Do you Hardstyle? Do you Fluid Style? Do you use High Tension? Do you use relaxation? Who cares! Do you do the best method to suit your current goals? Now we’re onto something.
The History of Debating Kettlebell Styles
Ever since 2005, when I was laid up with back injuries and I stumbled across the murky world of the kettlebell, there’s been a huge debate on kettlebell style.
Back then as I trawled the internet, almost all the information came from the Dragon Door website and this bloke named Pavel. There was also some good info from the crew that had been around Pavel at the time, most notably Messer, Cotter, Mahler, and Maxwell.
I found the Dragon Door info at the time to be a bit too much “in your face” marketing, so I spent more time looking into the four authors mentioned. I bought a load of Pavel’s products and scoured Mike Mahler’s website to glean as much info as possible. This was all before I even bought a kettlebell by the way.
Learning Kettlebell Styles from Different People
Eventually, I decided that information alone wasn’t enough, so in 2006 I sourced my own kettlebell. My back was slowly on the mend, so I very, very gently started to teach myself the Kettlebell Swing based on the information I had at hand.
As a life time martial artist, I understood body mechanics; I’d used the Barbell Power Clean as a staple in my own training, as well as Deadlifts. So the Kettlebell Swing wasn’t too much of a big deal to learn. The injuries meant I had to be especially conscious of my movement and go extremely gentle until strength slowly started to ebb its way back to me.
This highly conscious training automatically lead to some questions. There were certain nuances of the Kettlebell Swing that I just found inappropriate, namely the use of tension and the idea of adding a snap or “kime” to the top of the swing. If I did it, it hurt, so I never did.
However, Pavel and his people at the time also talked about using the high tension to create a solid body to press from. This I liked; it kept my damaged back safe and strong and reminded me of my favorite Kata in the Wado Ryu Karate system, the high tension form Seishan, which I was already using to help rehabilitate myself.
In 2008, I heard that a Russian Kettlebell Lifter, not just any lifter, but a former world record holder and multiple time world champion, was coming to Ireland to present. His name was Vasily Ginko. Vasily lifts in the traditional method and competed at the highest level in the kettlebell sports. This was to be the first actual hands on coaching I was to receive on the techniques behind the kettlebell, and I was impressed.
Kettlebell Sport uses the minimal amount of tension instead of focusing on the body mechanics and the ability to repetitively generate explosive power. A useful skill set if your primary focus is the development of power endurance or the ability to repeatedly hit hard.
It was at this workshop that Vasily looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you teach?” I answered, “No, I’ve not got the experience,” to which he simply replied, “You should!” So I did.
How I Chose My Kettlebell Style
In all avenues of knowledge and skill, you never really understand a subject until you have taught it. All of a sudden I was teaching the kettlebell to a small handful of people. I had to experiment with the two seemingly opposing styles, the tension of the hard style, the relaxation of the Kettlebell Sport style, and also balance that with the needs of clients.
Once again I looked back over my exposure to the myriad of martial arts styles. I looked at how I liked to train my own preferred method by taking the best bits of each style as they applied to myself. I put this thinking into the way I use the kettlebell.
I know that a body can only move efficiently if it applies to certain principles, how you apply these principles is a matter of personal style. Keyword: Personal.
Just because I use a certain style of motion, it doesn’t mean you should, just as long as we are using the same principles.
So, if we look at the way Pavel and his Hardstyle boys swing their kettlebells and perform their presses, then look at the Russians with their more relaxed style of performing the same lifts. To the casual observer, they have glaring differences. But scratch the surface and you’ll see that they actually have a lot more commonalities than differences. The differences are purely down to desired outcome.
Look deeper, understand the “How” and the “Why,” and then you will gain an understanding that transcends all arguments of style and renders them moot. This has become my mantra and the underlying philosophy for every aspect of my training and forms the central pillar holding up the Kettlebell Instructor Program I am launching in the coming months.
We are all lifters together, forget your differences and look at your commonalities; this is where real strength come from.