When I was a kid, a merchant marine friend of my parents gave me a treasured gift, a calendar with scenes from Enter the Dragon. The envy of all of my friends, the calendar stayed on the wall above my desk for years after its expiration. I could never have imagined that decades later I would become friends with Bruce Lee’s co-star.
John Saxon, Bruce Lee, and the Full Circle
John Saxon walked into a bodyweight strength seminar I was teaching at a martial arts school owned by another legend and friend of Bruce Lee—Dan Inosanto. John had been serious about iron since his teens and we quickly hit it off. We started meeting and training on the beach in Santa Monica. Several months of Enter the Kettlebell ladders later, seventy-two-year-old Saxon was strictly pressing a seventy-pounder.
In a most unexpected manner, it all came full circle:
- Bruce Lee showed John Saxon the kettlebell swing the very first day they met. (An explosive swing with a kime, what today we call the “hardstyle swing.”)
- A decade later, Bruce Lee’s lethal grace is partly to blame for getting me bitten by the iron bug.
- Two more decades go by, and I teach kettlebells to “Roper.”
Fast-forward a few more years. Several weeks ago, John generously invited me and my wife to the special fortieth anniversary screening of Enter the Dragon. We got to hear great stories from a panel of people who had made the classic film, as well as Bruce Lee’s daughter. John mentioned Bruce and kettlebells. Bob Wall reminisced about fight scenes. Then the lights went out and the iconic film lit up bigger than life.
I have watched Enter the Dragon a great many times over the years. Different episodes caught my attention when I was a boy, a young man, a man. This time it was this statement:
“Sparta, Rome, the knights of Europe, the samurai… worshipped strength, because it is strength that makes all other values possible. Nothing survives without it. Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive.”
Aren’t you tired of being a “delicate wonder”?
The “Roper” Ladder Workout
Getting strong is not easy—but it is simple. “Ladder” your way up the way “Roper” did:
- Pick up a moderate size kettlebell and press it once.
- Park, relax a moment, repeat on the other side.
- Rest for a few minutes and press the bell twice left, twice right.
- Then three, four, and five. The set of five will make you work but it should not be a killer.
- Then start over at one.
The secret to success with Russian ladders is starting easy, building up to hard, and starting over easy again (as opposed to pyramiding). A miniature periodization cycle compressed into a single workout. It does not seem that hard in the beginning, but it creeps up on you, especially if you make it to 50 or so total reps.
Russian coaches and scientists are uncompromising—a high volume of quality lifts is the ticket to steady long-term strength gains. It may not be the most exciting approach, but it is nearly foolproof. The Enter the Kettlebell “Rite of Passage” never fails—it is the “delicate wonders” who quit.