Monastic Roots and Evolution of KPP Solo™

Updated: Feb 10

The Cross of St. Benedict

Kettlebell Partner Passing® (KPP) had been under development for over 8 years when I entered a Benedictine monastery in 2013 to work on personal development while working in the monastery’s maintenance department. At that time, much of what exists today in the KPP manual (see below) had already been set in place but stepping away from society and modern technology offered a reduction in distractions and an opportunity to further reflect on KPP.

· KPP Solo™

· KPP Solo II™ · KPP Multi Partner, Single Bell

· KPP Single Bell 2 Hand

· KPP Single Bell 1 Hand

· KPP Freestyle™

· KPP Double Bell

· KPP Triple Bell

· KPP Quad Bell

· KPP Multi Partner, Single Bell ·

· KPP Multi Partner, Multi Bell

The work schedule was light by societal standards with emphasis on mindfulness and awareness over productivity. Coming from a fast-paced world, this cadence of life is far more challenging to adapt to than one might expect. It took approximately two to three months of unwinding and digesting my previous life and my most recent adventure, walking El Camino De Santiago (another story for another time), before I started to settle in to the pace and lifestyle of monastic living.

The ins and outs of the daily routine of a monk revolve around communal prayer four times a day, a group meditation session, as well as individual prayer and assigned work tasks. A monk’s ultimate aim is to pray continuously without ceasing. The work schedule is clearly secondary to the prayer schedule and the days are diced up in such a way that work is squeezed between communal prayer bouts. The bible verse (Matthew 6:33) “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all else will be given unto thee,” is taken quite literally at the New Camaldoli Hermitage (NCH).

As one might imagine with all that praying going on at the hermitage, it is difficult to find a comrade to pass kettlebells with. During this last residence at the monastery, my fellow community members were not interested in throwing cannon balls with handles. Having lived with these monks 9 years earlier as their personal trainer, I had used kettlebells to turn some of them into lean, godly praying machines.

The aging population of NCH, now almost a decade older and considerably less fit since my absence, were hesitant to indulge me in this new dynamic wellness system I had been creating since I last sojourned with them in `'04. The one exception was brother Gabriel, who showed enthusiastic interest. I was hesitant to pass kettlebells with him since he was blind in one eye, losing sight in the other, and in his 80s. It seemed my only hope for continuing to develop KPP was a geriatric one-eyed monk. As brother Emmanuel, God rest his soul, loved to say "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak"... perhaps this stint at the monastery was about focusing on the solo aspects of KPP.

Brother Emmanuel after Mass

Fortunately, in 2004 during my initial stay at the monastery when I first started creating KPP Solo™, I landed a kettlebell presentation for the National Strength and Conditioning Association(NSCA) at their national conference. Prior to that 2004 conference, kettlebells were not a strength training tool that the NSCA implemented or were even familiar with.

Seeing an opportunity bigger than myself, I invited Pavel the Godfather of Kettlebells and the man responsible for reintroducing kettlebells to the USA in 2000 and John DuCane, Pavel’s business partner and CEO of Dragon Door, to attend the conference and take advantage of my vendor booth. Shortly after they accepted the invite, Brett Jones, the director of education for StrongFirst (Pavel’s new organization), emailed me saying he would love to help with the presentation in any way that he could. I invited him to join us at the conference and demonstrate the movements while I presented.

Presentation prep at the monastery consisted of lots and lots of kettlebell basics and verbal rehearsal on how to effectively communicate to an audience of 1000+ the value of said movements. With way too much time on my hands and an obsessive drive to do well, I overdid it and got bored doing the same movements over and over.

Boredom lead me to branching off and exploring new ways to use kettlebells. As much value as I found in the “basics”, I needed a way to break up the monotony and practice advanced kettlebell exercises, and exploring other ways to progress athletically with the tool was exactly what the doctor ordered. 

The 2004 NSCA national conference successfully came and went. Pavel, pleased with the outcome, suggested that Brett Jones and I film a kettlebell video based on the presentation we did at the conference. In early 2005 Brett and I made the video Pavel suggested. We ended up calling our video “Kettlebell Basics for Strength Coaches and Personal Trainers” (KBSCPT). To this day, it's still one of the best and most comprehensive videos on kettlebell basics on the market.

Besides creating a best-selling kettlebell instructional video, the weekend we filmed KBSCPT, Brett and I also passed a kettlebell for the first time. The minimal kettlebell passing that Brett and I did between takes inspired a passion in me similar to the way Mark Reifkind, my high school strength coach and physical culture mentor, did when he introduced me to kettlebells for the first time in 2001. I spent the next four years developing what would eventually become Kettlebell Partner Passing®.

In 2009 I filmed an unreleased (potentially to be released in the future) KPP video that included single and double kettlebell KPP Solo programs, as well as the KPP movements that lead to KPP Freestyle™ and much more. There was one slight problem. KPP freestyle™ didn’t quite exist. As fortune would have it, one of the guys that was costarring in the said unreleased video couldn’t make it to the first weekend of filming. Genaro Strangis, a good friend, student and videographer/director of the app video, rearranged my filming schedule and we captured KPP Solo™ instead of partner passing.

In between takes, Genaro suggested moving around while passing the bell. We gave it a go and it worked. In fact, it worked really well and was loads of fun. We discovered what would ripen into KPP freestyle™. The next three weekends were spent filming the rest of the KPP video and grabbing free moments between takes to explore what this new freestyle passing was and what it had to offer.

The barrier to entry for Kettlebell Partner Passing®, as it has always been, is that you need a partner to pass kettlebells with if you want to get better at passing kettlebells. Or so we thought. One of the most valuable lessons learned from KPP Solo™ time at the monastery was that when I got back to passing with partners I had become a better partner to pass with. It turns out we must do our own personal “solo” work if we want to be the best we can be in partnership. Funny how life has a way of giving us lessons that we need to learn in the most unexpected places.

Back at the monastery with no real potential for a partner to pass with and ample time for training, it was clear that this second stint at the monastery was about KPP Solo™ work. With more time on my hands than I knew what to do with, I dove headfirst into my personal “solo” training. As a result, I designed KPP Solo™ so people could experience the various ways of handling a kettlebell(s) before they were ever in front of a partner.

The myriad variations of KPP Solo™ drills cover most possible passing variations that could be encounter when passing with a partner. KPP Solo™ is the safest way to teach people to move with the bell that directly translates to KPP, especially KPP Freestyle™ that can be practiced without a partner.

In June of 2016 I Ieft the monastery to re-enter consensus reality and bring KPP in its more holistic form to the world. I traveled up and down the coast of California, Seattle, Alaska, New Mexico and Texas teaching KPP wherever people would have me. On May 6, 2017 I put on my first official KPP workshop in San Diego.

After leaving the monastery, I dedicated much of my time to teaching people KPP foundations to get them prepared for KPP Freestyle™. To my delight, KPP Freestyle™ has grown and so have my skills. However, the limiting factor in the KPP equation is the number of people who can safely Kettlebell Partner Pass, let alone freestyle. The difficulty was after I would leave to my next training destination KPPers didn’t have others to practice with and would wait for me to return. KPP is a perishable skill and if you do not practice it, you lose it. I knew that the KPP Solo™ was the answer.

KPP Freestyle™ grew beyond the capacity of most people practicing KPP and I saw the limiting factor being people’s ability to practice the basics to get better. I recognized the need to modify the Freestyle moves to be worked into KPP Solo™ to make freestyle more accessible. What I didn’t know was how much freestyle would continue to advance when people have KPP Solo™ in their tool belts.

Seeing the need to build competency in partners without having a partner to practice with is why I have focused so much attention on the development of KPP Solo™. It’s the most effective way to build a foundation for KPP without having to have a partner to practice with. KPP Solo™ is the fast track way to get in great shape and build proficiency and coordination with a kettlebell. Solo work builds confidence with a kettlebell while preparing your mind, body and spirit to be the best possible partner you can be. KPP Solo™ can be the beginning of your KPP Journey™ or it can be the destination where you build your strength, stamina and coordination for KPP without ever having to pass a kettlebell with another human. Either way to be the best you can be KPP Solo™ is a must!!

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