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An Interview with Matt Fuhrmann

Matt Fuhrmann Tao Health and Fitness Group Photo

Dragon Door: How did you first get involved with fitness?

Matt Fuhrmann: I was pretty active as a kid. Lots of swimming and basketball among other things. But I also got into a decent amount of trouble and ended up getting grounded a lot. That’s when I first discovered calisthenics and yoga. With a desire to keep moving and active, I began training in my room along with learning to draw and play guitar. Several years later, I took my training further as I prepared for a journey into the mountains. This training included calisthenics—some strictly bodyweight, some with a loaded backpack—lots of loaded gait pattern movements, and some basic weightlifting. I didn’t want to be the guy that takes off into the mountains and dies in a week, so I trained my body and studied survival and living off of the land from a book my mother gave me.

After leaving the mountains, I ended up in Austin, Texas. It was a challenging transition to go from hiking 20-30 miles a day for 5 years, to living in a city. And I had a daughter on the way. I had no idea how I would support her, but knew I had to do something for a very long time and it needed to be something that I loved. I wanted to do the best job possible for her. Luckily, one of the first people I met in Austin was a yoga teacher who offered to start teaching me if I could help set up classes and assist. The second big connection I made was a man who became my Kung Fu teacher. I had always been interested in the martial arts but had never met the right teacher untill then—he was the real deal. I was and am still very grateful to have met and trained with him. Now that I had an opportunity to do something that I felt very passionate about—and which would allow me to support my daughter—I put all of my energy into training with the intention to open a school. At the same time, I also started working with kettlebells and furthering my knowledge in calisthenics.

Dragon Door: What style of kung-fu were you studying?

Matt FuhrmannMatt Fuhrmann: I mainly studied Northern Shaolin Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu. I’ve been very fortunate, my Sifu introduced me to many other greats including the Grand Masters of the system, his Kung Fu Uncles, Brothers, and Family. He also introduced me to some of his teachers in other styles. I was very lucky to train with and learn from many Masters through him as well as others in the lineage. I was especially fond of the eye-opening trips to New York with my Sifu to train. These trips included many long training days and absorbing as much as possible through interactions and conversations with very high level martial artists. It was truly an honor and very memorable.

Dragon Door: How long have you been practicing and teaching?

Matt Fuhrmann: I practiced with that Kung Fu teacher for a little over four years, but after my back injury I haven't been training as much in the martial arts. During those four years I did learn that kung fu is in everything—you can find it in every movement and in every form of practice and life. When I was in the mountains, I practiced calisthenics and yoga. Martial arts were on my mind and I practiced movements, but had not been trained in martial arts yet at that point. When I started Kung Fu is also when I started studying more about calisthenics and kettlebell training. Later I started to study FMS. I opened the doors to Tao Health & Fitness back in October of 2012.

Dragon Door: What kind of back injury did you have?

Matt Fuhrmann: I took an impact to my spine on C2 that was hard enough to overstretch and nearly snap my spinal cord. I had tried to adjust my fighting style so I wouldn’t hurt an individual with my natural reactive technique. In the moment that I paused, I was caught in a suplex and landed on the concrete. I jumped up to finish fighting—and continued testing for some time—without knowing the extent of the injury.

The injury quickly led to a domino effect of nervous system issues. A major issue was a severe reaction of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mode). Since the impact stretched my spinal cord, one side of my body was receiving much more signal for the muscles to fire, while the other side was almost completely turned off. Because I didn’t know my limits during the martial testing, and with my adrenaline was still going strong (I also didn’t know what had happened to my spinal cord), I continued and experienced some partial muscle tears I discovered the next morning. When I woke up, I thought I was crippled for life. I actually couldn’t turn my head in any direction and found myself unable to get out of bed.

Once I could get up, I had to unglue my arms which had sealed themselves shut overnight due to the tears. I had to re-tear them, and splint them with kali sticks and boxing wraps while they healed. Later I had to scrape out scar tissue using a knife handle and olive oil to get them closer to normal again. It took a long time to recover. If I gripped anything too tightly, my arms would try to lock up. My right hip had similar issues—if I wanted to get into a car, I would have to actually pick up my leg to lift get in the car. This caused excruciating pain as my hip, arms, and back would become severely inflamed and lock up. My entire spine, back, and shoulders were in nearly constant pain. I had to fix myself, and find a way to take care of my daughter. I had to find a way to take everything I had learned and put it to use.

Dragon Door: What else did you do to recover?

Matt Fuhrmann: It took everything I’d learned and much more studying and training. You name it and I’ve probably tried it, but it took some time before I found any real help. I kept getting different answers and "I don’t knows" until I got an x-ray, then I was told that pain and limitations would now be the norm for me. I found that unacceptable. After seeing my x-rays, a chiro refused to work on me, because my spinal cord was so close to snapping that he felt that the risk and liability were too high. That was really hard to hear and temporarily crushed my hope.

I had already been studying FMS, kettlebells, calisthenics, and had trained in kung fu, tai chi, and qigong, so I decided to fix myself. Luckily it didn’t all fall on me. I met a different chiropractor unlike any I had ever visited. She does full body realignment and literally started putting me back together. I saw her about every other day at first, then as I improved, only about once every 3 months.

The FMS was really weird for me. Once I could move, I could get a 19 on the test, but within minutes of finishing, my back would knot up and sharp pains shot deep into my shoulder blades and lower back. I had no choice but to dive deeper into the nervous system, and study the connections in traditional Chinese medicine, childhood development, yoga, kung fu, oldtime strongman techniques, active stretching, movement patterns, and Progressive Calisthenics.

Dragon Door: Looking at the pictures from the PCC Workshop you attended, I wouldn’t have suspected that had struggling with that kind of injury. Your approach must really be working for you!

Matt Fuhrmann: I’m still working through some minor issues, but after several years of work it’s all coming back.
Matt Fuhrmann at the PCC

Dragon Door: What led you to the recent Dallas PCC Workshop?

Matt Fuhrmann: Earlier in 2010, on a training trip to New York with my Sifu, we saw Danny and Al come out of the subway and put on a performance. I was already working though the book, Convict Conditioning, and calisthenics along with my kung fu training, so I decided I wanted to train with those guys someday. Then I saw their pictures in Convict Conditioning Vol. 2. When the PCC was first introduced, I knew I wanted to do it, but I needed to get further along in my training first. About five months ago, I was finally able to do wall push ups without locking up. I decided that since I could do them and was pretty sure I could squat, I went ahead and signed up for it.

Before I went to the PCC, I hadn’t been able to do a bridge in five years, but at the workshop I was able to do it again. Now I have been doing bridge push ups regularly since the workshop, as well as variations of pull-ups.

I haven’t tested and certified yet, but am building my strength back up. While a few issues may pop back up along the way, at this point I feel like I know how to squash them within minutes in most cases.

Dragon Door: What's your favorite move from the PCC?

Matt Fuhrmann: I didn’t get to do my favorite because I am still building up to it, but I really like skin the cat. Once I can do it, I feel like it will further change my shoulders a lot, and feel really good. I think my other favorite was bridging. When I was hiking in the mountains, it was one of my go-tos. After a long day of hiking with a heavy pack, it was really nice. I have really missed the simple things like bridging and pull-ups. Easy to take them for granite until you can’t do them suddenly.

Dragon Door: What were some of the most useful movements for your recovery so far?

Matt Fuhrmann: When I first started, segmented rolling, and reaching in different ways with the arms and legs. At first I felt excruciating pain from my scapula all the way to my fingertips—like my arm was going to be ripped off—but I could tell that something good was happening. I used the FMS to help me get the muscles to fire in the proper order. Once I got to it, the kettlebell armbar was a big game changer. I still do a lot of those movements, but now that I can bridge and practice calisthenics, they are my go-tos for rebuilding strength.

About a month and a half before the PCC, I tried to bridge and nothing happening except for pain from my tailbone to my neck. I have no idea why I was able to bridge at the PCC Workshop, but being able to bridge and do pull ups at all let me know that it was time to start working hard on calisthenics again. I struggled with the decision not to test at the PCC. I’m glad that Danny and Al with all their knowledge encouraged me not to test at the workshop. It was hard for me to make that decision on my own. It was nice to get support from Al and Danny, who told me to chill about the test for now, and reassured me that I should do it in a little while after building myself back up a little more. All and all, the PCC was a really good experience.

Dragon Door: Along with working towards the Century Test, what else are you working on right now?

Matt Fuhrmann: I am still doing a lot of nervous system work to keep moving forward. But otherwise I am mainly working on calisthenics. My big goals right now are bodyweight and finishing my PCC Century Test soon. Then I’d like to certify in kettlebells and get back into martial arts more.

Dragon Door: Will you be teaching calisthenics classes?

Matt Fuhrmann: Yes, we're teaching calisthenics at my school, and I’ve organized our training into levels. Level one is working with the nervous system, going through the FMS and using that as an outline. Level two is all about calisthenics, level three adds kettlebells, Indian clubs, and old time strongman techniques. Level four focuses on conditioning, and level five is skill practice. Basically I took the functional pyramid and broke it down into levels for classes.

I really want to promote the progressions instead of how most people jump in without preparation. I want to teach people how to build up to more difficult moves as a general goal for my school. My ultimate goal is to have an old school kung fu school in the mountains.
Inside Matt Fuhrmann's Tao School

Dragon Door: Who are you training at your school?

Matt Fuhrmann: I have students ranging from around 20-70 years old. Many of them are yoga teachers, martial artists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, personal trainers, artists, and computer programmers. It’s a really unique and interesting group. I am very happy to have the honor of each and every one of them training with me on a nearly daily basis. It makes for a nice family.

Dragon Door: What advice do you have for someone considering going to the PCC Workshop?

Matt Fuhrmann: Advice? DO IT! If you haven't done the PCC Workshop, then you're missing out. If you go to the PCC you will gain something substantial!

Dragon Door: It sounds like the PCC really fits well with your current curriculum. What attracted you to these non-mainstream methods?

Matt Fuhrmann: When I was preparing for the mountains, I was in the gym for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. I gained about 30lbs of muscle in 30 days—it was crazy! I was eating a lot of meat and veggies while basically just training and sleeping. The training that I did for specific reasons made sense and worked, but isolation exercises and working out on machines didn't feel right to me. I dabbled with a lot of training methods while working on my strength, and some things worked better than others for specific results. At one point for a martial arts test, I cut all my running times by just practicing horse stance and an iron body drill for Soiu Jau in an old text. I practiced it along with kettlebell swings, handstand push-ups, and pull ups. With that simple training, and without running for about a year, I was still able to cut my times nearly in half! That proved to me that these methods work.

Matt Fuhrmann ThumbnailMatt Fuhrmann owns Tao Health & Fitness where he currently trains clients and group fitness classes. Contact him by email, phone 512-653-1495. Follow Matt Fuhrmann on Facebook.