Miles Davis once said, “Anybody can play. The note is only 20%. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80%”. Style is the how, not the what. Those who don’t get it, will always be drawn to chase the what.
In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell examined how perhaps the most powerful hook of smoking wasn’t just the what of nicotine, it was the “smoking personality” - maturity, charisma, confidence of the people who smoked - how they smoked. We know these things literally kill us - yet it’s still iconic photos of Steve McQueen taking a drag while leaning against a vintage porsche that pull on our desire for cool.
We also inherently know what kills style. A lack of clarity, vision or results. We are drawn to simplicity, we admire dominance. Recently, after the US Women’s Soccer Team won the World Cup, the discussion turned to not just that they won, but the how - what was their style? As Rory Smith wrote in the New York Times;
“(Alex) Morgan also suggested that female athletes are expected to greet their triumphs demurely, diffidently, in a way that would not be expected of men. That is not, though, this American team’s style, and nor should it be. Morgan and her teammates regard themselves — with abundant supporting evidence — as the best in the world.”
This relates to what we do in the gym because of how we lead, act and engage with our community. Our goal is to learn how to face difficulties and adversity with courage, ultimately with style. Not to apologize, not to hide - either from ourselves or others. To use our actions to inspire. I believe that style is our most powerful gift to others. Cultural and fitness renegade, Mark Twight has written;
“Our style in the face of adversity determines the degree of difficulty that comes with it. A smile and laugh are just as fake as the loud words we speak through our gritted teeth. Instead of posturing, flow with it. Bend. Accept. Then push as hard as is necessary but no harder. At the end of the day put false humility and ego aside. Just be cool. Because cool is good style.”
The world of CrossFit is growing up and at a crossroads. The things that made it cool (off-street locations, dingy, loud, on the edge of disordered chaos and importantly - results), were the same things that now are being made mainstream. CrossFit largely gave birth to the boutique gym HIIT world. Spinning, boxing, pilates spin offs (to be clear Pilates itself long pre-dates CrossFit), etc.. Intensity has become standardized, branded and packaged and marginalized. Fringes exist because they are unsustainable. The fringe either falls away or is co-opted towards the middle.
CrossFit began as a feeling, none of it’s methods were new (ok, “American” kettlebell swings), it was the how that made it cool. It created a tribal response that ignited an industry chasing a feeling. Not only was its growth meteoric, but it changed the fitness industry in a profound way. There are studies now showing that for millennials, fitness communities are the new church. Move to a new town? Where’s the local CrossFit affiliate, where is the Soul Cycle, who are the coaches, what are their values? CrossFit also remains a unique model. Affiliates are independently owned and not franchised. That has both helped and hurt the expansion of it over the past 15+ years. Now, back to that crossroads. Does CrossFit put on a suit and trade in for the minivan? Increasing numbers of gyms now outsource their programming, standardizing methodology and technology - arguably in many cases for a better result and member experience. Just because everyone can program, doesn’t mean everyone always should. However, it inherently brings the fringe closer to the middle. It changes the how.
Those are moves towards institutional longevity for sure (unconfirmed data is now showing, this may be the first year of negative CrossFit affiliate growth), however, to bring it back to Miles Davis - the true success, and cool, will always be in how you play the notes. Clean the bathrooms and the floor, greet every member by name when they enter the gym, but don’t forget the roots, don’t forget the birth of the cool. I believe the recent success of our U.S. Women’s Soccer team points directly to this to again quote Rory Smith;
“This United States team does not, when it comes down to it, care what other people think of it. It is here to win games, to claim a prize, to conquer the world. Whether it makes friends along the way is secondary. It is not in the business of inspiring affection. It is here to inspire awe, and it has done that rather nicely.”
Turns out when you commit to that approach, you become World Champions and people line the streets for you. Use your actions to inspire. Never to belittle or demean. Accomplish great things every day, you never know who is watching your victory through effort.
“With No Arguments on Substance, Critics Take Aim at U.S.’s Style” - NY Times, Rory Smith
“Style Matters” - Mark Twight