by Erwan Le Corre, MovNat Founder

Cooperation between the members of the same human group, clan, or tribe was a fundamental aspect of ancestral life until very recently. All individuals of a community had to work cooperatively to ensure both group survival and individual survival. Humans often moved in packs. This had to do with hunting, gathering, building shelter, preparing food, harvesting firewood, and transporting water (as well as pretty much everything else required to sustain the group), and it obviously necessitated Natural Movement.

Cooperativeness, just like competitiveness, is inherent to human nature, but it has an equal, if not a greater, potential to make us stronger and more successful as a group than competition as a group does. Cooperativeness also makes us stronger and more successful as individuals who belong to the group which we serve. If systematic competition against each other was the rule of human existence, our lives would be miserable and short, whereas greater collaboration helps everyone who participates.

The importance of competition in life is undeniable, but it is overestimated, and the importance of cooperation is underestimated. We often believe that only the most competitive people are successful, and we forget that the most cooperative people also are very successful. Cooperation has nothing to do with the loss of individuality. It is not a collectivist political idea but a part of our evolutionary psychology. When the individual participates in the collective effort, the benefit is both to the self and the group.

The way we live today makes it possible to completely avoid relying on any other person’s physical help if we want to. Mainstream fitness has always had a tendency toward individualistic fitness training and goals. Have you ever seen an exercise machine designed so people can work out together? How many times have you had to wait in line for your turn to bench press or use the leg-extension machine? Society has become increasingly individualistic, which is a fact that pervades how we approach physical training.

“The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.” —Bertrand Russel

As a result, new forms of community have emerged around all sorts of activities or causes that bring people together. The same movement takes place in the fitness world, and it counterbalances the blatant ego-centered mindset that has been prevailing. However, training together and training cooperatively are not the same: You are always training together when you are training cooperatively, but you are not necessarily training cooperatively when you train together.

Training together could simply mean going through the same workout, at the same time, in the same place, but the workout itself is basically something you could do just as well on your own. Although it can be very enjoyable and motivating to work out with others, it does not teach individuals to cooperate and achieve a task that they couldn’t do singly, either in the form of cooperation or mutual help.

A cooperative task could involve each person participating in carrying part of a load individually, but that could also mean lifting something collectively—something so heavy that a single person couldn’t lift and carry it or something heavy enough that a single person would spend an enormous amount of energy, go very slowly, and maybe injure him- or herself by transporting it alone. Throwing and catching are also movement tasks that require impeccable coordination and cooperation—for example, to pass valuable rescue equipment or food, medicine, weapons, or anything valuable.

This principle does not dismiss in any way the importance of individuality, nor does it discard the potential value of competition. As with the “Unspecialized” principle, elite athletes driven by competition have achieved both personal greatness and pushed the—recorded—limits of human physical performance to new heights. Competitiveness—the desire to win or to rank the highest possible—can be a powerful drive for improvement and achievement.

Cooperative Competition

Interestingly, when competition takes place between groups at a team level, cooperation within each of the groups is an absolute must. One of the primary concerns of all team coaches is to detect and address individualism and to maintain the greatest, most authentic levels of cooperativeness possible in the mind of all players. Team coaches seek great individuals who have little individualism. Although fans may be entirely focused on the aggressiveness of their team, which is necessary to secure the win, the fans often fail to realize that such aggression is totally channeled and organized into cooperative work from start to end. Individual aggressiveness alone does not win team games.

Individual competition within a group can to some degree help motivate every individual to improve, and making each member of a group better contributes to the success of the collective. But such competitiveness has more to do with the concern of giving one’s best or at least with keeping up with a baseline level of aptitude the group expects from you rather than the desire to be on top and better than everyone else. In every group there will be always individuals who are – either naturally or as a product of their own efforts – better, stronger, tougher, smarter, kinder, wiser, more skilled, more creative, or more attractive. We’re all different. What matters to everyone in any group is the intention that each individual displays and the efforts each individual is willing to produce.

In a nutshell, authentic, generous cooperativeness is what is expected from you to be recognized and accepted in the group as useful, reliable, and important.In competitive sports, most of the time preceding competition events is spent in pursuit of improving each individual’s progress and preparation, and the support system provided by the coach, sensei, and other students is really what attracts people to the team.

Danny & Carlos Condit - MovNat Combatives

Even in martial arts, training is not primarily designed to determine who prevails; it’s an arrangement in which one person tries to expose the other’s weaknesses and accepts that one’s weaknesses might be exposed by another person; that philosophy is the key to mutual improvement. Opponents are not real opponents: They are partners within a group dedicated to everyone’s betterment and continuous empowerment. They respect their partner’s weaknesses as much as their fortes and enjoy seeing them evolve and make progress. They bow, hug, fist bump, and high-five, before and after sparring, and they smile and nod in appreciation during it.

Working with others in a spirit of cooperativeness and participation to contribute to a collective effort has helped countless individuals build the self-confidence and self-esteem they were lacking. It helps engender more humility, respect, tolerance, patience, and kindness for others, and it encourages people to be more positive, constructive, open, helpful, encouraging, and friendly in life.

So, I want to state again that the importance of competition in life is undeniable, but it is overestimated, whereas the importance of cooperation is underestimated.

Practical Cooperation

As you begin your Natural Movement practice, find people you can primarily cooperate with and benefit from. Learn from, share with, and train with these people, both in the sense of training next to each other and working together to achieve tasks none of you could achieve alone. Physically participate and interact with one another and with the same goal in mind. It doesn’t matter who’s best; what matters is how good you can become individually and as a group and how the group can improve its collective performance.

Nothing is more empowering than when you become inspiring to yourself—except maybe knowing that you can be useful to others. We’re not more than others; we’re more with others.

“Stronger together” is not a political and gimmicky motto; it’s a timeless reality that concerns us all. The pursuit of fitness without the spiritual drive to better yourself as a person and be able to help others in time of need may not be a meaningless endeavor, but it’s not as meaningful and noble as the alternative.

I believe everyone should be physically trained to help others. This type of training should be a mandatory part of authentic, healthy physical education programs in every school. There is no guarantee that you will ever be in a situation that demands your physical capability to such an extreme, but you should still be prepared in the event that you do need those physical skills.

Muscle size has never impressed me, but I certainly look up to those who possess useful physical capability, a strong mind, and a big heart, regardless of muscle mass. I won’t miss the opportunity to express my admiration and gratitude to all the people out there—firefighters, paramedics, rescuers, police officers, military—who at any point will put themselves in danger to save others’ lives. Even if some of them may be competitive by nature, they don’t behave like individualistic superheroes but as trained, cooperative team members.

Choose to be strong but not arrogant; choose to be humble but not weak; and choose to be helpful whenever you can.

We don’t always need to be strong to be helpful. As a matter of fact, most situations of life where we can help others do not require strength; they just require heart. Until the skills and energies you gain are put to good use outside the gym, physical training remains nothing but a self-centered pursuit. Self-empowerment—both physical and mental—isn’t getting strong at the expense of others; it’s getting strong by yourself for the benefit of yourself and others. Training your body, mind, and heart is a perfect combination.

Passionate About Natural Movement
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If you’d like to learn more and deepen your natural movement practice, consider attending the MovNat Level 1 Certification or a MovNat Workshop. We hold events all around the world. Or, find a MovNat Certified Trainer or Gym in your area. We also offer MovNat Online Coaching as an alternative to live instruction.

Most people know that they should be more physically active. Some even recognize the incredible value in a system like MovNat. But they struggle with actually implementing natural movement into their daily lives. That’s why we work closely with people from all walks of life to help them move better, get healthier and stronger, and discover their true potential with natural movement fitness. It’s also why we work extensively with health and fitness professionals who understand the value of this new paradigm and are eager to start implementing it with their clients.

So, if you’re ready to take your movement practice to the next level, this is your chance. Please join our community and check out an event near you soon.

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Note: this article contains excerpts from Erwan Le Corre’s upcoming book, The Practice of Natural Movement.