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Dragon Door Interviews Gus Petersen, RKC, CICS, and Creator of the K.A.T Fitness System

December 25, 2012 01:37 PM

doubleKBjuggling(1)
 
Dragon Door: How were you introduced to kettlebells?
 
Gus Petersen:  In 2003, I borrowed Power to the People from a friend and was amazed at the body tension and power-breathing concepts. Right away, I realized these simple techniques would make a profound difference in my strength training.  Even though kettlebells weren't in the text, I saw an ad for them at the back of the book and ordered a few.  In 2004, I became an RKC certified instructor.
 
Dragon Door:  What techniques or methodologies were you using before Power to the People and kettlebells?
 
Gus Petersen:  I've been training full time for over 20 years, and had been using some of Paul Chek’s techniques with Swiss balls, Navy SEAL-type bodyweight training, and teaching some martial arts and self-defense.  I was also using traditional barbells and dumbbells.
 
Dragon Door:  How did you start juggling kettlebells?
 
Gus Petersen: I'd seen Jeff Martone juggle kettlebells and thought it was so cool.   In 2006, while on vacation in Hawaii, I got a little antsy between surf days without my kettlebells.  So I started writing down kettlebell juggling concepts and techniques I wanted to try.  I even drew diagrams.  Then the floodgates just opened!  I kept a notepad next to the bed and would actually write down ideas as they came to me at night. 
 
I started trying things I thought no one had done before, and the system began to build on itself.  I spent the next four years refining, writing, and practicing.  In the summer of 2010, we filmed five DVDs—I had a great time putting it all together.
 
indoboardjuggling
 
Dragon Door: Earlier, you sent me a short message about your recent stroke, and quick recovery.  What happened?
 
Gus Petersen: We had just returned from visiting my in-laws last Thanksgiving.  It had been a late night, but I got up at 5:30AM with my wife, Karen.  Since I didn’t have anything scheduled until 9:30, I thought I'd catch up on some sleep and went back to bed.   Then I had a feeling of intense dizziness, and I expected it to go away, but it didn’t. It just kept going.  I heard Karen leaving for work, so I called out to her.  When I looked up, the whole room was spinning, and I couldn't get my balance.  I had terrible nausea and Karen didn’t know what to think.  She didn’t know if I had food poisoning, the flu, or if I was just being a wuss! She made an appointment with our doctor, and when it was time to go I could barely put my clothes on.  I had no balance at all and am just too heavy for Karen to help me get to the car, so I had to crawl.  That's when she really knew something was seriously wrong.  I crawled to the back door, got sick, and that's when she called an ambulance.
 
At the emergency room, I was trying to put a good face on things, and that might have been why the doctor thought I just had an inner ear problem and sent me home.  Karen ended up working from home that day, and when she came in to check on me I said, "Oh, man, I’m going to get sick again." And then I was out.  I don’t remember going out.  I heard someone call my name and it was Karen.  I opened my eyes and she was screaming my name.  I said, "Wow, what was that?"  And she said, "You had a seizure."  I said, "I think you’re right because as I was coming to, I saw my leg kicking."  So we went back to the emergency room, and this time there was a new doctor.  Karen told him I’d had a seizure, and he said, "I don’t think so. He probably just passed out."  
 
She said, "NO, he had a seizure. I want you to do a C-T scan." I was keeping my eyes shut because the whole room was spinning, and when the doc came back he was talking to Karen as if I wasn’t even there. He said, "This is not what we expected at all. The C-T scan showed a significant area of low density in his left cerebellum." Karen asked what that meant, and he said they suspected a stroke. An MRI confirmed that I’d had a major stroke.
 
At the time I didn’t realize that the cerebellum controls balance and coordination.  That’s why I couldn’t even stand.  They admitted me to the hospital, and the next day they did a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) test.  That’s when they discovered that I have a patent foramen ovale (PFO), which is a small hole between the heart atria.  All the other tests came out fine. Because I was relatively young and fit, they had been looking for the smoking gun, and the PFO was it. The doctor explained that even healthy people make and break up blood clots every day.  It took 52 years for a clot to enter my heart, find a way through that small opening, into an artery, and straight up into my brain, where it cut off the blood flow and caused major damage.
 
Clients bring me articles about people recovering from strokes, and the articles will call it remarkable. Yet, I'll read it and think, "Oh my God, this is awful, these people are struggling to recover the life that they had before the stroke."  The more I read, I began to find out very few people really recover from brain damage as severe as what I had.  It’s really been a remarkable, life-changing experience, because before this I felt bullet-proof. Now I don’t.  I realize things can happen, and I just feel grateful.  I am so grateful to be able to travel all over the country teaching the K.A.T. Fitness System.  It's gratifying and I feel very lucky and thankful to be able to do what I’m doing right now.

skiingwithKaren
 
Dragon Door: I’d imagine so!  How exactly did you recover?
 
Gus Petersen: The day after I had the stroke, the neurologist told me it would take at least four months for me to learn how to walk again, because I had severe damage to my brain.  When I heard this, I thought, "No way, I can do this now." But I also thought I might be in denial too.  As it turned out, I defied the odds. My entire medical team was amazed. I walked out four days after I was admitted and went back to work that Monday. No restrictions, no medications, nothing different except an 81-mg aspirin every day for the rest of my life to keep my blood thin. It’s amazing, and I’m not sure I even understand all of it yet. My doctors said being in great physical condition helped me absorb the trauma of the stroke.  And I think all of the kettlebell juggling work I had been doing before the stroke increased the neural plasticity—the ability of the brain to recover and rewire—of my brain.  What I think happened was within an incredibly short amount of time, my brain started rewiring itself.  That's why the dizziness went away for the most part, and I felt my balance being restored quickly.
 
Dragon Door: How is your K.A.T. System structured?
 
Gus Petersen:  I didn’t look at what anyone else was doing, I just found the groove and the system built on itself.  I started out by throwing in the traditional style (between the legs), then laterally outside the body in the sagittal plane, and finally behind the body in the frontal plane.
 
Then I started trying techniques with two kettlebells. And then I came up with pirouettes and Traveling Vikings—where you throw the kettlebell and catch it on the move.  Previously all the kettlebell juggling drills I'd seen were stationery. One day, I did an over-the-shoulder toss, threw it out too far in front of me, and had to take a few steps to catch it. So then I started throwing the bell in front of me and running four or five steps to catch it before switching to the other hand.  That’s how the Traveling Viking linear throws came about. 
 
jugglingwithYoana
 
Dragon Door: What’s next for the K.A.T. System? 
 
Gus Petersen:  I’m hoping to continue expanding it. People seem excited about the challenge and fun of K.A.T. juggling.  Even though we use lighter weights, it's surprisingly difficult.  The day after a workshop, people text that their bodies and brains are so sore!  It’s cool to see people having so much fun working their brains and their bodies.  When we throw in the Traveling Vikings and pirouettes, it’s such a demanding total body exercise with such a high neural load that people are really blown away. 
 
I also hope to keep traveling around to teach workshops.  It’s been really exciting to work with Franz Snideman and Yoana Teran of Revolution Fitness in San Diego. They’re really opening up Mexico and South America. I feel fortunate to have an opportunity to be part of that when we do a workshop in Mexico City in June. Eventually I’d like to create a K.A.T. instructor certification program.
 
Dragon Door:  Who would most benefit from the K.A.T. System DVDs or workshops?
 
Gus Petersen: Anybody can benefit from kettlebell juggling—from soccer moms to professional athletes.  In the beginning, the drills are very basic with safe and easy progressions.  At the workshops, people are always amazed with the progress they’re able to make in just one day with good instruction.  Even though it looks like a hardcore system, the reality is anybody can start with the basics and progress.   It's fun, it’s an intense workout, and it improves focus, reaction time, hand-eye coordination, and vision in short order.  This is a great tool for an RKC, HKC, or any serious kettlebell practitioner—it brings a whole new dimension to kettlebell training.
 
Dragon Door:  After your stroke, how soon could you juggle?
 
Gus Petersen:  I was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday and left Friday afternoon.  Even though it was hospital policy to leave in a wheelchair, the nurse waived that requirement for me, and I just walked out. I took it easy on Saturday and Sunday. Over the weekend, I had a weird dream where I was juggling but dropping everything. It bugged me, so Monday morning I was out in the backyard juggling.  I felt a little dizzy but I was catching them, which was a relief! I wore my heart rate monitor and remember getting my heart rate up to about 173 bpm a few times.  It was an amazing thing, I left the hospital on Friday, and was juggling on the following Monday before going back to work.
 
Dragon Door: I’m so glad we can share your story.
 
Gus Petersen: I've kept it to myself before now for the most part, because I didn't want to exploit it.  But Karen and others have convinced me that it's an important story to share. 
 
I never thought any of this could happen to me because I’ve always taken good care of myself.  The PFO was an undiagnosed condition I’d had since birth, which could have caused a stroke at any time.  I want people to realize that incorporating neural work into their training is important at any age, and especially as they get older.  Practices like the K.A.T. Fitness System and Primal Move, which involve neurological, sensory, and physical systems, are important for physical well-being and brain health.  These training systems can pay huge dividends in handling and recovering from brain traumas or strokes, and I think that's important. But even more important is that they work proactively to keep the brain sharp and responsive. When the brain functions optimally, the body performs at its best.
 
The whole experience really validated my training with kettlebells and K.A.T. juggling. I always knew the kind of training I practice has improved my hand-eye coordination and athleticism, but now I feel like this training may have really saved my life. Prior to the stroke, I could always feel how the K.A.T. juggling worked my brain. It was similar to when I used to practice high-level martial arts which have a cerebral, mind-body connection. I can’t prove it, but I feel like my kettlebell training and juggling gave me the neural plasticity and physical strength I needed for recovery.
 
Dragon Door: That’s incredible.  It's as if you just had a very bad illness for a week.
 
Gus Petersen:  Just as if I had the flu.
 
For more information or to train with Gus Petersen in Denver, Colorado, please visit http://www.proedgekettlebells.com or email him at gus@proedgekettlebells.com
 

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