OK, this will be a kind of diary/summary of my experience of the 30 day intensive course I did with Joseph Bartz in Berlin in July 2018.
I first heard of Joseph many years ago when he was still teaching MovNat and had a website called “NaturPfade” (if I remember correctly) and then again when I got interested in the whole movement philosophy popularised by Ido Portal whose close student Joseph was for many years.
In 2016, after finishing my travels that led me through Turkey, Dubai, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, England, Portugal and Spain, I spent a month back home in Berlin. It was the perfect moment to dive deeper into the movement thing, I thought, and so I wrote to Joseph and subsequently went to his group class for the first time. I remember the class quite vividly – Joseph made the whole class stand in front of the ground floor windows of an office building at Potsdamer Platz so that we could see ourselves while doing neck and chest circles and waves. I went to the group classes around four times a week for a month before departing to England where I started to teach at Brockwood Park School.
Two years later, I have already participated in three of Joseph’s intensive workshops (of three to five days) and started training with him online (he sends me training plans and gives me feedback after I send him videos).
As I did not have any specific plans for the summer, I decided to take it a step further and participate in the 30 day intensive course he offered for the second time in July.
The course really deserved the name “intensive”, as we spent on average 8 hours a day moving and training with Joseph on 6 days of the week and in different locations spread over Berlin.
The first week was a real kickstart into the course. The eight of us doing the course (among us two Australians, one Norwegian, one Swiss and three Germans) started on Saturday 30th June, along with a bigger group who came to participate in Joseph’s basic intensive.
The basic intensive is two days long (here is a video from a previous basic intensive) and gives a basic introduction into Joseph’s work. I will just list some of the activities we did over the weekend: observation, floor sitting combinations, basic locomotion patterns, spinal waves, Tai Chi stance, arm swings, walking coordination, toega, lower body mobility and stretching, floor work, improvisation, balance work, leg swings, upper body strength (straight arm scapular strength and bent arm strength), hanging variations, lecture on physical practices.
In the four days following the basic intensive, our group of seven ‘movement maniacs’ (this is how we called our WhatsApp group) had one morning and one afternoon/evening session on most days, in which we explored many different topics such as handstands including wrist preparation and body line drills, advanced locomotion, lots of arm swings, coordination work (arm swings and foot movements/steps combined), the basics of rail balancing, spinal circles and waves, Fighting Monkey style coordinations (check out Joseph showing an example of his exuberance work), more hanging and lower body mobility work and much more.
We also had a session on how to take notes when we read things where Joseph shared with us some good ways that he uses himself, one more analog/old school way using notecards and little transparent bags as well as one digital method for which he uses the app ‘bear’ (for Mac). We had this session as Joseph gave us an additional non-movement related task for the month: reading the book ‘Deep Work‘ by Cal Newport.
Not having had a complete rest day since the first day of the 30 day intensive (only two half rest days on Monday morning and Thursday afternoon), we then had another three day intensive from Friday to Sunday, for which a couple of other participants joined us: the partner work and games intensive.
These are the things we worked on in the partner work and games intensive: the three systems of balance and lots of partner balance drills (on the floor), the ‘dance move machine‘, relaxation exercises (such as this), dodging with the Zen Archer drill and its many variations, sticky hands (tai chi), a nice group game called ‘Steh-Geh’ (Stay & Go), push hands (tai chi), strength work (partner resisted shoulder circles), tennis ball catch/throw drills, stepping game, tennis volleyball, stalking and silence games. We ended the workshop with a talk on the different types of games there are and the many principles we had covered over the three days of the intensive. One of those is the ‘philosophy of the tribe’ in which everyone is responsible for the other one’s progress and support which means being adaptable and flexible, supportive and attentive and able to give good and constructive feedback. We also talked about the different modes we can work and play in: practice, research and performance. While sometimes the focus might be on researching and finding out what is possible, at other times one will concentrate on specific moves or games and practice them rigorously. Even different from that is the performance mode in which slow, deliberate thinking has less importance as it is more about getting the best result (winning or giving one’s best in a game or making the best dance performance).
On the Monday following the partner intensive, we finally had our deserved first full rest day. During the rest of the week after we again explored new aspects of the movement practice: coordinations (the five different jumps and many foot and foot/arm coordinations), an introduction to fighting using pool noodles, the ‘wide angle vision’, more spinal work, handstands, floor work and a 10 minute rail balancing challenge (in which I managed to accumulate my 10 minutes on a rail in one go – without falling down once), more lower body mobility (including many Eastern stances) and a deeper immersion into push hands and basic wrestling). For the coordination work, Joseph has previously written an interesting article and published a video about coordination, learning and dealing with frustration. Worth a look.
On Thursday, we also adapted to the weather (it was the, so far, only rainy day since we started the 30 day intensive) and had a full three hour recovery session, doing spinal waves and circles, hip mobility, arm swings, partner relaxation work as well as a long session of standing, shaking and silence. Then more floor work and QDR strength work on Thursday evening. On Friday, we had a “there is nothing to do” session at Joseph’s home and a dialogue thereafter. In the evening, we had our first parkour session at Potsdamer Platz, exploring a variety of vaults (across the big see-saws in the Tilla Durieux Park) and then improvising with them with our partners.
At the end of the session, we did some more rail balancing as well as climb ups across the street. On Saturday, we again had a Parkour session, this time at the parkour playground in Zwinglistraße in Moabit. It was an awesome, open session in which we were asked to explore the possibilities at the playground and to face our fears. I really did so when balancing three meters above the ground and doing wall jumps from one wall to the other, something I had not done before in my life. It was really a good session and all of us immensely enjoyed the challenge.
In the afternoon, we did something completely different. We met at Joseph’s home in the outskirts of the city and went on an exploratory walk through the environment, trying to recognise local plants and trees and learning many interesting details. Back in Joseph’s garden, we embarked on an exciting journey, learning about how to make a fire without any convenient tools such as matches or lighters. Using different kinds of wood (some of them directly from the bushes in Joseph’s garden), knives, saws and other tools, we prepared boards, sticks and bows to make our own fire. This was a special session for all of us as we learned a basic skill (which was necessary for survival for most of our species’ history) in a practical, exciting way with visible results. Of course we then enjoyed our barbecue around the fire and stayed at Joseph’s place until past midnight, eating and sharing. Joseph also places a lot of emphasis on this community aspect, regularly bringing us together outside the movement training, sharing meals and making circles in which everyone shares and reflects (using the ‘talking stick’).
After a necessary rest day on Sunday, we started again on Monday and went all-in. Joseph started the morning session in Adlershof by saying ‘please don’t die’ and led us through an intensive four-hour session containing hundreds of intense arms swings, lower body stretches, many sets of straight arm strength exercises, a seemingly endless session of rail balance walking (walking a rail of around 40 meters for 25 consecutive times) and a bent arm strength session in which I did my first sets of muscle ups (I had done my first single muscle up two weeks earlier when I visited a friend in a break after one of our morning sessions, surprising not only my friend, but first and foremost myself). Joseph had warned us that the sessions with him this week would be more intense. We also only drank every hour or so as a group in order not to get distracted from our training. After a long break in the afternoon, we had our evening group class at AktZent in Kreuzberg – a crazy intense conditioning session containing African music to which we did coordinations and lots and lots of locomotive patterns, before doing (or attempting to do) 10 sets of 1 minute Chest to Wall Handstands and finishing it all up with 7 sets of a Fighting Monkey practice ball leg conditioner (going up and down for 1 minute without stopping while dodging the ball) and a crazy Jiu Jitsu ab conditioner with partner (similar to this) of which we did 4 sets of 45 seconds. Everyone realised that this was a rather unusual session, focused on intensity and conditioning. Joseph said that he likes to do these kind of sessions sometimes and dedicate them to the many people in the world who have super hard, physical jobs. He calls these weeks “Workingman’s Death” weeks, related to the documentary with the same name.
The next day, we had our first introduction to the area of ‘dance’ with Joseph’s partner Annika, in which we explored different jumps as well as floor work and even had a ‘party’ at the end in which we could just dance and improvise with what we had learned. In the evening, Joseph prepared another challenge for us: accumulating 60 minutes on the rail at Velodrom. I can say that these 60 minutes were hard, meditative, challenging, stressful, peaceful and intense. And I actually managed to stay up there for more than 63 consecutive minutes, without falling or getting down even once. WOW!
On Wednesday, we had two really intense sessions. For the first one, we went to S Gesundbrunnen in the Berlin district of Wedding and met Joseph there. He told us that we would do an exercise called ‘Follow the Leader’ and should just follow him. What followed was a 3.5 hour exploration through the district – running, balancing, jumping, climbing, walking and most of all, facing our fears. We did not do really crazy things, but some moments required us to do things that were slightly beyond our comfortable range of skills. It was a classic parkour session in which we used the environment in ways we would normally not do. A good supportive feeling among the group developed quickly and we were all exhausted, but happy after the experience.
In the evening, we met at “Die Treppe” (the staircase) at Velodrom and had the pleasure of enjoying another “Workingman’s Death” session. It involved running, endlessly running and jumping up and down stairs, locomotion up and down the stairs as well as an intensive pull up session at the end. It was intense. Check out the video below to get a sense of how it was like (the video is from earlier and about a similar week, but we did some of the things displayed in it).
On Thursday, we had another dance session with Annika in which we followed up on what we had learned on Tuesday – jumps, floor work patterns and improvisation. We also spent a part of the sessions learning and trying out turns or spins which was quite fun. Unfortunately and due to the intensity of the sessions from the day before, our energy levels were quite low and the intensity remained rather mediocre. This also led Joseph to offer us an extra rest afternoon and so most of us did not go to the group class in the afternoon.
On Friday, we met at Joseph’s place and started with a little recovery session in the garden in which we did spinal work as well as some mobility and strengthening work for the lower body, including floor sitting sequences, ankle stability drills and calf stretches. We then followed up with a talk and discussion on freedom. Freedom is an important part of Joseph’s practice and teaching. This not only covers the physical possibilities we gain through the practice (such as being able to do more stuff with our bodies or resist heat/cold or other adversities), but also cognitive possibilities, new possibilities through observation, increased knowledge and new experiences. Joseph also talked about the apparent opposite of a prison and freedom. He said that in the practice, we often purposefully create a prison (by setting restrictions) that will then help us gain more possibilities (more freedom). A good example is when moving on the floor. By creating a prison such as ‘only touch the floor with hands and feet’, we can go much deeper into this form of the practice than if we left too much freedom. Too much freedom can be an obstacle to learning. This also applies to dance and improvisation. When we are told, ‘just do something’, some people felt rather lost and did not feel comfortable as they might not have had the tools. When restrictions are set, they can create a “golden cage” which serves as a point of reference which helps us orient ourselves. The last part of the talk was dedicated to the “Three Archetypes of Freedom”, the adventurer, the monk and the fool. They all have different characteristics and different types of freedom, but Joseph maintains that in the practice, he strives to include elements of all three of them.
For Saturday, we only had a series of three tasks as homework which we were asked to do in the city. The first was a walking practice. We were asked to walk around in the city for an hour or so and at each intersection, listen and ask ourselves which way we are drawn to go next, and then not take that way, but take the “second option”. In short, take the second option at each intersection. The second task was just to thoroughly observe people while standing, sitting or slow walking in the city. Observe them and imagine their story, their potential ailments, their behaviours and the differences we can spot between different people and how they behave. The third task was to practice the “wide angle vision” for half an hour in a place with a lot of people. I did all of those tasks in my home district of Berlin Mitte (center of Berlin), between Friedrichstraße, Gendarmenmarkt and Hackescher Markt. I especially enjoyed practicing the wide angle vision in Lustgarten.
The last week started with a session dedicated to shoulder opening and hip mobility and a mixed session at AktZent with Annika in the evening. On Tuesday we had another dance session with Annika where we explored concepts and methods such as the body scan, feeling what we don’t like to do, symmetry and asymmetry and the difference between tribal and performative dance. Check out Annika’s website and the videos on her YouTube channel, if you want to see what she is doing.
In the afternoon we headed for Volkspark Rehberge and had an awesome tree climbing session. We explored height exposure and climbed several trees and then followed on with some more technical work including different ways of getting onto a branch (such as elbow swing ups, tuck pop ups, and others). We also had a long talk under the trees contemplating training and stillness.
On Wednesday, we had another dance style session, this time with Joseph, where we explored a concept called “Travelling through all asanas” Joseph learned from his dance teacher Martin Kilvady. This is a practice where one explores all kinds of positions (asanas) while giving importance to every moment rather than only focusing on specific positions and neglecting the transitions.
This is what Martin writes about it (in his comment to his youtube video I linked to above):
One of my most Basic scores is what I call “Traveling through All Asanas”.
As in a sentence every word can be carefully chosen and pronounced, similarly in a movement sequence every moment can be treated with respect, detail and craftsmanship no matter if it has a name, weather we call it move, step, drill or Asana.
Here I define a movement sequence as “Travelling through All Asanas”.
ALL referring to possible diversity in term of styles, disciplines or connotations that I authorize myself to use.
ASANA referring to a particular moment within the sequence
We followed up on that in our evening session at AktZent, spending one hour travelling through all asanas, before setting up the room for a documentary screening. We watched “Jiro Dreams of Sushi“, a film that follows Jiro, a real master who has dedicated his whole life to a very confined skill, the art of making sushi. A lesson in mastery. A long discussion followed, touching upon mastery as well as the merits and problems of specialisation and generalisation.
That same night I fell ill. Another friend from the course had already started feeling bad after the morning session and most of the others from the group followed. A bad stomach bug that had the force of almost ruining the grand finale of our 30 day course. Luckily, the body aches and vomiting only lasted for one day and then abruptly went away again. Anyway, due to this I missed the sessions on Thursday that were dedicated to some crafting in Joseph’s garden and more parkour at Potsdamer Platz.
On Friday, we met again at Joseph’s place – the first part of the day was about plant gathering and recognition (I missed that part) and then we went on to making fire (we had already gathered everything necessary to make a fire with a bow drill in another session and were now ready to prepare the materials and give it a try). It took me a looooong time but with a lot of patience and some help I finally made it. It was a special moment, making fire with one’s own hands. Afterwards we went on to making our own little wooden bowls to transport fire, using hot coals, carving knifes and a looooot of patience. 🙂
On Saturday, the grand finale. First we continued with our bowls, then slowly the other people from Joseph’s group class joined and then we went for a walk in the forest, in preparation for what was to come. 🙂 Back in Joseph’s garden, he introduced us to some stalking techniques (moving very slowly so that other people or animals would not notice) and the excitement (or fear haha) of what would happen grew during the evening barbecue. At around 10 pm, Joseph finally revealed the game we would play until the early morning. It was a stalking game. Two teams. Observers and stalkers. Everyone camouflaged. Some tiny white flags. And one “robot”. In the darkness of the forest. Lying on the ground for hours trying to get closer to the goal, trying not to be seen. Epic. A special experience and a worthy ending.
On Sunday, we met one more time to talk about learning and mastery and to reflect upon the 30 days we had spent together. It had been a great journey with good people.
Many friends had thought I was crazy, spending my whole summer vacations on an intense movement course, the whole day, six days a week. And it was intense, but it also provided an incredible amount of deep and often challenging opportunities for learning about myself, my body and my relationship to others and to the world around. I am very thankful to Joseph and his family and team, as well as to all the other participants, for providing this opportunity and holding the space. It shall accompany me in various ways for many years.
Please have a look at Joseph’s website, youtube and instagram channels to get a better idea of what is approach is about. If you are in Berlin, check out his daily group trainings or else, consider going to one of his intensive courses. It will be worth it.