Friday, April 29, 2016

Bust It Like a Mule and Willie

I just read the best, most unique book that I have read in a long, long time.  It is called Bust it Like A Mule, by Caleb Mannan. 

I loved it so much that I was savoring every page. The author writes in a stream of consciousness dialogue that is pure literary genius. Its about a rambling man, Cotton Kingfisher, and his adventures out on his own across the country. This guy is the meanest, toughest hombre around. Well, he is only mean when provoked. And when he is provoked, look out. He will fight to the death for what he thinks is right. He is on a search for a place to settle, and in that search, he runs into all kinds of mess. He doesn't let any of it get him down, though. He just powers on through by working his tail off, fighting, drinking and generally being an all around badass. Also, I loved it because he didn't chase his ex wife around, or cry or have to see a therapist about his mom not loving him, or feel sorry for himself. I was expecting some of that type of modern stuff. When I was reading it I was thinking, uh oh, this guy is too perfect, too macho for this politically correct day and age, it is about time for the author to show Cotton's side soft side where he is weak and can't handle himself. But although he has trials, he never gets to that sensitive man that ends up realizing that the way to go is to be less of himself, of what he really is deep down inside. I don't want to give away anymore. It's the best book that I have read this year and I recommend it highly.

All of the giants are getting old, man. 

I was thinking last night of Willie Nelson, and I was thinking of how bad it will be when Willie Nelson passes on.  My exact thoughts were, Merle is gone, Cash is gone, and Willie is hanging on, still getting out there . I have not been a huge fan of their music in the past, but I like what they stand for, what they represent as men. I grew up with Hank Jr. and Skynyrd, but have come into the older folks later in life. No, I do not know Willie Nelson. I have see him in concert one time, at the "Forks of the River Jam" on a farm in Tennesee in the early Nineties. It was around the time that he was in trouble with the IRS, and he had a cassette out at the time, "The IRS Tapes", and everyone, thousands and thousands of people turned out to see Willie at the concert. They turned out to support him. 

I am not sure what brought me to the thoughts of Willie. He represents something to me, some type of feeling, yes, a feeling , that's it. It's that generation that represents something to me. Willie was an outlaw in a sense that he has done what he wanted to do in life, bucking the establishment in Nashville and all that to get his songs recorded. But it is more than that , for sure. I think that I really started to like Willie when I saw him years ago on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He came across as the most humble guy in the world and I felt a connection to him. He is of the same generation as my father, of my late Uncle George. His hair would not have gone over big amongst most men that I grew up with, but his attitude surely does; respect for authority and for your elders, say what you feel, do what you say, be a man and lead by example. 

I remember the late great Bill Starr and his love for Willie Nelson. Starr only had a few tapes , VHS tapes in his apartment, and one of them was a concert of Willie Nelson. And if Coach Starr liked him, I knew that he had to be alright.  And then today I turn on the TV and there is Willie on the 30th anniversary of Farm Aid and he is up there singing in his 80's bygod, and he started the whole thing. And he doesn't squat or deadlift, and he didn't box or play football , but I respect him nonetheless! He rises above my usual measuring sticks of being a real man by just being Willie. He has the same old guitar and the same people in his band that have been there forever. And you will never see or you will never be able to find a photo of Willie posing with his head down, looking troubled or pursing his lips or looking off into some imaginary sunset in a  dramatic pose that all the "stars" all do nowadays.  Not gonna happen.  Maybe I like all those guys (And Loretta Lynn, too) because I have a deeply rooted feeling in me that when that generation is gone, America is in trouble, even in more trouble than it is in now.  

And then freaking Merle Haggard dies and I read the Rolling Stone article about Haggard and I read that when his family first moved from Oklahoma to California, the "Okies" weren't welcomed there, so instead of protesting or getting money from the government, they just went to work. Because they weren't welcome, they had to live outside of town, and Merle's dad bought a boxcar for 500.00 and the family lived in there. A box car.  They lived in a box car. And to come out of that , to deal with that everyday, not even having a real place to live for goddsake, and rising above all that, made those people strong and with that made our country strong, strengthened it's backbone. You read about those guys and that generation and the men and women are always described as stoic , and well, its time to work and we have to move the family to find work, and you can't turn to government, you gotta just keep grinding and pulling the family with you wherever it was best for them. Trying to survive. And you read how the men back then just worked themselves to death. Haggard's father dies when Merle was nine years old, and if you ever read the amazingly well written and amazingly sad Harry Crew's book, Childhood, you will remember that Crew's father died in the fields, working himself to death. In fact Crew's dad would just simply collapse in the field while working and then get up and keep working again. It is like that generation saw all of that , and remember this generation were the children of the depression, and they just thought that one had to work and you better be humble because shit could turn bad at any moment if you didn't work and stay working. Yep, that was a tough generation full of hard men and women.

I hope Willie hangs on for a while longer.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Summer 1989

Summer,1989. I had just failed out of college,  I was done playing football and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I returned home from North Carolina to Maryland. I really wasn't fond enough of school to stay around with out football. I found college boring and tedious. At that time, I would have rather just gone fishing, which most days I did instead of going to class. 

My friend Chris , who I played with in junior college drove down from Maryland and picked me up one day and drove me back in one shot. He was working at a golf course at the time and he got me a job working there, too. It was a job cutting grass on the tractors and weed whacking around sand traps and general maintenance and I really loved that job. Nobody to bother you at all.

Most of the guys who worked there hunted and fished and were generally all around good dudes. Cut the rough yet? Yes? Okay now cut the fairway. Done with that? Good, now weed whack around the clubhouse. Break for lunch grab a sub sandwich and some macaroni salad from the deli down the street, sit outside and eat, back to work, a few more hours on the tractor, off at two o'clock. It was good, pure work ,and at the end of the work day, you felt satisfied, spent .

I needed a place to train, and my buddy Chris was training at Ironworks Gym in Beltsville, Maryland. It was set back in an industrial park and it was a helluva gym. It was run by Neil, a former thrower from the University of Florida. A Hall of fame thrower, actually. A big dude, and a real good guy. I think that I paid 25 dollars a month, and I don't think that I signed anything. The place was big, it was a warehouse basically. Neil made his own equipment and he had everything that you needed to have a great workout. The stuff was virtually bombproof. And Neil had these huge loading dock doors that he would open up to let the air come through and when Chris and I would get done training and the smoke stopped coming out of Chris' ears, we would sit out there just outside past the doors and drink milk. We both loved doing that after training.

 Funny thing was that the Maryland Athletic Club (MAC) was about 3 minutes away from Iron Works. In my opinion, Ironworks was the better gym, much bigger and better equipment, but MAC had Kirk Karwoski training there so people flocked there to see him train and to be in that atmosphere. It was a kick ass atmosphere to be honest with you.

Chris was powerlifting at the time and he was strong as hell. I was all small and weak from dieting and was down to 189 pounds from 245 about 6 months earlier. Chris was close gripping 415 for reps, deadlifting in the 6's and squatting high 5's ass to freaking grass. I got back up to 215 just hanging around Chris. And he gave off this intensity when he trained. Every top set was close to a fight for Chris. He would get fired up, focus on some guy in the gym, tell me that the guy was staring at him , making fun of him. It wasn't happening, he was using that as a trick to get fired up. And get this- I wasn't allowed to look at him when I gave him a lift off on the bench press. Seriously, I had to look away when I handed the weight to him. Chris said that me looking at him freaked him out. So I did it, I would hand it to him all the while just hoping that I did it right because I wasn't allowed to look at him. Is that nuts or what? And Neil just looked at us because he got a big kick out of Chris and that crazy, inspiring intensity. Neil would let us drop the dumbells when we did incline db presses(Chris did the 150's for reps), but Chris got carried away and started throwing the dumbells after his set for emphasis and Neil got slightly pissed off and said , "I said you could drop them, not throw them across the gym." But he didn't stay mad, he liked us too much.

Anyway, we were having a great summer but then the boss at the golf course yelled at Chris for weed whacking grass into the sand trap and Chris got pissed off and was like FORGET THIS FREAKING JOB,WE ARE QUITTING! I was like, oh man ,I like this job, but Chris was storming all around and cussing and all fired up and at that point it hit me: I was going back to finish school. It just came to me when I was walking to Chris' orange Nissan. Play time was over and the golf course was gone and I figured I'd volunteer coach and get my foot in the door. I'd find work and coach and get good grades and stop messing around.

My grades improved (some), and I started coaching football and I never  regretted leaving Maryland to finish school. And hell, if Chris wouldn't have gotten all pissed off at the boss for the grass in the sand trap debacle, I may have stayed at the golf course for a long time and I don't think that it would have been all that bad, but I am glad that it turned out the way that it did. Iron Works closed and eventually MAC did also. I looked up Neil on the Internet  a few days ago and he is a high school teacher in Maryland.  I wonder if he knows just how great his gym really was back then, and I wonder if he remembers me and especially if he remembers Chris and his off the wall training intensity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rick's Basement Gym 1982-1984

I was thinking about great training sessions that I have had and then I was thinking about my favorite places where I have trained and one of the best was, for sure, Rick's basement. I was in high school at the time and just getting seriously into lifting and studying it.

My buddy Rick had a cool setup in his basement back in the 80's. He had a power rack, a mess of York plates (still made in York back then), a dip stand, a bench press and some dumbbells. Actually, I can't really remember if he had dumbbells, but he probably did. A plate loaded lat pull machine sat in the corner. A big mirror in front of the squat rack and Rick's bedroom off to the side, complete with water bed. Hell yes. Also a poster of Mike Mentzer on the wall and my favorite, a poster of Mike Webster getting ready to hike the ball to Terry Bradshaw. We all would marvel at Webster's arms, his triceps in particular.

Everybody would lift two to three days a week, put some music on, have some fun.  But back then I lifted every day, I was gung ho to say the least. While everyone else was satisfied with their infrequent training sessions, I thought that if I was in the gym more, my gains would come faster. Poor Rick. I cajoled him into trying everything that I tried. I was particularly fascinated with Mentzer's Heavy Duty and his Herculean physique. So I read everything that I could about his system and had Ricky do it with me. I'd be all fired up after reading Muscle and Fitness in math class and I couldn't wait to get down into the basement. Rick just wanted to bench a little and hang out and I had him going to failure and beyond on behind the head lat pulls and bent rows and squats. He trained with me for awhile but dropped off eventually. He had enough of me , plus he was working at Adelphi Mobil gas station pumping gas and he was also cutting lawns for money.  He wasn't afraid to work hard, just couldn't give a damn what Mike Mentzer had to say.

So I would end up going to Rick's by myself. I have to admit that I liked training alone.  This was a time where I didn't have to wait on anybody, didn't have to talk to anybody, didn't have to listen to anyone complain or talk about their girlfriend's or their Hemi engine. I loved it.

I would leave high school around three o'clock  and hitchhike to Rick's. It was only a few miles and I usually got picked up by someone I knew. I hitchhiked everywhere back then, it was no big deal. Hell, even girls hitchhiked back then. Looking back it all seems nuts, but it was normal for all of us.

 Rick's Mom had remarried and basically Rick was on his own at sixteen. Needless to say, there were a few parties at Rick's house, in fact, every party was at his house until the cops would come and break it up. Anyway, I'd get to Ricks and I had a key so I would go through the backdoor and down the steps. I would always be joined by Stray, Ricky's dog. This dog ruled the neighborhood and he was my constant companion when I was downstairs lifting. I'd do a set, then sit down and pet Stray, do a set and sit down and pet Stray. What a kick ass dog. Super sweet but protective when he needed to be.

 The 70's were all about upper body lifting (Arnold had the chest and biceps), but in 1981, Tom Platz finished third in the Mr.Olympia and squats became king. I can remember reading about some of Tom Platz's squat workouts for super high reps and I would try to duplicate whatever he did. I was a Platz fanatic. I'd get my Dad to take me to Dynamo Barbell Club and get the latest Muscle and Fitness just to see if Platz was featured. His workouts were off the wall with intensity, and I would try to duplicate whatever he did. Sets of ten and twenty were the norm. Not with the same weights of course, but the rep scheme that he used. Just set after set of squats. It's funny, but all my good workouts down there were when I was squatting. I would put on some Skynyrd and Van Halen and get to squatting. I wasn't strong but I tried real hard, looking at Webster and Mentzer and wishing that I could be just like them. I really didn't know what  I was doing. I had no coaches, so I would just try to emulate what I read about and saw in the magazines. Deep squats and lots of reps and sets. The power rack was a little rusty , but functional. The York plates? The rattle of those plates were something special. At the top of each rep you'd put a little extra into it just to hear that sweet noise.

I heard John Broz talking the other day on a podcast and he was saying that the best way to learn lifting is to just do it on your own, and I sure did do it on my own. We all did. Remember, there was no internet, no Crossfit, and barely any strength coaches back then. My high school Physical Education teacher/ Football coach was a waste of life and I didn't learn a damn thing from him about lifting weights or anything else for that matter.  He really was bad, just sat on his butt for the whole day.  But, maybe it was better for us to have to just do it.  It may just have been a blessing in disguise,  because we all had to figure stuff out on our own.

We didn't analyze training to death or have to worry about phases or blocks or speed work or dynamic work or bands or chains or GPP(we all chopped wood or mowed lawns, there is your GPP!) or TRXYZ or bosu balls or battle ropes(!) or kettle bells or silly little ladders or ...and I could go on. Barbell. Plates. Rack. Squat. Drank tons of milk, too. And meatloaf and Utz chips and onion dip(makes you strong.  Adelphi, Maryland folks know this secret). All just the basics. But hell, what else is there really other than the basics? Well, gimmicks. And we didn't even know that there were gimmicks. Oh yeah, that picture of Arnold doing EZ curls with the Weider "Arm Blaster" was a gimmick, and he musta sold a million of them. But it was the picture that sold it, not the product.

After an hour or so, I would be done. My legs would be shaking as I walked up the steps, faithful Stray right behind me. Sometimes Rick would be home by then and I could catch a ride from him but more often than not, I would walk out to Powder Mill Road and hitchhike back home. It would be winter time and dark and cold and I'd be standing out there with my thumb out and I would be happy as hell. Happy because I had a great training session and happy because I found something that gave me a tremendous amount of satisfaction. I didn't know why I felt that way, but I knew that I loved that feeling and that I would be doing these workouts for a long, long, time.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Friday, February 26, 2016

Short and Semisweet

Oh man. I can't watch it, think about it too much.

The presidential crap as the pool gets diluted more and more and well, can't watch it or think about it.  But,the divide is greater than ever in this country.  Can't deny it. The hypocrisy is appalling and the blind eyes to it all is amazing. 

Ah, I can't say anything. People get all crazy about this stuff (Like me!), and its all a joke, a freakin' joke. 

Cops get killed, but you can't talk about it, but who do you call in a crisis?  Cops. Bad cops? Of course. Some bad everything out there. 

 But I am biased. I have friends who are cops.

Anyway-  Like I said, I am biased. I support the military, cops, the second amendment , the outdoors, hunting, fishing, trapping, free speech, anti-guilt, less taxes, less government, more personal responsibility. Squat and Hunt. That makes me a minority. Oh well.

Alrighty!- best podcasts? Joe Rogan(3/4 of the time), Art of Manliness.

I wanna talk about sports specificity and the crap that is out there regarding it, but I really feel like I can not get through. Here is the real deal- Get strong and fix your weaknesses, and then get skilled in your sport. Its not hard at all. Yoga, stretching, TRX, Pilates,  and on and on.  All adjuncts to getting strong. There is Good, Better and Best. That is it.

 (And the questions, the kidding yourself get in the real world questions: Why can't I lose weight? You eat too much. No, I got my diet dialed in.... ok, you got it. It is dialed in.  Keep on truckin')

Get strong, and fix your weaknesses and then get skilled in your sport.

And again, and again. Not hard.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Excerpt

Today, I sit on the dock, my legs hanging off of the side.  I  watch some fishing boats go by, returning from a long day in the ocean, perhaps fishing for White Marlin or Tuna which are two popular game fish in this area.

Some of the crews wave to me as they go by, bronzed men and women with floppy hats and sunglasses sitting in captain's chairs, drinking cocktails out of martini glasses. 

The boats make quite a wake as they go by, and the resulting waves slap against the retaining wall at the end of the dock, spraying a light salt water mist onto me. 

When my sister and I were little kids and we saw the boats coming in from the ocean, we would jump on our bikes and ride to the marina to see the day's catch. The huge fish would be hung from hooks to weigh them and people would gather around in awe at the marlin, tuna and the occasional shark that were brought in. The Captain's of the boats, big men with rough faces and hands would be drinking Schaeffer beer and smoking cigarettes and speaking to each other quietly about the day's events.

Now I look back and I can see so clearly the shark's eyes and it's mouth open and the teeth almost bared in defiance and the blood dripping from it's mouth onto the cement.

The smell of the tar on the pilings makes me smile, reminding me of pushing the small row boat off from the marina when I was young, on the way to flounder fishing in the mysterious Sinepuxent Bay with my parents. 

On those days, the bay current was always swift and my thoughts of surviving a fall into the choppy waters were always in the back of my mind. I imagined the current pulling me under, and trying desperately to reach the surface.

My dreams followed the same scenario, falling in from some great height, salty green water enveloping me,  the tremendous pressure keeping me down.  Always vainly trying to swim to the air, not quite making it, on my way to safety but never quite reaching it.

 And then I would wake up.

Eventually I made myself jump into the bay to assuage my fears. 

And all the nightmares that I had been having about drowning in the Bay disappeared shortly thereafter.

Monday, February 1, 2016


I am sitting here looking at a picture of myself when I was a baby. I guess that I was a little over a year old? I am sitting in a baby seat eating a turkey leg. I asked my father if he was afraid that I would choke. He said, "You had some teeth, you could chew." It was 1968, and the hovering over their kids that parents do these days had not yet been invented. I do it also. 

The other day, at a 9 year old basketball game, there was a player on the other team, an overweight kid with a headband on and a smart mouth who was pushing my son when the ref was not looking. My heart was beating out of my chest I was so angry. And then his "father" says to the troglodyte, "That is it, stay aggressive." Real nice. Classy. So eventually my son gets irritated at the pushing and pushes back and the kid goes flying. Of course my son gets the foul. Doesn't matter,  most of the parent's are all a bunch of babied cowards who think that little league is the BIG leagues because the furthest they have ever gone in athletics is maybe high school where their big job was squirting water in the star player's mouth during timeouts. And all the coaches are screaming and yelling and the kids have no idea what the hell is going on. It is comical. I hate every second of it, crowded gyms with the masses of humanity who yell for the sake of yelling. 

Your kid , who you have outfitted with the latest gear that Lebron wears and tights and a special haircut like somebody famous that you admire, does not enjoy you being there.  It is written on their faces. (And what about squirting water in the player's mouths? Oh my god, you look at a college football game and there are ten managers or flunkies asking the player's if they need water and then squirting it in their mouths for them . I guess it comes from boxing where the boxer's are wearing gloves so they can not squirt it for themselves. Football players can squirt it for themselves.)

Nobody really plays "pick up" anymore, where no parents are involved or around.  My parents never knew if I got pushed or beat up someone or got beat up. In fact, if you told your parents about stuff that went on, you were ostracized forever from the group. 

I used to walk through the woods and play basketball with my friends. Alone, I walked through the woods. About a half mile walk. Then I stayed in the woods after the game, carving my name on trees, JS LOVES ....(whomever I was infatuated with at the time. )Yes, I had a knife. I was 10 and we all had pocket knives.  And a BB gun. 

Now, you are so fearful of letting your kids out of your sight because of the wackos out there. And do not tell me that they do not exist. Two nuts were in the neighborhood the other day trying to entice kids into their car by giving them candy. What the HELL is that crap? Electric chair right away for those scum. Pisses me off royally, that what we had as a country is falling apart. Maybe it is too late. I had a conversation the other day with someone  in the know who told me that things were a lot worse than we think they are regarding homeland security and what is going on in our government. Great. But lets just think positive thoughts and just get terrorist's jobs because that is what they really need to just stop their hatred, and lets get the races fighting against each other and lets depend on everybody for every damn thing. Everything is such a touchy subject that folks walk on eggshells and everyone is so sensitive(You can't say THAT!) and we have given much importance and celebrity status to everyone from  athletes and actors to youtube daredevils to reality show "stars" who aren't really stars, but just people who look pretty good. TAKE A PICTURE OF THEIR BABY OH MY GODDDDD!

All of them should squat to failure, go bass fishing and go hunting. They wouldn't be worried about the temperature of their latte or what he said/ she said or Oprah's latest weight loss horsecrap if they were thinking about a 8 point buck emerging in the clearing. 

But that is just what I think, and I know that I am in the minority. If you have never been outside, really outside, with the sun coming up over loblolly pines and the first bite on your line sending shivers down your spine or  maybe at dusk and a lone goose comes setting into your decoys, the utter magic of those scenes,  you have a tendency to focus on the little minutiae that the media and the government tells us are important. 

I know that those days are gone, the good old days. Maybe the best way to combat all that stuff is to not fight the losing battle but to just take care of your own little circle and ignore the goings on with the rest of the sheep, and just train your own to survive and prosper.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Revisited- Kirk Karwoski Never Before Seen Training Footage

I wanted to post this again because it is amazing, inspiring training footage of Captain Kirk. Note the speed on the deadlifts.

This is never before footage of Kirk Karwoski training for his Raw AAU Meet in 2004. I also have the footage of the meet. I will put that up in a few days.

A little background here: Kirk trained and lifted in this meet "raw" , which he defines as "wearing just a belt". Kirk weighed 252 in this footage.

He squats 545, 675 and 745.

His last heavy squat workout was 2 weeks earlier, where he did 815x1. He was jumping 20lbs every other week in the squat.

Between those weeks, he would take 80% of the planned 20 lb jump and just perform a single. He felt like this kept himself "feeling" the weight without taxing him too much. For example, if he did 700x5, and 2 weeks later planned for 720x5, he would just single 575 the week after 700x5.

For the bench press, he goes, 225, 405, 445 and 485. He had a "very inflamed rotator cuff which was a nightmare". He benched 505 a month earlier.

On the deadlift, he does 495, 585, 675. The week before, pulled 785.

He only trained once a week for this meet, doing all three lifts on one day.

All About Being a Lifer

What's a Lifer? Someone who isn't in to something for just a day, a month, a's for life. Whether its training or your family or your doesn't matter. You work at it, you build on it, you see the big picture . You don't miss workouts because it means something to you. You are like a Shakespearean actor- no matter what is going on in your life, you block it out when it's time to train. You walk into the weight room and all else disappears. Worry about it later.