Kettlebell Sport

Kettlebell Sport—The Martial Art for Survivors, Pacifists, and Peacemakers

I just remember not being able to shake the anxiety after your death and, despite the beauty of my surroundings (people and landscapes), I needed to find a healthier way to keep moving forward. I had felt anxiety many times before, usually when I stepped on a wrestling mat, first as a young child and almost every year thereafter to the age of 19. I was the insecure, skinny, quiet kid that sought solace in the weight room, lifting for hours on end, looking up at the painted wall of all the names that had achieved the 300 lb. bench press club. (My name was finally added to that wall during my senior year of high school.)


“If you are going to lift, it may as well be done to encourage, support, strengthen, and inspire someone, or a group of people, or a community in need.”


I had grown to relate to the words of Henry Rollins in an article he wrote named “Iron and the Soul.” Rollins wrote, “The Iron never lies to you. The Iron always kicks you the real deal. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”.


The gym was one of the only places where I felt at ease, knee deep in the practice of lifting a barbell. There were fleeting moments with surfing where I had thought that maybe I had found the Holy Grail apart from the weight room. I always shaped my boards thick and glassed them heavy because my swimming technique and mobility were lacking, probably because of years of bench pressing. After several encounters with sharks, the harsh reality that I sucked at swimming, and the numerous hours it took me away from my family led me to the realization that I needed to reestablish my priorities. Despite all of this, my mediocrity with virtually everything I had tried in my life continued to be the engine for my pursuit to find that one thing that I was good at.


Even if I stopped going to the gym for months at a time, I would always return home. The virtues of hard work and determination in the environment of the iron and steel gave me a purpose. It was a place where new goals were made and achieved, and a place where mental toughness was forged. The world has become a different place, full of people who earn participation trophies. Though not bitter about this, I have a hard time understanding the worldview of individuals who do not comprehend the value of hard work and the basic tenet of winning and losing.

It was around this same time when I recognized that I needed to re-evaluate and make some adjustments to my training. I was powerlifting four days a week and my endurance was lacking. I had been in a foot pursuit with an individual in the course of the duties of my job and I felt like I was going to have a heart attack at the tender age of 33. The male fleeing the warrant service was barefoot and in a dead sprint toward a large wooded area, wearing nothing but a pair of sweatpants borrowed from the 1980s (the best decade ever). He lost his sweatpants in that pursuit, and I lost him in that wooded area.


I found the kettlebell in 2008 and it seemed to be the answer to the problem I was facing in my training. After consuming every book I could find on the subject of the kettlebell, I was intrigued by the kettlebell’s simplicity and the kettlebell’s complexity. It provided me with the constant challenge of learning technique and provided a continuum of obstacles to overcome in various movements and workouts. It was a tool for building raw brute strength and endurance. After developing my “hard style technique” over several years, squatting every day for a year, and after a stint in CrossFit, I became obsessed with kettlebell sport. The kettlebells in sport remain the same size regardless of weight and are color-coded and labeled in kilos. The movements in the sport mimic the Olympic lifting movements with kettlebells over intervals of 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or 60 minutes. If Olympic weightlifting and marathon running were combined and made into a sport, kettlebell sport would be the result. Long cycle is my preferred discipline in kettlebell sport which is a clean and jerk movement. Some other examples of movements in kettlebell sport are jerk and snatch.


A friend of mine that has spent some time under the bells affectionately calls long cycle, “torture for the soul”. I have found that long cycle requires more determination and grit than any other activity in which I have ever engaged. It suits my personality to struggle against something that seems nearly impossible, and keep striving. I still remember the first time I walked into my garage to lift two shiny green competition kettlebells for the first time to try long cycle; all I had was 20 reps. After the death of a friend in the line of duty, and the death of a beloved coach, long cycle became the activity I used to cope, grieve, and heal. Some people go to counseling, some people lift kettlebells. I’ve heard on more than one occasion that individuals have found kettlebell sport to be a healthy avenue to cope effectively with depression, anxiety, and even trauma.

Kettlebell sport weight lifting beltKettlebell sport is structured like a martial art, allowing individuals to earn ranks according to weight lifted and the number of repetitions achieved in a specific time frame. If you ever have the opportunity to step on a platform at a competition, you will likely have the person next to you lifting a different weight or completing a set of an entirely different discipline. The platform is all about bringing the best version of yourself that day and continuing to lift with your whole heart even when your arms feel like they can no longer perform. The diversity, positivity, and dynamic expression of the folks that compete in this sport creates an atmosphere of inclusion and camaraderie rarely found in any other context of life.


After training in kettlebell sport for 1.5 years, I found myself in another foot pursuit, except this time with a man that had multiple warrants…riding a bicycle. I chased him on an old set of railroad tracks and I remember seeing him get smaller and smaller as he peddled his heart out—desperate to lose the guy in black cowboy boots. I had unfortunately chosen comfort and style over function earlier that day. Just for your information, this is not a story about good guys and bad guys and most certainly isn’t a story about how kettlebells made me into an efficient runner. I just remember that I didn’t give up and after running about three-quarters of a mile on those old tracks, I started to gain on him. I remember the poor guy was exhausted when I finally caught him and he no longer had the strength to stand. The first thing I did was separate him from that bicycle. As he was unable to stand on his own two feet there was no other option, I had to carry him out of that wooded area to the nearest highway. In time, we were able to get that young man transported off to a program to assist him with an addiction that had bound his life. I credit kettlebell sport for the improvement in my overall physical and mental endurance.


The first time I lifted two arm long cycle with the 32 kg kettlebells for ten minutes, a friend and fellow kettlebell sport athlete had to help carry me off the platform after my set. That set was the hardest thing that I had ever done in my life. I think what I have learned most from this sport is that it helps you develop a mindset that is strong enough that you persevere through life’s challenges and when necessary, help carry someone else through those challenges. This is not a sport or martial art where you go out on the platform and conquer your competitors. Kettlebell sport creates a venue to measure yourself against yourself and get a shot of encouragement from the community in the process.

In May of 2019, my motley crew of kettlebell lifters who make up the Astoria Kettlebell Club in Astoria, Oregon (where the cult film Goonies was made) decided that they wanted to help change their community by lifting one or two kettlebells for an entire hour (without putting the bells down) to raise money and awareness for a local program that assists individuals recovering from drug addiction. After months of preparation, the day had arrived and the community came together which included the recovery community, CrossFit athletes, kettlebell athletes, community leaders, and even folks that were still in the disease of addiction. The community sponsored the athletes who lifted in remembrance of someone that had lost the battle to addiction or lifted in honor of someone who was currently fighting the battle of addiction. We stood as a community in our local kettlebell club and suffered together through a one-hour long cycle set. I couldn’t be more proud of the individuals that supported this cause and made the community a better place through strength, perseverance, goodwill, and kettlebell sport. If you are going to lift, it may as well be done to encourage, support, strengthen, and inspire someone, or a group of people, or a community in need. After participating in kettlebell sport for several years, having met many kettlebell lifters from all over the world, and having coached new lifters in the sport and watched them develop, I have come to believe that kettlebell sport is the martial art for survivors, pacifists, and peacemakers.

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Need more motivation? See how people of all ages get into kettlebell sport and how it changed their lives. There are 16 to 74-year-olds that will inspire anyone. Check them out.

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