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How Humans Play


From Natural Athletics comes a wonderfully descriptive post from Rafe Kelley regarding a recent training day of “parkour” or “natural movement” (a la MovNat or Methode Naturelle), which I think is simply human play. Sit back, read a snippet, and if you want it in full, go to Rafe’s site:

The weather is beautiful, so we decide to make the trip down to Larrabee State Park, an amazing area of beautiful old forests and a rocky beach with formations of Chuckanut sandstone carved into fantastic shapes for climbing by wind and rain. …

[So] we simply go, running along fallen logs, vaulting rails along the trail. Then, deeper into the woods, running downslope, leaping up and over a fallen tree and taking a large gap across a creek–too much fun; had to do it twice, taking the even bigger thirteen foot or so gap on the way back, this one over a waterfall. Downslope again, slipping sliding to the lower creek bed, two step tic tac off a fallen log across the stream and continue on upslope, which ends with a chest high rock–vault on top, keep running. Upslope again, boulders strewn across, pull on them to gain leverage, a vault here, a jump there, finish the slope, wait for Dane to catch up. More slope ahead, dirt trail, fallen logs, boulders; perfect.

Time for a race, a no holds barred race, inspired by Teghead–a traceur from the UK. We’re off, both go for the pull on the arms, hands in the face, spinning–Dane’s getting in front, I dive for his leg, pull him around, clinched up almost falling down slope, I have to avoid the log, break, he’s spinning–shove–I am in the clear, put that rock between him and me, almost there–aha, top of the slope. So fun, but so tiring.

We catch our breath, looking out down the beach. There is a point sticking out 800 yards away as a crow flies, maybe a mile overland, rocky beach the whole way. Is our training only for sprints I ask myself? This what I have needed to do, a real run. “Lets go here to there,” I say, “No stops.” We’re off, moving smooth at first, scrambling over the rocks, hugging faces, ocean inches away. Quick traverses, spinning around obstacles, up and through holes in the rock, vaulting up to boulders, balancing on driftwood, a quarter of the way…Tired. Dane passes me, he isn’t slowing down. Quads burning, no more power moves, I’m struggling just to run. Watching my feet, gotta keep running, but have to stay safe, every foot placement has to be secure, 100% focus. Dane is out of sight. I round the bend; he is climbing the last face, the last cove is between me and him, just small rocks and then the end. I want to slow to a walk so bad–doesn’t matter, have to finish–watching every foot placement, every foot placement, slippery rocks in the stream, can they be trusted, jump, jump, I guess so. We are almost done, roots hanging from the slope, traverse and ascend, I pull myself over the final lip. There’s Dane looking out at the water. I lay down. He wins this round.

We’re moving on, tide going out. Sandy beach now. We find some rocks–big rocks–the biggest one we can move. It looks like a shark head, maybe some 200 pounds. Full squat, bear hug, lift and carry. Dane’s turn; it doesn’t come off the ground–a point for me. We find some rocks, throw them, press them, carry them. Dane finds a big one, clean and press. Damn, that looks heavy. My turn. I press, get stuck in the middle, can’t finish; bring it back down, split jerk, full overhead, unstable, bail out from under it.

Onwards, almost to the end. We come to a big sloped wall. Amazing horizontal wall run; my feet slip when I try to hug it too close. Next time, even though I know this, am telling myself ‘Lean out, lean out.’ It’s damn scary, but it works. Every foot placement is solid and I’m running. High drop to the ledge after the wall run is awesome. Dane is climbing. Climb up 70 feet off the ground. We look out. So beautiful: San Juan island in the west, tip of the snow-capped Cascades in the south. Finally, we make it to Clayton Beach for big kongs over a massive rock into the sand to finish the day, climb up the last rock and watch the sunset.

I’ll be sore for a week.

Thanks, Rafe! Inspiring.

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Video of Old Stunt Man (Not Georges Hebert)

Here is a short video of a stunt man that is being billed as a video of Georges Hebert, the French navy man who founded Methode Naturelle back in the early 20th century and originated parkour* (Perhaps Hebert was the original traceur). It’s a cool video, even though it’s not Hebert. The stunt man bounds up trees, walls, pipes, and makes any number of insane leaps into bodies of water.

There are two “tells” that this isn’t Hebert. The first is that the motto of Methode Naturelle was:

“Être fort pour être utile”–“Being strong to be useful.”

Carrying a kid up a parallel wall to show off — nifty, impressive, dangerous, but not really useful!

The second tell was really that I got told or tipped off by Erwan that this isn’t Hebert, and it really should have been obvious. In Erwan’s words:

I’ve noticed your link to the so-called Methode Naturelle founder. This is not AT ALL Georges Hebert, this is an old footage I think of a movie called Gizmo.

Hebert was born in 1875 and got badly injured (his right arm paralyzed) in 1914. There’s no video footage of him! The guy is a stuntman, pretty talented (the tree climbing is nice, but obviously sped up though). In any case, not Hebert, but a cool illustration of the practical side of natural movement, even though the kid carrying is I think not very smart, great skill, but if the guy had fell, the boy could have died just to show off…

Glad he told me even though I feel like a horse’s pa toot for being gullible enough to think it was Hebert (From my original post). Alas, still a neat video, and you gotta love the goofy old-time music:


H/T CF by Imperium

*Though you could argue that parkour originated with our innate nature as human beings who had to be strong to be useful.

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Day in the Life of a Hunter-Gatherer…7GZycC&pg=PA180

I have not read much of Loren Cordain’s works, but I stumbled upon a passage from Rafe Kelley’s Natural Athletics blog (here) that appears to be quoted from Chapter 10 of Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet for Athletics, which just landed a place on my ever-growing Amazon wish list.

The passage is quoted below, as quoted from Google Books and Kelley. It’s a fascinating insight to how some hunter-gatherers still forage for food in modern times. The bit about anthropologist Kim Hill’s experiences ducking beneath vines and branches all day reminds me of a sequence in Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat video (ELC MovNat links here) where Le Corre dashes through the woods weaving a path through the underbrush.

What I wonder (And expect a full-scale blog post on this soon) is how we can find a balance between our extremely specialized modern existence when foraging for food means driving to Kroger and hunting is playing corporate politics and pushing for a raise and our undeniable biological programming that expects us to be active, problem-solving generalists. As far as diet goes, it’s simple enough to suggest exercise should involve cross-training and wide variability. But what about fitness? A one-hour workout session makes for a nice compartmentalized way to look and feel in shape, but it makes exercise an end in and of itself rather than a means to secure our continued existence.

I don’t want to run eight hours a day, mind you: I just want to find a better, more fulfilling balance.

Chapter 10 — The Paleolithic Athlete: The Original Cross-Trainer

Ten thousand years sounds like a long, long time ago. but if you think about it in terms of how logn the human genus (Homo) has existed (2.5 million years), 10,000 years is a mere blink of the eye on an evolutionary time scale. Somewhere in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago, a tiny band of people threw in the towel and abandoned their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. These early renegades became the very first farmers. They forsook a mode of life that had sustained each and every individual within the human genus for the previous 100,000 generations. In contrast only a paltry 400 human generations have come and gone since the first seeds of agriculture were sown. what started off as a renegade way of making a living became a revolution that would guarantee the complete and absolute eradication of every remaining hunter-gatherer on the planet. At the dawn of the 21st century, we are at the bitter end. Except for perhaps a half dozen uncontacted tribes in South America and a few others on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, pure hunter-gatherers have vanished from the face of the earth. . . .

Very few modern people have ever experienced what it is like to “run with the hunt.” One of the notable exceptions is Kim Hill, PhD, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico who has spent the last 30 years living with and studying the Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguay and the Hiwi foragers of southwestern Venezuela. his description of these amazing hunts represents a rare glimpse into the activity patterns that would have been required of us all, were it not for the Agricultural Revolution.

“The Ache hunted every day of the year if it didn’t rain…GPS data I collected … suggests that about 10 km per day is probably closer to their average distance covered during search. They might cover another 1-2 km per day in very rapid pursuit. Sometimes pursuits can be extremely strenuous and last more than an hour. Ache hunters often take an easy day after any particularly difficult day, and rainfall forces them to take a day or two a week with only an hour or two of exercise. Basically they do moderate days most of the time, and sometimes really hard days usually followed by a very easy day. The difficulty of the terrain is really what killed me (ducking under low branches and vines about once every 20 seconds all day long, and climbing over fallen trees, moving through tangled thorns etc.) I was often drenched in sweat within an hour of leaving camp, and usually didn’t return for 7-9 hours wi th not more than 30 minutes rest during the day.”

“The Hiwi on the other hand only hunted about 2-3 days a week and often told me they wouldn’t go out on a particular day because they were ‘tired’. They would stay home and work on tools, etc. Their travel was not as strenuous as among the Ache (they often canoed to the hunt site), and their pursuits were usually shorter. But the Hiwi sometimes did amazing long distance walks that would have really hurt the Ache. They would walk to visit another village maybe 80-100 km away and then stay for only an hour or two before returning. This often included walking all night long as well as during the day. When I hunted with Machiguenga, Yora, Yanomamo Indians in the 1980s, my focal man days were much, much easier than with the Ache. And virtually all these groups take an easy day after a particularly difficult one.”

“While hunter gatherers are generally in good physical condition if they haven’t yet been exposed to modern diseases and diets that come soon after permanent outside contact, I would not want to exaggerate their abilities. They are what you would expect if you took a genetic cross section of humans and put them in lifetime physical training at moderate to hard levels. Most hunting is search time not pursuit, thus a good deal of aerobic long distance travel is often involved (over rough terrain and carrying loads if the hunt is successful). I used to train for marathons as a grad student and could run at a 6:00 per mile pace for 10 miles, but the Ache would run me into the ground following peccary tracks through dense bush for a couple of hours. I did the 100 yd in 10.2 in high school (I was a fast pass catcher on my football team), and some Ache men can sprint as fast as me.”

“But hunter-gatherers do not generally compare to world class athletes, who are probably genetically very gifted and then undergo even more rigorous and specialized training than any forager. So the bottom lines is foragers are often in good shape and they look it. They sprint, jog, climb, carry, jump, etc all day long but are not specialists and do not compare to Olympic athletes in modern societies.”

The blockquoted material within the blockquote is from Rafe Kelley’s Natural Athletics.

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More Insight on Erwan Le Corre and the Methode Naturalle


For all things Erwan Le Corre, MovNat, Methode Naturelle, Georges Hebert that I’ve been tracking, be sure to see this Link Repository

Searching around for more information on Erwan Le Corre, Georges Hebert, the Methode Naturale, MovNat, and parkour led me to extensive and informative post by Rafe Kelley written in August of 2007. Rafe trained with Erwan Le Corre in France and has a background in many athletic endeavors including CrossFit and parkour.

Kelley’s experience in CrossFit is of interest to me because CrossFit is often billed as a generalist fitness regiment. However, my four month CrossFit stint was enough to tell me that, as much as CrossFit may be better than any number of other training styles, it still misses the mark as far as a wholistic, generalist training regiment. Perhaps what bothers me most about CrossFit is the combination of a handed-down-on-high workout routine (centralized, highly structured model) with an ostensibly generalist slant to training. In other words, there’s a dogmatism and borg-like quality to CrossFit which is a huge put off to me. I’d be incredibly curious to know if there are serious athletes who aren’t in some way vested in the CrossFit infrastructure who have converted entirely to CrossFit. It just seems to rigid and one-size-fits-all to me. Sure, one-size may fit most, but I wonder if the rigidity of CrossFit is more about converting the masses and expanding the franchise. Just feels like something got lost in the mass expansion.

Excuse the tangent. The meat of his post is Rafe Kelley’s, which I am heavily quoting below:

This is the post I intended to open this blog with a statement about what I know about the Methode Naturelle as my training in Methode Naturelle is going to be the focus of this blog. Up until this spring my primary training focus had been parkour dating back to march of 2005, before that it was gymnastics though with substantially less dedication, and before that it was basketball and before that martial arts. I am now at the point that I can say that the Methode Naturelle has superseded parkour in my training as parkour superseded gymnastics, for me it is more primal more vital more complete like when I started training parkour I have the feeling of how in the world did I miss this before. Why didn’t I ever follow through on my desire to mix parkour training and self defense and why did I yearn for barbells, kettlebells etc when I had so many rocks and logs available to me, what possessed me to waste beautiful sunny days inside training crossfit?

So I am at the point were wish to dedicate my training to the Methode Naturelle and I wish to also help other people follow the same or a similar path. The complication though is that my understanding of the Methode Naturelle is still very incomplete I hesitate to call my training Methode Naturelle, I think of it rather as Methode Naturelle inspired. Imagine for instance you wanted dedicate your life to Muay Thai training but had only had a four-day seminar on it to base your training on. I do think that the Methode Naturelle is bit easier to explore on your own, the principles are relatively simple though the degree of depth possible is seemingly limitless. So the purpose of this post is to explore what I do infact now about the Methode Naturelle. …

The idea of training to have the essential capacities of our hunter forager ancestors had appealed to me ever since I started parkour. It was my goal to eventually open a school teaching what I saw as the original warrior arts. …

The aim of the Methode Naturelle is to develop a complete and healthy human being physically, mentally and morally through the training of the vital natural capacities of the human species that were necessary for our survival as hunter foragers. … The motto of the Methode Naturelle is etre forte pour etre utile meaning be strong to be useful. The training of the Methode Naturelle is not to reach an aesthetic goal or to win an athletic competition it is to prepare the individual to be a strong useful person capable of helping him or herself and the others around them in wide variety of situations.

The vital movement capacities of the Methode Naturelle are to walk, run, jump, climb, quadruped, balance, swim, lift, carry, throw and defend.

A Methode Naturelle training session should be between 20 and 60 minutes and include as many of the natural capacities as possible (generally). The ideal conditions for Methode Naturelle training are in a natural environment with as much of the body exposed to the elements as possible while maintaining modesty. Which is not to say you cannot train the Methode Naturelle in the city or a gym or with shoes on only that this training is not the ideal.

Training should be daily or close to it.

A Methode Naturelle session maybe natural or methodically which is to say one might simple start moving through there environment looking for ways to practice all of the natural capacities for a given time period or one might instead plan out specific route hitting specific capacities or even build a specific course to train each capacity. The obstacle courses seen throughout the world in military training are derived from this last method.

Training each of the ten capacities alone is not sufficient one must be able to chain them together. That is to train one capacity directly after the training of another capacity so that there is no rest between them. so the body is forced to learn to adapt to moving easily between different capacities. This can be very challenging; each capacity has specific physiological demands, which must shift when moving to a different capacity. Furthermore one should be able to mix capacities to be able to run, swim and balance while carrying for instance, or defend yourself while balancing, or swimming, or while climbing this of course adds yet another layer of challenge.

The Methode Naturelle aims to develop a generalized physical capacity not specializations. That is to say to it is the belief of the Methode Naturelle that the athlete who is able to run fast, but also far, to lift very heavy weights but also to climb, to defend himself but also to swim is more useful then the athlete who is peerless at any one of these activities but incompetent or even just less competent at the others. The Methode Naturelle is expressly non competitive because competitive sport is seen as not useful, friendly games are fine but the expression of excess that is modern sport is contrary to the goal of usefulness both in the aim to win at all costs and in the requirement for excessive specialization. The Methode Naturelle athlete, will never run with speed of the sprinter nor the endurance of the marathoner, he or she will never develop the upper body strength of the gymnast or the fighting mastery of the martial artist, he chooses instead, to be as good as he or she can at all of these things and more because he or she never knows what capacity will be called on, for him or her to be useful. According to the Methode Naturelle the generalist is the most useful athlete.

It seems to me very easy to adapt the Methode Naturelle towards developing specific attributes. I am not sure how Hebert approached this, however Erwan talked about seeking to always train the areas were you are weakest. I think this applies both to a specific capacity and also the duration, volume intensity of the training, so one might need to work on their overall running capacity or might specifically need more endurance, or more speed. This can be adjusted by including shorter or longer periods of relative rest (walking, balancing etc) the key is not to stop moving or rest completely. A Methode Naturelle session composed of lots of relative rest, and many short high intensity movements will develop strength, speed, and power, one were the pace is relatively constant and as hard as possible for the given session will develop cardio respiratory endurance, and stamina. My impression is that the later style of training is considered the more basic and important. The amount of relative rest and intensity of work is just one of the many ways in which you can vary your stimuli to develop a broad overall capacity. For instance perhaps one is very strong but lacking in accuracy and wishes to work on the throwing capacity, for this individual finding the heaviest rock he or she could and throwing it would be much less beneficial then finding rock that was much lighter and casting it at a challenging target. In the Methode Naturelle one should always adapt ones training in such a way as to strengthen your weaknesses.

One of the things Erwan often said about the Methode Naturelle was it was not a conditioning program like Crossfit, or RKC or similar functional fitness programs. The Methode Naturelle is an entire method for the development of the human animal. In modern athletics we often dichotomize practice vs. conditioning, one develops technique the other develops physical attributes. This dichotomy is false though, doing precision jumps will develop strength, power, and stamina for jumping as well as correct technique, while doing dead lifts or squats will not only increase the strength of the legs but also will develop a specific lifting skill. I believe this dichotomy arises because of specialization, for instance sprinting is to specific a physical capacity to develop the entire ability of the human being so in order to be the best sprinter one must also lift, and jump and do various other drills but when one trains for a complete physical adaptation the distinction between skill and condition disappears almost completely, when your goal is simply an overall adaptation does it matter if your ability to climb is more due to finger strength or more due to correct technique? If one continues to train correctly both skill and condition should advance together.

… What I have seen consistently though is that the athlete with a highly developed overall physical capacity will need very little time to learn the skill of the athlete who focuses on technique. Traceurs often seem obsessed with developing the saut du chat technique for instance and there are constantly questions on how to do it. I train gymnasts though and they will do this technique very well with absolutely no training at all simply when given an obstacle to overcome were this is an appropriate technique. In short fundamental training proceeds technical training in importance.

Related Link on Human Nature and our Hunter-Gatherer, Non-Specialist Evolutionary Roots

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MensHealth covers Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat…1eac____&page=0

For all things Erwan Le Corre, MovNat, Methode Naturelle, Georges Hebert that I’ve been tracking, be sure to see this Link Repository

Richard first introduced me to MovNat in his post titled We live in a Zoo. Here’s the MovNat website. And be sure to watch the video here: YouTube – click “HD.”

What is MovNat? From the website:

We live in a zoo.

The “zoo” is a modern, global and growing phenomenon generated by the powerful combination of social conventions, technological environment and commercial pressures. Increasingly disconnected from the natural world and their true nature, zoo humans are suffering physically, mentally and spiritually.

Are you experiencing chronic pains, are you overweight, do you often feel depressed or do you suffer from frequent illnesses and general lack of vitality?

These symptoms indicate that you are experiencing the zoo human syndrome. Modern society conditions us to think that this is normal and unavoidable.

We don’t think so. Our true nature is to be strong, healthy, happy and free.

Beyond all of that source material, there is a great article on Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat in MensHealth (H/T again to Richard). It is well worth the read — follow the link above and click on the print icon to get it all on one page.

Some quotes:

“I meet men all the time who can bench 400 pounds but can’t climb up through a window to pull someone from a burning building,” Le Corre says. “I know guys who can run marathons but can’t sprint to anyone’s rescue unless they put their shoes on first. Lots of swimmers do laps every day but can’t dive deep enough to save a friend, or know how to carry him over rocks and out of the surf.” . . .

“Being fit isn’t about being able to lift a steel bar or finish an Ironman,” Le Corre says, watching with satisfaction as Zuqueto finally makes it onto the pole and pumps a fist in the air like he’s won his third world championship. “It’s about rediscovering our biological nature and releasing the wild human animal inside.” . . .

Hebert [A French Navyman who created the predecessor to MovNat, Methode Naturelle] was celebrated as a hero, but he couldn’t help focusing on all of those who’d been lost. When he returned home to France, he looked around and was dismayed to see how many of his country-people reminded him of the victims he’d watched die in Saint-Pierre. How many of these Parisians, he wondered, would be able to carry a child on their backs? Or trust themselves to leap over a 3-foot gap? Or take an elbow to the face but manage to keep their balance and continue running for their lives?

The modern world, Hebert believed, was producing hollow men who focused on appearance and forgot about function. At the same time, they stopped exercising with the wildness of kids and instead insulated themselves from risk. The cost, he felt, was far more destructive than they might think. . . .

“This guy is really onto something,” says Lee Saxby, P.T., a London-based physical therapist and the technical director of Wildfitness, an exercise program built around an evolutionary model of human performance. For years, Saxby had been teaching his clients that the key to overall health is a workout system that mimics the diversity of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. When Saxby stumbled across a YouTube video of Le Corre (, he’d found Exhibit A in the flesh.

“What impresses me most about that video is Le Corre’s athleticism,” Saxby says. “It drives me crazy that men think being in shape means being big. But the best athletes don’t look like bodybuilders. They’re lean and quick and mobile. Le Corre demonstrates real functional fitness — the opposite of what they teach you in the gym.” . . .

You won’t have a spotter to ease the bar off your chest, no volunteer handing you water at the 20-mile mark. A group dynamic may be our natural impulse, but in a pinch, count on being alone. The only thing you can rely on is the ingenuity programmed into your system by 2 million years of hope and fear. . . .

“Ah, you learned my secret!” Le Corre calls from down below. “The best secret of all — your body always has another trick up its sleeve.”

Related Link on Human Nature and our Hunter-Gatherer, Non-Specialist Evolutionary Roots