A cage fighter’s training regime fixed my dodgy back

On a hot summer morning, Melbourne traffic hasn’t peaked and already the sun is belting down.  I meet a free-form movement coach – that’s what he calls himself – in parkland by the Bay near water’s edge.  Close enough to hear a smooth sea lapping onto the nearby rock wall.  Time will tell whether this is another fruitless search.  But, what I’d give to be agile again.

There’s no sign of tattoos and nothing hype about my barefooted, solidly-built movement trainer who, by the way, is affable and happy, unusually relaxed in his skin for a twenty-something.  He’s got his work cut out, though: sedentary, stress-ridden decades building a successful career, being the best husband and father I know how, has taken its physical toll.  It’s taken a course of anti-inflammatories, countless osteopathic treatments and enough clinical Pilates sessions to see my physiotherapist’s practice flourish into two new clinics to have me walking reasonable distances again.

I glance at my wristwatch – ten minutes has gone by.  Now, bearing in mind my physical condition, a question looms large: how did I come to be crawling on hands and feet like a lizard, being urged along to, “slow is smooth; smooth is fast”?

Like this workout, the answer is bizarre.  So bizarre, I’m contemplating the idea my new fitness regime was preordained.

In 2015, UFC hit and the highest paid Irish sportsman, Conor McGregor, made world news by predicting, then knocking out, a world title-holder in only 13 seconds.  He dresses like a New York dandy, and is known for trash talk.” I change your bum life.  When you fight me it’s a celebration. You ring back home: Baby, we’re rich … break out the red panties.”  Rags to riches McGregor’s ranting, straight from the id, has upset many, including his own countrymen.  “The paddywhackery ‘Oirish’card McGregor constantly plays – to enhance his image in United States – is as embarrassing as it is ridiculous,” writes J.P. O’Malley for the Irish news site, Independent.

But dig below mass media stories and you discover McGregor’s success is so remarkable, fight experts are pausing to rethink the sport.  His style is unorthodox, sometimes compared to Muhammad Ali’s.  “Precision beats power, and timing beats speed,” McGregor says.  Key is his reliance on agility, balance and coordination.  McGregor prizes this artillery so highly that he looked to a movement exponent, and began training under the tutelage of martial arts and Afro-Brazilian Capoeira trained, Ido Portal.  Interesting.

In YouTube clips, Ido Portal hangs, slithers, falls and balances as if possessed by an animal spirit.  Ballet dancers possess god-like poise and grace, but do not come close to the agility of Ido.  The fitness industry may aspire to be rock-like, but the movement mob dream of water – anarchists who care to reign over their environment rather than be subdued by the cage they believe our modern, concrete world to be.  Watch Parkour, a French movement discipline, and you will see practitioners jump from high-rise buildings, hurdle park benches and navigate stairwells as if the urban landscape were an obstacle course made of foam rubber.

My new young coach is one of a growing number of movement enthusiasts.  He once trained alongside the Australian weight lifting team, but then tossed in barbells and CrossFit for movement practice. “I’d see guys who could barely squat quarter way down load themselves with weights.  What’s the point!”

The movement tribe believe habituation of movement patterns leads to overuse and the sort of chronic physical problems I’m now faced with.  The idea made so much sense, I decided to try.  Still, it’s fair to say, we would not have met without the appearance of a braggadocious Irishman in the media.  And I wouldn’t be here on a grassy strip, kneeling and lunging, squatting and crouching, asking limbs to move slowly to their limit – and then a little more.

“Your elbow.  See how straight it is,” says my new coach.  Our session had come to an end.  I look down; sure enough, I am extending an otherwise crooked arm rather than nursing my tennis-elbow.  What’s more, there’s no sign of pain in my arm – or my hip.  Then, to my surprise, like a carefree teenager, I clamber down rocks and dive into the sea.  As much for a lark as to escape the heat.

No-one said healing is easily won, and to be clear, I’m not done with anti-inflammatories or Pilates under a physiotherapist’s watchful eye.  It has been an epic battle – a cage fight – for confidence in my body to be restored.  It wasn’t so long ago, the best I could manage was a niggle-free stroll.  What was needed was a UFC champ, a master of movement – and quite possibly, the intervention of the universe.

Conor McGregor?  In March, he brawls for another title.  If he wins, McGregor will punch the air and holler.  He will be UFC champion in consecutive weight divisions.



  1. Great stuff Peter. It’s amazing how much we are a mass of habits we come to believe are inevitable and define us. Physically, emotionally and socially.
    I went on a radical eating and nutrition plan a month ago – largely to support the Avenging Eagle who has had a long term chronic health condition. I thought I would probably sneak in a pastie or a beer at work when she was not around. There was no way I thought I could get by without sugar, alcohol, dairy and fats/oils.
    But bugger me – it wasn’t the weight loss that got me hooked – it was the energy boost that I got from not weighing my body down with addictive foods. And I know we ate “healthy” and drank “moderately” for middle aged folks. Even my golf has improved – not having to swing around my gut?
    Recently we have been going to restaurants – ordering one main course and an extra plate – and dividing it between us. The staff look at us like we are cheapskates until we explain its a healthy eating plan. Our conventional portion sizes are just ridiculous.
    Now I need to find a movement guru in Perth – like you have – to sort out my inflamed Achilles that have me hobbling for the first 50 steps. People have always said that I “walked funny” on my heels. In middle age all those bad habits come back to haunt you.
    Thanks for telling your story and challenging expectations.

  2. Peter B, worth telling: diet’s next for me.

  3. Breaking News. UFC officials have confirmed Conor McGregor’s opponent Rafael do Anjos has broken his foot during training. A replacement Nate Diaz will step in, but McGregor will have to wait a little longer for a title shot.

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