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Ask the Mace Masters Series: How to be a bad ass mace competitor

by | Mar 1, 2021

Why do you think people should pick up a mace? 

Valerie: The multitude of benefits that training and moving a mace brings to our bodies.  Challenging yet once learned is highly rewarding for the body and the mind.  Mace for exercise and mobility are unequivocally the most comprehensive when it comes to a full body entirely around front and back for manipulating weight.  You can do so much more with the mace than regular weights and even more than what the kettlebell can accomplish.

Don: The main and important reason is to do something challenging. The other reasons, some of the selling points are; strength building, increasing flexibility, improved movement, the opportunity to enter competitions, building new neural paths via the mind/body connection, fitness enhancement, coordination development, the list can go on, but let’s not forget that it is a bad-ass way to train.

What do you think are some benefits or positive things you take after competition?

Don: I enjoy participating in athletic competitions, something which I grew into, rather than grew up with. I feel that the competitions are a personal challenge to remain disciplined for a determined length of time and to train for a tangible goal to build the strength, endurance, and mental toughness that is required to be a formidable competitor. Believe it or not, 5 minutes swinging a mace is a long fucking time.

How long have you been swinging mace?

Valerie: Mace swinging since September 2015.  On the platform competing in mace Vintage Strength Games since 2016.  Over a dozen times and likely as many as 20 starts in competition I believe.

Don: I began swinging clubs in 2007, and by 2010 it was getting serious. The mace came along for me around 2014. And, yes, I do compete in macelifting competitions.

Who started up the mace competition idea and organization? 

Valerie: December 15, 2015, was the official inaugural day in New Jersey where for the first time on the platform in competition mace swinging made its debut at Q Kettlebell Strength and Conditioning. Here’s a link to the video https://youtu.be/BBzxMVshQiE   

How do mace competitions work? 

Valerie: What are the rules athletes should know about before competing?  From the very first debut, that day to now is a drastic contrast. What began as an afterthought to kettlebell competitions now is a stand-alone event within the Vintage Strength Games and may include additional events with clubs and or variations and mixtures of club and mace.  In mace competition, the general events are comprised of the 360 swings and the 300 swing generally referred to as the 10 to 2 swing.  Variations of 2 handed and one-handed with durations of 5 or 10 minutes to perform and execute properly as many repetitions as time will allow or once the mace contacts the ground is a competitor’s goal.  Minor details are as important as the swing itself.  Basically, the setup to start is with mace positioned in contact with the ground with athlete hands-on ready to launch into action.  Judges are sharp to look and ensure execution of each rep meets requirements considering position and range reach of hands behind the neck when behind the body and arms in extension hands below belly button level in front of the body.  No counts are given to swings not meeting the criteria. 

Don: Ahh, the competition rules – first thing is that the events are structured and share the same ‘arena’ as kettlebell comps, set up in ‘flights’ or heats that the athletes are grouped in lasting 5 or 10 minutes. Usually, 2 to 4 platforms for the lifters to compete on, each athlete has his or her timer and judge. Judges will ‘no rep’ a lifter for any lift that isn’t performed correctly, i.e; hands visible above the athlete’s head in the rear portion of the swing, forearms not brought to parallel or lower in the ‘catch’ in front of the body, the mace touching the floor, athlete leaving the platform area, dropping the mace, just to name a few. I was NQed after winning a long cycle club competition event when I triumphantly slammed the clubs down on the platform mat. And I made that rule! How stupid was that?

QUESTION JUST FOR VALERIE: How do you feel being a women competitor/athlete in such a new realm of fitness competitions? Do you think you and all other women competitors so far are paving the way for women? And what would you say to a woman who isn’t sure they wanna compete yet but can picture themselves doing it at some point? 

Valerie: I am excited and thrilled to be a woman competitor and athlete of this growing and unique competition.  I do believe women are taking to participation out of curiosity and intrigue about this medieval warrior-type action activity which welcomes and encourages female participation.  I do often say to so many women once you catch onto this training it becomes such a stress reliever and almost takes one to a meditative state. Then it is so wonderful to be part of a community in competitions and set your ambition to go ahead and participate.  The support, camaraderie, and mace community is tremendous.  

QUESTION JUST FOR DON: From our podcast a while ago, I know you’ve had to deal with a shoulder injury but now you swing all the time. What would you say to someone who is limited (mindset) by a past injury but could picture themselves competing in the games?

Don: If they are training regularly with the mace already, they can probably compete. To be sure the shoulder is sound enough to compete, getting it assessed by a physical therapist is a good idea. Also, keep in mind that the competitions usually have flights for beginners who aren’t swinging heavy and are a bit more relaxed. These flights also build confidence for people who get stage fright or aren’t too sure of their ability. And just to put it out there, I have walked (or run) off of a platform more than once during a comp.

Can you name a few men and women who have competed and won so far? What do you think helped them win? 

Valerie: Joe Magarelli first debut champ because he was best capable of all who tried it, Rik Brown in Vegas set out an initial record, Jeff Butterworth big swinger and strong. Jason Tackett put in the big strong effort for Vegas 2, Kevin Stokes another original the ginger has some serious power, and he practices and trains, Brad Hutchins loves mace with such a passion trains hard and puts up his best, Scott Wong big champ trains hard consistent and set records, Lyonel Lumarque long time user of mace in training and has awesome strength, James Woodall beating cancer. Fred Mohr, Don Giafardino, William Calvani, Ken Potis, Kyle Brost, Mike Marcus, Michael Betz, Dan Barnhizer, Jim Ewing, Mark Richard   John Powers, Jeff Schrider, Rex Robinson.  Mike Gonzalez our online 2020 champ.  Women Kelly Manzone, Jessica Huttig won many initial competitions, Lori Verta, Baraa Salman our 2020 online champ, Steph Sorenson 2020 online Gada swing champ set to record, Kim Van Wagner, Lisa Hamburg, Kelly Karasik, Virginia Molinaro Dina Ziskin Fortune, Michele Latour, and myself Valerie Pawlowski.  Overall the factor of how much time in practice and training towards the event is the determining aspect of how best the result will compete.  Building up over time with consistency is key, there are no shortcuts or ways to fake it.

Don: I can name some, and the first name that comes to mind is Scott Wong. This might be my secret foe as I constantly refer to him when mace comps are the topic of the talk. Scott has a huge work capacity, strong AF, plus he is built like an NFL linebacker. Brad Hutchins is a legitimate beast and we can probably expect to see him setting heavy mace weight records for both 5 & 10 mins. His strength and fortitude are his super-powers. Valerie Pawlowski is an uber formidable woman athlete and can go both heavy and for speed in the comps, so she is a double threat plus a master world champion kettlebell athlete. I feel that the ‘sauce’ for their success is that they know how to suffer, and train that way – no excuses, no b.s., just straightforward training. Other names to look out for are Kelly Manzone, Virginia Molinaro, Steph Sorenson, Jason Tackett (pound for pound one of the strongest), Puerto Fuerte, Mike Martinez, and the list can go on. But I do have to mention the International Mace Federation athletes in Europe – Gaston Jeronimo Giorlando, Sandra Carbonell, Pablo Artacho, Juan Duarte, Michal Slominski, just off the top of my head. We Americans need to catch up to those guys over there. The IMF athletes dominate.

What are some training tips you can give to recent and future competitors? What should their focus be? You’ve had lots of wins! What is something you do to prepare yourself for a win?  

Valerie: Start basic and slowly, work on that range to be certain your hands will reach behind the neck.  Vary training with light work for longer endurance then plan the heavy days to match the manageable weight that you’re looking to compete with.  Vary training with club work and the mill, in particular, brings grounded strength and promotes the natural transfer of weight shifting.  Practice unilaterally also helps encourage the more natural development of using the body rather than only arms.  For me to prepare, I am mainly focused on having fun and leaving out any concerns.  It is always a win to get up there and give it your all and no matter the outcome the training and preparation will always be yours to keep and make future progress towards the next time you go for it.

Don: Build your performance time – meaning if you want to do a 10-minute flight, train for 12 minutes. This way, you’ll be conditioned to have some gas in the tank’ because, at comp time, it’s much different than training time. Also, I have run across peaking too early or hitting my desired mace weight 2 weeks earlier than the competition which left me swinging 10lbs lighter at the actual comp. That needs to be figured out why it happens.

What type of mace do you think is the best for competition? And what maces are allowed during competitions? 

Valerie: Adex is the brand for competition.  Don designed it to specifically contain certain features in addition to the ease of use and interchangeable weight loads.  Sleek, fast, long with pommel or ball on the end. On the thin side.  In-person is Adex brand and our sponsor for The Vintage Strength Games.  However, with circumstances recently preventing in-person events we have made an exception in the online competition, and in the spirit of encouragement to participate people may use a mace that they have.

Don: In the AMCCA events, Adex Original Handle Maces & Clubs are the gear. I have used other thicker handled maces in ‘pick up’ comps and they are ok. I am partial to my gear for one reason, the thinner handles don’t tax the forearms and hands as much as the thicker handles do, allowing for the larger muscles in the body to bear the brunt of the work.

What would you say to individuals who don’t feel “athletic” enough to sign up for a competition? And how would you say these individuals would know that they “are ready” for one?  

Valerie: Mace Swinging competition is definitely for the masses.  Any ability and all ages and any gender can participate.  You don’t have to be a “jock” type of athletic individual. The best personal feedback is to video oneself while practicing and training.  Also, we have plenty of reference material as to how to prepare and the start training basics to take anyone to the platform with The Vintage Strength Training Mace Competition Prep Workout Plan. Email info@VintageStrengthTraining.com requesting a copy or visit www.VintageStrengthTraining.com

for information. 

Don: To get ready for one it’s easy – build-up to a 6-minute set so you can swing at your ability for 5 minutes at a competition. As far as feeling athletic, I train a 35 y.o. man who is on a massive weight loss journey and he competed in his first comp at 480lbs. That is someone who learned that everyone is an athlete. BTW, he was scared shitless and loved every minute of it from his 4 months of training to finishing his first athletic event since school. Do it, it’s fun!

What’s a highlight from the most recent competition you attended? It could be anything! 

Valerie:  Brad Hutchins became champ 2020 making it work in the long run of all events in Miami while Scott Wong set the National record and became the first American to swing Mace 1-Hand 300 with a 35 lb Mace 348 reps in 10 minutes.  For women online for 2020 this year the female champ Baraa Salman performed with such brushstroke steady swings The big record in swinging in the newly added gada category was set by Steph Sorenson gada 300 (10 to 2) Swing 37 lb 30 reps. 

Don: Ok – funny but I had to run off the platform at 4:28 in a 5 min flight to throw up.

Has anything changed for the competitive mace world during COVID? Personally or Professionally for you as a person and in any other area like business and organization? 

Valerie: The planned date which would have been in Tampa was quickly rearranged to be online and virtual by video submission.  The participation was excellent as it posed an opportunity for those who may not have been able to get to the event in person.  We prevailed and not many glitches other than impeded by the judge’s inability to give in the moment feedback noting an improper execution or error in real-time.  Personally missing the interaction excitement in the room and the post-event celebratory feast with friends mingling and getting to know new participants and seeing another place in the country. Professionally the shift has accelerated my already initial move to an online and virtual style of training, coaching, and reaching people all around the world from the comfort of home.  The expense of travel being reduced is a plus.  The appreciation for technology to allow us to carry on in another manner is good although it is certainly not the same as in-person experiences.  The positive was Steph Sorenson and I prevailed to conduct the Girls Going Gada online 4-week training which I wanted to host here in NJ but we actually pulled it off nearly as intended except for gathering and people made their gada or Steph made them shipped them out and we had participants using this authentic style tool to learn to swing.  Huge success and happy we could partner in that. 

Where can people find out more about the competitions and when will the next one take place?  VintageStrengthTraining.com and the Vintage Strength Training FB page will always have the announcement and listing of upcoming events and Eventbrite too.  We have a monthly practice and fun participation The Vintage Strength Games Online Challenge Cup VSGOCC on FB and every month there is a different mace or club event.  We welcome newcomers and seasoned veteran swingers to submit up to 2 entries.  Having the best of 2 judged and up for contention in an overall coefficient formula to identify the best result.  Also, Brad Hutchins has organized the AMCCA stats records, results for any sanctioned event are being logged into the database as well as the lifts and proper execution demonstrations. www.maceandclubathletics.com   

Don:  Virtual competitions have begun, which make it easier for anyone to participate but it lacks in the judging and camaraderie and the huge excitement of a live event.

Where can people learn competition style training? What resources would you recommend? This can be online or offline material/content.

Don: I promote it, Mr. Maceman Rik Brown, Valerie Pawlowski VST, Fred Mohr, Scott Wong’s Training the Wong Way, Brad Hutchins’ Maceworx, Bill and Steph Sorenson, Erik Esik Melland, and many others who offer strength-based mace training usually have their folks doing something close to macelifting sport. Most of my coaching is sneakily competition-based, that is the trainees realize that they have a 5-minute swing about 5 months into their training program and get pretty excited about it. Macefit is developing their comp program right now and I am going to be part of it, so get ready for that to be released. I also have a guide that will be available soon as a download with a basic mace athlete program that works for almost anyone. Stay tuned lol

QUESTION JUST FOR VALERIE: I have seen you doing your part for women! You have “Girls Gone Gada”. Tell me about that and does this help women get prepared for a competition?  

Valerie: Oops jumped the sequence of the questions here and described a little above so some of that reply fits here.  The Girls Going Gada emerged from the report that in Varanassi for the first time in history women would be permitted to compete to see the article.  I immediately wanted to go and began asking around and coordinating with Pratyay Singh.  He then informed me the organizers would only allow women of the district at the time.  Anyway, the concept forged ahead with encouragement and my initial attempt of hand making a gada then training with it.  A very rewarding experience and one I was excited to share with other women. The variety and difference yet compliment to mace swinging naturally helps to correct and hone the skills to swing a stone weight  with a bamboo stick and so Girls Going Gada continues to emerge as a fun and exciting concept bringing the reward of not only handcrafting you training tool but learning the history and mystery of where it originated and today is practiced in its original form https://www.hindustantimes.com/lucknow/women-wrestlers-in-varanasi-make-new-beginning-swing-maces-clubs/story-NKhlf9lPimUGnb4XIU7QKK.html 

Lastly, where can people find out more about you! And is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?  

Valerie: People can connect with me through FB IG or website VintageStrengthTraining.com  Also info@TheVintageStrengthGames.com.    I would like to share that I recently reached the age of 57 and through my training methods and healthy lifestyle of nutrition I am not injured, I am stronger and more energetic than ever.  I recently made a huge advancement to snatch the 28 kg then the 32 kg kettlebell.  Total off the charts I only could dream of PR’s.  It is never too late to begin to be stronger, better, and more alive. I am living proof Vintage Strength Training is a sustainable long-term method for greater well-being, continued ongoing strength, and fun!  

Don: I genuinely love what I do even though it sometimes seems like it’s all driving me crazy. Everyone can find me at adexclub.com, you can read my blog there, FaceBook Don Giafardino and Adex Club pages, IG Don Giafardino and Adex Club, Adex Club YouTube Channel it’s the best! Don’t pay attention to my Twitter account, I never go on that. 

QUESTION JUST FOR DON: In your opinion, what does it take to be a badass competitor? 

Don: My opinion of what it takes to be a badass competitor – you can’t puke during your flight lol. But, for real, you have to keep this one thought in mind, your competition is training harder and smarter than you. Read that again.

Victoria Islas is founder of Steel Mace Warrior, a brand dedicated to the art of steel mace training. SMW provides high-quality beginner steel mace training information, resources, online courses and more!  She is recognized by International Sports Science Association (ISSA) as an Elite Trainer.  She is also a Viking Ninja and Primal Flow Steel Mace Instructor with several other credentials under her belt. You are in the right place to learn Steel Mace!

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