John Buckley addresses elimination of women's OALC and more
What is your athletic background? In high school, I was a football player and a thrower in Track and Field. When I went to college, I started weightlifting and bodybuilding. I started working at Equinox in 2003.
How did you end up in the Bay Area? I grew up in Long Island. I went to college for English Literature so I could be a writer. I moved to Manhattan to be a writer, but ended up working as a doorman at a club and doing some security work. Eventually the late nights and working at clubs started to get to me - I was too far from my center. I finally hit my wall and moved to California. My first job in California was working at Barnes & Noble earning $7 per hour. Then my sister got me a gig at Crunch in San Francisco. I decided I wanted to be a trainer, so I moved back to New York to work at Equinox while doing security two times per week to pay the bills. Eventually I got back to the Bay Area when I transferred to the Equinox in San Francisco.
How did you get into Kettlebell Sport? I started lifting hardstyle in 2003. I did my first certification in 2005 with Jason Brown, then did RKC, and in 2006 I started working with Steve Cotter. That’s when I was introduced to Kettlebell Sport. I danced in between the two styles and did a bunch of certifications, until I went to Russia in 2010. That’s when the real training for Kettlebell Sport started.
How have you changed since you started doing Kettlebell Sport? I have completely changed. The sport makes you live in a constant state of accountability. In the beginning, I could get away with being a strongman circus trick guy, but I quickly realized I wanted to be really good at lifting kettlebells. I knew I wasn’t a good lifter yet and it bothered me. I couldn’t rest in the rack and at the time there was no information at all; there was nowhere to start. I understood the mechanics but there’s a difference between understanding something cognitively versus being able to perform it physically. I had to rebuild my entire life: from my sleeping habits to my diet to the people that I hung out with to the things that I did. I found myself shaking off a lot of distractions. My life has become pretty spartan - I believe so strongly in the lifting.
How has the sport changed since you started in 2004? For the first 7-8 years, Kettlebell Sport had equipment and competitions but no information. There used to be a small group of people with access to information, and they controlled everything. In 2010, IKSFA came to the United States and provided that information to everyone, as well as access to kettlebell world champions. Now there is a huge breakout of information - the incubation period took a few years because everyone had to train and learn for themselves. Now if you want to learn Kettlebell Sport, you have access to anything and anybody that you can imagine. There are coaches coming out of places we didn't even know had anyone lifting.
Can you give some history on when and how the Orange Kettlebell Club (OKC) was formed? I was working for Steve Cotter and Valery Federenko in early 2007, and I was getting really excited about kettlebell lifting so I decided to start a club. At first it was just me and a couple of my friends, and then I started hanging out with Jason Dolby more. I began using the club as a social network online. When Jason and I ended our relationship with IKFF, we decided to continue teaching and move forward as OKC. We officially incorporated in 2008. It was me and Nazo and Jason.
How did you meet Nazo and Jason? As I mentioned in the previous question, I met Jason through IKFF. I met Nazo at the gym in New York in 2005. She was boxing and I was working there and noodling around with the bells downstairs. We started talking and hit it off.
When I came up with the idea for the club, Nazo responded “I don’t know about this kettleball thing, this cowbell thing.” But the more she learned, the more she loved it.
What is your coaching philosophy? The athlete has to be functionally safe first, so they can support the weight without hurting their body. Then you teach them basic mechanics and let them rep it out. As they get more comfortable, you can walk up and say “try this”. Let them work on that piece until it starts to come around, then give them another piece. As a coach, it's your responsibility to look at someone and understand the order in which to give them instruction. For example, if they can't rest in the rack, giving them 10 minute sets with light weights isn't going to help. On the other hand, if a lifter can rest in the rack but isn’t very strong, having them try to lift 32kg bells doesn’t help.
I believe in patience and reps and going through cycles. We start students on an 8-week cycle: start light and work until competition, take a week off, then start light again and run them through a new cycle. These cycles keep lifters healthy and fresh.
When did you get a full-time coach? I dabbled with coaches in 2009 but nothing I would consider full-time coaching. In 2010 when I got back from IKSFA, we were shocked by how little we knew considering how important we were in the U.S. kettlebell scene. We put the breaks on all our projects and just trained. In October 2010, I hired Rudnev to coach me. We went to Siberia and St. Petersburg to train with him. He taught us how to program, he taught us how to lift; he was definitely THE coach. In 2013, Rudnev became super busy and famous. Jason and I experienced burn out and injury, so I stopped training. I needed a break. Denis Vasilev became my coach at the Cali Open in 2013, and the rest is history.
Can you tell me more about this "break" the OKC took from teaching workshops and certifications in 2010? When we got back from working with IKSFA in Russia, I looked at Jason and Nazo and said “We don’t know what we’re doing”. They agreed. We had already booked a certification in Toronto before we left, so we did that and then just stopped for about a year. We started training and studying the books and learning technique and programming. Jason and I were too shy to ask Rudnev to coach us at first. We felt it was an insult to ask him to train us. We finally built up the courage to ask him, and went out to his home for two weeks. Half the time we were in the gym lifting, and the rest of the time we were in the classroom studying and taking notes and learning Rudnev's programming algorithms. We experienced crazy shit in Siberia in the middle of the winter. We got to compete; that was the most insane competition imaginable. No clocks. Counting in Russian. We didn’t know when the set would start; they would just wave at you and then you would begin your set. We felt all this pressure because we had a social media presence and had been blogging about our trip.
Before our trip to train with Rudnev, there were very few people going to Russia for education. Mike Sherman, Cate Imes, Steve Cotter, and Mary Farrell had been there to compete and train a few years before we were went. But as far as creating the concept of building your own sport camp with Russian coaches and athletes; that hadn’t been done before as far as I know. Now it happens all the time.
How were the ranks for the KetAcademy table determined? Initially OKC was operating under the IKSFA tables, but we decided we weren't going to do that anymore. We talked to Sergei Rachinski and he sent us the KetAcademy table, which is used across many different countries. When I opened the Excel file I saw this huge ranking table - it shocked me and I didn't agree with it. I wrote a letter to the Russian guys expressing how I felt, and then towards the end of the letter I remembered that I’m John Buckley from Long Island and I’m writing to Sergei Rachinski, Honored Coach and telling him how to write his tables. So I deleted the letter and simply responded to him with "Are you sure this is how the sport is going?" He said yes, so we went with it.
What are your personal aspirations in Kettlebell Sport as a lifter?My goal is to do 10 minutes with 32kg at a good pace. I would like to do 200 snatches as a long-term goal. I want to get over 100 jerks. In general, I want to train, stay healthy, compete, and feel good about my sets.
A typical day in the life of John Wild Buckley… what does it look like? Get up at 5-5:30am, have breakfast, drive to the gym and open. Work with a couple clients, sit down and do emails and programming, hopefully get in some training, teach a class, more clients, phone calls, and train in the afternoon. I come home, shower, eat, and go to bed. My life revolves around my training. The business is there, but the scheduling of the business definitely revolves around the training.
How long do you usually train? Two hours or so. I do about 30 minutes warm up, do my jerk sets, rest, then do my snatch set. I finish with GPP and stretching. In between my sets I’m coaching; I like to train with the team. We’re all in there supporting each other.
What is your vision for OKC moving forward? The goal for OKC is just to be able to lift and do the sport we love to do. In Jason's words, "follow our hearts" and create what we see. The club is an extension of our relationships with our friends. The first OKC meet happened because at the time there were practically no competitions west of Michigan. We did our first competition at the gym, and then we had to do another one down in LA. Competitions got bigger and bigger and the next thing you know the club grew to the point that it’s not just friends lifting anymore. It’s a bigger machine to steer now, but the goal is to keep it as close to its original intent as possible.
Can you address the elimination of OALC for ladies at OKC competitions? We have been watching the development of TALC for women for about two years. Katarina Cmanovska came over last February and wanted to jerk 2x24kg in the team relay. Tricia Dong did 10 min 2x12kg at the Bay Area meet in August. When the Cali Open 2015 came around, I had talked to everyone in our circle and we wanted to get ladies to lift TALC with 12-16kg.
After the Cali Open 2015, we had a meeting with Sergei and Denis and I wanted to go all in and do TALC only. Afterwards, I went home and told Nazo and she goes “Hm.” She didn't quite approve, so we cooled it off and continued discussing it. I talked to Jason and Nazo talked to Jason and we talked to Denis. When we were in Texas in May 2015 and I saw Brittany and Phoebe lift 2x16kg and Kim and Chelsey with 24’s, that was it for me. I thought "That’s the future, right there." I went home and asked Nazo if it was okay with her and she said "Let’s do it."
We knew pulling back on OALC was going to irk people. The biggest response we have gotten is “You should just add TALC”. Well yeah, but then we’d really be diluting the competition pool. As somebody who runs meets, the #1 complaint from competitors is it takes too long to get the awards ready. The #2 complaint is people win "first place" because they have no competition. We realized adding more events would be insane. The more human side of it - the one I feel sad about - is that a lot of people identify with the OALC lift, they like it, they feel good about it. And we want people to be happy and have a good time at our competitions and have their breakthroughs - that’s just who we are.
Here is my response to the people who are arguing for OALC by saying that that it’s a higher workload if you lift 24kg fast versus 2x24kg slow or that we haven't mastered OALC yet. As far as mastering the lift, no one masters the lifts. It just doesn’t happen. You can talk to Ivan Denisov and he’ll tell you: “120 is possible with 16kg”. There’s always a higher number. When it comes to the "mastering the lift", we only have 10-15 guys who can do 10 minutes with the 32kg in the states, but tons of women who have hit Master of Sport in OALC. It’s a crazy number proportional to other events. As time goes on I am 100% confident that women in the sport will be able to own TALC.
When I wrote the statement about TALC for women, I was so inspired by what I saw in Texas. It’s not equality for women; it’s equality. Let’s make the sport balanced between men and women. Two arm lifts are physiologically different. It changes bodies. It’s a different challenge. When I think of the kind of people that’s going to attract to the sport, it pumps me up. You have to be strong and athletic to be nasty at TALC. I don’t buy into the idea that the highest level of the sport has to be accessible to everybody. I don’t know any other sport where that’s true. I know eliminating OALC is a big risk and if we didn’t believe in it 100%, we wouldn’t have risked the future of the club on it. OKC is our life: me, Jason, Nazo, Denis. This is all we do. That’s how much we believe this is the way to go.
What is your favorite thing about Kettlebell Sport? The accountability in your head. Once you get through all the excuses and bullshit, once you really look at your performance, you’ll know what you did. It wasn’t the coach, the bell, the judge, it was something you did. I love that.
What advice do you have for new lifters on finding a good coach? Follow them on Facebook, follow their blog, and follow their students. Listen to their message, look at their image, listen to the way they talk to people. Try out the one that attracts you. In the beginning, that should be enough. You don’t necessarily need a super coach, just someone who can help you get started. Someone you can relate to because training is going to get hard. Don’t be afraid to ask about a coach - ask your friends, ask their students, ask. It’s okay.