Motion 2.0

Where movement meets the mind.


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What Do You Value?

On Youtube, there is a famous speech by speaker Eric Thomas that is attached to countless motivational videos and songs. The focal point of the speech is the idea, “how bad do you want it?” Thomas puts it very succinctly by saying that until you want something as bad as you want to breathe, you’ll never be successful. He says that you need to dedicate yourself mind, body, and soul to your goal to have true success.

While I agree that kind of determination is often needed, I believe there is something equally important to keep in mind, an idea to maintain…

Value.

How much do you value what it is you’re trying to do? How much are you willing to devote – to invest – to the journey? There are many different types of investment to show value. You can invest with money, or time, or energy, or dozens of other ways and combinations of ways. Are you willing to seek out the best trainers, get up an hour earlier, pay for the best gear and places to train?

For example, let’s say I want to run a mile in under six minutes when I currently run it in seven minutes. I really want to reach this milestone and I claim that I’m willing to do anything to get it. But if I truly value this goal as much as I say, I need to put in the proper investment. I might need to get better shoes or seek out the knowledge of a running coach. I may need to get up early to run more or stay out late to get in an extra workout. I may need to eat a more specialized diet or take extra steps to ensure proper recovery. In short, it takes more than desire to make a dream into reality. It takes planning and investment; attaching the proper value to what I want to do.

Love or hate his politics, Malcolm X understood the power of value.

Too often we don’t place the proper value on the things we crave. The New Year is coming and a perfect example of this is the resolutions normally made around this time. Millions of people resolve themselves to improve in the New Year, usually by exercising more and eating better. They’ll join a gym, buy a bunch of “healthy” foods, and go for it.

But what happens next? For the vast majority of people, nothing happens. The membership is never used and the healthy food is avoided and goes to waste. Why? The desire was there but the value was not. If you’re a couch potato and haven’t exercised regularly in several years than simply getting a gym membership usually won’t be enough. You need to set yourself up in an environment that leads you to success. This might mean investing in a personal trainer or partner classes, parking farther away and walking to work, cooking food ahead of time and leaving nothing in the house to eat otherwise but good stuff.

The same goes for parkour and freerunning. The same goes for anything. If you place the proper value on what you want to do you will take the steps necessary to make it happen. If you’re dedicated to getting better at flipping you should be willing to seek out and pay an instructor, or at least set aside the time to practice on your own and be prepared for the longer process that it will take. It’s a give-and-take. The more you invest in what you value, the more you get in return. The more you value it, the more investment you’re willing to make.

Should’ve invested in that ground fighting coach, huh?

I have my own resolution that I will be placing extra value on in 2014. Several years ago I wrote a novella-length story about parkour called RISE. Ever since I finished it I kept telling myself that one day I’d clean it up, expand it a little, and try to get it published, even if I had to publish it myself. Up until this point I had wanted to reach that goal but never truly valued it. I wasn’t prepared to search for publishers, get it edited, all the things I glossed over while thinking only of the end product. Now, I will.

So, with this brand new year of 2014 upon us, I put a challenge forward to you. Find a goal, a dream, and put some real value to it. Plan out the investment, prepare to work towards it. Because if you truly value something, nothing should stop you. Not time, not money, not effort, nothing. You want it as much as you can breathe? Good. Now value it as much as you value life itself. Invest in life itself. And become a true success.

The New Year is Coming.

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On Not Being “The Best”

Here’s an open secret about myself: I’m not the best at parkour. I can jump far but I’ll never touch the guys doing 12-foot standing precisions. I can lache big gaps but I’ll never hold a world record for distance. I can do passable front flips but I’ll never be throwing dive tucks over the Manpower Gap.

Simply put, I’m good, but not great. I’m better than most, but not “the best.” I know, deep inside where I can’t lie, that it’s very likely I’ll never be “the best.”

And that’s okay.

Now, I can imagine some readers exclaiming, “Well obviously you’ll never be the best with that attitude!” Hear me out first. Yes, if I dedicated myself heart and soul to achieving “best” status in a particular area I might be able to make it. But is that my ultimate goal with training?

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get jealous and annoyed sometimes when others beat me. I’ve been training for over seven years, the inner hate screams, how can this punk kid be better than me? He practices once a week and has been doing this for only six months! It’s frustrating and disheartening to see a move I’ve been trying to get all week get smashed in three tries by someone else. It sucks to know that there are so many categories in which I fall behind the lead, where I’ll be good but never talked about in hushed whispers and awed emotion.

And that’s okay.

I realized this at my very first jam. Up until that point I had practiced only by myself, working small moves here and there, practicing part-time. I’d watch videos of masters at work but not have a full concept of how much more skilled they were because of the disconnection film creates. Then I went to my first jam, meeting my first group of fellow practitioners. Out of the group of 5-6 of us, I was probably last or second to last in terms of overall skill and strength levels.

I went home after that amazed but slightly saddened. Would I ever be that good? What was the point of trying if I was also playing catch-up, always two steps behind? I could progress all I wanted but they’d be progressing too, keeping me just out of reach of being “the best.”

Insert 3 Doors Down lyrics here.

And that’s okay.

It took a long time back then and it’s been a constant fight to maintain the idea, but I told myself, “And that’s okay.” It’s cliché, but that’s at the very heart of parkour. It’s striving to be “the best” YOU, not “the best” IN THE WORLD. If I look back at where I came from seven years ago I’ll see that I’m miles ahead. I’m taking the long view of my training, of what I want from it and from life in general.

Because I am not as naturally gifted towards parkour as some others the amount of focus and energy I’d need to gain “best” status would mean having to set aside other aspects of my life. I like having relationships and friends, I like learning history and writing, I like working on my professional career and coaching. I like having a clear mind and calm at the end of the day. Some of these things would likely have to suffer if I went for “best” status and I’m not willing to lose those aspects of who I am.

To me, it’s okay to not be “the best,” but it’s not okay to be “the best” at any cost.

Some people feel differently. They feel that sacrifice makes the goal worthwhile. They receive joy and fulfillment from the pursuit of “best.” And that’s fine. That’s their particular leaning; it’s just not mine.

Some professors go the laser point style, while others…

The mere practice of parkour fills a part of my heart and soul that no other discipline has touched. Doesn’t matter if I’m doing a precision I’ve hit a thousand times or fighting for a cat leap that dozens of others have already nailed. I draw more strength and happiness from simply DOING parkour than from EXCELLING at parkour.

So while I’ll still get disheartened, flustered, or envious sometimes seeing how above-average-but-not-best I am, I just have to remind myself, “That’s okay.” I can still chase perfection and progress, just at my own rate, my own style. I am beholden to no one but myself.


How do you feel about your journey in parkour, or about anything in general? Are you following your own path to greatness (as defined by you), doing for the love of doing…or a path set forth by someone else?


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Be Strong to be Useful, In Everything

“Etre fort pour être utile” – “Be strong to be useful.”

Attributed to the early 20th century physical educator Georges Hébert, this was his personal motto and a driving ideal for his system of physical and mental development known as Méthode Naturelle. Drawing from sources and influences as diverse as ancient Greece and African tribesmen, Hébert sought to help build people not only into strong physical specimens but also capable, well-rounded individuals; people put the needs of others first and were prepared to help no matter what the situation. (For a more in-depth story of Méthode Naturelle read this article by Erwan Le Corre, the founder of MovNat and a kind of spiritual successor to Hébert.)

The framework and especially the motto were and still are often used when describing Parkour. This isn’t surprising given the influence of Hébert on French military training and by extension Raymond Belle and his son David, the originators of Parkour. But take special note that the goal of the original system was not only physical development but spiritual and mental development as well. It puts the ideals of “strength” and “usefulness” in a new context doesn’t it?

Take a look at a typical traceur training regimen: skill work, technique refinement, conditioning with weights and gymnastics exercises, all to help build smoother movement and bigger jumps. It’s a very physical, body-intensive routine, one which hundreds of coaches and practitioners have dedicated countless hours to honing and perfecting. But where is the mental training, the spiritual development? Sometimes you might see some mental training such as meditation or visualization, though that seems to be the exception instead of the rule. But if we want to be “useful”, truly “strong”…don’t we need more than ripped abs and half-second climb-ups?

“Wai qiang zhong gan” Literally, “Outwardly strong but inwardly weak”

Granted, not everyone prescribes to the “Be Strong to Be Useful” ethos. Some practitioners are primarily concerned with physical development and, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve ever used the “Be Strong” phrase to describe your training or some of the philosophy behind what you do, then I think you owe it to yourself to explore what “strength” and “usefulness” really means in your every day life.

You can leap small buildings, but can you lift a heavy object, swim across a river, read a public transportation map, or cook your own food? Have you developed a calm mind that can adapt and handle the hardships of living? Can you not only save your friends and family from a flood but also comfort them in their times of need? Are you confident in your motives and actions, prepared to defend your beliefs and choices with a clear head and a steady hand?

If you truly believe in an ideal of strength for usefulness don’t confine your definitions of strength to physical ability or usefulness to how fast you can run. Explore the hidden aspects, the weak links of your body, mind, and spirit. We don’t have to be supermen-monks, able to survive in the woods for a year alone while reciting the meaning of the universe. But, every now and then, it’s good to know you can perform more than feats of physical strength. It’s good to know you can plan, adapt, improvise, and make the best of any situation, cause you’ve built a body, mind, and spirit capable of anything.

Time to go to work.


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The Iron Never Lies…Neither Does Cement

Several years back an article appeared about weight training and the “iron game.” Unlike the hundreds of other articles written about the same topic it was not advice for bigger guns or a smear campaign against Zumba. Instead it was a personal anecdote, a kind of love-letter to a style of training that had brought comfort and confidence to a fragile young man. More interesting still, the article was written by infamous punk rocker and activist Henry Rollins. The last paragraph was arguably the best part of the whole thing. It reads…

“The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”
The Iron by Henry Rollins

In a sense, Parkour offers the same kind of unwavering checkpoint. A 10-foot precision is always a 10-foot precision. Cement doesn’t become softer over time; you either accept it for what it is or end up a crumbled heap on the sidewalk. But this unyielding nature can be a comfort if taken in the right perspective.

When I step out my door and head to my favorite training spot I know what’s in store for me. I understand how the asphalt will react when I land, how the slick metal of the railing will slide in the palm of my hand. When the world around me is stifling, or on a whirlwind of change I can’t control, I know that the cat leap from the bench to the windowsill won’t change. It doesn’t care if I had a crappy day or the best morning ever. Either I’m paying attention and making the leap or I’m slamming into the brick.

That kind of certainty is a rarity nowadays. It’s comforting to me to spend an hour balancing, vaulting, and rolling. Parkour is a reset button to put things in perspective, just as weight training is for Rollins. I think this may be why I often get more enjoyment from staying in one location for an entire training session rather than bounce from one thing to another. I can and have spent hours at a single rail and wall, looking for all the possibilities…searching for comfort in hard lines and cinder block hugs.

Parkour, no matter where or how its practiced, never lies. The environment embraces those willing to accept its harsh truth. How well do you accept it?

The cement never lies to you.


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Old -vs- New: Are We Slower Than Ever?

While watching a new training video this morning I realized something: Parkour and Freerunning are slower. Literally, practitioners are moving slower.

For reference, here is the video I watched, the newest one from Storror Blog.

Maybe it’s just me but I was struck by how…lazy the movements seemed. Lazy might be a strong term as the movements were still well-controlled and of decent size and amplitude, but it all looked nonchalant, almost kind of sluggish. The run-ups didn’t have much speed, the set-ups and finishes were flowing yet slow.

Compare that to this mid-1990’s video of the Lisses practitioners training for the camera.

The movements are definitely rough (some of the rolls made me look away and cringe) but they all have an edge of urgency. They look like they want to get somewhere, get over the obstacle as fast as possible and just keep moving. Sometimes it comes across as almost jerky and stilted but you can sense the aggression in each step.

Over the years the idea of flow and fluidity – the aesthetic look of the movement – has taken greater hold in practitioners’ minds. It’s gotten to the point, I would argue, that the flow is not a by-product of controlled, FAST movement, but instead the desired goal from the beginning, necessitating a slowdown of all movements in order to accomplish the visual look.

In short, many of us (me included) have lost our sense of URGENCY, of moving fast and reacting on instinct. In wanting to look effortless we’ve toned down the speed and increased the size of singular or short combination runs. Honestly, how many practitioners do you see nowadays that legitimately sprint between obstacles? Mostly I see that weird, half-speed, long stride with straight, swinging arms, which is good for a rapid series of walls or rails but over any length of flat ground looks like a Minecraft character running.

Prepare to Kong!

This shift is not a bad thing, just different. The emphasis has changed. I think it’d be worthwhile though to take note of your training style next time you’re out. Do you train in a relaxed, “cool” way, or in a rapid, “urgent” way?


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“The Ultimate Ideal”

King of Qin: I have just come to a realization! This scroll by Broken Sword contains no secrets of his swordsmanship. What this reveals is his highest ideal. In the first state, man and sword become one and each other. Here, even a blade of grass can be used as a lethal weapon. In the next stage, the sword resides not in the hand but in the heart. Even without a weapon, the warrior can slay his enemy from a hundred paces. But the ultimate ideal is when the sword disappears altogether. The warrior embraces all around him. The desire to kill no longer exists. Only peace remains.

What is the ultimate goal or ideal of Parkour? We often speak in catch phrases and mottoes such as, “Be strong to be useful” and “To be and to last.” But really, what do they mean, what is the point of all the running and jumping, conditioning and mental stress? Why do we bother with such a seemingly odd thing as purposely seeking out hard obstacles? Though I think the idea will morph slightly from person to person, I think the ultimate ideal is something like the quote from the King…to find peace.

Think of it this way, using the three stages of a swordsman as an example. In the first stage, the practitioner learns the physical elements of the discipline. He becomes skilled in precision jumps, climb-ups, and all the other technical skills of movement. Even with a single box or rail he can create endless challenges and express his abilities. The mind is a whirlwind of activity and training is constant and highly varied.

In the second stage the discipline moves inward. He can imagine lines of movement without even seeing the obstacles, visualize the outcomes and test the variables. With barely a thought he can overcome fear. His mind thinks feverishly in terms of abstractions such as what true practicing is or the difference between one style and another. Movement possibilities are found in an empty room and training is structured, hard set.

The final stage is when the movements become automatic. Individual names of techniques no longer apply as everything becomes seamless. Explanations of why or how he does what he does become difficult and vague. Training becomes sporadic, without true rhyme. The link between what the mind imagines and the body can create is complete. Only peace remains.

If all this sounds like the book/movie “Peaceful Warrior”, that’s because the idea is as old as time and practically universal.

This is what I strive for in my own training, though I know that actively seeking it makes it all the harder to find. It’s something that you simply realize one day, an epiphany or enlightenment moment. I’ve had flashes of the third stage, though it didn’t last long, where it felt like everything was good and all was at peace. It’s different from the idea of “flow” in PK/FR which I think better describes mind/body connection while actively moving or training. The state of peace I’m imagining would apply even when you’re standing still – a comfortable knowing that you could act at a moment’s notice in whatever way you wanted.

What do you think, is this “ultimate ideal” something true of Parkour, the same as a martial artist or swordsman? If so, how would you describe the ultimate ideal?


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Rites of Passage in Parkour

Rite of passage: a ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another. Milestones include transitions from puberty, year 7 to high school, coming of age, marriage, and death.

Rites of passage have a long history in human culture. From tribal communities to the Roman Empire and beyond, we have used these tests of courage, strength, or will as a way to separate the “men from the boys,” the full members of the group from those still on the upward path. Often these practices were the center piece of a young man or woman’s life, the culmination of years of study and training under the watchful eyes of their elders or peers. Failure to complete a ritual could lead to great public and personal shame on the individual or family but completion was a mark of great honor and the privilege of full adulthood or full inclusion in the group.

But how many rites of passage do we have in our modern world? Outside of specific religious obligations, there are very few. Getting a driver’s license could count, but many people have no need or no desire for one, and the test can be done as many times as needed to pass. The military has bootcamp and specialized training programs with usually include a final test but military service isn’t mandatory so not everyone will experience that kind of test.

Turning 21 isn’t exactly a good rite of passage either…

This lack of rites of passage is argued as a major shortcoming of the modern era. Without a clear distinction between childhood and adulthood many people drift through their teens and 20’s with a sense of displacement and uncertainty. “Am I really an adult? What do I do now, what counts as adult things? A full-time job, a family, more money?” Objects and material milestones take the place of mental milestones. We become lost in the fog, watching as we slowly get older but still feeling like we haven’t entered anything new.

Call me old-fashioned or an unnecessary worrier, but I’m seeing this type of malaise more and more in the Parkour and Freerunning community. As the number of practitioners grows so does the desire to know when one has “made it,” when one is no longer a newbie but a full-fledged practitioner, even master. What do I have to do to show that I understand and I’m good at this PK/FR thing? Is it when I can kong vault? Maybe a level 3 climb-up and a 10ft precision? I can define a difference between Freerunning & Parkour and I can name all the founders from memory, am I there now?

Pensive Parkour

I can remember specifically when I went through a transformative process like a rite of passage. It was at a jam, the New York City national jam, which took place I believe in 2008. It was my first truly big jam where there would be people from around the country, including heroes of mine like Levi Meeuwenberg. I made the trip north and after meeting up and training with everyone at the host, Jesse’s, house we crashed for the night. I slept behind the TV in his room because there was no room anywhere else.

By 8am the next morning we were all up and raring to go. A short train ride into NYC and we were training on anything and everything we could find. From Central Park to underneath the bridges and across the waterfronts, we spent the entire day moving. I spent the day trying to hit the biggest things I could, wanting to show I hadn’t been training for nothing. After hours in the city we made our way back to Jesse’s house, just as the sun was setting. I was hungry, covered in half-dry sweat, and ready to sleep.

It was then that Jesse and a few others invited us to come with them on a conditioning session. “It wouldn’t be long,” they said, “just an hour or two.” Feeling rundown but not wanting to skip an opportunity to hang with them more, I accepted. And it was there that the rite of passage began.

What ensued was nearly six hours of non-stop exercise. It started with several miles of balancing along railroad tracks, interspersed with squats and push-ups. Then it was hundreds of yards of crawling, lunging, and wall traversing. As midnight approached we made it to a local football stadium where we were told the conditioning session would actually begin. My soul has rarely been crushed as hard as when I realized we weren’t even halfway done the night.

S-s-soul Crush!

Backwards QM up steep stadium steps. Hand railing pull-ups. Barefoot running. Partner lifting and dragging. We pushed and punished ourselves through at least another hour and a half of work. I cramped up twice in each leg and was probably dehydrated, way past the point of overtraining. Even when we had finally finished the conditioning we had to walk back to Jesse’s house. We didn’t get to sleep till almost 3am. I have never slept harder in my life; I literally passed out.

When I left for home the next day I was annihilated. Soreness was the least of my problems. My feet dragged, my movements were sluggish, I was just utterly spent. The next week would see me slowly recover from the ordeal but with a new mindset and focus. I hadn’t done as well as others at the session (Levi was deadlifting my entire body at one point and I outweighed him by 25 pounds) but I had finished. I had survived. I felt like I had passed through an invisible wall, one that separated me from my training before and my training to come. I was now a Traceur, a true practitioner, baptized in fire, whatever you wanted to call it. I had made it.

How many reading this now can relate to it? Have you ever experienced a shift in your training after a rite of passage? Or what do you consider a rite of passage in Parkour? Personally I think we need to encourage more conditioning or drilling sessions like the one I experienced, not because it helps physically, but because it helps mentally. It creates a line in the sand, a definitive point, not to create elites, but to create an individual, internal mile-marker.

What do you think? Is Parkour and Freerunning in need of some kinds of rites of passage? They don’t have to be uniform and could be unique from one region or group to another, but I think they’d do wonders towards helping the community as a whole move forward.