Siawn Ou (“scion oh”) is a TED speaker, movement artist, and writer. His Pursuit of Movement began in 2013 as a self-challenge to attain physical skills. It has since developed into a means of expression, communication, and discovery. Siawn adopts an artist’s mindset, and uses speech and movement to craft stories for audiences. He performs with the aim to inspire others, and get them curious about moving their bodies and discovering their potential.
What is Movement?
Movement in the general sense is any form of physical expression the body is capable of, including but not limited to: running, jumping, climbing, crawling, brachiating, swinging, inverting, balancing, spinning, flipping, rolling, and twisting.
The type of movement I’m particularly drawn to is transformative in nature and holds an aesthetic quality. Simply put, I like nice looking moves that transition well into other nice looking moves. 🙂
Take for example, the cartwheel – a classic movement found across many various art forms.
By itself the cartwheel is fairly basic. But by utilizing its transformative nature we can create a pretty sequence.
“Beauty is the moment of transition, as if the form were just ready to flow into other forms.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Why Do I Move?
I move to feel free. To break away from the constraints of everyday life, work, and society that makes me feel stagnant and restricted.
I move to express who I am. Because we are more than just thoughts and words. We are actions. What better way to show who you are by creating something with your body?
I move to experience a connection. To connect to people, to music, to the environment. To connect to movement itself, and experience that beauty in the moment of transition.
I often feel that I’ve lived my life backwards.
As an impressionable youth I was rather serious and withdrawn. That me blossomed into a very intense and goal focused young adult. By the time I realized I was missing out on life, I was past 25 and tried furiously to make up for lost time by embracing an adventurous carefree attitude. Now I’m in my 30s doing young people stuff and reinventing myself. While most people age from playful to serious, I experienced it the other way around.
Ah yes, the rebellious period of my life. Not.
I did a lot of reading in my teens. Most of it was medieval style fantasy novels and they played a big part in influencing my attitude. I quickly put it in my mind that I wanted to live a virtuous and honorable life, and adopted my version of the “Warrior Code” – strength and honor, courage, and a great lack of social skills.
As a hormonal and motivated teen, I started getting pretty into my body. My role models for physique included Hercules (Kevin Sorbo not Arnold Schwarzenegger), Jean Claude Van Damme, and Sylvester Stallone. Most nights were spent doing countless pushups and situps to the Rocky soundtrack, followed by an ample period of appreciative mirror time.
It was in my late teens that I discovered break dancing, my first movement art. Completely enraptured by the prospect of doing flashy moves and looking cool, I embraced this new hobby and made it my identity. Track pants, Shelltoes, beanie.
Break dancing was very much part of my life entering my 20s. I wasn’t very good, but I was super motivated. Countless hours of practice had helped me gain more body awareness, but when it came to dancing and expression, I was still too shy to completely let go. Thinking back on it, I always had a problem with letting go of control. Everything I did had to be neat and technical, yet most of the time it came out constrained.
My life took a drastic turn when I started playing pool. Of all the hobbies to choose from, I picked one that seemed to be the least natural fit for me. Pool was a game that required you had to be very still, analytical, and emotionally reserved. Wait, on second thought, it was a perfect fit.
I delved deeper and deeper into this craft, strengthening my mind and harnessing my emotions in the process. I spent a summer in Shanghai where I trained almost 6 hours a day under the tutelage of a great player, and my skill set started to blossom. This was it. This was what I wanted to do. The better I got, the more I was convinced that pool would be my life’s pursuit.
I actually had a quarter life crisis. The catalyst was an invite for a Saturday trip up to Maine.
You don’t understand. Saturday is practice day – three hours of me time that I spend indoors in a dark pool hall. DO NOT DISTURB! Greatness is in the making. Yet something told me to go, and I reluctantly accepted the invite. The trip was great – a beautiful day of riding bikes along the beaches of Maine. I was with great friends, we ate great food, and I even met a pretty girl. To think I would have missed this experience for a few hours of pool practice. My eyes slowly opened to all the intangibles I was missing out on. When I got home I no longer felt compelled to practice. The web of pool’s spell was slowly unraveling, and with it my ambition to make pool my life’s pursuit. Five years of hard work started to lose its meaning, and for the first time in a long time I felt extremely lost.
It took a week to process everything in my head. Afterward I made a decision. I was going to start living for experiences instead of for goals. I picked up surfing. When it got too cold, I started snowboarding. And when I was sick of waiting for summer, I packed up my bags and moved to California. A new life of grad school and surfing awaited me in Malibu.
Two years passed. I had a fancy diploma, a sweet tan, and six figures worth of debt. Although I did well academically, I never fully embraced the mantra of “network and sell yourself”. I graduated with top grades and no job prospects in my desired industry. Loathing the idea of a return to my previous life of working in finance, I sought out another adventure.
By the time I turned 29, I was living the life of an English teacher in South Korea. The next two and a half years created some of the most incredible memories and experiences. I traveled to amazing places, I made great friends, and I finally started to figure out my life in the process.
Turning 30 – it felt so old. Maybe it was because I was old. I had been struggling with stomach issues for months and was just diagnosed with ulcerative colitis a few weeks before my birthday. I was no longer very physically active apart from going to the gym twice a week, and with my health problems even that had become a struggle. The medicine I was prescribed did help, and for a while I thought that I was given a fresh start.
After a few months, the medication started producing side effects, and something about being told that I would have to be on these meds for life didn’t vibe well with me. So I said fuck it and dumped my pills. I looked to alternative medicine and tried acupuncture for a while, but the symptoms still persisted. It wasn’t until just shy of turning 31 that I heard an intriguing Israeli man say the words “Paleo diet”. I never gave diets more than a second thought, but this guy was super buff and doing some insane flips so I gave him some credibility. His name was Ido Portal and he talked a lot of movement. Unbeknownst to me, I had just watched something that would change my life.
The Pursuit of Movement
Worst health of my life, 6 months away from leaving a country I had spent the last 2 years in, and no tangible plans for the future. Inspiration has impeccable timing.
At that point I thought I had it all figured out. Travel and write – two ingredients to allow me to continue my familiar lifestyle of being an adventuring foreigner. I even had my own website going and was slowly building a following. It was also around this time that I found out about some contest with a ridiculous prize of $50,000 and 6 months paid travel. To enter you had to submit a self made travel video on a city of your choice. Coolest video won. Well shit, I’m pretty cool. I’m also leaving for Hong Kong in a few weeks and could film my video there! Did someone say, “calling”?
The days leading up to my trip were full of planning and excitement. Yet in the middle of all that frenzy a gentle and unseen force prodded me in another direction. One night, I saw a video in my Facebook feed that my friend had shared. Her comment: “One day you will move like him”.
I didn’t know it then, but the universe had other plans for me. At the time my efforts were still focused on my travel dreams, and I was working hard on making the best damn travel video for the contest. My friend had helped me get tons of good footage, and during my trip I even came out of retirement to have a break dance battle against Bruce Lee.
I didn’t end up winning the contest. Begrudgingly, I looked at my situation and saw a stagnant unhealthy 31 year old with an uncertain future. I needed to make a serious lifestyle change.
My curiosity brought me back to the Ido Portal video. Watching it again, I felt his sharp words hit home. “What are we training for? It never arrives. We’re always preparing and training. We want to do it!” The freedom of his movement stirred something within me. I felt an inspired jealousy to experience my body the way he does. To “move like him”.
The Pursuit of Movement was born.
4 months. That’s the time I gave myself to learn a series of movements. Although these skills were fundamental in nature, they were handpicked because I had never been able to do them. A movement bucket list so to speak. And just like all bucket list items, what better time to do them than when you’re feeling old? 🙂
Goals were set. An agenda was created. And when the results came in, they told a story of who I was those last 4 months: regimented, determined, hard working, and at the same time overzealous, controlling, and rigid. I did acquire some skills, and some I barely scratched the surface. But goals aside, that 4 month process of self discovery was what made the deeper impression. At one point doing my first back flip was a huge milestone and a very ecstatic moment. Yet what I valued more than the skill was the experience of overcoming my fear, and knowing that I was actually brave.
The project of 4 Months 4 Moves continues on as the core of The Pursuit of Movement, with each new phase bringing new movements and higher ambitions. As I grow into a better mover, so too do the skills grow in difficulty. Yet the challenges of fear, uncertainty, and regression remain the same. It’s left up to me to choose who I want to be in the face of each challenge, and in fulfilling each ambition, experience those choices as real.
Who will you choose to be in your pursuit of movement?