Prioritizing Play

I love to experiment and play with all kinds of movement: calisthenics, flow-based ground locomotion, Oly lifting, kettlebells, steel clubs, arm balancing, Parkour, yoga, gymnastics, sprinting, running, biking, rowing, etc… But, if I only have “X” time to train, and have the opportunity, I dig MMA (and it’s component “parts:” boxing, Muay Thai, Judo, submission grappling – as well as: knife, stick, and gun-fu), and would rather play any/all of those than almost any of the others. No contest.

Does that make me a bad person?

Movement Spectrum

I am a physiology, neuro, movement geek. I am a student of Physical Culture.

There are things (within physical culture) that I am good at, there are things that I am working on to get better at them, and there are things I either haven’t tried yet, or things I don’t care about enough to try.

After an off-line discussion with a friend about movement, I had a thought that I would try and write down some quick thoughts on “all things” movement.

First off, understand that this is far more a note to jot some ideas down than a Magna Carta. As I learn, re-learn, grow, un-learn and discard practices, tools, techniques, etc. I amend my thinking.

Secondly, understand that I am no movement “guru.” I have trained with a few over the years, and want nothing to do with any of that kind of thing.

So, onward into the breech…

Simplistically, there are three categories of movement: there is movement that you do alone (keep it PG-13!), movement done with a partner (PG-13 damn it!) and group movement (sigh…).

There are several types of approaches to movement: play, studious, progressive, segmented, flowing, and professional (as in, you get paid for it). All of these approaches can (and do) overlap. There are most probably other approaches I don’t know or haven’t really thought about. Remember, this is a note, a jot, not a manifesto.

There are a number of fields of movement study: martial, dance, gymnastics, group sportive, acrobatic, climbing, arboreal, locomotive, individual sportive, performance art, and about a humpty-gazillion more.

Environment plays a huge part in the types, ranges and “rules” of the play. The things you might do in a forest are going to be different than what you might do on a beach, in the water, on a cliff face, or in an urban setting. Though, as in most things, there will be cross-over.

A person can either be more of a generalist – in terms of study and acquisition, or a specialist. This line – from generalist on one end to specialist on the other is not two single points on a graph. It is a spectrum. Though to be fair, IMO, most people fall more on the specialist end than the generalist side.

As a student of movement, a person has to understand that most movement disciplines can take months, years, decades, or a lifetime of study to master. Also, that any specialization carries with it the chance of over-specialization, movement compensation and limitation.

A student of movement should also know that generalization, is, to a HUGE degree, a myth.

There is NO WAY possible to be a TRUE generalist, because the fields of “play” are simply too vast. A person might “master” a small handful of “tricks” from a few of the fields, but never the field itself – as that would make him a specialist. You want to master hand balancing? There are something like 30-50 different hand balances in yoga alone (maybe more). Now add in the hand balancing work of gymnastics. There will be a little crossover in places, but a lot of distinct movement. Now add in acrobatics. B-boy, or interpretive dance, etc. Get the picture?

Love grounded flow-locomotion? Unending possibilities. Now add in high-level rugby play. How much time for practice would you need to do both? And do them well?

From “generalist” to specialist is a spectrum with many stops and levels. Movement play is a matrix of possibility, interest, and commitment.

Personally, I love martial art, especially those of Judo, submission grappling, boxing and Muay Thai. I love flowing ground based locomotion, tumbling and yoga. I enjoy Olympic lifting, strength training, kettlebell play, basic gymnastics (ring and floor), basic Parkour. Though, while I enjoy and play them, I won’t claim any particular expertise with them.

In my youth I was a decent amateur fighter. I played baseball, volleyball, tennis, and some track events. But just because I did them in my past doesn’t mean that I am a volleyball player, a hurdler, or a javelin thrower now. And while I sprint, and am pretty fast – at 51 – I am nowhere near what I was at 16, 18, or 25. Same goes for fighting. I train, but no longer compete. I keep my skills as high as I can, but am coaching more now than banging away in a ring or cage.

I play with arm balances, and handstands, but, compared to a lot of the “big name movement gurus” I freely admit to being barely passible at them. And, realistically, and without ego, I most probably move better than 95% of the people in the world. The top 5% move like butter over a hot skillet.

And that’s okay. It is time and process. I am as good as the time I spend playing the movements. This should be obvious, but I’ll state it: the more time I spend, the better I am at those things. The inverse is also true. This will be true for you as well.

Which brings me to interest. I personally have an interest in combat sports, but no real interest in “traditional” martial arts – though I’ve played more than a few of them in my past. Upon occasion, I “dance,” but don’t have much interest in learning the nuance of jazz, modern, tap, ballet, or B-boy.

As I said before, I love ground-based, flow locomotion, but with a family, full time job, teaching schedule, etc. I only have limited access to teachers of say, Capoeria, Parkour, or Ginastica Natural. So, access also limits interest and thus the possibility of acquisition and mastery.

Interest – or lack of it – then plays a part in whether I am more of a generalist, or more of a specialist. As it will for you.

It’s relatively easy to be a specialist. In sport, look at powerlifting, olympic lifting, marathon or ultra running. In life, look at an office worker, lawyer, banker, or baker. And while a person can be more of a generalist, and there are examples from life, movement methods and sports with large palettes, no one can be a true generalist, no matter what is claimed.

Where are you on the spectrum?

A Morning Well Spent

Normally on Thursday morning I teach a semi-private MMA class… My trainees are out for the day, so I “stole” the time and had a fantastic yoga WO. Joint mobility, bunches of hand (arm) balances, core training, modified Sun Salutation, some Wu Shu hip and leg work… Feeling both wiped out and invigorated at the same time… A great way to spend the morning!