What started out as a small group of powerlifters training in a garage soon became a full-blown training facility in inner-city Portland. What started out as a difficult childhood in the high desert of Central Oregon soon became a man with vision to change the world and inspire thousands to live better through strength. What started out as a successful college football coach and one of the nation’s most successful and decorated homebuilders soon became a world champion masters lifter with a heart for helping others.
The “What” and the “How” of a company are fairly easy to discern; the “Why” however, is another story. We want this short essay to serve as a communique to our community; a writing from the heart of Kabuki Strength’s leaders and staff that defines our “Why”. You might be wondering…why is our “Why” important? We recommend you read Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why.
Our core mission is to make the world a better place through strength. We do this in four distinct ways:
- Manufacturing innovative equipment to push the boundaries of health, performance, and strength.
- Research-based education.
- Providing world-class coaching services
- Helping others and giving back to the community.
The story of Kabuki Strength is one of strength, perseverance, community, vision, and most importantly, mission. This article will take you through the history, core beliefs, and future of Kabuki Strength from the perspective of these five central elements.
Many incredible strength athletes have been born out of Kabuki Strength’s family of lifters and world-renowned training methods. In the early days it was Chris Duffin leading the way as one of the top multiply powerlifters in the 198 and 220 pound weight classes and Rudy Kadlub along with his training partner John Hare were both world-record holding masters lifters pushing the barriers of age and proving that age truly is just a number. Over the years Chris transitioned from geared powerlifting to RAW powerlifting and become a dominating force in the 220lb weight class, at one point becoming the heaviest man in history to squat 4 times his bodyweight. More recently he has performed incredible feats of strength: becoming the first human to sumo deadlift over a thousand pounds…and he did it for almost 3 repetitions. This incredible deadlift was the first part of Chris’ “Grand Goals” campaign, an effort to raise money for the Homebuilders Foundation of Metro PDX via proceeds from sales of a Grand Goals shirt and hat. At age 68 Rudy continues to coach and inspire athletes across the world, competing and training after countless injuries and setbacks. In his 60s, Rudy has totaled 1604 pounds and come within a mere 35 pounds of Ernie Frantz’ “unbreakable” 1639 total as a masters lifter. Other athletes from Kabuki Strength have won world championships in numerous weight classes and divisions all across the world, competing in international-level meets and invitational meets reserved for only the best-of-the-best.
From the very beginning a common denominator among those who trained with Chris and Rudy in Chris’ garage was a pursuit of strength. The powerlifter’s dream is one that most can’t relate to, even remotely. What makes a man or woman painstakingly train hours each day for the sole purpose of lifting heavy metal weights? To those people asking the question, the answer won’t be very convincing. It will, however, share a central element of humanity that is present in everything tangible and intangible that mankind has touched – perseverance.
Chris’ childhood is a story deserving of either a book or a movie. Encapsulating in a few short paragraphs the drama and pain of a child growing up in the wilderness removed from society is a arduous task for any writer, much less one who is also a meathead. Although Chris has shared in his own words numerous stories of his childhood, certain details and elements of his upbringing remain well-guarded in a corner of his heart, patiently awaiting to be revealed in one of those rare moments of self-reflection where we pour our soul out onto a piece of paper. This writer encourages you to read all that Chris has written, then contrast it to the persona you see online via social media or in the numerous content produced by Chris and Kabuki Strength. What do you notice? What was once a young life blossoming in the midst of chaos became a strong, immovable force of inspiration and motivation to thousands. Chaos breeds strength, as it were. Success, of all things, was the last thing one would expect of a person growing up in the circumstances Chris Duffin did. This isn’t just the opinion of the writer, a psychiatrist Chris talked with was genuinely surprised at his success and mental stability in adulthood considering all the things that took place in his formative years. Let that sink in for a moment…even a professional mind-doctor would have easily bet against Chris having a successful, much less inspirational life. But people can persevere even through the most difficult and impossible of circumstances.
“You have the power to define who you are and what you will be in the future. None of your past experiences define you unless you let them, or want them to. You can create the vision for who you choose to be in life and then work to become that.” – Chris Duffin
Although Chris was able to overcome and emerge victorious from the rubble that was his childhood, he did not do it alone. Alongside every great person lie other people who are just as great.
Community has been a thread in the fabric of Kabuki Strength since our story began those early, formative years in Chris’ garage. A small group of powerlifters found themselves better off working together, than alone. The power of community is nothing new, and we’ve all experienced it. You can even make the very reasonable argument that homo sapien is inherently a social creature who best thrives in a group, rather than alone. But community is about more than just similar people sharing a point in the space/time continuum; community is about human connectivity, diversity, shared passion, and empathy.
These four terms served as the backbone and ethical tenets on which Rudy Kadlub’s Villebois housing community stood. When the State of Oregon and City of Wilsonville decided to sell the plot of land on which the closed and shuttered Dammasch State Hospital stood, they decided to require the chosen community developer to devote a certain percentage of the land to housing the mentally handicapped. Rudy was faced with a difficult and incredibly important task – to figure out a way to house dozens of mentally disabled patients without affecting the property values of new homes and alienating potential buyers. When he visited Washington DC and asked the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for advice – they responded “This is unprecedented and we don’t have any advice for you, but we’ll let you know if you mess up”.
Rudy never heard from them. He was able to become one of the first community builders to successfully integrate housing for the mentally ill within the Villebois community, building homes with live-in providers and staff right next to homes housing healthy people, without violating anyone’s right to privacy or the potential value of the properties in the community. At a ribbon cutting ceremony in Villebois Rudy remarked:
“These folks are people, just like you and me … and residents of the new community are embracing their mentally impaired neighbors.” – Rudy Kadlub
People are the DNA of community, and without beautiful and incredible people Kabuki Strength would be nothing but a lifeless shell.
People like Cassandra, a Physical Therapist Assistant who joined the gym and embraced the community only to find herself engaged to another member and working as a coach for the company.
People like the writer whose widowed mother quit her nursing job, sold her apartment and all possessions, left a devastated and corrupt post-communist eastern bloc country and emigrated to the US so that her 7-year old son might have a chance at making more than $180 per month – the average monthly salary in Romania.
People like Derrington who moved all the way from Texas to Oregon when confronted with the opportunity to work as a full-time coach teaching the sport he loves to other athletes.
People like Brandon who mentored under Chris and eventually become such a good coach, he started coaching the coach.
But it hasn’t been easy. Our own community and personal values have, in the past, come under attack. Due to our all-inclusive nature (anyone can come train at the Lab and we leave the front door open during the day) individuals and organizations have taken advantage of us and our platform to further their own visions and missions. We love giving people a platform and a voice to be heard, but not when the message they promote detracts from the welcoming community Kabuki Strength not only encourages and promotes, but demands as a core principle. We do not tolerate or endorse any views, speech, or conduct that does not promote equality and inclusion of all members, customers, suppliers, and followers. Having an open door policy comes with some risk, and the trust we extend to our members has in the past been violated. Since then, we have worked hard to take all necessary actions to ensure that the Kabuki Strength community remains inclusive, welcoming, and strong. We are very proud of the team we have built, our community, our culture, and what we stand for today at Kabuki Strength, and will continue to defend our team, inclusive community, and culture accordingly.
Kabuki Strength IS community. A group diverse yet unified, different yet similar, and most importantly as passionate as can be. But community for the sake of community can find itself dry and bitter. All of us here may have different upbringings, ethics, or belief systems yet we share a similar passion for furthering our version of “the good life” or better put “the meaningful life”. Someone once said “the hardest thing in life is to live well”. What it means to live well may mean very different things to people, but those of us at Kabuki Strength can agree that the pursuit of physical discipline is a virtue worth seeking and sacrificing for.
But what does physical discipline have to do with living a good and meaningful life?
We live in an age of dopamine overdoses, of instant gratification and self-contained bubbles we fill with entertainment and our own rapidly ballooning egos. Human history is marked by the pursuit of power and the oppression of mankind, set in stark contrast with the brilliance of mind and the subduing of the very planet we inhabit to serve our needs. Our common story is marked by drama, chaos, war, death, and unimaginable suffering. But that same story is also marked by passion, love, victory, family, and brilliance. What human history has NOT identified with so far is apathy and mediocrity – two poisons of the modern age taking hold of lives with so much potential. The vision of Kabuki Strength in a philosophical sense is to see people deeply driven to live better through strength. For us this isn’t just some mantra to encourage the pursuit of a heavier squat, but rather a universal belief that each individual human being – regardless of circumstance – is fully capable of living a meaningful life.
This is not a moral proclamation. It’s simply a call to unshackle ourselves from cheap pleasures, spoon-fed propaganda and entertainment, overstimulation and overabundance, lack of physical and emotional discipline, and most importantly from our own ego. This is a return to what truly makes us human – drive, grit, will-power, freedom, work, and passion.
In a slightly less philosophical and more technical sense, the vision of Kabuki Strength is to develop equipment that bridges the gap between clinical and performance worlds, teach correct, clinically-based movement which can serve to improve performance and reduce injury modes, and coach athletes of all levels using traditional and our own proprietary training/programming methodologies. That’s quite the mouthful, but don’t worry, we expand on it further below.
Our vision is to see people live better through strength. But vision without action and mission is nothing but a dream.
As a community we have a deep and powerful vision that is a part of our DNA. This is a vision that looks beyond the self. In fact, it requires active participation by it’s community to inspire and influence those outside who are looking in. There are four primary mediums by which our vision comes to fruition – equipment, education, coaching, and charity. The active participation of our community, both internally and at large, is assumed in each of these core tenets.
Equipment – The combination of an engineer and businessman who both share a love for strength sports and kinesiology is the perfect foundation on which to start manufacturing equipment. Our focus and specialty lies in bridging the gap between the clinical and performance worlds. How can we do that? Community. Professionals from both sides of the spectrum – clinical/research and athletics – are among those who we closely work with and whose counsel we seek when developing a new piece of equipment. The idea is to see where there is a gap between the academic/clinical world and engineer a piece of equipment that can then serve a purpose to the body based on that research and clinical experience. Being involved in the discourse of both academia and athletics allows us a unique position in which we can develop clinically-backed tools that can be effectively used to improve performance, reduce injury, and many other reasons. The birth of the Shoulderok comes from Chris’ continuing education in human movement as well as the anecdotal experiences he’s had and seen in other regarding the shoulder and it’s connection to the core. Every product we design and manufacture serves a purpose and can trace it’s development back to a tangible need we identified and chose to meet.
Education – In the early day’s in Chris’ garage, content was recorded and shared with a modest, yet quickly growing, audience on YouTube. Fast forward to today and hundreds of thousands follow and consume the free and paid educational content we produce on multiple platforms and via several different mediums. What started as a friend filming one of Chris’ breathing drills using a cell phone camera has become a professional production with 4k cameras and professional editing software. The evolution and growth of Kabuki Strength has always emphasized content development and sharing the knowledge we gain with others.
Coaching – From the very beginning people have sought personal coaching by Chris, Rudy, and other members of our organization and community. Due to the rapid growth we experienced and the need for one-on-one coaching services by our community at large, we launch a virtual coaching service in early 2016 staffed by full-time coaches who work with athletes and lifters all across the globe. These coaches are the same people who produce educational content as well as teach and lecture at in-person KMS seminars across the US. Brandon – our own Director of Coaching and Performance – is developing and researching new velocity-based training methods with other industry professionals who specialize in these topics. At our expense, Kabuki Strength coaches attend continuing education courses in various topics and schools of thought. We are as much students as we are teachers.
Charity – All of us on our team have a heart for those in need, those less fortunate, and those too weak to go at life alone. We believe strongly in the power of love, of a simple gesture of kindness, of charity, and of being there for someone and saying “I get you, I love you, I want to help”. As a company, we take every opportunity we can to serve others – like when Chris created the #GrandGoals initiative and we raised $1000 from sales of our GrandGoals shirt for the HomeBuilders Foundation of Metro Portland. Or when we committed – and followed through – to donating a care kit to the homeless for every order during the Black Friday sales weekend. That ended up being $3000 to make approximately 600 care kits which were all given out by our members and the HomeBuilders Foundation we partnered with. Or when we welcomed boys from the Cordero House to the Lab, and talked to them, encouraged them, and motivated them to live a life of passion and work hard for their future. As a company – we believe that making the world a better place through strength goes far beyond selling equipment, coaching, and education people – and this is why Charity is our 4th pillar.
The purpose of this article and the intent of this writer is to allow for a heart-to-heart between our leadership/community and the reader, and to communicate our “Why”. We deeply believe in our vision here at Kabuki Strength, and want to extend an invitation to anyone to join us and participate in our story. We are about as open as organizations and communities get, so if you are in the Portland area we invite you to stop by the Lab and get a training session in then hang out with the staff! Or maybe you’d like to join us at one of our seminars across the US and learn the intricacies of the Kabuki Movement System. Feel free to send any of our staff an email or message via social media – we all routinely check and respond to any and all messages.
Thank you to each and every person who has supported or interacted with us in any way, both big or small. From the largest customer to the average joe learning how to improve his squat through our educational content, we appreciate and thank each and every one of you for your support. Community is the bedrock of our company, and we will never take you for granted. Thank you for believing in us.
We hope and deeply desire for each of you to live better through strength.
– The Kabuki Strength Staff