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Dragon Door Interviews Mike Krivka, RKC Team Leader

December 17, 2012 02:14 PM

Dragon Door: How did you find kettlebells?
Mike Krivka: I first saw kettlebells back in 1986 at the Russian Embassy in downtown Washington, D.C. I was learning Sambo from a bunch of really grizzly old Afghan vets who worked as spooks and spies. Previously, I had studied Judo and Jujitsu, but wanted to learn Sambo, because of the emphasis on ankle or knee locks to disable the opponent. At the Embassy, I noticed some kettlebells sitting in the corner, though at the time I had no idea what they were. So, my very first experiences with kettlebells were from the Sambo players. They used kettlebells in a very different way than we do in the RKC. For example they practiced a lot of one and two hand high pulls, because that motion is used to set up several over-the-shoulder throws in Sambo. They did a lot of pressing, grip work and a kind of swinging movement. Unfortunately, since I didn't have any kettlebells of my own, training with them fell by the wayside for a while.
Dragon Door: That's interesting, did you have any previous experience with weightlifting?
Mike Krivka: I've lifted weights since I was about 13 years old. In college, I followed all kinds of protocols, did a lot of lifting, but found it all really boring. In 2000, a friend of mine from the West Coast and also into martial arts, suggested I try kettlebells. Soon after, I attended a two-day kettlebell workshop in Northern Virginia. At that workshop I picked up a kettlebell for the first time in years, and got myself smoked in about 30 seconds. I literally bought the first kettlebell I touched and still have it! I actually work with that 24kg kettlebell every single day at home. I loved training with kettlebells so much that I went to a few more workshops and then the RKC workshop in late 2001 or 2002.
Dragon Door: That's really early.
Mike Krivka: Ever since, I’ve been using kettlebells 5 to 7 days a week. I really love them. As a lifelong martial artist, I find that kettlebell training and technique are very similar to the concepts I had been studying all along. Like martial arts, the RKC methods are part of a very structured and methodical system. Everything is based on realistic movement, conservation of energy, conservation and application of force, plus speed and timing. I think that kettlebell training is the martial art of weightlifting. If someone is serious about improving their martial arts practice, then they need to consider training with kettlebells. All my martial arts students are also kettlebell students. I require them to learn kettlebells along with martial arts because the two are so similar that they shouldn't be separated.
Dragon Door: That makes sense. Having studied a little bit of Tai Chi, when I work with kettlebells I often find myself in a similar mental state. How often do you train?
Mike Krivka: Since I’ve been practicing martial arts for a long time, people often want to know how much I train. Depending on my schedule, I usually practice my martial arts two to three times a week. Anymore, I teach more than train martial arts, but every day I train with a kettlebell. As far as I’m concerned, my kettlebell training is my martial arts training. The intensity and structure that I bring to both practices is the same. I like the Japanese adage of sharpening the sword every day, instead of waiting until it gets dull. I’m sharpening my sword every single day. While my technique has been honed through years of practice and instruction, I must maintain my intensity and physical conditioning every day. But I love it, I can’t imagine doing anything else. Kettlebells are the main tools for my training. In the last few months I’ve also added barbell deadlifts to help my posture and to change the alignment and strength of my base. But that's in addition to, not instead of kettlebell work.
What most people consider working out is actually recreation. I train a lot of military and law enforcement personnel, and their survival is often contingent upon their fitness level. In order to survive, they need to be able to focus and work very hard at a high intensity with a high power output. If someone's in Afghanistan or on the street, being able to run five miles at a six-mile per hour pace isn't going to help. Similarly, plenty of guys have a huge bench press, but can’t move a 25 pound kettlebell for 2 minutes, or they can’t get up off the ground fast enough to save their life. Fitness is relative and it’s also a mindset. Can I protect my family or extract myself from a dangerous situation? I’m pretty confident that I can. I have good movement skills, kettlebell skills, and martial skills—at least good enough to slow somebody down so I can run away!
Dragon Door: Did these ideas bring you to the Bodyweight Workshop?
Mike Krivka: Because I've been a student of the martial arts my whole life, I never want to stop learning. I’ve been to five or six RKC Workshops and even went to the first kettlebell convention. It was a long time ago in Las Vegas, but we had a great time— probably more than Pavel intended! I’ve been to the CK-FMS, and next thing to try is the new Bodyweight Exercise Workshop. It's always important to meet with peers and keep learning. Spending time with other professionals, along with presenting the basics has improved my skills as a teacher and a student.
Dragon Door: You mentioned Judo and Jujitsu earlier, what else have you studied?
Mike Krivka: I spent 25 years with Guro Dan Inosanto as my instructor in the Filipino Martial Arts of of Kali, Escrima, Arnis, Maphilindo Silat, and Jeet Kune Do. I'm a full instructor in those arts and am humbled to be a part of his program. Only a handful of people in the world have these credentials from Guro Dan Inosanto. There's a direct lineage from me, to Dan Inosanto right through to Bruce Lee. Representing those arts to the highest standard I can manage is a humbling and sometimes scary responsibility.
It’s my pedigree, but it took 25 years. Now I've spent the last 10 years working on my kettlebell skills. Even though I’ll be 50 in a couple months, and have studied the martial arts since I was 13, I still consider myself an amateur. Since I’ve only been working with kettlebells for 10 years, I’m still a novice. That’s what I like about kettlebells— I might think I know what I'm doing, but I really have a lot to learn. To me it’s an evolutionary process. Acquiring skills, improving those skills, and then going back to rebuild the skills again. I'm constantly honing my technique, skill, timing, and tension. No one should become comfortable with their ability.
That’s what's great about these workshops—I'll think I'm doing something right, but then Pavel or Mark (Reifkind) will walk up and tap me on the shoulder with a cue or correction.
Dragon Door: Exactly, I love that.
Mike Krivka: It's an immersion process, no one should walk away from a workshop thinking that they know everything. Immersion in the concepts and the tools is a great thing, and we all get mentally blown away at these workshops. But, I think it probably takes two or three RKC experiences to become comfortable enough with the material.
Dragon Door: Mastery of a skill certainly doesn't happen over a weekend.
Mike Krivka: When teaching, I like to present the same material ten different ways. My martial arts and kettlebell students never know if I am teaching the same thing, or ten different things. The goal should be finding the common link between the movements that allows the mastery of many skills simultaneously. That’s the methodology that I’ve been using during my whole career as an instructor. Repetition without being repetitive. That leads to mastery in the martial arts and in kettlebell techniques.
Dragon Door: Thanks so much for talking with me today, Mike.