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Hard Man, Cold Man—Rocker, Photographer, Martial Artist, Interview with Michael Polito, PCC

Michael Polito PCC Instructor
Dragon Door: When we spoke before, I remember you had a background in martial arts. What is your athletic background in general?

Michael Polito: I started in the martial arts in the late 70s with Chinese martial arts, specifically the Fu-Jow Pai system (Tiger Claw System). I studied that for a couple of years then transitioned to a kenpo style of Okinawa karate style where I achieved my black belt. From there I started mingling with other styles including Japanese swordsmanship—which I still study in New York City. I gravitated towards Japanese systems and then I got involved with another style called Oyama karate which I have studied the longest out of all the martial arts—probably close to thirty years now. I have a second degree black belt in that system. I've never taken a break from the martial arts.

Dragon Door: Even though there’s a lot of overlap with the martial arts and fitness, how did you get specifically started with fitness?

Michael Polito: I started back in the early 80s. When I got my black belt, I started teaching traditional martial arts, kickboxing and self defense. Then I started working at Gold’s Gym where I was hired as a trainer. I trained people at Gold’s Gym and some personal students as well, including some friends in law enforcement. I just kept going with it because I have always been passionate about helping people. It’s easy to forget that many people want to get in shape but don’t know how to do it. But, I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to go to school to be a fitness trainer.

Dragon Door: And among other skills, you’re a photographer too?

Michael Polito: When I was about 12-13 years old I started taking pictures, and my mom bought me a camera. I got hooked on it and even started developing my pictures in my own darkroom at 13 years old. I’ve always had a creative side, and have wanted to be involved with the arts. I didn't have the patience to sit in a classroom, but enjoyed learning on my own, and working with people one-on-one. I continued working with photography as a hobby until I was about 32, and realized that I could make it into an occupation. I’ve now worked as a photographer for the past 25 years—that’s how I put four kids through school and paid my mortgage—its my full time job!

I've always gravitated towards working with artists overall: actors, musicians, dancers, really anyone in the arts. It seemed natural, and it’s easier to photograph it when you know about something and know the rules. Its similar to the martial arts—I can read the fighters and anticipate certain things.

Dragon Door: You've taken photos for a few Dragon Door authors as well, most recently for Angelo Grinceri's book, Intrinsic Strength Training and Phil Ross' Ferocious Fitness. Has your own dedication to training affected your approach with the camera?

Michael Polito: Yes, it has definitely impacted how I captured both Angelo’s Intrinsic Strength Training and Phil’s Ferocious Fitness. I literally felt the exercises as they were demonstrating them. I could feel the point when they peaked and displayed the most tension in their movements. Sometimes both Phil and Angelo needed to perform the exercise a number of times because we all wanted the perfect angle or technique. It really takes someone with experience in training to see these things, and to know when to click the shutter at the decisive moment.

I also photograph Al and Danny Kavadlo, and I think they like me photographing them because I know when things look right, and the right time to click that shutter. When they do all the different crazy advanced moves I wait for the peak points that need to be captured—knowing about the training really helps me get the shot for sure.

Dragon Door: I saw on your website that you train bodyweight only...

Michael Polito: I mostly train bodyweight, but use tools like the gymnastic rings—which are my favorite—the bars of course, and parallettes. I have a gymnast friend who has taught me a lot of gymnastic conditioning methods. It’s very similar to Progressive Calisthenics—slow, controlled. You don’t rush the training or jump ahead to a step that’s beyond your abilities. It takes time. When we see gymnasts in the Olympics, it’s important to remember they started training when they were five years old. It took them years, so we shouldn't get discouraged while we’re just making small steps forward.
Michael Polito Rings Back Lever

Dragon Door: What inspired you to primarily use bodyweight training?

Michael Polito: In martial arts, all the strengthening and conditioning work is all bodyweight training, there is no weightlifting. There are many dynamic tension movements along with mat work, push ups, and sit ups—it was all basically calisthenics. Everything we do goes back to the Shaolin temple—those guys are all working out using bodyweight. When I met Danny and Al, I knew I had to get back to basics. When I started at Gold's Gym in the 80s, I was weightlifting. I was training and spotting people with strength lifts, squats, and things like that.

But just recently, I incurred an injury which was actually from a build up of all those years of weightlifting. I snapped my distal bicep off of my forearm. I remember thinking how it didn’t feel right and then when I touched my arm, my bicep wasn’t there—it was wrapped up around my shoulder somewhere! When I had it repaired, the doctor told me that the injury was the result of years and years of abuse and lifting a lot of weight—especially the eccentric type of training. There’s a lot of ego with lifting tons and tons of weight. I don't want to lift cars and stuff I just want to stay fit, healthy, and strong.

When I met Danny and Al, they got me back to basics again. It was very natural for me to start doing all the variations of all those basic exercises like push-ups and squats—it was how I’d started at the very beginning with martial arts when I was in high school. But I was into weightlifting big time in the 80s with a lot of bodybuilding. I weighed about 190-195 and I have some stretch marks to show for it! But, I just didn’t feel like I do now. I’m older, but I feel much better—more flexible, resilient, and healthier all around—just training with bodyweight exercises. The method of fitness I have developed and continue to evolve is called the Progressive Movement Method. It incorporates my experiences and relationships with martial arts, yoga, dance, gymnastics conditioning and bodybuilding. I teach this very unique method at a number of different fitness clubs. Some day I hope to write a book about it, too. Much of the inspiration for my method comes from animals and children, especially watching my children playing as they grew up. We can learn so much about movement just from watching a child, a dog, or a cat.
Michael Polito Low Crawling

Dragon Door: Recently, you’ve shared a lot of cool—no pun intended—cold training photos on Facebook. How long have you practiced the Wim Hof Method and cold training in general?

Michael Polito: I started two years ago after hearing Joe Rogan interview a guy called "The Iceman" on his podcast. I had always hated the winter because I felt like there was nothing to do outside. I tried skiing, but it gets expensive to do that all the time. But, The Iceman, Wim Hof was talking about cold training. I learned that it wasn’t just about being in the ice or tolerating cold weather, but it could improve your body all around, along with the immune system and avoiding sickness. I was immediately attracted to the idea and signed up for his course two years ago. Ever since finishing Wim Hof’s course, I’ve continued the cold training religiously. I was outside in the snow swimming in my backyard just today!

People think I'm crazy, but the same people who thought I was crazy over the years seem to have physical problems today—they're limping, they've had knee surgeries. But even though I’ve done full contact fighting and all this crazy stuff, I’m still in great health.
Michael Polito Cold Water Swimming

Dragon Door: So are you primarily training outdoors?

Michael Polito: I always like being outdoors as much as possible. At home I have an indoor gym I converted from a two car garage. I train students there but in the summer my backyard is set up like an outdoor gym—really it’s more like an adult jungle gym! There's a pull-up bar, high bars, parallel bars, a heavy bag set up. It’s a complete outdoor gym. It’s just so inspiring to move, exercise, and meditate out in nature. It's natural and instinctive to be outside, and barefoot while grabbing on and hanging from things.

Dragon Door: What are you working on right now in your own training?

Michael Polito: I work on a lot of flow that I picked up from judo along with the ground exercises that I used to just think of as warm-ups. Now I discovered that they are also great strengthening exercises that use the whole body. About 60-70% of what I do is on the floor or against a wall, and then I do some bar and ring work along with it. I also practice a lot of mobility, coordination, and balance work like walking along handrails. I try to stay well rounded, I don't just do strength work like pull-ups and push-ups all the time. I train 30 minute strength sessions about 5-6 days a week, and throughout the day I do all kinds of hand balancing. My wife isn't too crazy about it, but I do handstands up against the refrigerator!
Michael Polito Handstand
When I get the urge to exercise or to move, I just do it! I don’t care where I am—the kitchen, the hallway, or wherever. If my training were to depends on me packing a bag and going to a gym, then I’d never get there—it wouldn’t happen!

Dragon Door: I’ve heard that you're also a musician, what do you play?

Michael Polito: I’m a bass player and started playing when I was 12 years old in 1972. I grew up listening to Sabbath, the Stones, and the Beatles. I’ve always been into music, but gave it a break in the 80s and 90s. I got back into it over the past 15 years playing with bands, writing my own music, and doing some small tours. It’s another outlet for me, but I can’t always do everything all the time. Sometimes I have to put things aside, though I’ve never done that with my exercise or martial arts—I’ll never take a break from that. But sometimes I need to make sure I have time to spend with family for example. In fact, my son started training with Progressive Calisthenics too.

Dragon Door: What inspired you to come to the PCC workshop?

Michael Polito: About four years ago, after I had my bicep repaired, I didn’t want to go back to lifting weights and get injured again. I wanted a trainer, but when I looked for a trainer I kept coming up with all these guys with polo shirts and name tags. Finally I found Al and Danny, and I could tell they were the right ones—because they had tattoos, were into music, and working out outside—they were more my style. I also found out that they wrote books, so when I reached out to them I mentioned that I could maybe do some photography for their books in exchange for some training—and that’s exactly what happened. I met them down in New York City, and they were so approachable. I knew I had found what I was looking for. They told me about the PCC and definitely inspired me to take it on.

When I first met them I wasn't overweight, but I was heavier and not nearly as strong. As I started training with them, and after going to the PCC, I saw some big improvements in my strength, and how I look. Basically it really got me into shape.

Dragon Door: Are you working on a particular goal right now?

Michael Polito: One of my first goals was to start training and helping people. It has been very satisfying to help people who started overweight or who were basically falling apart and didn’t know how to start. As I’ve started to get my name out there, I started writing articles for the local paper and being interviewed on local radio stations. As I am starting to get a little following, I am now thinking about opening a unique gym focused on strength and movement. We would have a lot of bodyweight tools like gymnastic rings, pull-up bars, monkey bars, and a wide open space for handstands, movement, and martial arts classes.

MichaelPolitoSnowKneeling thumbnailMichael Polito, PCC Instructor can be contacted through his website at Follow him on Facebook at and