Brilliance in the Basics


Years ago I had the pleasure to meet a very influential combat leader named Colonel Brian McCoy. Colonel McCoy, who served as the Commanding Officer of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, was an inspiring leader with a pretty straight forward approach to winning wars: “Brilliance in the Basics”.

According to Col. McCoy, this simple concept, master the basics, was all it was going to take to defeat the enemy in Iraq.

However, just understanding the basics is not enough. Colonel McCoy believed the basics need to be practiced each and every day until they become part of who you are. The basics need to be drilled under the watchful eye of a competent leader who has also internalized this concept and to be successful, this leader needs to ruthlessly enforce the standard.

Habit hardens the body for great exertions, strengthens the heart in great peril. Habit breeds that priceless quality, calm, which, passing from rifleman to commander will lighten the task. – Clausewitz

Mastering the basics can help defeat the enemy no matter where the battle ground is. For example, look at 4-time CrossFit Games Champ Rich Froning. In the past 5 years, with almost monk like composure, he has been able to march into first place dominating any and all events thrown at him on Sunday, the final day of competition. Where does he get this composure? How can he remain calm during the most stressful times in the competition?

Rich Froning is brilliant in the basics. He is calm because he has mastered the fundamentals of his battlefield.

Regardless of your thoughts on CrossFit, this is pretty impressive. For those of you that have been around the CrossFit community for more than a year or two now will see how well this idea, mastering the basics, ties into Greg Glassman’s vision of being an exceptional athlete (and coach). Coach Glassman calls this concept Virtuosity, or: “Performing the common, uncommonly well”. This concept is why at the CrossFit Level 1 course you only learn 9 foundational movements. Movements that have broader application to everything else we do in CrossFit, but serve as the foundation for sound human movement patterns.

What will inevitably doom a physical training program and dilute a coach’s efficacy is a lack of commitment to fundamentals. – Greg Glassman

Mastering the basics in the world of CrossFit is simple and incredibly difficult at the same time.

Movement mastery requires only two things: discipline & a PVC pipe.

Unfortunately, far too many let their egos get in the way and charge ahead without building this solid foundation of movement fundamentals first.

Most people lack the discipline, usually due to a lack of patients, to drill the fundamentals of movement.

What I learned this past weekend on the range…

The previous 48-hours were pretty cool for me.

I had the opportunity to attend the Combat Focus® Shooting course being held here in Arizona.

For those of you not familiar with this method or the people behind it you should check out the site and get up to speed.

This was hands down the best defensive shooting course I’ve attended.

One of the core concepts of this course is in developing the student’s balance of speed and precision.

I learn early on in my military career that if I wanted to get hits at the 25-yard line on the pistol range all I had to do was slow down and apply the fundamentals.

I was pretty good and qualified expert all 7 times that I had to qualify

However, when put into a scenario where the context is a critical incident where you must employ your firearm to defend yourself in the quickest AND most precise manner possible, I found out I had A LOT to work on.

So we spent about 16-hours and 1000 rounds practicing the basics of realistic, defensive firearms employment.

And guess what?

I still have a lot of work to do to become brilliant in the basics

So what is the point of this article?

It doesn’t matter where you are starting from, you can always work to improve in the fundamentals, and that requires a long-term plan and a lot of discipline.

I’ve been coaching for the better part of the last decade and one of the biggest problems I see in the fitness industry right now is a focus on long-term success. The vast majority of my clients and athletes have heard me lecture them on thinking about where they want to be 3, 4, 5 years from right now… Not 3, 4, 5 weeks from now.

This long-term focus is so important because real, functional, and useful strength & conditioning and body composition are the results of constantly drilling the basics. Consistency is your long term ‘secret’ to training success and it’s your only real super power in this game.

This is also why my Premium Training Membership is 12-months long and comes with lifetime access to coaching help and advice.

There are plenty of programs out there designed to improve one particular aspect of your overall fitness (i.e. Get stronger) but very few that take a long term look at your overall strength & conditioning and try to improve it.

Wrapping it up

Figure out what you are training for (This is typically something very different than what you tell your friends).

Don’t fall into this trap of chasing short-term gains as it usually leads to neglecting a number of other necessary fundamentals.

Remember that some of the greatest athletes, coaches, and leaders all had one thing in common: They never thought they knew everything and they never stopped learning and seeking improvement.

The moment you fall into the trap of “I already know how to run” or “I already know how to get stronger” and shut off other ideas is the moment you fail yourself.

As I talked about the other day in the progression article, you need to deliberately practice the fundamentals of your craft or profession and you need to become brilliant in the basics.


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