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  • Jake Russell

Begin Again (And Again)

Conscious movement, explorative physical training, understanding and experiencing the capability, patterns, arrangements and ranges of motion of the body, is something I’ve fallen in love with and has become a central part of my life.

I began what might be called movement or bodyweight training about 18 months ago having spent years and years mindlessly lifting dumbbells. And when I started, with a martial artist who could perform feats of physical skill that literally made me jaw-drop and giggle at the ridiculousness of what I was witnessing, I had no choice but to acknowledge the undeniable reality of being a complete beginner.

I couldn’t do anything. I felt clumsy, uncoordinated, restricted and weak. I watched my teacher spring across the room with beautiful grace and dexterity and I’d stumble after him a cross between new-born cow and drunken monkey.

He’d demonstrate a handstand, flip, or a planche and it was if I was standing at the base of a gigantic mountain peering up at the peak way, way in the distance. I knew if I had any hope of reaching it the only way up was a gruelling, repetitive and probably quite painful climb. But I was determined and so I decided to do a bit of climbing every single day, which is what I’ve been doing since.

I spend hours every day rolling around on the floor, pushing, pressing, leaning, lunging and all sorts, finding out how I can move from one spot to another with more precision, with lighter, springier limbs, with better balance, coordination, control and skill. Each day I stretch and strengthen muscles and joints that I spent a lot of my life inadvertently hurting or neglecting, and I start and, or end the session sitting still, just breathing, practising being with whatever happens to be arising in time and space in and around me, which usually, I’ll be honest, is the near incessant chatter of my inner voice rabbiting on like an utterly nutty bastard.

To some people that all might sound like a silly or strange way to hang out. In fact, just yesterday, on a course I’m taking at the moment (about enacting change with a cognitive-behavioural method—so nothing, ostensibly at least, to do with movement or physical training), I was telling someone about how I practise handstands nearly every day, and they asked, politely but a little baffled, what for.

Which made me laugh and I had to tell them it’s not really for anything other than for handstands in the same way that restoring an old car or painting landscapes isn’t really for anything other than the intrinsic pleasure of those experiences.

However, if we’d had more time in that Zoom break-out room, and I thought she was genuinely interested rather than assessing my mental health, I would’ve said more. So, Mrs Zoom-Zoom Break-Out Room, this one’s for you.

The practise of movement, and its counterpoint, stillness, is not only a pleasurable experience, and a way to stay fit and strong, it’s also a form of expression and self-discovery.

The discovery comes of its own accord, whether I choose it or not because the simple act of moving or staying still is an immediate access point into the self, the ego, and the ways in which I speak to and treat and hold myself, literally and figuratively. I believe this is a distinctly human feature. As soon as anyone begins to move their body, or conversely, rest in stillness, then the ways in which they relate to themselves (and therefore others and the world) come crashing to the fore. It’s unavoidable. Whether or not we choose to pay attention is another matter.

For me, it brings up issues of self-consciousness, fear, courage, humour, patience, progress, frustration, disappointment, judgement, success, assertion, failure, pride, vanity, criticism, acceptance…and more.

Recently, I started training in the Ido Portal Method of movement.

For anyone unaware of this man named like a wizard guarding the gates to another dimension, Ido Portal, from Israel, is, despite contesting the title, a master. And if the gates he guards open onto a (multi-)dimension of movement then his name fits.

I don’t know how old he is, maybe in his early 50s, but at 16 or so he was a martial arts champion and since then he’s been travelling around the world learning from the most skilful practitioners in fighting, gymnastics, calisthenics, acrobatics, tumbling, circus performance, dance, climbing, parkour and more. And he’s distilled it all into an approach or method for training the body – and mind – toward becoming, what he calls, a movement generalist. He coaches some of the top professional fighters and athletes in the world and he’s developed a kind of cult status that’s both intriguing, a bit weird and troubling, but really understandable when you see him balancing upside down on one arm before manoeuvring himself into another seemingly impossible position in such a way as to cast doubt on any number of Newton’s Laws.

Anyway, I was meant to go out to Boulder in Colorado in April to train at a facility run by three of his top students with the hope of moving out there for good. Then the whole world went bonkers and life guffawed at my flimsy plans.

Well guffaw no more, I said last week, if – as the famous expression goes – the man will not come to the Boulder, then the Boulder will come to the man. And so I started training remotely with them instead.

And listen, I’m no slouch these days—the stumbling cow is now a more proficient cat—I can do things I didn’t believe were possible as I stood staring up at the mountain peak 18 months or so ago.

But one week into this training and I find myself right back at the bottom of the mountain. I am, once again, a complete beginner.

And yes, it’s frustrating, even dispiriting and embarrassing. It’s all of it. And it’s also a revelation. Because how often, once we’ve passed, say, the age of 19 or 20 or so, do we choose to begin anything new? It’s rare, isn’t it?

Why?

Fear? Fear of looking silly? Like a Humpty Dumpty numpty when we fall? Feeling like we should have all our shit sorted? That mistakes are a sign of weakness? Thinking we ought to have all the answers and know all the moves?

Well, I suspect, once we engage in something as a beginner and we survive those early pitfalls, those phases of frustration and sharp ego-slaps, then the very fact of surviving them proves that the fear of looking like that numpty, of feeling weak or like we don’t have the answers, moves or all our shit sorted, is nothing but a concoction of the mind fuelling the force of unhelpful resistance within us. It might sound trite but the only sure-fire guarantee of flunking something is not trying. Everything else, anything above nothing, is a step toward our brilliant potential and genuine greatness.

So next time you want to begin something new but you tell yourself you’re too afraid – and in the style of my late nutty pops who said it best – try saying this instead, I dare you: “I give myself permission to look like a numpty, to stumble like a new-born cow or drunken monkey, to even fall off like Humpty Dumpty, because if I persist, if I don’t resist, then no one, not no one, can call me a flunky.”

Or something to that effect.

If this kind of thing floats your boat, set sail with me and Danny down his gently flowing livestream this Thursday at 10pm UK time when we’ll hopefully be conversationally keeping more boats floating. Search for TheDannyBucklerShow. It’d be a pleasure to have you bobbing along with us.

With much love, Jake x

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