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How A Personal Trainer Turned His Life Around With Qigong and Kettlebells

January 18, 2011 09:47 AM

Ron Morris achieved success turning his life around with Russian Kettlebell Strength Training

Ron Morris discusses success with Russian Kettlebell Strength Training

Dragon Door: Talk a little bit about your career and background.

Ron Morris: Well, I used to be a musician, when I was a kid. I used to travel the country from the age of 15 to 18. I was a drummer, and I picked up a lot of bad habits. I picked up all the bad habits you could pick up. When I was about 21 or 22, I got off the road and I looked like I was 92, from all the partying I did.

So I thought, “Well, weights…I’ll lift weights.” This was probably about 1980. I liked weights because nobody thought that you should lift them at the time, if you can imagine. Doctors said don’t lift weights, and everybody said, “You’ll turn to fat! You’ll turn thirty years old and it’s all going to go to fat and you’ll be done.” So that, of course, attracted me immediately.

I got real heavily into power lifting. I put on a lot of size, a lot of strength. I became one of the first guys to get into the 500-lb. bench press in Minnesota, had a 740-lb. squat, and shrugged 1000 pounds. And back in that time, those were pretty big numbers. It was a big deal.

I was 230 pounds, and I did use steroids. But back then there was actually no opinion about them. Back then it was no different than protein. By the way, there was only one protein, Hoffman. It was vanilla. It was Hoffman and it was crap, okay? [Laughter' It was $14.99 a container and you had to open it with a spoon. I had to pop it like an oil can. It wasn’t sale-friendly.

I met a whole bunch of professional wrestlers, because I was bouncing to make a living, and they sponsored me to go through professional wrestling camp, the Road Warriors. Hog and Animal. Then I went through Brad Rheingans’ camp. He was actually a real wrestler, an Olympic wrester. I think he was a bronze medalist and then he started a professional wrestling school, as it was just starting to get popular.

Oh, yeah, Brad Rheingans. You go through Rheingans’ crap and boy, you the man. It’s like Pavel. He’s the Pavel. And it was three months of this. I was 29, the oldest guy there. [Laughter'

D.D.: How old are you now?

R.M.: I’m 46. So anyway, I did that whole deal. Somewhere along the line a couple of things happened. My dad died of heart disease and stress. Looking back, this is all hindsight, but it was due to stress-related anger and blah, blah, blah. So when anybody close to you dies, that’s usually a pretty big wake-up call. I was 32 years old. I said, “That’s it!” It was time to clean up my act and pursue this life of health. And get away from the lifestyle and the environment that I had been in, because it was a pretty heavy-duty environment.

D.D.: And being in the wrestling world didn’t take you away from that?

R.M.: No. You have to remember that the professional wrestlers I was meeting were all…and no specific names here, but everybody was into partying, if you know what I mean. Most of the martial arts badass guys showing me all of my stuff—also involved with that junk. And I mean big time.

The partying became a big part of it. So I’m getting this fabulous education, but I was in a fog. And you come to a point where you know that it’s time to get on—pick a tack and go for it. I thought, “I want to be healthy. I want to look good when I’m older. I want to wake up feeling that there’s a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Here’s how it evolved. I started helping a couple of people, acting as a personal trainer. I helped them and they changed. They felt better about themselves and it was just like a lightening bolt. Boom! I get this, this is what I do. I have women in my clientele that are so overweight and embarrassed, you can’t imagine. Six months later they are wearing makeup and biking and they are living their lives again.

D.D.: Awesome!

R.M.: I can’t tell you how wonderful that makes you feel. I mean, I feel like I’ve got a real purpose. And the next big level was meeting John Du Cane. John is one of two people that have affected my life. One was a pretty heavy-duty gangster about 20 years ago, and I got sucked into that world. He was “the man.” And, unfortunately I learned all the best things from him. [Laughter'

So swing the pendulum the other way and boom! You get your priorities right. John Du Cane shows up in my life. I’m just searching through papers and the yellow pages….I knew what I wanted and I didn’t want to go to some dumb-ass martial arts class. I’ve done all of that. I needed something deep! I needed to get inside myself. And I did this qigong class at the Open University that I’ll never forget. There were two giggly, goofy girls who didn’t get it and there was John and me. It was great! That was a pivotal day for me. This guy here has changed my life! I mean, you can’t say that about many people you meet.

John told me, “You have to be ready to accept the teaching and then you have to be looking for the acceptance of it.” You have to be seeking it. Then the right conduit has to give it to you. And John has got a manner. John’s lived everything that he’s told me. I have no gifts except two. One of them I can tell who’s genuine and who’s fake. And, you don’t run into very many genuine people. And, the minute I shook his hand, I knew that this guy was for real, and I’m not blowing smoke up your skirt, I’m telling you the truth!

D.D.: [Laughter'

R.M.: It means a lot. He changed my life! How do you repay that? You repay it by showing up and learning everything that this guy’s got to say. Discount nothing, hear everything. In turn, that woke me up to becoming a better trainer with my crew. They are starting to feel better about themselves, and I am “the guy”. So you see, it’s like a chain and through this qigong internal martial arts, and this RKC weekend, everything is down to simple little things, like breathing. It all starts right there.

Nobody knows how to breathe. Everybody wants to do everything else. They want to run the super computer, but they don’t want any guts in it. So enter qigong, enter John, and then kettlebells, suggested to me by John. And since he has all my respect, I said, “Okay. Kettlebells.”

When you look at kettlebell training, it seems like a bunch of guys trying to be tough. And I’ve been down that road. More importantly though, I was becoming bored. Weight lifting is boring. Weight gyms are boring. More importantly, the people who are in them suck. They are boring, shallow, insecure people who are writhing with misery and self-loathing and hate. That’s all a bad vibe.

It’s become crystal clear in the last six months to me what a good atmosphere is. At John’s class, sometimes we have classes with the right combination of people and it’s just a gas. You don’t want to leave. I’m dog-tired, but I don’t want to go, it just feels so good. You walk into a gym and it’s like, “Yuck!” It’s thick with stupidity. I have no patience for stupidity. Dumbness is one thing. Stupidity is another. Dumb is an accident, stupid is on purpose.

D.D.: [Laughter'

R.M.: [Laughter' It should be a T-shirt! So, my view on this weekend is that this is really something I love. It’s very hardcore, but there’s a lot of caring here, too. Everyone here reminds me of me. They are difficult and tough, but they care about you. And they know when to push your buttons a little bit.

That’s the key to a really good trainer: not letting somebody get away with something, but then knowing when they can’t do something. Especially out there in the general population. I think that’s more important than the kettlebells themselves. I’ve seen that with everybody here. I’ve seen it with John, I’ve seen it with Pavel and I’ve seen it with all of the instructors that helped me. They could be very intimidating individuals, even to me. But they are not. They make sure that they are not. The same way when I walk in the door, you see these tattoos. You want to look at all this and go, “Oh, man!” But, if I can get your attention and just start talking to you, all this crap doesn’t matter.

D.D.: How do you see kettlebells contributing to your personal training business? How will you integrate them?

R.M.: Well, people want machines. They’ll ask, “Where’s your bench press and where’s this?” And I’ll tell them that I don’t have that in my gym. I’ve got a space that’s about 1000 square feet where people come see me. I have a pullup bar. I have jump ropes. I have the wheels. I have the beginnings of my kettlebells. We’ve got steps.

I’ve made this fantastic circle. I got hired to run the Cybex flagship gym. All the equipment was Cybex, state of the art. Those machines are worth $4000 a piece. They paid me a ridiculous amount of money, because I represent whatever they thought I was. And it was crap. I quit. Most people wouldn’t walk away from this. I did, because it’s a joke. I’ve always been a Mike Mentzer follower, with short intense workouts before that. Go Kazmir! I’m always seeking more efficient, more interesting workouts. Boom! I made a huge arc.

If I would have known about kettlebells twenty years ago, I’d be running that show out there. Because I believe in them that much! KBs have changed my whole perspective on how I feel physically. I’m a very physical guy. I’m in shape and I can hammer stuff out. I can still pull fours [400-pound dead lifts'. I only weigh 171 pounds. In palm dead lifts, I use no belt, no wraps, no nothing, benching 320 lbs. But KBs are like, “Wow!” It makes you feel internally different. Much like qigong, especially Iron Shirt qigong, which is what we are studying right now. There’s a density to kettlebell training that manifests itself and makes you want to pursue it more. Rarely can you spend nine hours getting pounded on, and wake up early and…and I can’t wait to get back here because I want to see what’s going to happen next.

D.D.: Have you made any specific strength gains since starting with kettlebells?

R.M.: I’ve only been exposed to KBs briefly, but yes, I have seen a difference. I’ll tell you what it’s specifically done. It’s improved my understanding and my body mechanics of lifting. That’s where it all starts. Forget numbers. Any real lifter will tell you that. It’s like the hard martial arts. I thought they were the shit until I met John, and now I see that I’ve been doing most of my life backwards. [Laughter' I’ve been learning all this stuff backwards and it all starts inside. It’s all internal. The mechanism, polish the mechanism. Evolve from there.

I know real and I know fake. This is real. The philosophy is real. The concept is real. I proved it on myself first. I train a lot of women ranging from about 35 to about 65.

And I introduced the kettlebells to clients right after John introduced them to me. Not teaching anything out of my realm—just the swings. And I’ll tell you what, every one of them can’t wait to come see me, because they think this is just the coolest, most effective thing that they’ve felt.

We warm up, do a set of 30 or 40 swings, and then I steal a bunch of John’s stuff: Chinese Wall Squats, Dipping. If I’m particularly cranky, I make them do Dipping. It’s a way to lose a crowd really fast. [Laughter'

I’ve become a new trainer. Since I met John and now here at the RKC, I feel reborn, because I was really looking for something else. I’d run my course. People were weighing me down. I’m rejuvenated by this. I am excited about it. I come here and I’m just a blade of grass out there, man. Nobody is looking for anything from me. This is what you do. This is what you don’t do. That was wrong. This is right. There’s a real beauty in that and that translates back into my teaching. And, they preach this with no ego. We all have to help each other. We all have to get along. And out here it’s just nice, everybody’s in the same damn boat. I’m learning again. It’s exciting. When you’ve been lifting weights for twenty-five years, it’s hard to find stuff that’s interesting after a while.

D.D.: So where do you go from here?

R.M.: This has sparked so many ideas in me. I’m going to the marketing seminar tomorrow morning. I’ve become lackadaisical; I’ve got a certain core group of individuals that I am comfortable with. And I need to be pushed in all areas. I need to really get my ear flicked and get out there and do this. So, that’s where I am headed, as far as I can take it. I will be a huge advocate of the kettlebells.

D.D.: In qigong class, you’ve commented over the months that the practice has really made a difference for you, particularly your fighting.

R.M.: Yes, very much so.

D.D.: How is qigong affecting your movements? Will you talk about that for a moment?

R.M.: Yes. I was doing the classic thing that everybody does in holding your breath up high and tightening the body. Bad habits that have created themselves over a period of time. When I met John, I got right back to the basics again. Just learning how to breathe and do calm, slow, movements. Getting that, I guess it’s kind of a spirituality. And I’m not talking about God or anything. I’m talking about the spirit of goodness in breathing, in calming down, and in what I had found after not many sessions at all, because I really got into it quick with him. I stayed away from the heavy bag, because I wanted to dive into his world.

One day, I walked by a heavy bag, and I did a side kick, and whoosh: it floated. It was like, “Wow!” It felt the way it should feel. And then being the Einstein that I am, I put two and two together and I wanted to drive even deeper into this internal martial arts. I’ll be real honest with you, I’ve become very disinterested in hard martial arts. I think that everybody works backwards. I’ll speak for me. I’ve gone backwards through most of my life.

Qigong with John just opened up everything I already knew or I thought I knew. I’m a calmer person. I’m a more patient person. I’m a nicer person. Because there is this expanse out there that is phenomenal. He shows us a thing on oscillations, where we breathe in through one hand and out the other, and then you get this energy going.

People hear that and they are like, “Oh, brother! New age crap!” But the first time that it happened to me, it was so malleable. It was so physical. It was like somebody was just touching my hand, and that was it, you know you are over the edge. What is that saying? It’s saying that there’s a vast universe out there that we don’t know a damn thing about. Turn off Oprah. Throw People Magazine away. Get outside and start using your body and your brain again.

It’s not more difficult than that. I mean, breathe. Walk. Move. That’s the essence of a happy life. Forget Gods and religions. We see what’s religion’s doing. That’s working out really good all over the world [laughter'. People are killing each other to get over that stuff. It always comes back to breathing, this centering, and you lowering your antennae.

D.D.: You’ve really come a long way from where you started!

R.M.: I’m not the person that I used to be, that’s for sure. And I guess there’s the crux of this interview: Keep going forward! People get to be big fish in a little pond, and they sit back. Here’s the coolest thing about this weekend: You are on the bottom rung of the ladder again, man. Pay attention! It doesn’t mean you can’t get to the top, but you’ve got to humble yourself before the man. And move forward. It’s not about ego. It’s not about punches. It’s not about kicks or weight. It’s just not about any of that.

It’s whether you are a good person today. Did you help somebody today, and are you happy, because life’s over. Boom! You’re dead! If you’ve ever stared at dead people, that’s a reality check everyone should get, because they ain’t coming back. All their days are gone, their chance to do anything is gone. People just don’t understand that. You stare at a dead person, and that’s it. The door is shut. And you truly don’t know when it will happen. You don’t know crap! I’m not saying be morbid about it, but have a sense of urgency about your life. Be here! I could have said, “Oh, yeah, I’ll go to the next RKC.” How much further would I be behind? I’m frustrated that I didn’t meet John and Pavel sooner. I think, “Gee, where would I be?” But that’s irrelevant. I’m here now.

D.D.: Absolutely.

R.M.: Move forward! Get up off your asses!

Ron teaches KBs and more at his studio in Forest Lake, MN, and in clients’ homes. Call (651) 329-0450 for more info.