I’ve been asked a few times what was the biggest influence on my programing, and where I come up with all my training ideas. When it comes to writing training cycles, I can confidently say that I’m pretty darn creative. For those that have been with me for the past 2 years they would be hard pressed to count on more than one hand the number of times, benchmarks aside, that a workout has been repeated. There is no limit to the number of paths that can be taken to achieve a desired endstate, and I’m more than happy to keep finding them. Where I have absolutely zero creativity is in the overall purpose behind every
single training cycle. My sole aim is to make those I train HARD TO KILL.
You can thank the United States Marine Corps and LtCol Scott Pierce for that.
I was a 1st Lieutenant when I met (then) Major Pierce – yep, the same Marine of whom I wrote in my Nov ’14 blog post. At the time I met him, I had just completed my first tour. “Tour” is slang for the time a Marine spends at their assigned duty station; they typically last for 2-3 years (though there are plenty of exceptions to that time frame). During my tour we conducted a deployment as part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a 2000+ man unit stationed aboard 3 Navy ships assigned to float around one of the world’s major bodies of water and await the receipt of any number of missions. The year was 2000. As one can imagine, it was a pretty uneventful deployment – the exact opposite of what any snake-eating, fire-breathing infantry Marine worth their salt wanted. Such was life in the pre-9/11 days.
Relative to today, things were so calm in the world and had been for so long that if a Marine did have combat experience, they were granted a status of mythic proportions by their fellow Marines. Back then what Marines bragged about was how many Combined Arms Exercises (CAX – an annual live-fire exercise involving infantry, artillery, and air support) they had participated in out at 29 Palms (a Marine Corps base in CA). As a young Lieutenant attending The Basic School in Quantico, VA, I remember looking starry eyed the first time we met our Special Platoon Commanders and learned how they had each done 4 “CAX’s”. “Mother of God”, I thought to myself, “I’m looking at living legends”. And then we learned of another Captain at the schoolhouse who had actually been shot, accidentally of course, by one of his own Marines while doing a CAX. “Holy shit – I wonder who the lucky bastards are that have him as a Special Platoon Commander”, we were all thinking. “I’ll bet the guy can get a woman pregnant by just starring at her”, I said confidently to the other Lieutenants. They all vehemently agreed – after all, he did get shot at CAX.
Let’s get back to that first deployment and Major Pierce.
It was the point in my career that I needed to decide if I wanted to stay in the Battalion and do another deployment or request orders to be assigned to my next duty station. One responsibility of the Battalion Executive Officer (Bn XO) is to sort out which officers are staying and which are going. He asked me what I was hoping to do. I confidently and resolutely told him, as if my goals were preordained, that I wanted to become a Force Reconnaissance Marine (think of this the Marine Corps version of Special Forces). I was certain as soon as the words were thrown from my lips like a 5-punch combination to his face he would instantly recognize me for the bad-assed warrior I knew I was. He just sat there, completely unimpressed. His cold, ice blue eyes glinted mockingly and knowingly at my foolishness. He said nothing. He just let me sit there in silence shrinking ever so smaller and feeling ever so less impressive. “Why”, he finally asked, though he knew the answer. My answer was so predictable, I now see in retrospect, I’m surprised he didn’t vomit. “I want to be challenged. I want to see how tough I am. I want to be the best, to be hard.”
I wonder now, how many times had he heard that from a young officer?
He smiled, coldly, and paused again, wondering how I could be still be so daft, and said, “I know why. I’m asking why are you’re waiting to be a Force Reconnaissance Marine to see how tough you are, to be challenged, and to be the best, to be hard?” He went on. “You don’t need to be a Force Reconnaissance Marine to do all that. You are an Infantry Officer in the United States Marine Corps and responsible for everything your Marines do and fail do it. You can make yourself and them as hard as you want. Make them harder than Force Reconnaissance Marines.”
I left his office a changed man. He lit a fire in me that burns to this day that has impacted, and continues to impact, countless people.
I’m sure a few of my Marines will read this blog post. Hell, maybe some of them will chime in and tell a few stories. The forced marches into and out of the field. The survival training. The close combat training. The physical fitness training.
I wanted to make them HARD TO KILL.
We practiced navigating out of and into anywhere with or without a compass. We rehearsed taking apart and putting their weapons back together and getting steel on center-black until we could do it faster than anyone. We did obstacle courses while wearing full combat loads and carrying our weapons and completed 20 mile forced marches with 70+ pounds on our backs. We became fitter, stronger, and meaner.
I wanted to make them HARD TO KILL.
We taught tactics down to the last man – they became experts. My Marines knew their Fire Team Leader’s job, Fire Team Leaders knew their Squad Leader’s job, and Squad Leaders knew the Platoon Sergeant’s and my job.
I wanted to make them HARD TO KILL.
I convinced one of my awesome Battalion Commanders to allow me to hire an edged weapons expert to train my Corporals on how to fight more aggressively and effectively with their bayonets. We learned to forage for food, to build shelters out of anything, and to dig in fighting positions faster than a terrorist shit head could vaporize himself with a suicide vest. We could emplace an ambush in the middle of the night without so much as a sound and mount an attack with surgical precision and ruthless fury.
My Marines became HARD TO KILL because of one conversation with then Major Pierce.
Every so often I will hear from some of my Marines. I’m always impressed with their stories of brotherhood, patriotism, steely nerves, and bold action. They were madmen. They were, and still are, my heroes.
I get a surge of emotion when I recall that conversation with the Bn XO. As I type this, my blood pressure is rising, there is a lump in my throat, and adrenaline is coursing through my veins.
So what the hell does CAX, a hard-nosed Battalion Executive Officer, and Marines dealing death and destruction have to do with Athletes Unleashed? Its coming – stay with me.
The CrossFit Open is upon us. I’m excited for it and am really happy to see more and more of our athletes signing up to compete. The Open has become the benchmark of athleticism and the standard by which the majority that participate in functional fitness are going to be judged. A few of our athletes have been training incredibly hard in preparation for the Open. They swung a KB 10,000 times. They came in at 0500 and labored under ridiculously heavy weight percentages for 9 weeks. They are now coming back in for supplemental work in the evenings. The amount of work they have been putting in, and are going to continue to put in over the next 8 weeks, is incredible.
The fact is the majority of our athletes are not training for the Open, specifically, though they have been working no less intensely when they are in the gym. They are the athletes that push themselves day in and day out beyond their perceived limits, in some capacity, during each training session because its what the UNLEASHED do.
What drives the programing at Athletes Unleashed is my unquenchable desire to make each of our athletes the absolute toughest version of themselves, possible. When athletes have very specific missions they want to accomplish I tailor the training to more effectively prepare them to win the fight they face, though it is never at the expense of what I feel is my most important mission – making them HARD TO KILL.
At my final duty station, I had the honor and privilege of serving with Sergeant Major Joe Breeze as my senior enlisted advisor and right hand man. A Force Reconnaissance Marine who has been to more specialty schools than I have hair on my chin, we couldn’t have come from more divergent back grounds. I was straight leg infantry through and through – a “grunt”. He was high-speed, low drag spec-ops to the bone. Regardless of our backgrounds we worked so well together because we both loved our Marines, desired to be the absolute best version of ourselves possible, and craved accomplishing the mission more than life itself.
So consider this for me, please.
If you want to up your game a bit, don’t wait for a competition to do it. Whether you are a Force Reconnaissance Marine signed up for the Open, or a straight leg grunt ready to throat punch anything in your path, you signed up for a competition the day you were born. The good Lord decided you were going to compete and I’m here to train you.
Semper Fi, Coach Robby