Many years ago I met a monster. He ate punks like me for his postworkout protein snack. This beast breathed fire, killed anyone in his path, drank blood, spit acid and was kept in a cage when not breaking world records in all sorts of strength sports. He benched over 660 (the first to do so, in fact… yes, sans bench shirt), he deadlifted over 880, and was considered by many to be the strongest man in the world, a title which he, in fact, earned a handful of times.
I was watching him pin a fresh flower on a young woman’s dress. His 6 foot 3 inch frame, all 300+ pounds of brutal creature was almost bent in half to garnish this 5 foot 4 woman with his recent purchase from a sidewalk flower vendor, his massive fingers gingerly yet delicately maneuvering this brooch onto her collar.
Bill Kazmaier wasn’t going to eat me… he was, um, nice.
Flash Forward 15 years. I’m standing in the back of the vast archival room of the Stark’s Center for Physical Culture and Sport History. I have a video camera in hand and am trying not to trip over their collection of barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and other strength paraphernalia that they’ve collected from the dusty corners of strength history. I still smelled of cheap rental car and Austin humidity, since I hadn’t time to shower before being told I should be here. I was here to meet another monster, another fanged, crazed leviathan who broke a slew of American weightlifiting records before becoming a massive professional wrestler and being the first man to ever clean the Thomas Inch dumbbell (yeah, that last one doesn’t sound impressive until you actually try it). Now I was already assured he wasn’t going to render me limb from limb upon meeting me, but when Mark Henry was preceded by an entourage of his children, wife and extended family, I wasn’t prepared for the smile, the gentleness or the sheer joy that emanated from this enormous human (even dwarfing Kazmaier by probably a couple of inches and 50-100 pounds).
With increasing frequency a website, trainer or article crosses my path that describes what they do as Extreme, Insane or Hardcore. Their marketing and PR machine practically screams at ya, like a Pantera song serving as their perpetual soundtrack. There are gyms that exist solely to propagate this message… they are Hardcore. In fact, they are Harder Core than you… they’re more errr, grrr, arrrgghhh… ya now… HARDCORE. They live to bleed, they eat pain and crap dynamite, they’re so hardcore, even their women have testes. Your workout is their warmup. If ya can’t handle the heat, get out of the forge. Are you made of the right stuff or the trite stuff?
More about the truths and myths about ‘hardcore’ in this video.
Iron. Steel. Sweat. Blood. Pain. Hardcore. Did ya know that there are gyms that require written declarations of why you think you should workout there and why they should bother excepting you? So hardcore!
These moments in modern advertising make me think of the monsters I’ve met. The truly “hardcore” don’t talk, don’t shout, don’t boast… they simply DO. Some of these monsters were athletes of the absolute highest caliber (being called the world’s strongest man is about as hardcore as it gets in modern lifting lexicon). Others were coaches and teachers, their word being a powerful tool that was often dispensed without a price tag. Volume wasn’t required, Pantera was nowhere around.
Bodytribe exists in a strange limbo between shouting as loud as we can and quietly vibrating in the corner. By the very nature of the intensity of the physical subculture, we scare some folks, but since we chose to do, not scream about doing, we’re often overlooked by the head smashers and nail biters out there and written off as perhaps a bit diluted for their HARDCORE nature. If antics trump ideals, then yup, we’re far from hardcore. Heck, we’re outright neighborly.
But our members, no matter what level of athleticism, do things no one else does, and in many cases, things most people can’t do. We’ve had the Hardcore come to play with us, only to be a little baffled. Um… this shit is hard. But where are the screams and violence? How is that small woman in her 50’s exploding in intense movement all around me, and somehow laughing in the process? Why can’t I keep up with her?
Here’s the trick…
If it is fun, approachable and scalable, then anyone can do it if they are so driven, and more than ya might think will step up and give it a go despite the efforts to promote elitism. Most “hardcore” atmospheres don’t appeal to everyone, but that doesn’t mean the intensity is limited to the violent gym porn of grunts, slaps and shouting. Getting strong and enriching the relationship between you and your body needn’t be an adventure in screaming egos and misled anger management to be Hardcore.