They all look a little goofy when you first see them: A group of adults crawling on all fours, dodging wooden doles with slow-motion Matrix moves. To a passerby, it would be easy to mistake them for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon enthusiasts. In fact, these fitness classes are practicing a type of movement known as the Ido Portal method, which—goofy as it may seem— UFC featherweight and lightweight champion Conner McGregor uses to train for fights.
The philosophy behind the Ido Portal method is a combination of health, aesthetics, performance, and art, and it was recently brought to our town by way of Santa Cruz Movement. “We want to teach our students to be springy,” says instructor and co-owner Leela Kalow. While the classes incorporate standard exercises like pull-ups, many of the movements emphasize typically overlooked benefits like wrist and ankle mobility.
Early in my first class, I was instructed to stand on one foot and was met with what felt like a sea of bouncing tennis balls that I had to snatch from the air. After I stumbled and lost my balance for the third time in a row, any preconceived notions of goofiness quickly gave way to ice-cold focus. After a series of equally frustrating Karate Kid-style exercises, I felt my fast-twitch muscles start to fire and a bead of sweat drip down my face. As an athlete whose ego admittedly flares when tasked with such drills, it’s a familiar habit to grit my teeth and attempt to push through the same way I would in a CrossFit class. The Ido Portal method, however, demands a level of attention to detail that forced me to slow down and breathe—neither of which have ever come naturally to me.
I can’t speak to fighting in the UFC, but when it comes to the sport of surfing, it’s rarely the large muscle groups that fail first. If a surfer couldn’t stick that airdrop at Mavericks or fell coming off a floater at the Lane, it was probably because they lost their balance and not because of their quad size. Training fast-twitch muscles is the oil that allows the engine to run smoothly—and being labeled a "smooth" surfer is one of the highest forms of praise. Surfing smoothly requires dancing with the wave rather than forcing yourself on her. It requires a level of grace that is often overlooked in a culture that is obsessed with becoming bigger, stronger, and faster. Paradoxically, though, the fastest surfers are also the most graceful.
I didn’t feel gassed after the class, but more like I was ready to hit the waves or even attempt a breakdancing move. “And that’s the point,” says Kalow, “Whether you’re a dancer or a surfer or a fighter, we want the classes to prime you for what you love to do.”