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Barcelona vs. Chelsea and the changing ontology of football

Jose Mourinho summed it up well when asked about the criticism levelled for Chelsea’s remarkable semi-final victory over two legs against Barcelona in this season’s UEFA Champions League. He also spoke to what we may begin to speak of as a new ontology of modern football:

They know nothing


Some people think they are the masters of the game and they will criticise Chelsea in the same way that they criticised Inter two years ago, but they know nothing. Nothing.They know nothing about character and personality. They know nothing about the effort or what it is to resist physically, emotionally and technically, with 10 men. They know nothing about organisation. They know nothing. That’s why my heroes at Chelsea are in my mind and why Chelsea deserve to be in the final. One of the great things about football is that it is unpredictable“.

The Bayern Munich coach, Jupp Heynckes, whose side will meet Chelsea in the final following a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the second semi-final, admitted he was surprised Chelsea had reached the final but praised them for a “tactical masterpiece” against Barcelona.

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech simply stated that… “this is why everyone loves football: things happen which you just cannot explain“.

The Guardian’s Richard Williams wrote

On one side there was delighted admiration for a revelation of character under supreme duress, on the other a scathing contempt for a team who were considered to have abdicated all responsibility for playing the game in a way that might entertain the multitudes and inspire impressionable children. You really would not believe we had witnessed the same match“.

Explaination, or our thoughts and emotions, are constructed in the language we use to express our understandings of, in this instance, football. We might hear that a game is a masterpiece, a travesty of justice, or, in the case of Petr Cech, unexplainable. Those that try, says Mourinho, know nothing. For philosophers, interest lies in the world of experience and explanation outside often beyond our language capabilities. In other words, football can only be explained through the way we understand our conceptions of the world. This dogmatic language we repeatedly hear through the media channels and on the streets around the world is merely a reflection on the way we conceive the world, and the game of football.

What alternatives do we have?. Why do we know nothing? Have we witnessed a different game?

Firstly, let us consider the possibility that a football match is more than merely a game. That players are more than purely men running about looking to control a ball. Our language has become accustomed to thinking through, and representing what we see via the categories of understanding that we learn through our conceptual ideas about the world and the game. We may agree or disagree with the way Chelsea overcame Barcelona, but what lies beyond this disagreement?. If we move beyond the category of representation then we enter the realm of what might be?.

For Gilles Deleuze, French philosopher of the metaphysics, the way the game might be represented is the result of two essential functions: Distribution, which it ensures by the partition of concepts (common sense) and hierarchization, which it ensures by the measuring of subjects (good sense). So, a game may be exciting or boring or unjust or confusing. We use our ideas of representation to clarify our thoughts, just as Plato, Aristotle and Kant have done in the past. When the game is viewed differently, it is because different people draw upon categories of explanation (common sense) that are stable, rather than offering porous possibilities. What if we consider dropping the (common sense) categorical identities we use to think about the game, and help us explain it, and instead look beyond recognizable conditions that dictate our judgements of the game?.

Bear with me, as I quickly identify the elements we use in representing our thoughts (thanks to Aristotle, who, should you ever find yourself in a philosophical quandary, usually has the answer). We judge things and conceive our world in terms of: identity, analogy, opposition and resemblance. We adopt common sense, and try to use this through the rationale of good sense. Language and our conceptualizations about the world dictate our expressions and actions in other words. So why can we look to football as a way beyond the conformity of thought?.

Ontology, in traditional analytic philosophy, refers to the study of what there is. This could be very general (what constitutes the universe) or specific (what constitutes a football encounter). Or, what makes up the psychology of the mind, the body in social interaction. Another take on ontology, looks at the study of being. What is being or what is it for something to be?. For Foucault and Derrida (yes, French philosophy can be useful in this instance) ontology of the human being is fraught with bias based upon the historical conditions of our existence and the language used to explain it. The ontology Deleuze refers to, takes a new approach to many before him, by looking at the question of how things might be, rather than continuing attempts to explain the fundamental nature of the universe (and football) which in itself is bound by the limits and categories of our explanations.

Football then, rather than being a project of explanation (of our thoughts, emotions or technical analysis) can be seen as an ontological project of creation. We need to create and employ different concepts which will enable the game to be seen in a different light. We need to see the potentials in the game that open up a multiplicity of perspectives, free from the categories of representation we see employed (often frustratingly) today. We need to look at the differences apparent in the very elements mentioned above we use for making sense of our world. By sticking to rigid conformity and mechanical repetition (as fans and as reporters/thinkers of the game) we continue to immerse ourselves in the very structures of judgement that confine us to scratching our heads on a regular basis when things don´t make sense. Football, like ontology, need not provide answers, but can be seen as an arena for thinking about future possibilities that extend into all aspects of our lives. We can look at the differences taking place on the football field, easily highlighted in the semi-final matches between Chelsea and Barcelona, rather than using stable conceptual identities to form and fabricate our analysis of the game.

Philosophy, ontology and football do not provide answers, if we continually try to place ourselves in coherent frameworks of understanding. By describing a game as good or bad, or a team as extravagant or adopting anti-football, we are adopting concepts that are interlinked with a multitude of difference, yet we represent them as static categories. Difference then, ought not to be something we can easily represent, or we step back into the same old realm of dogmatic thought. Difference as represented through football, is what lies in the unexplained (Petr Cech mentions this) beyond the conformity of the various representations and reactions to the game. Football is not about finding answers to easily stated problematics. A victory is a victory (and to some, but not all, the most important thing) but there are many ways of achieving this. The solution, or the result, can often take precedence in defining the way the game is played. A new ontology of football then, seeks to stretch what everybody knows or perceives, and enters into a world of the unknown that is full of potentials. It is like feeling ill, and having a confused doctor poke about on your stomach. There is an issue, but it is hard to define despite our best efforts (whether it be poking or representation through language).

Mourinho was right in saying that “they know nothing“, as was Cech in saying the game “cannot be explained“. Perhaps they are aware of newer ontological ways of thinking about football?. Representation cannot capture everything about football. How then, does language help us with this new ontology that seeks to broaden the questions surrounding what the game (life) might be like?. Language will always be an asymmetrical representation of the way we conceive of our world. Just as thought will always involve both conscious and unconscious elements. If we accept what we hear and read, and find ourselves making judgements on a game of football in an uncritical way, then maybe the task of thinking through a football game will not take up more than the odd 90 minutes of your time. If, however, you see others as knowing nothing, yet cannot explain things yourself, then you are a mere mortal (like Jose) and a new ontologist. Football is often spoken about in terms of models and prescriptions, but needs to be viewed beyond the comfort zone of our engrained bias. There is more to the game than we know, and we are yet to see what it may be like.

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Contrasting measures of movement and performance

I often wonder what the point is of aiming to quantify athletic performance through sole adherence to numbers/time, if you are totally unaware of how your movement patterns and technique are progressing. It makes little sense, for the 99.9% of the population not involved in elite-level performance, to quantify performance in a numerical fashion, if the qualitative indicators of what drives mobility, strength and overall movement health are left to somehow take care of themselves. I´ll explain further what I mean, not so much as a criticism to people going hard with their training, or setting high benchmarks in their performance, but for people to think about performance and health longevity and how this relates to much of the totally wasted and often dangerous activity I see in the gym these days.

For gymnasts, martial artists, olympic weight lifters and those of us involved with girevoy sport – technique comes first. It´s mastery takes up the majority of training time, and attention to detail can seem hard to grasp for most not so well versed in the respective disciplines. The attention on harnessing tension and relaxation requires a complex combination of speed, power, timing and extraordinary mobility. Those who achieve greatness in these disciplines have a unique ability to control muscle tension through strength and power and to relax sufficiently (in the case of girevoy sport in particular) to allow speed, flexibility and endurance to be sustained whilst competing. None of this is achieved without proper training and understanding of fundamental movement patterns.

Movement however, in this modern world of instant gratification and impatience for change-driven objective results, is not a quantifiable measure of performance, as we see with time and numbers. Movement is a qualitative measure of health which cannot be reduced to a competitive exercise. Herein lies the challenge for fitness professionals working with the mainstream or in rehabilitation:

How to teach quality of movement as a performative aspiration before quantifying results through numerical benchmarks?

You see it everyday at training facilities, on the boards, on the web forums; ways to achieve quantifiable results in the quickest possible time: “My goal is a 400lb deadlift”, “I wish to run a sub-3hr marathon”, “I want to complete FRAN in under 4 minutes” etc etc. Most would not care so much how they got there, however ugly it looked. They would simply take the time and add the weight. Professional athletes are usually exceptions to this rule, as their livelihood is based around clearcut objective results. But then again, at the elite level, movement is usually of the highest level as well. But does less that 1% of the population really want to achieve  certain objective standards of performance to the detriment of movement quality or efficiency?. Do we actually think in these terms and concepts when training?. Probably not.

This is where trainers and fitness professionals (or whatever the name you choose to use) need to step up the mark and wise up. Most average people exercising for enjoyment and other health benefits it provides should be encouraged to work within parameters of proven programs that gradually increase performance through smart periodization and measurable feedback. It is simply too much to ask the amateur gym-goer to be able to adjust their training each day based on multiple variables affecting daily performance. But it must be the prerogative of trainers and gym owners to ensure a baseline of movement quality is instilled into members before starting on with pushing rep counts, loading the bar or holding the clock in your face.

We are all born with amazing flexibility and mobility, but reinforce bad habits and patterns of movement as we age. The common ankle, knee, hip and shoulder mobility issues are all too plain to see, as is poor core stability and spinal weakness. No one has a place, or will gain long term benefits by stacking plates on a bar until these essential areas of mobility are trained back to their intended function. To do this, especially if you have been hurt, poorly trained or very inactive, takes time for many, and to reinforce bad habits and certain asymmetries by loading weight only leads to certain unspecific injuries caused by inadequate foundational movement conditioning.

What happens when poor mobility is overlooked for objective gains in the weight room?. Compensatory form takes place, often unilaterally, which reinforces already bad mobility. Commonly seen in the squat, push up or press, shoulder and hip weakness makes for awful looking movement patterns, especially on those with heavily weighted bars on their backs. One overlooked solution is to teach control of movement through bodyweight training. Teach the integrative form of each movement and reinforce this until weaknesses are ironed out, strength is gained, and a platform is laid out for more specific functional progressions.

Instead of looking at your strengths, look at your weaknesses, and build upon them to integrate your body and mind into a strong unit. Isolating body parts or movements, because you are strong at them, is simply nonsensical. Kettlebells, in this regard, are outstanding aids not only for screening poor movement but for strengthening symmetrical and proprioceptive awareness throughout the entire body. Foundational movements such as the swing, Turkish get up, press and snatch cannot be performed without this “core” awareness, and balance, or you will simply fall over in a heap.

I firmly believe in the kettlebell being of huge benefit to the future of mobility awareness and injury rehabilitation for the huge proportion of the modern population who struggle to perform basic movements with ease and efficiency. Spinal shortening is all too common with the aging process and the cumulative effects of compensatory measures to counter back and hip immobility has disastrous consequences. Remember also, that our body works are an integrated unit, so structural and muscular pain, as well as a struggling metabolic state due to stress and poor nutrition has carry over effects to our mental health – an oft-overlooked causation.

The way we move and interact with our environment are fundamental parts of our integration into all forms human life. If we are forced to inhibit ourselves in any way from moving freely, it has a spinoff effect on our whole performative sense of wellbeing; physically, mentally and emotionally. Movement patterns were given to us at birth and are a primordial part of the cosmologies of us all. We owe it to ourselves to avoid dysfunctional limits that come about by lethargic modern lifestyles as well as looking too readily for quantifiable objective results that bypass fundamental movement patterns that are at the essence of true qualitative health and fitness and performance standards.

Some of the most progressive and open thinkers in the movement/health/performance industry:

www.maxwellsc.com 

www.rosstraining.com

www.8weeksout.com 

www.graycook.com

www.cathletics.com

www.ikff.com

www.mikemahler.com

www.movnat.com

 

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Sexual selection (part 1)

Sexual selection: It does all seem to get over analyzed, with the general confusing over how much the social/external influence directs our evolutionary makeup. Less than we realize I reckon. This post** outlines how some of this confusion has got us through to today´s uncertain times regarding mate selection. In anthropology, 20th century theory was dominated by forms of functionalist thinking which saw social behavior reflecting or sustaining social order or collectivity, with less weight (understanding) placed upon legitimate biological practicalities of evolution.

Two competing, yet comparative instincts humans have evolved through their increased complexity are the sexual instincts that drive copulation (finding a partner to mate with) and the way we create, expose and decorate our bodies to apparently achieve such results. Both factors (one, we could crudely call biological, the other social) are part of sexual selection and, whilst not mutually inclusive, are fundamental to understanding the modern commercial preoccupation for “the ideal body” (whatever that is…I just heard about this reading high-end lit. in the dentists waiting room last week).

For the male, I think it is unquestionable that evolution has favored toughness those with hard to hide expressions of physical condition. Size, energy, loudness etc have been selected ahead of feebleness. But for the female, physical signs have not been allowed such scope of outward diversity due to the demanding task of pregnancy and motherhood. It would make sense to think that a female with a large arse and thighs (vs. skinny one) would indicate too much processed food breeding potential and proficiency as carrying potential genes forward. But then again, not all females are like that, so there are other factors. One that has become popular with evolutionary psychologists is the idea of “developmental stability”. Not just the arse then. This relates to the ability to change outward expression of fertility and health by aiming for symmetry in appearance, even if the genes and environment select against this. This is related to these odd studies you read about whereby people look at faces of all sorts of individuals and pick the ones they are most/least attracted to based upon nose/cheek/eye/chin lines etc.

Bodily symmetry has of course been a major factor in aesthetical expression of the human form throughout our history. But whatever the size and shape, these factors are biologically important to mate selection. So the question may be asked for today´s male or female out to find a partner or a one night liaison:

  • “What are these developmental symmetries that can help me out here?!”
  • “Never mind your evolutionary ranting, I just want to know how to get laid, and whether or not it is the bodily characteristics me or her I should be concerned about!”

Well, if I knew the answer, I would be like Tucker Max pretends to be. There is no answer of course, other than the fact that sexual selection a mutual choice (mostly). And that mutual choice is based upon a hugely broad variation of indicators of what fitness entails. It can be be boiled down to the level of tradeoff one places upon a certain category versus the other, which again is vastly diverse. If sexual fitness was biologically determined to favour certain factors like breast size, hip width or height, then we would all be the same. We are not, which is an indicator that humans get what they can use strategic selection based upon whatever they can get  a combination of socially and biologically influenced understandings of fertility and health. Big, or perhaps solid and meaty arses have long been a feature of the developmental success of our species, and the trend today towards stripping away the flesh to reveal bony, flat rumps is in fact more of a reversal of the evolutionary path back to our tree-dwelling days (minus all the hair). As far as breasts go, size has usually been linked to nutritional wellbeing in terms of fat reserves being stored there, but also as an indicator of fertility. In this sense, we would expect large breasts in affluent societies but the huge variation in size is perhaps an indicator of too much pointless aerobic exercise of other more influential factors in male selection, like brains.

The human body has successfully evolved to survive. We don´t have to worry too much about selecting a mate who may not have the capacity to survive, with few exceptions. Sexual selection has become more complex as our brains have developed, and as our societies have expanded. No longer do we have to make do with the odd new mate appearing on the horizon, unless we live in the Arctic. No longer do we have to use violence. No longer do we have to grunt better than the other hairy dude living in the next cave. We have language, we have the cognitive skills and intuition to make wrong choices and get divorced make the selective process a lottery more nuanced, more interesting and broader than that of our ancestors. But we still focus on tits ´n arses, girls still check out the shoulders, arms and hips. What´s up then?. The more we are told that aesthetic composition is the key to successful mating, the less we seem to adhere to the factors that have played a pivotal role over the course of our life histories.

Humans get sexually aroused rather quickly, and this is our downfall usually precedes the time it takes for emotional connection, which, in most cases is the determinant factor in (long-term) mate selection. How many times do you hear, see or think “he´s in it for the body” or “that has to be to suit the image”?. Like it or not, we are rather plastic beneath our cloak of egalitarianism and humility. We wish society well, and believe personality is the key to harmonious relations and coherence in life, yet still we are genetically programmed to display our (perceived) sexual prowess and select mates who fill these desires. Be truthful now!. Science does not usually lie, it is as objective as we allow ourselves to believe it ahead of the subjectivity that allows our ideological meandering to think we are an advanced monogamous species.

So, what the hell has this to do with modern consumer society trying desperately how to change our genetic tendencies?. We are perhaps guided by moralities and try our best to adhere to principles of good faith, family bonds and unity. But we find our modern complexities in constant flux regarding social, psychological, biological and physical frailties and the need to place more or less weight on the factors (they say, we say, we feel etc) that initiate our selection choice for partners.

It is only the media and commercial interests that profit from telling us how we need to manipulate our bodies and buy shit we don´t need through diet and exercise in order to make ourselves more attractive. Save yourself time and think of “being healthy” not as some aspect of social conformity, but as a possibility we have to fulfill our evolutionary potential. Mates will come and go, hearts will be broken, that is just my human nature. The less we stress about it the better. If we think of selection like we think of an episode of Seinfeld, then we understand the blurred nature of reality and entertainment. Just how we “know” what we are attracted to and why is part of our epistemological evolution that is in constant flux, and in constant battle with the pressures we allow ourselves to be influenced by in modern society.

Intelligence, warmth, compassion, humility, humor and lifting kettlebells so on are all parts of physical attractiveness. These qualities are displayed in various ways and will forever be debated through trial and error. Body image through the media and social commentary is part of the objectification of self that is so pervasive in today´s society. But we are reflexive in our mind´s appearance and habituate a body every day in many ways, thus have a capacity to act in non-cognitive ways. Our bodies are in constant motion and move freely beyond the boundaries prescribed by the the subject-object dichotomy that causes so much self-doubt about body image. It is the space we occupy and interact with that determines our consciousness wellbeing, not a static time zone. Sexual selection has many forces at play, but still, take it as a compliment if someone tells you you´ve got a nice arse. I´m sure it´s well meant.

**based upon years of trial and error and the realization that George was smarter than Jerry and Elaine

 

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What price freedom for West Papua?

 

Today, December 1st 2011, one of the world´s forgotten tragedies has made the headlines at last. 50 years ago today, the independent nation of West Papua raised its new national flag the Morning Star and sang its new national anthem. Once a Dutch colony, freedom was granted, but short lived. Only months later Indonesia invaded the fledgling nation and began what has been 50 brutal years of killing and oppression. The world has been standing still ever since, with the US, Australia and Britain colluding with successive dictatorial regimes in Indonesia for control over the vast wealths held beneath the fertile soils.

Estimates of those killed range from 100 000 up to 400 000 out of a total population of some 3 million. The scale of the catastrophic conditions within West Papua has been so great due in part to the severe restrictions placed on foreign journalists and aid workers as well as the strategic military and economic collusion between Western global powers and Indonesia. Despite the overwhelming forces against the indigenous population however, the struggle continues to this day.

Why then has the world´s superpowers and nearest regional power Australia turned a blind eye on the pillage and murder of Papua?. The very companies involved in massive resource extraction including Freeport, Rio Tinto and BP are reliant on the Indonesian government maintaining control. When West Papua was threatened with annexation by Indonesia in the early 1960s, a US-led agreement allowed Indonesia to oversee a transitional period whereby a referendum would be held to determine the nation´s future. Meanwhile, Indonesia awarded the rights to mine the land to US company Freeport-McMoran under the guidance of Henry Kissinger, who would later join Freeport’s board. The multimillion-dollar Freeport contract was signed in 1967, albeit sealing the fate of West Papua two years before they were given a vote on whether to remain part of Indonesia.

The UN “Act of Free Choice” referendum required by international law gave every adult Papuan the right to vote to determine their own future. Given that the deal to exploit their resources was signed earlier, this was a vote Indonesia could not lose.The Act saw just 1,025 pre-selected people allowed to vote, out of a population close to 1 million under threat of violence. The US could not afford to see West Papua break free from Indonesia, as secret telegrams from the US Embassy reveal.

“The Act of Free Choice (AFC) in West Irian is unfolding like a Greek tragedy, the conclusion preordained. The main protagonist, the GOI, cannot and will not permit any resolution other than the continued inclusion of West Irian in Indonesia. Dissident activity is likely to increase but the Indonesian armed forces will be able to contain and, if necessary, suppress it”.

Freeport and Rio Tinto collude with the Indonesian military to protect their mining interests and the Australian Government is involved with joint military training exercises with the infamous Kopassus secret police who have been charged with human rights abuses in West Papua. In 2008, the Norwegian government blacklisted Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto because of the environmental damage caused by the company and liquidated its entire $1bn investment for what it claimed was “grossly unethical conduct”.

Mining interests have given international legitimacy to Indonesia’s oppressive colonial rule. It is indeed a sad state of affairs that the very power´s who are perceived to guard the rights of the minority (America, Britain, United Nations) have colluded over decades with an oppressive Indonesian regime who have suppressed the helpless Papuan population in order to maintain control of the enormous natural resources. Perhaps control over natural resources has historically been a battle of exploitation, but today, the fact that it is the US that is the worst perpetrator makes global industrial capital awash with the blood of innocent men, women and children the world over. If people think recent interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have anything to do with human rights and terrorism, think again.

The people of West Papua have been waiting 50 years to have the world respect their most basic of rights – freedom of speech and freedom to determine their own future. There may be hope however, having seen the events unfold in nearby East Timor. Indonesia seems to be heading towards allowing greater autonomy for certain regions, but progress has been slow. With such massive wealth beneath the ground, Papua is the biggest revenue provider for the Indonesian government and with foreign investment controlling much of the mining industry, the drive towards supporting the free will of the Papuans may not come from heads of states anytime soon. President Obama, visiting Indonesia last month, confirmed US support of Indonesian sovereignty over the territory, and even remarked that he was “sure” the Indonesian government had human rights as a high priority.

It can only be hoped that the 50th anniversary of the raising of the Morning Star brings deserved focus back upon West Papua and the calls for justice and freedom for such an oppressed population will not once again be washed away in the blood and silt of colonial oppressors and global economic interests. The diverse, complex and utterly beautiful Papuan region deserves the autonomy to start a new chapter in its tragically short history.

# Thanks to all my friends in the blogosphere for their insights and inspiration. A special mention to NAJ Taylor from the University of Queensland for his outstanding contribution to the complex issues involved in this case.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Anthropology, Thinking

 

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All Blacks: World Champions (at last)

It was a long wait. The first Rugby World Cup, and the only previous victory for the All Blacks, occured back in 1987, ironically on the same ground against the same team. Eden Park, Auckland versus France. I remember it well, having grown up with the expectation of All Black victory every time they took to the field. Bitter disappointment has prevailed in the intervening 5 World Cups. The usual dose of food poisoning, bad refereeing, forward passes or freak opposition performances. So nearly was this streak repeated last week. But we won.

For New Zealand, rugby is more than a game. All the cliches about sport, nationalism, identity, equality, development etc ring true for our small south pacific nation, Introduced towards the end of the 19th century, rugby quickly became a way of showing prowess in the face of colonial rule. That and war. And not the least, the way the Maori population embraced the physicality of the game and used the sport to forge integration to new levels. Rugby is a pervasive part of what it is to be a New Zealander, and no one opitimizes this better than winning captain, Richie McCaw.

To watch McCaw in the last 10 minutes of the 2011 final, when faced with a relentless press by the French trying to overcome the 1 point deficit, was one of the most inspiring pieces of leadership ever seen in modern rugby. You don’t even need to understand the game, to follow McCaw in those dramatic minutes and see an absolute phenomenon of a player. Playing with a long-standing injury, and looking like he’d been in the boxing ring before kickoff, McCaw proved himself (if that was needed) as the world’s greatest modern player, and probably captain as well.

But as a true Kiwi, being humble, alongside the toughness is McCaw’s trademark. You see, being a cocky bastard, flashing it up, doing stupid things late at night, and blowing your own trumpet (like the modern soccer player) is unacceptable in New Zealand culture, and few with those traits last long, let alone as All Blacks. Time will tell whether McCaw will continue on to the next world cup, which would be his fourth. Regardless of that, he has cemented his name in folklore, as a genuine Kiwi hero who, like some of his predecessors sharing that mantle, (eg. Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Peter Blake or Cpt. Charles Upham) represent a modern form of the dominant iconography of masculinity in New Zealand.

Jock Phillips, writing in 1987 on the history of masculinity in New Zealand described the “rugged practical bloke – fixes anything, strong and tough, keeps his emotions to himself, usually scornful of women”. It was about a puritan work ethic and masculinity based on “mateship” – males united by hardship, in war or through sport, reinforced over a beer at the rural pub. McCaw, and certain other members of the current All Black squad, are modern day representatives of the history of New Zealand postcolonialism rather than one off anomolies. The masculinity retains aspects of the prevaling dominance of yesteryear, alongside nuanced incorporation into modern history which challenges discourses of gender disadvantage. 

McCaw’s greatest triumph last weekend, and one of the most important moments in our long sporting history reminds us not only of our place in a larger world, but of our proud heritage where “good, keen blokes” forged a sense of independence and “she’ll be right” attitude, which plowed through adversity, through world wars, through assimilation with the original inhabitants, through countless expressions of ingenuity, natural disasters and finally, the ultimate prize in the game that means more to our nation than just about anything.

Congratulations to Richie MacCaw and the rest of the All Blacks on a well deserved triumph. Four years to relax now, enjoy finally being able to openly say what the world had known for the past 24 years. World Champions.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2011 in Rugby

 

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Kettlebell Pentathlon: Strength and Conditioning Test

Recently, whilst attending the WKC Sport Camp in Rome, I was introduced to the World Kettlebell Club Strength and Conditioning Quotient. This is an interesting test which, as it says, tests S&C, but allows for ANYONE to participate and gain a score. From there, and with a little experience with the actual test and the lifts involved, one can gain a decent appraisal of further improvements. I´ll explain how the test functions, and hope that it encourages you to give it a go. So far I´ve had 5 attempts, which I´ll tell you about later. I´ll also touch on the limitations of the test, and some suggestions for improvements.

From Valery Fedorenko, Head Coach WKC

“The philosophy of the WKC S&C test evaluates not just the general physical capacity of the athletes or personnel, but is also a test of all fitness components and a wide range of athleticism. It may be used to assess base strength and conditioning levels and then further used to test progress and other forms of strength and conditioning training”

How the test works

The test consists of 5 different batteries of exercises. Each is a 6 minute set followed by a 5 minute recovery period. Total time is 50 minutes (30 minutes lifting/20 minutes rest period). Each set has a MAXIMUM reps per minute (RPM) which cannot be exceeded (or if exceeded, will not factor in your score). Each set allows the lifter to select the weight s/he feels capable of completing the set. The lifter cannot set the kettlebell down during the set, or else the score is 0. Multiple hand shifts are allowed. So the idea is to choose a weight for each set that you feel capable of scoring the maximum points with. This is the strategy you need to use based on your condition. For some of the lifts, you may want a heavier kettlebell, or a lighter one if the lift is not your strongest.

Scoring

Each kettlebell has a quotient score which you multiple with your total number of lifts to get a final score. All 5 sets are added together for your final score. Here are the quotients:

8kg: 1

12kg: 1.5

16kg: 2

20kg: 2.5

24kg: 3

28kg: 3.5

32kg: 4

36kg: 4.5

40kg: 5

44kg: 5.5

48kg: 6

The Exercises

1. One arm clean (max. 20rpm)

2. One arm long cycle press (max. 10rpm)

3. One arm jerk (max. 20rpm)

4. One arm half snatch (max. 18rpm)

5. One arm push press (max. 20rpm)

Here is a nice video explaining the lifts with Fedorenko and the legendary Ivan Denisov, who has the world record score of an incredible 2500! (After you try this you´ll realize getting half this is some achievement!).

My first attempt, during the training camp in Rome, was rather on the conservative side, but I was mostly concerned with selecting weights which would give me the maximum score. I didn´t see the point of not aiming for the maximum number of reps, albeit with a heavier kettlebell. You can do the sums and see how this equates (higher weight=higher quotient but lower reps) or (lower weight= lower quotient but higher reps).

My first attempt: July 2011

1. Clean 20kg 121 reps (Q2.5)

2. LC Press 16kg 60 reps (Q2)

3. Jerk 20kg 112 reps (Q2.5)

4. Half snatch 16kg 112 reps (Q2)

5. Push press 24kg 110 reps (Q3)

Total score: 1246

3 further “training” attempts in August 2011, but just using a 16kg and only 1 minute rest between sets. Maximum total reps achieved each time. More pure conditioning, that S&C.

In September 2011, I tried the test with a 20kg, and again managed to gain the maximum score with that quotient, with 3 minutes rest between sets. Score 1310. Still felt like more conditioning, not really needing the full 5 minutes of rest.

Then last week, October 2011, I tried with the 24kg in lifts 1 & 5, and the 20kg in lifts 2, 3 & 4. I decided to use the full 5 minutes rest between sets as I wanted to simulate the test properly for harder things to come. I managed reasonably well, with maximum reps, albeit a few ugly left arm push presses at the end. Total score of 1430.

Having seen a few others do this test, and also on the interweb, some similar speed tests using kettlebells, I notice a lot of crappy reps and techniques, all for the sake of getting a high score. I have always been competitive, and extremely determined to improve on my performance no matter what activity I engage in, but one thing I find rather meaningless, is letting form go out the window just to hit a score, or beat the clock. Some may disagree, but that´s the way I guess things roll when you get older and performance and style seem more interesting that “busting a gut” to impress. So, I try to be sincere to my technique at least that way I have my OWN benchmark, and I guess that is what counts at the end of the day.

I have only done the test a few times, but see from the grading system that I must be doing something right, and indeed part of the fun of the test is deciding how far to push yourself before you are unable to get the max reps. I may try for a higher weight with, say, an aim of getting 80% of the reps. Maybe I can reach 1450+?

UPDATE: February 2013 Managed 1455, whilst aiming for 1550. Basically, I set a goal to complete ALL reps with respectively 28kg, 20kg, 20kg, 20kg, 28kg. I missed the first set by 10 reps, stopping at 110 reps, moved easily through the 20s but decided to take the 24kg on the last push presses. 28kg seemed an unlikely proposition about then, especially as my aim is usually to take the maximum reps.

UPDATE: March 2013 Having had a year away from consistent girevoy sport training (mostly bodyweight and KB assistance work) I decided on testing some heavier sets, including the 32s on the cleans and long cycle press, and the 28s on the half snatch, jerk and push press. Surprisingly, they felt good, which I put down to consistent pull-up and grip work, but these were isolated sets, not strung together like the pentathlon test. That is the real challenge of this test, a real test of mental fortitude, as well as key physical attributes like speed from the floor and fast, strong fixations. I always like to look at Ivan´s videos to see how much concentration and correct breathing is needed to be so good, not to mention his super powers! I´d like to try the test again using just 24s and 28s, and maybe allow myself to miss a few reps, in order to bust through towards.. 1600 ?? more ??

UPDATE: May 2013 Ahead of a local event aimed at introducing this test to those interested in kettlebell sport and training, I managed a spontaneous set, due (oddly I know) to a fatigued wrist from all the towel pullups of late (my go2 exercise numero uno) which were scheduled for the day. The aim was 24s for the entire test, save either the half-snatch or pushpress, where I figured 20 would allow me to complete the reps. It went well. I maxed the rep count, wisely snatching 20kg to save some juice for the last set. Total: 1530 easily my best score without too much prep or difficulty. Some quick calculations taking 28 on the cleans and 24 for the other 4 rounds would give me 1644. The next marker. I’m not one for overt quantifiable markers as my training motivations, instead tracking how I feel at different stages of my training, and overall mind/body strength development. Move well, breathe well, feel strong, in control –  this test is a good one, it’s not easy, but who wants ease in life?

S&C Grading system

Men:

Less than 720 : Low

721-900 : Average

901-1080 : Good

1081-1260 : High

1261-1440 : Extreme

More than 1441 : Superhuman (Denisov et. al)

Women:

Less than 360 : Low

361-540 : Average

541-720 : Good

721-900 : High

901-1080 : Extreme

More than 1081 : Superhuman

Summary

For a start, the WKC has separate certification programs for both FITNESS and SPORT. This test is aimed at the general public who may have not had training and experience in traditional girevoy sport (GS). For the purists (yes, there are the odd few!), such components as multiple hand shifts, ability to choose non-competition weight kettlebells, the half snatch (where you come down from lockout to the rack position between each rep), and indeed the selection of lifts may cause the heart to bleed, but hold your horses!. GS is very specific as a sport, and not so accessible to most people mildly interested in using kettlebells as part of their training arsenal. Few GS hardliners would be interested in such a “test” of their prowess, as they would use 2 kettlebells for a specified timed set, with a RPM goal together with weight. The test involves measured strength and conditioning, with a certain degree of endurance and power needed to finish off each set strongly. There is no real way to hide weaknesses, should you aim for a high score. There are plenty of other tests available, such at the RKC Tactical Strength Challenge, but life is so intent on convincing us we need the “ultimate” measure of success, that we are too quick to criticize.

The WKC test is by no means perfect, but what is?. It may seem little complicated at first, and even a little easy for those more experienced with kettlebell training, especially with one arm lifts. But when I heard Denisov had completed the test using the 40kg, 48kg and even 56kg bell, I cannot understand why people have overlooked this as a great means of ascertaining S&C levels, for newcomers and old-timers. The test is for kettlebell fitness, and could be combined with certain bodyweight exercises such as the strict dead-hang pullup or push up. Maybe even throw in a couple of 1max-rep barbell compound lifts to make it more of an “all-round” test?. But hey, why get even more complicated?. Why the endless search for the “ultimate in everything” dude or dude-ess?. That was Superman or Captain Avenger, or Wonder Woman. They don´t exist anymore, we are all getting slightly softer in modern times and use these kinds of efforts to be “awesome all the time” which are just signs of a sad dispersal of cognitive dissonance which resonates all the way to the gym.

Enjoy improving your performance at whatever you are interested in. Do it with style and learn from those who have put in years of effort before you in dedicated training and thought to finding out just how to get good results using sensible methods. And your performance is only as good as your recovery. You can be a star in the gym, but it helps little if you´re crap in bed. If anyone wants to try this test, and lives near me, I´d be happy to keep score, and make sure your form is spot on!.

Good Luck!

 

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Movement patterns as qualitative performance indicators

For gymnasts, martial artists, olympic weightlifters and kettlebell lifters, technique and movement comes first. The mastery of which takes up the large majority of training time and attention to detail can seem hard to grasp for most not well versed in the respective disciplines. The attention on harnessing tension and relaxation requires a complex combination of speed, power, timing and extraordinary bodily awareness and mobility.

However, for most people looking at athletic performance, whether it be for competitive sports or general fitness, movement quality is overlooked in favour of quantifiable results adhering to numbers and time. This post is a reflection on the limitations of this approach to physical performance and the role fitness professionals have in insuring movement patterns are integrated back into training programmes.

Those who achieve greatness through physical performance more often than not have the ability to control muscle tension through strength and power and to relax sufficiently to allow speed, flexibility and endurance to be sustained whilst competing under pressure. None of this is achieved without proper training and understanding of fundamental movement patterns.

Movement however, in this modern world of instant gratification and impatience for change-driven objective results, is not a quantifiable measure of performance as time and numbers. Movement is a qualitative measure of health which cannot be reduced to a competitive exercise. Herein lies the challenge for fitness professionals working with the mainstream public or within the rehabilitation field: How to teach quality of movement as a performative aspiration before quantifying results through numerical benchmarks?.

You see it everyday at training facilities, on internet forums and magazines; ways to achieve quantifiable results in the shortest period of time. “My goal is to deadliftlift 400lb before Xmas”, or “I want to run a marathon under 3 hours”, or “Improve my FRAN time under 4 minutes”, and so on. Most would not care how they look getting to these results, as it´s all about the result which can be objectively stated. Professional athletes are usually exceptions to this rule, as they depend on results to make a living, but they have usually achieved a high level of movement competency along the way.

For 99% of the population however, the question could be whether achieving objective ´performance´ results in favour of long-term quality movement habits is really a question that arises on a day-to-day basis?. This is where the professionals need to step up to the mark. Most average people exercising for health benefits and enjoyment should be encouraged to work within the parameters of proven programmes that gradually increase performance through sensible periodization and measurable feedback. It is simply too much to ask the amateur gym-goer to be able to adjust their training each and every time they feel the effects of multiple variables effecting their daily performance. But it must be the prerogative of trainers and gym owners to ensure a baseline of movement quality is instilled into members before starting rep. counting, loading or time factors.

We are all born with amazing flexibility and mobility, but reinforce bad habits and patterns of movement as we age. The common ankle, knee, hip and shoulder mobility issues are all too plain to see, as is poor core stability and spinal weakness. No one has a place, or will gain any significant longterm benefits by stacking plates on barbells until these essential areas of mobility are trained back to their intended function. To do this takes time for most, and to reinforce bad habits by loading weight and forcing advanced movement patterns only leads to unspecific injury caused by inadequate foundational conditioning.

What happens when poor mobility is overlooked for objective gains in the weight room, or when exercise is turned into a competitive venture?. Compensatory form (as an adaptive function of our evolutionary makeup) takes place, often unilaterally, which reinforces already poor mobility. Commonly seen in the squat, push-up or shoulder press, hip weakness and shoulder collapse makes for awful looking movement.

The solution is to get back to basics and teach control of movement through bodyweight training and quadrupedal walking. Teach the integrative form of different fundamental movements and breathing techniques and reinforce this until weaknesses are ironed out, strength is gained, and a platform is laid out for more specific functional progress. Instead of looking at your strengths, look at your weaknesses, and build upon them to integrate your body and mind into a strong and stable performing unit. Isolating body parts or movements because you are strong at them, or forcing movements the body is not prepared for is simple nonsensical.

Kettlebells are one outstanding aid not only for screening poor movement but for strengthening symmetrical and proprioceptive awareness throughout the body. Foundational movements such as the swing, Turkish Get Up, press and snatch cannot be performed without this “core” awareness, or you will simply fall over. And maybe get a bell landing on your head. I firmly believe in the kettlebell being of huge benefit to the future of mobility training in the huge proportion of the modern population who struggle to perform basic movements such as the squat with ease and efficiency. Spinal shortening is all to common with the aging process, and the cumulative effects of compensatory measures to counter hip immobility has disastrous consequences.

The way we move and interact with our environment are fundamental parts of our integrative way of life. If we are forced to inhibit ourselves in any way from moving freely, it has a spinoff effect on our whole performative sense of being, both physically and emotionally.

Movement patterns were bestowed upon us at birth and are a primordial component of humanity. We owe it to ourselves to avoid dysfunctional limitations that come about by lethargic modern lifestyles as well as looking too readily for quantifiable objective results which bypass fundamental movement patterns that are at the essence of true qualitative fitness and performance standards.

For an immediate start on the road to proper mobility, I thoroughly recommend mobilitywod.com

 

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