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Blend and Flow: Forest Ninja Body Cultivation

"Just to survive, humans had to be able to flow across the landscape, blending their bodies over and around any obstacle in their path, leaping without fear and landing with precision." Natural Born Heroes Christopher MacDougal

Here's an excerpt from my new book Shadow Survival where I dive into a bit of the background and approach on the form of Scout Movement I teach...

"I couldn't believe it: my job for the day was to teach everybody Forest Ninja skills out at the Jedi Training Center, the nickname for a teaching spot in the woods on the northern edge of the Wilderness Awareness School property. It was one of my favorite things to do and teach, and I definitely thought to myself (not for the first time), "Who else has a job like this?"

After a quick meeting with fellow instructors and apprentices, I'd been embedded in the snow-covered and frosty sword ferns on that late January day. I was relatively comfortable in my insulated camouflage pants, elk-hide mukluks, woolen jacket and camouflage netting wrap. During the introductory part of class, I had remained hidden until popping out and joining the students (in full camouflage including a mask) after they wrapped up their first exercise. I'd had good cover and no one had spotted me, and the circle of students gave me several strange looks after joining their circle.

I got to join in the teaching of the class at that point, and we spent the rest of the morning teaching students to move like raccoons and bears, prowl like cougars, crawl like salamanders and geckos, and even hug the earth and slowly creep like a slug or inchworm all along the frozen and frosty ground. By mid-day we turned the students free to explore the land around them moving and being like any animal they chose, and it was wondrous to see the liveliness in their bodies and eyes. They were also moving completely differently than how they normally did: more smooth and effortless. It was as if the landscape was a friend to play with and not a barrier to move through.

For several years I taught in intensive, immersion survival programs for both teens and adults. Typically these programs were nine-months long (a school-year length), ran multiple days a week for several hours, and they sought to provide a comprehensive survival skills, deep nature connection, and awareness training experience. The curriculum was refined over time through the input of many different instructors and mentors and included things like making friction fire, survival shelters, harvesting and foraging wild foods, naturalist training, animal tracking, journaling, ecology, and even community building and communication skills.

All of these topics were really fun to teach and the way we taught them seemed to truly engage students. But, far and away my favorite class to teach was our P.E. curriculum.

What kind of P.E. program exists at a survival and nature school?

One that focuses on learning to move effortlessly, smoothly, and freely through natural terrain like a wild animal.

Ironically, this was long before MovNat became a thing or before parkour blew up the internet (and suddenly was taught at gyms across the world). While those things were being developed and taught on a small scale in private groups, we had our own wild forest parkour happening in the mossy, fern-filled foothills of the Cascades of Western Washington.

Teaching people how to feel more comfortable and at ease in their bodies in a wild setting is one of my biggest passions. It's extraordinary to see what happens to people as they feel and become more alive, and they realize that their bodies were literally designed to move through nature in an effortless, primal way. It doesn't necessarily take long because much of this is so natural to our bodies, but it can be difficult for many of us due to the large amount of time we spend sitting and looking at our devices. In fact, I can think of few things that cause as big a decrease in our Scout Awareness and Skills as too much time spent looking at a screen and sitting in chairs (I say this as I'm sitting in a chair writing on a screen…)

But a smoother and more alive way of being is not far away. And, like I said both my wife and I have been teaching this for many years and we've been fortunate enough to study with some of the best of the best teachers in the world. This area of focus is so rich and deep that I am planning the next book in this series to focus exclusively on this topic (that's right Scoutcraft volume 2 is planned to focus on Natural Movement). In that next volume, I plan to detail my training and back story in this area, but for now I'll simply mention that I've been fortunate enough to train in Internal Martial Arts including Bagua, Taiji, and Xingyiquan for over 20 years with Zhi Cheng/Harrison Moretz, the founder and head instructor at the Taoist Studies Institute. I've also gotten to train in and teach Jon Young's Animal Forms curriculum for over twenty years, as well as study Earthgym with Mick Dodge (of NatGeo's The Legends of Mick Dodge fame) and Tactical Fitness, Tactical Gymnastics, Mobility, and Flowfit with Scott Sonnon (more on all of that later)

My hope with this section of this book is to share several key practices that will help you move more smoothly, effortlessly, and naturally through any natural terrain. This will do several things. First, it will lower your concentric ring profile. Second, it will calm your nervous system even when off trail or in rough terrain. Third, it will strengthen and increase the flexibility in your body in ways you are unaware that you are lacking. Fourth, it will help you maintain awareness of your surroundings even in rough, uneven terrain. Finally, it will allow you to travel through areas most people can't go or wouldn't consider going.

We are going to do this through several different methods including teaching your body to move more in circles, waves, and spirals, teaching it to get comfortable being on all-fours and in other postures and positions you aren't used to, and by teaching you to think, act, move, and behave like an animal. But, before we do that I want to emphasize one other part of how important I think this kind of training is both for our Scout journey and also for our health, well-being and longevity.

In my first book Primal, I also wrote a chapter all about Natural Movement with the focus on Rewilding Our Bodies and undoing the effects of civilization on our inherent hunter-gatherer biology. One of the startling pieces of evidence that I came across when researching that section was that scientists have discovered one of the best ways to stave off age-related mental decline is through movement, specifically complex movement. In fact, there is an inherent connection between neuroplasticity (the ability to form new neural connections in the brain, learn new things, and prevent cognitive decline) and moving in new, sophisticated, and even unpredictable ways.

The more complicated and sophisticated you can move, the more complicated and sophisticated your thinking can be. I would even go further and say, the more you move and the more diverse ways you move, the more of your brain you are using. (Okay, I literally needed to go take a movement break in my backyard away from my screen after writing all of that).

There are a lot of implications in the above two paragraphs, and I'll let you make your own conclusions. However, I will say that spending more time on our phones and computers and screens while sitting not only is bad for our physical health, it also seemingly prevents us from thinking in new, innovative, and creative ways.

Learning to move in the ways I'm going to share will keep enhance your awareness and develop flexibility, adaptability, and keenness of mind (all key Scout skills).

A new Scout: Animal Embodiment course starts in a couple of weeks. You can find out more about it HERE

And, you can get a copy of Shadow Survival HERE



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