"Passion is the wind in your sails, but practicality is your rudder." -Danielle LaPorte
In Part 2 we looked at how purpose can help you select an art with high odds of developing into a passion. Examining that same purpose can also help us decide on our direction for practice. After all, practicing an art because you love it is amazing, but it can lead to a scattershot approach if you don't know precisely where you're aiming.
Near the end of my brief class with Sébastien Foucan in London last year he told me that it's important to understand the reason why you're practicing. Due to being just a little starstruck, my memory of his exact wording is no longer there, but he gave examples of traceurs who became bored with Parkour after running out of bigger jumps to land and trickier vaults to execute. They had no specific direction for their training, thus becoming aimless and eventually losing interest in practicing. To avoid that fate, ask, "Why do I practice?" The answers to that question will steer your training.
I prefer to answer with an inspirational persona as my aim, my direction. That persona could be a person, profession, fictional character or your own custom concoction. Having a concrete identity to work with paints a clear picture of the skills and traits you need to build.
When Foucan asked me for my reason why, I responded quickly with "to become a better teacher." Long-time readers may remember a second answer I added in an email: to become Batman. One answer is highly practical, while the other is practically impossible- daydreaming about tactical Parkour (yup, that exists) aside. It doesn't matter how realistic (or not) your chosen persona is, so long as it provides you with a clear aim. To progress as a teacher I look towards the teachers I admire and recognize that I must develop a deeper understanding of each movement, how the body moves and how we learn. For Batman, well, there's a lot going on there so we'll use that as a case study in a moment.
Your chosen persona is your north star. Refer to it often to catch yourself when you're drifting, and adjust your path accordingly.
Now you can proceed to the next step: based on your model, deciding what skills to practice. Here you have two options (which can be combined): find a coach, mentor or community who's been through the process and can show you an effective route, or research your target thoroughly to craft your own path.
Under the Hood
What we're going to look at now is a simple framework to help you make decisions on what to practice. Bear in mind, the framework is a starting point which makes decisions easier and clearer, not a solution in itself. I'll use the "becoming Batman" direction of mine to provide a concrete case study in a moment. First, the framework.
Whenever we look towards an inspiration we see the final product; the refined skills built from extensive practice. We can't see the path they took, and even when we can it was a path that worked for them and their situation. I'm certainly not gonna be learning from a secretive clan of assassins nestled at the summit of a mountain somewhere (even if that would be awesome). What we can do is spend time reverse engineering the skillset to figure out our own route, one step at a time. How does it work?
We already have a persona to work with, which provides easily identifiable skills and traits (how do they move? Act? Think?) to work backwards from. The next step is to take that big list and research (books, videos, Youtube, courses, forums, asking experts directly and whatever else you can find) the core skills; the highest impact skills that you'll use ~80% of the time or more (credit to Tim Ferris and his DiSSS method found in the learning hacks section of the 4-Hour Chef. Once you know what to focus on you can put together a simple practice plan. My example:
Batman is a master of martial arts, stealth, and movement; a broad net to cast. As a martial artist he has the skills to disable his enemies without lethal consequences; he's a balanced, adaptable, fighter with excellent control. The core skills to focus on would be footwork (always), effective punches and kicks, blocking and an assortment of joint locks and chokes. Without going deep into it, two basic plans come to mind immediately: first, a solo training session focused on striking while integrating footwork, either shadow boxing or using a bag. With a partner it would be blocking practice, joint lock/choke setups, and then working on transitions from blocking into submissions. As you grasp the basics it's useful and fun to have each session revolve around a focused theme, whether that's a trait of your persona (speed, grace, power, etc.) or a more abstract, even philosophical, concept-Ninjutsu uses the gogyo, or wheel of five elements to structure training. In the case of Batman his adaptability would be a great choice, so the session might focus on quickly switching between different opponents, fighting styles, weapons, etc.
The specifics of the plan depend on the individual: strengths and weaknesses, level of practice, etc. Making a solid plan of approach can be one of the hardest pieces of any project, so I suggest using the "ready, fire, aim" approach: make a plan you think will work, try it, and based upon the results adjust your future plans. Discovering how to help yourself learn efficiently is itself an important part of the process.
Ask yourself who you want to become. Pretend, adopt a persona, and daydream about your inspirations. Use your answers to guide your practice and move towards excellence.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the previous post we talked about passion and how it can provide you with motivational fuel to keep practicing. But passion tells us little about how to choose; choosing an art to develop, or if you've already chosen, what to focus your practice on. That's where purpose comes in. With all the movement arts I've stuck with I stumbled into passion, when selecting for purpose.
Now, of course it's only natural to be excited about a new thing. We humans love the new, gadgets, experiences, relationships, workout routines, you name it. New is unknown, and when something is unknown anything is possible; passion rests somewhere in that possibility space. However, if initial excitement was all we needed to find something we loved, then we'd have a glut of guitar gods, prolific artists and martial arts masters. Excitement can get you in the door, but passion develops over time.
If excitement alone can't point you towards a true passion then what's missing from the equation?
Perhaps it's understanding why we're interested? The source of the excitement? Dig deep enough and you're either excited because it matters to you (intrinsic motivation) or because it matters to someone else (extrinsic motivation), to the outside world. Making your choice based on the perceived desires of others-whether an individual, culture, or even society as a whole- is a waste of time. At best you might get lucky and find something that you're also intrinsically motivated by. Endeavors based upon a desire to look good in the eyes of others, either from appearance or superior status/skill or from a feeling of obligation-shame is often involved, and an epidemic in the realm of health- will fizzle out before long. If you want to find something that truly makes you feel alive, the interest must ultimately come from inside yourself.
The Interest-Purpose Loop
If choice should be based upon your own genuine interest, how can that help guide one towards pursuits with a higher probability of developing true passion and undying curiosity? Combine your interest with a purpose. Just as the interest should be your own, the purpose should also be specific to yourself. The possible combinations of interest and purpose are infinite, so I'll just use myself as an example.
My interest in Ninjutsu was due to an intense fascination with Ninja. I've always preferred the stealthy and agile characters to the strong, favoring thief archetypes in RPGs and playing every stealth game I could get my hands on (much love for the Splinter Cell series). What was my purpose for practicing Ninjutsu? Learning a practical self-defense art with an emphasis on escape. The combination of philosophy and history that resonates with me and skills which make me feel capable of handling myself and protecting others has made Ninjutsu a perfect fit. For Parkour my interest stemmed from philosophy, again, and seeing the inspiring possibilities of the art on Youtube. When I got started the purpose was purely to round out my Ninjutsu training by becoming ridiculously good at escaping—the ultimate way to win is to not fight at all. My interest in dance was the least expected of the three. I've been consistently inspired by incredible ability of B-boys (most of all B-Boy Issue ) to move their bodies in ways I thought impossible, especially while improvising. I dance to explore creativity and self-expression in movement, which also helps with creativity elsewhere. Dance is also my laboratory for testing theories on movement and how to hack movement learning.
In all three cases I picked the art due to that link between an existing interest of mine and some specific benefits I wanted to get out of practice, which was my practical purpose for practicing (say that three times fast). I didn't know what to expect from any of them when I started, all I knew was that they looked interesting and it'd be fun to try them out. Now I can't see myself stopping any of them, ever.
Pick a practice based on your genuine interest. There is no one 'truth' and no right answers here, only what is meaningful for you. You'll know you've found something if you'd do it even if it was a closely guarded ninja secret and you could tell no one.
Move for you.
In part 3 we wrap up the series.
Passion doesn't need to be constantly fiery and all consuming; it can be a steady curiosity and commitment. You don't need to want to die for your calling or chain yourself to a tree for your cause. Genuine curiosity and sincere interest are burning coals that can warm you for a good, long time.
Seeking out passion in work has become a huge trend of late. The internet is teeming with blogs and websites dedicated to passionate work; work with purpose. Passion feels good. You get lost in passionate work; your whole body and mind are engaged, driven and alive.
However, the search for passion rarely extends to how we move. That's messed up. Movement is central to our humanity, after all—our [brains exist for movement.](http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_wolpert_the_real_reason_for_brains.html "Daniel Wolpert, The Real Reason for Brains (TED)
Movement was once essential to our survival, but no more. In some ways that's unfortunate, because maybe we (as a society) would be healthier for it. But our freedom from the worry of becoming tiger food has an upside: we can now move for the sheer joy of moving.
Now, I'm a big advocate for learning practical skills and the concept of être fort pour être utile ("be strong to be useful") from parkour's philosophy often directs how I practice. Practicality can provide purpose. A clear practical purpose is great (we'll get into that in part 2), but if you ask me "why do you keep practicing parkour?" practicality wouldn't be the answer.
Parkour gives me joy; that is why I practice.
Practicing because it makes you happy flips the paradigm. Our culture is obsessed with results and doesn't give a damn about process, unless it's a faster one! When you enjoy the practice the process of improving is satisfying on its own. The benefits to physical health, appearance, mental wellbeing and vitality are the sweet dividends of your investment in a lifelong practice.
"It's understanding the value and significance of the journey itself. That the treasure at the end of the path is, simply, more path." -Dan Edwardes
Joy is a loaded word. Joy doesn't have to be some overpowering sense of cheerfulness, or endless enthusiasm. Joy can simply be that quiet peace that takes up residence when you are doing something you enjoy.
I believe that anything that brings us joy or happiness circles back to what Danielle LaPorte (check page 4 in her workbook) calls our "core desired feelings." In brief, those are the desires that, when you dig deep enough, consistently call to you. It's possible to better understand why certain practices light you up and others don't by drilling deeper into your desires. To give you an idea of the process I'll use myself as an example.
Here are my current identified core desired feelings from the exercise gently tweaked over the course of this year:
- playfully challenged (originally "driven")
- free (added recently, after much debate). Confronting a new jump or obstacle throws me into problem solving mode. How can I get over this? What's the fastest way? Are there safer or quieter moves or even routes to try? Succeeding at the task makes me feel capable, strong, and by extension, powerful. Parkour makes me feel one with my surroundings. I can see the routes and know that I can go anywhere; play anywhere.
The motivation to keep on practicing never escapes me because the senses of immense freedom, power and challenge are there whenever I practice.
Passion provides the engine of stick-to-itiveness to keep practicing; keep improving, even when things get difficult or confusing or you hit a plateau. Find an art where you can enjoy not only the long-term gains, but the simple daily process. If you're becoming better than you were yesterday, and enjoying it, that's the only result that matters.
To borrow a phrase from my friend Colin, "keep moving."
In part 2 we'll dive into the practical side.
I spent most the majority of my time in both Iceland and Ireland in or near nature. Sure, the contrast between the two is stark: after Iceland's tree-less volcanic landscape arriving in Ireland felt as if I'd just wandered into the Amazon by accident; so verdant.
Still, in each case I was able to be in contact with the land almost continuously. And for those 2 months, and I must have gotten real used to the subtle calming effects of immersion in the natural world. I've been back state-side and in a city again for just a few weeks and the urge to slip into the woods already came back within a few days of getting here; far more quickly than I remembered it happening before. Usually that desire is triggered by a need to seek out a quiet place to think; dropping into deep thought is easier for me out in the ( at least semi) wild. Anyway, that's a topic for another time.
With it being proper summer here I can finally explore barefoot again (was still too cold in Iceland, most of the time)! The tendency to wander into the woods to think gives me the convenient excuse to practice outside of the urban environment. Usually it's hard to find good opportunities for playing in nature in cities, but luckily DC is a good city for it. There is a slash of forest (Rock Creek Park, but it's not some crappy manicured park) running through the northwest towards the heart of the city. Even better is a more untamed part of the place is just a 30 minute walk away. I headed out yesterday on one such walk to hash out some thoughts on the post I had originally planned for this week and also record whatever movement play/challenge I cooked up once I got into Rock Creek Park.
Originally I thought I would try some routes across the smattering of fallen trees around the area...but then I found a rock.
A good lifting rock.
One does not say no to a nice lookin' rock, especially when it's been so long since I've lifted any. Ahem.
Right, so here's a pretty raw video (fail included) of a challenge I made for myself with that pretty lil' rock. (Made it up as I went, only rule was to not let it touch the tree trunk)
How much did it weight? No idea, lighter than a stillborn calf (story for another time) but a bit too heavy for a proper clean...so in the 70-100lbs range?
I practice alone more often than not.
Did I choose to? At first yes, but often it was circumstance not preference that decided for me. As I wrote before, starting out with Parkour I didn't discover anyone else to train with in my area for near a year. I relied on Youtube videos and other tutorials plus heaps of trial and error to figure things out. I made progress, but I wouldn't call it impressive. It took attending some state jams with NC Parkour and training regularly with Colin and our small group to make more significant, and broad, improvements to my Parkour skills.
Now, I'm not aiming to malign solo training here wholesale. For myself I've discovered that training alone gives me the space and freedom to focus on refining techniques, drilling sequences I'm struggling with, and trying silly experiments (do I ever stop?).What is solo training not as good for? A few things come to mind: rapidly correcting errors, pushing the edge of your abilities further out, and seeing new possibilities. The value of camaraderie can't be overstated either.
Back in February I caught a broadcast from APEX Movement on Facebook about a work exchange program they were starting at their gym in Boulder, Colorado. I've been following Ryan's Youtube channel ever since I started practicing Parkour. More recently I had been getting all evangelical about Amos's project, Parkour Ukemi, ever since I saw the original Parkour Visions summit talk he gave. Needless to say I couldn't say no to an opportunity to learn from those guys and I shot Amos an email right away.
Skipping ahead (it'd be a boring story if they just said no, wouldn't it?) it was agreed that I would spend the whole month of March at APEX Movement Boulder. The deal was unlimited access to their gym and classes in exchange for working for them on some projects for the month. Such a super awesome deal that I was thrumming with energy for about a whole week after I booked the flight to Denver.
Arriving in Boulder
You never know what to expect on the first day in a new place. To kick things off Amos picked me up from the bus station in one of the sketchiest vans I've ever (personally) seen - just spray paint "free candy" on the side and the look would be complete. We headed straight for the gym to meet everyone and check out the space.
Before arriving at APEX I had spent no time in gyms, aside from visiting gymnastics gyms on extra rare occasions. All my training up until then had been outdoors with whatever I had available to me in the environment. I felt like a kid in a candy shop when I stepped inside. Rails and obstacles everywhere! The best part, for me, was the design of the space and obstacles; both aim to mimic what you would encounter outdoors. Well, almost. Their sweet rail setup I've never ever encountered outside. It's super rare to find even a half decent set of scaffolding to swing around on. Half the reason I had avoided gymnastics gyms for Parkour was that it was all padded and springy, which wasn't realistic at all. APEX bridges the gap nicely. The floors and obstacles are all hard, but crash mats and padding can be added to make the learning process safer. Having a bit of insurance does open the doors to all kinds of creative experimentation.
This ain't about the space though. It's about the people. I could have spent the month training with the crew at APEX around the streets of Boulder and learned as much (maybe more) as I did from spending a month in their gym.
...Granted it's pretty damn nice to not have mountains of snow or thunderstorms (the bane of classes in North Carolina) cancel everything. Does that make a difference in how large or strong a community can form? I've got no idea. It was clear after just a few days at APEX that their community was vibrant and diverse, in both skill levels and demographics. I had a solid idea of the caliber - read: miles above mine -of Ryan, Amos, and the pro team thanks to videos (2012 Showreel and the 2012 Parkour Tour) before I arrived. The other instructors and many of the students, especially some of the kids, were equally impressive.
The first class I got to see was Time Trials, where the instructor sets up a course with a defined beginning, at least one checkpoint, and a finish line. The objective? Get to the finish line with as few scratches (mistakes) as possible. Between just getting off a plane and still battling a persistent cold I decided to just watch. After seeing the first round I was intimidated enough by the speed that everyone blew through the bar sections with that I honestly would have been afraid to join in anyway. By the end of the month I was decent at traversing bars quickly, but I'm still nowhere near that monkey like fluidity some of the guys were putting on display. Anyhow, time trials were my favorite class there without a doubt. Why they're awesome is worthy of its own blog post though, so I'll leave that for later.
A month of endless training
With free reign in the gym I spent most days taking at least one of the classes plus spending plenty of time outside of classes practicing some of the new skills I was picking up (even excluding technique improvements there were a lot) . Top that off with two hours of open gym each day and it was a crazy amount of movement. I don't want to think about how much I spent on food for that month...you're welcome Whole Foods.
As a teacher the Level 1 and Level 2 classes were interesting to take part in and watch. Seeing how other instructors handle their classes, particularly large classes like APEX had, and what cues they use is hugely beneficial for learning how to become a better teacher. More than that watching others teach kills assumptions and demonstrates that often times there are multiple correct ways to teach the same skills; with less rambling than I'm prone to on occasion too!
The Level 3 classes and Time Trials were where the primary challenges lay for me. Despite my best efforts to arrive at APEX completely fresh I was _still _battling that cold a week into my stay. That cold made me feel all flinchy and hesitant during the first Level 3 classes. As that cleared and I became more familiar with both the space and the people I was training with that hesitation began to fade. I became more confident again and began to push my limits both inside and outside of the classes.
It would have been hard not to, honestly. I was surrounded by an amazingly skilled and supportive group the entire time I was there at APEX. I had enough people at around my strength level doing things I thought (personally) impossible that my perceived barriers came down easily. Huge cat passes (4' high with a 5' clear distance), tic-tacs, fields of rail strides, and diving 360 underbars underneath 3 foot high railings are just a handful of the more memorable ones. Well, that and some bizarre hybrid technique involving a mantle shimmy and a tic-tac that I wish I had gotten on video; as I said, time trials are fun.
Clearly I had the ability to do any of those techniques, but when out training alone, well it wouldn't happen. Either the move would seem impossible and I wouldn't even see the option or I'd think it was too long or high of a move to try. When I saw someone else do it first, and I knew they weren't some superhuman, then it didn't take much convincing for me to try it. Guess what? Most of the time I got it and when I didn't the fails weren't spectacularly bad.
Elevating your own game is far easier when you're surrounded by a community of frustratingly skilled individuals. When they're as supportive and helpful as the group at APEX it's near impossible to not grow and go further than you ever thought you could go.
Big thanks to everyone there for making my month in Boulder super awesome. A month was not near enough time to spend at APEX, and I will be returning again (and again, and again) whenever I am able to.
Bike racks are everywhere; they come in all sorts of shapes too. Lots of possibilities for movement, if the bike racks aren't being used much for their actual purpose, anyhow. I got lucky in Galway earlier last week and found a set of at the local university, blissfully empty thanks to the dearth of students during the summer.
I only had about ten minutes to spare before the bus arrived to take us into Galway proper, but ten minutes is still plenty to experiment a bit and have some fun. Here's what I came up with:
I'll be on the lookout for bike racks like that again. With a bit more of a warm-up and more time I could find even more ways to play and improve on the existing ones.
Dance Practice & Progress
Since the [Digging for Energy](http://playeverywhere.co/blog/digging-for-energy-how-play-feeds-the-body-and-soul "Digging for Energy: How Play Feeds the Body and Soul (and where I potentially make a fool of myself) post I've continued my (near daily) practice of dance, even while spending a solid month on an Icelandic farm. I never recorded enough video during my early days of Parkour training to properly track my progress, but I've been doing that with dance and it's nice to see significant tangible improvements over these past few months. I still have massive room for improvement in all areas, but here are two of the most recent raw practice sessions (still full improv, aside from having some ideas to work on):
You Got to Change
We Won't Land
I'm all videos and little writing today, more normal (and frequent) blog posts will be returning over the next month as I've wrapped up my combo of volunteering on farms and internet hiatus that this foray to Europe turned into.
I feel on the whole that aside from these videos I keep dance wrapped up more often than not and only do it on my own. Well, until yesterday. During the final day in Ireland my girlfriend and I were in a park in Dublin practicing rolls, random martial arts drills, and then later some floreio and dance. I guess the dance moves caught the eye of a trio of Libyan ladies and they came on over and asked a) if I was a dancer and b) would I show them something? I'm slowly becoming comfortable with A and after some internal mental prodding and gentle encouragement I agreed to dance a bit. I pulled out my crap phone and put on a song. To beat the initial hesitation I blocked out everything but the music and just started moving and it worked out.
So yeah, new challenge overcome: dancing to an attentive crowd. It feels different to me than when teaching or demonstrating other movement (Parkour, martial arts, etc.). It's scarier to me right now, but I like it.
Digging for Energy: How Play Feeds the Body and Soul (and where I potentially make a fool of myself)
I uncovered a hidden source of energy recently. Though now suspect that it had been there all along, lurking in the shadows as I was (metaphorically!). The problem was I never was able to harness the energy before because I was too shy and afraid of embarrassment. I was suppressing any urges to do it and get down when opportunities presented themselves.
Nope, I'm not being euphemistic here, just intentionally vague. All I'm talking about is dancin', so get yer head out of the gutter, that's my home not yours...unless you're one of them 4chan folk, in which case, it's all yours.
Ahem. So, back to that whole energy source deal - Parkour and playing around outside in general have always been a consistent font of irrepressible energy for me. A good training session always leaves me buzzing and upbeat, especially if I tried something new or conquered a tough obstacle. The feeling is addictive, which could explain why I'm always scanning for more opportunities to move and play (or I'm just obsessed, your call).
Problem is, sometimes life gets in the way and it becomes difficult to move outside every day. Dance though can be done anywhere. Ever since I let the beat infect me it's been near impossible not to dance every day. Yes yes, there will be video, I promise, but let's rewind first, because getting to this point was a complete, and rather illustrative, accident.
Chaos! Lost habits and drained vitality
In the years and months before I left Chapel Hill it was easy to get some movement in on most days. I could take a quick jaunt into the woods behind my house, screw around in the backyard, or get a bit of practice in before teaching classes. Even on days when I did not have had time for a proper, dedicated, training session I had little excuse to not do something since I was surrounded by good options.
Once I left - starting with a road trip to help my brother move to San Diego - all my usual movement opportunities disappeared. I felt as though I had less time and opportunity to move around, and all my established habits went right out the window. The amount of time I spent training and playing gradually declined over the next several months, with my energy levels and enthusiasm following suit. The drain became super evident in Switzerland. With all the manual labor involved in volunteering on farms I was moving around a ton every day; something was missing though. None of that daily movement was making me feel more alive, not like my own training and play did.
I didn't just need movement; I needed movement that brought me to life.
That isn't to say I faded away completely. I would find great opportunities to move from time to time. Playing around with climb-ups and hefting rocks during breaks from work at a chalet surrounded by stunning views of the Swiss Alps remains hard to beat. The problem was that those occasions were awesome but sparse, so the vitality boost I got from them would fade before the next opportunity presented itself.
Sure, I noticed the steady decline in excitement and energy I had, but I didn't do much to try and fix it. There's an observation that we are only willing to make big changes once the situation becomes unbearable; it was absolutely true for me in this case. It was only when I was feeling lonely and filled with sadness after my breakup that I sought out ways to revitalize myself and claw out of that emotional pit.
Two things helped me more than anything to climb back up: immersing myself in nature and exploration/play through movement. I spent most of time during those weeks quietly wandering the forest, finding a nice spot, then pausing to reflect for a while - sometimes at the edge of the lake, sometimes on some fallen tree. If, during my wanderings, an interesting obstacle caught my eye I'd stop and play with, on, and around it before continuing my meandering. The play in particular did an amazing job of pulling me up that I promised myself to get some playful movement in every day. Taking inspiration from Danielle LaPorte, whose book I was reading, I dubbed the habit "feeding the soul fire."
None of the above how or why I've become a dancing fool since then. A good beat wouldn't yank me to my feet as it does now. Sometimes discoveries can come from the most unexpected sources and people.
"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything." -Plato
All this talk about dancing, it's all Sébastien Foucan's fault. Well, kinda, I'm sure it wasn't intentional, it happened during a Parkour class after all.
I found out Foucan taught classes in London, so grabbed the chance to learn from him. I'm a lucky bastard and somehow I was the only one in the class, so it turned into a one-on-one session. It was Fall, so the theme of the classes was on flow and smooth movement. As part of that, Foucan had me do an improvised ground flow (like this old video, but without the imagined box), something I had done before, but to music. How you do it is simple. Put on some music and just let yourself move with the music. The only real rules are to stay (mostly) on all fours and to not overthink it. I was in love with the idea of combining music and improvised movement the moment he showed it to me.
Once I returned to the U.S. I put the new idea into practice during my breaks from writing. For a while it was all some chaotic jumble of crawling, rolling, and other practical movements thrown together. Bad idea with fast paced songs, zipping around on all fours for 5+ minutes was exhausting. Fun, but I didn't want to be a complete sweaty mess every single day. Still, after just a week of doing this I got the irresistible urge to move when a good song started playing. I looked up some (standing) breakdancing steps and started practicing them on some days to avoid burning myself out.
After a few days repetitive practice turned into improvised dance and this started happening (did I keep you waiting? Soo not sorry ;) ):
I was hooked and found myself relying on dancing every day to keep the "feeding the soul fire" habit going strong during the three months I spent in D.C. Dance has consistently left me feeling charged, even when I spend as little as five minutes dancing, that (for me) it's now integral for feeling awesome day to day. This is just the beginning, expect to see much more as I experiment on my own and take plenty of classes to continue improving (I began with a few Modern classes while in DC).
Perhaps dance or music doesn't seize you the way it does for me. Even if not, I know that there is some kind of movement that will consistently light you up and brighten even your lowest day. How do you discover what yours might be? Taking classes in dance, martial arts, Parkour, or other movement arts can give you some ideas and directions to pursue. Try Foucan's game (before and after you learn new skills) and let music pull your body into motion. The beauty of having no one right answer for everyone is that you're free to choose anything that drives you to move. Free choose a style or even combine what you like into your own unique brand of movement, à la Bruce Lee. As [Ido Portal](http://idoportal.com "Ido Portal (Official Site) would say, you're a human first, a mover second, and only a specialist after those two.
Dealing with failure is difficult.
With practice brushing past the little failures that have few repercussions becomes easy. Easy enough to pick yourself up and try again immediately without hesitation.
However, if you get hurt, sometimes even a little, fear seeps into your mind. When that fear of failure gains a foothold, you've got a battle on your hands.
When practicing Parkour situations like that come up often. Little injuries happen that cause just enough pain to worry your subconscious (lizard) brain, which can trigger hesitation on your next attempt. The situation is common enough that an unwritten rule has formed: if you fail and fall, get back up immediately and try again*. Jumping again right away is a pre-emptive strike; cutting down fear before it has time to fortify itself in your mind.
(*NB: If you sustained an injury it is unfortunate but necessary to train smart and stop practicing for the day to let it heal and recover. A war's a lot harder to win with a broken limb.)
Sometimes you can't make that jump again immediately. The longer you wait between the failure and your next attempt, the more time the fear has to fortify and entrench its position. I dealt with a situation like this recently. One of my feet slipped out on a landing (usually not a big deal) and somehow that jarred one of my shins; it was just enough for me to pause and do a damage control check. By the time I got back to trying the vault again I found myself hesitating to re-commit to the technique. Fear had settled in and was ready for a fight.
If, like me, you get into a situation like this there is no magic secret to winning the battle with fear. Stepping up and committing 100% is what you need to do. Perseverance gets me there, even if it can take more tries than I can count.
Oh look, a video of my fail!
The good news is it works. If you want to see a glimpse into the process I happened to record the entire ordeal. For your sake I've cut the video down under 3 minutes, but the entire process took about 15-20 minutes. I had successfully landed the technique the day before, so it took less time than it could have.
With Parkour the experience of the fear is quite visceral, but the same process of dealing with failure can happen elsewhere in life too.
I just got word that my visa application to Belgium has been rejected. My initial reaction was along the lines of "well fine then, screw you guys, I didn't want that application anyway," but that's just some clever attempt to avoid the pain of failure, $500 and 8 months of waiting's worth of it. A failed attempt.
I'm immediately trying again. I have the ability to appeal the application and update it with some information I've been working on including in an updated business plan, including some generous and welcome help from friends and readers from Belgium. It's gonna take some extra work to make the case now, after already being rejected, but often times you need to push harder to succeed. Even if that second attempt fails - pushing against the immovable walls of red tape and bureaucracy feels almost futile - I have others (Berlin!) which might end up working out better.
Keep trying, persevere, and push harder than your mind is willing to let you; it's not sexy, but that's the secret to success. You won't win every time, but you'll be stronger and more confident from both the glorious victories and the unfortunate defeats.
Never give up.
It all started with a Youtube video; that's a story you'll hear often when you ask long-term traceurs/traceuses what inspired them to begin practicing Parkour, and the same was true for me. I get the feeling that most jump straight into trying Parkour out for themselves after that bolt of inspiration. Maybe I'm just an overly cautious type, but I dove into researching instead; that took perhaps a bit too long...I started the research in late 2008 (based on registering on the American Parkour forums) but didn't get started training until around Feb-March 2009 after I had decided Parkour meshed super well with Ninjutsu philosophy. The delay was worth it, I think. I picked up a lot of good info about the philosophy, mindset, and proper training progressions from around the internets. I wasn't charging in to training completely blind, but even then progress started out plenty slow.
I began by focusing on landing practice and lots of conditioning, which was especially important because I stubbornly decided I was going to train only in minimalist shoes (Vibram KSOs at the time). The conditioning kicked my ass, which was a huge surprise because I was already training 3-4 times a week, including some intense grappling over at the NC Quest Center. Even with only that practice and dabbling in some basic techniques I was becoming increasingly convinced that Parkour was awesome, so I picked up a tutorial DVD and scoured the internet for more videos to try to improve faster. The training was haphazard as I started out trying to learn the most difficult and/or high energy techniques first, because of that progress was slow. It took me close to a month to figure out the cat pass through trial and error (even with an excellent tutorial), and even then the resulting technique wasn't that good (using a two foot takeoff, ugh). I learned a lot through that process of failing over and over, but having a more thorough technique progression and a little feedback could have cut that time in half, at least. I'm sure it has helped me become a better teacher, but man, I do wonder what my progress would have looked like with some help earlier on; it was somewhere around a year of solo training before I began to work with Colin all the time.
Coaching, progressions, and feedback
After I started coaching with Fifth Ape got plenty of first-hand experience seeing how much of an impact some solid gradual skill progressions could have on learning speed, especially when coupled with good technique feedback. It's both amazing and frustrating to teach a student a new technique and see them get it within an hour, when that same technique took me at least a week to figure out on my own. Ah well, it's for the greater good.
I need to rewind a bit. I had some grand plans to move to Europe and start a business over there long before the whole wonderful experience with Fifth Ape started. If I'm anything it's overly stubborn and persistent, considering that was over three years ago by now. Sticking with the stubborn theme, I was firmly of the belief that trying to teach via the Internet wasn't workable, because it wasn't the optimal way to learn. Afterall, immediate feedback is key for rapid learning and you can't get that from a bunch of pre-recorded pixels, no matter how good the content.
Unlike the whole relocating to a foreign land thing, my stubbornness did slowly erode in this case, which all started when a mother of a Fifth Ape student asked if we had any way to learn some of the stuff online, and I had to tell her no. Getting some hands on coaching is perfect if you have access to some good coaches, but if you don't...well, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good as they say. It took questions like that and remembering that when I started I had that tutorial DVD from American Parkour that at least pointed me in the right direction as far as good technique and safe training was concerned.
Jumping into online course design
There's a funny problem that happens when you start up online coaching and people know of you as a Parkour teacher...they want to learn Parkour. Now, I could "teach" online by scouring the web for good tutorials and just pointing them to them and saying "do this, and then that," or be stuck with what they already know, which is presumably very little; neither was an acceptable option. I decided I needed to create something of my own. At first I was just going to do it piece wise as I needed by students. It dawned on me go big and create a comprehensive course instead (formatted similarly to Fifth Ape's old Parkour Fundamentals course) instead. Afterall, I was going to create all these videos eventually anyway, right? My grand idea evolved into creating the resource that I wish my past self could have had access to as I began my solo journey into Parkour. Cheating the learning curve by packing all the experience and collective knowledge I've gained over the past four years with the help of amazing friends, mentors, and teachers (I added these to a Gratitude page earlier) about Parkour into one big course. Now where did I put that time machine...?
After figuring out the outline of the course in December I decided to split the course in half, focusing on the super important stuff that everyone could use for the first half, and leaving the more specialized, complex, and specific techniques for the second half. I'm glad I decided to split this into two pieces. I could list plenty of good rational reasons to split it, but sticking to my "one reason heuristic" (if you get the newsletter you know what I'm referring to ;) )my reason is distinctly irrational. It hurts to admit it, especially to myself, but the real reason is I don't know if this project will succeed. I'm afraid that it will fail. It's new and strange feeling for me, working on a project for months with no way to know if it will work out in the end; only armed with the belief that I must create this, regardless of its success or failure. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I hadn't expected to be recording nearly every day (so close to every day, damn you rain) for a month to a month and a half. Maybe I'm making it sound difficult, but I discovered that I love the video making process (if that wasn't obvious already) and got my hands on some better editing tools which has me all excited (squee!). A good helping of viking-blood to be able to record for hours in the cold (stubbornly still wearing a t-shirt) helped too - the risk vs. danger blog was done in around ~36F weather, for reference.
The persistence paid off, and I reached my own self-imposed deadline of finishing up the video on Friday. I've decided to add a couple more videos to the first course to make it a bit more comprehensive, so those will be done tomorrow. My plan is to release the course onto Udemy properly on Monday the 4th which will give me time to finish up encoding* and uploading the last of the videos and editing the drafts of the handful of documents included in the course. If you've signed up for my email newsletter I'll throw you a 25% off coupon for the course, valid for the first month that the course is live. If you aren't on it yet, sign-on up directly below this post. After this I'm going straight into working on the second half of the course and thinking up ways to make it an even better learning tool (toying with the idea of audio only lessons).
*Thank Zues for Adobe Premiere, I would still be encoding videos two weeks from now if it wasn't for the ability to queue multiple videos and leave my poor laptop to churn through 5+ hours of them while I recorded even more video.
Bonuses: I have somewhere around 80GB of raw footage (that's after deleting ~20GB to clear space) and I'm sure there's enough video of me doing and saying stupid things to the camera to make a short "deleted scenes/blooper reel". If you help share out the course once it's live and it reaches 50 students I'll sift through the footage and make a horribly embarrassing video of some of that stuff. Otherwise all that footage is going bye bye. ;)
(There might also be some involving doing borderline stupid/unhealthy things in the snow. I haven't decided what I'm doing with that...yet)
Off to Colorado in March!
In awesome and weirdly coincidental news I'll be going to spend a month training and learning from the guys over at APEX Movement in Colorado. I've been following Ryan Ford's stuff since I began training, so it'll be great to finally meet him in person. I had just missed an opportunity to train with him in France in October. Perhaps this is an accidental four year Parkour anniversary gift to myself? Thanks, I'll take it!
Terrible Harry Potter references aside, this is a kicking technique originally from Capoeira, but I never remember those names for long. I could comb through tutorial videos to find what I'm looking for, but this name is more amusing to me anyway. I picked up the technique from Stephen Carr who, by the way, was in Mario Warfare, which you should check out if you haven't already.
Anyhow, at first I was just dabbling with the kick because it was fun to do; plus I was taking some capoeira classes at the time, so I thought it might be useful there. It turns out that the kick is not a good idea in a Capoeira roda. A really bad idea actually, as it is more of a "fighting" kick. Using this kick in a roda would just result in fisticuffs coming out...or because capoeiristas don't punch, I guess it'd be footsicuffs (one thing I can't dodge: euphemisms)? Needless to say, being the conflict avoiding guy that I am, I never used the kick in a roda. So much for a practical application to Capoeira. I still continued practicing it, because spinning is fun and it felt graceful when done well. Sometimes "because it's fun" is the only excuse I need to keep practicing a skill, making it useful is just a huge bonus.
Speaking of which, by complete accident the technique because (almost) practical after I practiced it enough that it became close to automatic. Somehow it began to displace my usual way of getting weird looks when I wanted to get back to standing, which was back rolls. Now I'm sure people think I'm not only odd, but also a bit of a showoff. Eh, why not? Hidden bonus: The kick _might _be a faster way to get to standing than a back to standing too, on top of being all puurty like. Bonus numéro deux, someone charging at you at that instant would get a boot (okay, fine, foot...stop ruining my fun!) to the head. I can't guarantee its efficacy, because finding willing test subjects is...difficult (Please sir, may I kick you in the head? Why? For science!).
Okay, enough of that silliness for a moment. The technique does take quite a bit of jumping power, but the progression from the video should enable you to develop it gradually while learning how to generate and control the spin. Odds are developing the necessary power may take some time, don't try to rush it. Also, a caveat: this requires good shoulder mobility and stability to be practiced safely. If you have really tight and/or weak shoulders, fix that first. Ido Portal's scapular mobilization and stabilization routines are a good start, I also find that all the different kinds of crawls help too. Once mobility is okay you can ease into trying the first step in the progressions. With all that in mind, go forth and spin!
Not sure what's up with all the bonuses today. I must be in a good mood, which may have something to do with this song (heads up: plenty of swearing).
Yesterday I was walking around a neighborhood in DC near me and found a path to a small creek. It felt like ages since I had explored barefoot, so I took 30 minutes to play around before heading back up the ravine to do productive things. Man, I forgot how much I missed jumping around on rocks barefoot! Rocks are far more challenging (even with shorter distances) than the usual stuff I find while wandering around cities. Luckily I had my camera with me. I had no real plan for this whole detour besides traversing up and down the creek. Here's the video: