McAfee Secure sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams
Share Print

You have not viewed any products recently.




Vadim Kolganov—"modern day Russian hero"—speaks his mind, shares his heart on Sambo, his time with Valentin Dikul, and his experience at Pavel's Russian Kettlebell Challenge, Denmark

January 18, 2011 09:03 AM

Vadim Kolganov Vadim Kolganov Vadim Kolganov

For those of you who caught his appearance on the Human Weapon TV series as the Sambo expert, you're already acquainted with one of the many facets of Dr. Vadim Kolganov. He is ranked in Sambo, experienced in several other martial arts (ranging from R.O.S.S. to Wing Chun), a doctor of osteopathy, a spinal rehabilitation specialist, and a gem of a human being. This interview was one of the hardest I've ever had to do because the man is so humble that he leaves out swathes of noteworthy achievement from his story. It took me two visits to Europe, plenty of e-mails, and several months to finally wrap this interview up, here at the 2008 Danish RKC. I'm sure you'll be inspired by the story of this modern day Russian hero.


Hard Style: Vadim, when did you first get into training with kettlebells?

Vadim Kolganov: As a kid in the Soviet Union, they were part of how we grew up. Just like kids in the US might grow up playing baseball, we had girya as part of our folk culture. Years later, when I got to the UK, I heard them referred to as kettlebells.

HS: Did you do kettlebells as part of your training for sports?

VK: Yes, I did. I began training martial arts as a judoka at the Dynamo Club in Pushkino, just outside of Moscow. So Judo was my first martial art, but soon I discovered Sambo. My judo coach took us to both types of competitions since he believed it was essential for us to develop as grapplers and wrestlers. Even today, while I've had greater achievements in Sambo, I still enjoy both Judo and Sambo the same. My Judo & Sambo coaches used kettlebells as part of our strength and conditioning regimens.

As kids, we used to go to sports training camps sometimes, and a group of kids together always finds some sort of mischief to get into instead of going to sleep. The coach would come upstairs and roust us all out. We'd each be given a kettlebell and sent on a run or made to do some impossible number of reps within a certain timeframe. When we failed the first time around, the coach would make us do it again. Once we were totally exhausted, he'd send us to jump in the lake to rinse off and then go to bed. I guess you can call that the "Hard Style" school of child-rearing.

HS: Did those training methods help you with your performance as a wrestler?

VK: Absolutely. We used to do tons of deadlifts, squats, swings, cleans and jerks, and assisted stretches with the kettlebells. There were all sorts of exercises and training methods we used kettlebells for. And I think they certainly played a role in my successes. I won the Moscow Sambo Championships twice, which earned me the ranking of Master of Sport in Sambo. Later, after moving to Scotland, I took third place in the World Master's Championship in Prague in 2005, and I won the British Sambo Championships in 2006.

HS: Those are some amazing accomplishments!

VK: Actually, I owe it all to my coaches and teachers. In Sambo, I had the chance to study with masters like Evgeny Chumakov, the man who wrote the canonical text, 100 Lessons in Sambo. When I took my entrance examinations to the Sambo program of the Central State University of Physical Culture & Sport, it was Chumakov himself who was administering the exam. Nikolai Kulik, another renowned Samboist, was my tutor. Later on, after I'd relocated to the UK, I was accepted as a student of Gen. Alexander Retuinskih, the founder of R.O.S.S..

HS: Did you use kettlebells at any other time outside of your martial arts training?

VK: Later, when I was called up for mandatory military service, my training sergeant really liked training with kettlebells. He used to love snatching them and doing snatches with the Olympic bar. We used to come up with creative excuses not to do the super high repetition stuff with him, though. I was ranked as a lieutenant in a Soviet Army Reserve paratrooper unit, but my love was flying helicopters for the Soviet Air Force. Since the controls of a helicopter require a steady hand, a few of us would use that as an excuse to get out of high rep snatches. [grinning mischievously'

Valentin Dikul also used kettlebells quite a lot in his demonstrations.

HS: Anyone familiar with Pavel's books has heard the name Valentin Dikul. Pavel has written about how Dikul rebounded from a paralyzing fall to become one of Russia's most famous strongmen. How did you get to know him?

VK: After I finished my time in university, I was working as a PT inspector for the police. We'd go around from precinct to precinct, making sure that each training officer was maintaining a certain level of technical proficiency and fitness in his officers. The job wasn't the most fun one that I'd had, especially when you have to force an overweight traffic cop to run 3 kilometers.

HS: That sounds like Sr RKC David Whitley's famous line: "You can't outsnatch a donut."

VK: [laughter' That's right! So the good part of the inspector's job came when I met up with one of my colleagues that I hadn't seen for a while, and he told me that he'd started working for Valentin Dikul.

Everyone in my generation knows of Valentin Dikul. He's like a living bogatyr — a knight from the ancient times of Russia. You look at him and you can't help but being reminded of Ilya Muromets, the most famous of Russia's bogatyrs. He's got a huge barrel chest, a flowing beard, and with the personality and goodness that just fills a room. Dikul is one of those rare men who inspires you physically, intellectually, and spiritually — kind of like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jonas Salk, and Gandhi rolled into one.

As you've probably already heard, Dr. Dikul suffered a spinal fracture himself and had to rehab himself back to full functionality using different devices and exercises. His own sheer force of will and the intelligence of his methods helped him become a legend in the worlds of both spinal rehabilitation and strongmen. From essentially being an invalid to juggling kettlebells like they were basketballs, Dikul's really amazing.

I had the honor of apprenticing directly under him in his spinal rehabilitation institute in Moscow. He liked working with athletes because he felt that athletes had to understand the workings of the human body better from a functional standpoint and had the strength to get down and get to work in a hands-on manner with the patients.

Dikul had all sorts of devices, apparatus, and gear to aid patients with their recovery. For example, there was one where patients would try to create forward movement in their hips by clenching their buttocks, just like you do with the Hard Style glute clench. He had a whole series of exercises and rehab devices that were systematically employed. Depending on the severity of the patient's paralysis, Dikul would have us working on different exercises. Paraplegics and quadriplegics would have different plans that we'd use, starting with stretching and balance and moving on to more specific exercises.

HS: Any plans to share some of those exercises with us?

VK: I'm working on a translation of some of Dikul's protocols from notes I have. There's not much more to tell you than that right now.

HS: How are you enjoying the RKC experience? I see you breezed through your snatch test.

VK: I wouldn't say I breezed through it, but it's different, far more systematic, than what I was taught in the Soviet days. Also, I've sought out some help from Rannoch Donald, RKC, as far as getting some of the finer points of my form brought more along the Party line. Here in Copenhagen, the RKC is very well organized. Sr RKC Kenneth Jay is a tremendous organizer, and all of the instructors today — Sr RKC Mark Reifkind, RKC Team Leaders Doug Nepodal and Will Williams, and of course Pavel — have been outstanding when it comes to communicating the fine points and corrections with the Swing, Turkish Get-Up, and the Clean. It's just the end of Day 1, and I feel like all I want to do is read the manual and see what else I must've missed.

HS: Having watched your performance today, I'd say you were on top of things. Tell me, why does Hard Style appeal to you?

VK: There are many things about Hard Style and the scientific way that Pavel presents it that make his version of kettlebell training and exercise very appealing. It's so well thought out and the application is so broad, regardless of sport or physical endeavor. If you're short for time, you can use one tool and apply it in so many different ways.

If you're an athlete and you're pressed for time to train, you can get in a workout that encompasses weight training, cardio, and flexibility all in one. If you're a busy dad, you can get in a great workout in just a few minutes at the beginning or the end of your day. If you're trying to shave off some pounds, it works you like nothing else. This simple tool, the kettlebell, takes up so little space, but the applications are really rich if you know what you're doing and how to apply the Hard Style principles.

The hip snap is the unifying factor in the Swing, Clean, and Snatch. And there's a good deal of Hard Style that is similar to what Dikul was trying to achieve with his different devices. There's a great emphasis on safety as part and parcel of strength, also, quality as opposed to just quantity. The muscles that children engage in their natural motion and posture are the same ones that we're being trained to use again here at the RKC.

The people of the RKC community that I've interacted with are perhaps what really inspired me to learn more about Hard Style. Everyone from John Du Cane, to Pavel, to Rannoch has been really good about sharing their knowledge and making considerable efforts when it comes to creating a very worthy system of training. This system, or "School of Strength" as Pavel calls it, is really something special.

For more information about Vadim Kolganov, DO, RKC, please visit

To contact Dr. Mark Cheng, RKC Team Leader, please visit