Bringing the White Belt Mindset Into the Weight Room. Episode #73 w/ Ashoka McCormick

Starting out as a strength coach or trainer is challenging.  In fact, most quit within the first couple years, because they are not willing to go through the learning period and develop the skills necessary for a long term career.  In this week’s podcast Ashoka shares his path and talks about how he went from being a jiu jitsu athlete to strength coach.


In this podcast we talk about:

  • Starting out as an Intern
  • Traveling for Opportunities
  • How Ashoka’s Action Opened up Doors
  • Learning the Craft of S&C
  • The White Belt Mentality in the Weight Room
  • and more!

Ashoka McCormick serves as a Strength Coach to some of the top grapplers in the Bay Area including Olympic Judo Athletes: Colton Brown, and Marti Malloy, and collegiate judo phenom Lee Galles.   He works for Team EXOS as a Personal​ Trainer at Google HQ. He is also committed to helping jiu-jitsu athletes of all levels and abilities discover their potential and stay injury free.   He is a Level 2 Functional Movement Specialist, Hardstyle Kettlebell Instructor, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and Certified Functional Strength Coach. Ashoka also holds a Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and trains out of Kaijin MMA under Coach Garth Taylor in Santa Cruz, CA.   In 2013 he joined the SJSU Judo team as their strength coach, helping them win 3 National Collegiate Titles from 2014 to 2016. During the summer of 2016 he interned at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning near Boston (voted the #1 gym in the USA), and has also spent time as a volunteer with the San Jose Sharks. Ashoka currently serves a wide variety of clients and athletes throughout Northern California.   Website: Instagram: @bodybyashoka Facebook: Email: [email protected]  

Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Ashoka McCormick

Interview with Coach Ashoka McCormick talking about Bringing the White Belt Mindset into the Weight Room as his coaching method

Corey Beasley [00:00:01]: Hey guys, is Corey Beasley with fight camp conditioning. I am on the phone with Coach Ashoka McCormick. How are you doing Ashoka?

Ashoka McCormick [00:00:08]:
 I’m doing excellent Corey. Thanks for having me on the show.

Corey Beasley [00:00:11]: Of course, man. I appreciate you taking the time out of your day. Ashoka for everybody that’s listening, give everybody a little two sense of who you are and what you’re doing?

Ashoka McCormick [00:00:20]: Well my name is Ashoka McCormick and I’m from Northern California specifically Santa Cruz, California, which is kind of like a lazy little coastal town, born and raised there. I currently still live there. I’ve been training jiu jitsu since I was about 11 or 12 years old. I fell in love with martial arts at a very young age and started to really enjoy it and I noticed that it changed my life and start shaping me into the person that I am today. And I was always fascinated with the coaching and kind of the physical preparation. And I looked up to guys like Bruce Lee and Mohamad Ali and whatnot. And it’s just one thing, kind of led to the other. And I started coaching in 2013 first just kind of volunteered at some local clinics and gyms around my hometown in Santa Cruz. And then my passion was obviously a martial arts and I got an opportunity to work with San Jose state judo someone the fall of 2013. I started working there as a strength coach and I was very new, very green, but I was hungry to learn and really eager to make a good impression. I just kind of jumped into the water without a life vest and just started working my butt off and reading books and going to courses. After that I continued to work with San Jose state judo worked at a private sports performance facility in Santa Cruz called paradigm sport. There I worked with youth athletes, regular population judo athletes and some recreational jiu jitus players as well. And now currently I worked for Xcel in Mountain View California. There I work primarily with just regular population clientele. And then on top of that I’m training some of the players from USA judo right now. So things are busy, but just constantly in the trenches, constantly coaching, constantly learning and trying to improve on the way that I do things.

Corey Beasley [00:02:42]: Very cool, man. You got your start, as a jiu jitsu athlete, when you kind of just started training?

Ashoka McCormick [00:02:51]: Exactly. I’ll be honest, I was never the most athletic guy and I was actually pretty bad at jiu jitsu when I started. I probably, I don’t even know. I probably lost 10 tournaments in a row and a lot of them were in the first round getting tapped out, And then you know I started lifting weights a little bit and back then, I mean, it really wasn’t anything too crazy. It’s just I signed up at a local 24 hour fitness started doing pushups, pull ups and just basic calisthenics and then, started incorporating some other strength movements. And within two to three months I noticed a difference in my jiu jitsu game and I was able to keep up with guys that you used overpower me on strength alone. And that’s really where I just fell in love with the physical preparation component of it.

Corey Beasley [00:03:50]: Very cool. Now you said you got your, you kind of volunteered at some facilities and stuff like that there in Santa Cruz. Tell us more about kind of where you started, how you got started?

Ashoka McCormick [00:04:01]:
 So at the time I was going, I was a purple belt in jiu jitsu. I was going to junior college and actually was enrolled in a personal training program there and was working on getting certified and I’d probably sent out 30 emails and nobody got back to me, not even a thanks for reaching out, nothing. So I felt kind of discouraged to be honest with you. But I reached out to a small facility called Rocky’s fitness. And there was a coach there by the name of Joey Wolf who was working with some of the local surfers and working with some professional baseball athletes. Joey got back to me and said, Hey, I could always use some help. So I started helping him around the gym and just kind of being a fly on the wall, watching the way he did things, watching the way he trained his pro surfers and his baseball guy. And right off the bat, I credit a lot of it to Joey because he told me, he said, Hey, my background was in baseball that’s why I work with so many baseball guys. And he said, with your background in martial arts you should kind of try to focus in on that and reach out to martial arts athletes and kind of start developing your own thing and that way. So he was kind of the first person to really plant the seed and said, Hey, you should try to specialize in this and kind of carve out your own little specialty. So I definitely owe a lot of credit to him. After that as I said, I started volunteering at San Jose state judo. And basically I got that opportunity. Well first off I reached out to their strength and conditioning consultant. His name was Eitan Gelber, he’s also an athletic trainer at Stanford. And Eitan said, unfortunately, we don’t have any openings right now, but thanks for reaching out. So I was kind of bombed. And then about three or four later, right after I got a certified Eitan shot me an email and said, Hey, you know what I’m getting pretty busy up at Stanford. I’m just not able to dedicate as much time as I would like to the judo program at San Jose state. Would you be interested in coaching? So originally I reached out, just hoping to volunteer and kind of shadow him and all of a sudden you just presented this opportunity to me. And I started coaching there two to three days a week. As I said, I was brand new, really green, but I just jumped in man and never looked back. And really fortunate to work with some of the best judo athletes in the country and I continue to work with some of those guys to this day.

Corey Beasley [00:06:42]: When you were getting your start at San Jose state, how far away is that from Santa Cruz?

Ashoka McCormick [00:06:47]: So San Jose state is about from where I live in Santa Cruz. It’s without traffic. It’s like a 45 minute commute. And then with traffic it can be up to an hour and a half. When I first started, I actually took the bus there. So sometimes I would take an hour bus ride coach for an hour and a half and then take an hour bus ride back home. But I was loving it, man. Like, I would have my strength conditioning books and I’d read them on the way there coach my ass off for an hour and a half and then read some more on the way home. And then during the days I was still volunteering and training on my own. And it’s just really good times.

Corey Beasley [00:07:29]: Really cool. Well, I think that’s important to bring up because athletes, coaches, gym owners, it doesn’t really matter. I mean, the fact that you’d drive an hour and a half, one way for an opportunity where you’re getting paid?

Ashoka McCormick [00:07:47]: My first couple of semesters there I was not receiving any kind of payment or stipend, just the volunteer basis. And then about after I completed my first year there I started getting a little stipend to help out with the team. But again, that’s where my passion is and my heart’s always been. So I would work with martial artists, it’s not about the money, it’s about giving back to the art that I was raised in.

Corey Beasley [00:08:19]: Well, that’s cool. And I think it’s important to bring that up because a lot of people, they might say, I don’t have the money to do it. I can’t do it. It’s too far. It’s too much time, whatever it is. They make a million excuses. But I think it’s cool that you took the time not only to reach out, not only to go to the numbers and not get responses. But also like weekend, week out, being able to travel and learn and seek out advice and stuff like that. I think it’s a huge deal.

Ashoka McCormick [00:08:47]: 100%, and at the end of the day, like I’ve been coaching since 2013 and I’ve accumulated a lot of experience, but maybe when I reached that 10 year mark, I’ll call myself an expert and kind of look at it like that. But I’m still starting out, just always staying hungry. And I think a lot of at least from my experience, places I’ve interned or gyms I’ve worked, you’ll see somebody get out of school or they’ll get their certification and they just kind of show up and just expect to start working with Anderson Silva and LeBron James. And like, you can’t just arrive, like you got to put your time in. And just to give you an idea, I mean so last summer last summer 2016 I was working full time as a trainer making pretty good money. I had a full time thing going at paradigm sport and then coaching at San Jose state judo and I dropped all of that to go intern at Mike Boyle for three months. And some people are like, are you crazy? Like you got a good job. You’ve worked so hard for the last couple of years to get here. And the internship was non-paid. I still had to pay bills back home when I was out in Boston, but I knew that it was one of those things I had to do in order to kind of reach that next level. And I just think that it’s really important to get as much experience as you can and to just reach out to everyone that you can and try to raise the bar and improve yourself.

Corey Beasley [00:10:22]: Yeah. Now, tell us about, how’d you get hooked up with Mike Boyle?

Ashoka McCormick [00:10:27]: So, when I started at San Jose state Mike Boyle’s functional training book was one of the first textbooks I had purchased on training. So he was really the first coach that I’d kind of read about and I really liked his approach to training and how he looked at things. And then I met, I met a coach from NBSC who moved out here in the Bay area by the name of Brendan Rearick. And I kind of got to know Brendan and talk shop with them and he said, Hey, like I really think you could benefit from doing an internship out at Mike Boyle’s. So I think that night I jumped on my computer and drafted up an email and detach my resume, sent it to Boyle and said, Hey, I’d like to intern. They accepted me for summer 2016. I just dropped everything out in California and moved out there for the summer. And it was a life changing experience just being in a facility like that with so many talented coaches and just breathing it and eating it and sleeping it. So I’m just really glad that I took that opportunity because the coach that I was when I left for Boston it’s not the same coach that came back. It definitely at that three months felt like almost like three years of experience kind of kind of wrapped up in one.

Corey Beasley [00:11:51]: I mean, a lot of things that you learned obviously, that when you went out there for something like that, but what are some big rocks or something, big things that you learned that you really brought home and you really changed the way that you were working with your guy?

Ashoka McCormick [00:12:05]: Well, I think one of the biggest things that I learned interning out at Mike Boyle’s, I mean, again, as you said, I weren’t so much, but one of the things that made a really positive impact on my coaching and the results that getting with clients and athletes when I got home is I started to utilize a progression regression system. So at Mike Boyle’s they have a progression regression sheet, and basically, prior to Boyle’s, maybe I would just throw let’s say like a Bulgarian split squat in a program. And kind of try to coach a guy up from there but at Boyle’s that utilize progressions and regressions. So we’re going to start the guy with the body weight split-squad progressive who goblet split squat to dumbbell split squat and then elevate that rear foot. And just kind of looking at training like that and kind of meeting clients where they’re at I think is really important. So I utilize that quite a bit. And what’s great about that is you can have 10 athletes on the same program, but it’s not a cookie cutter program because maybe they’re all dead lifting, but you got one athlete kettlebell dead lifting the other one, single leg dead lifting. The other one may be working a hip hinge pattern with the Dow just meeting your athletes where they’re at and kind of building that strong basis of movement competency.

Corey Beasley [00:13:25]: It’s one of those exercise variables that I know people use. A lot of people use different progressions and regressions, but I don’t see a lot of people talking about it online. They’ll talk a lot about intensity levels and sets and reps and rest and all that type of stuff. But very rarely do you hear people talking about regressions and progressions. So it’s cool to hear, that’s a huge point.

Ashoka McCormick [00:13:56]: Yeah. And it’s helped me a lot. And then, one of the things that allowed me to do two is like right now I got a couple one of the judo athletes I’m working with. Colton Brown he just made the Olympic team last summer and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him over the last three years. So I kind of know where he’s at. But with that said, when some of the other guys come into the weight room, like even if they’re a high level athlete or their training age, they have a pretty good training age. I just, I want to make sure that the guys can do a basic pushup, a basic pull up. I want to kind of see what their squat pattern looks like and if they can hip hinge. So some guys might accuse me of making it too easy at first, but I want to make sure that that foundation is there. And that I just have a strong base to build off of. And I see that a lot. Like, an athlete will come in and all of a sudden they’re thrown a barbell on his back and trying to have him squat 300 pounds. But it’s like, what’s his squat look like without load? What’s his squat look like when he’s doing a goblet squat? What’s he look like with a double kettlebell front squat and that way I just look at it as like pre-workout. Like when you’re in school, you can’t just jump into English one a you got to take and some lower level classes in order to get there. So the athletes really got to earn their right to get to those baseline movements. And that’s just probably the biggest influence of MBFC and Boyle’s coaching is just utilizing that and just kind of developing a strong base.

Corey Beasley [00:15:30]: Now as you got done with Boyle’s internship and you came back kind of, where were you, where’d you start then?

Ashoka McCormick [00:15:38]: So I came back from MBFC and I started coaching at San Jose state judo again, I coached September through December, I did one more semester there. I continued to coach in Santa Cruz work in with my judo guys, both at San Jose state and at the private facility. And then in December I got the opportunity to work with Xcel and I decided to take that opportunity. So currently I’m with team EXOS and I trained primarily on the Google site in Mountain View, California. That’s usually in the mornings and early afternoons. And then after that I’m coaching out of a place in San Jose by the name of North Cal functional fitness. And that’s where I work with a lot of my judo guys and some jiu jitsu guys there. So I’m no longer at San Jose state, but I am working with a handful of those athletes still. And things are good man. Things are really good.

Corey Beasley [00:16:44]: Now would your judo guys and your jiu jitsu athletes, what is a new guy walks in the door, what do you kind of start with those guys?

Ashoka McCormick [00:16:54]: Good question. So when a new guy comes into the door first off, like even, before you get into any fitness assessments or anything like that, I kind of just want to talk to the guy and see where he’s at, learn a little bit about his history and kind of what his goals are because it might be someone coming in who’s a Brown belt in jiu jitsu, but they might have a full time job and they want to do well at tournament, but they’re just kind of doing it for fun, which is cool. And I kind of want to get to know where they’re at, learn about their background. And then basically after I get to know the athlete, I’ll have them fill out an injury history sheet, go over their injury history see if they’re taking any medications or anything like that, the super basic. And then after that we’ll do a functional movement strain and we’ll just kind of get that baseline movement established, see where they’re at. And then that helps with the progression regression system that I’ll use later on in programming because I’ll know exactly where they’re at based off of their FMS assessment or screen rather. And then after that it just kind of depends on the athlete. But again, I like to see if they can do a good pushup, a good pull up. So not even necessarily like a max pushup test or a max pull-up test, but I just want to see a good clean pull up or chin up with good range of motion, good, smooth, push up, kind of see how they squat sometimes with the judo guys specifically, I like to have them do some kind of a loaded carry test, just kind of see where their work capacity is at and their grip strength. And then what I like to do I like to use one of my dynamic warm-ups as the assessment, so I can get a pretty good idea of where that guy is at, based off of how he looks when he’s doing an inchworm or an overhead squat with a PVC pipe. And then I’ll kind of collect that data get their injury history sheet talk to them about their goals, and then I’ll start to put a program together.

Corey Beasley [00:18:58]: Now you put a program together, how many times a week are you seeing these guys?

Ashoka McCormick [00:19:03]: So that’s kind of depends some athletes I see more than others, but to give you an example my athlete, Colton Brown right now, I’m just seeing him twice a week. But there’s been phases where I’ll see him as many as five times a week. Just the reason I’m only seeing the judo guys right now a couple of times a week is because they’re kind of in the thick of it. They got tournament’s going on every other weekend and they’re traveling all around the world. But with that said, if they’re coming to see me twice a week for strength training, I’ll typically give them homework. So they’re maybe having a couple of movement days on their own. And I’ll just be like a basic mobility routine that they can go through. I’m a really big fan of Max Shanks work, so I like to kind of incorporate some movement flows into their recovery days and just make sure that they’re moving and kind of working on those correctives and just feeling good. Because the judo guys train their asses off and the last thing that I want to do is bury them into the ground.

Corey Beasley [00:20:06]: Well, cool man. So those guys are coming in a couple of times a week. And then you obviously changing their program depending on what time of year it is and their skill sessions and tournaments and all that type of stuff. So I mean, it sounds like you’ve had a lot of cool experiences and a lot of different facilities with a lot of different personalities which is awesome. You’re working with EXOS currently as well as that facility that’s in San Jose where you’re working with some of your combat guys. What do you kind of see next? What are some of the next steps you want to take?

Ashoka McCormick [00:20:52]: So right now the thing that I really like about my schedule is I’m coaching like 35 to 40 hours a week, so I’m coaching a lot, but there’s a little more balance in my schedule right now. So I’ve started to pick my own jiu jitsu training up again. I’m training jiu jitsu like five or six times a week, and I’m actually going to compete again this summer. I’ve been doing jiu jitsu for over 10 years and I’m still a purple belt, so I really want to do everything I can to get that Brown belt. And then eventually that black belt. And I love working with people from all walks of life, but obviously my passion is with the combat athletes. So I think like long-term, eventually I would really like to open up my own facility and have it kind of double as both a jiu jitsu school and like a functional fitness training facility. So that’s kind of the long-term goal. One of my main goals right now is I’m working with my boy Colton Brown, and as I said, he made the Olympic team last summer and he’s going at it again for Tokyo 2020. So that’s a real big goal of mine right now. Big life goal is to help him not only make that 2020 team, but I’m trying to do everything that I can on my end to help him metal and just keep him healthy so he can keep doing his thing.

Corey Beasley [00:22:23]: Well, it sounds like you got a lot of good things going for yourself and you you’re kicking butt and you’re getting around a lot of good people and learning the right stuff. So I’m proud of you. It’s good stuff.

Ashoka McCormick [00:22:34]: Yeah. Thanks Corey. And I just got to say, fight camp conditioning has been a really valuable resource for me and I appreciate all the good content you guys are putting out there and an effort to raise the bar for a performance training for fighters. Because I definitely think that as many good trainers as there are out there and good programs, there’s still a lot of fighters that are just getting beat into the ground and that should never happen. So it’s awesome that you guys are out there putting out quality content and I love this population and I just want the best for him.

Corey Beasley [00:23:14]: That’s cool man. I appreciate it, we’ve been super fortunate and we were starting, I was kind of nervous to see how people would respond and share and whether people would share or not, all that type of stuff. And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how cool most of the coaches are and just being real, super open and wanting to share some of the things that they’re doing. And it’s been fun. Honestly, this is my favorite part of what we do and just being able to travel around and talk with people and visit their gyms and hang out and I geek out on it. It’s fun, so it’s been super cool.

Ashoka McCormick [00:23:46]: Totally. And I think that’s the biggest thing. If my two sense any advice I would give anybody that’s just coming up is just that one of the things I learned from jiu jitsu is just to always have that white belt mindset. Not only on the mats when you’re training martial arts, even if you don’t do martial arts, but if you’re a strength coach, even if you reach your black belt level, just always have that white belt mindset. And I think I think good things will come to you as a coach and you’ll get a lot of good results out of your athletes as well.

Corey Beasley [00:24:18]: Yeah, absolutely. It’s good advice. Ashoka I appreciate your time. I’m excited to watch you grow and continue to evolve as a coach and a really appreciate you sharing with us. It’s cool stuff.