(Photo: Practice makes… the need for more practice.)
Our long-time member and friend Vincent Serravello interviewed Greg Walsh a few years ago, and used the answers as part of his spoken intro to the outstanding independent film “China Heavyweight“, which played as part of the Rochester Labor Film series.
Here are the questions and answers:
I. I once heard you describe your work as something like, “watching peoples’ hips all day long.” Isn’t it mentally and physically exhausting to have to give so much intense observation?
(Obviously, I left unsaid the most important part of the issue: “watching,” like all other aspects of training is an art.)
It is easy to overlook how challenging it can be at times simply because of how fulfilling it can be when things go right- If your observations succeed in helping people make good adjustments and subsequent progress, it is always time well spent.
It’s the snake eating its tail- the more you watch, and practice, and strive to develop expertise- no matter how much time and energy it may take- the more rewarding the results. It’s always felt like that funny aphorism “The harder I work, the luckier I get…”.
II. Trainers demonstrate proper form and movement. Are there any obstacles in getting fighters to observe and carry out your demonstrations correctly? If so, how do you deal with these obstacles?
Obstacles come up when training almost anyone- especially those in combat sports. A term I use both jokingly and seriously is “Self-correcting”– getting punched or kicked or choked due to not executing something we learned and drilled in training will elicit form or technique adjustments much more effectively than words or demonstration- no matter how talented the trainer.
Consequences in combat sports are paid in far different ways than in fitness- There is no immediate physical repercussion to doing a few poor reps of push-up.
A slightly more specific answer to your question is: If you are both patient and knowledgeable enough to correct a movement pattern, form error, or technique flaw in a willing athlete it will show up in the “final product”, which is the athlete’s performance OUT of the gym.
Once an athlete or fighter sees the actualization of things you’ve tried to help them with, it will influence both their progress and the progress of those that look up to them. Working as hard as you can to make every single person you train as good as they can be pays dividends as each newer person enters the training room. Before long you have a group of living examples of the expertise you have worked so hard to gain and pass on.
III. Some trainers (or maybe all?) practice important elements in training, like proper nutrition, lifestyle and mental attitude, in their own lives, outside of the gym; they live the life they train. It seems to be common sense; does it work? Isn’t it stressful at times for trainers on this path to stay on it?
Many trainers do not practice what they preach, but in my experience, all the really good ones do/ have. If being both an athlete and an excellent trainer are things that someone truly loves and sees value in, adding those levels of discipline and focus to their own lives feels natural. Everything needs a healthy balance- even discipline. Since as a trainer you are often looked to in helping to define that balance, acknowledging and being forthright about your own shortcomings or missteps is something that many are hesitant to do, but also something that instills trust and confidence in those that you are training.
NO ONE is perfect, or infallible, and pretending otherwise only succeeds in developing unhealthy egos and expectations. As a trainer and an “expert”, you want to be an attainable product- if you make yourself seem too much larger than life, even your best students may stop striving to catch you. If you are a selfless coach, and not simply interested in being the king of your gym, you WANT them to reach (and exceed) your level.
IV. What would you say are the one or two best features of the work of training fighters? And/or, what’s the least attractive aspect?
Fighting is this primal, intuitive and cerebral, dangerous, technical and wild at the same time, thing… Helping someone succeed at something with so many moving pieces and that requires SO much work to gain expertise in is incredibly humbling and rewarding. People often refer to fighting as a chess match- though that is a great strategic comparison, NOTHING can compare with fighting when it comes to the one-on-one application of strategy under stress.
It is a constantly evolving game, both from a trainer and a fighter perspective, and having the opportunity to put that hard-earned knowledge and expertise into motion from either end is a real privilege. The emotional toll of a fighter not performing up to their abilities can be tough to deal with- both as a competitor and a coach.
It takes a strong will to persevere in combat sports after getting your ass kicked, and the samurai-type mindset of “win or lose, learn from both, try as hard as you can no matter what” needs to be demonstrated and reinforced by a trainer at all times. If instilled thoroughly, that mindset will stay with them throughout their daily lives, and will make them stronger people as well as athletes; That is really the crowning achievement.