What does Natural Motion offer?
Natural motion/movement is an approach to movement that makes some quite specific and impressive claims. It is the creation of Monya Gorelik, based on several decades of martial arts practise, the application of mathematics and the research of biomechanics - with a special emphasis on Eastern European sources (more about that below). Monya links what he does with aspects of Daoist and Yijing theory.
Monya’s first language is Russian and he refers to a lot of Eastern European sports science and physiology research. Why care about this? Well martial artist and researcher Michael Rook credits Russian kettlebell pioneer Pavel Tsatsouline as the person who put the first cracks into the previous fitness industry standards of aerobics/cardio, powerlifting, and to some extent Yoga. Thus Michael traces our current Ido Portal led ‘movement culture’ back to Eastern European approaches to training via Pavel and Charles Polliquin who wasIdo's teacher who and researched East German sports science. Like much of this post I'm simplifying greatly with this history.
I met Monya Gorelik earlier this year when he passed through Paris. I had been following his videos and writing for a while and chatting with him in Simon Thakur’s Ancestral Movement Facebook group.
Monya researches and teaches what he calls natural movement, which for him is a very specific way of moving, and not a couple of buzzwords strung together. I’ll do my best to explain what that means later on.
When you look at what Monya does it looks a little strange, kind of folk dancey. It’s very easy to dismiss because of this, especially if you come from a more standard martial arts background.
But I think there is something worth looking at in what he does. When we met I invited him to hit me with one of his flicky punches and it was surprisingly painful. Another good sign is that he is a spritely mover. You can see some of the movements in the videos below.
This article is a brief recapitulation of what I understand of Monya’s work - and some questions that I have about it.
Monya’s Natural Motion
This is my understanding of Monya's natural motion explained very briefly. It assumes that evolution has equipped the human primate with a number of reflexes to organise movement. These are essentially built into humans, and are the basis for the development of our ability to move.
Obviously humans are move by more than unconscious reflex. We learn to move consciously, and we also have cultural influences in how we move. We override our natural reflexes for reasons of style and control essentially.
The hypothesis of Monya is that natural motion is a return to a movement that is based on natural reflexes, which is advantageous because it give the body the greatest capacity to adapt and engage with environmental demands.
I have to say that this hypothesis appeals to me, for esthetic and other reasons. I’ve also learned over the years that the elegance of a hypothesis is no guarantee of its truth or value.
As you look further into Monya’s site you will see the acronym SAIM. This stands for the self annihilating inertial motion. What this refers to is that the momentum of one part of the body is transferred to the next part in an extremely efficient way so that energy is not required to decelerate a limb, but can be recycled into the overall motion.
Again this is an elegant idea, and something that will be intuitively familiar with anybody who has practised martial arts or parkour or dance. You can see this in the whipping punches that Monya makes and also the continuity of the movement through his torso.
Finally Monya use pandiculation as a method for body and strength maintenance that requires very little time. Pandiculation is essentially yawning/stretching. It is often thought to be an important part of the brain remapping the the state of the body.
So there are the bare bones of my understanding.
Before watching the videos I want to say some things that I hope are obvious to most people. These are training methods and demos, they are supposed to show things about body use and mechanics. Because they are demos certain aspects of the movement are exaggerated. Also having an ability to use good mechanics is not the same as fighting skill, in which mental or emotional presence and the ability to read (and dictate) the engagement can be more important skills than physical skills.
These are not supposed to be how things would be used in a fight anymore than a kung fu film where the antagonists do half a form and settle into a pretty stance are meant to be depictions or instructions of how to deal with real world violence. I realise that there are some people who think that good kung fu applied looks just like forms or movies, but I like to think that readers here are a little more developed.
I know that people say this kind of thing before trying to sell you bullshit. Keep an 'open mind' is sometimes code for 'go into a suggestive state where you will swallow anything.' Don't do that, watch decide if you find any of the movement interesting. It's a video, it's proof of nothing but it shows something.
1. Given that natural motion based on innate reflexes is possible and desirable, how do you know if someone’s movement conforms to this? Given the degree of different influences on a person’s movement from day to day how could you tell if an innate postural reflex is guiding a movement rather than a learned pattern?
How can you see which of the reflexes are being integrated and which are not?
2. Related to the first question - how can you distinguish natural motion from the extremely fluid movement in the video below. Would the performer be in a better position to learn natural movement based on his training (as an aside Taiji was a part of this dancers training, and in workshops he insists on 'not doing')
2.To what extent can you remove the need for learned patterns? For example while walking is a natural pattern’ it still takes the average small human some time to learn. On the same note if natural motion is formless why is there a form to practise? This does remind me of the Bahai religion - which was created with the intention of unifying all religions, and in the end just added to their number.
3. SAIM seems to depend on the free movement of joints. How can this be applied in situations where joints are not entirely free to move?
For example climbing and grappling are both activities that require considerable amounts of isometric strength to stabilise the body in precarious/vulnerable positions. This tension makes fluid propagation of inertia across joints at the least very difficult.
You'll be able to follow the answers to these questions here. As and if they develop I may summarise them in another post or below.
Perhaps you find something to be curious about here. What questions would you like to ask? Send them to me by e-mail, join the Facebook discussion or comment below.
Monya is very clear about his position in theoretical terms and the advantages of natural motion practically. Whether these advantages can be widely applied and will be recognized are other matters.
Monya has done some work with the Israeli national Judo team, if that work or similar work continues and we see Monya's drills incorporated into the training of athletes and fighters performing at high levels, and the acknowledgement of their value to such people then the method will in my opinion be proved.
But I don't need 'proof' to be curious.
Part 2: Monya's answers
I have pasted what what Monya wrote. He includes a recap of my questions.
Monya admits that he is not always the best at explaining what he does, I've added paragraphs because I think it makes reading clearer.
I've also followed with my responses.
"Your first question was "Given that natural motion based on innate reflexes is possible and desirable, how do you know if someone’s movement conforms to this? Given the degree of different influences on a person’s movement from day to day how could you tell if an innate postural reflex is guiding a movement rather than a learned pattern?".
I see it first of all in the general movement trajectory. Then in degree of relaxation. It means I see if it's possible to perform the same task with lesser degree of tension. It is very easy to see if this or that tension is necessary or not. It's just result of relatively short training. If the learned pattern is in harmony with our nature (inborn reflexes) the tension will be just minimal.
Then most of the locomotory movements are SAIM, as this kind of movement needs minimal amount of energy.
Some movements can't be SAIM, like pushing the immovable wall or heavy weight lifting. Still, these movements "try to follow the SAIM trajectory" and be as relaxed as possible. Hope my answer to this question is clear."
Yes that was Monya not me. I think it's easy enough to understand.
"Your second question was "Related to the first question - how can you distinguish natural motion from the extremely fluid movement in the video below. Would the performer be in a better position to learn natural movement based on his training (as an aside Taiji was a part of this dancers training, and in workshops he insists on 'not doing')".
Fluidity in many cases doesn't mean the most efficient movement but rather imitation of it to some degree. If some fluid movement can't be performed fast and as SAIM, if you can decrease the tension and still the functional result (I don't speak about cultural or social reasons or results) will be the same - well, then we have to work more to get the natural performance.
You ask about Taiji Chuan as a part of the dancers training, can it be effective to get Natural Motion? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The reason for this answer is that Taji Chuan does not try to avoid unnecessary tension* and doesn't use SAIM at all.
The claims about "doing without doing" deal rather with psychological aspect of training, wishful thinking and subjective feeling during slow speed performance and lack its biomechanical basis.
You need be able to do the movements fast and still without any unnecessary tension - as the definition of SAIM. I personally studied Taiji Chuan for 4 years and have and had students that are experienced Taiji Chuan practitioners and teachers. As an European Wushu (EUWF) judge I mostly specialized in Taiji Chuan."
Again Monya's answers. I added some paragraphs and changed a couple of words for clarity. My response below.
there are a whole range of different approaches to Taiji. Some really do go for minimal tension, others don't, at least in my experience. With respect to speeding things up - I'd say it is a common training method in internal arts - how to speed up without tensing up - for me that has been one test of what I simply call 'quality of movement'.
"Your third question was "To what extent can you remove the need for learned patterns? For example while walking is a natural pattern’ it still takes the average small human some time to learn. On the same note if natural motion is formless why is there a form to practise? This does remind me of the Bahai religion - which was created with the intention of unifying all religions, and in the end just added to their number.".
We can't remove the need for the learned patterns at all. Only comparatively primitive organisms have no need to learn (they still learn but less they can learn less they need to learn). So, lizards don't learn to walk, antelope needs minutes, dogs needs weeks and humans - about a year or more.
So I don't want to remove all learned patterns but rather to build harmonious cooperation between inborn reflexes and learned patterns. These pattern can be quite different and depend on terrain, circumstances and many external and internal factors. The name of the game is a harmony and it means minimal stress and effort and maximal changeability.
Formlessness doesn't mean complete lack of form like water (be water my friend, be water - it sounds good and is a good image for ideomotor practice, but still we all have human form, in general). It simply means we have to avoid unnecessary forms. Form to practice: human natural motion has its general natural form, it's not formless completely.
Another version of answer - if I understand form as kata. In Formless Flow it's just practicing of all general combinations of different steps and angles, the kind of the grammar for the motion.
So if I use your example of Bahai religion (their world center is in Israel, again in Israel) I speak not about the linear progress of the religious idea like Bahaullah did but rather about our natural health, both physical and mental. This is a basis of the building. Then come cultural and social building floors. These floors include different styles of MAs, different styles of performance arts, sports, works etc. Stronger the basement, more harmonious are connections between the basement and the floor and the rest of the building - stronger will be the house and longer it will last."
Monya's words above. My response below.
First a little hairsplitting. Human infants don't take a year to learn to walk. They learn a whole set of movements first, head lifting, rolling over, sitting up, crawling, bum scooting etc this takes some months before they start to get bipedal. It's hairsplitting because it in no way contradicts what Monya says about learning generally (and is almost certainly part of the background for Natural Motion).
Returning to the Kata analogy - I see the forms that I have learned the same way, as sets of 'grammatical blocks' that have been chained together. The abstract nature of many of these blocks (abstract as in they are do not mime specific martial techniques) makes them in my mind not entirely different from what Monya talks about. Similar does not mean the same obviously. I suspect that I am looking for 'ideal motion' within movements that are at least partly shaped by 'applied movement'. Whereas I think that Monya's movement grammar is built not on the basis of any 'application', but on being close to what he considers 'ideal'.
Still, from an evolutionary point of view movement needs to be 'applied' or functional. This is one reason I'm drawn to analysis or division of movement capacities into categories like walking, running, quadropedia, climbing, swimming, throwing, lifting, fighting etc that have been the basis for our survival as a species. My point is that these categories can be divided along different lines.
"Your forth and last question was "SAIM seems to depend on the free movement of joints. How can this be applied in situations where joints are not entirely free to move? For example climbing and grappling are both activities that require considerable amounts of isometric strength to stabilise the body in precarious/vulnerable positions. This tension makes fluid propagation of inertia across joints at the least very difficult.".
Yes, not every movement, even the most natural is SAIM.
SAIM mostly can be observed in repeated cyclic movements, like locomotion or movements closely related to locomotion.
Not only climbing or grappling or weight lifting are not totally SAIM. Pandiculation and yawning, these two most ancient and natural reflexive movements are not SAIM. Yes, all these movements "try" to follow some SAIM trajectory, but they are not inertial movements, at least partially. As to MAs including wrestling of all kinds - all these arts use a lot of SAIM, sometimes less and sometimes more, depends on Art itself and situation.
Swimming, running, bike riding and most of other sports and games use mostly the SAIM as well, mostly but not always. Last remark - the more natural for us, humans, is the activity the greater will be the part of SAIM."
Monya's words above. My response below.
This makes sense to me. I was thinking with respect to grappling that the degree of tension used is highly variable. as a poor grappler with decent strength I can get stuck in situations where I can't afford to give up my strength.Better grapplers can use less strength and more flow.
At some point I'll ask more about the use of pandiculation. It's something I've been playing with and am curious about.
Response to the future...
" In the last part of your article "The future" you spoke about acknowledgements. You know, at least until now I didn't push my knowledge or methods of training, at least commercially. I didn't feel it was mature enough and also my personal character is not really for aggressive commercializing.
Still I have some acknowledgements.
They came from Avner Shalom, twice vice world champion in professional Thai Boxing, Asian Champion, 5 times European champion.
From Georges Mattson, Dan 10, the President of Int. Uechi Ryu Federation.
From Eran Rachmani, the Head of Professional Committee of Israel Judo Association.
From Prof. Moti Taler, ex-Head of Chiropractic Rehabilitation Department, Shiba Hospital, Israel (the biggest and one of the best in Israel).
There are also some other acknowledgements. Among all I highly appreciate the verbal acknowledgements and support I received from Prof. I.M. Feigenberg, the seniors student of Prof. Bernstein, the founder of the Soviet biomechanics.
I hope it probably answers to your inquiry."
Overall I'd say that things are clearer to me. In one post Monya mentioned your students fighting in Krava Maga and Karate competition. I'd love to see video if available. I think that video of performance of people who credit your method will generally be the best referral medium
you can read these in detail here