Tuesday, October 11, 2011

You don't go out looking for a job dressed like that? On a weekday?

Or... "What's so wrong with a Hard Routine?"

Let me preface this by saying, if you want the short version of this rant, it's "Why are you here?". As a coach, and a business owner, I've worked hard to figure out what I am presenting to you, the consumer, and why. I know why I am here. As a general approach to problem solving, I feel that if you don't identify objectives, then frankly your chances of 'success' are pretty dismal. I mean, what is success if you have no definition? Sometimes that can work. Sometimes, "I'll know it when I see it" can be an appropriate approach to long term life goals. But generally speaking it's a miserable way to go about training.

So, what do I provide? I provide technical expertise. Sure. But more importantly, I provide an environment. A culture. An attitude. A mindset. I coach athletes. In Crossfit generally, the term 'athlete' is thrown about pretty liberally. I use 'athlete' to describe a type of person, and it only has a little bit to do with performance. Being an athlete is about 'Gameness'. Athletes by my definition are committed to improvement, and willing to do what it takes to achieve progress and to bring a competitive best effort to as many events as possible. They want to win, whatever that may mean to them, and they try to hard to win. They act accordingly.

So, why are you here? Presumably, it's to get the things you want. Presumably you know what that is. Not being an expert, I don't expect you to say: "I want to increase my Sinclair total and lower my LDL to under 120 mg/DL". However, I DO expect you to tell me that your doctor told you that your cholesterol was getting too high and you want to be stronger. Those are measurements of health and fitness, and that's my business. I can tell you right up front whether or not that is a service we provide and what's realistic to expect.

I also understand that you are here for an experience; I acknowledge that my gym, and Crossfit generally, is engaged in the 'experience economy'. Like those who spend their excess income on cooking classes, vacations, Yoga and psychotherapy, Crossfitters are buying life experiences just like other american consumers. If you're looking for a building with weights in it, there's a globo gym within 3 miles of your house. That's not what I am selling. I am selling coaching and an athletic environment. I am selling the experience of the hard routine, and I am not going to settle for selling a shitty one at that. The experience that we offer is that of empowering yourself by submitting to a hard routine. One that challenges you more days than not. One that requires commitment, one that will not give freely what is not earned. To be honest, in our daily lives in America, most of us take a lot for granted. We have a lot, and much of it we didn't have to work terribly hard for. Crossfit is a treasure because it is a meritocracy: you know exactly what you are or are not capable of and much of it has to do with how hard you work for how long. Outside the gym, everyone gets a participation award. No one is a loser. At Crossfit you are usually a loser most days. This is the way it should be. Until you can earnestly say that you are more fit than 99% of people out there, you don't need someone telling you you are.

This is what I mean when I ask, "why are you here?". I offer coaching and access to the experience of the hard routine. This may not be what you want, but it's likely what you need. If you acknowledge that you are here to buy this experience, then you will likely do well. Eventually. If you are here to use my weights, you likely won't be renewing your membership, and frankly, that's OK with me. As a coach, I try to understand what you have and what you don't have. I try to help you gain what you need, not what you want (See Joshu below). In my mind, this is what a coach is, and what an athlete needs. It's true: I don't offer many pats on the back, many at-a-boys etc. "This is what you did right, this is what needs improvement. This is how we will do better next time." This is the process every day.

The first time I heard the expression "Hard Routine" it was from Pavel. I can't remember exactly what he was talking about, but generally it was the idea that the most radically transformative programs (whether mentally or physically) were the most grueling, demanding and austere. He seemed to embrace the necessity of this from time to time. I have seen since that it's a common expression amongst special forces to describe the discipline with which they conduct themselves professionally. This is of particular note, because it says almost explicitly that these guys see the professionalism and discipline that most soldiers display and they scoff at their slack asses. Given that Pavel was supposedly a trainer for the Spetsnaz I guess it's a pretty universal premise. It seemed perfectly natural to me after having spent a half year on a mountain with the shaolin monks. There I observed the differences in progress and performance between the students that devoted themselves to 'the system' and those who just got by.

I suppose my experience in routines 'hard' as such has shaped my coaching style somewhat. I have to admit, as a personal trainer in the average gym, my approach was different before leaving for China than what it is today (after a few years of trying to train 10-20 people a day and having seen various elite athletics teams train). It's something of a joke amongst friends, acquaintances and clients that I can be anywhere from:

not nurturing

a dick

That always makes me chuckle. For a couple of reasons. I guess it depends on your definition of nurturing. I tend to think of nurturing as 'facilitating growth', not making you feel better. I love my clients and I work my ass off to come up with the best system for them. For 10+ years, I have wanted very badly to be as strong as I can be for my size and to learn martial arts. The lengths to which I have gone to get stronger have included intense training programs that involved lifting twice a day or more, working through or until injuries, being treated like shit by coaches and athletes stronger than me so that I could stay under their guidance or environment long enough to learn from them and more. I have blown thousands of dollars on DVDs, workshops, certifications and classes and coaching sessions. I have traveled all over the country. I have spent hundreds of hours in college weight rooms and have gone 10's of thousands of dollar in debt to get a college degree. ALL OF IT FOR MIXED RESULTS. Sometimes experiences were worth it, sometimes they weren't. But I typically paid out the ass in some way or the other for both.

That's what I did for strength. Multiply all that again for martial arts. I have changed my work schedule, quit jobs, saved up $1,000's to leave for China for half a year, gone to any number of tournements and schools, bought DVDs, went to camps and seminars and so on just like above, and just like above, I took the good with the bad, and just like above, there was at least as much bad as good, and I just HAD TO SWALLOW IT ALL. It was far from perfect, but I had to accept that and make the best of it. If you haven't had the pleasure of learning something complex, difficult and dangerous from an asian, you should really try it. Then come back and tell me I'm a dick.

What I do as a coach and a business person is I try to distill this process down to convey the best things I learned, while helping my clients avoid a lot of the bullshit and unnecessary pitfalls that befell me. And there's a lot of bullshit out there. In light of all this, I have to admit that there are times that I envy my clients. I wish I were them. I wish I was the one in class, getting coaching, and training with others and being taught what's important and what's a waste of time directly, instead of having to learn the hard way. Sometimes I get feedback that I am not flexible enough or that our policies at the gym are hard to comply with. I have a hard time hearing that something we do is not accessible, because I have seen the alternative: Most gurus out there are more charlatan than expert, and what they offer is often more expensive and less valuable than what we are laying out. I know because I had to 'wander through the woods' stumbling past many of them. Let me be clear: every learning experience I have had has offered me less substance for more cost than what I offer today in my coaching/teaching. That is my mission statement; that is where I am coming from. I know that eventually our business will succeed because we offer a better value than anyone else out there.

The only compromises I ever make in our coaching and training system have everything to do with market realities. In essence, my gym would be better, but that would scare off too many potential clients. I have changed the way we structure beginners' classes, how we bring people in for trials, how we handle payments and other issues to make it easier and more convenient to start training with us. Honestly, much of it is irrelevant. Even if ALL my prices are listed on my webpage, the number one question I get on the phone is "How much does it cost?" I can't tell you the temptations that run through my head, the possible sarcastic responses that leap immediately to the frontal cortex. Is it unreasonable for me to doubt the prospects of a potential student who won't make the effort to navigate an additional page in to our website to try and answer some of his own questions?

When I was 21 years old I began bartending under two GREAT mentors: Johnny Dollar and JD Doyle. These professionals had been working in hospitality for longer than I had been alive, and they were experienced enough to have a system. I was lucky. JD was known around Atlanta as being something of a 'populist' wine expert: a genius at making great wines accessible to consumers of moderate means instead of only the rich elite snobby types. As an Irish guy from south Boston with a mouth like a sailor and the look of a Popeye with no hair, he would never be mistaken for a snob. But he understood wine and he made a profound observation about it that I think can be generalized to other subjects. I paraphrase:

"All the best wines come from shitty soil; the vines have to struggle to bear fruit to make truly exceptional wine."

I was trolling through the Judoforum a few weeks back, and someone started a thread about little things that made big differences in people's practice. Ie, knowing what you know now, what would judoka tell beginners were the easiest ways to make the biggest improvements in their judo. I'd say the two most popular answers were:
1. Show up
2. Don't be late

Last quote, then I am done;

A monk told Joshu, "I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me."

Joshu asked, "Have you eaten your rice porridge?

The monk replied, "I have eaten."

Joshu said, "Then you had better wash your bowl."

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