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“It’s OK To Not Be Understood”: Leo Savage’s Onnit Story

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December 1, 2021

We’re going to let John Wolf, Onnit’s Chief Fitness Officer, introduce this article:

“For those who don’t know, Leo Savage and I have been friends a long time. Leo is a movement artist, an educator, and an innovator who’s really well known for his work with the steel mace—particularly his method of combining steel mace exercises into a flow. If you’ve seen people doing beautiful movement art using a mace, it’s probably stemmed from Leo’s influence, to some degree.”

Wolf reconnected with Savage (aka Leo Urquides) for an Onnit Story—part of an ongoing series of live video interviews with people who have changed their lives with Onnit’s assistance. Savage explains how steel mace training has helped free his mind as well as his body, and why following your passion can make you money, turn enemies into friends, and cement a legacy that lives forever.

See below for the video, as well as an edited transcript of the highlights. You can stay up to date with Onnit Stories by following Onnit’s Instagram TV (IGTV), where a new one appears every other week. 

John Wolf: How did your path intersect with Onnit’s?

Leo Savage: I’ve played video games my whole life, and somebody turned me on to Alpha BRAIN® as a supplement to help with my scores. That was the first time I saw the Onnit brand. Later on, I started practicing martial arts. I spent a lot of time researching people who swung weapons, and that’s how I found out about the steel mace. There’s an ancient practice called gada, where you swing an implement that’s very similar to the steel mace, and people today do it for health and fitness.

While I was researching, I stumbled onto the Joe Rogan podcast, and he was doing an ad for Onnit’s fitness equipment. He mentioned the mace. I remember reading his shirt so I could get the correct spelling of Onnit so I could enter it into my web browser. I found Onnit’s website, and then Instagram, and there was this badass, Bruce Lee-looking guy on there swinging the mace around. By some bizarre coincidence, that guy came to my hometown to put on an Onnit Steel Mace certification pretty soon afterward.

Before you got your hands on a mace, you were actually using a sledgehammer. Is that right?

Yes, until I found the mace. My intent was to integrate the martial arts training I had done with the physical fitness training I had, and use both to move with the mace. But a lot of it, honestly, was just moving around with the mace and trying to feel badass while listening to how my body felt during the movements and transitions. I was really using it to search out feelings, John. I was just expressing myself. And that’s what creation is. Regardless whether you’re working with a kettlebell or a mace or whatever your preferred tool is, there is this effect that happens to a human being when they enter a creative mindset. Like Rick James used to say, “It’s a hell of a drug.” I like to say creation is a hell of a drug.

Once you find that gateway to creation, you start a practice of self-development, whether it’s conscious or not. So, using the mace was just a practice of self-development that slowly allowed me to take what I might have trapped on the inside and bring it to the outside.

I never fit in, my whole life. I was always joining different tribes and trying to feel like I could fit in somewhere. I finally ended up stumbling on, “Why don’t I just create my own thing?” I used to get myself fired from jobs for creating my own way of doing something. I suppressed a lot of my uniqueness trying to fit in. So I thought it was a beautiful practice—creating something with no rules and just flowing. 

I think a lot of us have that same journey. I was that weird guy doing things that nobody had done before, and I had a hard time putting into words what it was—but it felt aligned with who I was trying to evolve into being. I hear that same thing in your story, and your expression has been very unique. I know that creating has been part of the healing process for you, and it’s allowed you to know yourself much better.

Onnit Steel Mace education has a systemized, structured approach to learning the tool, and you developed a very big movement palette for the mace all on your own. Talk about what happened when those worlds collided.

I wanted to go to the Onnit Steel Mace certification more than anything in the world. But I was also scared that, in all of the movement systems that I had ever learned before, they always taught me that there was only one right way to do it, and it was based on the information that they were selling. I already had all these moves that I was developing and refining, so I’m going into the certification like, “OK, well, these guys are going to do what everybody in the past has done, and they’re going to strip my identity from me. They’ll tell me I can’t move like I want to move.” But that’s not what happened.

The reality was, when I went in, there was this beautiful gentleman, Shane Heins [Onnit’s Director of Fitness Education], and, of course, Esik Melland, the Bruce Lee-looking guy, and they taught this beautiful course. At the end, Shane said to me, “Leo, now you have our education, and you can use it by itself, or you can add it into what you’re doing. You can choose to take only pieces of it, if you like. But you’re free to do what you want.” It was the most bizarre conversation I had ever had in fitness, because in every cert I had been to up to that point, the final commands were, “Do it this way and pass our test and teach it to people the exact same way.”

So it was a very uplifting experience for me. And Onnit’s education gave me cornerstones, so I could take what I was feeling and match it with structures and foundations that gave the steel mace training I was doing a language that I could use to communicate to others. So when I teach people how to use the mace, and they ask, “Can you teach me to do that thing?”, I can explain it better.

Onnit has since adopted me as their steel mace flow educator, and now I get to teach the steel mace at the highest possible level. I get a little emotional talking about it. Practicing the steel mace has saved my life. It has healed me, and I can take the healing that I’ve done and distribute it to other people. I’ve had people thank me for helping them heal themselves through the steel mace. I got my dream job of teaching the Onnit Academy Steel Mace certification, and at the same time, I get to run my own company, Steel Mace Flow. So I get to teach two brands of steel mace flowing for two companies that I very much love. It’s been a very symbiotic relationship.

The Academy side of Onnit is something more people need to explore. It’s this tribe of amazing people with values that aligned with mine. It’s a company that I finally fit in with. As weird as I was at times, Onnit supported me. They were like, “Yeah, we’re into that. Keep going.” I’d be like, “Should I reel it in? Should I tame it down a little bit?” And Onnit would say, “No. Keep doing your own thing.”

I’m very honored to rep the Onnit flag. I moved to Austin, Texas, four years ago so I could swing the mace at the Onnit Gym every day. It’s been so nice to have Onnit in my backyard, and every time I go into that gym, I see there’s some person going through a transformation there. I see somebody joining up and it’s their first or second day, and they’re getting oriented. I take a second and I look at them, because I want to see what they look like now. I know in three weeks, this person’s not going to look the same. They’re going to see all these other people in there exploding with life, and they’re going to change in a physical way as a result. They’re going to change mentally too.

For the people at home, the Onnit Gym used to be called the Onnit Academy. The term Academy now refers to our online educational offerings. You’ll see Leo in the filming of them quite a bit, especially in the Steel Mace course.

Our education system is what we would consider a classical education system. We’re going to ask you a lot of questions and let you come to certain conclusions through exploration and conversation. Instead of telling you what to think, or that there is only one way, we really want to empower you with a framework that allows you to come to your own conclusions.

When Leo came, I have to admit, he stretched the container of our education, and I think that’s a great gift. We share the same space and platform and vibe. Can you speak about the pillar principles of Onnit’s steel mace education, and how you use them in your own system?

I like the principle of give to empower. At first, nobody was doing Steel Mace Flow. So I was the man—and it was super lonely, John. And then I got a little clout, and people were following me, and, damn, it feels good to be seen. But then what do you do with that? You empower other people. I didn’t really become “the man” until I started creating other leaders and empowering other people to heal themselves, or start a workout company, or create revenue from their art. I wasn’t the man until I started helping others. So the idea of giving to empower has always been at the top of my list.

Unity and diversity is another pillar I believe in. We were talking about how sometimes you pay for education and then you’re reprimanded for using it your own way. I think that’s an old-school philosophy, and it doesn’t work with people who really know how to source information. I’ve learned so much from just being in a room with other people who are totally different from me. When I was growing up and I read about America, I remember the teacher describing America as the melting pot. We all have different things we like and different ways of doing things, but we bring them all together so everyone benefits. Onnit is like that.

I remember the first Steel Mace course you went to of ours was housed in a venue you once fought in. For those who don’t know, Leo used to fight in MMA, professionally. He even shared a fight card one night with UFC star Carlos Condit. There were some other killers at that mace course too, weren’t there?

There was Damacio Page, and Jinh Yu Frey, who’s an Onnit Pro now. That was in New Jersey, and I remember I’d just gotten back from Hawaii. I was flying all over the world, living my best life, teaching steel mace.

Actually, big announcement, I moved again, yesterday. I hired some guys to help me move, and they were moving my maces. I was like, “Be careful with those.” One of the guys goes, “What the hell is this?” And I’m like, “It’s a steel mace.” And he’s like, “Cool.” We got to talking, and I said, “Yeah, I swing a steel mace for a living.” He was baffled, but he lives in Austin, so he gets it. People do weird stuff out here.

I have done absolutely everything I’ve ever wanted by chasing this passion of mine, John. I don’t know how much money I’ve made, but I feel like I’m the richest man in the world. I’ve got students all over the world. I have people who study Steel Mace Flow that don’t have a clue who I am. My work is translated in different languages. I just bought a Volkswagen, my dream car, and I have my favorite dog, Butter. And I guess the only reason I’m bringing up these things is because chasing my passion made them possible.

I just loved the Steel Mace so much that that love infected other people. So whatever your passion is, whatever your art thing is, I would say to just do it because you love it. One of these days, people will ask you how you do it, or why you do it. Then you have a chance to monetize that thing and take your love of it to the next level. I hope everybody gets to find that someday. Man, who would’ve thought that swinging a sledgehammer to express myself—a grown man doing karate with a sledgehammer—would turn out to be all this?

It’s time to take some questions from the audience. Oh, here’s an important one. “What’s your weapon of choice in a zombie apocalypse?”

Come on, man. A steel mace!

Hey, there’s no need to reload, so that’s a good choice.

Dude, half the time when I’m daydreaming, it’s about me taking out zombies with the steel mace.

Here’s another one. “Where do you see Steel Mace Flow five years from now, and 50 years from now?”

It’s cool to find a purpose, but eventually your purpose turns into your legacy. Steel Mace Flow is quickly evolving. I recently released a Steel Mace Flow Level Two program called Mace Artist, and the point of that program is to create so much energy that you can shift how somebody’s feeling. You can change somebody’s reality based on how beautifully you move. I’m sure that’s happened to anybody who’s traveled. If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam and seen somebody performing on the street corner, it’s beautiful and mesmerizing and it stops you and puts a smile on your face. That’s the focus of this course—to create such a good vibe that you not only change the outside reality, but your reality through positive storytelling.

Steel mace flows are short stories. We create flows that represent a feeling you’re having: “My back hurts.” “I hate my job.” Whatever is going on with you. Steel Mace Flow takes it and makes it look beautiful. Whatever you’re dealing with, your goal is to act it out in physical movement and make it look beautiful. I have found that to be very positive for my mental health and my students’ mental health. It’s very hard to be depressed when you’re making beautiful movement. If you’re in the steel mace community, you know that that’s what I’m doing when I’m free-flowing with the mace. I’m acting out the good day, the bad day, whatever type of day I’ve had.

That message is getting out there. So where do I see Steel Mace Flow in five years? I see that power in more people’s hands. And in 50 years, I have this vision of just disappearing for a while, getting off social media, and doing my mace thing on top of a mountain somewhere. In 50 years, there will be so many leaders in this practice. I’ll be able to turn on the channel and see where it’s gone and who’s doing it.

What are your tips for first-time mace users?

Start lighter than you think. I use a 10-pound, 40-inch long, inch and a half-diameter steel mace made by Onnit. The mace is made in the handle, not the head. Anybody can make a cannon ball. So make sure you buy a mace with the right handle, like the one Onnit makes. You can feel how difficult or smooth the mace can be if it’s off balance.

Also, express yourself. I would strongly encourage you to put on your favorite song and move with your mace for the entire length of the song. What you’ll notice about the song is that there’s probably highs and lows, peaks and valleys. That will help you find your flow. You’ll start pulling out movements from your past—things that you really enjoyed. If you have a passion for kettlebells and Wonder Woman, I can only imagine that if you moved around naturally with the steel mace, you would move a lot like Wonder Woman. You’d look like a badass with a mace. And you would learn to move the mace like you do kettlebells. Then, after you’ve experienced what it’s like to move the way you want to, go on Instagram and copy what other people are doing. There are some amazing movers on there, and they are giving out tips and tricks every day. Learn as much as you can off of the public domain, and then come see me. 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever attempted with a mace?

I remember the first time I did a 360 swing, there was this moment of like, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” There’s this beautiful trust fall that occurs in the practice of a 360, where you have to let it go to fall into position and trust in your technique that you’re going to get it right. So there was this moment of, “I hope my parachute pulls.” I went for it, and it worked out.

One viewer asks, “What do you think about people who criticize unconventional fitness? I find that even a lot of my close friends who are passionate about fitness tend to look down at some of the Onnit curriculum.”

Insulting someone’s personal practice can be very hurtful to the person, and that’s something that I’ve had to deal with. I know one thing: if they criticize you, they are watching you. So now you have somebody who supports you by watching what you do, and they don’t even realize it. 

And here’s what I know about the troll—the person who likes to constantly attack people for being themselves: they usually don’t stop doing it until they find a reason not to. The troll needs a reason to stop. Keep training, and one of these days, you’re going to do something beautiful. You’re going to do it for you, but it’s going to touch them in such a way that they’ll DM you and they’ll tell you, “Thanks. Sorry, I was being a bully.” It’s OK for people to not understand you. Let them keep watching, and you keep being an amazing human being. Sooner or later, they’re going to connect that that thing you’re doing is part of why you’re an amazing human being. And that will close the gap between the two of you. One day, they might even ask you, “How do you do that?”

Some people are just attached to their story, or where they place value. Anything that challenges it is dangerous to them. But I think what you said is the only way to handle it. Train to manifest the greatest version of you possible, and know that you’ll inspire others to walk that path. And that path doesn’t mean that you have to do Onnit things. It doesn’t mean you have to do an Onnit program or swing a steel mace. You just need a personal practice that you pour yourself into for the purpose of being a better human.

Here’s another question: “I would like to continue learning steel mace. Do you have any online programs?”

Do I ever. Go to steelmaceflow.com. I have a Level One course on there that you can do in the privacy of your own home. It’s quite an extensive course, so you’re going to get in shape. It is super easy to follow. All you need is enough room to move and lunge forward, go back and side to side. You need a little overhead clearance and some type of Wi-Fi connection, and that’s it.

How does one get certified in Steel Mace Flow?

John, it is my privilege to announce that my birthday weekend, January 8th and 9th, the Onnit Gym has invited my tribe and me back to teach a Steel Mace Flow Level One certification. I can’t tell you how excited I am to give my students the Onnit experience. For anybody who hasn’t been to the Onnit Gym, there’s a big wooden door, and you open it up and there’s this huge sprawling gym behind it. I love to take people and give them that experience. I think we’ll have tickets up for sale here in the next few days.

Before we jump off, Leo, I’m going to give you the floor one more time. Do you have any closing statements, any messages that you’d like to pass on?

I’m going to preach the word of Oprah. Oprah said to do a random act of kindness for somebody. I love to do this, John. I do it for the other person, but also for myself too. I want you to have a life-changing experience.

Here’s what I want you to do: take a piece of paper and I want you to write an inspiring message on it. Hey, if you want, you can just look up an inspiring message on Reddit. Hand-write an inspiring message and then walk up to somebody and give it to them and watch what happens. It’s a practice I started recently. It’ll change your life.

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