Back in the day, at least in the circles I traveled in, the idea of being into punk and any kind of athletic pursuit was like petting the cat backwards… it just wasn’t an option. Sports were for jocks, and jocks were NOT punk! But now that’s all changed, especially in the hardcore scene – hardcore and fitness go hand in hand, especially the more intense flavors of fitness like jiu-jitsu, muay thai, Crossfit and powerlifting. Go to any BJJ academy and count the number of guys and girls with a bunch of tattoos who change into a Judge or Black Flag shirt after class… you’ll lose count fast!
It makes sense to me, because in my opinion a core element of hardcore is self-improvement, fearlessly looking in the mirror and asking yourself how you could be a better human – and in my experience there’s no better way to do that than through intense physical activity. I’ve trained BJJ, muay thai and MMA on and off for well over a decade and it’s been maybe the best thing I’ve ever done for myself (and it’s also great for networking!).
Which brings me to the subject of this profile, Gavin Van Vlack.
For those not familiar, he’s the guitarist of the legendary NYHC band Burn, one of the first bands to modernize the classic NYHC sound and lay the groundwork for bands like Snapcase, Refused, etc. But he’s also one of the pioneers of the hardcore/combat sports connection, training Muay Thai since something like 1990 – waaaaaaay before pretty much anybody else in the US knew about the sport – and operating a gym called Physical Culture Collective in Bushwick.
Very stoked to speak with him, and make sure you keep an eye out for the new Burn album coming out this fall!
Cool mini-documentary on Burn put together by The Hundreds
Give us your life story in a few sentences: who are you, what is/was your involvement in punk/HC/DIY culture and what is your “real job”? I noticed that it’s called the Physical Culture Collective – what does the “collective” part refer to?
My name is Gavin Van Vlack, I am a musician and fitness professional who grew up in the underground NYHC scene in the 80s. These are both my real jobs. I do not pursue things that I am not passionate about and I put equal time into both my music, rehearsals, shows and my training facility, coaches , and class curriculum.
Collective originally referred to the coaches involved with it, but now it is more about the overall community and membership base. We are trying to make people fall in love with movement and physical culture the way they fall in love with art and music.
What did you learn from your time in DIY culture that has helped you in a professional capacity?
Not to pursue things that would not lead to your eventual desired outcome. That doesn’t mean to not take jobs that weren’t related but I would highly suggest that as your professional life expands, that you develop more means of revenue that are based around what you want to do with your time.
I couldn’t write about muay thai without including a Ramon Dekkers (RIP) highlight 🙂
On the flip side of that coin, are there any bad habits or bad ideas that you picked up that have held you back professionally?
Trusting a person more on there words then waiting to see what there actual actions yielded. I was extremely naive in the beginning, and I believed that since we were all gathered around this one thing that was bigger then the individual, that everyone else had honest intentions that were truly community-based and not just centrifugal to there own wants and desires.
Back in the day, sports and fitness didn’t have much of a place in punk/hardcore – but that’s changed a lot, and I almost feel like these days the majority of hardcore guys our age are into some kind of combat sport or serious fitness activity like powerlifting, crossfit, etc. What are your thoughts on that change, and why do you think hardcore and fitness go hand in hand now?
As a street kid we used to see a lot of martial artists practicing in local parks. Local heroes of the Lower East Side were people like Sensei Ron Taganashi, Sifu Nathan Ingrams, The Scott brothers, Doc Abrams, and even Legend Ron Van Clief (Trained directly with Bruce Lee).
There were plenty of kids in the HC scene that trained. Parris from the Cro-Mags trained in both Hun Gar Kung Fu, and Wing Chun I believe, Djinji Brown of Absolution trained weapons and hand skills in V-arnise Jiu Jitsu, Tommy Carrol and Craig from Straight Ahead/ Youth Of Today trained in boxing, Tommy fought Golden Gloves, Harley had been training in BJJ long before most of us had even tried it. And that is just in the martial arts realm.
“Amateurs wait around for inspiration, the rest of us just get to work. If you love something do it.”
Ragunath of Youth Of Today has held a steady and quite intensive yoga practice since the late 80s, as has Porcell. John Joseph is a well know endurance athlete doing any where from 3-4 Iron Man competitions per year.
The physicality of HC has always been present. It has been eternally physically expressive. I believe for many of us the pit was our 1st foray into athleticism.
My personal belief now is that the most rebellious thing we can do is to take care of ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. I will not prescribe here because I also believe that all of us need to find what works for us individually, but I do believe that a physical practice on a regular basis will help to develop all 3 of these.
If you’ve been considering yoga, what better place to start than Ray Cappo’s 30 day challenge??
I love combat sports, but they can take a toll on your body, especially when you get older and don’t recover as quickly. Any tips for how we can keep the level of intensity relatively high while minimizing the wear and tear on our bodies? And how to adapt your technique to the inevitable decline in reflexes and athleticism that comes with age… basically, advice for old men like us!
I have been lucky to have been able to pick the brains of some of the most amazing coaches and athletes in a wide variety of sports and the the main takeaways I have learned are:
- It is better to develop strength then to test strength.
Eventually we will all fail a test, but if you continually develop and study strength then it’s like money in the bank with interest.
- Part of what separates high level athletes from the rest of the pack is a firm grasp on the fundamentals.
You can never go over the basics enough no matter the practice. Training technically sound concepts will ready you for when you will really need to utilize those skills.
- Guard your sleep like it’s gold.
Most of our recovery takes place while we are asleep. Lights out, TV off, and quiet. Sleep cycle recommendations can vary anywhere from 6-9 hours but solid sleep is a must.
- You cannot expect you perform like a Champ if you fuel yourself like a Clown.
Food is fuel and garbage in means garbage out. I find it ridiculous that most people worry more about the fuel in their vehicles then they do the fuel in their body. Lots of veggies, lots of clean water, ample and responsibly sourced proteins, lots of good spices – turmeric, cumin, paprika, and ginger to name a few “healers!”
- “You can only only go to the well so often before it eventually runs dry.”
Meaning- most top athletes only go “all out” on competition day and choose to focus on training technical improvement so when it comes time to get after it they are ready and not “tapped out.”
- As we get older, the dietary road narrows.
If you want to get results, then at an advanced age (35+) you might wanna stop eating like a 5th grader and develop some dietary accountability.
“The most rebellious thing we can do is to take care of ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually.”
You’ve been training muay thai longer than almost everybody in the USA. What are some lessons you’ve learned over the years, in particular things that you didn’t realize until you had been doing it for years?
- Focus your training on technique not power.
Power is like ketchup, technique is like sweet potato fries. To much ketchup equals Soggy fries. Power is the result of properly applying speed to proper technique and one of the main component in speed is being relaxed. If you’re gonna throw a rock, you gotta let it go. To much tension is like driving with the brakes on.
- Focus on becoming an awesome training partner.
The most valuable piece of gear you can have is great training partners. Learn to be attentive and stay in the moment and present in your training. Save the day dreaming for your cool down afterwards (I am a fan of “day dreaming” but we call it visualization at PCC)
- Have fun.
This is skill based play, not fighting. Learn to understand the difference between sparring and fighting. They are not the same. Trying to knock your training partner’s head off is not cool (refer to suggestion 1 and 2).
- Develop an A game.
That will be the foundation of where you will build your expression of Muay Thai. Firm grasp on the fundamentals as I said previously.
- Consistency beats intensity.
Which is better? Going in on Monday and training so hard that you’re shot until Thursday and then training hard that you don’t come back til next Monday, or going smartly moderate on Monday through Friday ,taking Saturday and Sunday off and being able to get back in for another 5 productive days of training? Pretty simple to figure out. As you develop your training stamina will as well. Be smart and have fun.
@burnnyhc VS @sickofitallnyc !!! Craig and I like to warm up playing a little tag! We keep it light a quick. No one is looking to win we are looking to have fun with something both love. #boxing @physicalculturecollective #playoften #brooklyn #bushwick #everythingmartialarts #nyhc #pugilist #lightandfast #ageisnotafactor
Some light sparring with Craig from Sick Of It All – nice head movement from Gavin!
My goal for this site is to help the community (especially the younger generation) achieve their goals by getting inspired by what people like you are doing. Any words of career/life advice for the kids out there just starting out their “adult” lives?
Plain and simple: Amateurs wait around for inspiration, the rest of us just get to work. If you love something do it. Even if you are not in the mood, give it 5-10 minutes of your time and move on.
This goes for music, art, physical culture, whatever. Pursue your passions and work towards making them your life. This may seem daunting but if you want to make a living at something you need to develop it like a garden. Seeds don’t fly out of the soil.
Last but not least, the really important question: You’ve trained with everybody – who is the best fighter in the hardcore scene and why? I don’t mean in the sense of street fights, I’m talking about in the ring/on the mats – best fighter in the technical sense.
My favorite current Fighters in the NYC scene right now are Gaius Ebratt, and James “GUCH” Guccioni . Over all technical sense is hands down Ajay James Who is responsible for making the NYC Muay Thai scene happen back in the day. I my mind he is as much martial arts legend as Norris, or Rousey. He still trains and is still hands down one of the most lovely, friendly, beautiful , but lethally dangerous (not an exaggeration) humans I know. I thank him for introducing me to the art.