In 2012, the CrossFit Journal managing editor asked me to report on the Teen Gauntlet we were preparing to run at the LA Fit Expo. To provide some perspective, that was about six months after the 2011 CrossFit Kids Teen Challenge that took place at the CrossFit Games, several months before we ran the Teen Gauntlet at the 2012 CrossFit Games, about a year and a half before we ran another Teen Gauntlet at the 2013 CrossFit Games, and about three years before CrossFit Inc. suddenly decided that for the first time ever there would be a teen competition at the CrossFit Games.
My pleasant surprise was instantly supplanted by premature writer’s block. Frankly, I was not then, and I ain’t now, a journalist. I had no idea what to write about other than that I had no desire to attach my name to some white-bread bullshit. Bullshit maybe, but not no white-bread bullshit. I was pretty sure that whatever the hell I submitted to the poor guy wouldn’t be the reportage that he expected. It wasn’t. Let’s just say I wasn’t given a column. Heh.
I wrote about zombies. Pretentiously as usual. I mean, among other things, I cited Paul Virilio, who no one’s heard of much less gives a fuck about. I might’ve aggravated the editor with my “journalistic” license, but I kinda couldn’t help it. No, not kinda. I can’t, I can’t help it. Since second grade, writing has meant escape and freedom to me, and nobody puts Sweatpants Dan in the corner.* So yeah, I’m not a journalist.
That old article was ostensibly about the value of CrossFit Kids. But frankly, it was really about the Martins’ methodology, philosophy, and mission, and now that the founders of CrossFit Kids are no longer associated with the program, I want to look back at what I wrote because even though no one read that article, and my points no longer apply to that program, they do still apply to the Martins’ work. Actually more than ever.
A couple weeks ago, a link to Brian Merchant’s “Why You Really Should Be Afraid of the Zombie Apocalypse” scrolled through my Facebook feed. If you like zombie stuff, give it a look-see. Merchant offers an analysis of why zombies remain such a hot pop culture item, focusing on AMC’s The Walking Dead. He suggests that the TV show’s insistence that postapocalyptic communities can’t survive the rigors of end times runs counter to disaster studies research indicating that cooperative behavior and the sense of community thrive during disasters and would be too strong to fail in the face of endless zombie hordes. The main point of the article seems to be that pop culture artifacts such as The Walking Dead, with their misanthropic worldview, endanger the binds that tie civil society together. He blames Hollywood and the media for emphasizing the dark side of disasters, ie, fearmongering, rather than acclaiming the positive social behavior that has been documented.**
Meanwhile check out the title of his article. Not to mention his crypto-life-imitating-art message that a TV show possesses the power to unravel the very fabric of society and fulfill apocalypto-prepper prophecy. One thread commentator saw the irony there. Think about it. Merchant wants us to rest assured that cooperative behavior couldn’t possibly disappear simply because modern civilization has been crushed beneath the shambling feet of billions of flesh-eating corpses, but we best be careful cuz a TV show that celebrates the bursting of fake-ass zombie heads in endlessly creative ways imperils the foundations of our way of life.
So what does any of this have to do with Jeff and Mikki Martin’s Brand X Method™? What I’m saying is that, more than a TV show, their ongoing work endangers society as we have come to know it.
Strong People Are Harder to Kill
At the most basic level, the Brand X Method™ provides kids (and adults) with the physical, mental, and social tools to handle not just the daily grind but also the serious disruptions that occur in everyone’s life. First, the Brand X Method™ delivers physical literacy that translates to a deep and abiding physical fitness. It’ll make you strong, fast, powerful, enduring. That’s just the start; three ideas also come into play here:
Process over outcome: The Brand X Method™ teaches kids to appreciate the road to achieving long-term goals, which can blunt the need for immediate gratification.
Life lessons: The Brand X Method™ offers a safe space in which kids can learn life lessons related to integrity, self-reliance, and persistence by challenging them to solve a variety of problems. Kids are immersed in a world where technology has made things so easy and fast, but we can make them mentally tough and teach them that hard work yields concrete dividends.
Accomplishment over pretense: The Brand X Method™ makes it possible for kids to define themselves by what they can do rather than by how they compare to the bogus ideals and images propagated by agenda-driven media.
These intangibles make better people. The kind of people you want beside you in the running-on-empty RV as you’re trying to get the hell out of Dodge and night is falling. The kind of people who can fuck shit up when you’re down to blunt force and fury against a horde of brain-eating shamblers in the tool section of a burned out Home Depot.
The Deadweight Poet’s Society
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty. The zombie apocalypse has been a metaphor for all kinds of things, but none of it explains why we remain so fascinated with the ceaseless deceased. Could it be that our love affair with the zombie apocalypse signifies that on some level maybe we’re tiring of the status quo?
Three years ago I wrote some shit about this that nobody read, and it still resonates for me today.
The zombie apocalypse harkens back to a (mostly delusional) simpler time. The chaos of breakdown sweeps away the technological instantaneity and perpetual and dizzying sociopolitical machinations characterizing almost all our (inter)actions. We no longer worry about absolutely, positively getting there overnight. We no longer project power. We hunker down, dig in and hide behind heavily fortified battlements. Like in days of yore. Norms, mores and rules no longer apply; social life is suspended. We enter a liminal state. Media-free reality returns. Everything is stripped down to one fundamental issue: survival. Our problems are simple, as in basic. And they are embodied in the slow, guileless, inexorable (dis)figure of the zombie.
I still believe that the idea of liminality is a key here; it fuels an escape fantasy where we leave behind the simmering stress of the ho-hum humdrum doldrums and enter an adrenaline-drenched, shotgun- and machete-infused jamboree of reptilian-brain impulse where many possibilities exist. We can leave behind who we were, pass through the zompocalyptic liminal space, and become somebody else. In a zombie apocalypse, we no longer have to be sales executives, housewives, or accountants. In fact, we can’t be. We can be heroes. We have to be. We have no choice but to mix it up with real shit; we must be useful in concrete ways, make a fundamental contribution every day we remain un-undead.
I also said this back in 2012: The first thing the zombie apocalypse does is skin away the trappings of civilization.
It Was the Best of Times, It Was the End of Times
It’s in these ideas that I think we can see how the Brand X Method™ threatens the way of life we have become accustomed to. It jeopardizes the mediated, processed, conditional status quo that we’re traveling though in ever more insulated bubbles of technology-driven, profit-motivated fear and (dis)informatization.
The Brand X Method™ is the zombie apocalypse.
Committed to the lifelong development of physical literacy and activity with the simple purpose of keeping people engaged with life, the Brand X Method™ rejects the quick-fix gimmicky bullshit that people come to expect and even crave because we’ve been conditioned that way. For many, getting involved requires stepping out of their comfort zones and entering a space where it quickly becomes clear that so much is possible. My involvement with the Brand X Method™ taught me that, yes, I am an editor by (undervalued) trade, but I’m also a motherfucking gunslinger at heart. I can do real things, things that I value as authentic even if the rest of you don’t.
With the Brand X Method™ gone are the trappings of our civilization: the instant gratification, the reliance on appearances, the resort to numbing political correctness, the velvet corrosion of disingenuousness, the shark-grin masks, the compulsive white lies and concomitant acquiescence to their existence, the incessant dissembling, the banal betrayals of those infatuated with worming their way to the inner circle. The horseshit.
It’s as simple as the first law of the apocalypse: Survive.
You get what you give. If you do the work, you will see the gains. Your hard work, your real gains. You survive, and for us that means you experience longevity in inclement conditions, ie, the slow grind of life. In the case of the Brand X Method™ and the apocalypse, showing up is an insignificant percentage of success. You don’t do the work? You’d rather billboard yourself in some branded aesthetic that gives the appearance of work? You’d rather gorge yourself on the superficial, super-sweet snake oil from a short-circuiting charlatan clone who sells you on an infomercial dream?
You’d rather charge in and scavenge the picked over Vons hoping to grab a couple of dented cans of lima beans and a packet of Jell-O? Better that quick fix than stepping back, consulting the most experienced of your group, learning the terrain, planning the route, and hitting that untouched surplus store the next town over?
I said this too in 2012: The allure of the zompocalypse is that it rids us of putting on and putting up.
Merchant expressed disappointment with the Alexandria story arc, arguing that the show simply validated Rick Grimes’ Hobbesian ideology, certainly without sufficient challenge. I disagree.
By the time Rick Grimes and his core crew are allowed into Alexandria, they are straight shooters, literally and figuratively. The people of Alexandria, on the other hand, are mired in a cobbled together Twilight Zone-like setting ornamented not only with the props of a dead world but also with the accoutrements of a bygone social structure.*** That is, they are not straight shooters. For example, dangerously unqualified shit-talkers hold arguably the most important positions in security/scavenging. Most apparent though to me and a key plot point is the fact that this utopian community that works so hard to make life the way it was suffers the presence of a cancer in the form of an abusive husband and father because he’s a doctor. He and his sullen violence are a sad part of the way things used to be. The community looks the other way with tepid potluck party smiles as a woman and a little boy are abused because the people believe this man is necessary to preserving their way of life. But that way of life cultivates a toxic ethos that enables liars, cheats, and psychopaths to operate freely and often with exalted status.
Merchant calls Rick ruthless? What would you call a community that tolerates violence when it suits its short-sighted needs while proudly hailing itself as a haven? Not one of the good people of Alexandria would fail to condemn family violence if asked about it in generic terms. Yet in a fashion that has become quite fashionable in our society, they seem quite content to give this bully a pass.
The Brand X Method™ is Rick-ruthless in that our goal is to identify problems with movement and capacity that threaten functional longevity and to address them, not whitewash them. The process may seem slow like a zombie, but it is as steady as Sasha’s aim. We take the long view, which is not always easy to swallow at first; however, if you embrace the journey and its liminal nature, you may find something wonderful. Consider the last couple years at Brand X.
Where are we as a gym with our mobility? We have made mobilization before and after class a habit. As a result we hurt less and we have learned that it is okay to give it a rest on some days.
Where are we with our strength? We have learned to trust the technique and the programming. We have seen huge PRs from long-time clients, and we have seen far less plateauing and overtraining. We have female clients cranking out strict pull-ups. We just brought home 9 gold medals and a slew of PRs, records, and national qualifying totals from the USAPL California State Championships; most of the lifters were there for the first time, and most of the lifters were ages 13-17 (more on this soon).
Where are we with our general fitness? We have longtime clients running 5Ks and farther for the first time in their lives, a 39-year-old woman who completed her first 50K, and a 51-year-old woman who ran for an all-time half marathon PR. We have a vibrant core of regulars attending our masters class, and we have children and teens excelling at all kinds of sports and physical activities.
Rick rejects the Machiavellian thinking that allows an abuser to escape marginalization because he understands that it’s poison to genuine bonds that ensure the long-term survival of his people. The Brand X Method™ also rejects the kind of expedience that accepts poorly executed and potentially injurious movement to exist simply because a range of motion is met and a quick “win-now” PR is secured. It does not commend poorly executed PRs, but prefers disciplined teaching and learning of good movement to yield true safety and gains over the long haul.
Current society stomachs the bogus. The Brand X Method™ does not. It’s time to disrupt.
What is the second law of the apocalypse? The weak get eaten.
* Not entirely true. Remind me to tell you about my brief excursion through the bowels of SEO article writing. Dante missed a ring.
** I’m not convinced that disaster research can ascertain the full impact on social behavior of a genuine zombie apocalypse. A disaster is not an apocalypse. A disaster, however terrible, is usually finite in terms of time and space. An apocalypse on the other hand can be defined as the complete and final destruction of all modern society, structurally and functionally; whatever social institutions endured would be retrograde or dysfunctional, most likely mutated. I think it’s hard to measure the depth of trauma due to utter civilizational collapse. Yes, adjustments can be made to the loss of modern conveniences, but there’s that whole living dead part of it. Zombie pranks notwithstanding, just how ready is our psyche to handle seeing the dead walk, watching people get eaten alive, and/or killing loved ones with kitchenware or fire? Not to mention the unending sight and smell of undead bodies or gobbets of bodies gimping and wriggling along. What is the mental and physical impact of prolonged stress and anxiety, disrupted sleep patterns, dehydration, and malnutrition? What happens at the moment one realizes nothing can EVER be the same? I don’t think we know that yet.
*** Merchant’s fearmongering would have us believe that The Walking Dead’s message is that any concept of community would at best be corrupted and at worst vanish entirely in the zombie apocalypse. Yet, again, the apocalypse is not pure disintegration, there is retrogression. Community is alive and well in The Walking Dead. It has been distilled down to the most basic and possibly strongest form: a band such as Rick and company. We often speak of community with regard to Brand X. But it’s really a bit more like a band of brothers and sisters.
Danell Marks https://www.danellmarksphotography.com