Archives For Workshop/Seminar reflections

Like moths to a flame, we were drawn back to Turku to attend another movement workshop. All our previous trips have been for Ido Portal workshops but this time it was for Fighting Monkey. FM has been on our radar for a few years, though I can’t remember how we first heard of it. The first video I saw was shot outdoors and my memory is that it looked like a roadside, rough ground and people looking like they were, near enough, fighting. The rumours were that, if you were in to movement, this was the real shit.

Fast forward a few years and FM have some really high quality, seductive video. It’s hard to explain why (this will be a theme), but after 30 seconds of someone manipulating a wooden sphere I knew for certain that I wanted to sign up for their week long intensive in Slovakia (in addition to the upcoming weekend in November we were already booked on). Would Anoushka and I be suitable ‘material’ for such an event? I emailed Fighting Monkey and had a reply from Jozef (he and his wife, Linda, are Fighting Monkey), to say something like “If you’re ready for hard work you are welcome”. That first interaction was a pleasant surprise (email IP Method and it will not be Ido who replies), it felt like ‘ hey, if you’re interested in what we do them we’re friends already’.

But, dammit, there was a spanner in the works – an unmissable family event right in the middle of the intensive week. So, much as we love our routine visit to Turku, it was a can’t-go-to-the-intensive consolation, more than the irresistibility of Finland’s former capital.

So, there we were, usual hotel next to the Baltic (a very refreshing 18 degrees after a day’s play), usual morning drive through the woods into the city but, instead of the usual CrossFit box venues of Ido workshops, this time we were heading for (I think) a folk dance pavilion.
A couple of FM followers greet us warmly, and Jozef tells us that we’re lucky, that a group of only 20 is very unusual, so we will get a lot of attention. I don’t remember much more preamble before we were in pairs playing games on the floor (and getting filthy – don’t those folk dancers ever sweep the floor?) One of the focuses of FM training is ‘body-body’ work, on the basis that interacting with another human creates endless variables (especially if you keep changing partners) that you have to react to. So simple tasks like ‘I’m going to stay sitting on my butt while s/he tries to manoeuvre me onto my back’ have extraordinary complexity, and have the potential to teach you a lot more than repeating specific drills.

The parameters, or rules of the games kept changing, along with the partners, and I was amazed to find that 2 hours had passed when we paused to sit in a circle, to share observations and learn FM principles from Jozef. This was the pattern for the weekend: movement punctuated with feedback and theory/philosophy. While Jozef spoke often about athletic performance he also related a lot of the physical practice to rehabilitation scenarios. This workshop was “Anatomy of Injury” (not my favourite title, I must admit) – Jozef made it clear that the different FM workshops have a lot of overlap – and one of the themes was becoming less prone to injury. Ido’s ‘The Corset’, with its ‘armour for your whole body’ subtitle, represented a more positive heading, or description, for me. And this makes for a useful comparison, I realise, because FM’s work and message is almost the exact opposite of The Corset, and Ido. Whereas, I learned an amazing range of drills and exercises (that will carry on serving me for years) on The Corset, FM is very much about learning principles that you can apply broadly – like learning a language as opposed to learning a lot of vocabulary. Crucially, Jozef makes it clear that the learning comes from you, answers are rarely given or imposed upon you. You learn by solving the problem yourself, instead of being given solutions. So you try one thing and if it doesn’t work you try another. You persist, you repeat, you allow your brain the time to decode what it’s seeing.

This is part of why it feels difficult to describe what FM is, because it certainly does not seem to be a prescribed sequence of activities. I learned from one of the guys who’d been following FM that the content is different every time. Again, trying to illustrate by comparison, if you see their respective websites the names are ‘Ido Portal METHOD’, and ‘Fighting Monkey PRACTICE’.
One element that was very tangible, and novel for me, was the concept of a “zero form” as an awareness and feedback tool. A posture (standing, sitting) or activity, for a certain duration, that you use to develop your proprioception and sense of homeostasis. So part of the strategy of training intelligently is to have the ability to recognise what type or intensity of training will be appropriate for you on a given day. And how is your body responding to the training you did yesterday? In the age of highly sophisticated electronic devices and software that can gather endless metrics about us this is a beautifully primal, animal idea to me. Much more embodied than relying on a Fitbit to tell you your health status. I’m somewhat shocked at how novel this is to me: I’m all about primal lifestyle, nutritious movement, ancestral health and all that jazz. Apparently I’ve been seriously switched off, and this idea alone was worth the trip.

So what else did we do? ‘Coordinations’ that, thanks to some previous exposure, no longer throw me into a state of total panic, but still can cause my brain to feel like it’s jammed, and has to be reset – it’s almost like feeling synapses failing within my head. Jozef moves rhythmically across the room, demonstrating a pattern of steps while his arms whirl and trunk rotates, and we try to follow. I won’t deny that there’s still some profane verbalisation on my part but I now know that running from the room, roaring with rage will not serve me well. (What is Fighting Monkey? Downloading Jay-Z to help remember the two-step/swinging/throwing pattern you did earlier, in your hotel room at 10pm. That’s Fighting Monkey.)

We had a variety of encounters with the ’practice ball’, both standing and on the ground (It’s okay – it’s not that they don’t sweep the floor, all that dust is potato starch, for more glide in your folk-dance stride, apparently). Some of it looking like combat, some of it looking like contemporary dance. We also practiced a standing sequence of joint articulation (aha! Something specific!), and attempted to manipulate small wooden blocks with our feet. In both cases Jozef’s assertion that “Feet as strong as a worker’s hands” is essential for athletic legs was ringing in my ears. And we sat in the circle, listening and talking.

An interesting measure of this experience for me is that, unlike any other workshop I’ve attended before, there was nothing that we did that I will try to teach to anyone else straight away. That’s not the stuff that I was learning. I think that Fighting Monkey is the people behind it, and their cumulative practice and exploration. I’ve never worked with someone who seemed as steeped in the work as Jozef, and I have to assume that, since they’ve evolved FM together, the same will be true when I meet Linda. Jozef is an extraordinary teacher, with a great ability to read the group and manage the rhythm of the day – playfulness, focus, intensity. I’d be very surprised to hear that anyone there felt that we did too much of any one thing. I’ve met teachers who love their work so much that they lose themselves and forget to be the teacher, but Jozef, in spite of gleefully declaring that he loves a game we played so much that it makes him salivate, was always present, aware and ready to help anyone who was struggling (and also able to recognise when to give room for self-discovery). It’s too simplistic to say “he seems like a really nice guy” – he is very generous, with his time, energy, attention. I’ve rarely met anyone who seems as grounded as Jozef (grounded as in “I know exactly who I am, and I’m at peace with myself”) and I think this has huge significance in a teacher.

I’ve appreciated workshops that were scaled to accommodate different abilities – “if this is too much then stick with that” – but there was none here. It’s only dawned on me in writing this but I think this is a crucial part of FM – while we may have struggled with the Coordinations, for example, we were always in it together, as a group. No one was left behind, because it’s not that kind of practice/training. Everyone tries to find their way, and if you are struggling with something you’re encouraged to reflect on how it feels and how it relates to you response to other challenges in your life. Because, and here is the Big Thing:

Fighting Monkey is about being a better person.

It’s not about fitness, or being a better mover. It’s about being a better communicator. Jozef states that your health is measured by your ability to form relationships. To continue the comparison with Ido (which truly does neither party justice but is convenient – sorry) in the recent film Ido declares that it’s important to realise that there is no meaning (to all the movement), which is clearly in sharp contrast to ‘being a better person’. This made for a more profound, harder to define kind of experience than I’ve had in any movement workshop. And, while I’m going to need to practice, observe and reflect for a while before I can contemplate sharing anything that we did, it feels as though I’ll still be learning from it for years to come.

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Paying my respects

August 12, 2017 — Leave a comment

More happy coincidences – a day after I watched part of the video of the Q&A session following the “Ido Portal: Just Move” film, Facebook reminded me that 3 years ago I posted this picture, taken in a CrossFit box in Turku, Finland at the end of 4 days (2 back to back seminars) training with Ido.

A great deal has happened in my life since then, not least 3 more visits to Turku to participate in 4 more of Ido’s seminars. (If you’d like to learn specifics I’ve written about each these visits here, here, here and here). Over that time I’ve been exposed to a lot more ideas around the subject of movement, and a variety of practices. Perhaps it’s always the case that, in seeing something shiny and new, one forgets, or feels less enamoured with what has come before but the photographic reminder of an earth-shattering first exposure to Ido’s work, personality and philosophy, coupled with the many insights to be found in the two films reminded me of how much I owe to this man.

The last seminar of Ido’s that my wife and I attended was ‘Locomotion’, and it left a mark different from the 5 I’d attended prior to it. The truth is that I wasn’t ready for it – the content of all the others had been scaleable, to accommodate a broad range of capability/capacity in the participants, but in Locomotion I felt that in missing some of the basics I was stuck. (Nowadays I think that a full depth pistol squat is basic capacity, but at the time I had let this slip, and was missing a few other basic positions). We were very used to travelling to Ido’s seminars and working very hard, but this was brutal and my reaction to the suffering, and perhaps the feeling of frustration/inadequacy encouraged some cynicism with regard to the content. It was easy for me to see a foundational structure as being too prescriptive – discouraging self-expression in favour of collecting component movements. (Perhaps it was no accident that the next movement workshop we attended after Locomotion was Tom Weksler’s much looser ‘Movement Archery’).

Ido’s seminars were more expensive than others we’ve attended and I was uncomfortable with signing non-disclosure agreements. It’s not something that I’ve had to do at any other movement workshop, and it seems to imply ownership of material which Ido himself was quick to acknowledge had been gathered from all sorts of sources. If nothing else I felt that some other presenters were less protectionist.

As Ido says in the Q&A referenced above, true intelligence is characterised by the ability to hold contradictory views in one’s mind, and as I said above, my first exposure to Ido’s work was earth-shattering. It burst, and shot me out of my bubble so far and fast that for the first 24 hours afterwards I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to go back to my ‘day job’ of teaching Pilates. Not because he had disparaged Pilates (though he had shared a dim view of Pilates teachers’ enthusiasm for certain abdominal cueing/emphasis), or any other practice, but because the breadth of his approach made me realise how little I knew, and how little I’d explored what’s possible.

Discovering, or rather being shown what I had overlooked was a powerful catalyst. And to say I had ‘overlooked’ aspects of movement possibilities is not really accurate – it suggests that they may have been in my peripheral vision but I’d chosen not to look more closely. The things that Ido (and team) showed me over that first 4 days, and subsequent encounters, were nowhere close to being on my radar before then. We also achieved feats of strength and endurance during those days that showed me something more about myself, and that I’ll feel proud of for a long time to come. If I had the will (I want to write “and the time” but I know that making the time is merely a product of will), I have learned the tools, protocols, drills and methods to keep achieving, and surpassing those feats. I think that those first 4 days were the beginning of me recognising the difference between doing and being – between going through the motions and embodying motion. If any of that last sentence resonates with you then you will know that this is a ‘game-changer’. For me it has been both personally and professionally.

This is the motivation for writing this post – watching Ido speak reminds me of what a huge impact his thoughts and methods have had on how I think, move and teach. Embodying movement (forgive me if this seems vague, I do not have another way of expressing this sense at the moment) is a product of, and/or makes for a more intuitive (less paralysis by analysis) approach to moving, and I can’t overstate its value.

Having done workshops with others who have a more freestyle, expressive approach to movement than my experience of Ido’s seminars, it was tempting for me to feel that I had ‘moved on’, that he has nothing more to offer to me. Ridiculous! This was ego creeping in, or self-defense – pretending to myself that the punishment of ‘Locomotion’ was a failing of the material, rather than my own shortcomings. Could one find fault with what Ido delivers? Of course (and I suspect he would be quick to agree), but I think it’s hard to find fault with the quality of the delivery, or to question the sincerity and commitment of his team.

The short version: if you’re AT ALL curious about a brand spectrum approach to movement (especially if, like I was, you’re a single discipline practitioner,) you will have so much to gain from learning from Ido and/or his team. Like me, you may find that the exposure leads you to people/places that you didn’t know existed, and teach you things about yourself that will serve you for a lifetime.

 

 

14881175_10154502459551832_1155177442_oOr, a weekend with Robert Downey Jr Tom Weksler

I wasn’t sure if it was so glaringly obvious that it would be crass to mention it (except to my wife, who knows not to expect any better), or if I was the only one seeing it but, particularly when he grins, Tom Weksler seems like the spitting image of RDJr.

And Tom grins a lot when he’s teaching – his glee at what’s taking place is obvious and highly infectious – occasionally manifesting as him joining in with the task (not like a chore, more like an assignment) he’s given us, or yelling at someone’s who’s not getting it quite right. A teacher yelling sounds bad, but in reality it’s not – it’s more like “oh no, you’re missing the fun”, than “No! You’re doing it wrong!” Maybe you had to be there.

The truth is that it’s hard for me to pin down what we were doing, what Tom teaches. In one break I left the studio and bumped into two ladies (definitely not women, but ladies) who asked me what we were doing. I hesitated and one of them declared “It’s yoga, and tai chi”. “No!” said I, “It’s not yoga, or tai chi. It’s….Movement Archery, that’s all I can say.” (They thought this sounded very exciting.) It’s a dance workshop, but I’m no dancer; and it’s an acrobatics workshop, and I’m hardly an acrobat, but apart from a few wobbles, I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong there.

I’d been feeling a bit uneasy for a couple of weeks before the workshop. This year has been a year of lots of workshops/seminars for Anoushka (movement companion, business partner, wife) and I: Prague School, Ido Portal, AMN, Rafe Kelly, Ido again, and Movement Archery was the culmination of the year of education overload. All the seminars that had gone before had tested me, but this was the one that I expected to push me off the Comfort cliff. Was this a step too far? In signing up had I perhaps pretended to be someone that I’m not? And I had it all wrong, I think. We were certainly a group of varied abilities (there were some really wonderful movers there) and, while I think you might have a hard time with the acrobatics element if cartwheels and handstands aren’t available to you, I don’t think we were doing anything that you could fail at (except by not trying).

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Tom leading the way out of my comfort zone…

I definitely had my moments of feeling awkward and lost, and I learned that those moments were probably compounded by my brain taking over and trying to control what was going on. When I was attempting to articulate my experience Tom said something along the lines of: “Sometimes we think we are smarter than the movement” and I realised that he was right – I had been imagining that if I analysed the movements well enough I’d be able to follow them. The result of my struggle was that I got progressively further away from the destination, not nearer. Coming from a highly structured practice like Pilates, which is intended to be mind and body integration, I may inadvertently create a separation between the two, or lead my body with my brain. As Jaap van der Wal says “You do not have a body, you are a body” – and Movement Archery showed me that I could embody that idea more. Hard to express without sounding dualistic again, but maybe my body needs to lead my brain, instead of the other way around. Or I just need to BE, with the music. And I need to practice.

So Friday’s content succeeded in pushing me off the cliff, but I was less downhearted than I’d feared, and we’d also done some really fascinating partner work that was like sculpting each other – an amazing exercise in developing sensitivity to your partner’s intention, limitations, restrictions etc. And we still hadn’t touched on the acrobatics yet.

Saturday began with the same silent warm-up as Friday – what a revelation! It’s not always necessary to speak when you’re teaching movement. As my more insightful wife observed, it’s a brilliant way of ensuring that we’re all present – even if you find yourself turning away from Tom, you know when to move again because you can hear the swish of fabric, or squeak of a foot on the floor as people move. It also felt at some points that we were breathing together, simply because we could hear the rhythm of Tom’s breath, and instinctively followed. I understood his explanation of how he warms up as creating contrast with the dance/movement that’s to follow. Apologies all round if I misconstrued, but it was an idea that appealed a lot to me.

We continued to explore similar themes from Friday, moving from the ground to sitting, to standing, and the reverse. It sounds mundane when written down (and perhaps this is the problem of trying to describe an experience like Movement Archery – what notes I made a very hard to decipher). I will just say that we did a lot of rolling on the floor (lots of massage like bone/joint compression, and some friction burns too) as well as moving through different levels toward or away form the floor. If you’ve played Zen Archer before you would recognise some of what we were doing, though this was like Zen Archer with the gloves off, and performance enhancing drugs, and maybe rose tinted spectacles as well. Lots of grinning and laughing.

The second half of Saturday saw us in a gymnastics facility, sprung floor and all. A different, more vigorous (in some ways) warm-up, then forward rolls, handstands and cartwheels for starters. Followed by using a partner as gymnastic apparatus, and a few things that I can neither spell nor pronounce (though I’m sure if I Googled I’d find them). ‘Hard to pin down’ is a bit of a theme -Tom’s teaching of acrobatics is exactly what I should have expected after the Movement Archery experience: it’s relaxed but not casual. He spoke at one stage about the necessity to practice, and to repeat basic elements, to be happy with less complex movements. My overall sense is that most of all I should be having fun. There’s something about freedom, too – structure is there to serve you, not the other way round, which is in contrast to some of the other workshops we’ve done this year. Again, a description of what we were doing is elusive – a bit like drawing a poem.

Sunday’s work built on Saturday’s, and Friday’s work, more rolling, more games, more breathing hard and more grinning. I won’t try to make a list, but it is worth mentioning the last hour. Usually, when attending a two day seminar, I’m used to the last hour being a write-off, for me. My brain is usually overloaded, and my body too tired to expect to take anything useful from it (and this was two and half days). This was apparently a shared experience, along with the feeling of “I’m so tired I might hurt myself if I keep pushing”. Tom declared at 5 minute break, promising that the finale to follow would be good. We worked in pairs, with some simple ‘rules’, improvising, performing, refining and developing until the floor was a controlled, as in sensitive, as in not colliding, maelstrom of people – scampering, chasing, dancing, rolling, tumbling, flipping (depending on skill level) to the music. Undoubtedly the most fun I’ve had at any workshop I’ve ever attended.

I rarely leave a workshop feeling good about everyone who was participating but I have to sincerely thank everyone who was there – I don’t believe that anyone held themselves back, and everyone played a part in making it what it was.

In the days since MA&ZA while letting it sink in, and thinking of how to explain it, the stars aligned and I heard Frank Forencich (via a podcast) saying “We’re drowning in knowledge and what we need are experiences.” I enjoyed all the seminars and workshops that I did this year, and in hearing Frank’s words it dawned on me that they were mostly about acquiring knowledge. They all involved moving, and some were physically hugely demanding, but I treated them as information gathering exercises – drills, concepts, exercises to be used later. This is where Movement Archery was different – I certainly learned things that I will use again (mostly in my own practice, though some ideas are dynamite for Anoushka’s teacher training, for example) but mostly it was an experience. A thing existing for its own sake, a thing to participate in for the sake of the experience. This was a valuable lesson for me, being inclined to analyse (to try to be smarter than the movement), that I might get the most from movement when I can just be in the experience. I’m grateful to Tom for that lesson, and like some of the others that were there for a second or third time, I’ll be going back for more whenever I can.

 

Photos courtesy of Cellar Door

 

Further Movement Archery reading, that may well tell you more than the above:

http://republicofmovement.com/movementarchery/

 http://www.benmedder.com/blog/2014/8/29/a-sincere-practice.