The Courage to Do Less

Musashi Screen

The other day I was testing some of my lifts in preparation for attending an upcoming StrongFirst Barbell certification. Despite having limited experience with a barbell I was pleased to find I met all of the strength requirements for the barbell testing despite only really training with kettlebells and bodyweight.  During the previous week I had also received some friendly challenges from friends to perform Dragon Flags and Superman Pushups which I discovered I was also able to perform on the first attempt.

It wasn’t always this way for me and I can remember back to 6 years ago before I discovered Pavel’s teachings when so many things that I can do now seemed nearly impossible.  With little to no barbell training, it seems that several years of applying the Hardstyle/StrongFirst principles to a handful of techniques plus the One Mind any Weapon approach have prepared me well.

Ever since getups from the program minimum healed an injured shoulder, single leg deadlifts from the Rite of Passage variety days rehabbed a chronically sprained ankle I’ve been believer in Pavel’s less is more approach. Several years later I’m even more of a believer that when it comes to strength less truly is more.  This is what sets StrongFirst apart.

When it comes to StrongFirst we have the courage to consistently do less in order to accomplish more.

While others use workouts of the day devised to entertain, we forge ahead with programs like the Rite of Passage.

Where others have fallen for “muscle-confusion” we follow the “same-but-different” principle to train the same skill in subtly different ways.

While others do hundreds of reps to failure, we have the courage to “Grease the Groove” or follow programs like Easy Strength performing as little as 10 reps or less without fatigue and become stronger for it.

While most “programs” found in popular fitness magazines contain dozens of techniques we choose programs like “Power to the People” and “the Program Minimum” that use only two techniques to perfection.

When others are at globo-gyms with millions of dollars of equipment, and computerized machines that allow them to train while seated we deliver superior results in our courage corners that typically contain little more than a few kettlebells, a barbell, a piece of floor and a pull-up bar.

While others are in a rush to take a photo of the biggest sweat puddle,  create the latest exercise variation or post a video of their own personal best we work quietly and professionally drilling the basics and filling in the gaps.

A great StrongFirst approved training session is as simple as it needs to be, a work of art where the rest achieves just as much as the work done.

I imagine if the StrongFirst methods could be applied to a form of painting it would be Sumi-e painting. In Sumi-e the artist typically uses black ink only and as few brush strokes as possible.  The use of empty space is just as important if not more so than the ink. Mastering the art of Sumi-e requires great discipline, concentration and daily practice.  In many ways sumi-e is has been used as a metaphor for the way a warrior must live his life or fight a battle where the courage and discipline to release a single brush stroke without regret is compared to delivering a decisive blow in battle.  Taken another direction I believe sumi-e painting can be a metaphor for the StrongFirst methods.

A favorite story of mine that illustrates the point goes something like this…

In feudal Japan a master artist was commissioned by his lord to create a particular sumi-e painting. The artist would receive a sum of money every day until the painting was completed. The lord waited impatiently for many months and finally journeyed to the artist’s  home to see what the delay was all about. When the artist insisted that the painting was not ready and he could not commit to a delivery date the lord demanded his painting be produced immediately under penalty of death.  The artist sat down with his tools and within minutes created a masterful sumi-painting with a mere handful of brilliant brush strokes. The painting was wonderful and exactly what the lord wanted.  At first the lord was pleased, but then he grew furious as he realized he had been forced to wait months for something that only took the master artist a few minutes to produce.  When the lord demanded the artist to explain why he made the lord wait , the artist simply said the he was not ready.  This made the lord even more furious.  At that the artist showed the lord a room full of cabinets. The artist opened a cabinet and out fell hundreds of versions of the exact same painting. Then he continued to open every cabinet and one after another each cabinet contained hundreds upon hundreds more of the same painting totaling in the thousands. As the lord looked on in amazement he began to realize that while each painting was a masterpiece each consecutive painting was usually just a little better than the last and the version that he witnessed the artist produce this very day was the best to date.  At that moment it became obvious to that what had only taken a few minutes to complete had actually taken a life time to prepare for.

The lord apologized to the artist and begged him to continue working on the commissioned painting until it was ready.


Training with the StrongFirst methods is a lot like a masterful Sumi-e painting.

We get the job done with a few strokes and limited equipment.

There are times of urgency when training goals and deadlines must be met and then there is the majority of the time when we must simply be consistent and practice.  Instead of constantly racing toward a result, we have faith in the process while pursuing improvement and looking forward to the day when we will have hundreds or thousands of masterful training sessions under our belt.

Follow the StrongFirst methods and in the end your strength, your skill and your body will be your own work of art.

John Scott Stevens, SFGII, SFBW, CKFMS  is a Omaha’s longest standing certified Kettlebell instructor and chief instructor at Omaha Elite Kettlebell.