When Dave asked me to guest write for his website I was honored and humbled.
I have admired Dave’s incredible work as a coach for a while now and just two weeks ago spent several days with him.
Over the course of my visit in Dublin we conversed about many things.
We covered topics of fitness, family, our youth, history, science, whiskey, music, and just plain ol’ shootin’ the shit.
Out of dialogue, thoughts and ponderings are born. So when I asked Dave, “What do you want me to write about?” and he replied, “Whatever you want?” the wheels began spinning.
You see, like most writers, I prefer to be given a topic (hopefully something I know well) then go from there but an open platform can be tough.
I remember in one conversation we had we were discussing our kids, Dave has two sons a 3 year old and a 5 year old (nearly 6) and I have one son a 1 year old (just turned).
Of course we talked about the cute and funny things they do. The joys of parenting etcetera, but beyond that we got into the essence of human movement. Movement patterns that begin and develop when we are kids reaching masterful levels in just the first several years of our existence then something happens.
We lose it.
While in Dublin, Dave and I attended a Movement X workshop with Ido Portal. If you are unfamiliar with this great teacher and mover I encourage you to Google him.
To my surprise the workshop was less about movement and more about being a better teacher. I really liked this approach as I have always fancied myself more of a teacher than a trainer and my customers students more than clients. Part of being a good teacher is being a good student.
I have really committed myself to becoming a full time student of movement in the last year and a half or so.
As I dove into this methodology and approach to exercise I have to find teachers and inspiration abound.
Movement is not something you can simply learn from a book or a YouTube lecture series.
Its odd because we are born knowing movement.
No really, it is a very frustrating paradox for me and something I wrestle with constantly (perhaps another article for another day).
The title of this article is “Learning Through Observation” and that is why movement becomes a frustrating paradox, because I watch how effortless it is for kids.
Earlier I mentioned discussing child rearing with Coach Dave.
I watch my son with a keen eye daily. He watches me too.
We learn from each other. When I do a handstand in our living room he stares at me and grins ear to ear. He then tries it himself and does something similar to downward facing dog.
Now that’s about all he has learned from me so far. Everything else he just DOES.
Mind you I am a Movement and Strength Coach, people pay me pretty fair wages to teach them how to move. Yet I can barely teach my 1 year old son anything because he is already wired to do so much. So I watch him. I learn.
We actually have a very difficult locomotion at Asylum Fitness called the Ronan Crawl (Ronan is his name). Seriously its tough, but it came from when he was learning to crawl and would go from carpet to hardwood floor and would lift a leg out to the side because his knees weren’t toughened yet.
He climbs stairs, has since 6 months, he dances, he climbs on and off the couch, he squats for everything. Yet no one has taught him any of this.
As a teacher I have to have a keen eye for movement patterns. I watch my students move, some better than others but all patterns tell a story. Learning through observation isn’t a one way street, it isn’t even a two way street. It’s more like a clusterf*!% of an intersection with loads to gain from many different avenues.
In fact if M.C. Escher was a highway commissioner that is what the junction of movement learning would look like. The first way of learning through movement, and by no means is this list limited or exclusive this is just a bit of perspective, is the pattern itself. In some ways this might be the easiest. In this situation you are observing what the pattern is telling you.
Non verbal communication is the key to observing movement as Ido said, “Shut up and let the movement speak.”
What dysfunctions, asymmetries, or glitches are there in the pattern? Are there any?
Or is the movement beautiful, controlled and fluid?
The reason I think this is the easiest is because you more than likely have an idea of what the pattern should look like and therefore if it is off, even a little it will be blatant.
For example, Dave and I partnered up at the workshop for a little brachiation drill, he immediately noticed my right hip was high.
Not very high but high enough for his eye to notice it and his brain to say, “that’s not right.” The pattern told a story, in this case the dysfunction was due to a brutal 24+ hours of traveling the day before. All that sitting and cramped travel had my hip all banjaxed (had to use that word it was my favorite from the trip). So the first aspect of learning through observation is just knowing what’s off about a pattern, person when they are moving. I use this daily with my students as a sort of constant assess and reassessing of the session.
Another way of learning, and this one is big for me is drawing inspiration. As I mentioned before my son seems to have a strong grasp on motor control and development. I can’t tell you how many drills and patterns I have watched him do then taken to my students to experiment with and practice. Go somewhere that has a bunch of kids playing and without looking like a total creeper watch. Free your mind and watch.
Then eventually create.
There is nothing more hilarious than taking a group of adults to a playground.
However after a while the self image insecurities wear off and the magic begins.
Then the adults move like kids (sorta) but if they observe kids playing before they try it themselves the results are much different. Mimicry is a great teacher.
I don’t just draw on kids for inspiration though. I look for movement in everything I don’t discriminate. I watch dancers, I watch martial artists, I watch traucers (people who practice parkour), I watch gymnasts, I watch pets especially cats, other animals such as primates, Ninja Warriors and then I try what they are doing. Really anything in motion can be your teacher if you just allow your mind to be free and truly observe the movement. Then give it a try!
Honestly that is my biggest secret for movement, just try different patterns.
Its no million dollar tip, but it will change your life and the way you feel and move if you are constantly trying new patterns and exploring movement.
The final method of learning through observation that I will give you is observing yourself.
Often I have an idea in my head of what I look like doing a movement. On film it usually looks way different, most of the time for the worse but sometimes better.
Too often we are so concerned with criticism and we just want to be told good job.
It is really hard to critique yourself because this takes a certain level of integrity and honesty.
My movements started getting much better and much cleaner when I stopped patting myself on the back for sucking and was able to comfortable look at a video of myself and say it was complete shit and practice some more. Seriously, you have to be ok telling yourself that a pattern is shit or else you will perpetually exist in a cloud of delusion.
The end game as a coach/teacher is to make someone better, however I can’t make someone better if they don’t think they need work.
Beyond just the quality of the movement you should also be able to learn more about creating movement and expression through movement through watching yourself. Often when I watch myself I see moments where I can add this or connect that. The possibilities are endless and the result is freedom. Move more and you will be free.