We talked with Steve Cotter in February, 2020.
👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
I was born in New York in 1970, moved to San Diego, California in 1982 where I began my formal training in martial arts. Now, I’m 50 and have been working in physical culture ever since then.
My first job was teaching Kung Fu to kids and adults in the mid-1980s, and then in my early 30s, I transitioned into fitness as my profession.
I did some personal training for a few years and was an early adapter to new trends.
I worked personally with David Weck, the inventor of the BOSU in 2000 and was promoting that at trade shows all around the USA.
Shortly thereafter, I was one of the first adapters to kettlebell training and was one of the first senior instructors with Pavel Tsatsouline and Dragon Door/RKC at the beginning of the kettlebell training phenomenon in the early 2000s.
I evolved from there and in 2008, I started kettlebell training all around the world by founding IKFF, International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation.
I have 3 children, who are from 16-21 in age, two girls and a boy. They are super well-adapted individuals and I could not be more proud and grateful for that. I’m married and my wife is Italian from Italy.
I have dedicated most of my life to education through physical education and mind-body methods.
Here is some of my guiding philosophies about training:
I train for holistic well-being. Fitness is a component of something bigger which I call health, and health is a component of something bigger which I call well-being. Health-happiness is the way I describe well-being.
For me, fitness is one aspect of the whole life.
My guide is martial arts. My preferred art now is jiu-jitsu, because, at my age and stage in life, it allows me to go to battle without getting brain injuries or other internal trauma.
In the battle is where I learn most about myself, and of course, it is the most important physical thing, we can do.
Fight and flight are our most primitive physical instincts, along with a few others that are not training-specific.
So, any training I do will reflect some practical application for flight or fight.
I love kettlebells as well, and that is my preferred method for cross-training in fitness.
Power-endurance is one of the most useful overall physical qualities, for martial arts and life.
The foundation of all training is the body itself. So, I respect and appreciate all ranges of movement, all styles. Though we can’t do it all. So, for me, martial arts is the compass that anything else is filtered through.
As long as I keep improving in my skills there, I am happy.
The most important thing in martial arts is breathing. So, we always have to be aware of the breath in everything that we are doing.
I really like Wim Hof, his work and his method. So, I also integrate his principles into my own training.
⏱ Describe a typical day of training
My lifestyle is super dynamic. I do a lot of traveling and have traveled more than the last decade. So, there is no year-round routine for me.
My home base is San Diego. For the last 2 years, I started training in jiu-jitsu 4-6 times per week when I am home for 90 mins-2 hrs and it is intense because we fight.
Competition against another man is a special kind of training. It exercises the will, not just the body.
Skill is the most important physical factor beyond any conditioning measure.
Your strength can only get you so far and your greatest strength can also be a weakness that can be used against you.
3x per week, I am lifting kettlebells, this is my supplement to jiu-jitsu. Right now as of this interview, I focus on long-cycle(clean and jerk with double kettlebell). It’s a great overall exercise that combines a lot of qualities and meets my needs for conditioning.
I’m not a gym guy, I don’t live in a gym or hang out in gyms. I am focused on my life and family and business. So. I value efficiency in training.
When I was a young man, it was different. I would spend a lot of time training all kinds of things. Now I want to get the job done and get back to other things. This is why I have stayed with kettlebells after all these years.
👊 How do you keep going and push harder?
Because there is only one of me and I am the best me that anyone can be.
Training makes me better in some way and if I can be better it means I am still progressing, still growing.
I don’t look for any extrinsic motivators. Everything is already within me and I am connected to it.
I don’t always think about training. To me, jiu-jitsu is training for me, because it is practical for life.
I think in terms of movement, and so I think about how am I going to move today.
🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I’m so grateful, I have my health, I have my family, I have ways to earn and create. These are so much to be thankful for.
Physically, I am fit and getting fitter. I am not in terrible shape, because I know how to keep my body in homeostasis, because there is a balance of lifestyle.
But I do need some reason to push myself into peak fitness levels because we cannot sustain peak year-round and year after year.
For me, competition is the way of extrinsic focus. I mean if I am going to prepare for a jiu-jitsu tournament or for a kettlebell sport competition, these kinds of things are what sparks me to increase my training and be more committed to the consistency of hard training.
I do a lot internationally, opening new markets teaching kettlebell and I find a lot of joy in that. This has allowed me to see the similarities and differences among peoples, lands, and cultures.
I can say that we are all much more similar than different in the important things.
🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
The fundamentals are breathing and self-care. This is at least as much mental as it is physical. Well, you cannot separate, because the body executes what the mind conceives. So I have some simple strategies that allow me to feel good and keep going.
As an overall strategy, I want to keep my body more alkaline than acidic. Well as biological creatures, we function also with the PH scale. So we want to stay near that .7 balance for homeostasis.
To talk about what balance is or how it works, it is about maintaining a healthy outlook and being to function at a high-level in the things that bring happiness. It’s different for everyone.
For me, it is about my family, my personal interests, my health, my financial and my social lives.
Physically, I pay attention to how I feel and my energy level. I have structured my life in a way that gives precedence to my well-being.
The modern world runs really hot, it is very acidic. We can see this manifested in a lot of different ways.
The noise, the air and water pollution, the business, of course, more in urban centers compared to rural living, but we all share one inter-connected environment.
Then, there are food and other lifestyle habits.
Fried, processed and fake foods like McDonald and Coke and the like are poisons disguised through marketing as foods, but they are so acidic for the body.
The cleaner, the more life, the more water content, the more alkaline the foods are. So I aim to eat foods that are more alive than dead. Not perfect here, but I do what I can and always look to learn more and upgrade in this area. Knowledge is power.
There is a silent killer, which is stress. Rather, it is not stressed that is the problem since stress is life. It is a poor stress management. It makes a lot of people acidic.
I can go on and on about this, but the basics are to maintain a less acidic lifestyle through the foods and habits.
I have to get sufficient sleep and use whatever strategies to help with deep sleep. I like using sound wave technologies sometimes which helps me sleep deeply.
Deep breathing and especially when combined with cold ala Wim Hof Method and similar approaches which is a very powerful internal medicine to keep me more alkaline.
Ultimately, the state of mind is the most telling factor in what a person believes.
For me, I don’t believe in sickness, illness. These are imbalances and represent the absence of health, which is a natural condition. So we have to live as naturally as possible. Like any animal.
In terms of injuries, well I train jiu-jitsu, so there are injuries. I just accept things as they come. These things are teaching us about ourselves.
For physical tweaks like fingers or bruises and other kinds of contact injuries. I use ancient family formulas of “hit medicine”, which is part of the traditional Chinese martial arts. The liniments accelerate the healing process for external trauma injuries through the use of herbal combos.
🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I stopped eating animals 5 years ago. So, I am vegan. Specifically, this means I eat nothing made with animals. I also do not use leather and do my best to avoid any activities or products that exploit or harm my animal friends(including human animals).
I am not militant, nor do I concern myself with other people’s diets. I focus on my own actions and reasons.
I can say that I am healthier and more energetic and more peaceful and clear-minded in the 5 years since I became vegan, and can still operate at a high level of physical capacity at 50 years old.
There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about vegan and plant-based eating and I like to be a positive example of how we can be strong and healthy without eating meat.
Supplements, I like to use are high-quality food-based and plant-based. Multi-vitamin and B-12 are the most important supplements for me since they are more difficult to get without eating meat.
One of my favorite supplement brands, I use is the Garden of Life. They are very clean and high-quality.
Also, I often will have plant-based smoothies to get some protein, and I like the Vega brand of proteins(hemp, rice, pea, chia are protein sources).
Food is the essence not supplement. So, trying to get the best quality food sources is the focus. I don’t always do great there, but basically, I don’t eat any candy or ice cream or any of the things a lot of people eat, like burgers or chicken or pizza and so on.
So, I eat what is left which are a lot of different kinds of veggies and seeds and nuts and tubers, beans, lentils, rice, fruits and those kinds of things.
I don’t need to eat a lot, I just eat for fuel. There is no emotion because when you stop eating animals you lose the cravings for blood and grease and dairy.
In most junk food, it has either sugar and or fat which is what are the addictive additives that act as a drug to our bodies.
I feel really good, I’m 50 and do everything that I want, the energy I need is vital, healthy.
You know diet is so complex and there are so many factors related to how one person gets appropriate nutrition. It is not just what you eat, it’s how it is processed/assimilated.
There is also a lot of opposing information and opinions about what constitutes the perfect diet. So, a person has to find her/his own path.
👍 What has inspired and motivated you?
Mostly the mothers. My mother and all the mothers. And also mother Earth and our home.
I feel that the woman, the female energy has not received the respect and admiration that she deserves. I mean, look at how humanity has treated the earth and the animals and each other.
So the mother is first and foremost.
After that, great people who have promoted progress for humanity, equality, means of production that are not harmful and also great teachers.
I feel it is really important for me to know a person before I can be inspired by them. Or at least have met them and has some live impression. Because even people who are famous or known for great things have light and darkness within them. So I am very careful not to put any man on a pedestal.
Here are a few current teachers who I think are doing great things in the world, who I also happen to know in person:
I really value his teachings and recognize that his fundamental message underneath the method of his teaching is about love and being happy and healthy. This is the truth!
He’s doing amazing things in the world as well. He’s an NYT best-selling author and founder of Mind Valley. He’s bringing amazing people together, great teachers and really challenging the conventional educational models while offering better ways to progress humanity forward. I’m all about that
✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
I say that the first step is forgiveness and with that comes the love. Forgive yourself, love yourself and accept yourself. Because a person cannot hide behind a strong or beautiful body.
You can train your butt off and that can be an escape for a lot of people. But that cannot bring happiness.
I always start with the mind. And we have to be able to embrace discomfort. We have to learn how to accept defeat. Not be happy with it necessarily, but accept it and see it for what it is.
The fairy tales we are taught as children do not inform us about reality. So, a person has to start where they are and just accept themselves.
The great thing about exercise is that it is probably the fastest way to change the state. You start moving, breathing heavy, your chemicals start moving and shifting. So, the mood shifts.
And depression can now turn into enthusiasm. And enthusiasm is the thing that keeps us going. But we also have to learn to stay calm in difficult situations.
That is our true character, how we behave in a challenge.
🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?
Yes, on a limited basis in San Diego, CA.
The people that want to work with me are those who look for in-depth education and want to get straight to the point with no flush.
I have almost 40 years of practical experience and I am as OG as it gets when it comes to kettlebells, having taught more people around the world than anyone else. So, my perfect clients are those who value experience and demand the highest quality.
Because it is a path to mastery. I give the tools and inspiration but the client has to put in the work and the time to be able to absorb the knowledge and grow from it to become his or her own master.
📝 Where can we learn more about you?