Motion 2.0

Where movement meets the mind.


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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 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.


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Breaking the Jump – Tips for Conquering Mental Blocks and Embracing the Fear

Parkour and Freerunning are dangerous. When you get down to the basest physical levels of what the disciplines entail, there’s no way to logically argue it any other way. We run along thin metal rails, climb up sharp-edged walls, and hurl our bodies across gaps of thin air, often without any safety equipment or recovery apparatus. When you go  for a precision jump or gap leap, there are dozens – if not hundreds – of things that could go wrong.

And every single one of those bad outcomes are screaming at you right now, slamming the brakes on your muscles, pleading with you to reconsider. It’s too far, too high, the landing is too sketchy, the take off too small. Back away you idiot! Do you want to die?!

But you can’t walk away now. You’ve been putting in your training hours and sizing up this jump for weeks, months even. You’ve psyched yourself up before but always turned back at the last second. No, not this time. You will take the jump, you will make the jump! Seize the jump! Carpe exilient!

Easy to say, right? Then you make the mistake of looking down and you’re back to square zero, kicking pebbles. Few things are as frustrating as walking away from a move, knowing in your heart you had the physical ability but not the mental fortitude. I’ve run into this scenario so many times I’ve lost count. But I’ve worked out a few brain hacks that helped me embrace the fear. Everyone is different so these may not work for you, but if nothing else it might give you ideas on how to circumvent your own flight response.

Don’t Ignore the Fear

Pretending you’re not scared stiff works when you’re asking out a pretty girl. Turning a deaf ear to your brain misfiring works during a hard exam. But ignoring that pit in your stomach as you line up for a big jump can be deadly. By not acknowledging that what you’re facing is a dangerous situation you can quickly underestimate it and not give it the proper attention. Over-thinking a move is frustrating but walking away keeps you alive. Under-thinking and simply throwing yourself to the mercy of gravity is just reckless. Figure out why the fear is there, understand it, dissect it, and give it just the right amount of leeway to get the job done.

Pace It Out

Inspect everything possible. Check the surfaces of the take off and landing zones. Double check the structural integrity of the obstacles. Pace out the distances and get a feel for the power you’ll need to apply. Practice similar jumps or moves nearby. Hang from the target wall or hop up and down on the target rail. Just like learning to understand the fear, the more you immerse yourself in the physical aspect of the problem the less daunting it will become. It can also highlight previously hidden problems, such as realizing there’s broken glass on the spot where he planned to bail out if you missed. Which brings up the next point…

Bailout Bro!

Even if the move leaves no room for error, have an escape plan, no matter how ludicrous it seems. Hands slip on a cat leap to a wall across a ten foot gap, three stories up? No problem, I’ll bounce off the side and back to the fire escape. This is a mental shortcut to provide the leeway in the fear that I mentioned earlier. It’s a tough one to pull off because it can veer too close to ignoring the fear, but used in proper proportion it can open up a window in the fear long enough to get your feet moving. If you have a plan in place for a bad-case scenario you’ll feel more prepared and more capable of action. This bailout idea can also be put into physical action – if the move permits – by actively practicing a few bailout scenarios before going for the whole enchilada, such as trying a few cat leap aborts and seeing how it feels to fall to the ground if you miss.

Visualize

Probably my favorite mental trick, this involves pretending you’ve already done the movement. You imagine how the air will feel as it passes by, how the ground will feel as you land, even what you’ll look like from a third-person perspective. Similar in a way to how Leonardo DiCaprio can plant an idea in your head and make it a reality, you literally watch yourself perform the movement in your mind. Top athletes of all sports swear by this method, as do many martial artists and meditation experts.

I have a slight variation that has always worked exceptionally well for me. If I find myself stuck on the edge of a jump I will close my eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine that I’ve never seen or been in this spot before. When I open eyes I will be seeing the space for the first time and will act on instinct, going right into the movement. I let out the breath I took, open my eyes, and go. I’ve broken quite a few jumps using this technique, as have several others I’ve trained. A small note though; this only works if you’ve taken the time to scope out the area first. It’s one thing to imagine you’ve never seen the gap before, it’s another to have truly never looked at it and could be launching right onto a cracked wall or wet metal.

Scream of the Gods

Sometimes calm thoughts and puppy dogs are not enough. Sometimes you just need a kick in the ass. Sometimes you have to call down the gods and grant yourself the power to kill titans and destroy nations with a single blow. Let that scream bellow forth and eradicate the demons of doubt and fear. Tear down the walls and make the world tremble! ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK!! (Then jump and land softly and quietly, cause if you keep screaming at that point it’s just weird…)

Walk Away

Didn’t think you’d see this one, huh? Every so often there’s just nothing else you can do but walk away and fight another day. Learning where the moment of decreasing returns happens is one of the greatest and hardest things a practitioner can master. Any fool can be a daredevil. Any coward can retreat without trying. A true warrior knows when to put his body on the line in the pursuit of something greater. How you’ll know when you hit the point of needing to walk away is personal; only you can know. For me it’s when my legs and chest shake even when I’m trying to be still or when my breathing starts to feel “numb”. There’s no shortcut to it unfortunately, no other way but to expose yourself to the fear. Embrace it, dissect it, understand how you respond to it, and learn.

That’s all I’ve got for now, I might come back and edit more tricks in as I think of them. If you have some tips and tricks of your own you’d like to share, leave them in the comments!


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The Importance of Training Solo

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…

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You know Crusoe totally did Parkour on that island…

1) It taught me to respect fear ImageWhen 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 ImageMost 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 ImageThis 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 ImageBruce 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? ImageTraining 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.

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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!