Get into the move

As descendants of hunter-gatherers, the human body evolved in an overtly dynamic, hostile environment where every day was met with challenges.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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You are not just what you eat, but what you had to do to eat

As descendants of hunter-gatherers, the human body evolved in an overtly dynamic, hostile environment where every day was met with challenges. These revolved around moving our bodies and formulating strategies to survive through attaining or maintaining shelter, protecting our tribe of family and friends, taking in calories amidst play, wrestling, dance and procreation to continue the species – all while avoiding becoming prey for another animal. Press repeat for a few decades and there you have it – Evolution 101. Thankfully our ancestors were very good at this game of life or death, and over a period of millions of years this process has molded our anatomy, physiology and psychology.

The keystone of success for species was functional, adaptable and opportunistic movement. ‘Move or die’ was never truer than when grunted by a caveman. The movement patterns required on a regular basis were walking, running, leaping, squatting, lifting, dragging, crawling, climbing, throwing, reaching and pulling toward and pushing away. The further you go back along the evolutionary path the more tools and natural objects like rocks and sticks are used, and land with infinite variations would have called for response stimuli from all directions, and at different speeds and ranges of motion.

We are the end result of a continuous line of success all the way back to when your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother was a fish! From that perspective, you’re a winner. From a different perspective, big shoes to fill walking in that shadow. What influence do we have on our gene pool? The human body is a magnificent product of nature that is designed to move. Fast-forward to modern day where movement beyond the wrists seems to be a choice, there’s a rapidly growing industry responding to the need regardless of environment.

Just like sharks swim to breathe, humans must move regularly to maintain any semblance of health and vitality and that of future generations. Some of the weaponry used in this war on stagnation, physical decline and lethargy has instructors and practitioners using primal animal, developmental and athletic movement patterns. The health and fitness industry has a broad label and encapsulates many disciplines including dance, martial arts, strength and conditioning, yoga, parkour, gymnastics and acrobatics.

Another discipline, Movement Training, also appears to be on the rise. A general practice as its name implies, its origins stem from a melting pot of the disciplines mentioned above. My working definition at the time of writing is that it is the study and incremental enhancement of human movement capabilities – an ongoing refinement of rhythm, full-body functional strength, stability and flexibility. A practice that should result in increased resilience, adaptability and movement creativity. Here are some of the systems developed to coach movement training and the coaches that teach the systems internationally:

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Exuberant Animal

Exuberant Animal was founded by Frank Forencich who centres most of his trainings from Washington in the US, but has travelled extensively in his study and presenting his work. He studied human biology and neuroscience at Stanford University, is a sought-after passionate speaker and author of Play As If Your Life Depends on It: Functional Exercise and Living for Homo Sapiens.

The Exuberant Animal mission is to create a ‘best of both worlds’ culture using modern tools in life-enhancing ways, while keeping one foot in raw outdoor physicality, vigorous movement and natural sensation to develop the mind, body and spirit. His inspiration comes from spending time with the Bushmen of Tanzania, studying with other industry leaders such as Vern Gambetta and Gary Gray, and from playful children and his dog Mojo. Forencich describes his movement philosophy as “Paleo opportunist”.

He always opts for outdoor movement if possible, hiking, running, and climbing and believes a connection to nature and outdoor movement is essential in the digital age to counteract the hours spent at computers and devices. When training indoors, he promotes full-body functional movements with body weight or free weights, and martial art play when friends are handy.

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“Move so you can be strong, and be strong so you can be free,” says Frenchman Erwan Le Corre, founder of MovNat. The physical education system and lifestyle developed is based on natural movement skills such as walking, running, balancing, jumping, crawling, climbing, manipulative skills like lifting and throwing, and self-defense. Czon Wong, certified MovNat trainer in Hong Kong, came from a Yoga and Pilates background and says MovNat helped her address many of her weak links.

She says that many of her female students gained confidence and skills in their movements, and are able to enjoy a much greater variety of activities, including those that are typically seen as “boyish” or “strength-dominated”, as well as better body definition. “Oh! I used to do that as a kid” is a common remark in Wong’s classes, which brings a smile to her face as she believes that this association facilitates increased learning because as children we learnt how to move when playing and having fun!

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THIS PAGE: MovNat is a physical education system and lifestyle based on natural movement skills. OPPOSITE PAGE: Exuberant Animal aims to develop the mind, body and spirit through raw outdoor physicality, vigorous movement and natural sensation; Fighting Monkey creates games to analyse participants’ movements and identify their strengths and weaknesses.

Fighting Monkey

Fighting Monkey is a movement practice developed by Jozef Frucek and Linda Kapetanea. Frucek says, “As I see it, a human being is like an entire universe. Studying such a complex system provides endless excitement in terms of the amazing outcomes research can potentially bring. People make fascinating connections to survive, interact and develop. This is what we are extremely interested in.” For the last 10 years he and Kapetanea have been designing ‘movement situations and games’ that stimulate and instigate adaptability, intelligence in inventing creative strategies, and that increase the adaptive value behavioural traits and strategic planning for life’s challenges. Through the games test, participants’ movements are analysed to identify strengths and weaknesses, and problem solving techniques when challenges arise. Frucek adds, “We play at Fighting Monkey, and through these innocent, sometimes slightly competitive games, we test your limits. Through practical experience and exploring your potential using difficulty, unpredictability, stress and danger, we develop your strength, adaptability and softness.” He believes the Fighting Monkey practice reaches far beyond the physical training aspect.

Ido Portal Method

Ido Portal took his study of capoeira and martial arts and expanded upon his eponymous movement, travelling the world learning from many different teachers and then blending what he learns and practises into the Ido Portal Method. Portal says, “Movement is big. Bigger than any specific movement discipline and it contains within it huge ‘worlds’ like fitness, dance, martial arts, strength, flexibility and circus. Beyond our specialties – we are human first and movers second.”

He recently received a lot of press working with Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor. George Chan, personal trainer at Joint Dynamics Hong Kong says, “Becoming a good mover starts by going back to basics with mobility drills and games, crawling on the floor, and sitting in a deep squat position. It also includes handstands and training to use the Olympic rings. It’s a process where you learn to move better, get stronger and challenge yourself by learning new movement patterns. Ido Portal’s Movement system is suitable for anyone. You learn at your own level and progress at your own pace. It’s fun and exciting!”

The enigmatic Chilean film and theatre director Alejandro Jodorowsky once said, “Birds born in a cage think flying is a sickness.” Throughout the generations, humans have been so enclosed and incapacitated from our physical heritage that our bodies have been relegated to a vehicle to transport our brains from one meeting to the next. We have gone from natural aboriginal athleticism to obesity epidemics and record levels of musculoskeletal pain. ‘Authorities’ on health must warn us to consult with a physician before engaging in a programme that is in alignment with what and who we are as a species.

It is analogous to a warning demanding you take your dog to the vet before letting it off the leash in a park! Regular physical activity and healthy food are needed to attain and maintain the health and vitality that is our genetic birthright. Movement is one of the mandates of nature, and ‘movement training’ step by step, or should I say crawl pattern by crawl pattern, has the capacity to reignite your joy for physical activity, attenuate fears and physical pains and develop an adaptable body.