By Dan Mitchell
“The art is the thing we do, the discipline is what happens to us…”
Working in gyms is a mixed bag. Like any service oriented business, it can be tricky to balance all of the moving parts.
I think the complexity of the fitness industry is one of the reasons why I gravitate to the purity of martial arts training for meeting health needs. It’s clean, in the sense that it’s raw and ugly; you can’t dress up real martial discipline. There’s a saying that, “everything comes out on the mat,” meaning that the cold truth of potential violence is always bigger than my effort to get someone to cosign my ego.
A huge bonus of martial arts training is that the positive physical, mental and emotional effects of the discipline are unparalleled in the contemporary fitness industry.
Understand that martial discipline is not always the same thing as martial art. The art is the thing we do, the discipline is what happens to us as a result of committed participation in the art. In some unfortunate instances, martial art gets reduced to a benign parade of etiquette revolving around some assumed “master”, and nothing more.
There must of course be reasonable expectations of conduct and proper open discourse for safety in training, but in the hands of skilled practitioners the required civility is simply the way into the brilliant personal alchemy that can be achieved with martial discipline.
The trainers employed at KC’s Fitness are excellent personal trainers, and also a lot more than that. We are each skilled and competent guides into the realm of martial discipline.
So here’s the hook, “find out for yourself!” Isn’t that the big sales line, “don’t trust me, find out for yourself…” Well, never trust a guy who says “trust me”, or, “don’t trust me”, for that matter. If I were selling couches or maybe shoes, then take it or leave it.
But what if this topic being introduced can change the quality of your life, save your life or save the life of someone you love? That is the potential of this training and it is worth knowing that.
The depth of this training process betrays any effort to dress it up. If it’s grabbing you, as it has for me, then take the next step. Come in and start your own journey…it’s worth the ride.
NY State Grappling Champion Andy Potwora
on growing up and grappling at KC’s Fitness
NY State Grappling champion and KC’s Fitness member Andy Potwora: I’ve been coming to KC’s Fitness for five and a half years now. I started at the age of 17 and I am currently 22 years old. In the beginning I came to KC’s because I heard about the MMA classes being offered and I thought it would be an exciting challenge to learn. At first, I started going to Corey Norman’s classes for one reason – I thought it was bad ass! On the first day, everyone in Corey’s class was inviting and friendly right away. He’s a great instructor because he really makes sure that every single person understands the techniques before we move onto something else, and explains things in a clear and understandable way.
Under Corey’s guidance, I eventually got enough experience to feel comfortable competing in the NYS Grappling Championships and I won First Place in my division twice, and Second Place once. It was during these times of challenges and the urge to improve that I found myself turning a hobby into a passion. Finding a passion in life is a blessing that not everyone can say they have experienced along with finding friendships and support surrounding you in the process – I don’t think it gets much better than that.
For a few months I left KC’s and went to a few other gyms to learn different styles of Martial Arts. Nothing was the same. Not only were the styles different but the people weren’t close to the same. I realized that I missed the everyone that I grew up with at KC’s. I’ve known Corey a long time and we’ve become good friends over the years. I returned to KC’s and I came back to seeing my friends welcoming me back with open arms.
The techniques that I’ve learned here have saved my life outside of the gym from a few close experiences and it makes me all the more grateful that I began training and learning at KC’s. I don’t train here just for the love of the sport, or because it’s a great place to learn, but because of the home I’ve made here.
It’s almost 6 years later and I have never regretted a second of the time I’ve spent at KC’s. This is my home.
In Spring of 2012, I graduated from a demanding and rigorous Division 1 Rowing Team, having spent over 12 years perfecting my skill as coxswain. When I arrived in Buffalo at the end of my final season, I knew I needed an outlet to challenge myself physically but didn’t know what to do.
There is no limit to what you can accomplish at KC’s. The encouragement and support within the community is echoed by every member who has walked through its doors.
I had no challenge outside of work and I refused to admit that I actually missed two-a-day practices and the requirement of monitoring my weight for competition. In pursuit of an equally satisfying workout to our college practices, my former teammates and I sampled every variety of workouts available to us. It actually became amusing to see what we would attempt next; hot yoga, regular yoga, roller blading, running, spinning, acrobatics on fabric sheets (in case any of us decided we wanted to try out for Cirque du Soleil), INSANITY Workout. You name it, I tried it. Some worked for short periods of time, but none were enough to keep me focused through the entire workout, and frankly, I was bored out of my mind.
I needed something that excited me. I wanted the challenge of learning something new but didn’t know what that was yet. What I did know was that I needed a group to workout with. The impersonal gym environment where the only interaction between people is to ask “when are you going to be done with that machine?” was definitely not for me. I wanted a group to challenge me and hold me accountable to myself. I wasn’t working out because I had to; I was working out because I wanted to.
My long time mentor and high school rowing coach, Aileen McNamara, introduced me to KC’s Fitness in 2014 where we took a Women’s Boxing Class on Tuesday and Thursday evening. Unfortunately, my work hours conflicted with the class and I reluctantly had to stop attending. After two weeks of zero participation I received a call while at work from one of the coaches – Warren Griffin. He was checking in to see how I was doing and wondering when I was coming back to work out. This simple phone call blew my mind. It was the first time since college rowing that someone made me feel accountable for my own fitness and progress towards my goals. Once my hours changed, I immediately went back to KC’s!
My first class back was with an instructor I didn’t know, Shawn McDonell. As soon as I walked in, Shawn had introduced himself right away. That class, we ran stairs, did various boxing stations and hit a heavy bag with a baseball bat. By the end of it I was exhausted, but I felt fantastic because of the connection I felt with the people in class.
From that point on, KC’s became a part of my daily routine and its incredible staff is its best asset. I enjoy working with people I trust and respect; this I have found with every instructor at KC’s. David Hooper, who teaches the Women’s Boxing Class on Tuesday and Thursday evenings actually participates in the workout with us. He is right there doing burpees, swinging kettlebells; helping each of us to set goals, meet them and redefine them. No matter where you are physically or what you’re trying to achieve, David is behind you 100%.
The uniqueness of working out alongside the instructors at KC’s has not worn off and I don’t believe it ever will. It is not uncommon to find Pietro holding a kick shield during class, Marisa practicing a combination on the side of the room or working her way into stations, Shawn wearing the body shield taking shovel hooks while managing to correct you when you’re throwing them improperly, or Kevin taking on 6 people at once for an hour at a time.
I started off with one goal in mind – making it to one class every day. Over time, it has evolved into setting goals such as: being able to hold well enough for Pietro so he can get a great workout or getting out of bed once a week for a morning class – which I haven’t yet accomplished, but I know I will!
After almost a year, no two classes have been the same. Each day I am eager as I leave work to get to class and see what challenges await me. In class, I find myself taking risks by holding mitts for some of the toughest men and women there and I’ve come to realize when I’m away from KC’s, I don’t just miss working out I miss the energy of the Gym itself.
There is no limit to what you can accomplish at KC’s. The encouragement and support within the community is echoed by every member who has walked through its doors. The transformation you’ll see in your body is secondary to the transformation you will see in the happiness of your everyday life after joining KC’s.
“Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshiper, lover of learning.
It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.”
How many things do you set out to do and then become diverted? Have you made resolutions to get healthy and fit? Have you endeavored to learn a language or musical instrument? Have you promised yourself to ardently commit to change in some capacity, but fallen short, or worse, not even tried? I enjoy Rumi’s poem because it gently reminds me to practice patience and refrain from self-judgment.
Thoughtful appraisals of our actions and behaviors are helpful, but berating oneself is rarely useful. I have been teaching martial arts, boxing and weight training for over twenty-five years, and not a week goes by that I don’t hear people reference themselves as stupid, or swear when they perform a movement that does not meet their expectations.
“…how we practice and train is often how we do life.”
I hear these admonishments enough that I felt compelled to offer my thoughts on these moments; I don’t find them particularly useful. Recently, one of my student athletes at Hilbert College rebuked himself in a class setting. I asked if he did that often, and he assured me that he berated himself all the time. I asked why, and he assured me because he deserves it anytime he screws up in his sport. In the moment you do this, however, I believe there is tension. The latter can impede your movements for just one or two seconds. In that small space of time, your opponent can be twenty feet past you. Tension inhibits the ability to move fluidly, and velocity is impaired. Then, without velocity, you’ll have no power. Well, this might seem only useful for athletes, but I believe that how we practice and train is often how we do life. Upbraiding oneself while training usually follows you into your personal life. Yes, the chastisement is only for a moment, but it lingers, and I doubt the efficacy of it. Many years ago I decided that heaping huge amounts of self-criticism on oneself was a form of punishment. Once the punishment is doled out, however, it becomes ok to make the mistake again. It’s like doing time for the crime. Of course we are always ready to castigate ourselves, and continue the vicious cycle forever.
Habits are formed over time, and some serve us more than others. Practice patience, and be kind to yourself. When you fall down; get up faster than you fell. When you make a mistake; fix it. When you get lazy; change it. When your efforts weaken; simply figure out how to improve it without adding the drama of self-loathing. Analyze your mistakes so that you can learn from them, but don’t pour the “hot oil of judgment” over yourself because of them. There is nothing strong about this behavior, and the process of letting go of these self berating responses will make your more productive, less tense, and a more powerful individual.
Transformation With A Mean Right Hook
In January, I was talking with a friend about an unconventional class she was taking in her masters program. Her assignment was to pursue something that she had always dreamed of doing and present her journey at the end of the course. She challenged me to follow suit and go after something I had dreamed of learning to do, and boxing was at the top of my list. I was never athletic so the idea was pretty intimidating, but you can only bullshit yourself with those excuses for so long. Soon I found myself sitting next to Pietro in the office at KC’s Fitness and there was no turning back.
I carry myself more confidently and feel like I have a stronger presence everywhere I go. And challenging situations have become less intimidating.
I didn’t expect that I would experience such a significant personal transformation in just six months. I didn’t lose an insane amount of weight or discover that I was a boxing prodigy. But I do feel myself getting stronger and more motivated to push myself harder. I notice my feet and hands moving quicker and more confidently. The first week at KC’s, the goal was 10 push-ups. Now my sights are set on pull-ups and strapping on a weight vest before I do my push-ups. At first, I thought making it in for a few classes a week was solid. Now I find myself rising early for morning class and coming back in the evening for round two. No small feat for a woman who will never, ever be a morning person.
More importantly, I notice a difference outside the gym. I shake off the expectation that as a woman, I probably can’t lift heavy things or hold my own. I reject the widely held perception that beautiful women are thin women. I don’t want to look like a model – I want to be a badass like Wonder Woman. I carry myself more confidently and feel like I have a stronger presence everywhere I go. And challenging situations have become less intimidating. It’s amazing how discovering your physical potential translates to the other aspects of your life.
I think it speaks to the positive learning environment that the instructors at KCs have created and their dedication to strengthening the entire person, not just their muscles. They pay attention to your progress and find a way to help you magnify your strengths. And their efforts are amplified by the other members who are genuinely great, encouraging people to be around and patient role models for new people.
It sounds nice reading about it, but spend an hour in a class at KC’s and you’ll understand it. Take David Hooper’s women’s boxing class, for example. Everyone arrives at different fitness levels, but he conditions all of us to rise above the assumption that we can’t hold our own with the guys. The workouts are tough as hell, but he never underestimates our ability to conquer whatever he throws our way – and he won’t allow us to underestimate ourselves either. It’s those unique experiences that have made this gym one of my favorite places. Because of those experiences, I walk out after every class and I feel like Wonder Woman.