Steve Cotter is one of the cornerstones upon which the international kettlebell community forms a rock solid base. Traveling tirelessly all over the world supporting those that want to learn practical physical skills that they can utilize and perfect throughout their lives, he teaches simple and attainable techniques. At the same time he instills in all who learn from him the fundamental body, breath and self poise and control that marks a true practitioner of the kettlebell sport .
Steve is a constant blur of energy; teaching a seminar all day, interacting with his students in the evening, and on the internet until the early hours answering peoples questions and giving his advice and support freely. His instruction is pithy- you can tell from every word or thought that streams from his consciousness that he takes what he does and what he represents as a teacher very seriously.
I took some time last week to ask a series of questions to Steve on a range of topics, from kettlebells, Qigong and beyond. Here’s a look at the man himself.
GK: Hi Steve, thanks for taking some time off from your busy global
It seems that you are everywhere at the moment- last week it was
Finland and Sweden, now you are headed for Italy. It is obvious to anyone that knows you that you pour an incredible amount of energy into what you do. What drives you?
SC: I believe fundamentally that people want guidance and inspiration. I see that there is incredible interest in physical culture and I know that I try to teach with the highest level of integrity. That is to say, I put my heart and soul into sharing what I know, and also I am able and willing to replace my information with new and better information when it appears.
I believe in the Individual. Within the individual is the Divine. So to be blessed with the ability to teach is a responsibility I do not
take lightly. Our nations throughout the world today need strong and vital people in order to
thrive. I take it as part of my responsibility to share my education
and experience with the world.
GK: You seem to have come out from the last few years of the international kettlebell community as the leading proponent at this stage. How do you feel about being the main ambassador for the global development of the sport?
SC: I am pleased to be able to offer a voice of reason to kettlebell
training community and also be a bridge between the East and West.
The global community is hungry for good information and coaching, as well as the inspiration and confidence to be able to see things
through to the accomplishment of their goals. The ego cannot be so big as to push a specific agenda upon the students of the art. I look to simplify the learning process and bring high quality learning into everything that I do, not only with kettlebells, but with movement in general.
I am American and I love my nation. However I can say that in America today people are used to products that are marketed with excessive hype and a level of arrogance and dishonesty. Part of the reason is because the media is so powerful in the USA and also we are quite isolated; most Americans do not have regularly access to people from different cultures.
However, in other parts of the world, and in particular in Asia, humility and respect are still valued. I think because of my extensive training in traditional martial arts from the time I was a boy, I was able to appreciate the significance of honor and respect and humility and self-discipline. So I bring these qualities with me wherever I go to teach, and people respond very well to that. So it has afforded me the opportunity to be a representative for kettlbell training across all nations and all peoples. We are all very much the same in essence and we all wish to improve our lives.
It is an honor to be able to spread kettlebell lifting on every continent now and in so many countries. I see the goodness in this world, every time I teach and travel, when people welcome me to their countries. We all sweat together, and when it all boils down, we are all not so very different after all. Within this training, there is a community, a brother and sisterhood, where we can all come together in common goals of health, fitness and well-being.
GK: There are probably many people out there in poor physical shape, and look at some of the results with kettlebells and feel that for them, its an unreachable dream. What’s your advice to your average 9-5 person who wants to get back in shape and take charge of their health and well-being once again?
SC: First of all, the goal is reason enough to proceed. Where there is an idea and a will to make it happen, all that is needed is the right knowledge. So as a tool, a kettlebell is a very practical and user friendly option for an average person’s fitness needs.
First a good education is necessary. To get the right advice and the main principles and techniques for safety and effectiveness. Next, belief in self is crucial for progress. The reason to take action is for your own benefit, so be consistent, and stick with it.
Finally, as the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. It is more
about what you do over time than anything else. Start slow, learn the basics well and make a commitment to yourself and your dreams. Go a little at first and keep adding a little more at a time, gradually. Over the course of months and years, you will be a different person, an improved person.
The science is well established, and if applied to a focused and committed mind, anyone can achieve peak fitness with kettlebell training.
GK: Currently, we live in a time where many people, given the global market conditions, are suffering under increasing burdens of stress. Often, taking care of health becomes secondary to other obligations, and many people struggle to find balance in their lives. Do you have any advice for those people in the kettlebell and international fitness community who are under severe pressure these days? What do you think is the key to finding an inner balance with all the different elements in our lives?
SC: Yes, first I will discuss the mental and emotional components of success, because that is what we are talking about. We all wish to have a good life and to be successful. Most people are willing to work for themselves, and simply would just like the opportunity to do so.
The power of the mind, our mental constructions and projections are immense beyond what we can understand. There is sufficient research and evidence to suggest that we actually ‘create’ our own experience and existence. So beliefs and attitude is central to success. This is a foundational principle. Whatever one puts their mind and energy into, the results will come of that.
Physiologically, we work to harmonies the body’s energies and mechanism. I believe a balanced approach to health, fitness and well-being is the solution for all of us, to varying degrees of need. The aspects of deep breathing, relaxation and mental concentration upon the quality of breath and movement are surely still unchartered areas of human performance.
Most traditional cultures have a concept of balance. The Chinese refer to what they call the yin and yang. With inner clarity the external aspects will simplify. This has more to do with our attitude and presence of mind than any other factor.
GK: So what you are saying Steve is, it is exactly at times of stress that we need our practice most- whatever it is that gives us that sense of center and the resilience to keep going, even when other people are saying ” its too hard” ” I don’t have the time and energy” and quitting their own personal disciplines etc ?
SC: I am saying that people need to have a strong belief in their self, in their own creative process and possibilities. Part of this is the training, the daily discipline and investment in oneself; just as important or even more than the physical training is the mental outlook. We have to choose to take a positive outlook or not;
through the daily practice and the weeks and months and years of training we are also developing our practical and marketable skills as human beings. In time of plenty and times of shortage, there is always a market for excellence and quality. So, instead of focusing outwardly on the difficulties that we may be currently experiencing, we can and should focus inwardly on developing our own power and skills.
GK: Qigong is also a very important part of your own personal repertoire. Can you explain briefly for us what this is all about? Will the future see you doing more and more of these kinds of seminars? Do you see a link between Qigong and kettlebells?
SC: Qigong is a health system developed within China. Some refer to it as Taoist yoga. Qi or Chi refers to the idea of a life force, or it can be viewed as energy or breath. Gong or kung is hard work or a skillful ability. So Qigong is energy mastery or breathing skill. There are hundreds of different variation of Qigong, including medical Qigong to facilitate healing, martial Qigong to increase the power for fighting and Qigong for health development, which is the most widely practiced.
The basic components of any qigong method involves the coordination of deep breathing with relaxed movement and deep concentration. The most well-known form of Qigong is Taijiquan (tai chi ch’uan). The reason to practice Qigong is to cultivate the increased development and flow of our body’s energies. Whereas physical exercise such as kettlebell training and martial arts strengthen the bones, muscles and tendon structures, Qigong strengthens the organs, which are also muscles. In addition, hard physical training is draining to the body, it breaks the body down and the body must recuperate from that. Qigong helps us with this.
Qigong is gentle on the body and it builds the body’s energy and
health and vitality. So to be a well-rounded athlete and person and to have vital health throughout our lives, we must balance the hard and soft of physical training with energetic training, such as Qigong and meditation.
The IKFF system that I teach is the leading proponent of linking
kettlebells with Qigong because we want to strengthen both the
structure and the energetic body, and these modalities are a very
complimentary way of doing so.
Qigong is still very new and largely unknown in the West, however in recent years I have seen more interest in people wanting an education in the energy arts of Qigong. As their bodies get stronger and more vital through kettlebell training, they take a keener interest in longevity, which is to maintain that increase in fitness and vitality across their life. So this is where Qigong comes in and where we will see more and more education on these arts moving forward.
Lineage and a direct source of information is very important when
learning and teaching valuable art forms, and especially with training in a system with as many subtleties as Qigong. So I am very grateful to have been accepted as a student to the Grandmaster and lineage holder of the Little 9 Heaven system of Qigong (nei gong) via Master Kao San Lun :
GK: What, in your opinion, do you see as the future of the kettlebell sport? Its been nine/ten years now since the reintroduction of the sport in the US and globally. Do you see any signs of stagnation, or do you think that it is successfully integrating into the mainstream sporting consciousness?
SC: It is integrating into mainstream consciousness slowly now because we have new and improved information and new leadership at the head of the educational process of spreading the sport. It is surely a work in progress.
While kettlebells have been a breath of fresh air with regards to how we train the body, for the first 10 years they have often been marketed as some ‘hard core’ tool for ‘hard-living’ comrades. All shticks and gimmicks aside, the real value of kettlebells is for the every day person. Most people are not “hard-core’ , and rather than that, they have complex lives and need simple solutions to their fitness and health needs. In addition, to be “hard-core” is a goal for the ego, but it is not practical for most. When we are young and athletic, we can go-go-go.
However in real life, people in their 40s, 50s,60s and beyond can’t just continue to push and push. As with all things, there is a natural limit. So they must have a system that can be sustainable over time, not one that will pump the body up when young but break it down and injure it in older years.
So now we have much more balance in the way that kettlebells are being taught to the mainstream.
The IKFF is reaching out to all demographics and showing that at a very basic level, an unfit person with the desire to change, or a senior or a child, or almost anyone else can use kettlebells safely and effectively.
GK: You spend most of your life meeting people from all walks of life and backgrounds, traveling all over the world to teach. What have all these experiences taught you about yourself?
SC: This is a very important question. There are several key things. Some of them validations about theories that I once had.
I had always wondered if needs and wants were fundamentally the same across all cultural or national boundaries. I have found that they are. We all basically have similar or the same basic interests and desires. So this is illuminating and encouraging for me. Human have strengths and frailties, so interacting with such a broad base of people from across the globe enables me to see myself as more human.
I will say also that more than before, I recognize that to be called a teacher is the greatest of honors and with that comes an enormous responsibility. When someone invites me to their country, or comes to my course, it shows great commitment and sacrifice on their part. That should not be discarded, and it reminds me to give my heart to what I do. I think that it reminds me not to become a guru, or to allow my position to change me in a way that brings me away from my goals. I think it is fantastic to be considered a teacher and a leader, and there, to me, there is no higher honor. I am reminded of that balance between ego and humility, the proverbial teacher/student relationship. I’ve learned to be more mindful and consider both facets of the equation and look for those opportunities to both teach and learn.
GK: Please tell us about Ken Blackburn. You often describe him as your main partner/associate/ brother, and the both of you working together really seems to bring out your individual skills to the fullest. He seems like such an essential part of what the IKFF is all about.
SC: I believe in the highest quality, and I believe in comprehension and balance.
To be truly gifted in one area of specialization is great, those types of talented people are valuable to all organizations and communities. However, to be a leader in the mold that I consider to be a great leader, is to be well-rounded in your expertise. I believe this is a special gift that not all can have. In fact few have.
I have traveled the world, and have interacted in one form or the other with almost every expert of significance in the Western world, when it comes to kettlebells and their integration into the functional fitness movement. Ken is very rare in his diversity of talents and how many important things he can do at a high level.
My idea of an organization is like a family. In some ways, I am like a parent and I want my children to become better off than me, greater than me and to expand past my own potential. I believe any loving parent would want the same for his or her children. The way to create this is by providing opportunity.
So to me, for the IKFF to grow into a great and truly meaningful organization, there must be opportunity for growth and their must be a way, and this is of highest importance—there must be a way for the organization to be bigger, to be about more than just the founder.
Like in a family, if the father or mother is the greatest that will ever be, then the children feel they cannot have as good of a life. Yet, what the parents really want is for them to have a better life, to learn from their experience and to benefit from our works.
I consider leadership to be the most crucial aspect and to me leadership means that you care for your people, like your own children and family. The only way that I can create something great and meaningful for this world, is to do it in a way that it can grow beyond just me and that those top people from within can grow to their own highest potential. This way the art and the system of knowledge can live and can improve over time from generation to generation.
So, I selected Ken because he has all the qualities that are needed to lead and he has the same high standard for expertise in all his skill sets that I do. He seeks mastery and this is necessary for anyone. Batman needs Robin, it is that simple 😉
When I decided to create the IKFF, I did so having learned from the mistakes of others. I did not wish to build a team filled with number twos. By that I mean I didn’t want to surround myself with people who will always want to follow for the rest of their lives. I determined that I would help to develop leaders, which means there must come a time when they will become #1. And I am comfortable in my role. The art and the responsibility to teach is more important than me or any one person. Today is my day, yet tomorrow it may no longer be for me to be in the spotlight.
Of course Ken is vital to the IKFF. I developed it to be that way, it is by his own merits. In addition to this, the team of instructors we are developing also have many of the same attributes that make Ken Blackburn a great teacher and leader in our field.
GK: Lastly Steve, what’s your own personal goal?
SC: My goal is to facilitate the growth of strong, focused societies,
nationally and globally, through its people. I see a key to this goal in being the strengthening of the mind and body on an individual basis, through the use of comprehensive health programs like what I offer and through the IKFF programs.
GK: Thank you for your time today and we here in Japan wish you a safe trip, and hope to see you here in the East some day soon!
SC: Thank you very much Mark, it is an honor to be able to teach and I am thankful there is interest in the information I have to share. I actually teach quite regularly in the East and have run course in Malaysia and Hong Kong for the last few years.
Next year I will run courses in Taiwan and the Philippines. Also I have been receiving more inquiries from students in Japan who wish to learn my system. Japan is a culture I have a lot of respect for, so when the day comes that I visit to teach, it will be a very happy time!
Note- If any readers have questions for Steve, please feel free to write in/comment and I will have Steve answer your questions for you.