Sunday of the workshop, after spending a few minutes foam rolling out some of the kinks from the previous day’s work and exploring some movement meditation, Chip showed us a video. It was one of those PBS local color documentary shows. This one is called California Gold. Our own local version is creatively named Discovering Alabama.
The particular segment Chip showed us was about the original Muscle Beach, which was not the Muscle Beach I thought I knew. The Muscle Beach I was familiar with was a later incarnation that came after the first was closed down. The one I was familiar with was the Muscle Beach of Venice Beach a realm of bodybuilders. Guys like Arnold Scwarzenegger, Franco Columbu and Sergio Oilva would show up at this Muscle Beach Venice to train, draw crowds and impress girls.
This version of Muscle Beach was a wholly modern version complete with egos and self aggrandizement. Bodybuilding had taken a dominant position in the Era of Me.
At the original Muscle Beach, in Santa Monica, bodybuilding, working out for the sole purpose of looks and physique, was viewed as an inferior practice. In it’s original form Muscle Beach was a haven for gymnasts and acrobats and ability trumped appearance every time.
The video is worth checking out and I hope Chip brings it with him when he comes at the end of next month (have you registered yet?). The host is a corny guy, with a bit of a Southern accent, and he’s interviewing some of the originals of Muscle Beach. Sadly, most of these men and women are gone now, at the time of the video most were in their eighties, but a livelier bunch of octogenarians you’re not likely to find.
Here’s a sample video I found on YouTube.
The original Muscle Beach was a spontaneous occurrence. It began with a small group of enthusiasts who would meet at the beach to practice hand balancing, tumbling, women tossing (my term), pyramid building and anything else they could think of. Over time they began drawing crowds, eventually a platform was built and the crowds grew bigger and bigger. Eventually the city shut them down. This wasn’t a business, there was never a charge for admission, and so there was nothing to tax, but the large crowds required added security and civically it was deemed a hassle.
Which is a real shame, because for one brief, shiny moment one of humanity’s greatest assets found a place to shine–community. In watching the seniors of muscle beach you can’t help but see that these people are a family, a tribe.
Again and again in the documentary you’ll hear stories of mutual support, enthusiasm and creativity. The original Muscle Beach drew enthusiasts, not professionals, the difference being that these people did what they did just for the love of it. They shared with anyone who cared to learn. Their passion led them to become some of the most highly skilled gymnasts and acrobats, often far surpassing elite level Olympic and professional peers. Why? Because they were having fun. That fun led to creativity, a playfulness, a child like quality that constantly asked, “What can we do now?” and “Where can we go from here?”
We all had this once. When we were kids and we played, we made up all kids of stuff. Competition was largely about exploration, urging each other to greater heights through opportunities of one-upmanship, not a desire for dominance and “in your face!”
If you come to the workshop, you’ll learn about Daniel Dumbrowski. Dumbrowski studied the ancient Greeks and reveals that they took play very seriously. Play was an essential component of Greek life and was sub-divided into three categories, frolic, competition and war. Frolic is just what it sounds like, play for the sake of play. Competition is how we used to compete, rule based play, sport for the advancement of both parties. Now, all we know is war, winning at all costs, the ends justifying any means possible.
There is no creativity in war.
Clearly the Greeks saw the necessity of war. It had it’s time and it’s place, but they also saw a need for balance, and fun and creativity were essential to that balance.
What do we do to ourselves when every workout is race to see who finishes first? Remember when you were a kid and would “race” to see who could go the slowest? Remember when your play was so engaging an afternoon would last forever and pass faster than the blink of an eye, all at the same time? Remember when you had so much fun and you laughed so hard you were left a limp puddle on the ground consumed and exhausted with joy? When is the last time you did that?
Don’t you think it’s time we found that again?
We live in an incredible age. For the majority of us, life is not nearly as serious as it once was. Survival is not our number one priority and we can relax into joy and life. Why don’t we? Are we so conditioned to crisis that we must manufacture urgency and stress in order to feel normal?
Consider: In aboriginal societies that still follow a hunter gatherer lifestyle, think Kalahari Bushmen, the average “work week” is twenty hours. That means in less than three hours a day all survival requirements are met; food, water, shelter. The rest of their time is free to do whatever they wish. Every so often I remind myself of this when I’ve just finished a 70 plus hour work week. Sure, there are advantages to my modern lifestyle, but is the trade worth it? Is it absolutely necessary?
I, for one, am seeking more and greater opportunities for play. I’m tired of war. I want frolic and competition, in it’s original sense. If you want to play again I invite you to join me. Have the courage to go against the grain. Trade in today’s WOD for a free form frolic of movement and flow or maybe a little competition with yourself.
If you find yourself lacking in your play ability, if you freeze up in flow, wondering, “Okay, what do I do now?” consider our workshop. Chip will be here July 28th and 29th. Together we will explore a wide range of possibilities, expand our capacity for play and learn and laugh. Who knows? You might just rediscover what it feels like to be a lifeless puddle of joy. Worse things could happen.
For more information about or to sign up for the workshop, click HERE.
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