The Opera

By Jon Gilson

[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 28, 2011.]

He asked what was so special.  What we’d done.  After all, front squats and pushups already existed.  So did rowing.  We just added a stopwatch.  Who, exactly, do we think we are?

The answer, as indignant as the question, is simple: innovation does not result from original parts, but from original thoughts.  Creating new processes is at least as valuable as creating new pieces.

Greg Glassman took highly athletic movements, combined them into ever-changing combinations, and set the chrono to go.  The new parts were few and far between, the movements borrowed from track and field, gymnastics, and weightlifting.  Stolen, the detractors would say. 

The difference: Greg made the music. The idea of intensity and adaptation was a similarly easy cognitive leap: high-intensity training, volume modulation, varied stressors, all part of the training bastion when CrossFit made its debut.  Greg, a well-versed trainer, was co-opting existing knowledge.  Stealing it, they’d say.

He’d been shown the notes, the facts, hidden in obscure Soviet texts and well-known strength and conditioning curricula, and he knew they could become a song.  His orchestra, his opera, would be aired worldwide.

The tones were there, the melodies echoing, the chords humming, but the opus remained unwritten.  Then, Coach started writing.  The CrossFit Journal, a manifesto titanic in thought and remarkably elegant, was born.  It stood as the beautiful bastard child of the ideas that had come before, a wholly original tome in its own right. 

The revolution began, and CrossFit marched outward.

It is a mistake to assume that revolution rests on the back of invention.  It is an organic process, borne of those who stand on the shoulders of giants.  The earth-shattering “inventions” of our time: the motor vehicle, the jet airplane, the internet, are all products of incremental change, the slow building of ideas, the summation of the thoughts of many.  They are better characterized as moments in time, markers of progress. 

When you attack our Sport as unoriginal, you attack the song for the notes and the novel for the words.  When you say we’ve created nothing, you attack the car for its wheels, and the jet for its engine.  Let us not forget that these markers, these creations with the potential to change the world, only come to fruition when they are seen clearly.  Greg had that vision, and now thousands are carrying it out.

The Opera is not over, and notes are left unsung.  Nonetheless, it is not the critics who will sing them.  That right falls to those on stage, those who recognize innovation in all its forms.

Jon Gilson is the founder of Again Faster and former member of CrossFit’s Level I Seminar staff. Photograph courtesty of Evan Saint Clair at the JournalMENU.