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The Evolution of Movement: The Origins of Animalistic Movements in Martial Arts

Steph & Jay Rose performing the Gorilla Walk (www.phase6online.com)

It’s no secret that animals have long served as a source of motivation for humans. Animals have always played important roles in human culture, from prehistoric cave paintings to today’s mainstream media. The incorporation of animalistic movements into martial arts is one way in which animals have had an impact on human culture.

The history and tradition of martial arts are deep and extensive, stretching back to ancient times. Martial arts were revered as both a spiritual and physical practice in many different cultures. The strength and beauty of various animals were embodied in the animalistic movements used in these ancient martial arts.

The use of animalistic movements is an integral part of many martial arts, including Kung Fu, Kalaripayattu, Karate, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Animals like the tiger, crane, snake, and monkey served as inspiration for these routines’ emphasis on strength, agility, and grace.

Embodying an animal’s movement adds an aesthetic dimension to martial arts and has many positive effects on the practitioner’s body, mind, and spirit. Animalistic movements are beneficial because they increase stability, mobility, and strength. They help you concentrate and control your thoughts. In a spiritual sense, they aid in gaining a better appreciation for and connection to the natural world.

There are many traditional martial arts that incorporate animalistic movements, and in this blog, we’ll look at their origins, their function, and some examples.

We’ll also discuss how these movements are incorporated into modern martial arts and fitness programs.

Historical Context:

Kalaripayattu is considered among the oldest martial arts in the world (image credit: www.keralatourism.org)

From their earliest days, martial arts have incorporated animalistic movements into their practice. Traditional martial arts were revered across cultures for their purported mental and bodily benefits. Animalistic movements intended to convey the power and grace of various animals were used in these ancient martial arts.

Kalaripayattu, a form of ancient Indian martial arts, had deep religious and cultural roots in ancient India. The history of this martial art can be traced back to at least the third century BCE, making it one of the oldest martial arts in the world. Animals’ actions, particularly those of the tiger and the elephant, were interpreted as displaying bravery and strength in combat. It was also believed that training in Kalaripayattu would help its practitioners feel more at one with the natural world and the animal kingdom (More on this in a future blog).

Like their Japanese counterparts, ancient Chinese Kung Fu practitioners thought that studying the movements of animals like the crane, snake, and bear could reveal the key to unleashing their full potential. Kung fu practitioners can gain the power, agility, and grace of these animals by training with these techniques.

In ancient cultures, martial arts with animalistic movements were practiced for purposes beyond mere physical conditioning. A connection with nature and the raw vitality and strength of animals inspired the inclusion of animalistic movements.

In addition to the aforementioned advantages, it is worth noting that many modern martial arts continue to incorporate animalistic movements as a means of preserving and honoring the tradition, culture, and spiritual aspects of the practice.

Traditional martial arts often use animal metaphors as illustrative cases. Humans have always found motivation in animals. Many forms of classical martial arts feature animalistic movements, each with their own aesthetic and set of advantages.

Kalaripayattu is an ancient martial art from southern India that incorporates techniques inspired by tigers, elephants, and even snakes. These routines take their cue from the graceful movements of these animals and aim to increase stamina, agility, and equilibrium in the practitioner. Kalaripayattu emphasizes the use of traditional weapons like the stick, sword, and shield.

The Chinese martial art known as Kung Fu also incorporates animalistic movements like those of the crane, snake, and bear. These exercises are designed to help people develop the same grace and agility as these animals while also increasing their strength and flexibility. Kung Fu often involves the use of weapons such as the staff, sword, and knife.

Karate is a Japanese martial art that was developed in part by studying the techniques of other martial arts, particularly tiger, crane, and horse styles. Workouts inspired by the explosive strength, stable balancing, and nimbleness of these animals are great for boosting strength, speed, and stamina. Karate can also involve the use of weapons like the bo staff and the sai.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, although a fairly modern martial art, also draws inspiration from the fighting styles of animals like the bear, the snake, and the monkey. Exercises based on the strong, flexible, and agile motions of these animals are great for building strength, balance, and coordination (Check out this Rickson Gracie training footage from the documentary CHOKE back in 1993).

All of these martial arts incorporate animalistic movements to help practitioners become physically fit, mentally focused, and emotionally in control while also feeling more connected to nature. The techniques and weapons employed in each martial art reflect the specific abilities and advantages of the animal on which it is based.

It is common practice in modern martial arts training to employ animalistic movements, which were originally developed as part of the training methodology. It’s important to remember that each animal represents a particular trait and that practitioners can draw on these traits by studying and emulating the behaviors of different animals.

Use in the present day:

Jay Rose performing the Lizard Crawl (www.phase6online.com)

Movement and speech styles change over time as the human race develops. Traditional martial arts have long included animalistic movements as part of their training methods, and this practice lives on in contemporary forms of martial arts and fitness.

The animalistic movements are still being incorporated into a growing number of modern martial arts. These include BJJ, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Capoeira and Krav Maga. Those who regularly engage in these activities will benefit from a total-body workout and an increase in their athletic performance, resulting in enhanced strength and mobility both on and off the mats.

Additionally, this tradition continues to be present in modern athletic performance and movement practices. As you guys know at Phase SiX we regularly incorporate animalistic movements and ground-based locomotion into our content, training, programming and curriculum, as do the trailblazers who came before us such as Orlando Cani Founder of Bioginástica, Cameron Shayne Founder of Budokon, Alvaro Romano Founder of Ginástica Natural (who many considered these men mentioned to be pioneers in ground-based and quadrupedal locomotion).

All of these practices aim to help individuals develop strength, agility, and balance, through quadrupedal movement patterns and ground-based locomotion, as well as to develop focus, discipline, and a connection to nature. They are designed to help individuals move more efficiently and effectively in their daily lives.

All of these practices aim to instill the values of focus, self-control, and harmony with the natural world; promote overall health and fitness; and encourage the development of quadrupedal movement patterns and ground-based locomotion. Their purpose is to improve the efficiency and comfort of regular day-to-day activities.

In addition to martial arts and physical exercise, you can also find this type of movement being used in the fields of parkour, dance, and therapy. They can aid parkour athletes in a fast-paced urban setting, allowing them to more easily and gracefully navigate obstacles. There is room for both strength and grace in animalistic dance movements. Animalistic movement therapy has also been shown to be helpful for many patients struggling with mobility, coordination, or balance.

The continued incorporation of animalistic movements into modern martial arts and fitness routines is a testament to their continued utility and relevance. Furthermore, the popularization of these practices beyond their original contexts is a testament to their efficacy in improving people’s health on multiple levels.

We advocate for more research into animalistic movements so that their roots can be fully understood. These movements can have many positive effects on your health and well-being, and they can be useful for anyone’s practice, whether you’re a martial artist, professional athlete, fitness fanatic, wanting to move more, or just trying to live a healthier life.

It is our hope that you will take advantage of the many programs and practices out there — including our own Phase SiX: Online programs — that can help you learn and incorporate animalistic movements into your training.

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