Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rannoch Donald's pathless land of Resilience (including his latest tool test, the war machine)

Rannoch Donald is an explorer and facilitator. In the UK, simplestrength's monk of the north is known for bringing to his back yard of Edinburgh the interesting edge of functional fitness culture.

When he's interested in an idea someone is exploring, whether its myofascial manipulation or bodyweight movement (or hitting people with sticks), his response is not to peek at it in isolation, but to have a workshop for interested souls to check it out.

When Steve Cotter kicked off his IKFF organization, Rannoch had him over. Mike Mahler has been up to talk about kettlebells and hormones. Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal has visited as has Erwin Le Corre of NatMov has also been through.  Alvero Romano's hung out and taught.

Rannoch's no snob of the "it's better from further away" school of thought: he's had up Jonathan Lewis up from London to do a trigger point workshop, and awhile ago, i got to make the trip to talk about tuning the perfect rep. Rannoch also offers his own kettlebell workshops and combat ready sessions. He's also the guy behind the simple if infectious 100 Reps Challenge. And anyone who's visited with him wants to come back again for more, which is a pretty good indicator of how welcome they felt and how well the events go.

The Host with the Most Cool Tuls to Share The interesting thing - least ways for me - is that being a fitness workshop czar is not RDonald's main gig. It's a passion.  So who better to have a wee chat with about what the man calls truth as a pathless land?

And i confess, knowing Rannoch to be a big explorer of Cool Tools that Actually Work, i wanted to find out about his affinity with a new suspension trainer, the War Machine, as he's managed to help bring that to the UK, too.

Rannoch, what's "truth is a pathless land" that is the tag line at Simple Strength? where does that come from.
The full qoute is "I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect." It is taken from a speech made by Jiddu Krishnamurti. At a young age he was was singled out as a vehicle for some sort of "second coming". What his patrons didn't realise was he was wiser than they could have imagined. He made this speech to the gathered masses of the "Order of the Star", disbanding the organisation and in order to simply live and teach without dogma, encouraging people to find their own way. His writings are exceptional. At their core is the plea that we find our own way, create our own path. If you are a fan of Bruce Lee you will find much of Lee's philosophy comes from Krishnamurti's writings. I have seen many intelligent, articulate people lose themselves and their critical faculties to some coach, trainer, guru or teacher. At workshops I simply tell people -  "This is what I do, it works for me, it might work for you. Take what is useful, discard that which is not, add what is your own" (You can credit Bruce Lee with the "Take what is useful..." part!)
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of ReasonTruth is a Pathless Land by J Krishnamurti, 1929. The Dissolution of the Order of the Star.
"I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect."
And while we are on the subject, I have to recommend "The End Of Faith" by Sam Harris. It is a book for our times.

What I do is all about general ability, general health, general wellbeing. We don't spend enough time working on those fundamentals.

Cool recommendations. But you don't just read and absorb these sources; you put them back out there. Why are you doing Simple Strength? This is part time-ish for you - what made you decide to start getting folks in for workshops?
Simple Strength is my home. A place where I can do what I want. A place that lets me come in, sit down and think, write, experiment and share. 
As for workshops, I started as a way to share what knowledge I had and to solidify my own experience. I have gained so much from the opportunity to work with others. As Robert Heinlein said "When one teaches, two learn". In time it became clear that there was an appetite for what I do, perhaps my take on things and it grew from there. I am particularly average, I am not some high performance athlete. What I do is all about general ability, general health, general wellbeing. We don't spend enough time working on those fundamentals. But again this is one of the problems of the fitness "industry". It is too busy telling people what to do when it should be focusing on what they are capable of. And my experience is that their capabilities are far more interesting that some arbitrary set of reps and sets.
Ok speaking of arbitrary sets and reps, what inspired the 100 rep challenge?

The 100 Rep challenge came about as a piece on Simple Strength. The 100 rep website grew out of that. The concept certainly isn't new. The idea is to simply practice 100 reps of some activity every day. It can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. The key is to do something that in some way makes up for the fact that we get so little movement in our day compared to our grandparents who walked more, ate less and who relied a lot less on the kind of convenieces we take for granted.  It has not begin to reach it's potential as a vehicle for simple daily practice. I have various folk who've contributed but I can see it needs to care and attention to bring it to a wider audience. Cj Swaby is using it as part of the Pheonix Project with Janey Madden which is aimed at helping women in abusive situations. Dr G of the Bartendaz has supported it with the outreach programs he delivers to schools in New York. The idea is to promote something that is free, simple and inclusive and has it roots in movement and daily practice.
Rannoch inspiring 100 more reps
So let's talk about daily practice for a bit. How do you train right now, cuz i've known you to do KB's, martial arts and indian clubs and likely more.
Good question! My training is non-specific. I have problems with the whole “train like an athlete” mentality. If you are an athlete, great, go for it. But for most of us, general is better. Better in terms of application, better in terms of sustainability.

I really want resilience - the ability to bounce back. Bigger, faster, stronger – as you get older these are all subject to decline, any disregard of that fact it an invitation for injury and pain. On the other hand, if you can cultivate resiliency it is timeless. The next year for me will focus on building that quality in everything I do.

My practice consists of, in order of importance –
Breath work, from simple breathing to specific Qi Gong drills I learned from Steve Cotter of the IKFF and the various martial arts teachers I have been lucky enough to study under. Next comes
Mobility, breath work segues nicely into this and you can combine them easily. At workshops we teach Mandatory Mobility which I consider a daily non-negotiable practice of Toe to Head joint mobilisation.
Next up is Bodyweight, really the cornerstone of physical resiliency, with a focus on basics: push ups, pull ups, dynamic whole body drills combined with the War Machine Suspension trainer and band work.
krav maga in edinburgh with RD

Finally, Kettlebells and the Ultimate Sandbag feature two or three times a week. I tend to focus on snatch and clean + jerk. With the Sandbag I work complexes.  I set the Gymboss timer and off I go.  With kettlebells I generally work intervals, messing around with work vs rest. I am not really interested in the competition aspect but I love the lifts, the intensity and the focus. Most of all I try and move, keep a little gas in the tank and keep it playful! That is the key.
Keeping it Playful with the new toy, the war machine

During the week I will take the odd short run or rollerblade to keep things loose. When the opportunity presents itself I will work the heavy bag for rounds. I also do what I call shadow play, like shadow boxing but incorporating all sorts of movement, letting the body shift effortlessly through various combinations, improvising floor work, rolling, tumbling, generally messing around!

To be clear, all of the above are done as brief, intermittent bursts of activity with widely varying degrees of intensity.

The training model for everything I do is practice, incremental progress and very occasional performance. Performance is the arena and we only go there occasionally because the price of admission is the potential for injury.

On the flip side I make recovery an equal to training. So sleep, meditation, eating cleanly and of course Mandatory Mobility all play key roles.

In the last year I’ve been inspired by Frank Forencich’s excellent “Change Your Body, Change the World” which focuses on the “infectiousness” of our lifestyles. Also Mark Lauren’s superb “You Are Your Own Gym” which is the best bodyweight training book I have come across, by far. Both authors are emblematic of their approach which is hugely important to me.
When did this workout part of your life kick off, Rannoch? Has it phased and cycled, or always been as regular as it is over these past few years?
I have always loved just moving. As a kid I wanted to be a stuntman. Once I got in to martial arts we started to incorporate that natural athleticism into everything we did. Growing up, my friend Alec and I would throw ourselves around, jump walls, kick, punch, and cartwheel. There’s really is nothing new. When I look at Parkour is see amazing skill but in essence, it’s no different from the freedom of expression all kids should have.

Over the years I have been lucky enough to train with all kinds of people and every single one of them has informed what I do in some way. The common thread is always natural movement. In the last year I have worked with and been inspired by Jonathan Lewis of Balance Performance, Erwan Le Corre creator of MovNat and Alvaro Romano of Ginastica Natural all of whom display beautiful, dynamic, natural movement. I am a big fan of Tom Myers definition of fitness as “The ability to adapt to the demands of your environment with ease and imagination”

I worked in the music business for years, not the most conducive lifestyle for staying healthy. My training ebbed and flowed but I never stopped. It took a broken leg about six years ago to get me back on the track of regular training and wellness. I guess I had my moment of clarity and realised there was an opportunity to achieve and sustain a decent level of health and wellbeing.
I understand you got formally certified as a kb swinger in 2007 - how'd that start - why kb's?
After I broke my leg I had physiotherapy and rehab on the National Health. Nothing they did or spoke about seemed focus on anything but the bare minimum in terms of recovery. So I went back to my roots, combat style conditioning. I came across some bodyweight drills by Pavel Tsatsouline which led me to a couple of articles in Muscle Media. I loved the simplicity of it. There was an article about pull ups, push ups and pistols which showed some Kettlebell drills. I picked up a kettlestack initially and then worked my way through various kettlebells eventually going on to certify with Pavel in Denmark.

Rannoch with Steve
The hard style approach made sense to me, particularly the similarities with Karate in terms of power generation. Then I met Steve Cotter of the IKFF and realised, for me, a lot of what I had been doing was really entry level stuff. I had a similar experience when I moved from Karate to Wing Chun. I realised that the real art is making the difficult appear effortless.
You've also been going a little nuts on vertical standing jumps. what's that about?
That is fun! My friend, S+C coach, Joel Proskewitz (of the strength company) made the mistake of posting a 37” jump on Facebook. I went to the Gym with my son Pete who’s 16 and he proceeded to hit 40”. Andy McKenzie from IronMac joined in and the next thing we knew Andy hit 47”. Since then we’ve been pushing it trying to beat the current Guinness Book record of 50”.
As a result of all this, Joel is hosting the Podium Gold Jump Challenge at Body Power at the NEC in May. So that simple little clip morphed into a healthy competition and I am confident someone will break the record on the day. You should come up and join us.
Uh huh. Ok, now let's talk a little bit about this passion for the intriguingly named War Machine? How did you first hear about it?
I came across a clip of the War Machine on line. I thought it looked like tremendous fun so I contacted Brendan Cosso from Crosscore in the USA and the moment I spoke with him I knew I had to have one. He’s a guy who trains for the sheer joy of moving and shares a very similar philosophy when it comes to training.

don't you just want one? start to play now?

Ya - i'm trying to get a walk through with him of the best video i've seen for having fun working out. I love this vid (pictured above).

So among all the stuff you do, where does the WM fit into your training mix?
The War Machine is the missing link for me. It adds a whole new challenge in terms of stability and rotation. As a bodyweight fan it is fantastic to have a piece of equipment that allows us to challenge traditional movements. It is also very scalable, allowing you to practice and progress simply by changing body position. Once you get the basics you Pull the Pin and a whole other world opens up!
Pulling the pin meaning that you're letting the wheel in the pulley run free. Pin in, the cables are pretty static, a la regular suspension trainers. It is truly a different experience. Had you trained with suspension trainers before?
I have and I love them. I had a TRX which I replaced with the Jungle Gym. Both good pieces of gear. But as Andy McKenzie says “The TRX is a warm up for the War Machine”.
You've been instrumental in getting the WM to the UK - there's lots of cool gear out there. Why the WM?
As you know, I like simple. The War Machine fits the brief but it is a really flexible piece of kit. The pulley system is unique in terms of the challenge it provides. You can take very capable, conditioned athletes and they will struggle with simple suspended push ups when the Pin is Pulled and the pulley is free. It encourages play, it encourages imaginative movement. You have to really engage the whole body rather than going through the motions and it’s easy to simulate the push and pull of competitive sports.
I own it's taken me time to find my way into this tool. Now i'm kinda hooked.  Mentally it's been challenging not to be frustrated by surprisingly how hard it can be to find the not too hard, not too easy work out. Putting in the time is worth it though. I'm very surprised by the effectiveness and transference effects from it.

My fave is the rope climbing simulation. With Mike Saffie's Grappler Grips.  That for me is the unique total wonderful win - for someone who doesn't have room to sling a rope.

Is there anything that you find you can do with the WM that is unique to it that has become core to your work?
It is an incredibly versatile piece of kit. You can attach stretch bands and use it as a pulley system. You can attach different handles or grips from gymnastic rings to Gi sleeves to Fat Gripz (another very cool piece of kit by the way). And it’s not limited to strength training, I work various drills to open my hips, shoulders and lower back. The possibilities are fantastic, have you tried wall walking on it? That is one serious challenge!
Yes i have tried wall walking in so far as doing two walls at a time (kinda splits position) - haven't had a set up to go against a wall yet ... but as that's the in thing, now, welll i'll just have to give it a go.

How will the WM be factoring into any of your workshops, Rannoch?  That's a little more of an investment for workshop gear than kbs?
I think, within our community, people will be keen to get a taste of the War Machine. I plan to simply get folk along to try it out and make an informed decision. It not a piece of kit you will outgrow. I see it as part of the training continuum.
I'm really intrigued the way you've had this immediate click with the gear. Personally it's taken patience on my part to shift from a "lift heavy thing. unk" to exploring the challenges it can open up. Way to go. Now i understand you're going to be heading to BodyPower. What is that, and  how does the WM fit into that?
War Machine is making its official launch at Body Power, "the UK’s foremost Health and Fitness Expo at the NEC in Birmingham (May 21/22)."  Jonathan Lewis of Balance Performance in London will be there along with Andy McKenzie of IronMac to demonstrate the War Machine and let folks get their hands on with it. Beaver Fit are supplying their Spartan Rigs for presentations in the Work Out Area and on the Main Stage where Andy will be showing everyone the unique properties of the War Machine.
If folks in the UK want to get this cool tool, and pull their own pin, where do they go??
You can order it from Balance Performance in London and Beaver Fit are supplying it as part of their preferred kit for their amazing rigs.

"Resilience. Resilience - the ability to bounce back- that is the key. Everything else is subject to entropy."

That's super. Thanks R. Let's wrap up on lessons to share. What's the most important thing you've taken away from your practice that you think folks should know?
Resilience. Resilience - the ability to bounce back- that is the key. Everything else is subject to entropy. We may aspire to be bigger, faster, stronger. But somewhere along the way we will become smaller, slower, weaker. Resilience is available for the duration of the journey. The ability to bounce back in the face of obstacles, injury, change and uncertainty. It breeds humour, generosity, gratitide and buckets of strength. It is the most important thing we can develop, mentally, physically, emotionally. And if in doubt...MOVE.

Rannoch with indian clubs and Kali sticks, moving
Thanks kiddo. Awesome. Best with Body Power and your zen time at the Simple Strength Shack.

Why WM at b2d.  I don't promote stuff on b2d unless i've worked with it for awhile and have confidence in it. i'm at that place with cross core's war machine (as with kettlebells and bands and pull ups). So i'll have more on the WM on b2d in coming posts. Just for context, i first interviewed the WM's creator and company president (Brendan Cosso and JP Brice) in the summer of 2010 after seeing Rannoch post about it on facebook; i've been playing and working with the tool since then so feel comfy now bringing out those interviews and posts. It's been a revelation to me; hope it will be fun for you, too.

In the meantime,
If you're in the UK and interested in the War Machine, please contact Rannoch or Jonathan via their european site

If you're in the US, you can contact CrossCore directly at the WM site - and please check out the vids.

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