The Wisdom of Ido Portal: Inside the 5-day Internship

“Movement Is Life”… These were some of the first words uttered by our new teacher, Ido Portal… “No movement? No life!” I knew I was in for a life-changing week.

I had stumbled across a self-professed “Movement Teacher” in 2014 when searching for fitness courses in Melbourne. This teacher had a strange name, he was polarising, had new ideas and enough charisma to put Barack Obama’s tail between his legs. Enamoured with his story, movement philosophy and teaching style, I checked the course price tag; $1200? No way!

Little did I know I would be spending nearly 8x that just 2 and a half years later…

So there we were. 7 students and 2 teachers in an intimate 5-day, 40+hour training camp in Bondi, NSW. Nervous smiles we briefly get to know each other and then straight into a talk that set the energy for the rest of the internship. A lot was mentioned, from The Myth of Sisyphus to the impact of cultural restrictions on our movement capacity, there was no time wasted in impressing the importance of a movement practice and what was about to unfold.

Our new teachers, Ido Portal & Odelia Goldschmidt, have been travelling the world for the last seven years teaching everyone from children in Israel to UFC 2-belt champion fighter, Conor McGregor. Their movement skills are impressive but equally as captivating is their ability to convey abstract concepts of movement and life to inspire and develop their students.

The foundation, what Ido terms “Movement Terminology”, is a practice that develops our ability to articulate our spine in non-linear patterns. Your spine has roughly 50 joints that allow you to move in complex ways. Unfortunately, due to a sedentary lifestyle and lack of movement complexity, most of us have lost full control of our spine. Thankfully, I had a smooth learning experience, and Dave had been practising for an entire year since his last internship in 2016.


For the first hour each morning, we moved the spine through transverse, sagittal and frontal planes. We massaged and nourished the facet joints, intervertebral discs and nerve channels that flow through the spinal column. As the week went on, we woke up sorer and stiffer, but incredibly, the practice of Movement Terminology soothed our pain. (Be forewarned, while learning this you will look & feel ridiculous. A few driver’s, stopped at the traffic lights, were caught staring in awe at the erotic repetitive motions of my hips).

The purpose of this foundational practice is many. Aside from the obvious fact that more range of motion is usually better than less, Movement Terminology prepares us for life. Life is non-linear. It is unchoreographed and chaotic. If you are hit in a car accident with a neck of 60-year-old, you are much more likely to sustain a serious injury than if you had the spine of a supple leopard.

Furthermore, when we train in the gym, most exercises are done with a neutral spine. Deadlifting, squatting, machines, dumbbells, etc. all promote strengthening the spine in a neutral plane. But what happens when we need to lift an awkward object like a couch or an atlas stone? Does a heavy load during spinal flexion, extension, rotation or side bending suddenly make you as weak as a butterfly? This complexity is an added benefit of strongman training.

Now we were ready to put our new spines into practice through a game called Zen Archer. A version of Contact Improv, the Zen Archer is partner play used to develop each other as movement practitioners. You need to dodge my attack, and I aim to touch you, without the intention of touching you. It is similar to a slow-dance style of Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art.

It is a mindset that makes this game special. Unlike tag, where my intention is to win, here my intention is to explore your movement restrictions and to teach you new ways of movement. It is a form of play. If done properly, play is one of the most efficient ways to develop movement. Animals play, therefore it is a phenomenon that is older than humans. It brings people together and teaches us about ourselves and each other. Through the Zen Archer, we further opened up our body through new, unusual and unrepeatable movement patterns. In a 3 minute round, you will squat, flip, crawl, invert, backbend, sweat and move in ways you never have before.

Research is still uncovering how much of the brain is devoted to movement. One of the best ways to prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s is to learn new motor patterns. The fastest way to develop neural networks is through movement. Ido was adamant that we have evolved because we are the most sophisticated movers in the animal kingdom. We can mimic most animals, but no other animal can mimic us. When asked on the LondonReal Podcast Why should we move? Ido answered, “Because you can”.

Anyone who is familiar with Ido’s work has seen footage of him crawling on the ground like a lizard. Animal locomotion is something that we have implemented heavily into the programs of our members at 5EW. We have seen improvements in mobility, strength, body awareness and even body composition in every one of our students that performs these movements regularly.

With that said, Ido took it to the next level.

After some basic bear crawl patterns on the first morning, we initiated the session by learning foundations of the Lizard, Dragon squat, QDR hold, Cossack squat, Crow pose and Shinobi step. These 6 patterns would be repeated over and over for hours on end throughout the week. First, we learned the movements by themselves: Isolation. Then we began to sequence them: Integration. Once practised enough, we moved to the 3rd and final step: Improvisation. For the last 20 minutes of practice, Dave & I commanded each other to flow. “Crab!” “Lizard 3 steps!” “QDR!” “Shinobi!” Covered from head to toe in sweat and dirt, we looked like we had been trekking the rainforests of Indonesia.

Ido was like a machine gun however rather than bullets; he peppered insights. There are no handouts, no notes, and definitely no recordings. It is up to you to catch as many insights as you can from the experience. One that I wrote down immediately: “When this is all finished, can you play on the beach for an hour and not repeat yourself?”

An interesting request indeed.

We are so accustomed to learning specified sequences and movement patterns, we have lost the ability to improvise. He gave the example of telling a yogi to just flow for 5 minutes. Most would gravitate toward performing some Vinyasas, a couple of hand balances and probably an elegant form of a warrior. The movements are beautiful yes, but where is the creativity, where is the complexity and where is the real-life application of such a practice? It is only applicable on the mat. On the other hand, tell a contemporary dancer to flow, and you will see hundreds of complex movement patterns pieced together as if the entire universe was moving through her.

This is a sign of a good movement practitioner.

Another sign is muscle size. Not of traps, pecs and quads but of unusual and sometimes ‘vestigial’ stabiliser muscles in the calves, feet, forearms, and in the webbing of the fingers. Do you have flat feet, internally rotated shoulders or weak knees? Perhaps you are not moving in agreement with your biology.

Those of you that know me are aware of my handstand obsession over the last few years. Despite having a 60-second freestanding handstand, given my time spent practising handstands, this is rubbish. According to Ido, with structured training, someone who has never inverted before could perform a 60-second handstand in 12 months. It was time to learn handstands under Ido Portal. First things first, destroy the idea that handstands are important. Huh?

“If I give you a cup of water to drink, don’t start chewing on the cup. Don’t mistake the cup for the water.” What Ido meant by this is that a lot of people in the fitness and yoga world have been obsessed with the handstand, not realising how blind that was. Understanding this from a movement perspective, we have been trapped in what Ido termed a “Prison of Gold”. By being obsessed with the movement pattern, we have missed the movement language that is written in that pattern. Your Instagram posts and profile pictures are impressive, but what can you do with your handstand? Can you flip and flow into a back bridge or QDR? I certainly couldn’t.

“If you lose your arm as a movement practitioner, the practice continues. But as a hand balancer? Game Over!”

Ido was a wealth of paradoxes. Often coming back to The Myth of Sisyphus (look it up), he would say your movement tricks don’t mean shit!… But they mean shit. Be obsessed. But be disconnected”. This is the message for our practice.

Once my handstand universe had been flipped on its head, it was time for us to flip upside down. We quickly learned that our work capacity was very poor as was the case when training muscle ups on the rings. Ido and Odelia train for many hours each day and there was no chance we could keep up with their demands. Over the week we drilled handstand body alignment and strength development, then transitionary movements to make the skill more useful. Isolation to Integration then Improvisation.

Ido often spoke about the difference between a success mindset and a development mindset. In life, you will fail. We are human, and we die. Often not suddenly but after a long and slow decline of decaying bones and muscles, atrophying brain and the whittling away of our senses until we are deaf and blind and have to yell for attention because we need someone to feed us. As humans we tend to ignore this, it makes us uncomfortable, but failure is a certainty. Why then do so many of us base our existence on success? Physical performance, beauty, career and financial worth are all useless when we turn to dust.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to succeed but that we should not be attached to success. Don’t start a cosmetic surgery addiction. Don’t start pumping anabolic steroids because you’re double bodyweight back squat is starting to fall apart. Don’t base your self-worth on how straight your handstand line is in your profile picture. The point is to do your very best but with humility, knowing that you will become food for bacteria one day. Be obsessed, but be disconnected.

Since returning to 5EW, many people have asked me for one thing I took out of the internship. Each time I have replied with “Move more.” Ido spoke about the method of programming used by the elite, world-class performers: The Bulgarian Method. It is a style of training that is renowned for burying some of the hardiest Olympians. Think training as hard as you can as often as you can. This is the method that Ido uses, however with a slight twist. Ido is not a specialist; he trains hand balances, ring work, jumping, coordination, balance, dancing, and many many disciplines. Therefore there are no rest days in a movement practice. He views this as a genetic upgrade.

So, for those of you stuck in a chair for 8 hours, I implore you to re-examine your values. If you are reading this far, you probably value movement, learning and therefore life.



On the evening of day 3, we trained on the sands of Bondi Beach, continuing our fight training. Similar to boxing, but instead of laying one in between your eyes, I tap your shoulder. The purpose is to develop speed, rhythm, timing, accuracy and footwork without the added risks of boxing. Using my reach to my advantage, I sometimes caught myself in the success mindset, thinking “I must win”, rather than the development mindset that says “Let’s enhance our movement capacity”.

Coming away with minor scratches on the body and face, we then developed lower body mobility and strength in extreme ranges of motion. The simple practice of getting up and down from the floor through lunges, squats, figure 4s, kneeling, cossacks, etc. highlighted our weaknesses & became a real challenge for some. Everybody needs to be able to get up from the floor with ease, from Grandma to Conor McGregor. It is an area of movement that is grossly overlooked.

After movement, it was time for stillness. The instructions: “Walk into the surf and stand still. Don’t fidget. Don’t swallow. Don’t even blink. If you think someone is stealing your bags, let them.” So all 9 of us were lined up in the surf break, gazing out onto the ocean. It was overcast and began to rain. I became acutely aware of the sensations of the waves, the shifting sand under my feet, the salty wind on my face and the voices inside my head. Ido is a spirited advocate of stillness, and in a society that rarely moves but is always on the move, I believe stillness is a practice we could all implement for a happier, healthier existence.

Ido and his students practice something they suck at every day. This keeps them honest, in a student’s mindset and constantly evolves their brain. On the final afternoon of the internship, we used the obstacles around us as gym equipment. For 2 hours, we practised balancing on a fence that surrounded a sporting oval. It was fascinating to observe the development that occurred over this period. In the beginning, I could barely hold myself mounted on top of the railing with both hands and 1 foot. As the session was called to finish, I was walking backwards for 10 metres on the freshly painted fence. Dave, on the other hand, had not listened to instructions and was still stuck on Step 1: Hold a 60-second squat.

The internship closed with some fun but challenging jumping drills and unilateral leg strength and then a closing discussion. We thanked and shared with each other the good times and our lessons learned. As a group, Ido said we weren’t the most talented, but there was a certain cohesiveness that is rare amongst strangers. I would agree. Over the 5 days and 40 hours of training, we challenged, supported and inspired each other towards becoming better movement practitioners and therefore, becoming better human beings. I hope we can stay in contact and meet again soon.

The exercises and techniques we learnt over the week were incredible, but it was the wisdom of Ido Portal that had the most profound effect on me. It was evident he had devoted himself to a movement practice, but also to a life practice.

As Ido said, a Movement practice and a Life Practice are the same. It’s deeper than martial arts, rock climbing, yoga, dancing, etc. It’s a way of being in this world that forces you to reach your full potential as a human. Of course, this final point does not exist. There is always more to accomplish, more to develop and more to learn.. and so, just as Sisyphus was banished to eternity to push the rock uphill, only to watch it roll back down, the hunt for this human perfection is beautifully endless. Join me if you wish.