Movement Culture: Hong Kong's Newest Fitness Trend
In an airy studio in Wong Chuk Hang, eight men and women of different ages and athletic build begin to warm up, jumping lightly in place, doing handstands, playfully interacting with one another and moving about the room.
The space is called Trybe, and the group is here to take part in different classes—strength training, tumbling, handstands. But this isn’t a regular gym. The disciplines they are undertaking are to be approached as components of the same practice, one of the fitness world’s burgeoning concepts: movement.
If the term sounds loose, that’s because it’s supposed to. Movement includes a variety of workouts and physical routines, from gymnastics and parkour to calisthenics and acrobatics. To many well-being enthusiasts and body cognoscenti, it is an all-encompassing lifestyle.
“A culture. A way of life,” says Teddy Lo, one of Trybe’s co-founders and master coaches. “One of the main problems with the modern fitness industry is that it pushes people towards very specific, one-sided tools and goals to improve their strength and stamina. Movement does the opposite. It invites you to try everything—especially the things you’re most scared of. It’s training both body and mind to get outside familiar spaces.”
“Standard gyms,” adds Steph Lee, a co-founder and movement teacher at Trybe, “divide rigidly by disciplines: dance practitioners stick to their dance routines, yogis to yoga, weightlifters to their bench press and dumbbells. Movement brings all of these together under one umbrella. It’s for people from all sorts of sports backgrounds.”
Teddy and Steph are cases in point. He comes from martial and circus arts by way of crossfit; she used to be a professional ballerina. Vee Lea, another co-founder and instructor, is a former aerial and pole dancer. They all gravitated towards movement as a way to take their physical capabilities and mental focus to the next level. “I think of it as a democratic approach to well-being,” Vee says, “which inherently extends to how you go about everyday life.”
Ido Portal is the first name to pop up when you type movement culture into Google. Born and raised in Haifa, he spent years studying capoeira, martial arts and gymnastics, among other disciplines, before blending them together into his own practice.
In the movement circuit, he has an almost guru-like halo and the perfect poster-boy appearance to go with it. He looks lean, handsome and perfectly chiselled. He speaks in short motivational bites—“We are all human first, movers second and only then specialists,” “If it’s impossible, it’s a good goal to have,” “There is no wrong movement. There is lack of preparation and lack of awareness”—and has 460,000 followers on Instagram.
Although variations on movement have existed for a long time, Portal is the one who has propelled it into the limelight through mesmerising videos, clever use of social media and, notably, by becoming movement coach last year to the professional mixed martial arts sportsman Conor McGregor, a clear move to display the reach and potential of the method—if a professional fighter chooses to take ballet classes, then walk like a lizard and hang like a monkey (some of the exercises in movement culture), surely such physical pursuits have to be the ultimate workout. Tickets for Portal’s workshops around the world sell out within hours.
“Ido is your starting reference point when you get into movement,” says Clare Lim, co-founder and CEO of SharedSpace, a movement studio in Causeway Bay. “I did three camps with him when I decided I wanted to learn more about the discipline back in 2011-12. I now train under Fighting Monkey, another movement school that weaves together dance and martial arts like qi gong, but Ido is definitely the main spokesperson for the concept.”
“What I like about movement is how loose it is,” chimes in Daniel Strange, a private movement practitioner based in Central who trained under one of Portal’s Hong Kong students.
“Which is why you can call it a culture. It doesn’t follow set rules or routines. It’s constantly adapting and evolving. We live in such a rushed, hectic society, particularly in Hong Kong, and I think movement enthusiasts are drawn to the idea of taking a break from all that and engaging in activities that feel unplugged from the analogue world. It’s a way to better understand your body. Not just one aspect—abs or legs or biceps—but your physicality as a whole.”
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Indeed, a movement “course” might see you do parkour, work on balance, mobility, strength and conditioning, and do tai chi-inspired sequences. There is also a strong game component.
“In our classes, we have people play with each other, or move in sync with a partner,” Clare says. “The idea is to encourage curiosity and emotive empathy, to shape the way we relate to the space and people around us.”
“The brain is such a huge part of how the body trains,” Vee says. “Movement culture keeps that at the core of all its disciplines. It’s integrated training at its best. You can get a lot of physical benefits from that.”
Onwards and upwards
People have taken notice. Although not yet as popular as HIIT (high-intensity interval training), spinning or yoga, movement culture is increasingly entering the radar of elite athletes and hard-core exercisers.
Both Trybe and SharedSpace are just over a year old but operate at full capacity and have ever-growing rosters of members spanning black-belt karate fighters, soccer players, lacrosse professionals, pole dancers, Brazilian jiu-jitsu wrestlers and elite javelin throwers, but also “beginners, kids, families,” Steph says. “Movement culture really is for everyone. It’s an open field.”
Daniel says he’s had to adjust his schedule to take in more students. “People who have a fitness routine are constantly looking at more challenging ways to get fitter,” Clare says. “Movement offers that in a 360-degree way.”