If everyone likes you, you’re probably full of shit.
As a blackbelt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, former professional fighter and owner of NYC’s lauded mixed martial arts dojo, Mushin, Erik Owings doesn’t need to play nice. “My method isn’t for everyone, and seven years in business has shown me that most people hate how I teach and how I am,” he says. A Kentucky native, Owings grew up an active kid playing football until the age of 15 when he discovered and became obsessed with martial arts. Absorbing everything he could from books, magazines and films on martial arts, he used friends as training partners and informally honed his craft until moving to Brazil at age 21. There, he began training in martial arts daily and went on to compete at the elite level in jiu jitsu and fight professionally — twin goals he achieved within the same week back in 2006. Despite this success, Owings suffered many injuries and found his progress capped by inefficient training. He gave up professional fighting in 2007 and focused on rethinking his approach to training and how to share it with his students. “All experiences should shape our life view and methodology, so if what we’re doing isn’t causing improvement, then it’s time to change. My main focus now is helping people to improve themselves,” he says.
His training approach is in two parts: Functional fitness, which means bodyweight exercises and using external resistance devices such as dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, medicine balls, cables and elastics, and martial arts training, specifically jiu jitsu and kickboxing. The aim is for students to become healthier and learn how to fight, but more simply, Owings’ method is an answer to the question he asks of every student, “How can I make myself better?” It’s the singular goal at the heart of his methodology and what defines Mushin, which opened in New York’s West Village in 2010 and now trains welterweight champions, pro MMA fighters and anyone with genuine desire to improve themselves. “I don’t like assholes,” Owings says, “I want a better culture, a better gym, a better experience, not just more money in my bank account.” Students’ progress is not measured by the numbers, but by attitude — do they feel better, look better and do things they couldn’t do before? At Mushin, the answer must be “yes” to one, and hopefully all, of these criteria.
Getting to that “yes”? The hard work. Or, for Owings, achieving a good measure on 11 challenge that all world-class MMA fighters master early on: The forward bend, backbend, splits, handstand, L-sit, horse stance, pistol, one-arm push up, one-arm pull up, vertical jump and one-mile run. “[MMA fighters] are, in my opinion, the best athletes because they’re doing the most competitive sport ever. Nothing is more competitive than a real fight. All other competitions are metaphors of a fight,” Owings says
Equipment Required: Parallettes or Dumbbells, Steady Rings or Pull‑Up Bar
Gorilla Strength includes 11 techniques that are crafted to test mobility, stability, balance, strength, speed, power, endurance and coordination. Achieving a good measure on all of these would mean you have the physical capacity of a world class MMA fighter.
Forward Bend / 30”
Seated with straightened legs, take a deep breath in and rise up. Breathe out and reach forward aiming to put your chest on your thighs. See it.
Back Bend / 30”
The objective is to get your arms straight and your heels on the ground. Lack of spine and scapular mobility will restrict your movements. You can use boxes, stability balls, or partners to assist your movements. See it.
Splits / 30”
You want to try to lower down in a wide squat till you feel you have reached your limit. Ideally, you will be able to slowly go down with your legs wide until your butt touches the ground. You can try to stretch laterally grabbing your feet or stretch the adductors by lying face down. With these first three movements, be sure to develop your range of motion over time and know that you will have good and bad days. See it.
Handstand Hold / 30”
It can take years to really develop a 30 second plus hold time in a free standing handstand. The better aligned your spine the easier it will be. You need to focus on opening up throughout your chest, keeping the abs and butt tight and pushing through the ground with straight arms. It is a good idea to use a wall or partner to provide balance while you work on the strength, endurance, and mechanics. Once you have the movement sufficient on the wall, you can try short holds freestanding. See it.
L-Sit / 30”
You can use parallettes or dumbbells to give you some space off the floor. You want to engage your abs and hip flexors along with the muscles of your arms and shoulders. Start with bent legs and eventually get your legs fully straightened so that your feet are at the same height as your hips for 30 seconds. See it.
Horse Stance / 90”
The wider the better. This movement should be deep so that your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. The benchmark should be 90 seconds or longer. Once that is achieved you should work to widen your stance. The eventual goal is to arrive at a split. See it.
Pistol / 10 reps each leg
Barefoot, with your full foot on the ground, the arch fully, lower down to the rock bottom position, hold for 2 seconds, and fully stand. A good number here is at least 8 reps with each leg. See it.
One Arm / One Leg Push Up / 5 reps each arm
This is one of the toughest push-up variations that requires extreme core strength. This push up is done by having body held steady while balancing on opposite hand and foot. One rep each side and you are doing great, any more you may be part gorilla. See it.
One Arm Pull Up / 1 rep each arm
You need to be cautious with this movement. If you don't have the right joint position and strength you can do some serious damage to your shoulder. See it.
Vertical Jump / Over 27”
Load up the legs by quickly semi-squatting throwing the arms backwards and explode up jumping as high as you can. If you haven't done a lot of Olympic lifting or plyos in the past you may find this is a weak spot. A good routine of plyos and you can see this number increase quickly. See it.
One-Mile Run / Under Six Minutes
Goal is to get it done in under 6 minutes. Get some good shoes and give it your best effort. Running is a skill and if you don't have it you will need to train and develop it. If you have good core, hips, ankles, and feet you should pick it up quickly.