clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

In Tim Duncan’s footsteps: A workout with Jason Echols

My quest to determine what the Spurs’ great loves about martial arts.

As I stand there catching my breath, I am surrounded by beauty and comfort. To the west, the sun is shining and highlighting the brilliance of the green grass. It contrasts the cool shade of the trees through the landscape. Reminiscent of places I have been throughout my life on retreats, this San Antonio property offers serenity and invites honest reflection. Behind me to the east is another full glass window, its immediate view revealing a wall of naturally growing bamboo. Combined with the wood enclosure to the north, the space resembles a dojo in the same vein of the martial arts movies of my youth. The wall is bare, nothing to distract from the visit, the lesson, or the journey.

“You ready?”

I pull my elbows to my rib cage, tighten my core, protect my temples with my clenched fists, and hurl a jab as hard as I can into the waiting glove.

Every summer when school ends, I set a goal for myself. There’s usually some sort of workout element to my overall plan. I like to add something different to grab my interest and challenge me with some consideration of my age and health.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post by Jeff Garcia on how good Tim Duncan and David Robinson looked as they continued to train in martial arts. Being between their ages, but closer to Duncan’s, I wondered if martial arts might be something I could pursue in my journey for better health.

Having never played an NBA game or worked out on any level resembling a professional athlete, I had my doubts about the idea. And besides, I didn’t know any place in town that offered this sort of training, other than the one currently being used by two of the greatest Spurs of all time. Was their trainer going to take my call? Let’s be real, he trains top athletes. Was there any chance I could possibly get into shape using a similar method?

Photo by Scott Duncan

“Absolutely,” said Jason Echols.

So he took my call. More specifically, I emailed him through his site Echols Fitness, and he called me less than a half hour later. Within moments of speaking with him, I knew I was onto something different. For starters, we didn’t talk about my physical health. He didn’t ask my height or weight or sell me on any sort of fitness idea. We actually started by talking about tea.

The Echols Fitness site promotes LEAF tea and how it is specifically designed for workouts. As an avid yerba mate drinker, my interest has always been piqued by the addition of tea to any aspect of health. This topic then led into a discussion of nutrition, which for me is part of the greater whole when considering any sort of workout. For years, I have gone to the gym only to nullify the effort on the way home with an oversized serving of fast food.

But there was something different in Jason’s conversational style. The word “carbs” never featured in our discussion. In fact, the entire exchange was relaxed. I didn’t feel as if I was interviewing for a session. The conversation wasn’t rushed. I never sensed that Echols had more pressing business to tend to. To be honest, the best description of our discussion was that of catching up with a friend.

In the middle of our chat I realized we were talking about mental and emotional health as much as we were talking about physical health. Jason made it clear that the service he strives to provide is all-encompassing wellness. On the surface, Echols Fitness offers training in martial arts – kickboxing to be specific. But the biography on paper doesn’t tell the story of the man.

Jason Echols is a multi-level black belt martial artist. His passion for mixed martial arts blends Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do, Kenpo and Dutch-style kickboxing. He has been training since 1999 and started his own business in 2005 by creating his own studio and training facility.

But Echols’ journey is much more detailed. His passion for what he does and the depths to which he searches himself better explains why each of his workout sessions are spent one-on-one giving each protégé his complete attention. To share the exact content of our phone conversation or the exchange during my first session would not make sense. Taken out of context, the transcript of my foray into Muay Thai might read like a session with a therapist. To share wouldn’t be as much a violation of the trust as it would be just unclear.

“Align your body and the mind and spirit will follow”

The session started with simple stretching. Although I am accustomed to a warm-up before working out, I appreciated that Jason talked me through the breathing. A simple adjustment that enhanced the entire session. Breathe would play a pivotal role in correlating his words into my actions.

During the stretching and throughout the lesson, we conversed on a personal level. Even as Jason explained a movement, corrected my form, or added a piece to what I was learning, we continued to talk. This made comments about form and corrections more of a discussion and less instruction.

The process seemed simple enough. Starting with stance, building in steps, and eventually adding arms. Just like dance, there is a motion and a rhythm that is essential, not only for position, but for effectiveness.

By slowly piecing together steps with jabs, blocks, and punches, I began to see the intensity and focus which is necessary to maintain the unification of the body.

It was much more than just physical adjustments being made. The mindset that it took to focus required a willingness to look past what my body was doing but where in my mind I had decided I could do it. Unlocking the potential, even in the moment, took me further spiritually than meditating had over the last few months. I really understood why an elite athlete would find this level of intensity invaluable.

The shape and stance that my body went through was somewhat foreign, but I noticed Echols reminders on how to readjust weren’t only visual. He included the reasons that I needed specific positioning,

“Training with Jason has transformed the way I prepared in the off seasons. When you can combine a mental challenge with physical workout you forget you are working out and makes you want to come back for more.” -Tim Duncan

Slowly, I began to understand why and how an elite athlete could translate this sort of mentality to their craft. I imagine the ability to control emotions and offer the best self during a basketball game, or engulfing oneself into a character during acting, or writing music, or even knitting a sweater would be enhanced by the level of focus I was experiencing in my moments on the mat.

At one point, just as seamlessly as the entire session had been, I found gloves being put on my hands. I hadn’t expected to suit up in the amount of time we had. I could see clearly in my head how all of the movements should interact. For a moment I doubted I could execute them with proper motion, force, and intensity.

With a series of combinations and an intense amount of concentration from within, I found that I could in fact invite my body to do things I had never done before. Other than being reminded to relax, Jason let my mind take over. He allowed me to correct, ask questions, validate correctness, and push myself. Moment after moment, I truly felt a oneness with my mind and body. At one point, Echols told me to take a break and I realized I had really began to sweat intensely. It was rejuvinating to push myself at this level.

Echols training Tim Duncan
Photo by Scott Duncan

And that’s the true essence of working with Echols, spiritual enhancement that begins with movement. His ability to tap my potential right from the start was invigorating. Considering he also trains individuals who compete on a professional level, I was impressed with the diversity of his connectivity.

As he explained it me, it’s all about an exchange. I was not simply taking, I offered something as well and for that Jason expressed gratitude.

Honestly, I have never felt more physically activated after a workout. The blending of the martial arts along with the added centering of the mind convinced me this was something I wanted to continue.

In addition to Echols Fitness, his wife Tracy owns and operates her own massage therapy business. The two have joined forces, not just as husband and wife, but also as entrepreneurs.

Knowing how my lone hour revived my soul and sent me back into the world smiling, I look forward to returning to add more facets to my physical, mental, and spiritual health.