lunedì 11 dicembre 2017

My Training Philosophy

The aim of my work is forging strong, thoughtful and critical individuals through a movement practice. In my philosophy, discipline, creative arts and rational science create the logical and emotional grid that guides my students’ development.
Rational Science, Creative Art

Just training?

I believe in living a life and embracing a practice and I don’t believe in the importance of training per se. I want to cultivate better people and not just better athletes.
There is a reason why in many martial arts, the practice is also referred to as “the way” and not only “the training” (Kim & Bäck, 2000). In those cultures, exploring a discipline means to fully immerse in it, understanding the underpinning principles and approaches to then make it one with every other act present in the daily living (Macfarlane, 2010).
Consequently, every experience we go through in life should add something to ourselves, otherwise it’s empty and useless.
Growth, challenge, education and constant development should be the main vectors of research in an active life. Day by day, adding something new.
Using a metaphor to describe this concept, I like looking at a person like as the rewinding action of a shuttle, that, instead of leaving shards of self behind, it builds and accumulates new pieces on board.
As a matter of fact, humans are dynamical creatures, capable of adapting, reshaping, changing (Port & Van Gelder, 1995). Doing so, they allow themselves to grow. This, stresses the importance of the process of development as well as that of the final goal (Kornspan, 2009). If somebody gets rich in a day nothing will be learned, whereas, in the process of getting rich, many entrepreneurs got wise and their personalities grew.
Given all this, training sessions should be minor mirrors of our lives, where experimentations do not lead to catastrophes but to a sequence of trial and errors we can learn from (Young, 2009).
So that, if this process is done right and sincerely checked it should allow a person to go towards living a more autonomous, healthy, deep and shared existence.
Therefore, practice becomes life and life becomes practice.

About progress

I value progress as the capacity to change. This ability derives from a transformative process that implies an adaptation. It can either be dictated by random events or conscious choices.

However, in my work, I consider logical and methodological awareness particularly relevant, giving more value to this second instance. Therefore, reshaping bodies and minds is possible by committing into a process with consistency.

When the goal is successfully achieved, self-confidence and intrinsic motivation normally undergo a boost, that makes sure the inner fire for training is kept nourished and active (Kornspan, 2009).

In my view, the basis of progress should be aimed towards unleashing all the potentials hidden inside a human’s body.

Evolutionary speaking, humans are the result of mutations that allowed them to successfully use their bodies to express possibilities, within the limitations of the environment (Salmon & Shackelford, 2007). Therefore, the structure all animals are born with, is the ultimate resource and limitation for learning, progressing and exploring.

A bird can learn how to fly due to the shape it is born with, but cannot move on four limbs, because it only has two legs.

Similarly, a man can manipulate objects with the hands, due to the large number of options fingers provided, but cannot learn how to breath underwater since it is lacking the gills.

Those biological limitations are the only boundaries I will not challenge in my researches.

Given these assumptions, it’s important to commit to this investigation with what the Zen scholars referred to as the “Empty Cup”. That is, with the least preconceptions, in order to embrace all the possibilities.

“Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” (Reps & Nyogen, 2011).

Training focus

To ensure progress, understanding, sustainability and longevity, different methodologies can be implemented and linked together. The starting point of my view is based on a deep research and exploration of the discipline of Parkour; learned from all over the world, from various masters, founders and companions. In dark roads, wild forests and urban jungles.
A big inspiration of my work surely comes from Ido Portal, founder of the community I am part of, called: “The Movement Culture”. Whereas, my knowledge and critical approach to S&C derives from my MSc studies at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, London. The rest is yet to come.
I consider each of these pieces of my development as complementary: merging to form the same part of the coin, through different transversal principles.
My investigation aims to look for non-technical approaches that allow maximal transfer between skills. I progress from families of techniques, to attributes all the way into transversal principles. To give you a brief idea of the themes I touch:

  1. Displacement in space: brachiating, jumping, landing, vaulting, locomoting to name a few. Gaining different movement solutions and possibilities is, in fact, essential to work towards more real or complicated scenarios and explore any environment.
  2. Creative paradigms: dancing with objects, rhythmical work, task oriented games, acrobatics and principles for techniques sequencing.
  3. Physical knowledge and awareness: motor intelligence, problem solving, movement taxonomy, hands/objects/body balancing, body integrity and segmentations.
  4. Physical preparedness: strength and conditioning training, mobility, hard/soft prehab and rehab techniques.
  5. Accessory work: visualization techniques, breathing patterns, recovery techniques and emotional control.

A strong, intelligent body

When it comes to training, the most important thing is to be able to set the right amount of stressors on the body, in order to produce a physical adaptation without damaging it (Dhabhar, 2014).
In fact, if the progressions and the regressions of an exercise are not chosen correctly, then no adaptation will occur; leading to stagnation in progress on the long term.
Once assessed and considered the level of the person who will enter the training, the principles of progressive overload have to be implemented (Weineck, 2004).
However, loading the body must be done with caution. In fact, strength training is not only a capacity issue but it is firstly a skill. Technique is the driving force for progression, not volume, not intensity, not frequency, nor any other training variable. Technique comes therefore before everything (Evangelista, 2011).
A few more principles I use to program trainings are derived from the main theories belonging to some notorious sport and S&C resources (Bondarchuk & Yessis, 2007; Issurin & Yessis, 2008; Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2017; Verkhoshansky & Siff, 2009):

  1. Exercise selection: I favor exercises where human beings can overload themselves the most with. Bilateral exercises, low complexity to start with to then move into more unilateral and complex motions:
    1. Bodyweight into Weighted Calisthenics.
    2. Powerlifting into olympic lifting.
    3. General capacity into sport specific.
  1. Strength spectrum: I tend to train strength in all modalities, forms and qualities. Speed and power training, maximal and supramaximal strength, elastic and ballistic strength and endurance. However, if I need to produce a specific outcome, I rely on the dynamic correspondence principles to ensure maximum retention and transfer (Verkhoshansky & Siff, 2009).
  2. Loading schemes:
a.     Beginners: Low to medium frequency. Technique based training, linear increase in volume and intensity.
b.     Intermediate: Technical refinement, medium to high frequency and undulated periodization.
c.     Advanced: High frequency, conjugated periodization, shock cycles and great care of recovery procedures.
  1. Full ranges of motion: An exercise should be trained in full range of motion, to gather the most benefits out of it. Yet, partial ROMS might be needed to target specific requirements.
  2. Assistant exercises: I insert exercises in isolation to work on the “weak links” of the kinetic chains.
  3. Variety: Exercises must be cycled and varied to avoid physical and psychological plateaus.
  4. Conditioning: it is an essential part of the game. I train it through movement, in relation with the environment. I evaluate it at the beginning and in the end of a training program with the same rigorous testing of strength training.
  5. Recovery: I add recovery techniques and transitions period to avoid chronic stress. Moreover, I use methodologies to assess the levels of fatigue present in heavier sessions.

S&C, in my view, is an activity of support considered alongside the practice itself. It is also time and energy consuming and it should bring results compared to the effort.
If a goal is set, it must be reached. If a goal is not reached, it’s the teachers duty to underpin the problems that occurred: either they are program-related or motivational-based.
However, this has not to be perceived as a passive learning mechanism: the student must be active throughout the process, by questioning the material received and challenging it (Kornspan, 2009).
Injury prevention and correct rehabilitation are fundamental component of this game, since longevity has no price.

The teacher-student complex: receiving and giving

The teacher needs to be an example, a leader, a guide and the first to try out new experiments. He should always be on the field practicing, perfecting the old material and developing new concepts. Everything he proposes to the students must have been tried before. If not, it should be openly declared. The material presented through classes, workshops and personal coaching must be diluted and translated into different teaching styles, so that it can be better absorbed and understood (Mosston & Ashworth, 2002). Moreover, coaching should be brought along in such a way it can operate in harmony with the students.
Those, must embrace a strong training ethics, reject laziness at all costs, and trust the teachers’ choices. However, once digested, the material received must always be challenged and refined.
The practice must be deliberate and personal. No external stimuli should be stronger than the need for personal improvement.
Each student should oversee its own role and development: it should be their wish to join every class; to refine their flaws; to ask meaningful questions and to set their personal long term goals. Moreover respect should be payed to people of all ages, training partners, communities and spaces.
To conclude, here are some reminders in a nutshell: trust your teacher, believe in yourself, dream big and be ready to change.
Bompa, T., & Buzzichelli, C. (2017). Periodizzazione dell'allenamento sportivo. Calzetti Mariucci; 2 ed.
Bondarchuk, A., & Yessis, M. (2007). Transfer of training in sports. Michigan: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
Dhabhar, F. (2014). Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunologic Research, 58(2-3), 193-210.
Evangelista, P. (2011). DCSS: Power mechanics for powerlifters. Figline Valdarno (Fi): S. Ciccarelli.
Issurin, V., & Yessis, M. (2008). Block periodization: Breakthrough in Sports Training. Michigan: Ultimate athlete concepts.
Kim, T., & Bäck, A. (2000). The way to go. Seoul, Korea: Nanam Pub. House.
Kornspan, A. (2009). Fundamentals of sport and exercise psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Macfarlane, A. (2010). Enigmatico Giappone. Torino: EDT.
Mosston, M., & Ashworth, S. (2002). Teaching physical education. San Francisco [etc.]: Benjamin Cummungs.
Port, R., & Van Gelder, T. (1995). Mind As Motion: Explorations in the Dynamics of Cognition. MIT Press.
Reps, P., & Nyogen, S. (2011). Zen flesh, Zen bones. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.
Salmon, C., & Shackelford, T. (2007). Family relationships. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraining. Rome, Italy.
Young, H. (2009). Learning by trial and error. Games And Economic Behavior, 65(2), 626-643.
Weineck, J. (2004). Optimales Training. Balingen: Spitta-Verl.

sabato 25 novembre 2017

The art of parkour - a small story

My grandmother makes the best dishes and when I ask for the recipe, it is no secret, she gives it to me with a big smile. Then I go home, ready, with all the ingredients and a laser focus. I cook with extreme care, I taste: it’s completely different. I call my grandmother:

M: “Oh granma, did you give me the right ingredients”
G: “Of course I did, this is the way you do it”.
M “Are you sure I am not missing something?
G: “Sure, sure!”

End of day one with a failure.

The next day I try again, it tastes different. I try again, different. I go to her, I see her do the exact same things, it tastes better and she is improving each time. How frustrating!
I have been wondering many times if she had been hiding from me some secret ingredient, but even if I spied on her I was able to pick up nothing different. However, paying more attention it is possible to notice some details: she cuts in a specific way, she cares about cleaning the space, she stirs in a way but not in another, she knows exactly how much fire each stage of the cooking needs, she even looks at the food in a different way than I do it. And all this that looks done by absolute chance it is instead a process of refinement that has going on for a lifetime.
If you ask her why she stirs counterclockwise instead of clockwise she will say, nah that’s the way to do it.

So, the moral of the story is: she really uses my same ingredients, but it’s a lifetime she does the recipe. That is IT.

Next time you meet an expert in a field, don’t ask for her/his knowledge; just observe closely, go home and practice. No answers from the outside can ever replace the ones we grow from the inside.

Have you ever watched the movie – “Jiro dreams of sushi?” It pretty well sums up the perspective I have among the practice of parkour. Here you have a trailer.

This process of ever refining can be liked or not but I find a lot of beauty in it. Especially, when mixed to a silent minimalism. As a food critique said about the work of Jiro: “an absolute simplicity, leads to purity”. And then continues, “The sushi keeps getting better and better, he never disappointed me, it is almost a miracle. But you know the only thing that changed in his life from 20 years ago to now? He stopped smoking, the rest, it’s all the same.”

The key of a practice it is getting to a point where practicing it is not a practice anymore, but it is instead merged to our beings. In essence, becoming one with what we do. Behind this there is nothing but doing it deliberately and with enthusiasm, passion and commitment, the same gestures, in the same life.

It was a landing when I started and it is a landing now, but it is not the same landing.