Thursday 31 December 2009

Interview with Frank Forencich

Following my last post on human movement, I've been looking deeper into this issue and I think much of what I've found will inform my exploits in 2010 (more on that another time).  I've just finished reading Frank Forencich's book "Exuberant Animal" and wanted to hear more from Frank and also offer readers of this blog some of his insights, so Frank kindly agreed to a short interview.  Here it is - enjoy.

Al: Tell me a bit about your background, in particular your Martial Arts training.

Frank: I trained intensively in kenpo karate and then aikido for a total of about 14 years. The transition between the arts was very difficult for me, but extremely educational. I had to completely re-wire my body and my movements. I was also fascinated that so many teachers would lay claim to knowing the single "right way" to move. What was correct in one dojo was ridiculed in another, just down the street. This led me to a deeper inquiry and a search for common principles. In turn, I became intrigued with the study of human origins and was inspired to travel to Africa. I wanted to know about the universals of human movement, not just particular styles. I still do some martial art movement, mostly in the context of Exuberant Animal, play-based classes. 

Al: In relation to your “Exuberant Animal” philosophy, how do you perceive the martial arts should be approached/trained?

Frank: Like many, I'm a fan of Bruce Lee's philosophy of Jeet Kune Do, or "the style of no-style." Obviously, when you're in combat, there' s no way to predict how an opponent will move or behave. Therefore, it's just crazy to train in a single method. I've seen people develop extremely deep neurological ruts that would be a tremendous liability in a dynamic situation. The key, as athletic coaches are starting to realize, is to be "adaptable, not adapted." This calls for a diversity of training, a diversity of challenges and movements, always looking for general qualities of power, speed, flow, agility and grace. And in this sense, martial can share a lot with the world of dance.  

Al: You’ve spent time with some hunter/gatherer tribes – did you see any martial traditions there?

Frank: I did not. Primal peoples were extremely dependent on tribal cohesion for survival. Cooperation in the hunt was essential; this was the social priority. Population density was low, so battle between tribes was probably infrequent. Consequently, there wasn't a great need for martial training. We see some evidence of combat weapons (spears and shields), but compared with the modern era, these were probably used more for bluff than for actual killing. This, by the way, is what we see in chimpanzee behavior: males frequently engage in threat and dominance displays, but actual violence is not as common. Jane Goodall observed "warfare" between chimp tribes at Gombe, but we can't forget the bonobo, the highly-sexualized, peace-making hippie primates of Central Africa. We have both of these tendencies in our lineage.

Al: Are you familiar with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu- what are your impressions?

I've only trained a little bit in this art. I found it to be enjoyable and incredibly effective. It strikes me as high-quality physical education, although I also see a fair bit of macho chest thumping in the competitive ranks. 

Al: I’ve just read your book “Exuberant Animal” and what I loved about it was the warning that we risk losing what makes us human – our interactions with each other, the environment, our own bodies, but also that you offer thoughts and solutions on a way back. 

Frank: We're at a really interesting and exciting time in the history of the body. Our physical relationship with the modern world just isn't working  and it's time for trainers, coaches and physical educators to step up and lead the way to a new physical culture. We have to do more than just be good athletes who study high performance. We need to be speaking out and changing the culture, the schools and the workplace. In addition to training individuals and classes, we need to be writing and speaking, taking our insights to a wider audience. The forces of physical apathy are immensely powerful and well-funded. We need to offer a compelling counter-argument to the status quo. 

Al: I’ve got five year old twins and I love to watch how they play, move, even play-fight (parentally controlled of course!).  It’s so fluid and natural!  I mourn the loss of that.  What can I do to ensure my kids retain at least some of that and try to recover some of it for myself, even in the face of the onslaught of the “Human Zoo”? 

Frank: Rough and tumble play is essential to child and human development and we need to keep it alive. Above all, we need to get outdoors as much as possible and avoid the lure of computers, TV and video games. The real leader in this regard is The Barefoot Sensei. See the website for his story and his inspirational lifestyle. Take off your shoes and feel the earth as much as possible. Keep sensation alive in natural settings: walk more, touch the land. Also, devote more time to authentic communication with other people. Avoid email. Real-time, face-to-face communication is the core of tribal cohesion and in turn, social health.  

Al: I’ve noticed a trend recently for lots of “back to basics” exercise regimes – Kettle bells, hitting things with sledgehammers, clubs, but they all still seem to me to have the gloss of a “brand” – a trend.  What are your thoughts on this?

Frank: Yes, well, everyone has to make a living and this is a bit of a conundrum. When you get right down to it, all you really need for basic conditioning is terrain, gravity, momentum and human bodies. Add in some rocks and sticks and you've got a pretty complete outdoor gym. If people want to promote this as a "style," I'm not too concerned. Just don't try to lure me into a big-box gym packed with machines!  

Al: I feel that you and people like Erwan Le Corre have a lot to offer to society at large at a time when the human race seems hell-bent on doing everything that is counter-intuitive to the species, but it feels like a “quiet revolution”.  Is this how you see it? 

Frank: Yes. But perhaps it's time to stop being so quiet about it! I keep looking around for more passionate voices in defense of health and the human body, but I'm not hearing much. Where are the militant PE teachers? Where are the militant coaches and trainers? The militant doctors, nurses and therapists? We need to speak out and speak up. 

Al: What are your plans for Exuberant Animal?

Frank: 2010 will be a big year for us as we refine our identity as a "Health leadership organization." We have some extremely talented people on our team. They have diverse physical training backgrounds, but all are inspirational health leaders in their own right. We will soon have a certification process in place and a lot of events coming up. And of course, I'll be speaking up and speaking out whenever I get the chance. My new book "Change Your Body, Change the World" is due out later this year. 

Al: Frank, thanks for taking the time to chat.  I hope to catch you at a UK seminar sometime and wish you all the best for 2010!

Frank: Yes, hope to meet you in the flesh.

Many thanks to Frank!

Frank is holding a seminar in London in April, hosted by Wild Fitness in April

Check out Frank's Website at

Check out some examples of Frank's training here on You Tube  

A happy and healthy 2010 to you all,