Let me set the scene for you. It’s the summer of 2007. The place is Cape May County, on the southern-most tip of New Jersey. I’m 18-years-old, having just finished high school. I discovered Parkour about two years prior and have been gradually increasing my training time since then. My training time has been spent totally alone, isolated from contact with other practitioners. None of my friends understand or have even heard about Parkour. The online community is scattered at best. Youtube is only just starting to hit the big-time. And I am still at least six months away from going to my first jam and meeting fellow practitioners for the first time.
It was like Cast Away with cat leaps, only fewer bloody volleyballs and more bloody calluses.
All told, the first two and a half years of my training was solo. I know for almost certain fact that if I had had a community to train with, who hosted jams, put out videos, and practiced regularly, that I’d be much more skilled than I am now. But looking back, I still wouldn’t have traded my Robinson Crusoe existence for anything. Here’s why…
1) It taught me to respect fear When you train alone, there’s no one and nothing to save you. No crash mats, no spotters, no quick escapes. No one to pump you up and no false machismo. Either you make the jump or you don’t. That kind of reality, of facing danger and the fear that comes with it, cannot be replicated. Gaining that comfort – and respect – for fear has proven irreplaceable in my training.
2) Discovering my inner motivation Most of my best training spots during my solo years were near or at the beach. And anyone who’s been around a Jersey beach in February can tell you, it’s miserable. The wind is freezing, incessant, and cuts through you like a knife. Metal feels like ice and every rough wall makes your fingers burn. It takes a LOT of love for the movement to head outside on a day like that. I quickly learned to appreciate the movement as something more than exercise or a fun pass-time. It was an outlet, an experience of mind and body, and I bring that mentality to every session now.
3) I couldn’t film myself This wasn’t entirely out of my control, since I could have brought a camera at any time, but setting up and filming shots by yourself can be a real pain. So I never did; and it was great. No outside distraction, no worry about what I looked like moving, only what it felt like moving. To this day I have to force myself to film anything because I became so accustomed to just doing, and doing is what we ultimately want right?
4) Defining my style Bruce Lee said we should transcend style and I agree. But even though we all have two arms and two legs, we still have our own quirks and special ways of moving. With no one in person to compare myself to, and online videos being much less copious than they are now, I learned how my body reacts and moves in a much more personal manner. I still tried to copy some cool things I saw from Belle or Blaine, but for the most part I was left to my own devices.
5) What social pressures? Training in public can cause a stir, especially if you’re a shirtless guy practicing rail balance on the Wildwood boardwalk in July. I got used to stares, cat-calls, ridicule, and having to deal with police and security on my own. Self-consciousness was not an option if I wanted to enjoy my training. Being able to block out insults or have a light-hearted, self-deprecating humor about the things I did has made it possible for me to practice, teach, and demonstrate even in front of the largest crowds.
These are just some of the bigger lessons solo training has taught me. There were many others, such as finding hot spots alone, dealing with injuries in isolated places, and remembering to pack all your supplies ahead of time. (You’ll never forget water again after driving through an hour of tourist traffic to get to your favorite playground and realizing you left it on the kitchen table.) Nowadays, with the community having exploded in size and my role as a coach, I spend almost every session in the company of at least one other person. But I still make time every now and then to get out and move solo. To remember what attracted me to this art and discipline in the first place. To find myself though movement.
So I put this challenge to those reading: train alone. Take a month, a week, or even just a single day, and train totally solo. Find a fun spot, leave your camera at home, and just move. I promise you’ll learn at least one thing about yourself or Parkour. It may not be profound or earth-shaking, but it’ll be something.
If you have your own stories or lessons from training solo, share in the comments! I’d love to hear what everyone thinks!