Moving as a medium for personal growth

By Ryan Willms

There are many motivations for moving our bodies, and many can be useful. Exercise is one of the best things we can do for our mental and physical health, to help us live longer and stronger, to increase neuroplasticity, and to feel good about ourselves. These motivations however, if rooted in the wrong place, can easily drive us into overdoing it, or being attached to results or vanity-based achievements which, sooner or later, will be unfulfilling.

Getting in touch with our motivation is a natural progression and something I’ve been drawn into in my own journey.  I’ve discovered that I’ve created subconscious constructs for conditional love and validation that end up driving the ship from just under the surface of my awareness. More recently, I’ve dug in and shone more light into this part of my shadow, asking myself questions, like, “Why do I move?”, “How can I use my body to enhance my experience physically and spiritually with a goal of giving more to myself and to others?” These questions and concepts are settling into my being, but I continue to uncover attachments that I have to work through.



When I visited the UACTP gym in Los Angeles, Director Rob Abeyta Jr. took me through a workout, and we had a conversation about the ethos of the space and his vision for UACTP (Undefeated Action Capabilities Training Program). It wasn’t entirely what I expected, and his thoughts aligned with how I’ve started to think about movement myself.  The idea that moving is a medium for personal growth. Consider our bodies as our chief instrument for experiencing life, for tasting food and feeling emotion, for understanding pain and perceiving our surroundings. As adults, it’s very easy to remain comfortable, and beyond the soft couches and ergonomic office chairs we inhabit, it’s easy to keep running the same loop or do the same exercises without pushing ourselves. We don’t often ask ourselves if maybe it’s time to take the next step in our own personal growth. Trying something new, be it yoga, Jiu Jitsu trail running or rock climbing, and keeping the ‘beginners mind’ can be invaluable for our long-term well-being, but also for our short-term growth and ability to adapt and evolve.


UACTP provides the training ground for growth. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” This quote is written on the wall in the space, the only notable graphic treatment in the space outside of a couple of subtle Undefeated logos.  “It’s core to the ethos,” Rob explains. “We’re capable of a lot more than we think.” Our bodies can be pushed, our minds can expand, our breath can deepen, our hearts can open. But we have to consciously make that choice.

I’d never tried Jiu Jitsu or even participated in any form of combat with another human being. When I arrived at UACTP, I didn’t expect to get on the mat either, but after Rob spoke about the process, the values of the practice, and the way in which he’s seen people grow, I had to at least try it. He promised he wouldn’t snap my limbs in half. It was exhilarating and challenging. Immediately I could feel myself being pulled to it. There was a primal appeal, the intimate dance and how you use your nervous system to relax and feel into your body in order to navigate the different holds and pressures from your opponent. The experience pushed me out of my comfort zone. I quickly realized that I have been playing it safe physically for the last year, especially since tearing my ACL last May, and this was a completely new feeling. A subtle wakeup call that I needed to pay attention to, and UACTP was just the place to learn more about myself.

Photographs by Eli Rabb

Every time I’ve gone into the unknown, moved through the resistance to something scary and new, and come out the other side, I quickly realize that I’m okay. In fact, not just okay, but better. I did it, and now I can do it again – better, faster and just like that, my boundaries have been pushed out a little bit further. As I continue to do this more and more, whether it’s emotionally, spiritually or physically, my confidence increases, and I believe in myself more and more. This is a powerful tool, and I’ve begun to recognize these places of resistance as opportunities, and not something to run away from. The more I can see my fear or resistance, the more I can consciously go into them. Doing this physically is one of the scariest ways to practice this form of personal growth, but from my experience, the more I dive in, the more I keep growing in all aspects of my life. I’m connecting more deeply to my own body and in turn, to my holistic life experience, and from what I can tell, that’s what it’s all about.


Follow UACTP through Instagram and view the program schedule on the MindBody App.

This article was written by Ryan Willms and published on July 23, 2019