I’m just back from a week of quite intense movement training with Joseph Bartz, a teacher of the Ido Portal method and my fellow Crossfit coaches from Crossfit Original Addicts here in Paris. I’d like to share some of what I learned, and also use this article to organize some of the many pieces of information spinning from my head to my toes. I’ll even try and link it to Bagua for you!
I’ve been a fan of Ido for quite a few years, and a couple of years ago invested in some online coaching with him and traveled to see him in at a seminar in Helsinki. Ido’s approach is to have an unreachable goal, to master movement. This means studying as many forms of movement as possible, and then combining them as intelligently as possible so that you can maintain as high a level as possible in the greatest variety of skills. If you know Ido you will see his influence in the I-Bagua movement theory page.
As Joseph put it at the end of the week “We want to be able to play in as many ways as possible, one someone asks if you want to go to a dance class, and you can go, or climb a mountain, or run a race, play Capoeira or do some Parkour, or swim then you can.”
This is similar in some ways to the goals of Hébert and Movnat, the difference is in the end focus (It is also the original goal of Crossfit, though this can be subverted to Crossfit for Crossfit competition’s sake). Movnat seeks to develop the body so it has the health of a hunter gatherer (big subject, I don’t want to dive into evolutionary medicine here). Ido’s method has an eye on this, but also an eye on all the physical skills that have developed since. Sure he’d like his students to be able to climb trees, balance, jump, throw and fight. He’d also like them to be able to perform circus skills, dance in a variety of ways, or research the richness of Chinese martial arts (I told you I’d connect this to Bagua!).
While there are an infinite ways you can approach this, Ido’s method tends to focus in certain tools and methods – build awareness of body movement through simple ‘terminology’ movements, build strength and mobility through gymnastic rings, Olympic lifting, Loaded progressive stretching, combine these in locomotion drills, add complexity to movements to integrate different coordination and qualities, create games to express and improvise. You can find good chunks of his approach online, and you can also argue that it is nothing ‘new’. In many ways that’s true. Almost everything is borrowed from somewhere else.
However, what makes the difference is how it all fits together. Some of this is the clarity of the teaching. Joseph is a very clear teacher. He is economic with words and actions, just showing what we needed to perform a movement correctly, then observing and adapting for the individuals concerned. It was clear that he had put considerable thought into the week for us. We are not ‘average’ students. As Crossfitters we all have beyond average strength, are happy at high intensity and tend to feel cheated if a session does not include generous serving of pain.
On the other side, Crossfit tends to focus on relatively few, and relatively simple movements. The emphasis on midline stability means that many Crossfitters cannot bend very easily. Are group, overall is no exception. The biggest challenge for many of us was to develop spinal articulation, which we did using some basic exercises that are influenced by the dance Shai Faran.
Could we do this by the end? We may have some more work to do.Anyway, generally I appreciated the way the week was structured – setting the scene at the beginning, the mix of strength work, mobility, locomotion, balance – all of it varying intensity so that we could keep going. And we did keep going, mostly helped by large amounts of the good Berlin food (waaaay better value than Paris) and some of the best afternoon naps in the world. From day one everyone ached somewhere, and arriving home yesterday my old knee injury was really happy to get some time off exploring its limits.
Which brings me to another important topic, one which all Crossfitters and most martial artists explore at one point or another. The question of how much, and the border between too little and too much. This is in many ways the key question of programming, and also the underlying focus of many of my questions to Joseph. I approached the week knowing I was probably going to do too much, that I would explore a little too far. Partly because you often don’t know where too far is until you get there, the border is often fuzzy and often narrow. Partly because I have an ego and don’t want to wimp out in front of the others.
To his credit Joseph did not give me simple pat answers to many of my questions. At the time he was slightly apologetic, but really I’d have been disappointed if he did. I’m not a journalist looking for a Politician’s soundbite. I don’t want a simple answer if it is too simple, and therefore mostly wrong.
Nobody understands the human body. We are all playing with best guesses, informed by various kinds of research and experience. What I went to Berlin for was to expand on that experience, to rub up against the innate intelligence that develops with time and experimentation. It is the process by which simple answers are rejected that interests me.
For a long time I’ve stated that martial arts do not exist – outside or a human body. Some years ago I revised that, martial arts do not exist outside of a group of human bodies. Martial arts are cultures, and I was in Berlin to absorb aspects of Ido’s Movement Culture.
Did this work? I thinks so. I have some clearer directions to follow. I may not know yet whether it will be better to program three or five bent arm strength sessions into my next weeks for example, but I have greater clarity on the principles by which I will make those decisions, and equally importantly have received some correction on points that have been got in the way in the past. I have filled in a few of the gaps on Ido’s methods that I was looking for, and now it’s up to me research with my own work.
Which brings me to the heart of things, what has been aching for expression since I started writing. I just spent a great week learning movements, programming, failing, being sore, playing, and the heart is who I did it with. Of course I want to thank Joseph, not just for his clarity, but also his dry humour and amusement at our neanderthal crew. Also Bruno and Clemence his students who could demonstrate the quality of teaching by doing things we couldn’t.
But I can’t write this without thanking Joachim for organising everything, and for Marie-Anne, Clément, Txomin, Lucas, Pierre-Yves, Sammy and Thomas just for being who you are. It’s raining in Paris today. I’m not crying, honest.
In organising this trip Joachim invested in the culture of our Crossfit box, and each box is different. I am very glad to work with people who want to learn, and I’m looking forward to how the people who train with us will benefit from what we have been working on. And they will benefit. The CFOA box is going to stand out even further in terms of the quality of how we train our athletes.
And for my Bagua students? Yes, you will benefit too. No, I will not have you working levers on the rings anytime soon (unless you ask). But some of the games and drills that I learned in Berlin are directly applicable to developing qualities that will be useful, as well as some of the ways of teaching. I’ve expressed my love for my Crossfit family already, what I have not said is how much I’m looking forward to see my Bagua family now I’m back!