Brothers in Arms - Warriors

by Thomas Myers

Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker

You can drink all the liquor down in Costa Rica Ain’t nobody’s business but your own…

That’s an old blues ditty – Mississippi John Hurt? Dave Van Ronk? Don’t remember.

But the actual soundtrack down here is Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms” – so, cue the ascending line on the organ, lay the breathy Andean pipes on top, and open yourself to Mark Knopfler’s snapping lead from A minor to F…

These mist-covered mountains, Are home now to me…”

In these forested hills above the valley of San Jose, wreathed in morning fogs and sudden afternoon downpours, I have had a meeting with a brother in arms – Erik Dalton. To be fair, it’s quite a stretch to try to make a revolutionary encampment out of the manicured gardens, endless fresh fruit, and Watsu pool of the Pura Vida retreat, but we each pick a battleground in this life, in the end. Me, I fight under the flag of the kinesthetic, the proprioceptive, the bedrock expression of the fascial net, and the sense of motion in space – the power and value of the culturally ignored inner sense of self.

I wrote about Erik and his work a number of years ago in my abortive “Body Language” series, but here was the first chance for us to work together and see close up what the other was about. And similar we are: driven to share, entrepreneurial, sensitive, easily hurt, contemptuous / arrogant about other methods / people not measuring up, antsy because we are aware that we don’t measure up either, bad boys at night, enthusiastic small boys in teaching – we each have wives of full heart, each a talented daughter on whom we dote, each heart would rather be working outside, but both our heads are addicted to the connectivity of email and the rush of affecting large numbers of people. In both of us, the language of music lies behind our way of thinking and presenting.

I struggle in my own short courses to get many techniques across, because each technique requires so much background explanation for the audience to be able to get the intent and take it home with them. I thought for sure that Erik, with his success in presenting everywhere, would have it down – how to explain a technique quickly, and get people working within minutes. But sho’ ‘nuff, he started talking about what we were going to do at 2:00 o’clock, and began the first technique at 4:15. Brothers-in-arms.

But his materials are much better presented. His ‘product table’ bristles with dynamic point-of-purchase displays, while my simple videos lie scattered on the table, pretty much ignored by the 70 students in the face of his professionally packaged homestudy courses.

The Erik show is supported down here by four assistants, who manage him and take predictable roles – the Mom, the Fixer, Best Boy, and Electrogistics – all able-embodied practitioners, clearly familiar with all the techniques as well as Erik’s quirks. Although a couple of these handle a few “Freedom From Pain” workshops, he bears the brunt of the large burden himself.

He also has no long trainings, where he can relax and spin out his whole complex – and, man, it is complex, despite the disarming simplicity of what he presents – view of the body in motion, with the result that he seems to be speeding through things at all times – one thinks of an Oklahoma chiropractor like Byron Gentry, with whom he has common traits – headed for a destination he can never reach. Hard for me to follow sometimes, but the students enjoy the ride.

Besides the packaging, Erik derives success from two factors I have not mastered: 1) he researches what he does – each move is backed up by his extensive study with Greenman, Janda, and his osteopaths, and by scratching through the internet to the bedrock research that supports the technique (I tend to content myself with informed speculation), and 2) his methods are intended to relieve structural pain easily and quickly, whereas I am more interested in the longer process of human development and maturity. “Symptom-oriented” is an easier sell than “system-oriented”. These differences are ok with me, though I can learn a lot from him. I’m not sure what he wants from me – a playmate, perhaps, some kind of approval, it seems, though he had it from me long ago, and I can’t think why he needs it.

We are both part of what I call the après garde – the group of former hippies charged with keeping the next generation apprised of the principles exposed in the 60’s – doing it, however, in a subtle way. Toward the end of the workshop, one of the participants, an older man into the current fad of ‘archetypes’, casts us a ‘saint and sinner’ – me as saint, and Erik, for his devil-may-care attitude in class, as sinner. But this is inaccurate – we are the same, saint and sinner in one – the line between good and evil runs not between people but straight through the middle of the human heart (stole that from Solzhenytzen). So if we both are still exploring our darker sides, it is with the intent of having a firm and detailed map of that shadowy valley, so that, when required, we can stay sure-footed on the sunnier mountain of healing.

Some folks come after both of us for being popularizers, for cheapening Ida Rolf’s opus into some kind of McDonald’s of bodywork. The Rolf Institute has in the past shown a propensity for eating its young, and several people with divergent ideas – Richard Rossiter, Erik, Michael Shea, myself, Stanley Rosenburg, et al – have felt compelled to leave in order to explore these specialized arenas.

But Erik and I have probably been as responsible as any two people for bringing that set of ideas before the manual therapy public (not to denigrate the work of Schwind, Maitland, Heller, Maupin, and others, but in terms of numbers). And in both cases, it has involved endless years of hard, hard roadwork with little remuneration, large investments with no certainty of return, and the slow, simmering reduction to practice of what remains, within the Rolf and Guild, a largely oral tradition.

As Thomas Browne said: “Those who undertake great public schemes must be prepared for the most fatiguing delays, the most mortifying disappointments, and worst of all, the presumptuous judgment of the ignorant upon their design.

Hail! Bro…

Erik is a master of the ‘inner bag’, the ligamentous bed and the inner layer of musculature just above it. I would love to bring such expertise to the KMI Klan, but if I bring him onto my turf, I would love to see if he could take the advice offered in the Vagina Monologues and ssssslllllloooooooooowww dddooooooowwwnn. I know what he’s showing when he abruptly drops a head he’s working on to the table to point out something on the screen – that the body is resilient, the neck especially so, and that it loves movement to strengthen and organize tissues – but it still strikes me as disrespectful, and I think it limits the effect of the treatment, keeps it local.

So: here’s the challenge, Erik: can you do that thumbs under the occiput / walking the elbows up the table move with an awareness of the entire Superficial Back Line? So that someone gently tractioning the heels could extend your ‘end-feel’ all the way down through the sacrum?

Stay tuned…

Meanwhile I learned a lot, and am very grateful for a great week of team teaching.

Tom Myers