Saturday, February 14, 2009

Claude's stories

Like any real master, Claude has another unique trait: story telling. Here is a small collection of stories told by him during my stay over at Plainfaing. I hope you'l enjoy and apreciate this.

* When he was a performer in one of Europe’s most famous circuses, there was another ‘hand to hand’ acrobatic duo working there and an atmosphere of competition was starting to happen.
Every morning the porter from the other duo would step into the training hall, and just like that, without any warm up or preparation, would press into a perfect, straight, accurate one arm handstand, and hold it steadily for 10 seconds before lowering down to the floor. Everyone would always be blown away by this guy’s ability to ‘start his day’ like that, so sharp and accurate with no means of preparation.
One morning Claude prepared himself a cup of tea and only then did he realize he was out of sugar. He went to the porter’s caravan to borrow some sugar. Upon knocking at the door, the porter’s wife opened it, and behind her, Claude sees the porter, in his underwear, performing set after set of handstands…. It turns out this guy would warm up and prepare himself intensely in his caravan, and would only come out to the training hall once he felt he is sharp and ready to go….

* Not long ago Claude’s best student of all times, Eric, came to visit him. Eric started to train with Claude when he was only 11, and he turned out to be the most talented hand balancer Claude has ever witnessed or worked with.
Eric is over 40 years of age, and still performs around the world in solo equilibre numbers as well as ‘hand to hand’ work with a partner.
After three days of visit to Claude’s house, eating good food and drinking lots of wine, he had to leave and go back to performing. After taking his things and going outside of the front door with Claude to say fair well and leave, Claude remarked to him: ‘Eric, you have been here three days, ate and drank like a king, but we haven’t trained any equilibre at all!’
Eric looked at him with a smile, put his hand on the hood of Claude’s car and just like that - fully dressed and without any warm up, pressed- slowly, up into a perfect one arm handstand, held it and came down with control to the floor. ‘Here you go, Claude, now I have also trained during this visit, you can relax now…’

* When Claude was 20 year old he was recruited into the French army and sent to fight in Algeria. He served in a 30 men platoon that lost 15 of it’s members. He witnessed many of his friends killed in sudden attacks and saw the horror of war. He was decorated twice during his 2 year service in Algeria. He never mentioned a word about it to any of his friends, students and family and even his 4 sons don’t know a thing about it. I discovered it through an incidental talk we had during my stay. He disappeared in the middle of the conversation into his room and brought out a couple of old envelopes with old photos from the war. In most of the photos you can see him performing some ‘hand to hand’ work with another soldier or standing on one arm on some object with his abdominals sticking out.
Another related story he told me was about a sunny day, during his military service. They were on vacation and resting for the day, and everyone was going to the pool. He took off his clothes and went to get some sun. When he reached the pool he decided to break a sweat by training a bit. After a couple of sets, a man approached him and said he used to do some similar stunts back in France and that he wanted to learn more. Claude with his famous friendly smile offered to help him out and teach him. After a long session they parted ways.
Only a week after, upon some other occasion, Claude encountered this guy, only this time in full military uniform, and he found out he was a 3 stripe officer. This man never said a word about his rank at the swimming pool.
From that day on, whenever Claude needed a favor, the officer, who became a good friend by this time, would help him out. In Algeria at the time (1950’s) this friendship was a big asset, needless to say.

* In 2003, Claude started to feel a numbness in the tips of his fingers. The sensations quickly spread out over his body. He went to the doctor, who quickly ordered him to immediate hospitalization. He was examined and tested and his bone marrow and nerve fluids were sent to laboratories all over France. No one knew what was going on.
His condition continued to deteriorate and he quickly lost the sense of balance (how tragic, for a man who dedicated his life to the art of balance) and couldn’t stand anymore. He could not stand the taste of water, as it felt metallic in his mouth. He lost sensation in his hands and feet, and had no reflexes, when tested.
The doctors were clueless and only figured he had some kind of unknown neurological disorder.
People who came to visit him, were sure that…. this is it. The end of his trip in this world. He told me he recognized death in their faces, and knew they were thinking he was done. But… he never gave up.
After three weeks of deteriorating health he was sent to a sanitarium for rest, as there was nothing else which could be done for him. He was wheeled in a wheelchair everywhere, and when he saw the other patients, old, sick men and women in wheelchairs, he was more determined than ever to heal.
He was ordered to lie down, but he started to use an aid for walking and tried to walk with it frequently. He also performed lots of Yoga, Pranayama exercises (breathing techniques from Yoga he learned over the years) and physical exercises. After a week, he amazingly regained the ability to walk. The doctors could not believe it.
After two weeks he was released to his home from the hospital, with improving health. The numbness in his limbs went away little by little and he regained full health. Little by little he came back to his full yoga and equilibre daily training, up to his current state.
Claude told me he never, in his life, fell into depression. Even when people who were coming to visit him were thinking the worst, and he knew it, he never let bad thoughts enter his mind. He is a fighter, and this wasn’t any different from any other fights he had during his life.
The doctors called his recuperation ‘A miracle’.
Now days Claude performs a daily routine of Yoga postures followed by a couple of sets of handstands (unsupported) and head-only stands on top of a couple of cubes of wood. He wakes daily at 08:00 and goes to sleep at around 23:30, most days without a minute of rest. He cooks two big meals a day for him and his visiting students, performs countless sets of rope supervision on his ‘hand to hand’ students (sometimes requiring hard rope pulls and good reflexes for sudden ‘saves’), cleans the house, washes clothes, works the garden, fixes anything that needs fixing around the house, and anything else.
His students can hardly keep up with him. Hell, I had trouble following him the whole week without getting dizzy. He has a great sense of humor, and we often found ourselves bursting into mutual laughter over things, just as if he is another 20 something friend sharing a funny moment.
I told him one evening that he lived enough life to satisfy five persons, but I wish him to live much more, and I am sure he will.
He is one of a few people I met in my life who I consider an example of how life should be lived.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for passing all that to us.
And I think we can learn so much from how other people live and learn to live regardless of any adversity.
I have to say I have learn a lot from you. And again thank you for posting.

Gittit said...

I know the word has been overused and abused, but this is nothing short of inspirational. Thank you.

Andres said...

Thanks for the stories. May I ask, where does he live? in Spain or in France? since you said that you guys speak a mix of Spanish, French, English, and Portuguese. Just a guess.

He seems like a nice mentor.

Ido Portal said...

Andres, Claude lives in the north of France, in a small village called Plainfaing, near Saint Die.

qba said...

Hello Ido.
I came upon your blog thanks to my friend from capoeira group in Poland. I found it very inspiring and wanted to say thank you very much for this most valuable work.

Ido Portal said...

Thanks for your comment, I seem to have visitors from all over the globe. It is nice to live in this time of globalization, the world is a small village...

Anonymous said...

hello il y à bien longtemps de cela j'ai été élève de Claude chez Annie Fratellini et il avait vraiment l'art de savoir vous placer en equilibre.
c' était un merveilleux professeur.
Cela devait être dans les année 80.
Et je suis très heureuse de voir qu'il continue toujours à enseigner.

Ed X said...

Hi Ido,

I am glad your trip went well. Some quick questions in regard to your training there. Was training more or less the same everyday as described in your previous post?
And, how does/did Claude approach training from a strength perspective. Nowadays, as he doesn't take students except for a select few, I guess students would already have the (majority) required strength. Is he a sets x reps man, or does he let the strength develop as the skill is developed (a sort of greasing the groove)?


Ido Portal said...

Hello, Ed.

Training is the same every day, more of less. It is not the most glorious of work, but the pleasure lies in your success.

As for strength training, there is no strength training going on, I did it myself, but Claude does not require it nor does he instruct you in the number of sets and reps. He is a technical expert and gives you corrections about your positioning, he is not a strength and conditioning expert.

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