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It’s easy to look at the negative aspects associated with bodybuilding, and possibly relegate it to a ‘drug-gourmandizing beauty pageant’ at its pinnacle. It’s well known that in other professional sports anabolic steroids and/or performance enhancing drugs are used to aid certain goals of strength, athleticism, speed and power; perhaps none are so drug-entrenched as this subculture and people will forever loathe this aspect. This, in addition to the sexual fetishization apparent in muscle worship, paltry payouts for elite level competitors, and lack of recognition and respect by any television sports channel, much less the press. Don’t expect the local news rag to be covering the Kai Greene guest appearance, signing glossy 8X10’s at the local supplement shop. For those of who have grown as individuals, both physically and even more so spiritually we can never forget the true gifts of bodybuilding as an art, endeavor and life-long pursuit.
After picking up a plastic weight set as a teenager I immersed myself into becoming a student of the ‘sport’ (note the hypothesis as I consider it a sport purely only in the abstract sense). The years of training, getting stronger and molding my physique into what it would later become. Perhaps an end result wasn’t always in mind but I was always searching. I walked well through Bukowski’s fires of life; at times displaying the tenacity of the late Chico Diego Corrales finding the champion lying dormant inside to defeat a relentless Castillo, in a highly dramatic late round stoppage. At others, I crawled through the shit in complete fear, staring at adversity and resembling Andrew Golota, bug-eyed, looking at Lennox Lewis in complete, utter, fucking defeat. Living the lyrics of Blood for Blood’s ‘Bitch Called Hope’, I always persevered, as humans can only do. I never entertained the idea to stop training, eating decently or pursuing my dreams of building a beautiful body. Perhaps this is considered ‘sick’ in a way; others might refer to as Muscle Dysmorphia, but bodybuilding would always remain there like an old-friend waiting to hear your voice on the telephone after years of absence. Forever waiting, like the character in Tom Wait’s composition ‘Martha’, holding on to a memory, no matter how faded and ancient.
Then the ultimate storm hit and I was brought down to my knees from substance abuse. What I considered a small fortune was lost, a ‘vacation’ in various psych wards (where the highlight of the day was a visit by Rigsby the therapy dog) and the reality of certain homelessness. At these times, the lowest of which I entertained the thoughts of suicide. I wished only to leave the misery, if only I had the courage to take a .410 shotshell and load it in my handy Taurus Judge after downing a few bottles of George Dickel whiskey. The sneaky thought always remained ‘What if I fuck that up to…” and disturbing images swam inside of my neurotic brain of giving ‘inspirational’ speeches to high school campuses on how I accidentally ‘blew off my jaw’ but was ‘so grateful to be alive!’. In the end, the somewhat narcissistic aspect of me (perhaps somewhat encouraged by bodybuilding) would not the let the idea be entertained for long.
The hell didn’t stop there as I searched for work in the Starbucks Overlord economy which has relegated this generation to part-time miserly wages; with no promise of security, fortune or any inkling of prosperity. The Corpse of the American Dream was on full display as I trudged across the pavement until blisters formed on my feet handing out an endless stack of resumes, hoping anything would materialize. The phone never rang, the follow-ups never came, and I felt defeat once again. I tried to distance myself from bodybuilding and ultimately blame this subculture for leading to many of my failures and one-dimensional selfishness attributes. In the end, the true culprit proved to be recreational drug abuse, alcoholism and the serious character defaults I had faced long before I became attracted to iron culture.
As much as I tried to distance myself from bodybuilding, it remained waiting for me to return like the slumbering giant of Odin discussed by Carl Jung. It was stirring away, patiently waiting to be rekindled. After a while things started to slowly materialize with the help from some friends, the selling of nutrition plans and soon I was training people in a gym again. No matter how far I had tried to distance myself from the sub-culture there was always a kid referring to me as a ‘superhero’ and smiling, a teenager asking for eating and training advice or a compliment from a stranger. I started training people at the Strength and Health gym downtown in Bakersfield and felt at home for once in my life. The lack of contracts, affordable pricing, and the general working class atmosphere of its members was like inhaling a breath of rain-tinged air on a skiff ride from the island of Wrangell to Petersburg in my childhood home of Southeast Alaska. It was now a new home that I found. For once in my life, I was clear-headed and in the position to help people, alongside the gym’s owner. Affordable personal training is offered to low-income members, $2 a day-pass gym pricing for Salvation Army members ($3 for others) or completely free for High-School students from broken homes; in exchange for a small amount of labor in wiping down machines.
Tenacious migrants pick grapes for hours in the fields in back-breaking conditions and go into lift weights for an hour afterwards. Workers from the oil fields come into lift the 130 lb. dumbbells after sweating in hot 110 degree temperatures for days and months. A slightly over-fed Chihuahua runs up to members in between sets and begs for treats and brings a smile to the hardest O.G.’s lifting on any given occasion. I will never forget the moment I trained a young Hispanic man named Yoshio as he translated into Spanish and then demonstrated the exercise to his adolescent friend. The new brimming self-confidence was apparent in both individuals. At this time, I couldn’t help but smile as the next generation was being bitten by the ‘iron bug’. We stand in solidarity to help others and share the most positive aspects of bodybuilding, in hopes that it might improve the lives of at least some individuals wishing to better themselves.
And for me it remains a combination of my ideas of class struggle and the constant ‘conquest of bread’; the unending tribulations of the proletariat and fight against the tyranny of daily and exploitative capitalist existence. One of the reasons I immersed myself into bodybuilding in the first place, was it appeared to be one of the few ‘activities’ that I could even afford; never residing high enough on the scale of white privilege, and remaining a lower-class dreg of society. A bizarre fusion of wanting to help others, bodybuilding, and my dreams made me hungry again like a glorious Ursus Arctos awakening from slumber of winter hibernation.
The owner and I (Dr. Mark P.) understood that it all begins HERE. A place where the best bodies in the world can be built. While other gyms retain watered-down dance-club like atmospheres to pick up perspective females or males, here stood a gym where Strength, Health and Friendship were being forged. The owner was willing to give me a chance after I had endured the repugnant taste in my mouth and heart of talking with the typical gym-douche salesman of other facilities. I made my home at this set-up downtown. In a special way, we are radicalizing fitness. We stand in revolt against the lifeless chain-gym culture that preys on peoples’ good will, bad credit and naivety. When meth-addicted prostitutes wander off the street, asking simply for a glass of water, it is offered to them because we would offer our little piece of salvation to anyone, as small as it might be. This is the type of friendship and spirit that is hard to find anywhere else. This is where I came home, this is where the past came into the realization of the present and this is where we are rebuilding the gym culture that had been stolen from us. It was stolen from us by modern-day gym industry tycoons, deviants and corporate overlords.
This is the new mecca, the start of the iron renaissance, and where Alternative Fitness is being born.
Daniel Church is an Anarcho-Syndicalist activist residing in Bakersfield. He can be reached at Lfsdan@hotmail.com