“The interesting thing about ideas is that I try to never have them.”
It takes me a solid beat before I burst out laughing, registering all too slowly that the statement is a joke. Touchè, Mike Fitch, touchè. We’ve been talking for just a few minutes and he’s already scored a point against me, intellectually.
If you know Mike, you know that this kind of quick wit and self-deprecating humor are two of his many trademark traits. He’s measured and calm, sharp, kind-hearted, and an otherworldly mover. He sees systems where most others see only overwhelming complexity.
He also gets undeniably obsessive over new ideas.
Conceiving fresh and creative concepts is embedded in Mike’s DNA. Growing up in a small town in Kentucky, USA, Mike would often help his father work on creative visual merchandising in their family’s grocery store. Together, the pair would concoct elaborate artistic displays, facing off against other independent grocers in the hopes of winning holidays. Oftentimes they did.
Mike credits his dad’s astute eye for opportunity as a strong influence on the “blind faith” he now has when it comes to nurturing an idea to fruition.
“If it lingers long enough and I can maintain a high level of excitement for it, then I realise it’s something that I have to do,” he explains. “I’ve had many ideas over the years that I’ve gotten to that point but then they’ve been overtaken.”
“I think most creative people will experience that to a certain extent; they’ll get really, really engaged in one concept or one idea. All of a sudden another idea seems equal, if not better and shinier, and they want to go and try that thing. That has become such a practice for me that I’ve now let go of the part of me that feels like it has to chase after every idea. I know that there will be another one tomorrow.”
The pervading idea that has now dominated more than a quarter of Mike’s life is Animal Flow.
Mike Fitch teaching a group of Flowists at the 2021 Mentorship in Costa Rica, more than a decade after the first workshop.
After becoming a trainer at age 18, Mike followed the usual pathway for gym-dwelling young men: lifting heavy things and getting jacked.
By his 30th birthday, it dawned on Mike that his regime was increasing the pounds he could lift—at the expense of the way he moved. He set aside the weights and began a multi-disciplinary bodyweight training journey that saw him experiment with gymnastics, parkour, free-running, hand balancing, circus arts, and breakdancing.
“Animal Flow came about, in part, because I didn’t feel that I was exceptionally good at any of the things I was trying. At that age, I wasn’t going to go and try to become a full-time parkour athlete or start battling as a bboy. So the concept of AF was really built around me: a 30-year old, relatively fit guy who had spent most of his life lifting weights.”
“It made free movement really attainable to me because I knew that if I could learn it, and I could learn how to teach it, then I could make it accessible to anyone else. I was really asking, ‘Can a normal person learn to move with fluidity and grace? Can they learn to inhabit their body better and can they do it while in contact with the floor?’”
Mike’s ingenuity in system development had been sharply honed as a trainer in earlier years so it naturally made sense to him to apply that lens to AF.
At the time, Mike was living in Miami and training clients at a collective shared with five other trainers. For three months, he lived and breathed what was to become Animal Flow.
Mike at an early Animal Flow photo shoot in Miami.
“Every second I had that I wasn’t with clients, I was spending it on the floor. I would just go through the process of trying to figure out how the pieces fit together, what the rules would be around them, and how we could tweak them to get more benefit for the human animal.”
He first created the building blocks of Wrist Mobilizations, Static Activations, Traveling Forms, and Form Specific Stretches, relying on inspiration from the modalities he had explored. No movement was included unless it had a justification.
“The Switches and Transitions were developed as a result of exploring how I could get from one shape to another shape. If our goal is to keep our hands and feet in contact with the ground for the most part, then what moves will allow me to change shapes, change directions and change limbs? That’s where the Underswitches, Kickthroughs, and Scorpions came from.”
The formation of the Animal Flow language derived its structure from Mike’s background in skateboarding.
“When you’re looking at a sequence of tricks, it’s [e.g.] ‘Fakie Kickflip to Boardslide to Shove It,’” Mike explains, “which is also similar in, say, gymnastics or snowboarding. There had to be a language that could guide someone, and that kind of sequential terminology made sense to me.”
Once the moves, rules of Flow, and language were established, Mike knew he had something worth pursuing.
“At this point it was not a polished program, to say the least,” Mike emphasizes. “It was paperclipped together, it was a mess. And I was also fully obsessed with it. I just knew I had to keep pushing forward with it; I knew I was working towards something that had the potential to be great.”
It was then that he introduced Animal Flow into group sessions to check that all of the pieces worked as intended. The feedback showed that the investment of time and energy had not been in vain, and the decision was made for Mike and business partner, Karen Mahar, to shoot the first iteration of Animal Flow.
At no time did Mike so much as contemplate failure. “I’m not one of those people who shoots down an idea as unrealistic,” Mike says with certainty. “I think to myself, ‘Oh, yeah, I can totally do this and no one is going to stop me.’ That little bit of blind faith or ignorant bliss has been endlessly helpful.”
Mike’s not sure that Animal Flow will be his biggest contribution to the world, but it’s one that absolutely has his full commitment.
“If I’m looking at my place here on this planet,” he says thoughtfully, “I feel like I’m here to be in service. I see Animal Flow as one opportunity to serve that has worked exceptionally well in helping people to help themselves and others. I do think AF is profoundly potent in that way.”
“The reason that I haven’t fully pursued any of the other ideas that come to me is because I know that this one hasn’t come to its end yet. There’s still so much more work that needs to be done and, because of that, I can’t take my focus away from AF yet.”
And what about those ten different ideas that come rushing into Mike’s brain each day? “I want to get super obsessive about them, but it’s a case of ‘all in good time’. I’m going to have time to explore all those things and more. But right now, in my current capacity, this is the best way that I can be of service. So, let’s go.”
Watch the free Animal Flow mini-documentary, We Invite You To Move, featuring Mike and movement practitioners from break dancing, parkour, and modern dance. You can also find movement inspiration from around the world by checking out #iinviteyoutomove on Instagram.