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An Interview with Adam Von Rothfelder, PCC Instructor

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Dragon Door: You have an amazingly varied background, how did you originally become interested in martial arts and fitness?

Adam Von Rothfelder: Growing up, my older brother and I would watch Bruce Lee and kung-fu movies. And I was always jumping off the couch, emulating them! I started learning karate and gymnastics at around age six. Those were my two main sports, even though soccer took over for a while as I got older. But at 32 years old, I’m still a very physical person—working out all the time and still practicing martial arts on the side.

Soon after my brother passed away, I heard an ad on the radio for a Wisconsin's toughest man contest and thought, "I might not be the toughest, but I am the maddest right now."

Exactly two weeks after my brother passed away, I fought for the first time. I walked in with fists of rage and knocked the other guy out in 15 seconds—even though he was 20lbs heavier and 4 inches taller. I had four fights that day, and didn’t do so well in the next fight—because I wasn’t really a fighter!

Even though I was athletic, strong, and fast, I didn’t have skills and sparring experience. So, I trained for a year before trying—and winning another tournament. Afterwards, I was approached by three coaches who had amazing success in their careers—Duke Roufus, Adrian Serrano, and Horace Kraft. All three of them gave me an interesting perspective and an introduction to the fighting world.

I started learning jiu-jitsu and trained with Tom Muller who placed second in the Pan Am games last year. It was great to learn jiu-jitsu from one of the top people in the world, and it has carried through my career—I’ve always been pretty even or ahead of many guys who’ve had more experience than me.

After studying jiu-jitsu for three months, I was shocked when I took second place at the North American Grappling Association tournament in Milwaukee. People recommended that I try MMA, and I thought why not! Two months later, I had a fight lined up.

I was supposed to fight a guy who was 0 and 1, but he cancelled his fight when he saw me take my shirt off at the weigh-in. At the time I was built differently from the other fighters—I had more of a football player build, so I was a lot bigger more muscular than some of the other 185ers.

So, I’d done all of this training—and a weight cut from 210 down to 185—only to get a call that my opponent had canceled just a few hours before the fight. The main card’s opponent also cancelled, so they asked if I’d do a catch weight fight with Ed Blake. I agreed because I was there to fight!

I went into it even though Blake was 7 and 1, and I'd never fought in MMA before! He won with a rear naked choke, but that’s how my MMA career began.

I took the opportunity to move to Minnesota and train with some incredible fighters and strength and conditioning coaches who took my kettlebell, weight training, and martial arts game to a whole new level. Within a year of moving to Minnesota, I was sparring with Brock Lesnar and Sean Sherk—some of the biggest names in UFC at that time—on a regular basis.

Also, Brett "Da Grim" Rodgers, the number 5 heavyweight fighter in the world had a fight coming up with Fedor Emelianenko at the Chicago Sears Center. This was an amazing opportunity for Brett, and he needed someone like Fedor for him to train with. I was just coming off of an injury and had been doing a lot of powerlifting. At 230lbs, I was nowhere near fighting weight, but was able to be Brett Rodgers' Fedor.

For the next two and a half months, I trained twice a day with Brett Rodgers everywhere he went. During that time I met everyone in Strikeforce while traveling around as his sparring partner. I was able to watch some of the greatest fighters in the world from ringside. I was about to take off in MMA—until I had a career-ending injury.

My shoulder separated so badly that I couldn’t do much of anything for months, and lost the momentum. So, I switched gears and got back into fitness instead of fighting. Now I own a gym and enjoy teaching my clients everything I’ve learned.

Dragon Door: At a lunch break during the Minneapolis PCC, you mentioned modeling as well, how did you get started?

AdamVonRothfelderModelingAdam Von Rothfelder: The modeling happened because of MMA. After I got hurt, I moved to LA hoping that would give me the edge I needed to get back into the fight. I was training harder—not really better—and I never fully recovered from the injury. But while I was in LA, I got a call from an agent asking to represent me.

I said sure, even though I'd never thought about modeling before. Less than a month later I started fitness modeling and was booked for a fitness equipment commercial. But since I was still big and muscular, the fitness modeling actually turned more towards fashion. The commercial paid well, and I liked the idea of being paid to workout and look good!

After the commercial, I felt like my new career was about to take off. Then my mom called to say that my dad had gotten very sick. I packed everything in my car and moved back home. For a while I worked as a doorman at a bar, started to reestablish myself, and figure out what I was going to do with my life. My fighting career was over, and I wasn't going to be an electrician again—which is what I was doing before MMA fighting.

So, I decided to open a gym a couple months after moving back to Milwaukee. One of my clients was a very well known model and encouraged me to try fashion—even though I thought at 5’11.25 I was too short. But I went down to Chicago, and they thought I looked great—but HUGE! At the time I had a 57" chest because I’d been doing a lot of powerlifting and isolation exercises for my chest and back. I was used to training 5 hours a day as a martial artist, so it was normal for me to constantly be in the gym.
 
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After losing 35lbs, I went to New York at 190lbs and got a professional modeling contract—it was an incredible whirlwind. I had four photo shoots in 2 days, and less than an hour after finishing one photo shoot, I had 2,800 friend requests on Facebook.

A photographer had shared one of my photos, saying, "Check out the hottest new face—you haven't seen ink or a body like this!" During the next 3 months, I spent almost every other week in NYC. I had four magazine covers, did two runway shows and was the face of GQ.com for a day.

In New York, I saw new ways of working out. I realized that no matter my career—modeling, fighting, coaching—it’s the actual training that I really love. The training drives me, and the pictures are just the cherry on top.

I consider myself an athlete, and while I still get many calls from Chicago and New York, modeling lead to more. I’m staring in a feature film that’s coming out this fall, I also have another movie role in August co-starring with Damon Whittaker. It’s a horror film based in Hell, Michigan—which is a real town!

I’ve learned that there really are no closed doors. You just have to keep moving forward and remember that the goal is to be successful and happy.

Dragon Door: How did you become interested in the PCC Workshop?

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Adam Von Rothfelder: That goes back to Bruce Lee and jumping off of couches! Because I was a gymnast as a kid, I’ve always been a high rep pull up guy, and good at handstands. The PCC really appealed to me when I realized it would be big like the RKC.

When I met John Du Cane at the PCC, I also told him that I’d wanted to be RKC certified for over ten years, and part of the Dragon Door team. It’s great to be involved with the PCC while it is still very new.

The PCC is driven by such an awesome force—Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade. I’ve been using the progressions and regressions from it to help with my shoulder injury, re-educate my body, and use it with my clients. I think of Progressive Calisthenics as "manly yoga." You need balance, focus, and concentration to create a massive amount of tension.

I tell my clients that they should never do an exercise halfway, that they shouldn’t just do a movement, they should BE the movement.

Dragon Door: What was your favorite bodyweight move at the PCC?

Adam Von Rothfelder: My favorite bodyweight fallback is always the pistol squat. I love all the variations—the wushu, the shrimp and the jumbo shrimp…

Dragon Door: Was that your first jumbo shrimp squat at the PCC?

Adam Von Rothfelder: Yes, I'd never done a jumbo shrimp, and went "way below sea level" as Danny would say. Post PCC, my favorite thing is one-arm elbow levers. At the workshop, one of the participants, Alex Ducheck, was a great hand balancer. He could hold free-standing one-hand handstands! It was cool working with him as a partner.
 
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That was one of the coolest things about the PCC—we didn’t just learn from the instructors, we learned from everyone there. It was incredible.

It was amazing to meet people from all over the world who were there for the same reason—becoming better and learning how to help others become better too. Having that much knowledge and experience in one room was great.

I had no idea that a Dragon Door certification would be like this—I thought I would be writing notes all day, and train a little. Instead the workshop was completely interactive and I got an amazing workout. I also gained back the confidence in the shoulder I had injured. Danny helped me do a muscle-up, and after a few tries and tweaks, I nailed three of them in a row! That REALLY put a smile on my face.

Dragon Door: How will you use this new information with your clients at the gym?

Adam Von Rothfelder: I already started today. I’ve found that most people have limited mobility and that by using the PCC progressions, they can not only begin to understand that, but also start improving. It’s also a great way to train anywhere. I plan on really using the PCC information in everything I do from the children's camps this summer, to the free community fitness classes at city hall with groups as large as 60 people.

Who needs extra equipment when we can just work with our own bodies? It’s more efficient because of the tension we create, and learning to use our bodies helps with balance and cognitive functions too. Bodyweight exercise is also safer—if someone fails on a bench press with no spotter, they can end up with 250lbs on their throat, the worst thing that can happen if someone fails on a one-arm push-up is maybe getting some dirt on their chest.

But, I did the PCC as much for me as for my clients.

Dragon Door:
What's next in your fitness career?

Adam Von Rothfelder: The PCC was a really big deal for me, as was meeting John Du Cane. Right now, I feel like I need to get out of the gym more and work with my community. I just started a job for Fox6 as their in-studio fitness correspondent. I have my own five minute segment twice a day, once a week and will be using Progressive Calisthenics and kettlebell training as the main modalities. I’ll explain moves and hopefully convince people to try them out.

Writing a book will be a next step for me as well.

AdamVonRothfelderModeling thumbnailAdam Von Rothfelder owns and trains at Drench Fitness in Milwaukee. His website is drenchmke.com, he can also be reached via email at info@drenchFIT.com or by phone (414) 751-0898. Follow Adam on Twitter and Drench Fitness on Facebook.
 

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