Generalist / Specialist

Whilst by no means a new perspective, the term ‘Generalist’ has been most notably utilized (perhaps coined) by Ido Portal in his efforts to articulate his movement perspective to the world.

In terms of physical practice, Ido sets the Generalist in stark contrast with the ‘Specialist’. Whilst the physical practice of the Specialist will largely limit itself to movements or exercises with the goal of directly improving in their specialisation (the boxer to improve at boxing, the Crossfitter to improve at Crossfit, the swimmer to improve their swimming), the Generalist is oriented toward exploring and developing their general movement potential.

This does, of course, beg the question: is the “generalist” effort to develop “general” movement potential not also a specialization?

I would reply a resounding yes, and my interpretation of Ido’s words would have me assume his agreement. To paraphrase: “movement is a dogma, but it’s the biggest one out there.” So although a generalist physical practice is itself specializing in “generalism”, the implications of that practice should, theoretically, span a more lateral set of attributes, skills, and qualities. There is no debate here over what is ‘better’ – it is purely down to context & personal orientation under the conditions of an individual’s ‘movement thumbprint’ and movement perspective.

The ‘generalist/specialist’ comparison can also be applied the cultural/ideological sphere as well as the processes, systems, and ultimately logic of many modern social societies. Modern medicine is a clear example. Whilst we now have fantastic specialists who can save lives by the fruits of their specialisation (specialists for specific types of cancer, specialists for specific elements of the eye), this has coincided with a move away from the benefits of a generalist perspective.

The generalist can see the human system as an interconnected whole, whereas the specialist is limited to their field. The generalist is therefore able to present a more holistic hypothesis regarding an illness and prescribe remedies not heavy focused on the pharmaceutical cabinet. Again, these are two sides of the same coin. As Ido has said, “be the specialist, and  the generalist.”

The ability to spin the coin and see both sides, to zoom in and specialise when necessary and back out to see the whole picture, to utilise the periphery keeping as much as possible within the frame, to be able to switch between perspectives entirely in response to context as condition;

this concept is the sturdy backbone of any movement practice.