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Foreword to The Hardstyle Kettlebell Challenge by Mark Fisher


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Like many in the fitness industry, I consider Dan John our resident philosopher-poet-king.

After many years of following his work from afar, I feel very lucky to now count Dan a personal friend and mentor. And it all began at a Hardstyle Kettlebell Certification (HKC) in Clayton, MO...

I still remember flying from NYC all by my lonesome because I was committed to doing whatever it took to experience the HKC with Dan. The original date had been pushed back because Dan’s hip surgery had become time sensitive. And the reason I remember this is because Dan, who barely knew me at the time, personally called me to break the news of the postponement.

In the fall of 2011, the time had finally arrived, and off to Clayton, MO I went to learn from one of my heroes. It was a mild but cloudy day. I got into my rental car, found Stefanie Shelton’s Studio RKC, and quietly entered.

Lo and behold, the event was intimate enough for us all to spend time together connecting on breaks and talking shop about our shared passion. If you’ve been in the field, you know the kind of conversation I’m talking about. Trading book recommendations, brainstorming on challenging client situations, sharing effective cues, etc.

And it was here I felt safe enough to take a risk and opened up about my personal style of coaching and teaching...

Now for those not familiar with Mark Fisher Fitness, you should know that our culture is, shall we say, "eccentric." We call our clients Ninjas, our mascot is the unicorn, and instead of calling our homes "gyms," we prefer to call them Enchanted Ninja Clubhouses of Glory and Dreams.

At the time I met Dan, MFF-the-organization was simply a twinkle in my eye. So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I began to share my approach with THE Dan John and the other attendees. By this time, I’d begun to codify how I teach movement technique and my training philosophy with many colorful images and metaphors. Some of it too colorful to reprint in polite company!

And in perhaps the ultimate example of Dan’s kindness and vision... he immediately "got it."

He could see that the insane metaphors and over-the-top imagery were actually carefully considered teaching tools. My hope was to share the best practices of Dan and my other mentors in a way that was fun, accessible, and memorable. Since I was successful developing a niche working with NYC’s Broadway community and other assorted "non-gym folk," I knew my approach was landing with my target audience.

But I can’t quite put into words what it meant to receive Dan’s vigorous and enthusiastic validation that day in Clayton.

In the years since, Mark Fisher Fitness has grown from a single weird personal trainer into a robust community of Ninja and coaches with two locations in Manhattan.

In one of the most serendipitous strokes of MFF’s good luck, Dan’s brother-in-law, the inimitable Geoff Hemingway, walked into our facility shortly after we opened. At the time, he was a Broadway actor looking to train amongst his Broadway brethren at MFF. Several years later, Geoff is now one of our superstar trainers and a pillar of our community. He’s known as "Mr. Wonderful" around these parts, and if you ever have the good fortune to meet Geoff, you’ll instantly see it’s a fitting moniker. So it’s not hyperbole to say Dan’s officially "in the family."

Like any fitness facility, we’re of course not perfect. We genuinely strive to be an industry leader in making the experience fun and inclusive while providing a best-in-class training experience for the general population. On the one hand, we look to create a space where people are seen as completely perfect, exactly as they are. On the other hand, we want to inspire our Ninjas to nudge 1% closer to their "ideal self." As you may imagine, this balance is hard. Some days we do better than others, but all in all, we’re all pretty proud of what we’ve created.

And as we’ve pursued this North Star, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a secret weapon along the way; Dan John.

Since that fateful day in Clayton, I’ve continued to study Dan’s work just as diligently as ever. I read his books and articles, I watch him speak live at conferences, and I stream his videos. And now we have a whole team of trainers to absorb, discuss, and apply Dan’s wisdom.

Beyond our careful study of his work, Dan has graciously functioned as "adjunct faculty" to MFF. He’s done in-services for our team and Ninjas, co-taught training sessions, and contributed in ways large and small to our never-ending quest for progress.

I’d be hard pressed to boil down Dan’s influence on MFF. But I think it’s much more foundational than specific exercises, coaching cues, or progressions.

In my humble opinion, here’s what’s so important about Dan’s work in general, and the HKC in specific:


Dan understands principles. And this is a rare gift.

Scientists tell us that organisms trend to increasing levels of complexity. You see this in almost all fields of human achievement, and fitness is no exception. It is easy, as Dan told me that cloudy day in Clayton, MO, to be "sitting on a whale, fishing for minnows." To get lost in the minutiae. To become entranced by fancy anatomical terms and (overly) sophisticated systems.

Yet somehow Dan’s work gets simpler and clearer over time. His principles become more distilled as he relentlessly pursues savage excellence at the basics.

And while there is most certainly a time and place for mastery of details, they have no context without a set of underlying principles.

And Dan’s work is all about reminding us of the principles. Or in the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "the things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the things which matter least."

Thankfully, by choosing this book, you can strap yourself in for a heaping dose of reasonableness. The HKC is more than a "workout." It’s a philosophical foundation that will make you better as a coach. Dare I say it, this approach will make you a better whatever it is you’re trying to become in your life.

These pages are an expression of one of Dan’s core principles: mastery of the basics leads to mastery.

The Hardstyle Kettlebell Challenge represents an incredible platform to set you up for success as a fitness professional, strength coach, or kettlebell enthusiast. You have made a great investment in purchasing this book, and my hope is you savor the wisdom in its pages and apply its principles straightaway.

Before you head off into the book proper and begin feasting on Dan’s wisdom and insight, let me offer one final thought.

Another overriding theme of Dan’s work is an understanding that we’re all part of a grand lineage of physical culturists. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants, and the only thing we can be sure of is that everything old will be new again eventually.

I for one feel grateful to have Dan’s formidable shoulders to stand on.

And now you too, dear reader, are part of this noble lineage.

I hope that your deep dive into the Hardstyle Kettlebell Challenge under Dan’s tutelage brings you some of the magic it’s brought to my life and to an entire army of Ninjas here in NYC.

Mark Fisher

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