This is a guest post by Justin Goodhart from Wellrounded Athlete. Scroll down to learn more about him.
Prefer to listen instead of read? Here’s the audio version of this post!
The world’s most innovative athletes and movers are alive right now. They live among us. And they have lessons to teach us.
We live in rare times where we can witness exponential innovation unfold before our eyes in nearly every field. The amount of mind-blowing viral videos of world-class movement is almost numbing. You’ve probably scrolled past at least 10 on your Facebook feed today.
In fact, a few weeks ago, the snowboarder Billy Morgan landed the first ever quadruple cork 1800. (That’s 4 vertical flips and 5 FULL rotations.)
But what sort of mindset leads to that level of movement innovation? The Godfather of modern street skating has some thoughts about it.
Meet Rodney Mullen – the world’s most innovative skater, and widely accepted as the most influential person in the sport.
He’s responsible for the sport’s most important invention: the ollie – ‘popping’ the board off the ground and landing back on the board while moving. This breakthrough opened the doors for the entire universe of modern skating as we know it.
If that wasn’t enough, he’s also innovated over 30 other mind-blowing tricks. Rodney Mullen understands a thing or two about movement innovation.
You may not be a skateboarder or even care about skating, but modern skating is a goldmine of movement innovation with many compelling lessons. Here’s four lessons from the Godfather himself.
Movement Lesson #1 – Master the Basics
For a long time, I didn’t have proper respect for ‘the basics.’
In fact, I thought they were boring and I was always in a hurry to move on to something more advanced and glamorous.
But I kept hearing the same advice: FIRST, master the basics. Then break the rules.
This was Lamonte Tales’ advice to me (and listeners of the Move Smart Podcast). And it kept resurfacing in other places.
I think this lack of respect for the basics stemmed from my unknowing denial of a powerful biological law called the SAID Principle. The acronym stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands but what it actually means is: “Your body ALWAYS adapts to EXACTLY what you do (or don’t do).”
It finally clicked for me when I was watching an interview with Rodney Mullen, who said:
Simple techniques… allowed for the biggest advancements in skateboarding.
This sounds counter-intuitive – bordering on suspicious.
But when you realize that early errors magnify exponentially, you will begin to respect the fundamentals. When you master the basics, you engrain the technical mastery required for more advanced movements that inevitably have a smaller margin for error.
But what really keeps the fundamentals interesting is the endless wellspring of variation. A true master like Mullen can perform dozens of variations of the same trick:
- He masters the basics until they are familiar and effortless.
- Then he takes what is familiar and makes it “a bit strange and new” by adding new environments and new variables.
It’s funny how you can hear something a hundred times, but it only sinks in when you hear it at the right time and from the right source. I always thought “mastering the basics” was just generic advice to pacify beginners and make them feel good about their lack of skill.
I was wrong.
Turns out the worlds greatest movers, athletes, and innovators keep repeating it for a reason.
So how do you know if you’ve mastered the basics?
I think this quote provides some insight:
Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.
You know you’ve mastered the basics when you can’t get them wrong.
Movement Lesson #2 – Explore New Environments
Once Rodney Mullen started taking his old freestyle tricks to new street skating environments, it created something no one expected. It opened his eyes to new tricks and possibilities the world had never seen.
The environment was his inspiration. Novel environmental challenges made innovation non-optional.
But why didn’t he realize the possibility sooner?
There’s a common psychological bias called ‘domain dependence.’ In a nutshell, this is your mind’s tendency to think and act in a specific way based on habit or social and environmental cues.
- On the one hand, this is great because it allows us to conserve our mental resources.
- On the other hand, it shackles our mind and limits our capacity to see new opportunities in familiar circumstances.
Humans tend to see things through the lens of our own experience. We have to push the boundaries of our comfort and perceptions to expand them.
So how can we intentionally break out of domain dependence and elevate our movement practice? One of the fastest ways is to bring your movement to a new environment.
New environments lead to new insights. New insights lead to innovation.
Movement Lesson #3 – Cultivate Somatic Intuition
‘Soma’ comes from the Greek and literally means ‘body.’ Somatic intuition is the body’s subconscious knowledge.
It’s like the German philosopher Fredrich Neitzche said:
“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.”
Somatic intuition is your insurance policy when you meet the unexpected or unpredictable motor challenge.
This intuition is a deep knowledge of your skill set, immediate physical and mental state, training history, environment, and more. It’s the perfect unity of prediction, adaptation, and execution. It’s cultivated from a massive library of past experiences that builds your mental database to more effectively handle future challenges.
The problem is, this somatic wisdom can be hard to consciously cultivate because it grows through spontaneously solving unexpected movement puzzles.
The most reliable way to build it is to expose yourself to as many new movements as possible.
Then let serendipity do the heavy lifting for you. Serendipity is one of my favorite words. It means, “a valuable or pleasant discovery resulting from luck or by accident.”
Intuitive exploration of new environments with a honed skill set will lead to movement innovations you could not previously imagine. Harness the power of fortunate accidents and blind luck – you’ll be amazed by what you find!
Movement Lesson #4: Innovate
If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.
– Thomas Jefferson
Once you (1) master the basics, (2) expose yourself to new environments, and (3) cultivate somatic intuition, you may find that innovation is almost instinctive and effortless.
It will be a natural extension of your self expression and personal movement practice.
Innovation is the the surest way to deepen your movement practice. But more importantly, it’s your greatest opportunity to give back to your community. And how much you contribute to a community is directly proportional to a deep and deeply individual movement practice.
You will contribute nothing of value if your movement practice is simply a clone of the latest movement fad.
So do you innovate? Do you breathe?
The answer to both should be an obvious yes. If you’re not doing BOTH, you’re dying.
As Rodney Mullen says:
“The very nature of street skating is to look at the environment and try to use it in the most imaginative way.”
Here’s some basic questions to help you apply these lessons so you can continue to build your movement practice.
1. What basic movements have I rushed or neglected that I need to revisit?
Example: Rushing into a freestanding handstand before you’ve spent enough time working against the wall.
2. What new environment could I explore?
Example: Try a handstand on grass, uneven terrain, on parallel bars, on blocks, etc. (once you’ve mastered the basics of course!)
3. What new movements could I explore that will help cultivate somatic intuition?
Examples: Rebalancing drills, handstand shoulder taps, handstand obstacle courses, cartwheels, making new shapes, etc.
4. What small adjustments or variations might lead to new insights or innovation?
Example: Hand placement, head/eye position, body tension, etc.
About the Author
Closing Thoughts from the Editor
A big thank you to Justin for this enlightening guest post. We may not think we have a lot in common with a champion skateboarder, but Rodney Mullen’s insights go far beyond just getting good at skating.
His lessons can be directly applied to how we think about and approach our training.
Do we want to just go through the motions again and again and expect to improve? Of course not! We should take the time to analyze what we are doing, make sure our fundamentals are sound, and explore what are bodies can do with mindful intention.
“Somatic intuition” is a great description of what we are working to cultivate in our training and a big part of that is an emphasis on exploration of movement. That includes actions that are seemingly simple as well as more complex.
We may think we “know” a move if we’ve done it before or have seen it done, but it takes practice and an open mind to gather all the benefits from the movement.
Our 28-day course, Vitamin, introduces you to novel movements every day, cultivating your body’s somatic intuition.
GMB Vitamin: Move Better through Innovation
Experience better movement and improved awareness of yourself, through practicing novel exercises every day for 28 days.
The lessons that Justin describes above should be incorporated into your training routines to help you continue to grow and improve. Don’t be afraid to try new things. It’s not only good for you, it’s also a lot of fun!