Featured Coach: John Hackleman, Part 2 - Lifelong Student
Last week, in part one of our feature interview with John Hackleman, he told us about the evolution of The Pit, from garage gym to mega-gym. This week we get more into the details of what it means to be a coach and what kinds of workouts students and fighters participate in at The Pit.
John Hackleman, while a coach and trainer for a living, has been a student all his life - starting with martial arts as a young boy, through nursing school, and then CrossFit. Anyone who has spent time around John knows he is always studying business or some aspect of it. He is on a mission for success, yet still seems to enjoy the journey and it is his commitment to learning that perhaps has him be such a successful coach.
Although his main focus is martial arts, John is also well-known and respected in the CrossFit world. Like Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), John was involved with CrossFit from pretty much the start. He attended one of the first few certifications ever offered by CrossFit and immediately saw how a blending of the two disciplines could be beneficial for martial artists and athletes of all types. The hybrid was dubbed “CrossPit.”
Athletes are able to train CrossPit-style at any number of the Pit affiliates around the country and some even choose to trek to Arroyo Grande to workout at the backyard compound. John described what a workout in the backyard facility looks like:
They do wheelbarrow pushes - those are one of my staples. Can’t get much better than that; it’s a whole body workout. We do a lot of heavy d-balls, where we throw them for distance – you throw it, run to it, throw it, run to it. Sometimes we clean and jerk it and then throw it. There are a lot of farmer’s walks, a lot of sledges with a tire, a lot of double-unders, a lot of bag work. There are pull-up bars, rings, kettlebells, and barbells. Any workout you can do in CrossFit, we can do, plus we add in the hill work like the “D-Ball Mile” and the wheelbarrow.
For John, whether it is martial arts or CrossFit, the key to successful coaching is being able to put yourself in your student’s place and be fluid about what they need to learn.
You have a set curriculum or schedule, but be able to change it at a seconds notice if it’s not working. Say, I’m drilling hooks and I notice my guy drops his hands, then all of the sudden I’ll work on bobbing and weaving. Or if I’m working defending the takedown with Chuck and I see him get leg-kicked, all of the sudden I’ll work on leg-checks and counters. Just have a feel to change as it goes and not be stuck.
One of the faults John sees with trainers is they don’t understand where the mind of the athlete is during competition or during the midst of hard training. Too often coaches push when it’s not appropriate.
A lot of trainers have never fought. I think some of the best have never fought, like Greg Jackson. He’s one of the best trainers out there and he’s never fought. Or Blauer, I don’t think he’s ever had any real combative stuff, but for some reason they can have empathy with someone who has fought. You have to put yourself in your fighter’s position - especially when he’s training hard. You have to know how he’s feeling when he comes back to the corner after a hard round. You have to have empathy for what he’s doing. Too many trainers are really brave in there, saying, “Get back out there.”
Having spent so much of his life around competitive sports, it is natural to wonder what John thinks of how to become a successful athlete, particularly in terms of CrossFit or martial arts. What it comes down to is the same for any sport, really – find a good school and do the work. Find a good coach and listen.
If they want to do CrossFit they need to go to a CrossFit and do the training. But make sure it’s a reputable one – that’s kind of hard. I’m lucky in my town we’ve got five CrossFits, but it just so happens I’ve got Bill Grundler. He’s the farthest one probably, but definitely the best, so I know to go to him. Even if I don’t like a WOD or his programming, I know it must be good because he knows a hell of a lot more and he’s more successful than I am. So I just shut up and do it. Just like if he comes to my gym and wants to be an MMA fighter, well, he better just do it and shut up and listen to what I say.
If you want to be an MMA fighter and you don’t have a good MMA gym in town, there are more aspects that you have to learn and train equally. I don’t think one before the other – you have to learn them all equally – striking, wrestling, jiu-jitsu and conditioning. I think you have to do 25% has to be for each one, with no emphasis on any of them. I think that makes the most successful fighters.
And what is John Hackleman, the perennial student, working on himself? Despite his success in growing his business from his garage to a school with world-champion fighters and state-of-the-art locations in California and Las Vegas, John still does not consider himself a businessman.
I am a martial artist and a guy who loves to train, but I’m definitely not a business man. Instead of just doing it for a hobby, turning it into a profitable business has always been my biggest challenge. It doesn’t come naturally for me. It’s never ending. I have mentors up the wazoo - everyone from Tony Robbins to Master Bill Clark. I have mentors who help me and I read about it and I’m studying about it all the time.
On a personal level, there is another life-long passion John is still perfecting as well. While it might be surprising, this former knockout artist who has coaches some of the baddest men in MMA loves to dance. In fact, he takes great pride in it.
To be honest, I could always dance really well because for some reason I have a lot of rhythm. You just put on a song and I can dance. I think you have to have the rhythm and if you don’t I don’t care how many classes you take. If you don’t have rhythm, it’s like being a fighter and not having a gym – it’s just not going to happen.
Right now I’m redoing the Dougie. I’m adding my own steps to it. I already feel like I’ve conquered the Cupid Shuffle and some of the other ones. Right now I’m trying to redo the Dougie so I can make it my own.
For more about John Hackleman read part one of our interview:
To train like the fighters at The Pit, follow John's three weeks of workout programming: