Saturday, December 29, 2007

Social Synergy

The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.
- Epictetus

That's a serious challenge that came down the wire from Dr. Eric Cobb, the founder of Z-Health. John Du Cane posted it on the Dragon Door forum, and now I'm posting it here.

Cobb's assertion is that the quality of life you create by constantly keeping company with those who bring out the best in you is going to put you on a completely different tier than those who fight with the inner urge to smite those that they have to spend time with.

I couldn't agree more!

I had a long conversation with someone last night about occasionally doing "surgery" on your circle of friends. Every now & then, the group of people that you think of as friends needs a little pruning. While the idea of friendship is generally somewhat rose-tinted, the idea of your closest circle of friends working towards a shared goal or a common vision is always one that creates exponential enthusiasm, unparallelled support, and incredible brainstorming.

The same can and should be said of your clientele or your workplace as well!

If you find yourself dreading the office or your place of work simply because you hate dealing with the personalities that fill that place and you feel like the odd person out all the time, do something to change it.

And as Hwa Rang Do's Chiefmaster Taejoon Lee says, "It's far easier to change yourself than to change others."

So put your CV out there if you need a new job, or if you're in the selective customer service sector (e.g., a personal trainer) fire those clients who stress you out. While it sounds so unceremonious to "fire" them, you can do it in a way that makes you look good by "referring" them to other trainers that you feel are more socially or emotionally equipped to deal with them. That way, you send business to someone else and you rid yourself of an onus all in one fell swoop!

Life's best lived when you have the chance to create a positive synergy. That's a lesson I've seen played out time and time again with my mentor, Pavel Tsatsouline. And now Dr. Eric Cobb has challenged us to live that same way.

Let's do it!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Breaking New Years Patterns

I read an article on Yahoo News today quoting Presidential candidate Barack Obama. He said, "That's the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

How many of you are thinking the same way about your New Year's Resolutions this year as you did last year's?

What are you doing differently to achieve what you missed achieving last year?

One guy I have to give immense credit to is Guro John Spezzano. He's one of the senior instructors at the Inosanto Academy, one of my martial arts tutors, and an RKC candidate.

A lot of people, myself included, are really good about making excuses for not doing something, for flaking out, for missing "just this one time", for cheating ourselves out of the discipline we should show and the associated benefits. Spezzano is one of those who does his best to run the opposite from those tendencies.

He'll investigate something, recognize the worth of it, and then pour his all into studying and mastering it. That's what makes him successful as a martial arts instructor and as a girevik. He's not content to repeat patterns if they don't lead to an improvement in outcome. He's geared towards success, and it shows in how he handles his life, his work, and his training.

Check him out online at or come out to the Sunday morning beach class to meet him in person!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

San Diego flashback

I hope all of you had a very Merry Christmas and are getting some good work done in preparation for the New Year!

I'm finally getting around to looking through some of the pics I've taken in the later part of 2007, and here's a pic of the packed house that I was teaching to at the Harris Academy in San Diego.

In this shot, I'm teaching (what else?) the Naked Get-Up... basically going through the Turkish Get-Up without the KB in hand so that people get a chance to familiarize themselves with the sequence of movements without the stress of having to support the weight or maintain the wrist & elbow positioning.

I'm going to try to crank out some good work for you all in the coming weeks.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Just say Thank You, or shut up and emigrate!

As you can tell by the title, I'm damn opinionated when it comes to law enforcement. I grew up in a day, age, and place where parents taught their kids to wave hello to police, to thank them, and to respect them.

Sure, there have been a few rotten apples in the orchard, but the majority of apples is good, unspoiled, and there to nourish us from our own hunger. Some folks have gotten too good at being hip, at knowing all the latest conspiracy theories, at spouting off some bullcrap excuse for their own weakness and stupidity instead of taking responsibility for their errors, suffering the consequences, and changing their errant thinking patterns and behavior like decent members of society.

I challenge you to do this... The next time you see a cop, policeman, or other law enforcement officer, wave to him or her, say a kind word, give a nod of appreciation, or thank them for risking their lives daily to keep you safe. Teach your kids and your friends that same kind of habit, and see what happens.

If you can't rise to meet that challenge, maybe you should look into emigrating to some other country that will humor your fanciful ways.

At Last!
By Thomas Sowell
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

People for whom indignation is a way of life -- and there seem to be an increasing number of such people -- repeatedly have outbursts of outrage whenever the police fire a lot of shots at some criminal.

People who have never fired a gun in their lives, and have never had a split-second in which to make a decision that could mean life or death for themselves or others, are often nevertheless convinced that the police used excessive force.

As someone who once taught pistol shooting in the Marine Corps, it has never seemed strange to me that the police sometimes fire dozens of shots at a criminal. While an expert shooter can run up impressive scores in the safety of a pistol range, it doesn't take much to make shots go off into the wild blue yonder in the stress of life and death shooting. Even on a pistol range, it was not uncommon to see shooters not only miss the bull's eye, but miss the whole target, which was the size of a man's torso.

Among other things, this suggests that a pistol may not be the best firearm to keep for home protection. A shotgun is far more likely to hit the target -- and far less likely to have to be fired in the first place. Any intruder who hears the distinctive sound that is made when you load a shotgun is likely to decide that he would much rather be somewhere else, very quickly. Nor is he likely to return.

Getting back to shootings by the police, now -- at last -- there is a study introducing some facts into controversies that have thus far been largely a matter of emotions, rhetoric, ideology, and politics. This study shows how often the police in New York City miss when shooting at various distances during the stress of actual confrontations with criminals.

Even within a range of 6 feet or less, the police miss more often than they hit -- 57percent of the shots at that distance miss and 43 percent hit. As you might expect, there are even fewer hits at longer distances. At 75 feet -- which is less than the distance from first base to second base -- only 7 percent of the shots hit. Moreover, just because a shot has hit does not mean that it is now safe to stop shooting.

First of all, this is not like an arcade game, where lights go on when you hit something. Depending on where the shot hit, the policeman who is firing may have no idea whether he has hit the criminal or not. With the adrenalin pumping, the criminal himself may not be aware that he has been hit, if it is not a serious wound.
Even if the policeman knows that his shot has hit the criminal, the real question is whether the hit has rendered the criminal no longer dangerous. If the bad guy is still capable of shooting back, it is no time for the cop to stop firing, because his life is still in danger.

When there is more than one policeman on the scene, there is no reason for any of them to keep track of how often the others have fired. After it is all over, it may turn out that 30 or 40 shots were fired at the criminal.

But so what? It is very doubtful that the criminal has been hit 30 or 40 times.

Only part of the problem is that many people have no idea of the capabilities and limitations of different kinds of guns, much less how much difference it makes if the shooter is in the safety of a firing range or in the stress of a life and death battle.

What is a bigger and wider problem is that too many people feel no hesitation to go spouting off about things they know nothing about. People who have never run even a modest little business assert with great certainty and indignation that heads of multinational corporations are paid much more than they are worth. People who know nothing about medicine and nothing about economics unhesitatingly declare that pharmaceutical drugs cost too much.

Maybe all this is a product of the "self-esteem" taught in our schools, instead of the academic subjects in which American children trail children from other countries.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy!?page=full&comments=true

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


James M. Kilts, the man who is widely credited for taking Gilette out of the toilet and back into the corporate heavens, has a book called Doing What Matters. I heard about this book a while back, but decided to let it gather dust while I was out & about, working like crazy.

Now that I'm recovering from a flu and on quarantine at home, I decided to crack it open and start reading it. By page 5, I found some lines that rang so true to the heart of what I believe in and what bothers me with how things are run in the "positive reinforcement" day & age that I know I'm going to enjoy reading this book cover to cover several times:

Kilts writes:
"Let's take the performance measurement system as an example of what had to be done. Like many companies, Gilette used the five-grade system of Does Not Meet Expectations, Needs Improvement, Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations, and Outstanding. Perversely, the worse a company does, the more likely it is that more people will be graded higher. Managers don't want to demotivate people in bad times, so they move them up the scale. That's why two-thirds of Gilette's managers were at the top of the performance scale despite the company's ongoing decline in performance.
Over time, the system has little meaning and actually hurts performance."

This is the ESSENCE of integrity. Instead of having the courage to tell someone that what they're doing is substandard, most people simply shy away from the confrontation. If they were given stronger behavioral and social leads to follow from the management at the top of their firm, perhaps these same individuals would have no problem stepping up and motivating their slacking co-workers to either get cracking or get out.

Get this book and read it, re-read it, digest it, and implement it! This is some AMAZING technology!

Book Cover

Monday, December 10, 2007

A month of bells!

Wow.... What a month!

A workshop at Harris International in SD, Pavel's Tactical Strength Course, and now 1 more Hard Style Intensive at Harris International again this coming Sunday... and it's only the 10th of December!!!

If you live anywhere near San Diego or know anyone who operates out of Miramar MCAS, serves with SDPD or Sherriff's, or any other branch of LEO, fire or military, and you haven't yet gotten yourself or them to a Hard Style Russian kettlebell intensive workshop, then you're not only missing out, but you're downright depriving them of the kind of training technology that could save their lives.

Wanna give someone an unmatchable Christmas present? Give them a gift that can dramatically improve their quality of life and allow them to live with strength, vitality, and power! Get them out of the house for 4 hours this Sunday afternoon, and watch the results!

Due to unforeseen demand, I'm driving back down to SD on Sunday for another workshop at Harris International from 1-5pm.

Visit for more information!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

PERSONAL request for help

OK... I know the past couple of blog entries haven't been about kettlebells or anything hardcore or exciting, but the issues are near & dear to my heart, so please bear with me.

I know that people around the world read this blog. And so I pray to God that one of you has a friend or colleague in the Los Angeles area that speaks fluent Cantonese and English and can help Kate to communicate to Thai's mom about his insurance policies. For more info on what I'm talking about, please read the preceding blog post.

Please drop me a line by clicking on my picture to the right, and then clicking on Email in the contact section on the left. Or simply leave a comment.

If you were in Thai's shoes, you'd want your friends to rally the world for those you loved and left behind. If you were in my shoes, you'd run through Heaven & Hell to do just that.


IN MEMORIAM... and fighting forward!

While I was in San Diego, I had the chance to catch up with a long-time friend from UCLA and former roomate, Dr. T.J. Desch-Obi. TJ's dear friend who I rarely get the chance to hang and spend time with, but someone who's influenced me greatly in my course of study in martial arts anthropology. He's an instructor of Capoeira Angola under Mestre Joao Grande, a purple belt under Rickson Gracie, a former translator for Helio Gracie, a Judo black belt, and a well-rounded martial artist. My moments with TJ are usually filled with laughter, sweat, and good training. He's a history professor at Baruch College in NYC, but we steal any opportunity to get together and vibe.

As good as my time was with TJ, I got a very sad message while I was down in SD.

Thai Sam, a friend of mine, was killed in an auto accident in Beijing. I met Thai while doing a couple of articles on Aikido's Matsuoka Haruo, the former top student of Steven Seagal. Like Matsuoka sensei, Thai was personable, generous, and highly skilled. We struck up a friendship and logged in some time together both off and on the mats. In addition to his high-tech, high-demand job, Thai was also the head instructor at South Bay Aikido. No matter how busy, he was never too aloof or conceited to shoot out a quick e-mail, asking how I was doing and just keeping in touch. I sorely regret all of the times I missed the chance to spend just a little more time with him training, hanging out, or whatever.

But the story doesn't stop there.

Thai was starting a family with his girlfriend Kate. She's due in February and now stuggling to make heads or tails out of her current situation. As much as I'm grieving the loss of a friend, I can't imagine what Kate's going through right now, but I do know that Thai was the kind of guy who was a real friend. If he knew you needed something, he'd do it for you himself. So while I try to do my best to suport Kate and help her get back on her feet and keep moving forward, please say a prayer for Thai and Kate. If any of you want to help contribute to Kate & their unborn child, drop me a line and let me know.

Much love,

KB workshop at Harris International

I'm finally back in town from a week of intensive training at Prof. Roy Harris's academy in San Diego. For those of you who aren't familiar with Roy Harris, he's the BEST grappling instructor I have ever worked with. Until Guro Dan Inosanto introduced me to him, I NEVER EVER liked training on the ground. Every time I got on the ground to grapple, I always came away with some injury... some worse than others.

Now, I'm not only comfortable on the ground, but more competent as well. The real meaning of Jiu-Jitsu is "soft art", and while the rest of the grappling world is doing a strength and force based modern version of the art, Roy Harris is running in the opposite direction. His grappling is based on minimal effort, detailed understanding of leverage and stability principles and maximum results. If you haven't checked him out already, go visit

While I was down there for his Apprentice Instructors' course, I had the pleasure of giving a kettlebell training workshop, hosted by his academy. We didn't have much time to advertise this workshop, so I was pleasantly surprised when the workshop sold out and the floor was full of people swinging Russian iron. As the Harris Academy revolves around detailed, scientific instruction, the students and instructors who attended my workshop were all over the high level of detail presented on the swing, swing variants, my Turkish Get-Up progression (including the Naked Get-Up), and the quick intro to the clean. We had a few non-Academy members joining us as well, and they were quick to remark on the pleasure of having the opportunity to really learn how to properly execute KB exercises instead of just having one dropped in front of them and told to emulate an exercise after minimal instruction.

Due to the strong response from the attendees, I might very well be down in San Diego again for another intensive kettlebell workshop at the Harris Academy on Sunday, 12/16. Keep your eye on the DD forum and the Harris International forum for news on that!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Do your homework!

The RKC invasion is a beautiful thing. But with all the throngs of people signing up for the instructor certification workshops, there are FAR too many who come without an inkling of the most requisite of tasks they must perform... the snatch test.

Read the bloody rules and now your numbers at the very least!!! The following page is text heavy, but there's nothing extraneous. Read it, re-read it, train it, know it, and DO IT!!!

RKC Certification Requirements

If you're an RKC candidate from the KBLA camp, you are expected to hit your snatch test numbers confidently 2 months before your certification. If you cannot hit them within 1 month of your cert date, you will be asked to reschedule your attendance.

The Russian Kettlebell Challenge instructor certification workshop is not for the unprepared. We want you to go with as much training as possible so that you can REALLY learn the finer points of the Level 1 RKC system from Pavel and the seniors in as much detail as possible. If you're still banging your forearm while cleaning or unable to pass your snatch test, then you need to prepare MORE before the RKC.

This is like going back to college. If you've done the reading before the lecture, you'll be able to appreciate the salient information that wasn't in the reading. If you didn't bother to prepare for the lecture, you'll be scrambling to jot down everything and really learning so much less than your more studious classmates.

Friday, November 23, 2007


This guy, Buakaw Por Pramuk, is my inspiration when it comes to stand-up fighting.

And the song by Tupac Shakur, titled "Holla At Me" is one of my favorites in training music. As with many of Tupac's raps, the lyrics are rich with meaning.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Living in Mecca

Over the past few days, actually past few weeks, I've been reflecting on how to make improvements in my lifestyle... trying to see where I can make changes that will raise my quality of life and allow me to do more with less effort.

And this week, I realized that I'm barking up the wrong tree.

Speaking with Rannoch Donald, RKC, the head of Kettlebells Scotland, and with Guros John Spezzano, Mike Wise, and Jeff Imada, some of the senior instructors at the Inosanto Academy, I came to truly appreciate that I'm living in Mecca... so to speak. With all the resources that I have within arm's reach here and all the work that I've done to be able to access those resources, I'm a fool for every minute that I don't spend working diligently to be able to make the most of my opportunities. I see Pavel Tsatsouline, train with James Lin and Dan Inosanto, and have access to some of the best & brightest in every field that I've chosen to investigate or excel in almost every week.

While there are certain aspects of my lifestyle that I'm not thrilled about, particularly that my wife & son spend most of their week at least 45 minutes away (without traffic) because my wife's going through her residency, there's a silver lining to that cloud. While I've been more preoccupied lately with wanting to spend more time with my baby boy, I also realize that if we were to be living under the same roof right now, I wouldn't have the time to study, train, and do the kind of concentrated self-improvement that I'm focusing more on now.

To that end, I've decided to set a new goal or two for myself.

1. By 2007's end, to be able to press the 70 pounder again with my left hand, and to make the most of EVERY day in training with KBs in a grease the groove format,

2. To get the most out of my martial arts training opportunities- Inosanto JKD/Kali/Muay Thai/Silat, Roy Harris BJJ & Grappling, James Lin's Combat Shuai-Chiao, Harry Wong's Wang Shi-qing Yang style small frame form, and Gee Yung's Fut Ga & lion dance, as well as Krabi Krabong, etc.,

3. To make a bigger, better contribution to the 3 fields of endeavor that I'm involved with - martial arts, kettlebells, and medicine,

and 4. To stop thinking about what life is like on the other, "greener" side, and live more powerfully on my this side of the hill.

To live in Mecca, one has to recognize the gifts that God lays out before them. Instead of griping about how we wish we had other things or other resources, let's all make the most of ourselves with what we do have and show our appreciation for others that way.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

T'was the night before Veterans' Day

And all through the apartment,
Not a creature was stirring,
Aside from a very restless Panda...

Why was the Panda restless? It might have to do with the radio and TV features he saw that left him bitterly sleepless. Read on, folks....

Earlier, as I was driving back from a morning of teaching from 7-12noon, I heard an AM radio interview with some veterans talking about the Iraq & Vietnam Wars. What I heard troubled me so deeply that it left an ache in my heart all day long. One veteran from the Vietnam War said that he was deeply disappointed in the Veterans Administration and the government, saying that he expected his government to treat him with honesty, fairness, and good faith. Those three things are the cornerstone of any relationship, let alone how a government should treat its own soldiers, and his words troubled me so deeply that I had to sit in my car for a while reflecting on them after I'd pulled into my driveway.

The next thing on the news at 9pm was a story about how some folks are celebrating their Veterans' Day by packaging a bunch of little care packages for the soldiers in Iraq & Afghanistan. That story, while not exactly lifting my spirits, made me want to do something more to show the people of the US Armed Services that their innumerable sacrifices are not in vain.

Many of these armed forces personnel leave (and sometimes lose) their jobs, their friends, and most importantly their loved ones to serve our government's interests. Now while you may not be a fan of the current administration, you cannot fault these valiant people for doing their duty. Like it or not, they are the ones who, as so well put in one e-mail, put their lives on the line and suffer every day so you can enjoy your designer tea at Starbucks and whine about how bad things are.

I'm not over there with them, but I'll put it down in print on the internet as this. I'm honored to say that I've been one to try to do whatever I can for the people who do whatever they can to take care of our safety and our freedoms. Whether you're part of the police, the firefighters, or the active duty or retired military personnel, I want you to know that I and the people of Kettlebells Los Angeles appreciate you.

For the first 5 active duty personnel from Iraq and the first 5 active duty personnel from Afghanistan, e-mail me a clear picture of you in uniform with Dragon Door kettlebells from wherever in Iraq or Afghanistan that you're stationed. I'll send you an Enter the Kettlebell DVD, an Enter the Kettlebell book, and 1 martial arts or H2H DVD from my personal martial arts video collection. I will pay all shipping, all handling, everything. This offer ends on 11/17/07, since I want to try to get these packages out to you before Thanksgiving.

For the veterans who are back stateside, you train with KBLA as my guests for the remainder of 2007 completely free of charge. Just show me proof of honorable discharge, and you're welcome to train as part of my KBLA family.

I'm not a loaded guy. But I deeply appreciate the sacrifices you're making for us. I look forward to showing you that some of us are here at home are more than willing to give you the honesty, fairness, and good faith that you so truly deserve.

With respect and gratitude,
Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC II

Sunday, November 4, 2007


I'm not the most patient guy on Earth, so let's just get the Thanksgiving thing with over NOW, and here's how we'll do it...

In SoCal, after all of the fires and insanity we've just gone through, ANY firefighter (whether actively serving or retired) or their immediate family members can train with me at KBLA's Sunday class free of charge for the month of November. Just show some ID, and we'll be glad to extend the offer to you!

What the hell... Let's take it a little further......

I will do a 2-hour kettlebell training workshop for any fire department in the SoCal area that would like one COMPLETELY free of charge this month. All you have to do is drop me a line at

Firefighters put it on the line for us all the time. Now I'm going to give them & their families a chance to take a little back.

Respectfully & gratefully,
Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC II

The best is yet to come!

This morning, we had an OUTSTANDING Sunday beach class! And I say that for several reasons...

1. Mark Toomey, RKC II, took the time out from his LA vacation to come by and teach with me this morning. Toomey & I have ended up at almost every RKC event together, with maybe 1 exception. He's a great friend and a top-notch instructor, and the senior students really got a chance to experience his expertise this morning. Many of the more experienced students, like RKC candidate, Guro John Spezzano, even commented to me after class, saying that they picked up several valuable technical tweaks from him!

Toomey demonstrated the bearcrawl pushup, which left a few of the harder comrades in our group groaning at just the sight of it.

2. The newer students REALLY stepped up! Dr. Jeff McCombs, an RKC candidate, went from struggling on his snatch last week, to demonstrating it with confidence and teaching others how to achieve theirs as well. And our youngest member, Patrick Barnett, demonstrated some manly technique, cranking out his snatches in true Hard Style fashion with a rock solid shoulder and systemic linkage at the top of each repetition.

3. Grace & Adam Chiplinsky, also RKC candidates, returned from Australia, bringing their diligent work ethic and incredible focus to the group. There were several newcomers as well, along with the stalwarts, making for a large and very fun morning! While the circuit at the end of class was hard, many still had plenty of energy to complete a solid trifecta afterwards.

While "the evil Russian" didn't make an appearance as hoped, this morning's class was proof-positive that no matter what the time, time change, or fog, the KBLA group is rockin' Hard Style!

Week after week, I'm so amazed at the progress I see in the group. And I always leave more excited about this great group of people that I'm so lucky to have the chance to work with! The best is yet to come!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Congratulations are in order

For those of you who haven't met him yet, Anton Summers, RKC (a student of Pavel's and mine) passed his Hapkido black belt test last night. Anton began his study of Hapkido directly with the late Master Bong Soo Han and tested in front of Master Han's senior black belts.

Please join me in congratulating one of KBLA's finest RKCs as he joins the ranks of black belt martial artists!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The lasting effects of strength training

Almost 2 weeks without touching a kettlebell... That's gotta be a PR in terms of layoff spans for me since I first got my RKC. Thank God to be back from Thailand and back at home in LA.

Thailand was great in terms of Krabi-Krabong & Muay Boran training, but I missed my KBs and was a little concerned about how I'd be feeling after laying off for those 2 weeks. I was also concerned since I haven't touched a weight for a while, but my left side still troubles me. I needn't have worried.

This morning at the Inosanto Academy, I pressed the 53lb KB for reps on my left side. While it was only a set of 5, that's still a considerable improvement over what I was able to do before I left the US. Shocked that I was able to maintain and improve on my strength even without having access to weights or KBs. Now that I'm back at training, I can only look forward to my strength and mobility improving even more!

I'll keep you guys posted.

Best always,

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Climbing back up - The Kettlebell Rehabilitation process

Thanks to all of you who've sent me e-mails over the past few weeks, wishing me a speedy recovery. No matter what someone accomplishes, the support of the people around him/her is an utterly priceless factor in their progress and success. Thank you again for that... from the bottom of my heart.

Yesterday was the first time since my "problem" that I was able to snatch a 53 lb KB again with my left side. While my left handed press was far from up to snuff, the snatch started reactivating atrophied muscles. The snatches weren't anywhere near as solid as those on my right side, but God-willing, they will be by the September RKC!

The majority of my left-sided workout is centered around the 35 lb-er. While I can certainly do 2-handed swings with the 70 and 2-KB swings with 53s, the 35 is the safest weight that I can control without doubt. Scary to think that not even a month ago, I was pressing a 70 lb KB, huh?

What's amazing to me, though, is the rapidity with which I'm regaining strength. The last time I had an atrophic muscular problem several years ago, I remember my left side looked like someone left it in a river with hungry piranhas. The atrophy was so pronounced and the scapular winging was really obvious. This time, I'm glad I have the rehabilitative technology available to me to manage this and rebound from it.

For those of you who are thinking about going to the RKC, sign up for the San Jose cert. I look forward to having the pleasure and honor of meeting you there, and to help (as Pavel would say) make better men out of you all, even the ladies. :-D

And if you want to find out more about rehabilitative kettlebell technologies and practices, check out the RKC II! It's come a LONNNNNNNG way since the first RKC II and it's truly worth its weight in gold.

Train hard, train smart, train KETTLEBELLS!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

I'm down, but not out!!!

Viral brachialplexopathy... Who in the bloody hell ever heard of that?!?!?

Certainly not me. I've been involved with orthopedic medicine for a few years now, and that was a new one to me. I've heard of and treated people with virus-based diseases that attacked the nervous system - such as shingles & Guillain-Barre - but I definitely didn't recall learning about any disease where a virus attacks a specific branch of nerves, causing debility.... until it struck me.

A little more than 2 or 3 weeks ago, I started noticing some discomfort in my left arm. I figured it was just mild soreness from training, so I didn't pay much attention to it. Around the same time, I'd also had a mild stomach flu, so I assumed that the shoulder discomfort had to do with some flu-related body-aches as well.

The only problem was that the mild discomfort progressed into real pain, especially along the side of my neck and at the shoulder joint itself. The pain also came with pronounced weakness. Usually, most people can't differentiate weakness caused by pain inhibition and actual motor deficit. In my case, I've learned how to differentiate motor weakness from mere pain inhibition in my own body, and I could clearly tell that the arm/shoulder was getting seriously weak. I'd gone from working on pressing a 70 lb kettlebell to being unable to do a pushup.

I tried backtracking... What did I do that might have caused this? Did I strain it? Did I overtrain it? Did I take a bad breakfall in Shuai-Chiao? Did I hit something from a bad angle? Did I sleep on it funny? Did I get a venomous spider bite? Did I aggravate a pre-existing shoulder injury?
The answer to all of the above were a resounding NEGATIVE. So I started calling on my health care connections and made appointments to get treatment from 5 different doctors - 2 chiropractors, 1 osteopath, 1 acupuncturist, and 1 neurologist.

- All the standard orthopedics tests for rotator cuff tears or impingement were negative.
- The tests for nerve root compression were negative.
- And the only theory that sounded remotely credible (albeit weird) was that the root cause was viral.

I didn't get much explanation about that "viral" thing, and I assumed that to mean that the problem was lymphatic, so a good lymphatic drainage would lead to a major reversal in my symptoms... A little too presumptuous, however.

The posterior parts of my shoulder & arm were tightening up and really bothering me now. The teres muscles and the triceps were throbbing more often than not. It hurt to type, it hurt to treat patients, and it hurt to sleep! I was getting more miserable and increasingly desperate to find solid answers about what was going on. I knew this felt radically different from the rotator cuff injuries and tendinopathies I'd had over the years and from the shoulder joint injuries I'd also suffered.

Finally, a former student of mine, Dr. Tony C. Lin, who's a hot-shot orthopedics specialist in Hawaii, e-mailed me with a great explanation - viral brachioplexopathy. Immediately remembering that the other physicians mentioned a viral cause, although not giving me an explanation of the mechanism of injury, Dr. Lin's explanation made perfect sense.
The bottom line is this. The shoulder/arm/neck will hurt for a couple of weeks, and then the patient (me) will be left with lingering weakness and possible loss of range of motion for anywhere from 2 months to 2 years.

This same problem attacked one of my kettlebell students, and he told me that it hits him about once every 5 years. Now that the acute phase is over, where I was in nothing but pain, now I'm left quite weak on my left side.

But that's no problem. I'm not going to be left looking like the 1-armed bandit. Using a light kettlebell, I've begun rehabilitating my left side. While I can clean a 53-lb KB with certainty, I can't press more than 26 lbs right now with any measure of stability. No problem.

Slow, steady, consistent progress is the way to make things happen. It still hurts to type since my left arm starts tiring, twitching, and locking up, and last night was a difficult night of sleep. But I'm focused on making this get better.

I'll keep you posted. If all goes well, I'll be back to snatching the 53 lb KB for reps on my left side in time for the September RKC.... and a big thank you goes out to those of you who've dropped me e-mails and called to wish me a speedy recovery.

People often say, "Physician, heal thyself!!!" And with my trusty kettlebells nearby, I'll do my best not to let you down!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Training without Kettlebells

One of the most commonly asked questions from my students and clients is "What do I do if I have to travel, and there are no kettlebells where I'm going?"

People have tried all sorts of things to take the place of their beloved kettlebells. You name it, I've heard of it... swinging dumbbells, using water jugs, swinging their kids, filling their duffle bags with sand, etc., etc., etc..... Seems like I've heard of everything but swinging around major appliances.

Let's put the question to rest once and for all.

There is NO substitute for a kettlebell, folks. No other configuration of weight and structure will train your body in the same way as a kettlebell. While standard weights may be a decent way of doing resistance training, it's certainly not the same because of the off-centered balance of a kettlebell.

So instead of trying to train your body in the SAME way, using the SAME exercises as you would with a kettlebell, do something slightly DIFFERENT instead.

Will it give you a tremendous systemic workout? Heck, yeah!
Will it use similar principles as the RKC's Hard Style kettlebell training? Heck, yeah!
Will it strengthen your "core"? Heck, yeah!
Will it help rehabilitate injuries or pre-hab your body to prevent injury? Heck, yeah!

To me, there are 3 main exercises that I like to do, and 2 of them are straight out of Pavel Tsatsouline's manual, The Naked Warrior. I chose these 3 exercises to suit my own personal needs and biases (e.g., I hate running, I don't like pushups, etc.). They are:
1. Tactical Pullup
2. Pistol
3. Naked Get-Up

The Naked Get-Up is my own modification of the Turkish Get-Up, and I'll be posting more about that in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Now if you're thinking, "Good grief, I can't even do a full pullup!!!", don't sweat. All of these exercises can be modified such that ANYONE can benefit from them.

For example, sometimes I like to just work on engaging my lats, so instead of doing a full pullup, sometimes I'll keep my elbows locked out and just work on firing my lats. Next, I'll work on doing the Hard Style breathing with the glute clench at the same time as I fire my lats, working on "shortening" my spine and shoving my shoulder blades down into my back pocket.

More on the pullup progression and the pistol progression coming!

And if you're in the LA area, please check out for information on our Sunday beach class and monthly workshops at the Inosanto Academy!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Independence Day

A lot's been said already on so many different fronts to thank the armed forces personnel who put their lives & safety on the line for us. Screw the talk... here's the action.

For any US armed forces veteran who comes to train with Kettlebells Los Angeles's Sunday beach class, you will train for the month of July as my honored guests.

For any first responders, you will also train as my guests for the month of July.

For any active duty personnel, you are also welcome to train as my guests for the month of July.
I ask only that you show any of the instructional staff some identification or discharge papers, so that we may properly honor you.

America owes you. Kettlebells Los Angeles would like to do a little something to pay you back.

With respect & gratitude,
Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC II