Movement Training for Humans
The 4 Primary Movement Problems
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The 4 Primary Movement Problems

Hey friend, real quick reminder that our 2023 lineup of seasonal retreats are open to the public! There are a few spots left but they’re going quick, so if you want to join the adventure with us, hit the link below and book a call with me!

[EMP Retreats 2023]

Now let’s jump into the blog!

“Dexterity is the ability to find a motor solution for any external situation, that is, to adequately solve any emerging motor problem
correctly: (i.e, adequately and accurately)
quickly: (with respect to both decision making, and achieving the correct result),
rationally: (expediently and economically), and
resourcefully: (i.e quick-wittedly and initiatively).”

-Nikolai Bernstein, Neurophysiologist

In 2014 I attended a seminar by the most famous movement teacher at that time. A discussion came up about team sport players, and the teachers dismissed them as not real movers. I found this curious and tried to dig into what they meant but was quickly dismissed.

Some time later, I was watching baseball highlights. The shortstop used one of the exact movements we had done in that seminar, to turn a double play. It was a beautiful & fluid movement, effectively taking him from standing to the ground and back up.

There was, however, a big difference between what he did and what we “real movers” were doing. The baseball player did not perform this moment just to perform it. The player did it to solve the problem of having to catch a screeching line drive, probably traveling over 100 mph. He then rapidly returned to a strong throwing position and volleyed that ball to first base. His movement solved a problem, and a very difficult one at that.

Who was the real mover?

I can’t recall the specific play but when I think of exceptional movers in baseball the name that pops to mind is Fernando Tatis jr.

Watch this and tell me this man does not possess extraordinary movement.

At EMP we believe the fundamental measure of movement competence is the ability to effectively solve problems.

Beautiful patterns can be enjoyable to explore, but what matters in the long term is how you can use your movement to solve problems.

That is why evolution selected us to move the way we can.

If we accept the idea that movement is about solving movement problems, what are the fundamental general problems we need to solve?

I believe there are three primal problems we face and one fundamental but secondary problem.

The primal three are locomotion, manipulation and interaction.
Locomotion is moving ourselves through our environment.
Manipulation is moving the objects in our environment around us
Interaction: is moving with other living agents, human or animal. This can be further subdivided into cooperative and combative movement.

I first proposed this breakdown in 2013 as a simplification of George Heberts 10 movement competencies.

I’d later realize that this distinction is also described in play research as locomotor, object oriented, and rough and tumble play. The little known natural movement thinker Margarete Streicher also developed a similar conceptualization in the 1930’s.

We can then think of practices that intentionally cultivate these abilities. At Evolve Move Play, we describe these as body to environment, body to object and body to body practices. (hat tip to fighting monkey for coining “body to body practices”)

We like this language because it orients us to the problem that the agent is addressing. This language also avoids the potential confusion around manipulation. Since manipulation can also refer to social manipulation.

We have added a 4th category as well which is secondary to these primal categories but still fundamental to movement in the long run. These are Body Integrity practices.

Body integrity practices aim at solving the problem of how we move such that we are better able to maintain our health and structural capacities long term. This is crucial to maintaining our abilities in the primal 3 movement categories through life.

To recap, the complete movement practice then has 4 fundamental pillars: Body to Environment, Body to Object, Body to Body and Body integrity practices.

Body to Environment

Parkour is the practice that best represents our underlying fundamental locomotive abilities . We differ in our approach to parkour from the broader parkour community because we emphasize practice in the natural world.

Our reasons for this are multiple. We believe we have an independent need for exposure to nature and that practicing parkour in the natural world stacks these benefits. We also believe that practice in the natural world inherently produces more adaptive and dexterous athletes. This is because nature is inherently more complex than our created environments.

Finally we believe that training in nature results in greater longevity. This is because of the greater variability of the physical demands and the decreased exposure to hard concrete.


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When it comes to body to object practices, we love balls, sticks and ropes. These are extremely common tools of play in all human cultures. The tools of traditional strength training are also fantastic. With those tools we can drive important adaptations all athletes need. Finally we love crafting, fire making and other traditional survival and life skills.

Body to Body

The center of our approach to body to body practices is roughhousing. This reflects the primal importance of rough and tumble play in child development. Our method melds insights from scientific research on rough and tumble play with game structures from contact improv, capoeira, and mixed martial arts.

The traditional team sports I mentioned earlier tend to incorporate elements of all the fundamental movement problems. For instance, American football involves intense demands for locomotor skills like running, jumping, & changing direction. It involves manipulative skills like throwing, catching, kicking and carrying. Finally, football necessitates interactive skills including team coordination and combative skills like evading, escaping and grappling, even some striking(I.E the stiff arm).

At EMP we take elements of team sports to build more scalable games. Games that we can hybridize with natural parkour and our particularly favorite ways of playing with sticks, balls and ropes.

Body Integrity

Finally, we use practices that help us sustain the long term health of the body by strengthening, mobilizing, and improving the motor control of the body’s fundamental structures.

The weaving of all these 4 pillars together is the heart of the Evolve Move Play practice. The goal is the development of the best problem solvers in the contexts of both movement and life at large. More on that in our next essay on the 4 pillars of Evolve Move Play as a practice of philosophia.

If you want to experience these practices for yourself, our seasonal retreats just went live this week and there are a few spots left. Hit the link below to learn more about these amazing events and book a call with me to see if they’re a right fit for you.

[EMP Seasonal Retreats 2022]


1.Dexterity and it’s Development

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