Blog Archive

Friday, April 17, 2015

SFG Recert Reflections, Part II

Part One here

With the snatch test out of the way, it was time to work on reviewing the rest of the SFG I skills (swing, Turkish get-up, clean, squat, press, snatch).

Karen Smith was the leader of our SFG recert, and she made the whole experience a fantastic one.

Going into this, I figured that there were two ways the recert was likely to go. One was for the person running it to try and grind everyone into the ground, to see how tough they were or how much punishment they could take.

The other was to treat everyone there like professionals who had already been through the cert, and give them the opportunity to tune up their skills, learn some new ones, and improve their craft.

I was grateful that Karen chose the latter path.

We worked through each of the skills in turn, going over some of the finer points, and any new additions or changes that had been made since our SFG's two years ago. The atmosphere throughout the whole event was casual, but focused. There was no effort to kill us, but everyone put in solid work, and Karen took the time to make sure people were receiving corrections and tune ups as needed. With each movement, she shared drills, coaching cues, and other concepts that she had found useful over the years, even ones that aren't in the SFG manual. Her shoulder mobility series alone was practically worth the price of admission for me, as getting my shoulders un-gunked is a major project for the foreseeable future.

Karen made a point of soliciting ideas and input from other instructors as well, which I appreciated. When you have a roomful of experienced coaches, it's nice to hear from different voices, and I got some good ideas from a bunch of people at the course.

In the end, the recert is a different experience than the SFG weekend. Both are worthwhile in their own way, but I'd really recommend that anyone looking to renew their SFG check out one of the one day recerts. It is its own experience, and one very much worth having.

Monday, April 6, 2015

When It Counts: How the Cycle of Behavior helped me pass the SFG Snatch Test (SFG Recert Reflections, Part I)

“You are
What you do
When it counts"
- Armor (John Steakley)

This past weekend, I completed a one-day re-certification course to renew my StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor cert (SFG). It was a great experience, and I'll be writing a post about it separately, but I wanted to reflect on a bit of lead up, the snatch test, and how a piece of PDR/SPEAR methodology helped me get through the course.

When I originally certified as an SFG, the snatch test proved to be my greatest hurdle. Overhead mobility has never been my strong suit (still needs work), and my hands had a tendency to get shredded while working on it. I went through a lot of tape prepping for that first cert. So when I started prepping for the recert, the snatch test was a big focus of mine.

Everything seemed to be cranking along smoothly, if slowly (finding time to train with a brand-new baby in house is challenging), but I was getting there. My numbers were improving, all my other technique felt strong.

And then, one morning, I decided to squeeze in a quick workout and wrenched my back, badly. Walking suddenly became a challenge, never mind swinging a kettlebell around. About the only comfort I had was that, having idiotically done things like this before, I knew with motrin and rest, I'd be back on my feet before the cert.

But could I get pass the snatch test still? Would my back hold out? What if wrenched again?

I started sliding into the FEAR loop.

If you're not familiar with the FEAR loop, go check out this article on the Cycle of Behavior, then come back. This post won't make sense otherwise.

Two weeks later, I felt a lot better, and, with a week left until the cert, decide to retry my snatch test. Of course, I did this after teaching a three hour seminar, not eating or drinking anything but coffee since breakfast. So not surprisingly, my performance was sub-par. I gave it another go on Monday, again, with not nearly enough water or food in my system, and with similar results.  I was close, but not quite there.

Now the FEAR was getting pretty bad. I started visualizing failing. What that would feel like, what it would mean.

So I went back to the Cycle of Behavior.

Step one: the way out of the FEAR loop is through the challenged or threatened door. I was threatened...I got challenged. Yes, I had missed the snatch test, but that was practice. I could rise above my performance on game day. I started seeing it as an opportunity to rise to the occasion, and to demonstrate how much mindset can matter in a high-stress situation.

GAR: Goal- Pass the snatch test.
Action - Get it done.
Result - Pass


My plan came down to two parts.

Part one: make sure I am well hydrated, have eaten well, and am fully awake for the snatch test.
This was actually relatively easy, since the test occurred in the morning. All I had to do was get up, have breakfast, and I was good to go.

Plan part two: don't stop.

While the snatch test rules allow you to put the bell down as often as you like, I found that if I stopped, I had a hard time getting going again. Where I lost time was on the stops. So I decided that my plan for passing was going to simply be...don't stop. Ever. Keep doing snatches until I reached 100, no matter what. My usual strategy is to do 10 right/10 left until I reach the end, but I was going for ANYTHING, as long as I was added reps and, more importantly, not stopping.

The Plan In Action

The morning of the SFG recert, my stomach felt awful. No idea why, but it did. Still, I ate, drank, and got some good coffee in me (always important), and then went to the cert. On the drive over, I reviewed my plan, visualizing the test, including the burning lungs and unpleasant sensations in my stomach. Most importantly, I visualized not stopping. Ever.

I volunteered to be part of the first group of test candidates, because I like getting these things over with. As I was setting up, the time keeper said "go", and like that, I was off.

Internally, the test went something like this:

Rep 10: feels good so far.
Rep 20: and that side feels good too.
Rep 40: lungs are burning. Just get to 60.
Rep 60: let's see if I can get to 80.
Rep 80: hell, there's just twenty left.
Rep 90: just ten on one arm. Easy.
Rep 100: wait, really?

(Seriously, my count was off. I was actually startled when the 100 count was called).

And like that, the snatch test was done, and I passed. In what I think was record time for me. It was actually easier than expected. I even had a moment where I asked my counter to repeat her count, because I misheard her. I was that...relaxed? Not quite the right word, but I felt comfortable doing it.

I've always held that the Cycle of Behavior is one of the most powerful and important tools that we have in the PDR/SPEAR system, precisely because it has such wide application. It was nice to get a chance not only to use it, but to experience it's power in a visceral, immediate way.

It also reminded me of a valuable lesson, one expressed in the quote above, but in other places as well. What you do in practice matters, a lot, but at the end of the day, the only thing that counts is how you perform when it matters. Or, as the BTS logo used to say "In combat, only the result counts."

More on the course itself next time.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Best

“If I tell you I'm good, probably you will say I'm boasting. But if I tell you I'm not good, you'll know I'm lying.” -- Bruce Lee

Every now and then, I get the question, "so, you think what you do/teach is the best, huh?" It's usually asked with the same kind of loaded tone that I suspect Bruce Lee was dealing with when he made the above quip.

On the one hand: my default answer to this is that I believe, completely and sincerely in the idea of Coaches, Not Styles. A great coach will produce competent practitioners (however you judge that) with a less-than-optimal style. A lousy coach will produce lousy practitioners, regardless of how great the style they are teaching supposedly is. A "style" or system can't fix bad coaching.

On the other hand: yes, of course I think what I'm doing is "the best". I don't think it's PERFECT, because I know that I can always improve what and how I'm teaching, but it is the best thing I know how to teach right now. Because if it wasn't, and I was still teaching it, that would be completely irresponsible of me.

Does that mean that I think people who don't teach exactly like me aren't good, or that they can't produce good results? Of course not. That wouldn't just be absurdly egotistical, it would fly in the face of real world evidence. People learn how to successfully defend themselves from people teaching systems that are different from the one I teach. Other coaches, other camps, produce successful Muay Thai fighters. Or successful fighters who don't even do Muay Thai.

So yes, I think what I do is the best, because I'm always teaching the best information I've got. But other people have good info too. It's not a zero-sum game.