It was Saturday afternoon in Budapest, Hungary. I sat down for what is one of my favorite parts of an SFG Level I Certification: “What is the SFG?” I watched and listened as SFG Team Leader Jozsef Stefanovics told his version of this speech in Hungarian. He had no notes. He spoke quickly, confidently, and with passion.
I tried to follow along as SFG Team Leader Ervin Toth translated for me. I didn’t get all of it—but I didn’t need to. I could see the people in the room being energized by what “Stefi” had to say. His version of this speech was similar to mine. He had used the StrongFirst system to get better at karate. It added power to his strikes and longevity to his career. Now, he trains others in both karate and StrongFirst kettlebell methods. The StrongFirst principles and methods made him a better karateka in the same way they made me a better Navy SEAL.
After Stefi’s speech, as the students clapped and other Team Leaders hugged him, I smiled and reflected on what I’d seen thus far in my weekend. Although the Certification had been taught in Hungarian, I didn’t really need a translator.
Being the CEO of StrongFirst has its privileges. I get to work with Pavel and an amazing HQ team. I also get to work with the awesome people who make up the StrongFirst community, the men and women teaching our Courses and Certifications on six continents.
But the biggest perk is that I get to go to a lot of Certifications and StrongFirst events all over the world each year. Going to these events is always re-energizing. I get to see familiar faces, meet new people, and watch our instructors do the work of teaching the next SFGs, SFBs, and SFLs. Selfishly, observing our instructors teaching our curriculum has proven to be a great way to dial in my own technique.
I am always impressed by the students at these events. They pay good money and spend valuable time to learn the StrongFirst principles. They happily volunteer to endure one of the most challenging weekends in the fitness industry just so they can become SFGs, SFLs, or SFBs. Seeing them learn the techniques, endure the practices and take the tests is very uplifting.
It’s also impressive to see the curriculum taught so consistently to so many people in so many places. StrongFirst is now spreading our message of strength on six continents. The fact that the material is taught in so many places and in so many languages in such a consistent manner is no small feat.
Speaking of which, perhaps what impresses me the most is seeing our instructors—the Master SFGs, Senior SFGs, and SFG Team Leaders collectively known as “the SFG Leadership”—teach our curriculum material to the students. It’s so rewarding to watch our instructors help the students understand the principles and techniques that make up this system. It’s especially rewarding to watch them help those who are struggling to grasp a certain technique and then have an “a-ha” moment after troubleshooting from a Team Leader or Assistant.
But it’s not just the SFG Leadership’s ability to teach that impresses me. What impresses me even more is the example they set for future StrongFirst Instructors. They are students of strength and quiet professionals. They believe strength has a greater purpose. They don’t just teach this. They live it and they work hard to be better at teaching it to others.
This Certification in Budapest was like any other, except for the fact it was taught in a language I didn’t understand. I did my best to follow the translator, but that wasn’t as easy as it sounds given that the Certification instructor was speaking quickly.
As a result, as the weekend progressed, I paid more and more attention to body language. I’ve been in many circumstances (most of which were dangerous) where I had to read people’s body language in addition to trusting an interpreter. So I have some experience with non-verbal communication.
I watched Master SFG Peter Lakatos; his Team Leaders Ervin Toth, Ferenc Acs, and Jozsef Stefanovics; and their assistants teach the material, flawlessly demonstrate the movements, and pay attention at all times. Every time someone picked up a kettlebell, regardless of how heavy it was, it was handled as if it was a Beast (48kg bell). Every time another instructor spoke, all others stood tall, listened, and made sure everyone in attendance understood. Like so many times before, I saw the instructors set high standards for the students to follow. Not only in their teaching, but in their appearance and behavior.
The same thing happens at StrongFirst Certifications everywhere and I’ve always been impressed by the knowledge and professionalism demonstrated by our instructors. But I had taken it for granted. I had been focusing more on what they were saying—not how it was being said. This time, not being able to understand the “what” allowed me to focus on the “how.”
The Language of Strength
A couple of years ago, while observing the SFG I and SFG II combined event in Chicago, I heard Senior SFG Mark Cheng reference “the language of strength.” He used this expression as he taught the SFG I students to sit tall with shoulders back and chest out while in the tall sit position of the get-up. This phrase intrigued me, and stuck with me.
Now, after having seen “the language of strength” demonstrated in a language I didn’t understand, I realize what Mark was talking about. The language of strength is not just how much you lift—it’s how you lift that weight and how you carry yourself before and after those reps.
After Stefi’s speech, Peter Lakatos got everyone to stand up. He thanked all the instructors and assistants, then thanked the students for being willing to spend hard-earned money and a full weekend learning the SFG system. After thanking them, he prepared them for the grad workout.
For me, the grad workout is almost as much fun to watch as the “What is the SFG?” speech. The students had already been through two and half days of training. They had learned the six basic movements of our SFG Level I Certification. They’d endured all the practice sessions. The technique test was over. The snatch test was over. All that was left was the grad workout and student evaluation—piece of cake, right?
This grad workout began like any other. Master SFG Peter Lakatos described the workout, he and his group of Team Leaders got everyone excited, and the students grabbed their bells. The weather, up to that point, had been great. It was not as hot or as humid as most August afternoons are in Budapest. But the weather did not last—the heat and humidity both rose just in time for the workout. After fifteen minutes, some students were struggling. The team leaders did a masterful job of encouraging the students to maintain their form, in many cases, switching them to smaller bells to prioritize proper technique.
At the 25-minute mark, the students got an energy surge. They were getting closer and closer to the grad workout being done. There were people from all walks of life participating. Some were stronger than others, but all were strong in spirit. Finally, the grad workout came to a close. The students cheered and high-fived each other. Some went to rehydrate. Some had to lay down to catch their breath.
It was like so many other grad workouts I’ve seen since becoming the CEO of StrongFirst. I didn’t understand what the Team Leaders were saying as they motivated the students, but I didn’t need to. I knew what they were communicating by how it was said and how they carried themselves. I knew the message was being received by how the students reacted and how they maintained good technique even though they were exhausted.
Strength Is a Skill
Observing this SFG Level I Certification in Budapest was an amazing experience for me. I felt truly blessed to be a part of the StrongFirst community. It was so rewarding to watch these students become SFGs. It was also rewarding to meet the Instructors (SFG Leadership) and the assistants. They clearly took their responsibility seriously and carried themselves as humble strength professionals. It showed in the results.
I didn’t always know what was being said, but I know what these students learned.
P.S. Not all of the weekend was serious. At one point during the “What is the SFG Speech?” My translator kept saying the expression “Swedish Jacknife.” I had no idea what this meant. Knowing the SFG TL Stefi was a karate instructor, I wondered if this was a karate kick. Or perhaps it was what happened when a Volvo semi actually jackknifed on the highway. Finally, after hearing it about four times, I realized the correct translation was Swiss Army Knife. Stefi was referring to different techniques within the SFG system as different tools to use for different jobs or goals. Very similar to how a Swiss army knife has a lot of different tools in it for different tasks.