Bruce Lee: Martial Artist, Virtuoso, CrossFitter?

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by Jan Dayleg, Head Coach/Owner, CrossFit 5 Triple 9

One subject that the trainers at the CrossFit Level 1 Instructor’s Course talk about with some regularity is the never-ending “pursuit of virtuosity” in our movement. Virtuosity is a term well-known in the realm of gymnastics, and is defined as “performing the common, uncommonly well”.

Bruce Lee, the legend himself, once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Sound familiar?

Warning: Shameless plug alert. Recently, myself, Ivan de Windt, and Hayrich Juliana opened up the first operating CrossFit affiliate in Curaçao, CrossFit 5 Triple 9. I used to coach (and blog) for a box in Brooklyn, so I almost feel as if I’m starting anew with the people here. It’s an amazing and rewarding feeling to see the lightbulbs go off in people’s heads when they really begin to get it. So for the CrossFitters of Curaçao, any other CrossFit-newbies, or for anyone who needs a reminder to stick to the basics, this one’s for you!

One thing that you will notice amongst all great coaches, is that they are constantly hammering away at the basics. Be it the 9 fundamental CrossFit movements, the basic barbell movements, or the basics of gymnastics and bodyweight movement, great, not necessarily good coaches, will continuously practice the basics.

Here are a couple of reasons why you should:

1- Carryover. Pursuing virtuosity in the basics will almost always have some type of carryover into the more “advanced” movements. For example, an improvement in your front squat will more than likely improve your clean due to the increased comfort in the bottom position and strength in your thigh musculature. Improvement in your shoulder press will more than likely improve your jerk due to increased comfort in your overhead position and strength in your shoulders and triceps. And to really spice things up, an improvement in your kettlebell swing will teach you how to use your hips during a muscle-up! (Crazy, right?) The list goes on and on. Over time, you will be able to connect the dots with all movements that you practice in the box.

2- For Practice! CrossFit, to some, is a competitive sport. If someone told you that mastering the basics would have carryover into the advanced movements (cough cough), and performing these movements well is vital to being successful in your sport, why would you not want to practice them? Do you think Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan didn’t practice free throws because they wanted to spend time on flashy dunks or fadeaway jumpers? Do you think Bruce Lee stopped working on his roundhouse kick so he can focus more on his 720-degree quadruple kick? (Authenticity of that kick is pending.) The answer surely is “no”. And to us mere-mortals that use CrossFit as a vehicle to improve our normal lives outside of CrossFit as a sport, practicing these movements is still imperative for us. Keep reading.

3- Safety. There are a bunch of reasons why practicing the basics will improve our safety inside and outside of the box. For one, part of the reason that CrossFit is improving lives outside of the box is the fact that we are basically learning how to move better as normal, functioning humans. No more pain when sitting down and standing, no more thrown-out backs when picking up our children or our groceries, no more shoulder pain when putting things in our cabinets or on our shelves. That list goes on, too. But of course, safety inside the box is also of your coaches’ utmost concern. Practicing the basics will always keep you safe, but to delve deeper, practicing basics will strengthen your muscles, and prime your body for the advanced movements to follow. Mastery of the barbell squat will strengthen the muscles around your hips, knees, and back so that you are less susceptible to injury when advancing to more dynamic movements like cleans and snatches. Mastery of the strict pull-up will strengthen your shoulder girdle to handle the stress of that elusive muscle-up, or the popular butterfly pull-up. And, yes you guessed it, that list goes on.

So to sum up, I am, in no way, saying to completely stop practicing “advanced” movements in favor of returning to the basics. However, just because you are a seasoned-veteran of your sport doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consistently go back to the things that made you the athlete you are. It’s part of the beauty of CrossFit, practicing so many different things, but we can never neglect the fundamentals. Constant pursuit of virtuosity will make you the best athlete you can be, so keep practicing that one kick 10,000 times, and maybe, just maybe, Bruce Lee will one day fear you as well.

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