Conditioning Research had a fantastic interview with MovNat’s creator Erwan Le Corre, who has recently been in the fitness and health limelight thanks to an article in Mens Health. In this interview Le Corre comes off as more a philosopher than a modern-day Tarzan. Le Corre’s philosophy drives not so much at being able to speed through a jungle but as to our biological, evolutionarily-endowed “true nature,” which he sums up simply as: “to be strong, healthy, happy and free.”
So much of what Le Corre speaks about resonates within me that I need to dedicate my thoughts to their own post. For now, I’m going to link down heavily from the interview because it is excellent and worth further review, particularly since there is an obvious scarcity of material on Erwan Le Corre, Georges Hebert (Methode Naturalle), and MovNat.
Just two last notes. I find it oddly refreshing that Le Corre’s MovNat philosophy essentially skips on including bromides about morality. Why does reversion to nature need to bring with it a clearcut moral code anyway? Does our DNA (life) know any morality other than survival? Perhaps understanding the morality that flows from nature is less a matter of reflection and prescription as it is a matter of practice and action first. I don’t know.
The zoo analogy is fantastic. It is incredibly evocative of The Matrix and is much more palatable than “human domestication,” which is what we’re really talking about. Fitness should be about function. It should be playful and fun or productive hard work — both of these purposes are both means and ends, an ideal marriage. I can’t help but read Le Corre’s words and think about gyms as the wheels on which hamsters run. Is the fact that we all willingly enter such droll rigidity a testament to the state of our minds? Our lives?
1 Who is Erwan Le Corre? Can you give us some idea of your background in sports / fitness …
I practiced a training and philosophy called “Combat Vital” for 7 years in Paris, which had many similarities with the Methode Naturelle. That’s when I started training barefoot. We would train most of the time at night so as not to be seen, climbing bridges, balancing on the top of scaffoldings, kicking walls to toughen our bare feet, moving on all fours, swimming in the river even in the freezing cold of the winter…some kind of “Fight Club” of natural movement if you will! They are unbelievable memories: quite a conventional-wisdom-defying kind of philosophy and practice. …
2 How did this background bring you to your current philosophy and approach to exercise? …
The more I was thought about [Methode Naturalle], the more I thought that while the core of the 100 years old method was excellent, an update of the pedagogy and methodology of Methode Naturelle was needed; it also became clearer that my personal approach couldn’t and wouldn’t avoid addressing the zoo human predicament and the many issues modern humans have to deal with regarding their body and mind’s health and quality of life. …
So despite the core practice being natural movement skills, MovNat is not only an approach of exercise but also a more holistic education system. Not a guideline, certainly not a set of morals, but both an experiential and conceptual knowledge: an array of solutions and alternatives people can learn and apply to an extent that is entirely up to them.
3 Your website talks about us being “zoo humans” – far from our natural habitat and lifestyle. How do we start to escape from the zoo – what might be the first steps in this approach?
The first step is a change of perception. It is becoming aware of this predicament, because you can never change something you deny or for which you take no personal responsibility. Understanding what our true nature is from a biological and evolutionary perspective and understanding the workings of the zoo is the first step.
The zoo is not just an environment, it is a phenomenon, a process, which is designed to keep you a captive of both external and internal cages. It is something that conditions many of your behaviours: clearly it is to me a domestication system, no less. The zoo impairs our ability to experience our true nature which is to be strong, healthy, happy and free.
We’re not born to be weak, sick, depressed and enslaved and, more than that, we should never accept this becoming the norm or a “fatality” (our fate). So the first step is a reaction and a form of resistance, it is a life-affirming reawakening. Once your perception is changed and that which is commonly regarded as “normal” is not acceptable to you anymore, it is time to look for rational alternatives, to find ways to apply them in order improve your own experience of life.
It requires critical thinking, knowledge, time, commitment and – depending on individuals – a tremendous courage.
So first step? I would say that being ready to defy conventional wisdom is a fundamental start.
4 “Evolutionary Fitness” has gained some popularity recently, but somehow the prescription often leads us back into the gym, lifting weights, using machines or sprinting to fixed intervals. This seems a long way from nature. Should we abandon the gym and go to the playground? …
So it is not the gym per se that is a problem to me, but what you’re going to perform in a gym. Bringing a leg extension machine into the woods won’t make your training more natural, but crawl on the floor of a gym and there you’ll start to unleash your inner animal. Ideally of course, you want to be in touch with nature, breath good air, expose your skin to natural light, capture the energies of the vegetation around, well, spend as much time outdoors as you can. Thing is, it would be really difficult to recreate natural conditions in a gym, such as mud, wet surfaces, unpredictable dangers etc…which are also essential parameters that require specific adaptation.
That’s the difference between capability and adaptability. The more your movement skills are adaptive, the more you’ll expand your comfort zone in dealing with a variety of real-world circumstances. So the more varied is the environment where you train, the more you’ll increase your movement adaptability. …
I see this split coming: a so-called “upstream” but in fact downstream, super zoo approach of fitness going on on the one hand, then the come back of an upstream, though so far too often seen as backward, wilder and healthier fitness orientation on the second hand, that will produce new generations of amazing natural athletes or if you will of strong, healthy, happy and free individuals. No doubt. To me, the revolutionary is now in the evolutionary. …
5 I’ve seen your ideas presented as an updating of the “Methode Naturelle” of Georges Hébert. From what I’ve read, his philosophy is holistic – much broader than exercise. Can you indicate some of the wider consequences of the motto – – Être fort pour être utile”–“Being strong to be useful.” …
Methode Naturelle was not only a physical but a moral education based on altruism, hence the motto “to be strong to be useful”. But I personally have a problem with morals or ethics when it comes to deciding what is good or what is not good for me, what is done and what’s not, what I should do or what society expects me to do or would like to impose to me as some form of duty.
After all, a tool is useful, a cog in the machine is useful right? I accept no institutional duty. Free will is the most precious thing in my eyes. If I choose to be helpful to others, which I in fact often do because I tend to like others, it is because I decide so and not because I have to. The problem is, many people often think of altruism as sacrificing oneself or one’s resources unconditionally for others, even for those that are total strangers to you or even if it’s going to be seriously detrimental to yourself. I prefer to impose no moral code in MovNat and leave it up to each individual to decide for themselves what is best when it comes to investing their energy or risking their physical integrity for others, because each situation is different. MovNat training will greatly increase your preparedness so that, in time of need, you have the ability to respond efficiently to practical challenges. Now if your goal is to save lives it’s best to consider becoming a firefighter for instance. These guys save lots of lives!
MovNat stands for a different motto which is “Explore your true nature”. First, people undergoing the zoo syndrome shouldn’t think of helping others first but make sure they’re recovering their own strength and vitality before anything. They want to rehabilitate themselves and get stronger and healthier before anything and this should be their absolute priority. They need a training and education that is liberating and empowering.
Again, I am convinced that our true nature is not only to be strong but also healthy, happy and free. If you become such an individual, then there’s many ways you can help others, if such is your intention. It’s entirely up to you. …
6 What implications does your particular philosophy have in terms of diet? Sleep? Posture? …
[Le Corre advocates a fairly typical paleo / hunter-gatherer lifestyle approach of natural, pre-agriculture foods (no dairy), plenty of sleep, and an activity pattern that is active]
That’s a few insights, though in my opinion no personal lifestyle should ever become an obsessive application of overly strict rules. It’s all a matter of paying attention, of awareness, and when for some reason you know you’re not really respecting the needs of your true biological nature, make sure you’ll re-establish balance very soon.
7 One of the movement patterns that you recommend is “defence” – grappling / boxing etc. I’ve recently begun to train in Krav Maga and am really enjoying it for the coordinated /useful movements. But the social side is great too – supporting and helping each other in class. Is there a social side to movement that we also need to recover?
I believe the self-obsessed, cosmetics-driven fitness practitioner is missing an important point among others, which is a healthy, cooperative interaction with others. The result in thinking isolation is that in addition to isolating your muscles, you tend to isolate yourself. Is there any fitness machine designed for two people to work out cooperatively and coordinate their movements? Now imagine yourself as part of a small tribe 100,000 years ago, would you spend your time figuring out the most efficient strategy to build big guns fast? Or the latest scientific discovery that will allow you to get six-pack abs in no time?
No, you would rather find ways to work cooperatively with other members of the tribe and would expect all tribe members to do so!
It would be a matter of survival at individual and collective level. A lack of cooperation could have you banned from the band …….and an isolated individual would have been so much more vulnerable. Not the smartest type of behaviour.
Thank you Chris for doing this interview. Fantastic, thought-provoking stuff.