Archives For Rafe Kelly

I often think that becoming a Pilates teacher is like learning to drive (though it’s a different driving test now than the one I experienced in the 1990s) – you learn the manual, practice the tricky stuff, hopefully pass the test and then, once you’re on your own, you actually learn how to drive.

Many things helped me to develop as a teacher in the first few years: classes with teachers I admired, teaching within the same space as more experienced teachers, workshops and, of course, teaching classes myself. I belonged to an organisation that ran workshops. Many of the workshops followed the theme of ‘enhancing your mat classes with (insert name of small prop of your choice)’, and these were useful at first. When teaching a lot of mat classes more repertoire seemed like a good way to keep people interested. Teachers from the US were often invited to give workshops at the AGM, and a number of these were very influential for me. I think they helped me to be a better teacher, by enhancing my understanding of Pilates.

I know that I’m not alone in finding that, with accumulated experience, workshops offering new repertoire are of no interest. Similarly, another Pilates teachers take on specific elements of Pilates, or the special tool they’ve developed for teaching a shape or movement are much less interesting than they were. I certainly appreciate reminders of, or insight into, for example why the original order of the network is the way it is but, beyond that, I don’t find that doing Pilates teaches me more about doing Pilates. Most importantly, it doesn’t necessarily help me to be a better teacher.

What to do? For the last 3 or 4 years, most of the professional development that my wife and I have done has been outside the Pilates world but within the broader sphere of ‘movement culture’. I’ve written about this a fair amount already so suffice it to say that we’ve both learned a lot about movement and, therefore, teaching Pilates from people who typically have little understanding of what Pilates is (we’ve encountered the misconception that we’re all about pulling stomachs in a few times…).

I’ve learned about teaching Pilates (being the kind of Pilates teacher that I want to be) from all sorts of teachers: Ido Portal, Rafe Kelly and Andreo Spina to name a few.

We’ve been very lucky to work with some of the people that we have and, for me, none more so than Tomislav English, whom we did a workshop with at the beginning of this year. Based on a brief conversation, I think his concept of Pilates is a bit ‘off’, yet I keep thinking to myself that he’s the best Pilates teacher (with the exception of my wife) that I’ve met in a long time. Weird, eh? He doesn’t really understand Pilates (as far as I could tell) but he teaches it really well!

How could this be? The way that Tomislav teaches seems to me to embody Pilates’ intentions. He began the four days by making it clear that, although it was advertised for ‘advanced movers’, no-one had been turned down from attending, on the basis that full commitment was expected. There’s a lot of movement, and not a lot of talking – demonstration with instructions, a check that it’s clear and then practice – clarification following if necessary – overall his teaching is uncomplicated. There’s a lot of control required, but it’s not control of stillness (which seems to often be the desirable thing in Pilates classes, and seems to have little ‘real-world’ transfer) but control of EVERY aspect and moment of the movement – range of motion under conscious control. Smooth movement at an even tempo, that can be paused or reversed at any point.

The language that he used has influenced my teaching, too. Again, he was quite spare with his words, and would often categorise someone’s demonstration as either ‘clear’ or ‘unclear’, which translates to me into how I’m watching when I’m teaching. Can I see clearly how someone is moving? If the movement stems from the hip, do I see their hip joint moving, or is it a bit blurred? When joints are maintained in good positions (congruent, if you like) movement has greater clarity. Greater precision, we might say, as Pilates teachers.

It’s worth mentioning too that we paid only £15 more for 4 full days with Tomislav than the price of four hours with a teacher from the US that I’ve just seen advertised.

I don’t want to suggest that I have nothing to learn from other Pilates teachers, far from it (Benjamin Degenhardt deserves an honourable mention here), but my teaching – eye, understanding, vocabulary etc. – has been hugely enriched by fishing in a much larger learning pond.

Since I first wrote this post I’ve been able to put together a weekend of workshops, under the title of MovingBeings Jamboree, on September 8th, 9th and 10th (2017), in London. Full details are here. If any of what I’ve described above sounds appealing to you, then this event is for YOU. I hope to see you there.

 

*Perhaps ‘better Pilates teacher’ needs defining. I’m not interested in teaching people to become proficient at performing repertoire, or even excellent at performing it, unless this is an expression of enhanced awareness, range of movement, and understanding of how to organise their joints well. So being a better Pilates teacher, to me, means having the insight and tools to help people achieve those things. Not having a greater variety of exercises in my toolbox.

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.

 

 

“Motion is Primary”

June 16, 2016 — 1 Comment

More thoughts on Evolve Move Play,

inspired by an interview with Jaap Van der Wal.

I love it when two apparently distinct activities or experiences in my life seem to converge into a coherent whole. It seems to happen so frequently that, even though it’s all under the umbrella of Movement, it might be evidence of a subconscious communication (‘morphic resonance’, anyone?) Very often it reinforces or I learn something new about teaching Pilates, or movement generally.

Five years ago I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Dr Van der Wal (“Not by muscles and ligaments alone: The importance of fascial architecture for understanding the locomotion system”). My interpretation of the content was much simpler than the title, and it transformed my view of anatomy completely – from the mechanistic view that I’d first been taught, to what I now recognise as a “process” view of anatomy.

This morning, the day after writing about Rafe Kelly’s ‘Evolve Move Play Movement Experience’, I was listening to an interview with Jaap, and everything started to feel connected.

Based on his study of human embryos, Jaap says “Motion is primary, form is secondary.” We move before we have a brain, apparently. Much as I enjoyed the Daniel Wolpert’s TED talk, I’m drawn to Jaap’s assertion that the brain is our organ of awareness, not of control. How else do you explain the reality of movement before we have a brain?

As I was listening to the interview I was reminded of Rafe talking about excessive verbal coaching lighting up our cognitive brain and thereby drawing focus away from the sub-cognitive part of our brain, which controls movement. We probably all know this already – thinking too much constipates movement. Rafe also talked about crawling, and the common phenomenon of adults adopting an ipsilateral pattern when trying to crawl (I’ve seen this many times in gyms and studios). His experience is that if you ask someone to crawl along the branch of a tree they never adopt an ipsilateral pattern – the conclusion being that a natural environment stimulates natural movement patterns. Motion is primary. Our bodies understand how to move if we provide the right environment.

How does this inform my Pilates teaching? While I won’t be teaching Pilates in trees, it reinforces my belief that the apparatus teaches, by providing an environment (much less daunting for some than the great outdoors) in which our bodies know how to move. It’s not about muscles, it’s about movement.

There’s more of a theme, too, when I think of the play-fighting we did with Rafe, and the film of Pilates (outdoors) wrestling with his friends. I think we can better understand Pilates, and teaching Pilates, by learning from a wide variety of sources.

 

Playing with Rafe

June 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

Reflections on The Evolve Move Play Movement Experience13417541_10154055668085041_3195942729181525650_n

I’d first enquired about this seminar in December 2015, so I’d been looking forward to it for a while. When the day came, and a group of us began to assemble on the edge of Hampstead Heath (like a minimalist footwear convention – Vivo Barefoot just edging Vibram Five Fingers in popularity) I realised that I had really no idea what we were in for. Rafe Kelly, the creator of Evolve Move Play, was quick to introduce himself but that was the only thing that set him apart from the rest of the group – no pedestal here.

We were a disparate group, from (I guess) mid-20s to mid-50s, and a mix of everything from complete novice to seasoned outdoor natural movers. The only parallel that I have for this seminar is Ido Portal’s ‘Movement X’ and already it was a very different experience. Part of that was the environment, for sure, but it was less businesslike – not chaotic at all, but less orderly. I love the structure of Ido’s seminars, and the authoritative delivery works well for me, so this is not a league table of seminars at all. Rafe (my computer is delightfully determined that his name should be corrected to ‘Safe’) certainly speaks and teaches with clarity and great conviction but there’s something else – I’m trying not to write “chilled”, or “laid-back” because they’re not the right words – perhaps it’s a lack of ego.

The weather determined the order of activities, so after a warm-up game of Zen Archer (my favourite, and especially fun on uneven terrain) we are quickly learning how to fall efficiently, and from there, how to roll. I should have been more sensible on my first real uneven ground outdoor training experience but exuberance got the better of me and I managed to mis-roll badly enough that my shoulder and arm were rendered fairly useless. Not good timing with the tree-climbing element about to begin. I do better than I used to, I think, but it’s still hard for me to hang on to a growth mindset and not feel that the world has effectively ended in these situations, so my thoughts on the remaining hours of our first day are a little clouded. I do know that Rafe and his team were great at enabling everyone there, from the high achievers to the injured novices, and great at reinforcing the underlying message that the activities we were engaged in were the things that we have evolved to do, thus our bodies instinctively respond to the environment. It’s easy to believe him when Rafe says that he’s seen people learn complex and challenging movements more readily in nature than in the gym. The philosophy of ‘moving like a human’ makes sense in my body, not just my head.

A sleepless night followed, unable to get comfortable for any length of time, and by the morning I’d decided that I couldn’t face being a wet and cold observer of everyone else’s fun. Happily for me my wife knows me very well, and forbids my self-pity. Our meeting point on day 2 is deeper into the Heath, and in a dark patch of woods. True to the forecast, it’s raining, and I understand why the higher tree climbing happened on day 1, it would be too risky in this wether. The tree branches are lower and we warm up moving through the trees at a low level, over and under branches (or just slowly along the low ones, in my case). I quickly realised that being barefoot was the best strategy and now wonder if that contact with the earth was a part of what lifted my mood.

We were split into groups to practice vaulting over branches, with Rafe, Ben and Rutger circulating and giving advice and encouragement. Lots of opportunities for practice and experimentation, and then the whole group being bought back together to add a new challenge, or to reinforce a coaching point or principle.

I’m loathe to get into describing everything that we did, so I’ll leave it at the rest of the day involved rough-housing (the British might call this ‘rough and tumble’) and edge of comfort zone testing play fighting; joint mobility; breath work; and meditation. Suffice it to say, if you’re contemplating joining an EMP seminar then go ahead and do it – I guarantee you’ll have fun. It was most fascinating for me to find how my mood changed, and the pain in my shoulder receded, as the day went on. I think was a product of the environment, the activity and also Rafe’s teaching style.

Rafe has clearly studied the art/skill of teaching in depth. He’s quick to acknowledge his own teachers, and especially quick to acknowledge his own flaws and vulnerabilities. I think this is the single thing that distinguished this from other workshops that I’ve attended – Rafe’s willingness to share his personal experience, and ability to acknowledge when his ego surfaced made for a liberated learning space. I’m used to discovering my lack of physical capacity, and having my (professional) world view challenged at Ido’s seminars, but this taught my something about myself at another level, and I’m very grateful for that.

At the end of day one, while feeling sorry for myself, I knew that I liked Rafe’s philosophy/idealogy, but didn’t think I wanted to embrace tree-climbing and outdoor training. At the end of day two both of us knew that we wanted to spend more time in nature, and to spend more time being playful. I’m sure now that we’ll be climbing trees in future.