In our recent blog post interview with survival skills expert Tom McElroy, he talked about a specific type of freedom that he connects to through survival skills. In this post we connect with natural movement coach Kyle Koch who talks about another freedom to be found through movement in nature.
If you happen to wander the snowy forests of northern Minnesota on a subzero winter day, you might get a glimpse of a creature bounding through the forest on all fours, dive rolling over logs, and quickly scaling the highest trees. Chances are this is not a Yeti, but instead a person named Kyle Koch who is honing his unique art. Kyle is a former IT software technician turned practitioner and coach of Natural Movement. Kyle has been facilitating transformative experiences in nature for almost a decade: inspiring youth and adults to connect to their gifts through exploration, play, and curiosity through movement outdoors. Kyle is always expanding his practice through the study and application of functional neurology concepts, traditional strength training, martial arts (Systema), meditation and breathing (Wim Hof Method).
We caught up with Kyle recently (after he came down from the treetops) to learn more about his art.
Pathways: Can you tell us a little about your history/background and what it was that led you to this form of Natural Movement training?
Kyle: I grew up on the outskirts of Milwaukee Wisconsin. When I was younger I was interested in rough housing and physical arts. Later, after becoming an IT technician I realized that all of my personal skills depended upon equipment. I relied solely on technology to express my skills. My life was changed when I took a survival course where they taught us how to make shelter, fire, and how to move in nature. I remember making my first bow drill fire at that course. At that moment I realized my greater potential. I realized I was capable of so much with so little. Then I studied and eventually became an instructor at Wilderness Awareness School in Washington State. After years of sitting at a desk as an IT professional, my experience in the wilderness taught me that nature allowed me to express myself physically in the way that I wanted to be. I’ve been teaching since then. Now I facilitate transformative experiences in nature centered around movement and play.
Pathways: You call your art “Natural Movement.” How do you describe it?
Kyle: I describe it as moving from a place of joy instead of a place of fear. I believe a lot of our movements are dictated by conscious or unconscious fears. Social fears in particular are one of the biggest limits to people's movement on a daily basis.
Pathways: In some of your videos you give the disclaimer that what you teach is not about losing weight or building a specific physique, although becoming fit is a likely side effect of natural movement. Can you explain?
Kyle: I consider fitness as a side effect. If you have a good nutritious diet, healthy social relationships, and a movement rich lifestyle, then looking and feeling good is a natural side effect. However the flip side isn't always true. If you just focus on looking good, it doesn't mean you eat well, have a healthy social life, or a movement rich lifestyle.
Pathways: What are the benefits of the natural movement techniques that you teach?
Kyle: My goal is to help people move towards freedom. By freedom I mean the ability to make choices. Your ability to move can dictate the choices you have. If you don’t use it, you lose it. In our modern world most people do most of their movement at a table. With the kids that I work with, I notice that as they get older, they lose their ability to squat. By time youth reach their teens today, most have lost this ability completely. Most adults avoid spending much time near the ground. With the skills I teach, you can regain many of your lost movements and retain them for the rest of your life. I do a lot with coordinating movement on both sides of the body. This has huge neurological benefits. Moving on the ground on all fours also has huge neurological benefits, especially for those who haven’t done this movement before because it is what is referred to in science as a novel complex movement. This is one of the most stimulating things for your brain outside of food. For me this is about learning what keeps you young. I think movement is one of the best skills for continuous learning of new things. The more movement skills I know, the bigger the map I have of my body. The bigger this map, the more choices I have for the places I can go, and ultimately the more freedom I have.
Pathways: Why would a practitioner of ninjutsu (or any martial art) benefit from this training?
Kyle: To be a “protector” in nature requires movement and a level of strength to move through the rough terrain or to climb trees. Ultimately I think of these skills as a relationship with the ground or the Earth. Unless you are in an airplane, you can’t escape the ground. It’s always there. The fear of falling is real for many people. As people age, falling can become catastrophic. Tens of thousands of people die each year from relatively minor falls. I like to think of falling differently. I like to think of falling to the ground as if I am meeting an old friend. What if falling could be like getting a massage? Instead of tensing up and fearing a fall, I try to relax. The ground has so many variables, so you have a diversity of ways to meet the ground and find comfort.
If you are practicing stealth movement as a hunter or a ninja, getting close to the ground and moving slowly is important. The animal movements that I teach give you a lot of options for this. If I’m far away I might move like a raccoon. As I get closer to a target, I might move like a lizard. When I get really close I might move like a worm. I look at this progression as bipedal (human) to quadrupedal (lizard) to belly (worm) and then reverse.
Pathways: For someone just beginning or possibly living in an urban environment with limited access to nature, what is one way they could begin practicing natural movement?
Kyle: One of my favorite introductory exercises is to challenge someone to go from standing to touching their butt to the ground in ten different ways. Most people start to struggle after five attempts. From there you can switch it up. For example, can you get to your back from standing in ten different ways? Can you get to your chest? Can you do it with one hand or no hands? And so on.
To connect with Kyle for some of his free introductory lessons or to train one-on-one with him, visit his website www.trottingsparrow.com. You can also follow him on Instagram and subscribe to his Youtube channel.
In our Pathways Ninja Training classes, we teach several animal form movements as part of our white to black belt curriculum. Learn how to tap into your inner primate with Kyle's monkey movement tutorial below. These movements are a great way to practice moving low to the ground, build coordination, and develop strength and agility, everything a healthy ninja monkey should add to their training quiver!