A new culture of strength. Training for Warriors Portland



A few weeks ago, I read an article from Rose City Antifa (RCA) that had been circling Portland's fitness community.  The purpose of the article was to expose a hate group for what it is (the Wolves of Vinland), and to put pressure on the allies of hate groups. A bit of the article mentions local gym Kabuki, formerly known as Elite Performance Center (EPC). But Kabuki is MORE than a just a gym.

Chris Duffin and Kabuki Strength are icons of Strength Athletics, a small (demographically, not physically) part of the fitness industry. Strength athletes are folks who compete in sports that evaluate raw physicality. Strongman, powerlifting and highland games are some of the better-known platforms in which strength athletes compete.

RCA's article meant to expose a small infection of extremism to the scrutiny of daylight. At the same time, it also caused a ripple among Portland's fitness community. Portlanders who routinely compete at Kabuki are worried they are inadvertently supporting hate groups. Before we get too far down the rabbit hole regarding who is a racist and who is a racist apologist, let me be clear. I don't think that anyone who works for EPC or Kabuki is a white supremacist, or a racist-apologist. I think that most people don't get a background investigation when joining a gym and there is no reason they should. As of the writing of this article, the Wolves of Vinland have been expelled from the facility. Of course they have, because most businesses don't want any of their customers feeling threatened or unsupported.

Now we get to the part of the story that compels me to look inward. As this story moves around my community, I repeatedly hear these phrases in regards to the culture of strength athletics:


"Now that you mention it, it makes sense"
"I see where this is coming from"
or a deflated, "Not surprising"  


Here's my beef: "Now that you mention it, it makes sense.”

WTF does that mean? Why do a bunch of people listening to metal, bending bars, screaming, tattooed of eagles… ok. For a few reasons, Neo-Nazi groups have forever tarnished the genre of combat boots, shaved heads, metal and pirated-military symbols. Poor Operation Ivy fans, my bald friends at Rose City Antifa, and many more Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice groups!

Strength Culture (strength athletes, venues, music, art, style, and demographics) is dominated by the hardcore. In America and in Portland, that can often mean the hard right. Go to any event and count the pit bull stickers, pickup trucks and blue lives matter t-shirts. Off-duty law enforcement, former military veterans (full disclosure, I am a proud veteran) both show up as organizers, coaches and frequent competitors. These may be generalizations and observations, anecdotal from attended events.

Yet look online and it might seem that the world is indeed run by those who show up. In this world, the right shows up in greater numbers with better consistency.  Despite my personally knowing more female powerlifters than male ones... and the fact that most of the membership of barbell gyms in my network are actually female. There is demonstrated bias in the culture.

As a self-described peace-loving hippie and powerlifter (member of two international powerlifting bodies: USAPL & USAPA), I resent all of this "I told you so" about the culture of strength athletics. In my community, there is great diversity and great inclusion. It doesn't appear that way when all of the visible members (AKA, champions, committee members, figureheads) of my community are drawn from the philosophical-right side of things. In my opinion, this is where I have failed as a member of the silent majority of coaches. This huge gap in appearance is due to one or two of the following:

Engagement and Access

Engagement is the actual process of continually showing up. Showing up means: competing, organizing, teaching, training and setting the tone for the culture. Culture is a huge discussion, beyond the scope of this article, but will be my focus in 2017. Culture is the user base, the memes and language, the power users and leaders, the rewards and risks, and the "way we do things here".

Access is the reality of where folks can participate, where they can train and compete, the environments, the imagery used to describe the athletes and the kinds of athletes we hold up as models. It’s the barrier to entry, be it physical, fiscal, geographical or social. Access is one avenue we can leverage to inspire more people to participate in the culture of strength.

I have been too passive with my own engagement in the fitness industry. I wasn't on the offensive when it came to bringing people into the fitness community in a way that reflects their values. Now it's my mission to create a place where more people feel safe enough to show up and challenge themselves to grow. It is time to bring about a world-class facility with deeper and broader relationships in the community.

So that's my mission for 2017:

To be a megaphone that amplifies the strength and voice of a broader group of people, to ignite the fire inside those Jon Stewart coined as the "Millions of Moderates" that are never around when you need them.

Chalk up, fitness friends. The heavy lifting begins now!  

2017 Action Steps include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Expanding a fitness business built on a culture of cooperation, not competition. 
  • Hosting Powerlifting clinics, charity workouts, nutrition seminars and fun events to get people interested in training.
  • Fundraising for equality driven organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon and more.
  • Have Fun. It will only be sustainable for the next 30-40 years if we are having fun.