*The next series of blogs we release will be themed with the early stages of CFNP. In a time where mega-boxes are popping up, there is no better time to revisit the grassroots beginnings of CrossFit North Pasadena; the early concepts and obstacles, and what it looked like for a 24 year old to chase a passion and allow life to provide the steps along the way. This is the third and final installment of our blog series. We hope you've enjoyed them!
Part 3 "The Grassroots Movement"
The grassroots movement is a concept that has been around forever. The tragic irony, is that once a grassroots fulfills its purpose and becomes well known, it is often times forgotten that it began as a grassroots movement in the first place. So in a catch-22, no grassroots movement ever maintains that passion and devout following that originated it. This my dear readers, is the final writeup about the early days of CrossFit North Pasadena, but in order to truly grasp what started CFNP, we need to go before CrossFit even began, not far past it, but just enough to see how difficult it is to hang onto a grassroots movement.
What is now globally known as the UFC used to formally be called the Ultimate Fighting Championship...and it was awesome. It was the modern day equivalent to how news travels around the world in sixty seconds, one person tells another person, who then invites a third person to come watch at their house; before you know it, enough people have shared the info that a little party in the living room takes place. But in order to watch it, you first have to run to the video rental store to check out the VHS tape...then the action ensues. To look back on those days, where my dad would get home with a stack of VHS tapes, my mother would leave the room saying it was barbaric, and the three Perez men would sit around the living room in our whitey-tighties, eating pizza, and squealing with joy as we picked our favorite fighters to win the tournament (oh yeah it was an actual fighting tournament back then). Now, if VHS tapes and white-tighties, didn’t age this story then allow me to expand on one of the least known, but most famous fights in UFC history...
Art Jimmerson, professional boxer, was riding a fifteen fight win streak and hadn’t lost a fight in five years when he heard about this fighting tournament. At the time (20 years ago) it was like a real life Street Fighter, and a fighter of his calibre just wasn’t going to turn down an event like this. His first opponent upon first glance was what Jimmerson describes now as “small, frail, and childlike.” Jimmerson now admits that he truly “felt sorry for” the man standing across the ring from him. Art Jimmerson was so skilled in his craft that he chose to wear a boxing glove on one hand, and keep his other hand free for anything he may have to defend against. Aside from protecting his own hand (boxers often break their own hands), he knew this fight wouldn’t last because his jab was the best in the boxing world at that time, so the glove stayed on. The man standing across the ring from him went by the name of Royce Gracie. The fight lasted a one minute and ten seconds with Art Jimmerson tapping out (quitting) and Royce Gracie winning the fight. In case you missed it, the Gracie name is one of the most famous names in the world for essentially owning the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sport itself. As much as Nike is synonymous with athletics, that’s what the Gracie name is to mixed martial arts. That’s what a true grassroots movement does, it welcomes ideas, shocks the world, goes against the grain, and along the way true arts and ideas rise to the top.
The magic behind a grassroots movement is that before all the glitz and glamour, people who truly believed in it, don’t really stop. They become what we would call die-hard, they are the ones that stick around to tell of the early days. There is a reason Apple, despite firing it’s own founder, rehiring the same man, then losing him to cancer, is still a global name in the tech world. There is a reason that despite there being over a thousand martial arts academies much less a thousand different art forms, the Gracie name has withstood the test of time. There is a reason that despite being one of a thousand various training methodologies, the CrossFit name has only continued to grow. The grassroot movement does not discriminate against race, gender, or belief, it is a living breathing organism that simply obeys what the market demands. One of my favorite public figures is Gary Vaynerchuk, a no-nonsense entrepreneur, now consultant and overall business personality (and quite abrasive), he is huge on the concept of “The market is the market is the market” which couldn't care less if you’re father is rich, or came from poverty, if your product or service is good, then the market will react accordingly. It’s hilarious to hear people call in to his show, complaining about their product not taking off, and all Gary does is remind them that at the end of the day, you can’t argue with the market, it’ll eat you up and spit you out if you think you’re entitled to anything. If you are confident your service is top-notch but the market doesn’t think it is then guess what, it sucks. A grassroots movement has a way of seeing through all the money, because the grassroots movement is fueled by people. Sure people care about money, but what they care more about is purpose. Although purpose cannot be measured objectively, its evidence can be observed in how strong grassroots stand in history, strong enough to become world famous. That higher level of belonging to a movement, is one of many things separate us from animals. It’s the same principle that keeps us from giving in to the basic instinct of essentially just grabbing whatever we want (eg food, goods, etc). This is why the grassroots movement is something you won’t see anywhere else, because it bucks the system of money, it makes no sense to our wallet, because it tugs at our hearts and passions.
Now earlier I had said that the tragic irony of grassroots is that upon their success, that local homegrown feel dissipates into fame; it seems inevitable. However, how have some pulled off keeping that inevitability at bay? How have some grassroots become world famous, yet not lost touch with those roots? I attained my MBA a few years back and decided to do literally every single case study on a company I felt was able to pull it off, Trader Joe’s. Despite having 474 locations all around the country, when you walk into a Trader Joe’s you know what to expect; a cozy feel, unique and intriguing items, a type of treasure hunt shopping experience. How did they pull this off? The answer is that the people that love Trader Joe’s wouldn’t allow it any other way, and Trader Joe’s knows it. The very people that bought into Trader Joe’s, single-handedly hold the company accountable, and as a result, the grassroots movement of Trader Joe’s has remained intact. In CrossFit, the same truth echoes across boxes all around the world. What people love about CrossFit is the simplicity to it. Will there be burning lungs, yes, will there be sweat puddles, absolutely, will you need to buy products, nope; all that’s needed is attending a one hour class and your best effort. People eat that concept up, and if it were to ever change, they likely would abandon the movement.
Every once in awhile at CFNP we get a very well-versed athlete that comes to us. They fancy themselves “competitive,” and demand to know what training methodologies we use. The common question is, “So what kind of programming do you guys do here?” I usually give them a nice big smile and say, “Well we do CrossFit programming.” They usually seem a bit puzzled. The fundamentals that make CrossFit work so well is that they are just that, fundamentals. Unfortunately a lot of these athletes now come from a gym that does CrossFit “with a twist” (e.g. strength cycles, gymnastic programs, endurance programs). Now I am not bashing that, but to phrase it differently imagine your kid’s teacher talking to you and saying, “So I’m going to be teaching your child how to read, we are going to be going over the fundamentals, but I’m going to be putting my twist on how they read, just kinda how I like to read.” I’d bet most parents would suggest they just the child to master the basics first. “My child stopped peeing their pants last year, so what do you say we master Dr. Seuss first?”
Now I can go on and on about fundamentals and about how often times coaches, athletes, gym owners, professionals in other fields, tend to skip on them and instead chase the shiny stuff, but I always make myself a personal promise to keep my blogs under novel-length. The purpose of this blog and series, was to bring to light how my gym, CrossFit North Pasadena was born, raised, and sustained. Our facility was formed in humble beginnings, thrived on hungry relentless passion, and now continues to grow on a steady unwavering focus on the fundamentals. Luckily those fundamentals are not found too far from today, simply by looking back on the grassroots days. As we have all learned from studying History in school, the whole purpose is to be able to look back on both past successes and failures, and to learn from those events or movements. May we as a grassroots movement continue to always push forward, but never forget to take a peek back at our history and remember what it took to get us where we are today.