Remembering the Monkey Gym

And now for a brief sidestep from the Repatterning Stretching class essay series to reminisce on a period of my life that was a great deal of fun.   The period preceding the formation of The Monkey Gym – and the initial phases of its existence. 

Around town, the last month or so, I have bumped into a number of former students I instructed at this venerable institution, in a prior Age.  Without exception their faces lit up when they saw me and very quickly the conversation steered towards the positive experiences of their training there – and how nothing since has been quite like it.  

What is the Monkey Gym [?] 

It was/is an evolution of the old Strength & Flexibility courses put on by Kit & Co sparked by my interactions with [K] – and the interactions of a number of other teachers’ personal research –  coming together into a melting pot situated on the top floor of the ANU Sport & Recreation building.  

The tale of how this evolution occurred – and my part in it – is the topic of this article. 

As I spoke a little about in the Repatterning Stretching essay;  I came into the Posture & Flexibility/Strength & Flexibility laboratory from a period of intensive training and research into the combination of martial arts and physical culture.   I had no particular interest in learning about stretching.  I entered a ‘Beginners P&F course’ because my Teacher at the time – [C] – mentioned it might be useful for improving the speed and power of my kicks. 

And so with this noble reason tucked into my belt I did indeed decide to begin class.  I have always been very flexible in the spine in most directions – and in the shoulder girdle, too.  People with vested interests and entrenched notions about the potentiality of flexibility increase in the adult human have often used this as an excuse to evade incorporating genuine flexibility work in their own training. ‘You were born flexible’ ‘you cannot change adult flexibility patterns much’ – and its ilk.  I did too. 

The fact I could always perform a reasonable extreme bridge [backward bend] effortlessly did not – in fact – translate across to my having a totally flexible and supple body.  As I was about to find out. 

Where I was tight – very tight – was in the major muscles of the hips and some of the muscles of the legs  [and some of the deeper structural soft tissues – but I only found that out much, much later].  I worked hard to change the tension-pattern relationship of these muscles.  I was not adverse to hard training at this stage of my development, though the stretching was intense in a totally different way than hard rounds on the pads or a brutal workout in the gym were.  It was hard in a way that leads to the above excuses about adult flexibility in people who seek to evade to self-analysis aspects in this work.  It is exposing.   Eventually I was successful in permanent change of tissue range and quality; brought about by – you guessed it – long and consistent training over many years.

During this beginners course,  from the expert cuing on Jen [my teacher for the course], my hip flexibility improved enough that – when coupled with my natural gifts for spinal and shoulder flexibility – she suggested I skip the Intermediate course and come straight to the hallowed Advanced P&F class. 

I did just that. 

[*] the meeting of [K] and [D]
My initial meeting with the man who was to become my second Teacher – Kit; whom I refer to often as [K] – was highly amusing.  I remember it well.  The little blurb for the advanced class said something along the lines of ‘trackpants or tights must be worn to class’.  No.  I wore shorts to train in the dojo and gymnasium and they would work here, too.  It was also implied that the advanced class was ‘invitation only’ .. and that the inviting was done by this ‘[K]’.  I figured that Jen inviting me was close enough. 

I had turned up to class early;  as I always do.  I decide against sitting idly and was working on what today would be called an ‘archer pushup’ but in those days was quite often called ‘a one-arm pushup’, probably inaccurately as the second arm is actually helping out to a decent degree. 

It was during a set of these that [K] ascended the stairwell and entered the room.  I could *feel* him looking at me.  The gaze was equal parts ‘who is this shorts-wearing, archer-pushup-doin’, uninvited motherfucker..[?!]’ and ‘A surprise! There is a curious and unexpected young man doing something interesting over there [!!]’.  He greeted me verbally – still inspecting me – as he walked over to the thick, black mat that functioned as both premier stretching support and rostrum.  Class begun as per usual.     

After class we began to converse.  His impression of me had grown more positive during class [particularly when he saw my bridge] and after he found out I was training with [C]  – whom he had known for many years – it grew even warmer.   We got talking about strength and conditioning training. 

He pointed into the room next door to the stretching space:   the Strength & Flexibility room.  Some curious contraptions already existed in there but at the time I was fixated on kettlebells, bodyweight calisthenics, old school physical culture and how all of these interfaced with martial arts. 

The room had too many Swissballs. This gave it a ‘Chekian’ vibe.  And I was not a fan of Paul Chek – being of a more Furman, Enamait and Maxwellian persuasion in my training at the time.  Though, I must say, even then I was impressed that he managed to get an image of a giant shit dunking a basketball over some inferior Bristol specimens into a mass market paperback, in 2004!  Some points there, for sure.  

Now..  I do not think this next event occurred on our very first meeting but the chronomancy of impression-saturated remembrance has fused them together in such a way as to make our ‘first meeting’ spread across a number of classes.   I had initially dismissed [K]’s offer to come to the S&F advanced class too, because I was happy with my own training. 

Our conversing on training continued and deepened and was very enjoyable.    I had recently ordered from the US – with some difficulty – three copies of Mel Siff’s ‘Supertraining’ and they had arrived.  I had two in my backpack to disperse to the friends who had been part of the order. 

The book was very difficult to get in Australia at the time.  Talked about amongst only a secret and elite cabal of trainers.  Yearned after by young seekers like myself – so of course I had to have a copy.   I pulled the obscure tome of strength out of my backpack one of these early classes to leaf through. 

It caught [K]’s eye immediately.  To my great surprise he not only knew of the book and author – he knew him personally[!].  And had presented at a conference with him! 


Maybe I should investigate these S&F classes


And so obviously I did end up joining in the Advanced S&F class [as it was called then].  [K] and I became training partners in both the gym and the stretching hall.  We added an arsenal of kettlebells, ropes, rings and grip training equipment to the S&F room.  We yeeted out a load of swissballs, cable machines and dumbbells. 

The purpose build equipment for the fantastic ‘Mirror’ rotation exercise, the ladder bars and the Roman Chair stayed.  The ‘gravity boots’ stayed for a bit – mainly for amusement.  Possibly we culled slightly too much – for whenever both [K] and I are highly enthused things could get slightly outta hand [normally with OP preventing it from escalating too much]. 

Not just the equipment but the exercises and training philosophy changed.  A meeting of the old and new school.

We sifted through some of the better lifts of the new equipment [TGU in the video above was one such lift], whilst at the same time there was a wealth of material [K] had been amassing over the years. 

Kit is actually a genius for corrective exercise creation.  Not just the stretching but strengthening and other forms of physical repatterning exercise too.  I was looking through an old 2nd edition of this Overcome Neck & Back Pain text, and there are some phenomenal exercises in there that – a bit like the cable machines and dumbbells – perhaps were left unfairly by the wayside. 

A new structure for the Strength & Flexibility courses emerged.   One aimed at being a fusion of the best exercises and principles of the old S&F course with the new materia coming in from other sources.   New teachers arrived and old ones discovered and brought in new skills.  Jon V, OP, Pierre, Anthony, John – everyone brought something into the mix.  Climbing drills, strongman, more in-depth kettlebell studies, experiments with mobility-conditioning, bringing back of pre-exhaustion stretching, and gymnastics strength. 

The atmosphere was infectious. 

Somewhere in the midst of it all the popularity of these arcane physical methods we taught and tinkered with begun to increase in prevalence and popularity with the populace.  One cannot keep the genie in the bottle for long.  Once it is out it initiates a whole cascade of effects related to another aspect of my craft, which I talk at length about in a mysterious upcoming podcast [coming soon]. 

A codification of the new structure was underway [and is still available – link at the bottom of the article].  Many people from all walks of life came into those classes and were transformed.  It wasn’t just the experimentation and tinkering of the advanced class. Elsewhere some got their first chins; others got their life and mobility back – I remember one memorable period where one of the P&F teachers at the time – Merryn – underwent an epic physical transformation in a very short period of time. 

One day [K] ascending those same fateful stairs to find a bunch of us hanging off the myriad of the rooms equipment; and in glee uttered something along the lines of ‘y’all look like a troop of monkeys!’. 

Thus the name was coined:  The Monkey Gym

Aah yes;  good times, good times.  The Monkey Gym continued to grow and change.  Two pairs of rings were slung from the rafters.  Gymnastics – and the strength and conditioning related to it – began to rise in priority.  All the while something else had been growing inside me.  I enjoyed the initial play on the Roman Rings but after a brief dabble with other gymnastics movements I decided they did not fit well with my personal direction for training. 

Deeper than this an initiation masquerading as a chronic illness, alongside some experiences that at the time I could not place had started a coal-seam fire within my perception of what a body is and what is possible with physical training. 

And most importantly: with what I wanted to do with physical training and my craft.  

The Monkey Gym closed when [K] and OP shut up shop and moved to the coast of New South Wales.  It is still a workshop stream with the wider body of work inside of Stretch Therapy [see link at the bottom].  

The world has changed since the time of the MG @ the ANU SRA.  Physical training has changed.  Much of the equipment that we scrounged and crafted is now very readily available.  You see Roman Rings being used at the park; kettlebells flood Gumtree and second hand stores. 

All sorts of methods concerning the ‘right use’ of such equipment have emerged and proliferated across social media.  This being said; a lot of the lessons contained in the MG codification document at the bottom are still are not being widely demonstrated at large. 

It was great quality training. 
It is great quality training. 

There is more than a slight feeling that I may just resurrect teaching this body of work once more – but place it under a totally different constellation.  Because that is largely what I have done in the proceeding time since the end of the MG [craft a constellation]. 

I did all my major trainings in alchemical sequence.  One after the other; largely in isolation.  Where I stand now is a point of recombination.  I am once again training martial arts – but this time it is post changing my structure dramatically with stretching.  And the results already are fascinating.  I am dabbling with strength movements I have not done since the initial period of the Monkey Gym, too.   I am beginning to get very curious about what would/will happen if I train all the methods that have powerfully change my body and my life concurrently.  

This is what I intend to do on the outer shell level of Physical Alchemy, in fact.  I am thoroughly enjoying teaching humans in physical reality once more.  Who knows.. maybe a Monkey Gym 2.0 will appear within Canberra at some time in the not-to-distant future.  



*Title imagery of Hanuman taken by Mr Adam at the South Australian State Art Gallery.

** ‘The Foundational Skills of the Monkey Gym’ Document

*** The Monkey Gym syllabus on the Stretch Therapy page