Movnat is a new system of movement-based fitness that is gaining huge popularity.
And as someone who spends a ridiculous amount of time behind a desk, I can assure you this type of training has certainly gained my attention recently.
So, when I heard my friend Fergus Dullaghan had recently completed the Movnat Combatives course I asked him if he would write an article explaining more about Movnat and their self defence concepts.
So here it is:
Movnat Combatives Review
It was the stun gun that hurt the most. Every time it touched my skin it left a smell in the air like frying bacon.
Meanwhile, punches were landing from all directions. I was on my knees, trying to cover up as best I could. I tried to slow my breath, to use the rising anger to my advantage. Mostly though, I tried to keep reciting the six-digit number I had been given.
This was the stress test – the climax of the MovNat Combatives instructor course. The six-digit number was to teach you to keep a clear head while under pressure. Although only a minute or two long, it was time enough to reflect on why I had ended up here. And it all had to do with movement…
Movement is almost certainly going to be the next big thing in fitness, that’s been clear for some time. Ever since Conor McGregor was seen training with Ido Portal the concept has begun to head towards a tipping point.
Of all the movement systems out there, MovNat attracted me the most. I bought into it so completely that I ended up qualifying as a Level 1 MovNat Certified Trainer. Its underlying philosophy resonated with me as a fighter. In self-defence we are training to deal with emergency situations. In advanced MovNat you often are too. If you fall in this river can you swim to the side and climb out? If a dog chases you, can you get over this head-height wall, or up into that tree? If there is a fire, can you drag this person out of the building?
With this underlying culture, it’s no surprise that MovNat has a Combatives program too, which is endorsed by UFC fighter Carlos Condit. However, MovNat is not a fighting system – nor does it claim to be. It is a way of life built around Natural Movement®. But it does offer people practical, basic self-defence training. That’s not something you often get in other ‘fitness’ methods.
Like the rest of the system, MovNat Combatives is holistic and non-specialised in its approach. The coach, Vic Verdier, is a MovNat Master Instructor and former French Special Forces soldier, who has also taught krav maga and Muay Thai (the latter in Thailand!).
Importantly, not all MovNat instructors have a background in martial arts. But they are all excellent movers. This has a couple of important implications on the approach taken.
Firstly, from a fight or flight perspective, this course is definitely in the latter camp. MovNat instructors, are a group of people who are probably among the best movers in the world. If they can create separation and get a couple meters head start on you, good luck trying to keep up. So that, in a nutshell, is the tactic being taught. Now, this is not without it’s limitations. It doesn’t prepare you to protect anyone else for example, but you can see the logic given the students’ backgrounds.
Secondly, the non-martial arts background of most MovNat instructors means that everything taught has to be quickly absorbable. In other words it has to be simple, high percentage and ideally, instinctive. For example, Geoff Thompson’s fence approach is used along with flinch-based covering. Students are told to think of targets, not techniques. That’s because it’s easier for non-specialist fighters to focus on attacking the throat or eyes (for example) than to worry about exactly how.
You could feel Vic’s military knowledge pouring into the training. This made the whole experience very different from other courses I’ve seen. When we discussed handguns for example, the insight was phenomenal. I learned that in the US Vic often teaches best practices to survive an active shooter situation. In Austria, where I completed my training, the focus was more on mugging – a statistically greater risk there.
Typical to Vic’s approach, rather than being lectured on awareness, instead we actually learnt how to mug someone. We studied videos, practiced the theory, then we buddied up and went out into the real world to try it out on the locals. I’m not joking! We identified our targets, isolated them, surrounded them, lined them up and…
Left them completely alone. Obviously. But isolating, distracting and surrounding people was alarmingly easy. I particularly liked pulling my tourist map out in quiet streets and asking people where I was – my buddy walked up behind them unnoticed. It was simple. The one time a young man did reposition himself deliberately (perhaps instinctively), it felt very different. He wasn’t going to be an easy target. It was a light bulb moment for us on the importance of awareness.
The same was true for knife defence. Everyone knows (or at least they should know) that it’s borderline impossible to defend yourself against a knife. But until you actually experience it, you don’t really understand it. When they told me, a 105kg former elite level fighter to defend myself against a 65kg complete beginner with a fake knife in his hand – I “died“ after about ten seconds. And I kept on dying for the remainder of the two-minute exercise. The “blade” was just unstoppable. My attacker actually got out of breath from stabbing me. By the time I had figured out how to deal with him effectively, it was way too late.
Although I ‘knew’ that before – now I understood it. (And for anyone sitting a little too smugly – yes, I’ve done ‘knife defence’ before – in at least four different systems – it didn’t help much.)
Pros and Cons
Ultimately I agreed with everything Vic was teaching. The course was highly realistic and the teaching was first class. In addition, the approach was strategically intelligent for the student demographic.
It was also challenging. The stress test at the end was extremely difficult for some people. Being zapped with a stun gun and punched on all sides while balled up on the floor, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Even though the punches came in gloved hands (and to be honest very lightly), it was still the first exposure some attendees had ever had to this kind of pressure. There were some tears, and a great deal of nervousness. And that’s a good thing.
Then there is the obvious concern. The idea is for these relative beginners to incorporate aspects of what they have learnt into their MovNat classes. Can they? Should they?
Well actually I believe they should. MovNat doesn’t claim to be a fighting system remember? People come primarily improve their movement skills and get fit. Combatives training in no way takes away from those goals. Moreover, the skills taught are basic movements – quick to learn, hard to get wrong and simple to incorporate. The instructors are movement professionals and good teachers, who are well aware of their own limitations. Introducing simple combos to their classes like palm striking a heavy bag before turning and sprinting, isn’t difficult and might just save someone’s life one day. So why not? Besides, it may give their students the confidence to explore martial arts more deeply.
On a personal level, I am already incorporating MovNat Combatives ideas into my self-defence teaching, and that from me is serious praise – precious little makes the cut. I am genuinely looking forward to the opportunity to learn from Vic again in the future.
Fergus Dullaghan is the head coach of the new Swiss International Fight Team (SWIFT) Academy in Geneva, Switzerland. He is a Level 1 MovNat Certified Trainer. A former elite level judo player, Fergus represented Wales for six years and is a Commonwealth silver medallist. He is also an assistant karate and wing chun instructor and is graded in BJJ and aikido. He has five years of Muay Thai experience. His writing has been published in Blackbelt, Martial Arts Illustrated, Jiu Jitsu Style, Fighting Fit and Train hard Fight Easy magazines among others.