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.
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:
Facebook: The Movement Archery