I was sitting in a psychology class, but these are all the SAME messages that we hear in Traditional Chinese Martial Arts training, starting with Chi Kung (aka. qigong). We try to shift our breathing down to the lower abdomen to train diaphragmatic breating, instead of breathing in our upper chests. As Brett Jones, MRKC, said in Secrets of the Shoulder, the lungs expand downward because of our diaphragms, and that's 2/3 of our lung volume!! But in many cases, we've unlearned how to breath properly. Want proof? Watch a baby breathe. The belly rises and falls, not the upper chest.

And how does that tie into Russian Kettlebell training?..... The sharp and short "sssst!" sound you make on exhalation while doing KB ballistics is a rapid intraabdomenal compression, coming from your lower abdomen. If you try it from your chest, it's weak. Not as many stabilizing muscles fire. Now try it exhaling sharply, almost from your groin. Feel how different it is in terms of the power you generate???

So this is how class is going to run this weekend as far as a rough schedule:

- 10 minutes of joint mobility (basic warmup)

- at least 5 minutes of VERY focused lower abdomenal breathing:

*Start with your feet shoulder width and parallel, relax your legs, reach up to the sky with the vertex of your head, and overlay one palm on your sternum and the other palm just under your belly button. Now breathe slowly, evenly, and deeply.
*You should feel the palm on your lower abdomen push outward against your hand as you inhale, and fall back in towards your spine as you exhale. The hand on your sternum should ideally not even move.

- Divide the class up into beginners, semi-experienced, and RKC candidates

- One of the RKCs takes the beginners & semi-experienced through the Hard Style Lock, wall squat, KB deadlift, KB swing, and Naked Get-Up. Remember that for a first-timer, less is more. The Hard Style Lock is a crucial skill where you get your first exposure to MVC. If you "think" you're clenching your glutes or "think" you're locking your knees, the odds are pretty damn good that you COULD and SHOULD engage them even MORE forcefully. We live in a "good enough" society, but you need to remember that "good enough" means "first idiot injured from carelessness" in Chinese.

You want to be able to pull off the ENTIRE 5 point Hard Style Lock with real synchronicity and your real Maximum Volitional Contraction, and the KBLA instructional crew will show you how. As Pavel always says, "Tension equals strength." So learn WELL how to generate tension right from the get-go..... A leakage in tension is a liability in structure!

NOTE: For the instructional crew, if you see someone zoning out or ignoring your instructions, don't let them touch a kettlebell. Have them do bodyweight exercises until they learn how to move properly. Moving improperly with a kettlebell is just a means of reinforcing compensation mechanisms, and as the saying goes, "nothing good can come of it."

- RKC Candidates: Instead of doing the Hard Style Lock and all of that, grab a relatively heavy bell and do 5 - 10 swings with 2 hands, and then 5 swings per hand of 1 handed swings. You're trying to achieve 2 things: a) maximum explosiveness from the legs and glutes, and b) note the feeling of smoothness at the bottom of the arc with the 1-handed swing.

Once you've done that, go through your snatch test with the strict RKC rules. I want to see numbers posted on my blog under the corresponding post. Coach each other as you go through it, forcing each other to adhere to maximally correct form.

THIS RKC SNATCH TEST is your lesson in Efficient Explosiveness. What are the salient points of EE?
*Sensing exactly how much muscular force/explosiveness to use to get the KB to float up to the apex
*Guiding the arc of the KB more vertically than diagonally. If the KB bounces on your wrist, it's usually because you're either overthrowing the bell or you're finishing the snatch with the apex in front of you. Adjust accordingly.
*Sense the smoothness at the bottom of the arc. Lowering the KB from the apex doesn't mean "turn your brain off". Rather, you should be just as mentally engaged and aware of the feel of the bell while you're lowering it as you were while you were snatching it upward. If it feels like there's any jerkiness or strain, you need to adjust your form.

You are each allowed only ONE attempt on Sunday. Rest well on Saturday and bring your A game!

Once you've gone through your snatch tests, rejoin the class and spread the lovin'.

This weekend's circuit will be designed by KBLA's own Dr. Jeff McCombs, DC, RKC, if he's present. Doc Jeff is highly competent in both putting a hurt on you and taking the hurt off of you!

Train hard, train smart, train kettlebells!

"Doc" Mark Cheng, RKC Team Leader

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Korean Tigers

I've only got a couple of minutes to put this up on the blog before I have to dive back to work, but it just dawned on me to share this thought...

When I was at UCLA, some of my Korean-American friends used to say "Horangi-rul malhamyun onda!" [I was gonna try to put it in Hangul, but that'd have been a seriously time consuming endeavor.]

The translation is "Speak of a tiger, and one will come." In other words, be careful of what you wish for. You may not be ready for it when it comes true.

More later...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

High Praise

This just in from Peter Lakatos, head of RKC Hungary, from his Krav Maga teacher, Eyal Yanilov, the senior-most man in Krav Maga in the world...

"Probably due incorrect weight lifting and use of KB I developed serious back pains, Had them for 2 months. I went through some treatments in Singapore and Israel to get rid of them, but they stayed. Then I met with Pavel and Mark in the RKC Instructors Course in Hungary. Some private tutelage with Pavel (techniques with the KB were corrected), a treatment with Mark and some training under the attentive eyes of them both and other RKC instructors the back pains vanished in a day and a half. In such training method the knowledge is valuable, and they have got it"
- Eyal Yanilov, IKMF chief instructor

Humbling, folks.... Damn humbling.

On the Positivity front:
This morning, I got to see Pavel again on the beach after not having seen him in over a month. I was working with a dear student who's prepping for the UCLA RKC and recovering from a host of medical issues. That student had a major breakthrough on the snatch today also. Another student (also an RKC candidate) also had a similar breakthrough earlier in the morning.

All of this after celebrating my 3rd wedding anniversary last night.

Good times, Folks! Good times.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Life at the speed of caffeine --- When it gets too good to turn down

Man, just when I thought things were calming down for a little bit, life gets too good to tune it down.

All of the sudden, I've got a bunch of students who are highly skilled and extremely motivated and are gunning for the September 2008 RKC kettlebell instructor certification workshop in St. Paul. The KBLA crew is spreading its wings! So needless to say, now I'm looking at the possibility of heading out there for moral support.

Add to that, this weekend is a CEU seminar that I need to renew my acupuncture licensure, next weekend is the Functional Training Summit that Gray Cook and Lee Burton, as well as Dr. Stuart McGill, will all be presenting at, and the following weekend is supposedly some down time in Vegas. So there goes the month of June.

Next month, another required CEU seminar, a weekend of "rest", one of my best friend's wedding, then August starts with the UCLA RKC instructor certification workshop and continues with the CK-FMS workshop (where Gray Cook and Brett Jones will be presenting the Functional Movement Screen and kettlebell-based corrective movement strategies) the following weekend.

If you told me even 5 years ago that my life would turn into a series of opportunities that are exactly what I've been looking forward to and I'd be in a position where I have to look at how to prioritize and turn down opportunities that give me the chance to interact with guys who are my heroes (and all while getting PAID), I'd have told you to ease up on the crack pipe. Life is REALLY that good!

On the other hand, life is rough in a way I never anticipated. Having to prioritize with opportunities like that presents me with a challenge I NEVER anticipated. In some ways, it's MORE dangerous than having too few options, since now prioritizing is even more important. Choosing to spend time in an unbalanced way can jeopardize all that I've worked so hard to achieve. If I spend too little time with my family because I'm trying to make the most of these opportunities, I risk losing the real jewels are in my life. Similarly, if I spend too much time on work and not enough time training (as I have been more guilty of lately), I risk losing the sharpness of the edge I've worked hard to hone.

In all situations, good & bad, there's one factor that keeps you from making poor decisions - INSPIRATION. When you look at what truly inspires you (whether God, family, country, teachers, or whatever else) and you make careful decisions based on your sources of inspiration, you will find yourself committing your efforts to what builds a strong life for yourself and for those around you.

As my friend, Boris Bachmann, RKC, told me, sometimes I make these blog posts just as much to remind myself how to choose and how to act as to light the path for others. And sometimes, it's the guidance from my own blogposts that I hear from my students' mouths when I veer off course.

ADDENDUM - 2130 hrs

Life has a great way of putting the brakes on when you drive yourself a little too hard, too fast. Teaching a full load of clients, treating a full load of patients, driving all over SoCal, and not listening to the occasional whimperings of my body may not have been the smartest thing to do. But I was having fun doing what I was doing. Wanna know how much fun I'm getting into? Three letters say it all.... FMS. Suffice it to say that the Chinaman's got somethin' big cookin'!

Back to the reality of the present... Down with a little flu, it looks like I won't be heading to Cerritos tomorrow to work on editing the CSC book. After a day and a half of questionable GI activity and an evening of swelling glands, I'm going into hibernation again. G'nite, folks.