Friday, 31 July 2015

Shallow Minds Die Without Character

The background behind this quote came from a secret promise made to myself on my birthday. The duty was to finish 4 books, and after 3 months, I have enjoyed undertaking the literary adventures of the following titles in order:

1) The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains
2) The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
3) Move your DNA: Restore your Health Through Natural Movement
4) The Road to Character

But this is not going to be a literal book review for four different books. Looking up on Amazon and other book review titles will do that job nicely; instead to answer a friend's question of "what's the purpose of reading all these", my purpose is to extract the essence of the narrative, to understand the meaning behind these stories and relate it very intimately to our sense of life or the world. And in my endeavour, I have come to see how reading about the internet, extinction, movement and building character can connect so beautifully about the state of the world we live in right now.

- We are Not Neutral Beings and Nothing We Create Ever Is - 

It is a tempting sentiment to regard an object, e.g. a fork, computer, house as a non-living being and an extension of a tool, subject to our control and will. After all, just as easily we created our chairs, mobile phones and televisions, we could easily remove them right? Unfortunately, this illusion of power and control which we are inclined to think of ourselves is quite sadly mistaken.

"What both enthusiast and skeptic miss is what McLuhan saw: that in the long run a medium’s content matters less than the medium itself in influencing how we think and act. As our window onto the world, and onto ourselves, a popular medium molds what we see and how we see it—and eventually, if we use it enough, it changes who we are, as individuals and as a society. “The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts,” wrote McLuhan. Rather, they alter “patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance.” The showman exaggerates to make his point, but the point stands. Media work their magic, or their mischief, on the nervous system itself." - Carr, The Shallows

As an individual, yes it is perhaps possible to remove certain necessities, e.g. eat without forks and spoons, don't buy a television. But if you think further ahead, you will realise that it is almost impossible to relegate to a far more basic standard of living. If you work in an office, you have to sit on a chair almost all day. If you need to read the news or stock market, you have to log onto the Internet which is becoming more convenient through phones, televisions, watches. In fact, a by-product of the availability of online news had led to more and more newspapers are shutting down. As strongly argued in "The Shallows", it is important to recognise that our ways of behaving, mode of thinking, and I'd argue character can undergo mass changes due to the change of the medium. "The medium is the message" was that crucial message repeatedly emphasised, as Carr explains how our habits of reading and understanding information have morphed and evolved (or de-evolved sadly) as we "progress" from scrolls, books, tapes, televisions, internet articles and other forms of hyper or social media. With every introduction of a new technological tool utilised for spreading information, there has a corresponding effect on how the human population interprets and understands the world around them.

Much as how "The Shallows" illustrated the powerful effects of the Internet on thinking, "Move Your DNA" also points out that living in modern urban environments has had the same deleterious effect on our movement repertoire. By citing the example of the Orca whale who develops a deformed dorsal fin by living in the Seaworld environment, we are likewise living in an encased environment (built by ourselves ironically) that continues to castrate our movement potential. Sitting on chairs impairs our hip mobility, walking on flat surfaces in flat shoes (or high heeled shoes) restrict our foot sensory hence weakening our ability in overcoming rough terrains, and typing on keyboards makes our grip even weaker than our domesticated cats.

We truly do realise very little of what we create and have done to ourselves, and by the time we may have developed some hindsight, it is usually a little bit too late.

- Death Will Come to Every One of Us but It Matters If It Is In Spades - 

Death is the one sober truth which frightens all of us to our core. A universal tragedy is witnessing the extinguishing of young life, whether it be children or young adults who we know deserves a priceless chance to live through his/her natural life. But any species' life-cycle is ever dependent on the sustainable conditions of the environment. Live 500 years ago and human lifespan drops to the middle ages, live in a poor undeveloped country and you'd be lucky to live past 40, and afflictions of all kinds (from diseases, earthly disasters, presence of predators) will regulate the survivability of a species.

We are, without doubt, a very unique species, and it stands to chance by now, that we may become the ONLY living species in this planet in a couple of generations to come. Yes, there will be the pests from cockroaches, rats and mosquitoes, but almost all other kinds of animal lifeforms are and will face massive extinction. "The Sixth Extinction" has documented in scary detail the continuous extinction of frogs, bats, birds and even coral reefs. It wouldn't even matter whether each species' extinction is directly correlated to human action or not; the fact still remains a lot of them are emptying their pages out of the book of Earth history.

We will probably live on for a good longer period of time, but something still seems amiss. There is no victory in being the sole survivor here. Like fighting for your own survival in a zombie apocalypse, is there really any honour in coming out on top? And does death have any meaning when we all recognise each of us will perish one day? Reading the "Sixth Extinction" was a sobering read (in fact I recalled losing any interest in my personal pursuits while reading it) because life all seemed meaningless. To know that all of us will become fossil fuel one day shows that life and death has its ironies.

It is routinely attributed to Stalin that he said, "A single death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic". And as "The Sixth Extinction" shows, we are strangely indifferent to the concept of mass deaths, be it other living beings or our own. We still don't act decisively to "save the Earth" (reality is, the Earth will survive, it's us that will perish), and we know we are powerless against our own death so what more for others? But I'd argue that there is a beautiful, uniquely human quality, if we recognise and undertake an explicit understanding that death matters, and MASS death even glaring matters more. Perhaps we no longer have the power to prevent our own extinction (an inevitable phenomenon such as ocean acidification will make it inhabitable for almost all marine life, which in turns affect our survivability), but the meaning of our existence will not be for naught if we do not completely surrender to the absurdity of our existence.

"If you ask me what’s going to happen in the future, I think the strongest evidence we have is there is going to be a reduction in biodiversity,” Riebesell told me. “Some highly tolerant organisms will become more abundant, but overall diversity will be lost. This is what has happened in all these times of major mass extinction.” Ocean acidification is sometimes referred to as global warming’s “equally evil twin.” The irony is intentional and fair enough as far as it goes, which may not be far enough. No single mechanism explains all the mass extinctions in the record, and yet changes in ocean chemistry seem to be a pretty good predictor. Ocean acidification played a role in at least two of the Big Five extinctions (the end-Permian and the end-Triassic) and quite possibly it was a major factor in a third (the end-Cretaceous). There’s strong evidence for ocean acidification during an extinction event known as the Toarcian Turnover, which occurred 183 million years ago, in the early Jurassic, and similar evidence at the end of the Paleocene, 55 million years ago, when several forms of marine life suffered a major crisis. “Oh, ocean acidification,” Zalasiewicz had told me at Dob’s Linn. “That’s the big nasty one that’s coming down.” - Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction 

- Life is Not All About You, Character Is - 

Out of all the books, David Brooks' The Road to Character probably had the most significant impact on me. The book is essentially a lengthy exposition of an essay previously on The New York Times, "The Moral Bucket List". I was very much taken by the essay, as it had elucidated something which I felt I couldn't express in words. That life is more than just garnering accomplishments or external goods, but a measurement of your character and what it stood for in your lifetime. There is nothing wrong with having a bucket list of achieving certain things, e.g. travel around the world, do sky-diving, but just like in the movie "The Bucket List" (played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman), the intrinsic pleasures and satisfactions of life are truly attained by the quality of our bonds to the loved ones around us.

"One book that has helped me think about these two sets of virtues is Lonely Man of Faith, which was written by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in 1965. Soloveitchik noted that there are two accounts of creation in Genesis and argued that these represent the two opposing sides of our nature, which he called Adam I and Adam II. Modernizing Soloveitchik’s categories a bit, we could say that Adam I is the career-oriented, ambitious side of our nature. Adam I is the external, résumé Adam. Adam I wants to build, create, produce, and discover things. He wants to have high status and win victories. Adam II is the internal Adam. Adam II wants to embody certain moral qualities. Adam II wants to have a serene inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong—not only to do good, but to be good. Adam II wants to love intimately, to sacrifice self in the service of others, to live in obedience to some transcendent truth, to have a cohesive inner soul that honors creation and one’s own possibilities. While Adam I wants to conquer the world, Adam II wants to obey a calling to serve the world. While Adam I is creative and savors his own accomplishments, Adam II sometimes renounces worldly success and status for the sake of some sacred purpose. While Adam I asks how things work, Adam II asks why things exist, and what ultimately we are here for. While Adam I wants to venture forth, Adam II wants to return to his roots and savor the warmth of a family meal. While Adam I’s motto is “Success,” Adam II experiences life as a moral drama. His motto is “Charity, love, and redemption.”   - Brooks, The Road to Character

Another reason why I was genuinely surprised by the impact of this book on me, was also due to the diverse array of historical figures Brooks had used to elucidate his points on humility. From civil servants (e.g. Frances Perkins, the first female US Secretary of Labour), government figures (e.g. General George Marshall), civil rights activists (e.g. A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin), novelists and other older century figures (e.g. George Elliot and St Augustine), Brooks describes the personal weaknesses of these people in excruciating details and their challenges in meeting up to their vocations. There are many consistent themes which Brooks touches upon, such as being in service to a grander purpose, practising stoicism in character so as not to broadcast (and justify) one's own dirty laundry, and distrust of one's own "altruistic" intentions so as to honour a noble cause.

It is a sad truism that we will be able to rationalise easily that we are too busy and occupied with our own struggles to pursue a greater good. Between paying for our bills, ensuring our children receive a bright education, and that we are getting ahead in our careers, who has time to contemplate and act on uplifting the health of other people or the environment? But as argued by Brooks, much of the figures in his book found ways to look beyond their own occupations, and chase after an intangible quality which has demonstrably positive effects on others (and not necessarily themselves). Pursuing happiness for themselves is not the goal, making yourself feel less guilty even in the spirit of philanthropy and charity is still self-directed hedonism, and the worth of a character is at most times, determined by how much you have done for others than for yourself. Hence, we need to rethink very critically this pervasive notion of "My happiness matters more than others" mentality, and ask more of "what can I do to improve the quality of life for those around me?".

"As I looked around the popular culture I kept finding the same messages everywhere: You are special. Trust yourself. Be true to yourself. Movies from Pixar and Disney are constantly telling children how wonderful they are. Commencement speeches are larded with the same clichés: Follow your passion. Don’t accept limits. Chart your own course. You have a responsibility to do great things because you are so great. This is the gospel of self-trust....

This self-centeredness leads in several unfortunate directions. It leads to selfishness, the desire to use other people as means to get things for yourself. It also leads to pride, the desire to see yourself as superior to everybody else. It leads to a capacity to ignore and rationalize your own imperfections and inflate your virtues. As we go through life, most of us are constantly comparing and constantly finding ourselves slightly better than other people—more virtuous, with better judgment, with better taste. We’re constantly seeking recognition, and painfully sensitive to any snub or insult to the status we believe we have earned for ourselves. Some perversity in our nature leads us to put lower loves above higher ones. We all love and desire a multitude of things: friendship, family, popularity, country, money, and so on. And we all have a sense that some loves are higher or more important than other loves. I suspect we all rank those loves in pretty much the same way. We all know that the love you feel for your children or parents should be higher than the love you have for money. We all know the love you have for the truth should be higher than the love you have for popularity. Even in this age of relativism and pluralism, the moral hierarchy of the heart is one thing we generally share, at least most of the time. But we often put our loves out of order. If someone tells you something in confidence and then you blab it as good gossip at a dinner party, you are putting your love of popularity above your love of friendship. If you talk more at a meeting than you listen, you may be putting your ardor to outshine above learning and companionship. We do this all the time." - Brooks, The Road to Character

- Why Shallow Minds Die Without Character -

So here it comes, the concluding point of my readings. We face unavoidable truths: i) We all will die. And it matters how. ii) We all have character. And as much as you like to think of yourself as someone great, the persons attending your funeral will determine your character. iii) To have some accurate assessment of your character, it is, contrary to what you may presume, less about what you think and achieve on your own, but how far you have acted accordingly within your own means and with others. But unfortunately, in recounting all these, there is this little quote about accurate self-assessment which I'd like to share from another fine book:

"There is in fact a category of people who get unusually close to the truth about themselves and the world. Their self-perceptions are more balanced, they assign responsibility for success and failure more evenhandedly, and their predictions for the future are more realistic. These people are living testimony to the dangers of self-knowledge. They are the clinically depressed." - Fine, A Mind of Its Own
My argument shouldn't be construed as a necessary pre-requisite to suffer a mental illness to build self-character. However, it seems especially unlikely to build many admirable aspects of character (e.g. fortitude, grit, self-discipline, virtue, selflessness, etc) without some degree of hardship. Living a comfortable life, where it's easy to lie down on a cushy bed at the end of a day, is very different from contending serious challenges (not just going to work on time) on a long-term basis. I believe we try to externalise such yearnings subliminally through popular media (especially from super hero films and drama television programmes) knowing that we can't ever get on a horse and ride with an army taking down an evil king. But our enemies don't just come from the outside world; it can come from the laziness of our minds, as it shifts and opts to accept everything in our lives uncritically, and without investigation for the consequences of our daily behaviour. Our challenges can come from confronting the easy acceptance of our flaws or sins, in which we rate ourselves each day on a lower and lower scale of mediocrity, until we are just passing by our lives, leaving no significant mark on the people around us, or even the future generations after us.

I want to cite an example from The Road to Character book, General George Marshall, a man whom I had the hardest difficulty of relating to (i.e. I'm not an admirer of civil and military figures generally). Though I was tempted to disregard any meaning in extrapolating the character of this person, I found a poignant redeeming quality in the way he instructed the end of his life:

"He died on October 16, 1959, just shy of his eightieth birthday. General Tom Handy, his old deputy chief of staff, had once asked him about the arrangements for his funeral but Marshall cut him off. “You don’t have to worry about it. I’ve left all the necessary instructions.” These instructions were opened after his death. They were remarkable: “Bury me simply, like any ordinary officer of the U.S. Army who has served his country honorably. No fuss. No elaborate ceremonials. Keep the service short, confine the guest-list to the family. And above everything, do it quietly.” - Brooks, The Road to Character

I believe, due to the power of the Internet, we are now conditioned to be very worried and anxious of not living a LARGE enough life. If we didn't have many highlight reels on Facebook, it feels like we lived a minuscule existence. If we didn't travel to all the corners of the world, if we didn't show countless pictures of us conquering an external goal (at this point, I find it almost incredulous to count a Back Squat PR as constituting a significant life triumph), it feels like we were insignificant in the great scheme of things. But how possible is it for most of us to devise a cure for AIDS, to save the animal population, and become Batman? If you wish to live the life of a superhero, then expect to contend with one essential quality of it: Expect no gratification or return of favour for being one. But continue serving for others because you must.  

Most of us will experience our lives quietly without the rest of the world knowing or missing us. Nonetheless, silence does not imply shallowness; it is entirely possible to refine a sword of a character without noise and attention from others. It dictates sacrifice, sometimes of the things which we hold dear; it demands a holistic mindset to re-imagine the world marked behind by your presence even after you're gone; and it calls upon us to regard our character as an important bearer of our history which we should treat as more priceless than our own prized possessions. 

Monday, 2 June 2014

Road to Self-dominance (Part 1)

Promises to myself:

1) Take care of yourself first. Then take care of those who depend on you. Then those who love and appreciate who you are. Look only to those who understand you, value your efforts and see the goodness in you. Ignore those who berate you and are indifferent and do not cherish your presence. Do not hate them, but let them go to fight their own battles. Fight only for yourself and the people who will want to stand by you.

2) Train not to show an impressive feat; train to show character, spirit, dignity and worthiness. You cannot ask for reputation and do not deserve it cheaply; train not just the physical and mental but also the intellect and the character by constant action, thought, reflection and deliberation. Remake, mould, sculpt, and redo to make new progress so that you're not only different from yesterday but better than following an aimless tomorrow.

3) Focus on a vision of where you want to be. You won't be there in 1 piece and you will miss the bull's eye but it's better to be 75-95% closer than far away from it. Distractions, in the form of politics, indulgences, unforseen events and unexpected persons (whether of little or major significance), will come by to test you, hence it will be due to an iron will and solid perseverance that you can go on. If you have bagge which you can't let go, bring them with you and fight with pride. Finishing a race with no strings or load attached is great but finishing it with a 100kg load is admirable and honorable.

4) Intrinsic motivation is the most powerful force there is. It drives you to do something, in fact anything, to desire and achieve. But it cannot exist nor last long if there is ignorance on the means to success and if there is misdirection and negative energy that affects it. To even believe in it, you have to harvest and harness it. Study yourself (most important), ask hard questions on the what's, how's and why's on motivating yourself to pursue those goals and surrender yourself to them. Be fiercely determined, blind to the sacrifices but not mindless to the reasons and the ways of your doings.

5) Own what you learn. Nobody can steal your knowledge, skills, spirit, character and self-worth. They can emulate, be jealous, slander or criticise but what you do with every second of your life belongs to you only. It also means taking care of it and not letting it go to waste; every moment is spent but not all of it is cherished and pushing you forward when it should. Every book you read, every skill you learn, every thing you pick up, every dialogue you engage in, find the meaning in it and change it if you must. Not every moment is perfect, struggle is real, find contentment with it, accept the reality and hardship life brings and own it.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Reviewing MOVEMENT: An Overview of Ido Portal and his Philosophy

Before I start my essay, first I'd like to explain my background: I have met Ido Portal specifically 3 times. The first time was in year 2012, presumably his first trip to Singapore where he conducted his Upper Body Strength "Certification" Course (NB: There was no certification, and Ido is not interested in such business for the right reasons, which I agree and will explain later). The course was a weekend course, and though not physically taxing like a weekend bootcamp fitness course, the seminar was chock full of damn useful information, and to me, a catalyst to spark some inspiration to go in his direction. It took me almost 3 months later for me to start implementing the information obtained at the course, because I was so uncertain and yet unsettled about my own beliefs in regards to health and fitness (concepts by now which I feel are not adequately explored in-depth).

I then met Ido the second time earlier this year (2013) for a Movement-X experience, which was a few months before the Movement Camp. By the time I attended Movement-X, I was becoming familiar with the philosophy and the principles behind his approach, and had a great time reviewing my training during the weekend. Then, of course, came Movement Camp, an intensive 7-day long, 6 hours of movement training per day, experience which totally transcended anything I've come close to an educational awakening. I don't mean to exaggerate but it's true, there are very few social and/or educational outings which will demand you to be immersed into a practice for this long, and without outside contact during the whole time. In addition to that, the Movement Camp is, at best, an accumulation of varied movement practices squeezed into a week, and at worst, an examination of how "well" or "poor" your movement abilities are. You can leave the camp either inspired or devastated, but no matter what, you will get a rude awakening of how well you think you know your body.

Although I haven't been training under Ido Portal for a long time, but because Ido has become such a sensational figure, and his reputation continues to soar (rightfully), I hope to accomplish two things with my essay: i) provide a brief overview for those who are new to him, or still (in my opinion) unaware/uneducated about his philosophy, and ii) explain why it makes so much sense (to me and hopefully, to you), and review some important philosophical insights from Ido's point of view regarding movement practice.

*NB: I will not review the material of the Movement Camp comprehensively, as that has already been covered by other great articles. See Basic Training Academy's Review and Courtney's Review

"You don't need a reason to move"

This one-liner from Ido Portal is an especially important one, and exposes a lot of misguided beliefs and myths surrounding the marketing within the fitness industry. At the start of the camp, Ido said this to the participants in the orientation (paraphrased): "It doesn't matter how strong, how fit, how flexible, how much stamina you have. What we are interested here is how you move. And you can be all these things (i.e. strong, fit, high endurance, etc), but you can still move like shit".

Movement is more than just an expression of strength, cardiovascular endurance, stamina, and whatever other fitness attribute you wish to stick in. For Ido, there are countless other variables in place (e.g. timing, rhythm, contraction vs relaxation, etc). Consider this: Every second, minute, hour and time of your life, you're constantly moving in some degree or another (i.e. sitting, squatting, pushing, climbing, etc). At no point, did you need a self-justifying reason to move in whatever way you're doing (do I need a reason to squat to rest? Must I justify raising my hand at 90 degrees to grab a book off a shelf?). This is a kind of truism which doesn't need to be answered, but yet, from a specific discipline perspective (e.g. dance, martial arts, yoga, fitness, etc), a multitude of reasons are given to move and organise our bodies in a specific way. This isn't to say that it is wrong, as artistic practice and refinement is a discourse in itself, but what if you were to throw away all the labels (e.g. martial artist, dancer, yogi, etc), and honestly look at yourself, how would you then look as a mover?

This is an important barrier to overcome, because for most people, their pursuit of any fitness- or discipline- endeavour is usually with a reason (or goal) in mind: "to lose weight", "to be strong (e.g. squat 250kg)", "to kick someone's ass", etc. But ask them to perform a movement which goes outside of their realm of specialty and you get dumbfounded looks or accusations that this is "not what I do". No doubt, we all can't be good at every movement pattern (and this was especially revealing at the camp), but such defensive rebuffs are missing the point: do you mean to say that just because you can squat, deadlift and bench press well, you will never need to jump or climb? Or because you only enjoy relaxing into passive yoga postures, you don't need to use your muscles, strength and body to defend yourself one day? Movement is an all-encompassing concept, and as Ido said, one day, today, tomorrow, next month, next year, whatever, you will have to move your body in some way which has been unfamiliar to you before (jump, climb, break fall, etc). But due to your specific isolated movement practice, you may have lost an integral piece of your human movement repertoire, hence as Ido puts it, you "shit the bed".

"I have no dogma, except to movement itself" 

This then leads to a troubling but perplexing situation, namely, "how does one become a good mover? And what are the hallmarks of one?". In addressing this question, this is where I feel Ido Portal has truly filled a gap which nobody has truly attempted before. Ido is a very intelligent person, and obviously wanted to go beyond discipline-specific circles of thought. What exactly has Ido found which nobody else has? (By now, he has an exposition of 13 principles which can be easily broken down or expanded into more; needless to say, it has been very well-covered in his Facebook postings and articles.)

Namely, a system and principle-based educational process in covering general movement practice. For instance, Ido makes reference to the statement constantly, "Isolate-Integration-Improvisation", one of the many concepts that most people in the fitness industry have missed. On my part, I was first confused as to why Ido seemed to explore and understand this practice much better than most other fitness "experts". As some people will know, there are fitness systems out there who believe in teaching progressive movements akin to something like this, e.g. teach a squat first, then move to teaching a Clean, then perhaps teaching a Jerk or Snatch, as if this is a road of moving from simple to complex.

To some degree, it resembles the process, but it's also missing an important piece of the movement puzzle. This is simply teaching three distinct but fundamentally different movement patterns, and further there is still a lot of room to improve on each particular aspect. Another important thing to consider is that while it reaches some level of integration (add squat, add Overhead position, add weights, etc), but it never reaches to the stage of improvisation. Even if you consider bodyweight style calisthenics, some fitness systems consider the pistol squat, 1-arm pushup, or some other variant as the final goal to be achieved, after which it's just about adding more weight or repetitions. Even more crucially, it also implies that there is only one way (linear thinking) to achieve a certain movement pattern, and ignores that the body is an organic object which can be twisted, contorted, rotated to meet a similar movement goal (get from Point A to point B). This is where improvisation (the ability to integrate concepts/patterns and improve on them freely) comes in.

In order to reach this stage, though, is a grand task. And as discussed at the camp, perhaps not everyone can meet this high level of sophistry and direction (after all, as in art, not everyone can dictate and take control of their own work, and some artists prefer to follow instructions). This is where Ido comes in with a huge variety of tools and methods to tackle such difficulties and to give a person's ability to move. Another example: One of Ido's most dramatic illustrations at the camp was when he brought out a Crossfitter on stage, had him sit on the floor in a straddle while answering questions about his fitness achievements. After showcasing his fitness numbers, Ido then mentioned, "Another 15 minutes more, and this guy's hip flexors will freeze, because he can't even sit properly".

So the key question here, we need to ask ourselves is this, taking aside that perhaps you can squat an impressive number, or you can complete a CF workout to great record, but what's the extent of your movement abilities? Can you squat for 30 minutes without cramping (i.e. Ido is fond of relating his story of seeing a China man squatting down to wait for his bus for 30mins)? Can you put your hands on the floor and lift your toes off without falling over (another favourite illustration from Ido)? There are a multitude of ways which you can move your body, and if you find yourself short in more areas than one, then that's your answer. You are either a great or poor mover, and you need movement-based training, NOT specific-discipline training which can exacerbate your pre-existing conditions.

This is what Ido has founded. That's why he has no specific loyalty to any particular fitness-oriented training (e.g. kettlebells, clubbells, bodyweight, barbells, etc). There is no "ONLY" added behind his methodology of training, and crucially, the tool doesn't become the master (i.e. you become ruled by your PR figures, than by your own body's ability to move). The master still remains your body, and that is the standard to hold in regards to the efficiency of your training. Not how well you perform with a tool, or even with a certain protocol or under a certain workout; when you are given an empty room with four walls, how well can you move and express your vessel (as some religious people put it)?

"Move. A LOT" 

Ido has a rather peculiar online reputation. To some, he is regarded as an iconoclastic figure who speaks truth and cannot be doubted. To some, he is an egoistical bastard who derides the common folks and refers to 99% of the world as Homer Simpsons. Of course, this may seem rather conceited and unsympathetic (and personally, I understand the reasons for such anger at his cuss remarks), but I am not here to defend his personality. Instead, I think it is important to put his comments in perspective.

The sad truth for most people nowadays, is that we do not move much. Not even a lot. Ido bases part of his philosophy on evolutionary biology (and we had the honor of having Frank Forencich discussing multi-disciplinary approaches to health and performance informed by evolutionary science at the camp), which points out that Man has evolved from a species of hardy and capable movers to sitting down, key-board typing rounded back, and pretty much a weaker species in general. Yes, this doesn't discount the fact that we are a highly intelligent evolved species, but it also doesn't deny the fact that our movement capabilities have de-evolved to a great degree (Ido has a funny video on de-evolution. See here). So this is one hardy fact that we must swallow first.

As discussed earlier, our forage into specific fitness- or discipline-practice is not the answer to our movement conundrum. Doing more -this- or -that- doesn't address such a general ability; hence, the only answer we are left to find ourselves with is to do more movement. Move way more. In fact, Ido recently put up the solution of having a better squat form. His answer? Squat more. 30mins a day minimum. Sounds almost nonsensical and idiot-proof but sadly this is the hard truth about our bodies.

We adapt specifically to whatever we engage our mind and body in. Spend 80% of your time in bodybuilding, and 20% of your time in running? Of course, you will have more stamina posing on stage than running in a marathon. But if all we do is sit 80% of the time, and 20% of the time in the gym doing a typical routine of squat, bench press and deadlifting, we are still nowhere near to being a better mover. All you have developed is being a better "squat, bench and deadlift" mover. Under Ido's system, there are a multitude of ways to categorise movement (e.g. squat, locomote, hang, brachiate, climb, etc) but of course, the list can literally be endless. Nonetheless, it makes it very clear that we have an infinite number of ways to practice movement, hence showing that we got a lot of work cut out for us.

So, as cold and hard-nosed as Ido may seem, he's really espousing a truth which is bitter to swallow. We really can't be better at inverting ourselves (handstands), moving on the floor (squatting and locomotion), jumping and falling (acrobatics and tumbling), if we don't spend enough time practising them. Now, let me be honest, this is exactly why I am sympathetic to most people because just like most other folks, I am not a movement teacher with the luxury of training myself 6-8 hours a day, and find myself almost at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. As a father with children and job responsibilities, this is an especially difficult challenge, but to quit now and to shove it aside is besides the question. I am simply avoiding the fact that I am not moving enough (and believe me, it is still an uphill task for me).

"Don't just talk the talk. Walk the walk"

Consider this analogy: you are involved in a theatrical performance. And your director comes up to you and criticises you on part of your performance. Now you could respond by saying, "Oh I didn't know that part" or "I didn't practice this part enough". If you answered the former, that's perhaps a sign of mis-education or ignorance as you never knew that movement was important. However, if you answered with the latter, that's like a way of saying, "I didn't work hard enough".

When it comes to movement practice, Ido routinely discusses why people should not be made of sugar and not be afraid of criticism (interestingly, Ido has theatrical stage performance experience which may explain his views). This makes sense because like a good art director, the criticism is not to be taken personally (or it can be, if you reflect on yourself thoroughly). Instead, it is rather a form of feedback to improve your performance (should you wish to do so). This point isn't really hard to accept; further all, under a good teacher, we readily allow ourselves to be scrutinized and corrected meticulously. However, I believe the reason why people take offense to Ido's remarks is because they are under the misguided belief that they are already "good movers". Like an actor who thinks he is already magnificient and charming under the camera due to pure talent, he believes he is exempt from criticism and guidance.

Such attitudes aren't exceptional in any field, but perhaps reaches a certain height of egotism especially in the physical and fitness domains (hence, Ido would regularly issue challenges to detractors on showcasing their movement abilities). However, if we were to take the role of a humble student, then you'd come to the point of realising that in practising movement, you will face a lot of your own weakness. However, do not be confused here: This is not the kind of weakness espoused by certain fitness circles (typically due to not finishing a workout which is a narrow concept of endurance), but the inability to perform a certain movement pattern that is currently alien to your body.

For instance, if you never back flipped before, it doesn't matter if you squat at an elite standard, you got a lot more to worry about (not just balance, coordination, fear of heights, etc). During the camp, I was especially bad at acrobatics and tumbling even though I loved seeing people move this way. And though I may also have been taught the progressive drills to obtaining it, but it doesn't mean shit. I got to do the backflip, and get on the mats and do the dirty work. So just like anyone else, and as I learned at the movement camp, it isn't enough to know or presume to know how to move. You really have to do it. And do it enough times till your body gets it totally.

At first glance, this will seem overwhelming and unrealistic (how I can possibly achieve mastery of every movement activity in the world?). However, there's also a silver lining under this cloud of confusion. On some level, we must accept that this will be an extremely long journey (and probably with no end goals in sight). In this instance, I am reminded of a saying from legendary Bruce Lee, which I will paraphrase here: Bruce Lee is noted for deriding red-belt martial artists, or Grand-Master Martial Artists, who proclaim to turn students into deadly weapons in weeks or months. But to Lee, this is a ridiculous concept because there is so much to learn in the martial arts that it would take more than a lifetime to master every aspect of it. Like Bruce, Ido understands this very well, and also decries industry titles and rank calling of "guru's", or even worse, "Master Trainer". And that's why you will never see a "Certification" course at an Ido Portal event.

Movement is exactly like that, and unlike martial arts (whereby someone can choose deliberately not to undertake it), we are always moving. So unless you are diligently mastering your every movement every second of your life, relax and acknowledge that we have a lot more walking to do.

"Movement is more than this and that. Movement is BIG."

As alluded to earlier, if there is one unavoidable insight that we obtained from the movement camp, was that our strength and weaknesses were exposed. Yes, the martial artists moved better when there were martial-based movement patterns; the gymnasts moved best when there were the hand stands and acrobatics; the yogis, dancers or soft art-style practitioners moved most gracefully. But yet within each group, there was always a "This sucks" moment at an unfamiliar movement.

A lot of people have made reference to the expensive pricing of the movement camp (or other Ido Portal-related courses), and asked variant questions which amounts to this, "is it really worth it?". I do not presume to be able to answer this question for you, but let me put forth that if you confine yourself to narrow spheres of thought, you will never think it would be worth it. Let's take the Movement Camp for instance,

- Are you expecting to increase your squat numbers?
- Are you expecting to finish the CF Games faster?
- Are you interested to find out ways to get six-packs abs faster?

If these were the key concerns on your mind, then yes the Movement Camp or Ido Portal as a teacher himself would disappoint you (but I'd argue that you still will find indirect answers to these questions). But this is exactly why Ido Portal called the fitness world a "polluted world" (in his interview with RahBrahs), and necessitated that attendees of the Movement Camp be "big-picture people". Now imagine this,

- Do you want to learn how to crawl and move gracefully on the floor or do you think it is dance bullshit?
- Are you too inhibited to move like a dancer or Taichi artist because you only know how to play rough sports and are too "macho" for this shit?
- Do you want to learn how to do one-arm chinups and front levers even though it will take years (not weeks, not months) to achieve them?
- Are you okay with standing still and raising your hands for 10mins straight? With no movement at all?

These are the kind of scenarios and pictures that were presented to us at the Movement Camp. There were an amazing assortment of movement practitioners there (of which, I am one of the poorest, God Honest Truth), from acrobatic performers, dancers, champion martial artists, elite Crossfitters, but consider this. Everyone of them did something outside their comfort zone. I watched with amazement tough "macho" guys dance to soft music; I observed hyperactive movers tone their movements down to the gracefulness and slowness of a Taichi form; and I continued flipping myself on mats and floors, fighting against vertigo and dizziness knowing that I was hitting the mats like a lame duck.

So when someone asks if the price is worth it, let's be honest here: it will never be worth it if you aren't able to step outside of your comfort zone. If you don't want to play (and with a certain degree of dangerousness and acceptance of the unknown), this will be an adventure not worth taking.

But for those who participated wholeheartedly, and engaged in movement with open arms, willingly to embrace whatever came their way (or was elicited from their bodies), then they really paid a price more worth than any monetary value. They paid a price their bodies deserved in a priceless way.

They made themselves move like no other. That's how big movement is.

"No End to Movement" 

I conclude my essay with this simple axiom: no matter what we do, there are always ways to improve ourselves. Sure, there are a multitude of attributes to discuss, not least intelligence, maturity, and in the physical domains, several dozen fitness attributes. But Ido has narrowed down one broad and yet general concept which has been ignored, and for the wrong reasons. Namely, in our pursuit for some gold trophy of strength, conditioning, toughness, or some invisible masculinity award, we haven't looked ourselves in the mirror and ask how the heck do I look and feel when I move?

Like a stiff robot? Like a ship captain from Wall E (the film)?

Or put it simply, someone totally in control of his/her body?

In writing this, I hope I have delineated the key concepts behind Ido's philosophy. Honestly put, there is so much more for me to write, but I am not Ido, and can't presume to write his book for him. However, what I hope to outline chiefly is this: You can ignore Ido Portal. You can ignore dance, martial arts, weightlifting, yoga, etc. You can even ignore anyone outside of your own hermit world.

But you can't ignore movement. You can't ignore how you moved before, now, and in the future. And you can't ignore that you will move alone, with people and along with friends, loved ones and family.

So given how important that is, don't you want to move well enough to keep up with the rest of the human race?

Here's to Ido Portal, his team (Odelia Goldschmidt, John Sapinoso, Victor Gathing, and many others from his Israeli Team), Jozef Frucek, Frank Forencich, and not to mention the countless other movers from all sorts of disciplines from the Movement Camp and seminars who continue to preach the message of movement. It's truly a revolution in the making.