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4-Time German Overall Junior Powerlifting Champion’s Journey to the RKC and PCC—An Interview with Patrick Heckelmann, RKC, PCC

Patrick Heckelmann Side Crow Variation China PCC

Dragon Door: How did you become interested in kettlebells and calisthenics?

Patrick Heckelmann: When first I went to the RKC Workshop in 2008, I really wasn’t too sure what it was! A few years before I took that certification, I got interested in kettlebells, Googled them and found Dragon Door. I now have a whole library upstairs of Dragon Door kettlebell videos, DVDs and books. So I took my RKC certification in 2008, and after that I went to the states for a triathlon course for coaching triathletes.

Dragon Door: You have an extensive education and sports background, including Chinese Medicine and healing—did you become involved with healing along with your competitive sports?

Patrick Heckelmann: I started sports very early. I was inspired by my nephew, who was very into martial arts and powerlifting. The development of his body was also impressive. And while this sounds silly, I was especially impressed with how he could move and shake his pectoral muscles! I began powerlifting at 14, and became pretty good at it. Until I stopped competing, I was the undefeated junior powerlifting champion of Germany with five titles, including four overall. In powerlifting, we use the Schwartz Formula with our weight and the amount of weight lifted to determine relative strength. So, you can have an overall champion. I was the overall champion four times, which means I was the strongest junior in Germany four times!
Patrick Heckelmann Jr Powerlifting Germany

Because of powerlifting, I also became interested in lifestyle and nutrition. At the time, I decided to be a vegetarian—which I would not do again. When I was studying nutrition, it seemed like everyone who wanted to be healthy wanted to be a vegetarian. This is changing now with the Paleo movement and new scientific studies, but many people still believe that a high grain, high fiber diet is the best and healthiest overall—even if the research doesn’t support it. I found the research of Dr. Gardner, who was formerly vegetarian, and who published his four diet studies in 2006. In the introduction to the studies, he said that when he began the research he was sure that the vegetarian diet would be the healthiest. Yet, after seeing the data, he admitted that he had been totally wrong. The Atkins diet was beating the other diets, and the Ornish diet was in one of the lowest ranking categories. He was impressed with the results for all the body markers like cholesterol, pre-diabetes, and everything else.

It seems like many people in health and fitness have tried this route—becoming vegetarian then vegan—before changing their minds. Of course there are some people who do well with a vegetarian or vegan diet, and others who might choose those diets for other reasons. I don't think one way will work for everyone, even though it almost seems like dietary approaches in their extreme forms have become their own religions.

Dragon Door: In addition to your RKC and now PCC, you also have some very interesting sounding certifications, including Healing Tao instructor, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Patrick Heckelmann: When I did my studies in London in the late 80s, early 90s, several of my friends were in the post-hippie movement and were studying different forms of spirituality and massage therapies. I became interested in Mantak Chia because he was also teaching in the area. We immediately connected, and in 1992 I started my long term courses with him. I began with his introductory course in London, then in 1992 I went to the Catskills for six weeks for many different classes. I went back and took his classes again in 1993 to become a Healing Tao Instructor. When he moved to Thailand in 1994 and opened his center in Chang Mai, I went there during my semester breaks when I was studying Chinese Medicine in China. I went back and forth during the summer and winter to help him with the retreats. Later, I stayed on as his personal assistant, helping him with the office. It was a great time being with him and learning from him.

Dragon Door: What are some of the most important lessons you learned during that time?

Patrick Heckelmann: I always think of myself as a Taoist, as I want to learn from everything. I want to take my life and myself to the next level, and Taoists always use the technology present at the time to develop themselves. So I am using new methodologies like bio-hacking to further myself, understand myself more, and to find my space in the universe.

Dragon Door: How did this approach effect your experience at the RKC or PCC?

Patrick Heckelmann: I think the RKC was the toughest instructor training weekend in my life! It’s funny but I was just talking with some friends I met at the PCC who asked me to compare the RKC to the PCC. I said there is no comparison, the PCC was tough, but I think that the RKC weekend was very tough, it showed me where my limits were and that I could go beyond them. If you think that you can't do it any more, then you’ll come to a moment when you suddenly realize that maybe you can keep going. I think the RKC shows people that they can go deeper. It is very good for your mental health to know that you can pull through hardship and dig deep. I experienced this during my first half-ironman—in China, which was one of the two hottest events recorded, another one was in Mexico. In China, the incline was about 40 degrees. It was really difficult but I just dug deep, didn’t give up, and finished! I finished second for my age group, and 17th overall including professionals.

Dragon Door: Are you still competing in endurance events?

Patrick Heckelmann: I am not competing anymore. Now I’m just doing my own thing and improving myself instead.

Dragon Door: How did you decide to attend the PCC Workshop?

Patrick Heckelmann: I’ve been interested in bodyweight exercise and calisthenics more lately and I have never really worked with it. While we had gymnastics classes in middle school and high school, I was kind of good, but I was never really good. And while I did gymnastics when I was small, I never really thrived in it. Now, I do things because I am curious about them or because I want to learn something that I couldn't do before. So, I take courses like the RKC or PCC because I want to have a deeper understanding about why kettlebells or bodyweight exercise work—not because I necessarily want to teach others. Taking an instructor class is one of the best ways to learn how to do things. That’s one reason I took the course, and having the opportunity to do it in China made it a very easy decision.

Meeting Al and Danny was just great, I really liked their relaxed approach, they almost have a kind of modern hippy attitude. There's no wrong or right way, there's just your way. If you keep the basics in mind, then how you place your arm or fingers, the choice of an underhand or overhand grip is up to you and may change from place to place, bar to bar, and from day to day depending on what you want to achieve.
Patrick Heckelmann and Al Kavadlo

It is also very rare to find people like Al and Danny who are so profoundly experienced in one discipline but who can also keep their minds open. Usually people will say that their way is the only way. I lift weights and still do, so I find this open minded, no-BS approach to be really refreshing.

Dragon Door: Are you currently training anyone?

Patrick Heckelmann: No, but as a side note, I am actually running a bakery business here in China. Even though I have a strong background and education in sports, fitness, and health, my main job is running a bakery. I was studying Chinese Medicine here in China starting in 1993, and in 1996 a friend of mine and I decided to open a restaurant. It was one of the first Western style restaurants in Nanjing, and one of the few in all of China. So, we had to do everything ourselves, including making our own breads and cheeses. Soon, our customers wanted to know where they could buy the bread and began to order it from us too. So, in 1998 we opened the bakery. We kept running the restaurant for another sixteen years, but when our children started going to school it was time for us to close the restaurant—simply because we wouldn't get to see our children otherwise! The restaurant has been closed for three years and we’ve continued with the bakery.

But now I am also thinking about starting to teach some classes at the community center in our international school. Many of my friends think of me as an example of extremely good health and discipline—even though I don’t think I am really disciplined in many ways!

Dragon Door: How do you plan to use the new knowledge and ideas from the PCC?

Patrick Heckelmann: A friend of mine who is a PE Teacher at the school already leads a group fitness class. And when he wants to challenge them he always asks me to come over and help teach. I will now be working more closely with him to help his students overcome plateaus and to teach them the new ideas from the PCC. While I am very busy running my bakery business, even before I went to the PCC this past weekend I was already thinking about getting back into teaching a little bit more again. I like to help and talk to people about health.

Dragon Door: Do you have any particular strategies for keeping your life balanced between the business, working out, family, and fun?

Patrick Heckelmann: In China, running a business is a 24/7 responsibility. However I do not work 24hrs now, even though I did for the first two years we were open. Back then I would only go home to sleep, but now we have employees in place. Now I have more time for family and friends. I also have my sauna, which is where I can totally relax. I do a kind of extreme sauna, and stay in there for between forty minutes and an hour. I use the principles of hypo, hyperthermia and hypoxia—cold, heat and breath holding—every day. I can’t remember the last time I took a hot shower! I only take cold showers now and have been following Wim Hof’s cold exposure advice and method. I am a guy who likes to try new stuff and see how it works.
Patrick Heckelmann Ice Bath

Dragon Door: What goals are you currently working towards?

Patrick Heckelmann: Since the PCC, I am working on the human flag, improving my handstand, handstand walking and working towards doing a freestanding handstand pushup. At the moment I am taking an NLP certification. I am very much looking forward to assisting Andrea Du Cane at the May RKC in China.

Patrick Heckelmann, RKC, PCC and fitness enthusiast, owns Skyways Bakery in Nanj