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Foreword to Easy Strength


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Easy Strength: Foreword

by John Du Cane

Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1997. My eye was caught by a series of brash ads in the local seminar-company’s catalog. For $25.00 per three-hour class, a young émigré, Pavel Tsatsouline, was promising to challenge many of our Western World’s most cherished fitness beliefs—and replace them with a rack of more practical, more scientific and flat-out more effective training protocols. Billing himself as the "Evil Russian", this mysterious "ex-Soviet Special Forces physical training instructor" offered a giddy set of powerful new "Iron Curtain Secrets" for rapid strength gains, dramatic stretches and iron abs.

With my 26-year background in Kung Fu, Chinese internal martial arts, yoga, qigong and traditional weight training, I was intrigued, to say the least. An eternal seeker for the Holy Grail of supreme fitness, how could I resist?

What if even 10% of Pavel’s wild claims were true? I’d already be in like Flynn. And imagine if it was more?

When Constantinople fell in 1453 and its scholars fled across Europe, the resulting wisdom-blitz helped fuel the Renaissance of Western Culture. With the advent of Glasnost and the Fall of the Wall in 1989, we appeared to be witnessing a similar storming of the barricades of ignorance. The original vision of AK-47-wielding Russkies scything across Europe, morphed into a more stealthy invasion. Secret training-wisdom carriers, clutching tattered Cyrillic scripts, were spied snaking through the ripped Iron Curtain. Their objective: the Western Fitness Citadels and their deluded denizens—those woeful worshippers of ferns and mirrors, of aerobics, of Nautilus, of dieting and repping to failure.

And no such infiltrator brandished his promised secrets with more panache than this expat from the Evil Empire—now a self-declared "running capitalist dog" and proud of it.

So I signed up and showed up for the Evil Russian’s Flexibility Training seminar. The room was packed with a startling spectrum: gnarly, tattooed gents of dubious pedigree were rubbing shoulders with petite ballerinas, soft-handed but quietly lethal martial artists, recovering bodybuilders, lil ‘ol grandmothers and out-of-shape desk jockeys. Oh, and who was that man in black, in the corner, with shades and a frozen jaw?

But whoever they were, their attention was riveted on the colorful, charismatic Russian athlete who upbraided them for their current ignorance but promised them great and glorious gains—if they would only heel to his barked commands. "Comrades, it is not that you will stretch five more inches, it is that you shall—or else!" Not even the tattooed, scarred bikers or the grim Man in Black appeared ready to take on the "Or Else" part. 100% allegiance was demanded and secured.

The Evil Russian proceeded to lead his excited and obedient flock to a veritable Promised Land of flexibility and stretching breakthroughs. Everything the man said made sense—and everything he ordered us to do—worked in spades! How about that? The promises were real! 10% real? How about 110%?

Yet, for all his charismatic delivery and astounding results, I could see that the Evil Russian did still have one weapon missing in his bid for World Domination. The seminar handouts consisted of some shorthand hieroglyphs and chicken-scratch diagrams.

Hmmmnn…this needed to be remedied. With some diffidence—yet with a rapidly developing sense of kinship—I approached Pavel at the end of the seminar and asked him a set of three simple questions:

"Do you have a publisher?"
"Would like to have a publisher?"
"Would you like to have Dragon Door as your publisher?"

The rest is history—not to mention the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Dragon Door collaborated with Pavel on a series of landmark titles that have contributed to a seismic shift in the Western World’s fitness landscape: Super Joints, The Naked Warrior, the great strength classic Power to the People!, and finally one of the most influential fitness titles of all time: The Russian Kettlebell Challenge—which launched the modern world-wide Kettlebell movement in 2001.

Why has Pavel—the Evil One of yore—been SO successful? Well, I have many answers to that, but here are the most significant points:

Pavel has a remarkable ability to cull through the most arcane research and make glorious, practical sense of it for us lesser mortals. Pavel goes wide, to take us deep—very deep. He does the work for us, like a Master Chef, culling the best of the best—and he serves it to us on fine china, impeccably presented.

Pavel is a sponge for anything that truly works and has an uncanny eye for a method that can be tweaked and refined into a world-class, world-beating technique. Give Pavel the right ball and he’ll run a mile with it. I’ve seen it over and over and over.

Pavel is a master of style: mixing succinct, brilliantly crafted text-play with superlative insight, extensive wisdom and unassailable research.

Pavel honors the masters of the past and pays generous respect to the modern greats—so, with him, we may stand on the shoulders of giants.

All of these qualities make Pavel the great teacher and author that he is. However, to me, his most admirable quality remains his generosity with peers and colleagues. Pavel is the Keith Richards of his métier, ever-eager to "jam" with like-minded artists of the strength game—while quick to acknowledge and give acclaim to those who have influenced him. And it is undoubtedly this admirable quality that led to the birth of Easy Strength.

At Pavel’s invitation and prompting, many stars have been encouraged to shine more brightly from the Dragon Door firmament. They have included greats like Gray Cook, Marty Gallagher and Ori Hofmekler. And they have included Dragon Door’s elite cadre of RKC Masters and Seniors, both past and present. Well, as big a star as any in this Dragon Door pantheon, has got to be Fulbright scholar, National Champion athlete and coach-extraordinaire, Dan John.

Dan John—polyglot, polymath and all-around Renaissance Man—wears his experience and learning light, spinning his wisdom out in an almost aw-shucks manner, an Irish story teller who leans in to you across the table, nursing a Guinness, enlightening while entertaining. Dan is a man who has bitten deep into the apple. And Dan is a man who has willingly risked his own body, again and again, in the experiential quest for athletic excellence—like the never-let-go, never-say-die, Holy Grail seeker that he is. Dan is a leader whose battle scars are only matched by his impressive list of achievements. And, anyone who has been around the RKC knows Dan has been making a magnificent contribution to the development of this preeminent "School of Strength".

So, what do you know? Pavel and Dan became fast friends. Their mutual "love of the game", their mutual enthusiasm for the Quest, their mutual drive to push the envelope—and their mutual respect—led to long deep discussions into the late of night. The synergy of their intellectual excitement led to some profound insights and some groundbreaking conclusions. And surely, they should share these great insights with the world, as they had always been wont to do—in their own very different ways?

What to do and how to do it? Clearly, a book was sitting here that needed to be outed. Pavel called me and explained the dilemma: "But how on earth could two authors with such dramatically distinctive voices possibly co-author a book?"

You know, there have been attempts by great writers in the past to co-author works together, but I have yet to read one that I thought worked. Really worked.

This was a tough one…could this project be simply "inconceivable"? Born to die on the vine?

Then I remembered one of my favorite movies of all time: My Dinner with Andre. By one of my all time favorite directors, Louis Malle. Starring one of my all time favorite actors, the inimitable hoot, Wallace Shawn.

In My Dinner with Andre, two close friends meet for dinner and have an impassioned discussion that pushes both of them—and of course, the viewer—to reevaluate the meaning of their lives. The dialog is rich, volatile, intense, vibrant, funny, absurd, penetrating, entertaining, puzzling, astonishing, improbable, emotional and reflective. Actual friends, actor/playwright Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory—an experimental theater director/playwright with spiritual links to Gurdjieff— play a kind of enhanced, dramatized version of themselves. The results are dizzyingly, engrossingly brilliant. They argue, they counterpoint, they banter, they agree to disagree. Wow!

Okay, well how about Pavel and Dan write their book using the My Dinner with Andre concept as their structure? Two friends, shooting the breeze as it were, about their subject of passion—and going deep as all heck in the process?

I overnighted Pavel a copy of My Dinner with Andre. Pavel loved it. In fact, he watched it five times.

We were on. Yup, things were starting to look conceivable after all…

So Dan and Pavel embarked on exactly that organizational concept. One of them would make a statement, drop a pearl of strength-wisdom; the other would comment—elaborating, elucidating, extending the conversation. The other would respond back and so it would continue. And the more the conversation continued, the deeper they would go, surprising and inspiring each other with the gathering momentum of insight.

The concept worked liked gangbusters. More than I think any of us could have imagined. And I think I know what has made it so special. Despite all their differences in background, culture, experience and proclivities, Pavel and Dan managed to form one of those extremely rare creative partnerships, where two individuals combine to produce a work whose whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Because Easy Strength is not a Socratic dialog, it’s not a series of arguments, but rather two masters of the craft jamming together. It’s the strength world’s equivalent of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger at their peak writing and composing, say Sticky Fingers—then unleashing it on an unsuspecting but deeply grateful and appreciative world.

Now, let me tell you, when you read the final masterwork that is Easy Strength, don’t be misled by the almost magical smoothness of the Pavel-Dan dialogs. There was agony and there was ecstasy and it took two hard years to get it done. But that’s great art for you.

The result, I proudly present to you: Easy Strength, a book of wisdom for the ages. A book by two "warrior athletes" I deeply admire.

Thank you, gentlemen.

May these two men and their Easy Strength inspire you—as they have so inspired me—to continue your own, never-ending quest for athletic excellence and supreme physical cultivation.

By John Du Cane
CEO, Dragon Door Publications