Reflections on the Ido Portal Method Movement X workshop

This past weekend I attended the Ido Portal Method “Movement X” workshop in Boulder Colorado. It was one of, if not the biggest step in the evolution I have had as a mover (a phrase only added to my vocabulary in the past year).
Yoni Levitan
August 18, 2020
Reflections on the Ido Portal Method Movement X workshop

Yoni Levitan


August 18, 2020

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This past weekend I attended the Ido Portal Method “Movement X” workshop in Boulder Colorado. It was one of, if not the biggest step in the evolution I have had as a mover (a phrase only added to my vocabulary in the past year).

As a young child, my main outlets for movement and exercise were sports and unstructured play. Hockey and baseball were the two sports I played most, with a major focus on hockey, and dabbling in other sports such as downhill skiing, basketball, and soccer. At school and summer camp I would swim, canoe, kayak, water ski, play frisbee, football, archery, rock climbing, etc. I was very fortunate to be in an environment where I had a variety of activities to do.

Hockey quickly became my dominant sport, and I loved it. As a tween, I played hockey every day after school until it was time for dinner. Ball hockey, roller hockey, ice hockey, mini sticks, and more.

The only real encounter I had with gymnastics (a foundational element of the Ido Portal Method) was a birthday party which mostly revolved around the trampoline. I thought gymnastics was feminine and did not understand why a teenage boy would be interested in it.

In my high school years, in addition to hockey I played a year of football, a year of rugby, and ran track for two years as a sprinter. I also became an avid white water kayaker, and later played two years of lacrosse while in university. While I was a bit of a math nerd, my involvement in contact sports helped to counter that image.

There are two main things that happened to get me from being someone primarily focused on adventure & contact sports to someone who has developed as much of an appreciation for movement disciplines such as capoeira and dance as I do heavy weight lifting.

The first event was visiting Le Musee d’Orsay in Paris with my friend Mike (If I was traveling alone, The Louvre, which underwhelmed,  would have been my only museum visit in Paris). I fell in love with the stunning landscapes of impressionists such as Monet. For the first time in my life I came to appreciate paintings. While I already loved music, I never “got” visual mediums such as painting and sculpture. This experience was pivotal for opening me up to appreciating the aesthetic.

The second thing was more of a process than an event. While living in China and Israel I got interested in Street Workout (i.e. bodyweight strength training). I used tools like the chin up bar, parallel bars, and flat sections of ground (i.e. for advanced push up training) managing to get even stronger than when I lifted weights. After a few months in Israel I started making friends with some of the other guys who frequented the park I trained at. One teenager in particular could do amazing things on the bar. It wasn’t just that he was strong – he also had a fluid quality to the way he could spin and do explosive movements on the bar that everyone respected.

As I started to learn more about street workout and how to do advanced moves such as a muscle up, it dawned on me that Street Workout was just gymnastics dressed up as a more manly endeavour. I came to respect the hard work that gymnasts put into their craft, and how much strength is required to do such amazing feats without the outward signs of effort that others such as powerlifters use. I not only came to regret my youthful characterization of gymnastics as feminine, but I started to wish my parents had put me in gymnastics as a kid!

It was during my street workout days that I was introduced to the work of Ido Portal. The head coach at a gym I trained at for a short time in Toronto before moving to Israel posted one of Ido’s videos on his Facebook page (thanks Marv!). I thought it was cool how Ido could do a one arm handstand, crazy variations of the pistol squat, and do a one arm chin-up. However,  some of the flowery language about movement and some of the locomotion (crawling like an animal) and dance-like activities didn’t connect with me.

I was subsequently turned on to the many benefits of crawling by my friend Aleks Salkin, strength coach extraordinaire, so that got me interested in locomotion and continued to expand my horizon. While I previously thought animal locomotion was silly, I came to appreciate that it was both a kick-ass workout, and a fluid movement that felt fun to do. You need an extremely strong core to leopard crawl up a hill or across a long field. I came to enjoy crawling across the many parks of Jerusalem, and even attracted a few copy cats on occasion!

Despite the above, I still lacked an appreciation for the more artistic elements of the Ido Portal Method, but I entered last weekend’s workshop with an open mind.

Johnny, the lead instructor for the workshop began on day one by vividly describing the ethos of the Ido Portal Method, which further opened my mind for what was to come on the second day. Day one focused on hand balancing, kinetic koans (movement riddles) and hanging. It was a challenging yet fun day full of learning, but those sections will not be the focus of this post.

On day two, we started with drills that prepared us for the Zen Archer game. The purpose of the drills was for us students to begin to learn how to control their body in a finely tuned manner. For example, moving your head forwards, backwards, side to side or in a circle without tilting your head, moving your shoulders, torso, or anything else whatsoever.

Eventually this led to a game where the “questioner” would slowly move their hand at a specific body part of the “recipient” who would have to slowly move out of the way, while staying as physically close to the questioner as possible. This forces the “recipient to move in as finely tuned a manner as possible, ideally staying within centimetres of the “questioner” throughout the exercise without ever touching them.

It sounds strange, but please trust me when I say that two skilled movers playing this game is both impressive and a thing of beauty. You could probably create a successful live show just with a series of high level zen archer games going on. The creativity astounds at times with how the recipient finds ways to dodge the questioner without ever making physical contact

We practised the game one-on-one with our partners, and then were told to aimlessly wander the room making eye contact with others as we passed them. On Johnny’s command, we immediately started playing the game with whoever we happened to be looking at. There were three dozen pairs of people concurrently engaging in this game of movement. I imagine to an outside observer it would have looked like an abstract painting – up close it would have appeared to be an entirely random flurry of movement, but take a step back and the quality of the improvisation would have translated into a masterpiece of living, moving art.

There was an electricity in the air. You could feel the joy and wonder of everyone around you as they intently focused on this game of give and take as the roles between “questioner” and “recipient” were reversed again and again.

This module became the highlight of the weekend for me, and completed my evolution from someone who thought disciplines like gymnastics and dance were only for women, to someone who now happily calls himself a student of movement.

If a live exhibition of the Zen Archer has never been displayed at a world famous modern art museum, then mark my words: this will be a temporary exhibit at a museum as famous as MoMa in our lifetime, and it will be inconceivably popular.

If a woman spending two weeks staring at strangers without flinching attracted rave reviews, then a high level Zen Archer will cause art lovers to go straight to the emergency room after their heads explode from extreme levels of awesomeness .

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