Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's not about the bell: 3 lessons from assisting at RKC Israel

“Well, congratulations, Aleks.  You passed.” 

My Team Leader, Cortez Hull, shook my hand from across the table where he and his assistants sat, almost an hour after the October 2010 RKC certification had ended and nearly all the participants (save for my team) were gone.  I’d been waiting with baited breath, hoping for good news to relieve me of the stress of the weekend and the second guessing of my performance during the cert (“why would it take this long to decide?!  I must’ve done something wrong!”).  In an instant, the weight of self-induced stress and worry dropped from my face and posture, and I stood prouder than ever: as an RKC.

I’ll never forget that day, that moment, that feeling.  The summation of 8 months of five-day-a-week training and two years of dreaming finally reached their peak.  I even remember the Facebook status I posted after the event finished: “’No fatigue is felt at the time of victory’” – Hal Elrod.  You may now call me Aleks Salkin, RKC.”  To this day I’m still more proud of my RKC than my B.A.  I know what it means to prepare, to pour your sweat and hard work – sometimes at odd hours of the day because you’re busy with school and work, and dammit, you can’t miss a training session – into preparing for this course.  And it’s not just a course, as any of my fellow RKC graduates know; it’s a life changer.

And for the first time ever, I was going to be on the opposite side of that course – as an assistant instructor to a new crop of instructors.  Hell yes.  And my assisting at this course was doubly important for me.  Not only was it my first time, but it was a very historical event: the first ever RKC course held in my beloved Israel.  Two firsts, one course.  Hell yes again. 

Not surprisingly, in addition to assisting a lot and teaching a little bit (leading the candidates in joint mobility warm ups, stretching cool-downs, a Primal Move session on day 3, and administering the pullup test as well as a few lovingly bestowed kettlebell beat downs), I learned more than I thought I could in such a short amount of time, deepened knowledge I already had, and finally understood things I already “knew”.  Here’s  a short list of some of the major things I took with me from this historic event.

3) The interrelatedness of each of the RKC Big Six
A while back, I heard a story that Dan John told about what he loved about kettlebells as taught by Pavel (then the RKC, now StrongFirst). He said that when you stand back and look at all of the moves, you can see how interconnected they all were. A part of me understood this at the time, over a year ago when I first heard it, but I didn't REALLY understand it until last weekend, when I saw Peter Lakatos demonstrate each and every move, from the hip hinge and the plank all the way to the snatch.

Dan John is right. It's all interconnected, and each kettlebell exercise is a piece of one large puzzle - the principles of strength - and not just some exercise you can do because it's kinda fun. There is a purpose and a goal. Learn them and master them and in turn, you will master as much strength as you care to.

Even though we usually think of “same but different” as variations on a single exercise, I now see how it applies to EVERY exercise we teach at the RKC.  Every single kettlebell exercise we teach is like a family, as Dan John succinctly put it.  They all look different when viewed separately, but once you see them all side by side, you see beyond that.  Just like looking at a family photo with all your extended family members, despite each person’s inherent differentness, you see the common thread that runs through them all; a genetic line that passes on specific traits to each and every person.  Strength is the genetic line running through and connecting every seemingly disparate kettlebell exercise.  Each one brings its own unique benefits to the student, but the goal of each remains the same – strength.  Pure strength.

2) “Miracles” happen at the RKC.
I put “miracles” in quotes because it’s really just latent ability, though it looks miraculous to the observer (in this case me).  We’ve all seen it before, but being an assistant and observer at a workshop as important as an RKC cert takes it to a new high, because at the end of the workshop it’s not like people just say “Sweet, I learned some cool stuff that I can use/teach now.”  By the end, you are either entering a new stage in your professional life or you still have 90 more days before you can enter it.  The difference between those two things separates the RKC from other certs and workshops like wheat from chaff, and the ability to seemingly go out on a limb with new information or lofty challenges requires patience, trust, and true grit.   People really step up to the occasion, put their nagging fears and doubts behind them, take the new cues and tips they’ve learned and just say “*Deity of choice*, take the wheel!” 
Among the epic awesomeness that I witnessed:

·         A 45 year-old lawyer who had never snatched anything heavier than 16 kgs managed to nail a whopping 75 reps with a 24kg in the snatch test.  A combination of improved technique from Peter Lakatos’s razor-sharp teaching combined with the encouragement of the community and camaraderie among the other candidates.  

·         A 46 year-old hard man who had endured a serious accident that left him bed-ridden the year before came into the cert saying “you’re all going to see how weak I am.”  Yet by day two he hit a lifetime PR of a 40 kg overhead press.  

·         A young man with constant shoulder dislocation problems who had even undergone surgery (which didn’t completely fix his issue) not only learned how to keep his shoulders packed, but nailed 80 snatches in 5 minutes without a single shoulder issue.  

The list could continue, but suffice it to say while there were many other impressive transformations, these stuck out particularly from the crowd.  Those who came in skeptical about their own abilities during the weekend left with a feeling that they had much more control over their life and strength than they ever had before.  The coolest part about this for me was that I came in knowing I would witness “miracles” that would turn people into lifelong believers in Pavel’s teachings as it had to me. It was like knowing the end of a movie before seeing it; I knew what was going to happen, but I had to see it to appreciate it.

1)      It’s not about the bell.
The first time I ever heard this, it was from Geoff Neupert, and it completely changed the way I looked at kettlebells.  The point of the RKC is not to use kettlebells “just because”; it serves a higher purpose: to improve your strength and movement for whatever you want through intelligent technique and programming.  To take his words one step beyond, “it’s not about the bell” means something more to me: Loyalty.  Honor.  Respect.  Let’s look at them all in reverse order.

The caliber of people drawn to the RKC as Pavel’s system of strength training speaks for itself.  High level martial artists.  Physical therapists.  Athletes.  Strength coaches.  Special operators.  The RKC as a certification is more than just a kettlebell certification – it is a collection of some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.  The level of professionalism among those involved ranks as the highest I’ve seen anywhere, and though I don’t have the life experience and involvement in a variety of organizations as some of my older comrades, I can say this: before deciding to make strength training my career, I was slated for a career in academia.  There is no comparison between the professionalism and respect demanded by Pavel of his students and that demanded by people in academia.  None.  This demand draws some incredibly talented and impressive people to his system.  I’d like to take a second to personally thank just a few.

·         Shihan Ronen Katz.  Sixth degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate, an accomplished yoga teacher and practitioner, RKC, and life-long learner who hosted the event, worked tirelessly to promote it and make it a resounding success, and welcome me with open arms as an assistant and even allowed me to stay in his home with his family for the first few days upon my arrival in Israel.  I met him at Marketing Mastermind one year ago in November and struck up a friendship with him.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m chatty and can befriend just about anyone, but Ronen is different.  He is a friend, colleague, and comrade that I am honored and privileged to know.  He is soft-spoken, but when he talks, I listen.  He has wisdom beyond his years, and truly has loyalty, honor, and respect for that which makes a positive impact on others.  Of all the great things that I experienced and enjoyed during my eight-day stint in Israel, hearing Ronen say to me during our final address to the newly-minted RKCs “I would like to thank Aleks for coming here and assisting. I am really glad I met you” by far meant the most to me.  That alone stands head and shoulders above everything else from that week.  It was one of those things that made me want to cry with joy, but I figured if I did Pavel might get wind of it and sentence me to a 100 swing punishment, so I held back the tears.  Ronen, I look forward to working with you in the future in Israel to spread the word of strength, kettlebells, and of course, loyalty, honor, and respect.


·         Peter Lakatos.  Master instructor under Pavel, creator of the revolutionary Primal Move system, and all-around class act.  His skillful teaching polished and solidified things I already knew about Hardstyle as well as added greatly to it.  In addition, his insight into being successful in your passion was worth the money I paid on the trip and then some.  In a world where people are seeking good enough, Peter is always seeking better.  He is willing to pay any cost, do any research, and include anything that works and spread it to the people as a way of making a positive impact on the world.  When you think of the famous (and my favorite) phrase “Power to the people!”, know that Peter embodies this to a T.  He doesn’t hoard knowledge for himself: he actively spreads it to all.  He is truly making a great impact on the world through teaching Krav Maga, offering masterful instruction and insight in kettlebell instruction, and changing lives with Primal Move.  On top of all this, he is a gentleman and a humble teacher.  I’m honored to know him.  

One of my favorite quotes ever is “Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value.” (Albert Einstein)  More than anything, Pavel’s insistence on his students being ladies and gentlemen rather than merely women and men has had the greatest impact on how I conduct myself.  Our interactions with other people – both those we work with and those who oppose us – says more about who we are as individuals and as a group than anything else.  I’ve looked far and wide and found no other strength/fitness professionals that are quite on the same level as Pavel and his team of leadership.  Being men and women not only of value, but of honor, really sets us all apart from the majority of our industry.

Peter had the best, most succinct line of all to describe loyalty during the RKC.  While talking about why Pavel left and what StrongFirst was all about, he said something to the effect of “When you sit by a fire for warmth, you are in that spot because of the fire, nothing else.  If the fire moves to a different spot, do you stay with the ashes where it used to be?  No.  You follow the fire wherever it goes.”  Loyalty is another example of something simple, but not easy.  Life would have been much easier if the fire that attracted us all to that spot had stayed put.  However, the answer for me and most others is very simple: follow the flames.  Everyone at the RKC in Israel agreed.  As Kyokushin practitioners, they know a thing or two about the trifecta of integrity: loyalty, honor, and respect.

As for me, I’ll never forget my first experience with the kettlebell, my first time reading Enter The Kettlebell and The Naked Warrior, and slowly but surely walking closer and closer to the fire as the years went on.  Once there, I knew there was no place else I wanted to go.  I also knew that I had to make it my mission in life to attract other people to the fire that Pavel had created, and show them how awesome it would make every part of their life.  It was the best decision I ever made, and I will trek as far as I must to stay close to that flame that changed everything for me.  I would not be where I am, nor would I be the person that I am, without Pavel and his teachings and methods.

The past year of my life has been a whirlwind of amazing improvements, leaps forward, and opportunities.  Nothing makes me prouder than fulfilling my longtime dream of being an assistant instructor at an RKC course, and more than that, doing so in my beloved Land of Israel.  I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.
With all that said, it is time that I follow the flame and continue my path upward and onward.  I wish the best of luck to all those remaining with the RKC, and would like to give a special thanks to John Du Cane for all that he’s done for me and all of us.  We all owe him a lot, and he deserves our thanks. 

I look forward to assisting at future courses in Israel not just as a visitor, but as a citizen, and helping spread the word of StrongFirst.   The world must know where to find its fire, and I will do all I can to help in leading the way. 

Strong First.  Strong Always.


 !הכוח לעם
(Ha-koakh l'am!)
Power to the people!

Aleks Salkin, SFG, SBS


  1. Exceptional post, Aleks; you hit the nail right on the head. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Another quality post. Keep up the good work Aleks!!

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  4. Aleks..I was lucky enough to "hang," with you at Easy Strength..may our paths soon cross again! Great article!

  5. Aleks,

    I just want to say that you rock. Keep up the great work, my friend. You are making a difference.

  6. Enjoyable post to read. Brings back lots of good memories!

  7. Dear Aleks,
    I was VERY moved by reading your perspective on this awesome weekend which I was privileged to attend. I feel humbled; the more I know, the more I realize how much more there is to learn. I was inspired. I was challenged. I grew. I learned an amazing amount from Peter and also from you. (Academia's loss is our gain.) I am also forever grateful to Shihan Ronen Katz for preparing me and the other guys the way he did. Quality people, quality material. I hope that our paths cross again soon.
    Sara-Rivka Yekutiel