MovNat Day 5: The Gauntlet and a Wrap

Flashback Day 2: We had taken the jungle trail to the lake for incredible swimming for fun; anxious for it, because normally we'd have gone day one, but rain prohibited. We had a blast just frolicking and then the training. Water training, for me, doesn't carry an iota of drudgery, unlike ground-based training. I just love the water and on top of that, you stay cool. And movement is more efficient -- at least for me -- in that I naturally invoke more functional body parts such that I don't exhaust so easily or quickly. I'm naturally more efficient in the water, a subject I'll expound upon later in this post.

Erwan had a magazine deadline to get some photos in and I had a quality photo rig, so Vic and the others headed back on the 2.5 mile trail and Erwan & I stayed behind to take some shots. And we ate berries as blogged previously. But on the way back I brought up the subject of the last day of training, the no-breakfast, all-out compilation of all we've learned: Saturday morning; the dreaded Saturday morning.

Erwan: "One guy threw up. Two cried."

I sensed there was drama involved, but I was happy to go with it because I knew that in the end, even if I vomited and cried, I'd eventually end with a smile.

Such is the wonder of the human-animal condition. How funny, how wondrously ridiculous, how inspiring and how goddam amazing is it that we have in us the virtuous capacity to pay a decent fee, fly across the country (or from Sweden, as Elizabeth did) and endure all manner of discomfort -- if only to get a small 5-day slice of Real Life.

At this point I could lament that. I could lament the fact that a guy like Erwan has to go out of his way to show us what a slice of real, human-animal life looks like.

But I recognized it from the get-go. All week long I was reminiscing. I talked about it with Erwan a number of times. This week brought back so many childhood memories: climbing willow trees, exploring every inch of my grandfather's 10 acres on the Truckee River just west of Reno, Nevada where we lived. The fishing in that river and the trips to Pyramid Lake and the Klamath River. The bird hunting and the deer hunting trips. As a kid, this was natural, and we moved, and we moved in context. We had no need or want of "Natural Movement" vis-a-vis any "reawakening" because we lived it -- if not every day -- a good bit of the time. And we didn't think about it that way because it actually was natural, for us.

And then we lose sense of who we are; or, at least I feel that I did. So a reawakening it was.

Day 5, the final day, began without breakfast, with an assessment of progress in various skills. We were filmed on day 1, then filmed again for comparison. After a brief interlude it was time for the final challenge.

The weather, as I've recounted, was not the best on day 1 and while threats of rain persisted throughout it actually turned out to be beautiful on days 2-4. But as if to call in an overdue debt, the sky began to darken only moments in advance of our last adventure together. And then it darkened more, as if to impress upon us a deep sense of foreboding as to what was in store for us. And then it darkened even more; a dark cloud, visibly and rapidly descending upon us. The fear & loathing was palpable...

...Nah. Actually, we were chomping at the bit. I just though the drama would be fun to write...

And so it was that as the gust front kicked in and the clouds burst into heavy rain, Erwan called out the "Let's Go" and we go'ed. In the driving rain our first stop was a heavy rope suspended between two trees at a distance of about 50'. As we took our turns hanging on, hooking our feet and transporting ourselves from one point to the next the others did continuous movement: squats, half-squat holds, pushups, splays, planks, one arm planks, punches, kicks, elbow punches and more. Continuously.

This never ended. From one movement to the other, nobody stood around. And we did lots of movements, eventually driving and diving into the jungle on all fours, sometimes on a path and sometimes in the raw. Every obstacle encountered was overcome using some skill we'd learned, either by going over, under, around or hauling it out of the way.

There was even a 20' patch of crotch-deep mud. We went through that twice, for fun.

This went on for over an hour. How long exactly I won't say because I don't want to give away any suspense, but I will say that there's not a moment's rest in any of it. And we all made it back alive and intact. (Note: Click on all images below for the hi-resolution versions.)

The Motley Crew
The Motley Crew

And while I didn't puke, nor cry, I did end up with that smile.

Some Guy
Some Guy

Some cleaned off massive amounts of mud and debris while others chipped in for our final meal together. I'll speak to the level of cooperation among us in the wrap up portion of the post.

Chipping In
Chipping In

Time for a massive mixed grill.

Mixed Grill
Mixed Grill

...And then the feast for 15.

The Fiest
The Feast

...And one man's plate (mine, 1st trip).

En Plat
En Plat

And shortly after that last meal we said our goodbyes and headed off back to the human zoo in which we spend the vast majority of our lives, fretting about all manner of quotidian minutiae that we've no real control or influence over, devoid of natural, human animal context, but in which we're trained like seals bouncing balls on their noses to care about and pay attention to.

There are many aspects of this beautiful experience I could write about but I'll stick to just a few. To echo the foregoing paragraph as a start, it could be suggested to Erwan Le Corre that what this is isn't "training" at all. This version of the MovNat course is called "Reawakening." And perhaps that's a good start. After all, we weren't "training" in the sense of doing something humanely unnatural like reading a daily newspaper and getting worked up and stressed over things that will never affect us and over which we have no real control or influence, but simply rousing that hibernating inner animal to a set of actions that have been natural for eons and which merely require the application of a context.

Humans always seem to be competing. It's taken as given that competition among humans is an a priori good, i.e., you don't even need to get up off the couch to know it's true. And for all of my life I've believed that. Now I'm not so sure.

While competitiveness does have application and value, I believe, is that the primary value we ought to be seeking, or, might we put cooperation first? I say that because I noticed two applications of this idea throughout the experience, on an individual level, and on a group level.

I noted a few things. While myself and others were getting all bruised & scratched as we reconnected with natural movements, Erwan & Victor had none, and they do this over and over, day after day. Is their skin somehow super human, or is there something else to it? Are the scratches and bruises a necessary aspect of all these movements or, are we doing them wrong? Is one part of our bodies in competition with other parts? Is our mind in competition with our bodies? Is this a manifestation of an old & tired notion that our minds and bodies are somehow in endless and eternal conflict, the one with the other, an endless dichotomy?

And if so, what are the social ramifications? After all, if we wear our individual bruises as badges of honor rather than recognize them as a sign of unnecessary travail, how far of a stretch to imagine that our damaged, manipulated, worrisome personal relationships and our wrinkled and torn social fabric is merely an outpouring of the same fundamental struggle?

Here's some context. Never in my life have I seen a group of 12 individuals, strangers to one another, act so very cooperatively and mutually supportive of one another. If I could sum it up, MovNat placed competition and cooperativeness into a proper human values hierarchy.

You see, the real competition comes from within. You compete against yourself. You strive and struggle to improve while encouraging others to better themselves. You get better by being better, not by fooling yourself because others have not improved, or done worse.

This was the MovNat experience at its core. Everyone improved. Everyone encouraged everyone else to improve, enthusiastically cheering on all other's accomplishments without fear or trepidation such accomplishments would make them look or feel worse.

If you want to get better, you have to get better. It's all within you. Competition is often misguided, misdirected and counter-productive in The Zoo Human.

Erwan le Corre is a natural at this and my only reservation is that his knowledge and experience are so deep (see here to learn of his background) that he has a real challenge ahead of him to both maintain the profound integrity of MovNat while at the same time, taking it to a more mainstream level. If I had to summarize Erwan's skills: part Cirque du Soleil acrobat, part gymnast, part mixed martial artist, part nature survivalist and part dolphin. How in the world do you replicate that? On the other hand, this is a very good start -- widely accessible and local. I can envision a gym like StrengthBox in that video, combined with regular weekend group outings in nature to apply what has been reawakened in the gym.

This is by no means more than an infinitesimal slice of what we witnessed on a continual basis over 5 days, but it gives you a taste: Erwan and MovNat in Action.

MovNat Action from Richard Nikoley on Vimeo.

There is a grace and efficiency to all he does and teaches and this is why there's never a scratch on him, while the rest of us were bruised and scathed. It's not primarily about muscle and will, but about reawakening your muscle to work cooperatively and to use your senses -- always -- in order to be profoundly aware of the entire integrated texture of your surroundings.

There is so much more I could talk about, like, the evening talks given by Erwan on such topics as Natural Movement itself, nutrition, metabolism, fasting and more and which often motivated discussion beyond the time we all should have been in bed.

But I'll save all that for you to discover when you get a chance to attend a MovNat experience.

Amis Pour La Vie
Departure Lounge: Amis Pour La Vie

Here's a list of links to all the posts in this series.

Comments

  1. Yes, Anarchy and cooperation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOK0KYnzWxU

  2. Nice work.

  3. Erik Cisler says:

    Beautiful thoughts, man.

    They’re putting on a Thai workshop later this year (dates unknown). I’ll be in the area and I’m hoping my trip falls on their schedule.

  4. Your musings on cooperation versus competition remind me of arguments I’ve had with anarchists and capitalists over the years.

    Simply put, I don’t see any “primary value” to emphasize. The reality of the world is competitive collaboration (collaborative competition?): nobody does anything alone and nobody is cooperating with everybody. You are always competing for something and while it’s nice to believe we can all get along, it only really takes one guy to disagree for it too fall apart. And while there are sociopathic type-As who genuinely believe they beat everyone all the time, they conveniently forget to wonder what their life would be like if no one stocked their grocery store for them.

    It’s all just echoes of the tribe and the troop and the lions out there in the darkness.

    • “it only really takes one guy to disagree for it too fall apart”

      Then you part ways. If he insists, then you slit his throat and liver is what’s for dinner. :)

      • By “disagree” I meant more “attempt to rob you at gunpoint/knifepoint/pointy-stick point”, but I agree that cannibalism is an elegant solution to such problems :)

  5. I’ll be there next week, I’ll be interested in the difference btw/ “reawakening” and “expansion”…should be fun from the looks you’ve provided into your experience, i’ll tell the food looks great and i’m looking forward to it the most so far :)

  6. When you described your childhood memories that you recalled during this experience, it was amazing the flood of memories that came over me, that I hadn’t thought of in a very long time. A friend of mine said you should never let too much time go by without letting your children get their feet muddy. I understand that now better after reading this. I have visited Hawaii a couple of times, and both times coming back to the mainland, for a few days I had an “aloha glow/forcefield” around me. It would dissipate and the grind would come back. There’s no stopping that 100% I suppose, but it would be interesting to hear how you may incorporate the lessons of this reawakening daily to keep your feet muddy enough once you get back to the Zoo Human. And at that, I would say that this MovNat course would beat a Hawaii vacation any day. Great write-up.

  7. Andrew says:

    That’s one thing I’ve always wondered: after an experience like this, I’m positive I would sink into a severe depression (even worse than now) as I return to my 9-5 computer job in the corporate rat race. How to fix this, short of going out Chris McCandless/”Into the Wild” style?

    • sorry, its not richard himself commenting on this post, but i’m definitely in the same boat with you (same job, same hours-ish, plus school).

      I just try to get the maximum out of every minute. It’s tough, but you can start improving in little random ways. When you get up, on the way to the bathroom, why not do 10 pull ups on the way? Pretty soon, you’ll want to do a few more when you walk back to turn on the computer. Computer booting up too slow? Do 50 pushups. At work at your desk (starting into the eye-demolishing CRT monitor like me?)?, start doing leg lifts under your desk. Lunch break? Take the stairs. Live >4 miles away from work? Bike.

      You see? Start small like I did and it builds up. Now, I manage to get in about 100 pullups/day, a variable number of crunches and pushups, several sprints, and a total 6 mile bike ride to and from work. And that’s just a baseline that doesn’t factor in other exercise I include if I feel like it/have time like swimming in the beach during summer or sprints at the park nearby.

      Good luck! : D

      • Andrew says:

        It’s not exercise that I have a problem with (my bike commute is 20 mi round trip). It’s the frustration and dis-satisfaction I get from sitting in a stressful, flourescent-lit environment for the majority of my waking hours. If I jump ship for some kind of outdoor or active job, my family/friends would see it only as a cop-out from a challenging and “rewarding” career (not to mention the time and money wasted on a computer engineering degree).

      • Dino Babe says:

        Give up guilt! It is un-becoming. (Still learning that lesson myself) Be glad for what you have, and believe that despite a rocky start to your defection, your friends and family will come around to the fact that your job didn’t suit you. Time and money wasn’t wasted, you learnt that you weren’t suited to the job you found yourself in, and in all likelihood, stepping away will lead you to a job that uses most of the skills that you have learned already, but in a more rewarding way. Grok was brave, else he wouldn’t have survived! Be the one who dictates your lifetime.

  8. Great write-up. Well said my friend, well said.

  9. Richard, thank you for this amazing post. I was waiting for this post because I wanted to read about how it changed your life (mentally, not just physically). It sounds like you had a great time. I’m definitely considering attending one of those in the coming year (during either summer or school break).

    JP

  10. Great write-up Richard!
    I get your point about competition, but what about jealousy? Your descriptions and photos are so inspiring I’m sorely tempted to play hookey from the office and go to the park! ;)

  11. pieter d says:

    This is a great post. And indeed, like you and some of the above commenters said, it reminds me of childhood, where we all did stuff like this. One of my few famous countrymen, Jacques Brel, talks about: “vieillir sans être adulte” (growing old without being grown-up). MovNat helps people to achieve this, and that is great!
    Well, we’re off to the Swiss Alps, let us see if me and my family can get some natural movement.
    Thanks again for this series of post!

  12. William says:

    “I noted a few things. While myself and others were getting all bruised & scratched as we reconnected with natural movements, Erwan & Victor had none, and they do this over and over, day after day. Is their skin somehow super human, or is there something else to it?”

    Doesn’t Erwan and Victor’s unscathed features have more to do with conditioning and adaptation? Watch beginning guitar players go through agony with sore fingers, tight muscles and frustration. Eventually, through constant repetition, they are able to move effortlessly from note to note, chord to chord. Of course they are faced with more difficult challenges as they progress musically, but by then, they have the basic mechanics of movement, honed through muscle memory to accomplish new undertakings. This is only achieved by constantly going through motions native to your task at hand. The analogy continues with construction workers. Ever see how awkward young workers with no experience are? These neophytes are dead tired when work is over, and have difficulty getting up the following morning. Many of these kids are very athletic, and have a background in weight training, and endurance training, therefore are quite strong. But their strength, and stamina has no practical application because their bodies have not adapted to new skills required to perform an efficient job. As a result, they are often bruised and look beat up. Meanwhile, the fifty year old, beer drinking, big bellied journeyman has no problem hauling his ass out of bed to do it again, while working his apprentices young butts into the dirt.

    I’m sure Ron Ely looked inept before he adapted to performing his own stunts during the Tarzan television series, regardless of his superior physical conditioning. Going barefoot, alone, is a monumental hurdle, especially for adults.

    But when it comes down to it, your journey looks like so much fun. I’d love to be a part of this, perhaps next summer. :)

    • Interesting you should bring up construction and guitar playing, two things I spent plenty of time doing in my youth. I’d rather forgotten how long it took me to master the seemingly simple movements of taping drywall, to be able to smooth a corner in a few quick strokes. I never did get to the point where it wasn’t a problem to haul my ass out of bed though.

    • “Doesn’t Erwan and Victor’s unscathed features have more to do with conditioning and adaptation? ”

      More than what? That’s pretty much what I was talking about, but not in a physical sense. There’s no way to condition the skin on your arms, legs and shoulders to be resistant to scratches, scrapes & bruises. But you can condition your movement towards a more graceful execution so as not to scrape them at all.

      • William says:

        “That’s pretty much what I was talking about, but not in a physical sense. ”

        And that was pretty much my point, only IN a physical sense. hhahaha :)

      • I don’t know… the fingertips of guitar players get harder with repeated contact. The same with people who walk barefeet. The tougher the skin, the less easily it scratches.

      • Correct, but those are places well known to callous. I can assure you that the other areas are calloused on neither Erwan or Vic.

        They’re just doing the movements right, which is the point.

  13. Andrew says:

    You should really read Flow by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi if you haven’t already. Re: primary value.

  14. Beautiful & moving, Richard.

    BTW, make sure you check out Denise Minger’s new post. What a rockstar she is.

  15. Richard, What were the meals mostly like – low fat, low cal, lots of vegies?? How would you describe the type of meals you had? Do you think you lost some fat during the 5 days?

    • High fat paleo. Lots and lots of full fat coconut milk and sauces based in palm, coconut and some olive oil. Lots of eggs, and in the evening lots and lots of meat. Plenty of veggies but I typically opted for modest portions in order to save room for more meat.

  16. Amazing stuff! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us.

  17. Aaron Curl says:

    Great post! My favorite part is here…….”And shortly after that last meal we said our goodbyes and headed off back to the human zoo in which we spend the vast majority of our lives, fretting about all manner of quotidian minutiae that we’ve no real control or influence over, devoid of natural, human animal context, but in which we’re trained like seals bouncing balls on their noses to care about and pay attention to.”
    It’s ironic. Before I even heard of MovNat I was onto this realization in my mind that we were all caged zoo animals with a false since of reality. People who view the zoo animals think they are happy and in their natural looking habitat. Not so..not so. You first have to free the mind then the rest will follow….

  18. Fantastic series, Richard – brings back lots of memories from my course last year. Anyone who attends one of Erwan’s retreat’s will see how MovNat is about so much more than just a system for teaching physical skills. It embodies an entire life philosophy, that is understood and practiced differently from person to person. I can’t wait to see how it continues to grow.

  19. What a passionate and well-written article Richard. Thanks for taking the time to post it. I was on the very first of Erwan’s West Virginia courses last year, and will be there next week for the 2010 Expansion series and I can’t wait to be back in nature again.

    Thanks also for posting the reference to StrengthBox. While the gym setting can’t ever replicate the great outdoors, it can provide scalability and accessibility to a wider audience in a sensible manner.

    So glad you had the chance to attend and share your MovNat experience.

  20. What a fantastic write up on the experiences of the camp! I was there the week before and had the most amazing experiences and achieved things I thought were impossible on day 1. Thanks for sharing and I feel privileged to be part of the MovNat family .

    Here’s a brief bio of my experiences there:

  21. Thanks Richard! All the posts of your experiences there are amazing and motivating! I also like the idea of Strengthbox. That idea needs to come to Central California.

  22. taken from an email to my MovNat friends

    All,

    I am sharing this with you because:

    It may help someone you know

    It may help you recruit for MovNat

    I am damn excited about it!!

    When I was 35 years old my doctor told me I was a “walking heart attack” (his words) because of my high cholesterol/trigliceride levels. I have been fighting the battle ever since but mostly without success as I won’t use statin drugs. I had a physical in March and my doc was concerned enough to give me “the lecture” and asked that I come back in a few months to have blood work done to see if my readings had improved (the “lecture” implied that I change my diet, ride my bike, etc.). Honestly, I didn’t make many changes until my week at Summersville. Just for kicks I scheduled the blood work on Monday 7/19. I really wasn’t sure, with all the fats, healthy as they may be, what the results would be. The doctors office called today. Total cholesterol dropped 20%, LDL (the bad stuff) dropped 17%, and triglycerides dropped 50% (BAM!!!!) and HDL (the good stuff) increased over 5%. Ya’ll, that was basically accomplished in ONE WEEK of Paleo diet and MovNat training (wait!, I think I will refer to that as MovNat playing).

    Most of you, healthy and young as you are, may not appreciated this. Nicky (or should it be Nikki), because of your profession will know. This is huge.

    Down 6 lbs since Summersville. Going for that one, solid, hanging, straight armed pull-up. And, did I mention? The bar is mine.

    Peace,

    Jesse

  23. I received the following via email from an academic PhD. I’m posting it anonymously out of reasonable fear of repercussions. And reprisals.

    ~~~
    The longing for cooperation really speaks to me, Richard.  For various reasons,
    I ended up devoting a lot of time to a rather dead-end career path (PhD in the
    humanities) defined by ruthless competition: everyone in the business wants
    tenure; getting tenure requires big CVs; big CVs require an excessive amount of
    time and effort invested in publishing books and cranking out graduates, who are
    lured into the scheme with the promise that if they do everything their mentors
    (gods on earth) tell them, they too will have tenure (salvation) one day.  But
    as tenure-track jobs get scarcer and scarcer, retreating in proportion as the
    supply of qualified applicants skyrockets, the system breaks (and it is
    definitely breaking).  I really wish we could be honest about this and build
    alternative, “tinkering” approaches to bear on making graduate students in the
    humanities more immediately “useful” to themselves and to society.  I think I
    have a lot to offer in terms of commitment and ability, but this remains largely
    untapped as my professors insist that I prepare myself rigorously for a job just
    like theirs, a job that I most likely will never have.

    I bring this up because the academic community in which I work is supposed to be
    something like your MovNat tribe: a group of intelligent people committed to
    building and enriching individual and collective lives, with significant
    commitment expected from the individual.  Only in the case of academia, the
    community is not real, because some of us are not really members: we are just
    faceless filling for other people’s CVs.  Our individuality is lost to the
    community, which can always get rid of us and sign on some other schmuck who has
    fallen for the tenure gimmick.  I have seen this happen to several friends,
    including one who was hit out of the blue with a nasty letter impugning her
    character (and kicking her out on the street, though they later brought her back
    to teach as an instructor while she found her feet), and it definitely left me
    with scars: I never feel quite at ease around the department, no matter how nice
    people seem to be with me.

    Like you, I believe that no one is automatically entitled to anything.  At the
    same time, it is hard for me to feel good about my “tribe” sucking people in
    under what look to me like false pretenses (“play our game and get a job like
    ours”), and then spitting them out angrily when reality strikes (my friend had
    her character assassinated and her contract pulled in the middle of budget
    difficulties) — even if the losers are complicit in signing on to an
    organization where these are the (unspoken) rules.  I imagine a time when
    universities will encourage people in the humanities to develop other career
    options than the current “professional researcher or bust.”  I imagine a
    workplace where mentors and advisors feel free to turn someone loose from a
    program of study without inventing a long list of imaginary crimes to justify
    themselves.  More than anything, I just want to find a place where I can join
    others in expressing humanity positively without having to risk elimination from
    the community (which is always possible in academia, unless you have tenure).  
    If I had it to do over again, I would take out another major as an undergrad,
    something like computer science or human physiology, and back-up my professorial
    bid with plans to work outside the ivory tower.

  24. Darryl Edwards (Fitness Explorer) says:

    I’ve spent a few days since the workshop – improving my skills in the local park. The tree branches are still just as rough as ever! :-) But as my technique improves I am getting less and less grazed or bruised. I think some of the improvement is about conditioning the skin to the new surfaces, but primarily it is about the technique, being mindful and relaxed helps. This can be difficult, but is definitely the key I find. Something Erwan stressed quite a bit, but

    I have suffered a few cuts (one quite deep) on the shin when I couldn’t quite make that 40″ standing start jump – after several successful attempts. The lack of concentration was the culprit there!

    I live in London, so will be adapting my MovNat training to mainly indoor (as well as outdoor) environments and will hopefully meet with souls of a similar mindset. Thanks Richard for an excellent resource on FreeTheAnimal.!

    Here is my original review on my experiences at MovNat (updated link):

    http://www.thefitnessexplorer.com/home/2010/7/14/movnat-exploring-my-true-nature.html