Evolution

A look back at the iterations on this movement project, via design.

I began writing for myself with my first blog, in 2010. It was utterly nerdy and about the game EVE Online. I never enjoyed writing for assignments, but blogging was fun and some of my writing was, to my surprise, being shared around in that small community. Not long after that, with my growing interest in Parkour, ‘natural movement’, and the ancestral health or ‘paleo’ ideas I started another blog, Primal Ninja. PN was still a personal blog, and at the time I didn’t have well formed opinions about anything in health and fitness. Well, that’s half right, I didn’t have opinions of my own, based upon experience. I knew a lot from reading (a useful first step) but knowledge without experience is still a form of ignorance.

Fast forward to 2012. I finished a degree in Exercise & Sport Science, had been teaching Parkour with my friend Colin for over a year, and was among the first MovNat certified trainers. By then I felt I had enough experience to strike out on my own, and Europe had been calling me for years already. Prime8 Movement was born to change the blog from a hobby to a professional pursuit as I applied for a business visa to Belgium. At the time I was entrenched in MovNat’s ideas and focused on ‘natural movement’, superseding Parkour (despite practicing Parkour more). To be fair I did that partly knowing that traceurs (and traceuses), as a group, didn’t need my help-they already had that precious intrinsic motivation to practice in them. That joy in movement is what I wanted to spread, and I thought the best method was to emphasize the benefits of practical and efficient movement.

After eight months waiting in silence on the visa I finally received an email during my month-long stay in Boulder from the consulate in Atlanta; they wanted me to fly there and sign something…except after I emailed them it turns out that I was supposed to fly over just to sign my rejection letter. Hah, right. That sucked, but was also liberating. By then my ideas had evolved away from that business idea and I was still doing what I wanted, traveling in Europe (I was headed to Iceland in under a month) regardless of their decision.

All the traveling during 2012 and 2013 gave me perspective and the space away from my previous norm to form my own theories, now based on my own experiences, about life and movement. The first was that Parkour and ‘natural movement’ in practice were nearly the same thing, but Parkour was the better understood art with more freedom of interpretation (I could rant here about MovNat’s recent to trademarking ‘natural movement’ but that’s not productive). Second was the gradual dissolution of my belief that practical and efficient movement was the most important thing. Creative experimentation with movement and self-expressive movement (dance and otherwise) was what sustained me during the toughest months and kept my positive mood intact.

Play was the concept I latched onto, and Play Everywhere was born from an idea for a little book I had come up with (still more in my head than on paper, unfortunately). Play everywhere was a return to Parkour and comes from my growing recognition my Parkour practice had shifted long ago from working to be the best escape artist towards more of an exploration of space through movement. Creativity and whether the route was interesting mattered more to me than the strictly most efficient path. I still don’t do flips (could change) but everything else has been fair game since that shift.

Still, something was missing from the idea. As a society we tend to associate play with frivolity and faffing about, nothing serious about it at all. What I mean by play is goal-free exploration. Ido Portal made a point about play which I’ve been grudgingly, and gradually, accepting: prioritize improvisation over play. Improvisation encompasses play, but also goes beyond it. Most importantly for me improv has higher odds of triggering the state which I’ve chased ever since I got my first taste of it, the state of flow (an alternative name for Prime8 was Prime8 Flow). Flow shows up when you’re challenged and exposed to risk doing something you’ve gained a degree of mastery at. Reaching flow requires being uncomfortable and it’s hard to reconcile play with flow because of it. So my search for a better expression of my ideas continued.

As I returned from a rambling walk in the forest a few months ago a name popped into my head. Renaissance Ninja. I jotted it down in my moleskine and in the span of little more than a month the name has evolved from a somewhat silly title to a grand idea that I can’t shake. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my travels and experiences so far is that everything is connected, and this is doubly true about movement. Study any two arts and, if you’re looking, you’ll find common threads. Systems don’t matter, as Bruce Lee says “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” We can do that with fighting skills, so why not harness the same for the purposes of creativity and exploration? For most of us the reality of the modern world doesn’t include regular a regular struggle for survival. Aside from preparing for the zombie apocalypse acquiring practical skills to survive in dark times isn’t a pressing motivation. I do believe in the value of fighting skills and practical movement skills that make day-to-day life easier, but my interest always returns to creativity, improvisation, and movement as self-expression. Even when I’m not being creative with movement creatively crafting the context. Zombies, mafioso easter bunnies, velociraptors or some good ol’ fashioned lava. Movement is best when it’s treated as a game to master.

Looking back at the idea of adopting personas”), I used to think about being Batman, but now it’s about being a Renaissance Ninja.

Update: Hah, so after months of thinking about the idea, writing about it, and then asking people their opinions and synthesizing all of this, turns out Play Everywhere is still the most resonant name for this vision of movement as a game. Renaissance Ninja is an idea I love, but I’ve come to realize it represents an ideal I hold for myself. Movement is an integral part of life, but it’s not the only one and I intend to master other arts as well. If nothing else it keeps life interesting.

For inspiration, here’s Miyamoto Musashi on the need for balance: > “It is said the warrior’s is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way”.

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