Saturday, October 3, 2009

The HKC: The Play By Play (Part One)

Here it is, the post you've been waiting for (or not!) If you go to an HKC it probably won't be exactly like this because future events are going to be much smaller, with only maybe 30-40 students in attendance. But in all likelihood it'll be similar enough that this post should give you a fair idea of what to expect if you go.

The event began at 8:30 am sharp (or 6:30 West Coast time, not that I was thinking of such things :)), with registration from 7:45 to 8:15. Since a great many of us were staying at the St. Paul-River Center Holiday Inn recommended by Dragon Door, there were shuttles to take us from the hotel to the Dayton's Bluff Recreation Center some two miles away. The shuttles ran at 7:00 am, 7:20 and 7:45. Miraculously I was actually down in the lobby at 7:00 am (5:00 am West coast time, not that I was thinking of such things), but I opted to take the second shuttle partly because I really needed to get some coffee into me--there was a Room Service screw-up and the coffee maker in my room wasn't functioning properly so I hadn't really had any yet--and partly because it looked like all the RKCs staying at the hotel were going over on the 7:00 bus and I sorta didn't want to be around them at that point.

With the exception of slender, gorgeous Sara Cheatham, Senior RKC (note: all kettlebell women seem to be named Sara/Sarah, except of course for the ones who are named Andrea), they all looked to be brawny young men--bear in mind that anyone under 40 looks young to me!--with veiny forearms, who consume sides of raw beef for breakfast and then pick their teeth with nails they've bent to the proper angle for use as dental instruments. To say that I found them intimidating is an understatement. I mean, I'm sure they put their pants on one leg at a time, but they're probably all doing pistol squats as they do so. (And wouldn't that make an awesome Youtube video?)

While I was waiting in the lobby I saw a very pretty blonde woman in athletic attire emerge from the restaurant. It was, of course, "Strong Sarah" Hill Jones, whom I recognized from her photographs. I introduced myself, and we chatted, mostly about footwear. We both were wearing bubblegum-pink Converse All-Stars (except I think Sarah's might have been Vans or some other brand, but you get the idea), which was sort of amusing given the emphatically non-pink nature of the crowd and the event. Sarah also had Vibrams in her backpack, which she planned to wear for the Turkish get-up portion of the event, although I think her plan was to stick with the Converse for the goblet squats and the swings because she was more used to them. My own plan was to train barefoot if at all possible because it's what I am most accustomed to, although I had the Converse with me in the event we found ourselves outside in a sea of mud.

Note: if you're training for an event, don't experiment with new footwear too close to the date of the event. Stick with what you've worn throughout your training. If you change things up it'll affect your stance, your gait, your distribution of weight, etc., and you may find yourself experiencing aches and pains that you won't be able to fix in time to perform well on the day of the event.)

Sarah and I caught the 7:20 shuttle. This gave us the opportunity to chat with some of our fellow HKC students. My seatmate was a lovely young woman named Dre (short for Andrea of course) from Chicago who was a fitness professional, obviously in great shape, and there to get her teaching credential, while Sarah's was a gentleman from Alaska who was there strictly for the experience. I think this was actually pretty typical. There were a surprising number of basically self-taught kettlebell enthusiasts who'd read about the event on the Dragon Door website and decided this was their chance to learn from the best. These people weren't necessarily interested in teaching so much as in getting good instruction for their own personal benefit. This might seem a bit unreasonable, but consider this: if you live in Alaska and want to train with an RKC, you pretty much are going to have to travel thousands of miles regardless, so why not go all the way to Minnesota when an opportunity like this comes along?

The Dayton's Bluff Rec Center, where the event was held was, well, a recreation center. There was a big indoor basketball court where we registered, as well as a lobby that was set up as a Dragon Door gift shop of sorts where one could buy books, DVDs, t-shirts and the like. I didn't spend much time looking at the merchandise, honestly, because I figured anything I wanted I could order just as easily from the Dragon Door website. Anyway, I was more interested in locating the ladies' room. Always know where the nearest bathroom is, that's my motto.

Registration went smoothly and quickly, which I think is typical of Dragon Door events. They seem to be very good about mailing out necessary paperwork (waivers of liability, publicity rights, etc.) in advance with the idea that you show up with everything already filled out and signed. At registration we were given t-shirts to wear, which were free as long as we agreed to wear them all day. The men's shirts were white, although they didn't stay that way for long, and the women's were red.

Promptly at 8:30 we were told to join our respective teams for pull-up testing. There were 12 teams in all, each under the supervision of a Master or Senior RKC and a Team Assistant (generally an RKC II or CK-FMS). As mentioned below, I had the good fortune to be on Team Neupert, with the fabulous Andrea U-Shi Chang assisting. There were two pull-up bars per team, a high bar for the men and a somewhat lower one for the women. The men's version of the test was 3 pull-ups from a dead hang, chin over the bar, no kipping allowed. The women's version was simply a 15 second flexed arm hang, with assistance if needed to get up to the starting position. Of the women, two of us passed; one did not although she certainly made a tremendous effort. To earn her HKC designation she will need to send in a video of herself performing the flexed arm hang within 3 months' time, which I have no doubt she will be able to do.

After that, we were instructed to grab kettlebells, 12 kg for the ladies and 16 kg for the men, and report to the soccer/football field for instruction in the goblet squat.

More later.