Note: This is a follow up to The Ultimate Guide to Superhuman Movement. Please read it first if you haven’t yet.
Ever since I can remember Bruce Lee was my hero.
Wanting to be like him was what got me into Jeet Kune Do.
Coveting skills like the one-inch-punch, the “dragon flag” and two-finger pushups was the shiny object that sparked my soon-to-be obsession.
It’s what got me to walk in the door. But it wasn’t what kept me there.
Like most people attracted to martial arts, I wanted to be a badass. I wanted to move in ways that defied the laws of nature. I believe that with enough training and enough dedication, someday I could move like an immortal, just like the master himself.
Then, something unexpected happened… my speeding bullet train I was on to mythical badassery was derailed completely.
I know what you might be thinking:
“Isn’t moving heroically all about doing cool shit and moving in ways that make people pee their pants with astonishment?”
Yes, that’s a part of it. We all want to be badasses (those that don’t are probably lying). The fancy tricks and cool stunts are great. I love them just as much as the next person. But if you ever hope to accomplish anything remarkable with your practice, it’s not why you’ll stay with it.
In the beginning, you just want the frosting
Moving impressively is the shiny outer layer. It’s the icing on the cake. But it’s not what holds the cake together. It’s the gluten.
Okay, so maybe cake isn’t the best analogy, but you know where I’m going with this.
In the beginning I wanted the icing, and as much of it as possible. And damnit, I was dedicated. I’d practice hours upon hours every day. Nothing could deter me from my goals.
But as I pursued them I was surprised by something: the shiny goals were doors that led me into a rich web of connection, purpose and personal growth.
My martial arts practice forced me to confront my own insecurities. I always thought I was awkward, uncoordinated and not naturally gifted at sports. Growing up it seemed like I had to work twice as hard as the other kids to be able to do the same things.
But through my martial arts practice I began to develop more awareness of my body, distance, and spacial awareness. I came to find that I wasn’t kinesthetically defective, I just needed practice and to connect with my body.
Jeet Kune Do class and sparring especially, proved to be a unique relationship builder. My fellow students and I were helping each other grow in unexpected ways. We were participating in movement dialogues and puzzles that helped each other unravel our fears, insecurities and ways of staying small.
Opening Pandora’s box
Practice with my teacher was almost always outdoors. He introduced me to barefoot hiking and bodyweight training with gymnastic rings. This was my gateway drug to the Gymnastic Bodies forums, and training with the guys at GMB Fitness (which is where I found the most progress in gymnastics strength).
Martial arts taught me about presence, mindfulness and relaxation. The more my mind was somewhere else, the more I got hit. While it may not be for everyone, there are few motivators like getting punched in the face to stay present.
Slowly, I began to realize that movement in general was what I was passionate about. The art of fighting was my simply my gateway drug.
In my heart I’m a movement omnivore, a locomotive generalist, and a kinesthetic mutt.
But it wouldn’t be until years later that I realized this and began to develop my heroic practice.
For a long time I bounced around from one practice to another with the staying power of a gnat on amphetamines.
I fell in love with a new movement practice every week. And because of this, my training and goals suffered.
There was very little focus and I couldn’t yet figure out how to connect the dots. One week it would be qigong, the next, parkour. I’d get really excited about handstands, then get frustrated by the difficulty of it and bounce like a pinball to some exciting new movement flavor of the week.
This was how it would go for several years. My progress was sporadic, and my programming seesawed from focusing 100% on rehab (because I injured myself from overzealousness and naivety about my abilities) to monstrosities of programs that would make even Wolverine whimper.
Through a lot of trial and error, experimentation and studying with a lot of teachers, I slowly began to connect the dots.
I refused to just “pick something” – maybe you can relate?
You see, I never wanted to settle for just “picking one.” That wasn’t the way I rolled (I’m a libra, a nine on the enneagram and for better or worse, blessed and cursed to be a big picture, holistically focused kind of guy).
So, I persisted. And as my nature compels me for better or worse, I searched for integration. If there has been a theme of my life in this last decade, it could be summed up in that single word. I hung onto it with the devotion of a Shaolin monk, dedicated to repeating his mantra, sometimes not knowing why or if it even worked.
Some dumb stubborn part of me believed that there was something to this whole integration thing. And that maybe, just maybe, that’s actually where the real, true magic lied buried, waiting to be unearthed.
Integration is what led me to the heroic practice.
Now, I could probably have turned this into some secret, highly mysterious thing that I only gave to people that complete a five year apprenticeship with me. Or I could paywall it behind a $2,000 retreat.
I’m not going to do that. I want to give it to you, and to the world freely, just as my teachers gave their knowledge to me.
This is after all, is not mine. This is the synthesizing of over seven years of studying from many different teachers, disciplines and philosophies. Much like Bruce Lee’s JKD, it is not perfect or ever complete. It’s an evolving art, meant for you to test, break, and personally adapt to your own needs and uses.
The elements of practice
The fundamental principle is integration or embedding.
The practice evolves as follows:
We move from structure to no structure. This is a fundamental principle taught to me in JKD.
Using Jeet Kune Do to understand how to make play more meaningful
Without segementing and integrating, we may be playing, but not at a very high level. Play becomes richer and more fun through deliberate practice.
To understand this, it’s helpful to look at an example from JKD:
- First, we segment the straight lead —the jab in JKD — and practice it removed from the chaos of sparring. Breaking down the punch mechanics we can continually get more and more granular with isolation — the hip turn, the snap of the wrist just before contact, etc. — then slowly integrate them into the full punch.
- Once we have a decent grasp of the strike, we can integrate it into a partner mitt drill.
- Finally, the straight lead is incorporated into free form sparring at the level of play.
The point you must understand is this: Play only becomes enjoyable and meaningful once you’ve gotten a grasp of the punch in segmentation and integration.The more you master skills in segmentation, the greater doors you unlock for richer play and improvisation.Click To Tweet
The golden question: can you have it all?
I thought about this daily:
How can I integrate mobility, strength training, mindfulness, skill work, play and purpose all into one practice?
Is this the most incredible idea ever? Or is it a fool’s dream destined for simply more ADD failure?
If it is going to succeed, it will have to be a carefully orchestrated symphony instead of a series of disjointed solos.
This is the essence of the hero’s practice.
The beauty of this framework is that it fits no matter what stage you’re at on your journey. If you’re just starting out, it will help accelerate your progress. If you’re a never-stopped-moving veteran, this will take your training to the next level.
But first, a huge credit to my teachers:
- Justin Pierce for teaching me how to integrate meditation into physical training. Working with Justin and getting certified as a MF coach is what finally made things “click” for me.
- Ido Portal for solidifying my understanding of segmentation and integration.
- Nhan Khuong for teaching me everything I know about JKD, breaking down techniques into isolated parts, then carefully progressing them to further and further integration.
- Elliot Hulse for showing me the power of integrated breathwork for recovery in between sets.
- Coach Sommers for turning me onto the idea of integrated mobility and strength.
- The guys at GMB fitness for showing me the importance of integrated skill work.
Can you see a common thread here, I hid it in plain sight. 🙂
In all seriousness, it’s pretty obvious. Integration, embedding, symphony, whatever you want to call it, is the magic key.
Let’s look at each part of the practice and how they work with each other.
This is a simple practice I learned from Andy Puddicombe of Headspace and adapted to my own needs. The purpose here is to break you out of the stress and franticness of life and bring you back into presence, back into your body and connection to the space around you.The more embodied and grounded you are, the better your movement practice will be.Click To Tweet
This is where your practice begins.
We start standing, feeling our feet on the ground. A few deep, slow breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth.
Slowly began scanning down the body from the head to the feet. Notice whatever tension might be present. Do your best not to judge it, but simply be curious.
Notice any emotion or dominant mood as you scan down. Again, simply being curious and noticing whatever is there.
Now, begin feeling the space around you. Feel the space between your feet. Feel the space in the room you’re in or the sky above you. Feel the space between you and the objects around you.
You’re ready to begin the next segment…
2. Why remembrance
The Sufi’s have a beautiful practice called Remembrance. Its purpose is to remember and reconnect with the God or the divine. While I’m personally not a Sufi, I have found this practice helpful from both a spiritual standpoint, and a practical one.
This concept of remembrance can be applied to your training, to your work, your relationships or anything that matters to you where you regularly need to reconnect with why you’re doing it and what matters most to you about it.
So often we don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s easy to forget, or just do something because that’s what everyone else does.
But your practice will not amount to greatness unless you know why you’re doing it and where you want to end up.
After you check-in, take a minute or two to remember why you’re training, why you’re practicing in the first place.
You could be doing anything, so why this?
- How does your training serve you?
- How does it make you more useful?
- How does it make you show up stronger in the world and with your purpose?
3. System warmup
We’ve prepared our spirit, heart and mind. Now we need to prepare the body.
Begin by warming up whatever you’re going to be working on for the day.
If you’re just starting out on your heroic journey, you’ll probably be doing a general full body session each day. So, you’ll want to go through light movements like:
- Neck circles
- Arm swings
- Elbow rotations
- Wrist rotations
- Hip circles
- Knee circles
- Ankle circles
Eventually when you get stronger your warmup can become more like play. You might crawl around on the ground for a few minutes, swing from a bar or tree, and do some martial arts flow as your preparation.
This warmup should last about 5-10 minutes.
4. Skill work
Refined skill work should come before work that’s more taxing on the body.
I recommend focusing on one skill at a time. What is an example of a skill?
- Handstands < hybrid (strength + skill)
- Kong vault
- Muscleup < hybrid (strength + skill)
- Rock climbing
- Rail walking
You might choose to keep your skill work (software) totally separate from the training of your body (hardware). This is easily done by doing your training in the morning, and then going to a class in the evening.
5a. Strength work
In the beginning, their might not be much difference between your strength and mobility training. Squatting or hanging for a beginner can be a very intense mobility AND strength exercise.
As you progress, the two will become more distinct. You might work on advanced mobility exercises for the squat like working to touch your forehead to the floor, and then do strength work by using a barbell or single leg squat.
5b. Paired mobility
All strength work should be paired with mobility work so you don’t become imbalanced in one area over the other.
Emphasis here should be placed on areas you’re the weakest and most immobile, especially in the beginning stages.
For most people, this means lots of thoracic extension work and hip opening mobility exercises.
5c. Active rest
After each strength and mobility exercise you’d normally have a rest period. We want to make this active rest rather than just sitting there.
You have a couple of options here:
- Why remembrance: good when you are feeling lethargic or uninspired
- Bow breath practice: good for regaining focus and presence
- Shaking: good for intense mobility work
- Grounding (think, foot stomping): good for heavy lifting
6. Play and using your gifts
After your training is done, why not play and use what you’re training for? A good way to do this is improvise with easier variations of what you’ve been working on within your session.
Take the time to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and how you will use this new capacity you’ve built to serve others.
How can your work here make you more useful? How can you turn the training you’ve done into a gift to your family, your community, your clients?
Example beginner practice session
- Begin by checking in with the opening meditation. Take a few deep, mindful breaths. Scan down the body. Feel the space around you.
- Remember why you’re doing this and what purpose your practice serves.
- Warm up by moving each joint through the full range of motion: neck, shoulders, elbow, wrists, spine, hips, knees, ankles
- Do a full body movement circuit, 30 seconds for each movement.
- Bodyweight squats
- Bear crawl
- Passive hang
- Shoulder bridge
- After you finish the circuit, 1 minute of active recovery with the bow breath and why remembrance.
- Repeat circuit 5-10 times.
- End with at least 10 minutes of play and a commitment to do one thing today to give you gifts.
Isn’t this really complicated?
This might seem complex, but once you get in the hang of it, it actually becomes really effortless and easy.
Also, having a program to follow, or a coach to guide you can make the process much easier.
Luckily for you, I’ll be doing a group coaching soon where I’ll be guiding people through this practice and the hero’s journey. You’ll also get to experience the magic of a tribe supporting you, suffering with and playing alongside you.
Toward the end of this series I’ll tell you how you can apply to be part of this small group.
What if I want more room for play?
I like to play around in both my warmup, at classes, in the park and when I’m just walking down the street.
Personally, when I’m doing my training, I’m focused on getting better and leveling up. Then I use that new capacity the next time I play.
That’s the real point of practice and training, to get better at application, whether it be playing, performing, or using it to help someone.
The purpose is to get better to be more useful and have more fun.
Don’t forget that. And don’t forget to play.
How to implement this now
I encourage you today to take at least one element of this practice and incorporate it into your training.
What do you want to get better at?
Do you need to reclaim your natural primal movement? Start with squats, hangs, lunges, and bear crawls. Do the warmup and remember why you’re practicing. End by aiming to do something with your new powers.
And if you’re really serious, I’ll be sharing with you how you can join the Hero Tribe soon.
For now, do yourself a favor and download the manifesto. All you have to do is share it with one measley button.
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It’s time to band together
Let’s start a ruckus. Let’s bring purpose, play and joy back into training.
Let’s band together and ditch the boring fitness template that sucks all the meaning and fun out of the process.
Let’s move like we mean it.
If just a few of us come together, who knows what kind of movement we can start.
I’m all in. And I’d love for you to join me.
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Share your story in the comments: What moves you to train?