Living this beautiful adventure

I will be 35 this year. I am truly excited. I mention my age because each year I grow and find there is so much more to learn and I enjoy this. I feel like I'm on the path to living this beautiful adventure. I can not think of a more productive year (in my adult life at least) for learning as this one thus far. From becoming a father of two, life lessons experienced, interactions with many people to the continuing and ongoing process of studying/learning and always being a student. With the latter I still have more lined up in the form of courses/workshops and trips... I am super grateful to my lovely wife for being so patient with my indulgent quest for self discovery, investment and growth... I do it to bring back home to us my love - looking inward to then focus outward to those most important to me. 

I'm not sure what is going on here... But I know that I loved it. Taken from the recent Tom Weksler Movement Archery and Zen Acrobatics workshop. Photo taken by the talented Julia Testa 

I'm not sure what is going on here... But I know that I loved it. Taken from the recent Tom Weksler Movement Archery and Zen Acrobatics workshop. Photo taken by the talented Julia Testa 

This picture taken from a recent Tom Weksler workshop sparked this ramble of self reflection. It made me think how outside of myself I have come, from a shy introvert to now, where I am confident and self aware enough to take risks and explore something new like Tom's workshop and many other things I have experienced in the last few years, outside my comfort zone that I would not have been confident or open enough to experience and continue to learn. So I am excited.

Below is a quote from Frank that articulates far better than I how I feel at the moment:-


"So what is the path to experiencing the beautiful adventure? It starts, of course, with attention. Keep getting back to the point of engagement, over and over. Embrace the risk that comes with growth and participation. Play a bigger game. Open your heart to the ambiguity and the beauty of the adventure. To live this beautiful adventure most completely, you must develop a well- rounded capability that’s comprehensive, holistic and multi- disciplinary. Specialization will only take you so far. Train yourself across the range of human capability; develop a repertoire of skills. Most importantly, you must learn to embody the lessons that you learn along the way. Knowledge is vital, but the true mark of mastery will lie in the way that you bring that knowledge to the ground, into the actual living of your life." - Frank Forencich

Roughhousing play - Underwater grappling

Now this isn't an attempt at grappling or wrestling in the combative sense. There are far better sources than myself to go to for that. This is a game/interaction to allow people to sincerely explore and roughhouse in a safe space.

I picked this up from Tom Weksler at his Movement Archery workshop: the task is to try and take your partner down to the ground but you don’t want them to take you to the ground. Once you both arrive on the ground, you then want to lift your partner off of the ground and again avoid them lifting you. It is about control and intent­ - who decides who goes where and not necessarily in a combative context (so generally I would suggest to not try any takedowns, judo throws etc... save that for the gym/dojo).

It is intended to be playful and tactical, using cunning over brawn is one way, but if it evolves to be a little rougher due to the rapport you and your partner builds, that is ok too. It is a loose guideline to explore. As you can see from the video, it's also fun and possible to play with odd numbers - one person floats on the outside and then interrupts the dance of a pair, for the person who is left out to float and continue by interrupting  another pair and so on. Why underwater? It's just some imagery to help stay relaxed and fluid. 

To paraphrase Tom: try and find "the space between combat and expression, free of gestures". 

Find out more about classes

 

A Sincere Practice

Group photo after Tom Weksler's The Movement Archery 3 day Workshop

Group photo after Tom Weksler's The Movement Archery 3 day Workshop

"Although physical impulses should not be stopped, an individual should develop through process to channel the energy of the impulse. To allow the establishment of a positive space. To listen to the sound of the motion before it begins"

Last week I attended the Movement Archery 3 day workshop taught by Tom Weksler. The beautiful quote above was read by Tom to us a couple of times and I am still processing it in context of the experience as I write this. I wanted to include it as it comes closest to articulating the impact/feeling of 3 days of wonderful movement exploration, insight, inspiration and practice. The more I read it, the more it seems to sum up a fantastic process that didn’t feel forced - the structure necessary to impart details was evidently there, but perfectly merged with the creation of a safe space… an insulated bubble of inhibition free movement digestion and expression that all of us present were able to experience together over the 3 days. Something I’m positive is special not just to me but to everyone else who attended and it will certainly not be forgotten. This is my attempt to capture just a few random thoughts of my experience and not an extensive ‘review’, as my words can’t really do it justice and you really must experience for yourself next time Tom runs another workshop.

Tom himself is an amazing mover (check out his Youtube channel to let the movement do the talking). He is also an amazing teacher. Passionate and clear, generous with his energy and knowledge, certainly wise beyond his years, with a calming and an infectious playful manner. He could switch smoothly between the two energies needed. He was great at encouraging us but also gave concise and effective feedback when needed. His energy was contagious. His teaching honest and sincere.

A Positive Space

I came to the workshop with a few goals, one of them being to be taken ‘out of my comfort zone’. What I realised is that I was actually given a new comfort zone, if that makes sense! Tom created an amazing space of safety for us to explore outside of and surpass my self limitations and preconceptions and expectations, and a space of creativity, passion and freedom. Just in case you were...don't mistake this freedom for lack of process and quality. The fusion was perfect in my eyes, the right balance of technical know-how to provide a template to develop tools but also let us know this is a template for our ‘own’ research. The cultivation of this positive space was balanced with technical insight and attention to detail. Giving us tools and a vocabulary so that we may apply them in context.

Alive content

Where to begin when talking about the content of this workshop! There was so much great stuff, tools and maps (see below) to research and continue my journey, with enough depth to continue digesting for a while. Each of the 3 days contained 3 parts that flowed seamlessly.

Tom Weksler's The Movement Archery (Click to enlarge)

A warm up, floor work and Archery. The warmup had elements of Shadow yoga, something I had briefly tried before - but because of Tom it has provided a rare motivation to want to pursue this again due to his interpretation and presentation of this beautiful practice. Rather than continue to describe the elements of the other parts, I leave it to Tom’s words in the pic on the above right, which explain best for an overview of these parts. The exception to this format was the first day, rather than begin with the ‘warm up’, we began lying down establishing our mindset and awareness with some exquisite and powerful imagery combined with fantastic breathing and relaxation cues that will serve as a great tool for years to come. Taking us from being on the bottom of the ocean, buried in sand to rising up to our knees, collapsing effortlessly to the floor as waves washed over us, before I knew it, I was already moving, interacting with the floor effortlessly with a freedom that had already surpassed my expectations/limitations. And that was one of the many beautiful themes of the workshop. Going from relative stillness… the smallest and most delicate of movements, to occupying and covering lots of space, bounding with exuberance, moving gracefully, with quality (I hope) and fluidly, breathing heavy, sweating with smiles and not knowing how one got there, such was the wonderful embodiment of the ‘process’, It never once felt contrived, it was alive and playful. It evolved with the people present into a unique experience.

Contrast

I’m not sure if contrast is the right word. The scope and diversity of practice we experienced was wonderful. One minute we are focussing, tuning in, breathing vivid colours deep into our ‘dragon tails’, the next we are shaking vigorously all over as if possessed by a demon, or running, jumping, sliding, avoiding, pushing, pulling and wrestling with each other. Such a beautiful contrast but many shades in between.

A map for research

Tom often spoke of  giving us the map for our journey when describing the tools and techniques he was showing us. The map is just some lines and colour, as he put it, and gives you an overview of where to go - the journey is individual. The map cannot and should not tell you what obstacles you might individually need to overcome when you are actually walking the path, what exact route you need to take up the mountain. How you should climb it. How you must adapt using your own unique body to adjust to the contextual demands of your environment and situation (to borrow from Movnat). What personal physical, mental, emotional and spiritual battles you must overcome. This overriding theme helped fortify us with confidence that we all have the movement inside us. There was no need to mimic him precisely, but to just note down the map he was giving us and absorb the experience of someone that has traveled.

A practice with no goal - the way of the bow

The right art, is purposeless, aimless. The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.”

Tom mentioned that he is not interested in the outcome but in the process... A practice with no goal, if you like (to paraphrase him). I am still digesting what this means to me and my practice and it has triggered many things (one of which is to finally get round to reading Zen in the art of Archery) and I’m sure will evolve and continue to do so. So far I interpret it as really being present in the moment, to be and to do, free from the distraction of goals and external reward. To embody the process… the research. Something I have agreed with and mention to others often, that’s what we should be aiming for in any practice, the importance of enjoying what you are doing for the actual doing, but have not necessarily achieved consistently myself.

I know that ultimately my training, my practice should lead to improvisation (I love Ido Portal’s 3 I’s - Isolate, Integrate, Improvise)  and intellectually I know that this is where the magic happens, I’m just not sure how to get there consistently, yet. It is easy to get stuck at the ‘training for something phase’. Focussing on preparation, strength, technique, skill etc. This is still very important to me of course and they all lead to something and with the understanding that I will use them. But when? It is very easy to never answer the question "when". The subject of improvisation is a big topic one I don’t feel I am far enough on my journey to address adequately just yet.

To make a practice sustainable, one ultimately needs to move away from the external rewards as the main motivation for practice as mentioned. Whilst they contribute to structure and direction when treated as goals, I firmly believe they need to melt away into the background whilst the sheer joy of the process, being present in the moment is allowed to take centre stage. I have been given a valuable gift on this workshop - a reminder. I have been focussing too much on the physical preparation for an end product that can be lost sight of and neglecting my creativity, forgetting the art in movement. I hope I can continue to nurture a practice that finds improvisation and begins to incorporate the art element more, Tom has definitely given me some tools to do so.

I would be lying if I said I enjoy say some of my more strength orientated training 'purely' for the process, doing it for doing its own sake. Rather, I have acquired the taste for it (the process) and the association of the benefits trigger the enjoyment of the short term struggle. Now I enjoy it, but my tastebuds, had to adapt! Like coffee, or when I use to drink alcohol - come on now, nobody likes either upon first drinking it - but you learned to tolerate, then like it because of the effects it had on you and also the cultural conditioning contributed no doubt. Likewise I have learned to enjoy the challenge of certain training methods  because I know they will give me tools to move better. The effects will give me freedom and more vocabulary to draw from, help me to remove my movement inhibitions in every sense of the word... I acquired the taste for it.

I have rambled on a bit, but such has been the effect of a truly perception changing experience…. awakening and re-awakening of things suppressed. For example, moving around the space on the first day (and at many other points) instantly felt familiar. It invoked memories of me as a child enjoying the chaos of running amok at a wedding reception, usually in a hall dense with people and celebration - running, dodging, sliding, jumping, roughhousing, interacting with other sweaty kids. There was no, "hmm yes, this will be a great tool to give me X" (there were plenty of tools of course as mentioned), or if I keep on doing this current practice I will get better at Y etc. It was full on engagement... sincere, honest, joyful, engagement. I was there and everywhere. In the moment.

With the movement I was exposed to with Tom, some familiar, lots were new - I instantly took to it - this is a drink I like immediately. What I had hoped for is to come away from this workshop with more questions… questions for more research, to come with a empty cup and beginners mind so that I can grow. It certainly has done this and has me questioning my practice and approach in the best possible way. What I got from the workshop is more than just fantastic tools for my movement practice, but highlighted what I had been missing and has given a wonderful contribution to my outlook and philosophy on life and finding my space to be authentic, sincere and honest in.

From now on my practice will be sincere.

A big thanks to Tom and Guillermo for organising this and all that took part as you were integral to the experience too. To find out more about Tom and when there will be a next workshop use various ways to contact him below:

email: themovementarchery@gmail.com

Facebook: The Movement Archery

Youtube: thomasgr52

 

Failing is Part of Learning

In yesterday's class we practiced some rolling and very basic Judo falling techniques i.e. break falls or known as Ukemi. I am not a Judo teacher, but I remembered enough to teach the guys a basic hip throw. Hopefully I did my dad proud! The main emphasis was to introduce my students to Ukemi or the art of falling. It is vital one knows how to adapt and minimise injury when the unexpected fall or slip occurs. 

A great inspiration outside of the obvious martial arts origin is Parkour Ukemi, a fantastic resource analysing Parkour jumps/vaults etc gone wrong and discussing/breaking down how the practitioner recovered relatively unscathed. 

In the words of Amos Rendao, founder of Parkour Ukemi: "Failing is part of learning. Let's strengthen our community by studying the inevitable. Parkour Ukemi is a project that studies falling techniques related to the scenarios one will find through the practice of Parkour and other hard surface movement arts. It is highly practical and may even be necessary to keep us safe as our discipline evolves in ways we cannot presently fathom."

Movement As A Revolutionary Act

Wednesdays's Large Group class, we were told that we couldn't balance on a railing due to "health and safety" reasons by the park manager. Or whoever he was. The picture was taken shortly before that (as a side note, the pressure of the camera played an interesting factor in everyone's ability to relax ). It wasn't just one guy, he came in the role of good cop - very polite and English about it all, but backed up with 5 park security guards.  Bear in mind this is in a Recreation ground with an athletics track, basketball courts and various bits of bodyweight equipment and obstacles dotted around the place - all of which is meant to be open and free for the public to use. I guess the railing/fence around the free to use athletics track is not included in this. 

And so followed a relaxed but bemusing conversation with these overseers of safety, where they explained they'd come over because they saw us balancing. They were worried for us, concerned for our safety. It seems the monkey bars don't give them so much stress. Because it's a recreation ground and not a park, they are responsible if we were to "hurt ourselves" balancing. I couldn't be bothered to argue or ask what would happen if we hurt ourselves in the sanctioned equipment they have around the grounds, like maybe I'd fall from the monkey bars or from the climbing stations they have. It would have been fruitless because there's several things at play here - one, the bizarre notion that there's safe equipment and unsafe equipment. Two, that we are apparently not adults with free will and ability to make our own risk assessments and decisions, and take the consequences accordingly. And three, that exercise and even play is so controlled and contrived, we are not free to move with joyous abandonment. We think that because we are outside - and further to that, outside of the confines of a gym and its equipment - that we are free, but we are not.

Realise that movement is not just life - it is sadly also a rebellious act. A revolutionary act. It seems one must become a rebel these days if you wish to move in public outside of the parameters of "normal". If we were kicking a football - no one cares - unless it's in an area designated as "no ball games". If we were heel striking as a form of self punishment, no one would notice (not including us coaches that teach running technique and act like the running police.). If we were sat on a park bench drinking from brown paper bags and inhaling the old "wacky baccy" no one would bat an eyelid. But balancing on a rail? How disgusting and irresponsible of us. I mean - one of us could fall and hurt ourselves! Just what exactly are we hoping to achieve?!

If it isn't these health and safety nuts mumbling "you can't" and "because" then it is usually someone else asking for "movement tax", because you cannot organise a class and instruct others in a public facility (I'm not talking about the Royal parks. I've accepted the Queen's right to decide what happens in her parks for the "people") and teach people how to move without someone getting a cut! But that is easily a whole other other post. I guess I want to know how far this health and safety gone mad trend will go? Is a nanny-state mentality contributing to our current state of movement deprivation?

I want to hear other people's experiences. Please comment and tell me about any instances where you've been told to stop moving / practicing / training because of "health and safety" reasons. Perhaps if we all share our accounts we can start to make sense of it and pick out patterns, and then start to formulate plans to counter it and move freely.

The revolution will not be televised. But it can certainly be documented via social media. Get out there... move... Be a rebel and commit a revolutionary act :)

Hat tip to: RevolutionaryAct.com for the blog title idea.

 

Rough Play

I never will be or pretend to be a wrestling coach! But I can't emphasise how important it is to our human nature that we make time for rough and tumble play, or roughhousing as I prefer to call it. Most adults are divorced from play, especially from the rough and tumble kind unless they partake in some form of combat practice where it is encouraged or have managed to not lose it from childhood. There is plenty of research and you need only google to discover the benefits of roughhousing, not just for children but adults too; Learning how to cope with the unpredictable, self handicapping , emotional intelligence and the obvious physical benefits - try wrestling for just a few minutes to see what I mean! Those are just a few of a long list. One of my favourite benefits is the reconnection of human touch - something I'm not afraid of exploring in my classes through group games and partner interaction - Most are too afraid through social conditioning and lack of confidence to get "physical" with other people. Once the ice is broken and people remember what it is like to reconnect with another person through roughhousing and play, the confidence and genuine joy it promotes is obvious. Most (hopefully) realise this is a form interaction they are missing and want more of.

The group bonded even more today and thank you all for trusting me (as always with my "weird" ways) and pushing through any reservations you may have had. Now go and roughhouse someone today.  

Small Group Training Open Day

The team practices shoulder stands and various pull-up / one arm chin-up progressions, in what was a predominately a bent-arm strength Small Group training class. Small group training allows us to explore in more detail movement complexity and individualised programming that is not possible in the Large Group classes.

Exposure as Practice

Yesterday's class was a good reminder that one should expose themselves to the challenge of adaption - in this case adapting to one's environment and the situation. We are used to the challenge of adapting to the environment in the context of moving through it, overcoming obstacles, adapting to the different demands that we might not find in a controlled indoor environment - for example the different demands on your grip when holding onto a wall. And there are many different walls! We adapt to the tools we have available from a suitable rail, to balance and vault on, finding targets for precision jumps suitable for the individuals ability, to a good wall to practice handstands, hanging, traversing and climb ups on.

What we had forgotten was that we also have to adapt to people! From being told we are too old to play in an empty playground, to various security guards telling us we couldn't do this, couldn't move there - mumbling some nonsense they didn't believe about health and safety. To dodgy characters stalking us looking for trouble, to young bolshy skaters, hyped up off of pizza and Mountain Dew practically marking their territory and complaining that we couldn't move where they were skating... You'd think we would have empathy from a culture often persecuted and moved on for their love of practice in public... not today. Did this stop us moving? Hell no.

And this is all said light-heartedly as we all saw the funny side of the social challenges presented to our usual movement based ones. We adapted, moved on when we had to and managed to carry out our practice in a variety of locations. It was wet and slippery, great for staying mindful and we did have the element of looking over our shoulder for an added practice of dealing with our sympathetic nervous response whilst staying focused! We kept moving and we moved well and overall we spread the love of moving (many looks of admiration, questions and a very nice lady who played photographer for us).  

 

Locomotion: "MonCrow Typerwriters" with Outtakes

Locomotion ideas inspired by Ido Portal, Joseph Bartz and Jukka Rajala. Thanks to Benjamin Buus Pedersen and Theresa Scheel for agreeing to post this. Showing that not every video has to be a "polished" finished product and what practice actually looks like i.e. some trial and error as you get to grips with the movements.

Small Group Class Snapshot

Yesterday's small group class had this trio performing a variety of movement, from many different influences. Some of the things we got up to were: Sprinting, Handstands, hanging progressions, straight arm pulling strength and one arm chin-up progressions, locomotion inspired by Joseph Bartz / Ido Portal and various mobility drills. As always, the team is a pleasure to teach and move with.

Conquering Fear

Here's Benjamin low walking, whilst balancing at height at one of the group classes. For some - balancing on a narrow surface above head height may seem out of reach... but you would be surprised what you are capable of (speaking from experience, the fear can be conquered for example). Proper progressions are needed of course and certainly a few questions need to be answered... How is you squat? Do you have the required mobility and stability? Can you low / duck walk efficiently at ground level? Can you hold the static low positions required? Do you have the right mindset? Do you want to be able to do it? The questions go on... Hopefully we'll see you soon to explore some answers.

What is the Saving Primate Benjamin Project?

What is the project? Me...you...anyone! I acknowledge that I am a "zoo human" and that I need rehabilitating / saving. I am not delusional enough to think I can become completely "wild", but rather that I can find balance and happiness through acknowledgement of my predicament and embrace the positive. This blog notes my thoughts, experiences and lessons learned from what has helped me move forward from a depressed, unfulfilled and unhealthy lifestyle to the movement coach, well-rounded human and father I am now. What works best for me might not work for you, but I'm going to share my ongoing quest anyway. Always a work in progress, my life-long project. To save others, I must save myself.