Interview with the man behind LiftHard

Kirksman, the man behind LiftHard
Kirksman, the man behind LiftHard

First Pull was created as effort to promote weightlifting, especially in Canada. It is also an effort to gather knowledge in one place and make it available to everybody. Many perspectives of the same topics are always interesting and necessary to the advancement of athletics. Since the weightlifting world doesn’t have a real good magazine to do that, I would like First Pull to serve that purpose. Consequently, one of the best ways to get many perspectives on the same topics is to interview coaches and athletes. I would like to do that monthly.

 So today is interview one, la première, numero uno! I’m pretty excited about that. The interviewee is Kirksman from lifthard.com. Kirksman writes thought provoking article on his website and engage in many discussions on his facebook (Link). He publishes a lot of content that is related to the Chinese weightlifting methodology since he has witnessed a lot of it. Indeed, being from Malaysia, he trained under Coach Wu (Among other coaches), a former Chinese National winner. He regularly travels abroad to coach and hold seminar. He does have some pretty interesting things to say.

 And without further ado…. Here is the interview

 BACKGROUND

JP : You have been training and coaching weightlifting for a while. What’s your background? How did you get into weightlifting? How did you get into coaching?

On your website, you state that you have trained under different coaches of different ethnic background (Russian, Bulgarian and Chinese). Who were they? How different were their approaches? How was training with them?

K : Just like any skinny kid, you want to be a little more muscular than your peers. Always been a bit more of a geek than an athlete. Began from basketball and softball, just trying to throw the ball further. Jump a little higher. Not get knocked over by the biggest, most powerful player on the court. Just basically, the story of a weak kid, trying not to be weak.

Picked up a little interest in powerlifting because of how cool I thought having a heavy barbell in your hand looked like. Ended up with a 120KG bench, 160KG squat and a 200KG deadlift at 70KG. As I went along, decided that I wanted to jump high like a weightlifter after seeing Pyrros Dimas jumping and articles about how powerful weightlifters are because they’re generating force against a heavy barbell and themselves. No other athlete can be more powerful per KG of bodyweight.

Did power cleans one day at a globo gym and dropped the barbell. Owner came along and gave me a earful, I went out, began driving around and stumbled upon the gymnastics gym. Malacca (Malaysia) is huge on gymnastics for the girls so I didn’t quite fit in there, but right next to the centre, was a tiny, tiny little weightlifting gym. Popped my head into the corner and saw “ELEIKO” and colourful plates. I still remember the excitement. But it was closed. Waited for a few hours, nobody came.

Next day, came again, and this time saw this long haired guy sitting on the left of the door, staring into the gym. Spoke to him in Malay and he turns around, speaks to me in the thickest Mandarin accent I’ve heard in my life. Realised that he’s actually China Chinese, not Malaysian Chinese and thus began the relationship of a duck speaking to a chicken. I didn’t speak much Mandarin, he didn’t speak a lick of English or Malay. Match made in heaven.

I’ve actually never found out what my Russian coach’s name was. I heard he passed away recently. The Bulgarian guy was Steffan. He still lives in Malaysia and coaches the police weightlifting team. I didn’t even know Coach Wu’s name until about 1 year after I trained with him. It’s nothing to do with names. It’s just about work. After all, we just call them “Coach”.

JP : Obviously, you seemed to have liked the Chinese coaching experience the most. However, what were the pros and cons of the Bulgarian and Russian approaches?

K : There was no “Con” to any of the lifting styles. My job as an athlete is to find the best way to move something. The coaches role is to guide me in searching for the most suitable way. If I find a coach that can assist me better in my task, then I will absorb everything that coach teaches.

I learned a lot from each coach, but I found that the Russian coach to be the one that gave me the bridge to click everything together. He said one thing that helped me more than anything else.

“What’s that on top of your body? Yes, brains. That’s the most important thing. Use your brains when training”

Chinese methods worked very well with my obsession for deep analysis and simplicity. I realize that the more you analyse things, and have a deep understanding of something, the simpler your thought processes can become. When it becomes simple, I can spend more time being an absolute nuisance to my parents at home. And I loved that. What the Russian coach said after that, helped connect the bridges.

JP : From what I understand, you met Coach Wu along the line. You have been translating some of his information and hold regular seminars with him. That’s how lifthard has been catching on popularity. Can you resume his background as an athlete and as a coach to those that might not know him?

K : The writings are all done from observing and discussing things with coaches and athletes from various sports. Then combining that, with conversations and reading from the professionals in physical care such as physical therapists, personal trainers and doctors. Sometimes, we chat and I write them down. But he doesn’t have any text. I translate the seminars only.

He began training at 10 years old. At 9, his then coach selected him as a talent, but his parents thought he would be short if he lifted weights, and didn’t allow him to join. A year later, the coach came again and presented points about genetics relating to height more than anything and with the sisters coaxing his parents, they allowed him to join the team. He used to train with Shi Jiyong (2004 Olympic Champ) and they’d push each other in training. At peak, his competition results were 155KG snatch and 185KG CNJ which won him the year 2000 Chinese national games. In training, he snatched 158KG and has dropped 162KG backwards. His max clean was 195KG and max jerk was 190KG.

After retirement due to some personal engagements, he was sent by the Chinese government to Malaysia to coach the Malaccan team. That’s when he met me and repeatedly told me how bad of an athlete I was and that I had to train harder. Negative reinforcement was often used as it creates warriors, not just soldiers. The issue he forgot was, that the population of Malaysia was smaller than a town in China and even lesser in weightlifting. Few stuck. But once you learn, you get to enjoy it.

He’s changed a lot now. Almost 180 degrees change. No longer that harsh. In some seminars recently, he even encouraged some of the participants and told them they were doing good. I’ve heard him say “Good” once when I snatched 90KG. Don’t remember hearing it anymore.

JP : How was training with Coach Wu ? What did you learn that is the most important?

K: Hard. Unsuitable for the modern world. Extremely painful to the male ego. Ego doesn’t have a place. Ego was the first thing he crushed. Because I was a thinker, I thought I was clever. He killed my ego first before allowing me to learn anything. In order to think properly, the ego must be eliminated first. The naivety & curiosity of a child is necessary.

3 things, that were truly important

  1. Never ask question…before thinking first, and trying. There are many questions, that could’ve been eliminated if we tried thinking about it, and then attempting and then asking. The answers weren’t given. The questions were answered with questions, to shift the perspective I had. When I could answer the question, he shifted the questions again to explore new answers. The questions must never end or we’ll be followers.

  2. Always question the leader. Never follow blindly. Understand concepts, with details. Details come as the concept is understood. Don’t focus on one or the other. Build a mind map of potential questions, problems and solutions. Plan. Training must be approached like going into war, running a business, running for office. Once the general concept is built, the details must be attacked. Plan, but adapt.

  3. Never settle. Always find better ways. Don’t follow the “Chinese method”. Create something BETTER. Don’t bother pleasing others with what you do. Remember the story of the old man, the youngster and the donkey? When you care what other nations do, it affects you. When it affects you, you cannot be relentless in your goal to achieve what’s necessary because you’re busy adjusting your tie when others look.

These were a few of the things that I picked that significantly helped me train and coach.
TRAINING

JP: Many people have been criticizing the Chinese methodology. One critic is that it is not suited for a Caucasian-type morphology. According to Coach Wu and you, how do the Chinese coach athletes that have long levers (Tall people, with long arms and long legs) ?

K : 2 things.

  1. I am Asian. Asians, do not trust Asians for physical related activities, unless it involves poking needles and putting heated cups on their backs.

  2. 90% of my clients are Caucasians.

In terms of technique, I’m 178CM tall, arms the length of two orang-utans and legs, that don’t last for days but still, for at least a few minutes. I can use this technique. I’ve successfully taught this to tall, short, long torso, short torso, long femur, short femur, dwarf arms and ape arms and a mix of both. Yet people say it cannot be done. I’m here, to show you it can.

If you understand, the essence of it, you can use it. Stephen Powell and Don McCaulay both came up to me to understand this technique further. And they’ve been geting good results with it. Stephen Powell even coaches some of the lifters you see on the internet a lot on improving technique. These lifters then go back to their coaches and their coaches report improvement in consistency & lifts. None of these guys, are Asian. That argument I personally feel, is flawed.

Problems begin when you have people who fail to understand the whole concept. They focus on the “exhaust fumes”, instead of the “engine” that drives the car. There is a pattern that plays in my head when I look at the technique. It has got less to do with leverages. It’s understanding the concept of it. People tend to mistake the byproduct as key factors.

Example, when I first talked about the “panda pull”. They focused on the double tap of the heels. That’s got absolutely nothing to do with the movement. That’s just a byproduct. We’re looking at the engine. This is focusing on the fumes off the exhaust pipe.

Let’s explore further. What creates fear for many people? The lack of understanding. Especially in this society today, they just don’t want to look stupid. Comfort zones. Then, rejection happens. When rejection happens, they condemn. My job, is to create understanding. That is why I rarely if ever tell someone what they do is wrong. Because I’ve seen this around the world. People reject what they don’t understand, because they don’t want to look stupid. In the book I’m writing with one of Australia’s university lecturer’s, and we always discuss “How can I paraphrase and angle this so people don’t think I’m criticizing their methods?”

JP: What makes the Chinese methodology unique or different or better?

K: The Chinese method is so unique because there isn’t a Chinese methodology. They understand the philosophy of improving the human performance, in this sport. Then, it’s LINKED PERCEPTION, derived from LEARNING and DISCUSSING which then allows SIMPLICITY.

The simpler it is, the quicker your brain processes and understands. The quicker the athlete understands, the lesser the athlete does an inaccurate movement. Simplicity, is key in the Chinese methodology.

Coaches consistently question what they know and strive to be better, by discussing with other coaches and sport scientists. Because of the system of communism which denounces the usage of science for self capital gain (Disregard the reality of the situation being different in other aspects outside of sport), they are driven to the goal of overall betterment.

However, in our world, we are constantly skewed by researches and products and solutions that are driven more by capital gain, than actually improving sport. Then, one gets various “school of thoughts” that disregard the usage of other’s systems. The Chinese will try EVERYTHING. IF you said today, that running in the Tullamarine airport in Melbourne, will raise their athlete’s squat numbers and have proof, they’ll attempt it. You are ENCOURAGED to tell your coach, what you think might work better. Yet, we highly educated individuals loyal to the system and limitations of the state, we follow everything the coach says.

As coaches, our roles are as assistant to our athletes. We aren’t the soldiers. We must make these soldiers, warriors. Its our RESPONSIBILITY as coaches to assist our athletes to be better. IF we can’t get them there, we need to reflect within OURSELVES why, instead of sunbathing in the successes of our athletes and condemning them when things go wrong. We protect our athletes, not our ego. That is our role. We must find ways to strengthen our soldier to make him or her, a warrior. If it means learning from another coach, even if we dislike that coach, we must do that. For the benefit of our athlete.

The coaches think FAR beyond just data and numbers. They think in concepts and observe the way the world moves and capture essences of daily living to assist their athletes. Even myself, as a new coach, I go into the ideas of, gently using strength, processing of the brain, psychology, movement with external stimuli and without, restructuring movement patterns from separate bits. Yet I never hear this from any other coaches outside of Asia. I even have coaches that tell me, “You’ve completely shifted the way I think and coach my clients”.

This should not happen. I shouldn’t have the ability to change one’s thinking so deeply because what I teach, is what the world shows. Accept methods from various camps, analysing and finding what works. THEN, go into the lab. And then, improve it further.

If we continue to think like followers, and put an unnecessary snigger and smirk when we hear of something that sounds “hocus pocus” because we lack the understanding, we will forever be led on by marketeers. The question I have is simple.

What is your role in learning? If you’re truly after learning, why would you go and learn the same thing over and over again? Learning, is to feel lost and then enlightened. Learning, isn’t to further drill our beliefs deeper while disregarding the light from outside.

JP: Recent results  by the Chinese athletes shows that they are very serious about this sport. Is the way they train the real reason they are winning (are they exceptionally gifted athletes) or are they winning because they have a better way to recognize young talent ?

K: Both. Still, this depends on who you ask. Being educated within the system, I KNOW it’s a combination of both these aspects. I also KNOW because of the way we approach and view training, we can get less than gifted athletes to improve. Their ways to recognise young talent, is not even that different from many of the other top nations.

But their ways of tweaking the athlete’s mindset, is what I believe truly gets them places. They really know how to teach an athlete, how to think and improve the efficiency of the neural system. Make it less messy and more fluid. Deactivating as much muscle as possible while doing the same task.

Growing up, my mates would tell you that I was about as coordinated as a door knob. But by truly grasping the concept of understanding what causes a problem, I’m actually able to, move.

JP: A common topic that has been discussed by many is the ratio in between quadriceps and hamstring strength. It seems like Chinese athletes are quad-centric because they pull with their hip lower and try to shift the weight to their quadriceps in the squat (not so much to the hip). What does Coach Wu and you think about this statement?

K: We’re looking for balance in lifting. If balance requires the weight to be a little more on the quads, then it will be on the quads. If it needs be on the hip, so it stays on the hip. Advancement in technology, science and understanding of the human body has enabled us with more tools to fix a problem with it occurs.

Coaches need to understand the concept of structural balance and know how to fix it. If it seems the athlete is beginning to develop excessively strong quads in relation to hamstrings and it’s beginning to cause a problem, then it is my responsibility as a coach to fix that.

The tools are there to fix it. I’ll use it when necessary.

The problems begin when a physical therapist or a sport science graduate, tries to be a coach of a sport that he/she doesn’t understand enough of. The perspectives that they understand, steer their coaching direction. When you take one perspective and develop your entire coaching method about one perspective, you will hit the wall very quickly. Let’s say, an expert in aerodynamics makes a car. She will create a perfectly aerodynamic car, but without an engine builder, that car isn’t going to go too far.

The same as building an athlete. The former athlete turned coach will have his perspectives. But he is limited by what he knows, that’s why discussions are important. But at times when all options are exhausted, the coach needs to find his or her “engine builder” or “aerodynamics expert” or “painter”

JP: Except for the girls, Canadian athletes are rarely on a podium at the international level. However, when it comes to Masters, Canadians seem to do very well.  For instance, Marcel Perron (77kg bodyweight and 80years old) Clean and jerked 81kg for a World Master record just recently. Are there any master lifters in Malaysia and China? Is it seen positively to keep training after your senior career has ended?
K: I’m not sure if either coach and I are the right people to answer this. But…I’ll share a bit.

Canadians, are SUPER nice. Well…just thought I’d put it out there.

Malaysia, we’ve got 2. China, none that I know of. In Asia, the culture is “Work hard till your bones creak to enjoy your grandkids tomorrow”. We work hard, because we want to create the funds necessary to ensure a future for our children. That’s deeply ingrained within many Asian families, so for athletes turned coaches, they’re done. They’re like “Man, I’ve slogged enough. I just want to rest now and enjoy the fruits of my labor.” Besides mucking around with the barbell occasionally, they really wouldn’t lift much anymore.

If someone’s still weightlifting at an older age, I think that’s fantastic as long as you’re having the necessary supplemental and additional assistance to enable recovery. Just don’t let it injure you because surgery and steroids are so expensive.

JP: The soviet had a very complex periodization system. Everything was planned. How about the Chinese system? Is it planned ahead or is it done on a day to day basis?

K: We’ve heard many interviews and coaches going to China and saying that it’s highly regulated and planned as well. Most of the time, if not all the time, the coaches from China will tend to stare at each other while I ask this question. Then the one question I got as a feedback was, “If we can’t even tell the weather tomorrow….” and then a smile. I understood.

I’ll give you an idea into how the Chinese system is built.

The model of how we build our training, is based on technique. Every single thing must build the athlete’s technique to be better. If she wants to get stronger, the first question is, “Will that build her technique further?” If yes, then go. If no, no go. It’s the same as golf. Every single thing they do, is to chase that perfect swing. We aren’t a sport that requires us to run about like hockey, squash, wrestling. We don’t have to build other performance bases like cardio to such high levels.

Coaches plan the training cycle based on the general problem the athlete has at the phase. Then, simply fill in the exercises on the day. We’ve a plan of what to do on that day, in that phase, but the exercises are generally adjusted based on what happens on the problem.

Usually when the athlete’s at a higher level, then they’re given more freedom as the coaches begin to reel away from their training.

I think the problem here is marketing. The Russians have long been marketed as hardcore, tough training thanks to shows that depict Russia. So much research is about Russia’s sports methods. People then try to follow what the Russians do because it’s been marketed and relatable. However, they fumble completely because of the lack of mentorship to apply the Russian systems.

I’ve a friend in New York whom I often communicate with that just came back from Uzbek or Ukraine, I can never remember, tells me there’s a Russian “skeleton” but there’s no Russian method. Just like there’s no Chinese method. It’s just a skeleton. Coaches already know what to do, they fill it in. I’ve actually worked with a few lifters that were coached directly from the current Russian school’s lineage. I’ve seen their programming and it’s definitely structured, but it definitely wasn’t as systematic as the books wrote.

I’ve tested something on my brother. I let him read the entire book I wrote about the Chinese method (Just a skeleton), and asked him to explain it to me. He failed completely even after thinking he understood it. As I filled the bits and pieces, he began understanding the concept much more. Then I asked him how would he apply it and he had a completely different template of how it would happen, compared to how I thought, but I can’t say it’s wrong.

I taught him how to drive the car. Now he’s chosen a different car and a different road to get from A-B. But he got there. Now I work with him to tweak the book so people can understand it.

JP: Many countries have used different plyometrics drills or jump in the training of weightlifters. Chinese athletes seem to be known mainly for the bodybuilding accessory stuff they do. Are plyometrics and jump an integral part of their training?
K: Let’s put the concept of “Thought linking” that we use here.

Concept 1: Chinese people are tricky.

Concept 2: They need sport to build the nation in more ways than one.

Concept 3: Their training methods gets them the gold medals.

Concept 4: Would you give out a map to your gold mine, for free?

Concept 5: So what would a tricky person give you when you ask for his map?

Bodybuilding is one of the components. Of course jump training is very important. In fact, I’d like to give credit to the creator of this idea, Yuri Verkoshansky by calling it “Shock method”. The man who created it, must be credited.

The Chinese are tricky. I’ll tell you that. Speaking to numerous Chinese coaches, I can tell you one thing. They all have a little advantage that they keep from each other. Some can view movement better, some are better programmers, some are better in psychology. They use that to get ahead from the competition which is perfectly fair.

JP: What are lifthard top 3 tips for weightlifters that want to improve?

K: 1. Being in a comfort zone is absolutely necessary to go nowhere life.

2. Understand concepts, not “Kirk, what exercise should I do to help me with this?”.

3. Imagination opens quite a few doors to new findings. Use knowledge to support

     imagination.

STATE OF MALAYSIAN WEIGHTLIFTING

JP: How big is weightlifting in Malaysia? Any promising athletes? You mentioned a few times that Malaysia picked up coaches from other countries to help Malaysian athletes. Has this given any results? What is lacking for Malaysia to become a contender in weightlifting? How do you feel about the Malaysian weightlifting federation? Do they promote weightlifting well?

K: In this case, studying into the socioeconomic direction of a nation might give you a general idea into the direction of everything including its sport.
CONCLUSION

JP : I read that you and Coach Wu are writing a weightlifting-related book. Is it going to be released anytime soon? How is it going to be any different than other weightlifting books?

K: Not really…It isn’t a book written by Coach Wu and me. He’s unable to commit to it.

Thus it will be written by me and I’m working with a university in Melbourne and a few gyms for data. As for when it will be released, we do not know. I’ve read a few books and asked my ex-lecturer to help me employ a student to detect plagiarism.

The purpose of doing this, is to quantify the amount of writings that is similar. This allowed me to study further into what the masses believe in and study why and how I can tweak this information and achieve results either better or replicate it.

Through this process, I’ve found that even by going the complete opposite direction of what is constantly preached (within reason), I can still replicate the results. This has brought me to the conclusion that I always repeat in seminars and when coaching. There is no right, nor wrong. It is, what works.

We are young, curious, creative, a little bit fiery, and the book must portray that. We WANT people to realise that we are different but the right term to use isn’t rebellious. Too many people use that word too lightly. Rebelliousness is knowing what is right and doing the wrong. We have realised what MORE is right thus rebellious cannot be the word for us. Our goal is to make thinking, cool again. To encourage, useful discussion and thinking.

We must do this. This will be frowned upon by many of the elderlies, but we must do this. The state of weightlifting in the English speaking world is good right now. Now, let’s make it great! Canada, UK, US, Australia, NZ. It’ll be a damn shame if the world’s handed over to us from the elderlies, and we can’t make it better.

The vision for this book, began as “How to help people train”, and has expanded to a something that nobody is sure of what it is anymore. However, what might happen is we might release a first book about “How to train for weightlifting” from the beginner’s perspective.

The second one will be onto the details and thought process. We will use data already available and expand it. Right now, the trend seems to be taking data and staying within the confines of the data. We’re not attempting to be revolutionary. What we want to do, is help find more coaching methods because right now, everything the mainstream market calls new and revolutionary, can be found in books written in the 1970s. It’s just be repackaged and resold.

It’s time to look elsewhere. And we will start, from the true martial artists.

JP: As mentionned earlier, you have been doing seminar  with Coach Wu all over the world, acting as his translator. What are the topics covered?

K: Perspectives, how to minimise muscular activation, midline stability, assistance exercises and its role in perfecting technique. Transfer not generate. Logic in training. Safety in training, how culture affects training. How we view things. The “cars and roads” we choose to drive on. How to stop chasing for exhaust fumes and look for engines.

JP: Any other questions I didn’t asked that I should have? What did you think of the interview?

K: No, I think it was a great interview. I really appreciate you taking the time to come up with the questions. I do apologise for taking so much time to respond. I will buy you a meal when we meet one day. [Editor note : If you ever come around, I will introduce you to a real Québecois meal…Poutine]

I guess my end message would be this.

Modern weightlifters are usually former gym monkeys, crossfitters, that decided to break culture and move to weightlifting. So as weightlifters, you know the attractiveness of this sport also involves you thinking “Heh, I’m a weightlifter. I’m different. You’ll never expect I can do this”. But why, do you choose to be stagnant the moment you become a weightlifter? Why do you choose to do something, everyone in weightlifting does, the moment you call yourself a weightlifter? You came, to break from the conventional. Why become conventional now? Never settle…never ever be comfortable. Always learn more. Then apply. Then learn some more.

Even I came from the Chinese school of weightlifting. It’s already evolved to Kirksman’s way. Why can’t you find, your way too? How long will you proudly beam at knowing a workout program’s name that is named after someone? Why not, create your own?

So there it is folks, I hope you liked it and, remember, this is just the beginning. More interviews to come!

Jean-Patrick Millette

Jean-Patrick Millette is a full time weightlifting coach located in Montreal, Canada. He has a bachelor in kinesiology. He coaches dedicated weightlifters of all ages (Youth to senior) as well as running the well respected First Pull website. He has been very active at promoting the sport of weightlifting.

3 comments

  • It seems that China has more than 300.000 kids lifting weights nowadays, but the country of Kazakhstan has been beating China with a total different way of training. It’s worth to say tha Kaza is a small country and do not have a big talent pool.

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