Extraordinary Movement

When we move through the world we can move in an ordinary or an extraordinary way. Ordinary movement is easy; it follows established paths; and it is boring. Extraordinary movement requires excellence, knowledge, and independence. When I talk about movement, I am talking about extraordinary movement because it is much more interesting. Movement—whether that is Parkour, ADD, Freerunning—is a celebration of freedom in the context of an unforgiving reality that cannot be ignored. The philosopher Ayn Rand warned, “We can ignore reality but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” John Locke observed, “The only defense against the world is a thorough knowledge of it.” And Aristotle explained, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.

These ideas form the foundation of movement: pay attention to reality, learn as much as you can and practice. With parkour as with just about everything in this world, the true beauty of the practice can be appreciated fully only by taking a deeper dive into it. This means we have to understand not just the physical aspects of movement but the mental and philosophical basis for movement.

As a mastery discipline—something that can be practiced for a lifetime with continued improvement—movement focuses more on the journey than the destination. Understanding the values, interests, and challenges in the minds of the best practitioners is the best way of showing the path of movement in a meaningful and accessible way. Our podcast, with its audio format and transcripts, naturally emphasizes the mental and psychological aspects of movement

The podcast brings out the more intellectual elements of movement. My goal is to emphasize the value that movement and movers create and develop through their practice. In pushing the limits of human potential, movers demonstrate objectively that such achievements are possible. Since the physical aspects of practice can be directly observed through images and videos, the visible part is already well covered. But I believe the mental aspect is where the real magic happens, and it is less well covered because it is not spectacular. A flashy video will grab your attention, excite you and even get you to try some new things, but to get really good at movement you need a deeper understanding.

When you listen to the podcasts, I hope you will notice a distinct difference in our approach. Our goal is always to show the guest in the best possible light. We aim to illuminate and showcase their values, ideas, and principles in a way that makes them accessible and relevant to the listener while showing the proper respect for their achievements. Each interview is a collaborative effort with the guest. Our shared goal is to clearly communicate ideas that will be useful to each listener in the context of their personal journey of exploration.

Yogi, martial artists and chess masters often describe how much they learned about life from in-depth practice and mastery in their disciplines. We hear similar sentiments from musicians, sculptors, painters, hunters, and chefs. Movement as a mastery discipline is no different. A big part of its value comes from the lessons it teaches us about life and reality. Knowing your own strengths and limitations is critical. Reality is unforgiving. Physics always works and is important. You cannot fake competence. Courage is required to overcome self-imposed limitations. The list of lessons is limited only by our ability to think and to understand movement.

I am passionate about creating and promoting rational discussion. Describing and illuminating the ideas behind extraordinary movement and human exceptionalism can help us all to improve our experience and appreciate the richness and beauty of life. So, in that spirit, I invite your questions and comments.

(This was a presentation I gave at Gerlev International Gathering in 2018.)

The podcast is made possible by your voluntary subscriptions

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how passionate we are or how lofty are our goals. The podcast is made possible by voluntary subscriptions from listeners like you. Cultural expectations demand that the podcast be free-to-listen. But if you value the podcast, you should avoid the tragedy-of-the-commons by contributing your support. “Someone else will support the project,” means the podcast is not sustainable.

Please take a moment to read about becoming a voluntary subscriber.

What are you doing?

(This question is part of the “What are you doing?” project.)

I’m training, practicing. I’m looking for movement challenges. I’m usually looking for something that I haven’t done before, seeing how I can practice it, and become comfortable enough with it that it feels like second nature. I’m looking for things that I haven’t seen before, I’m looking to interact with architectural moments that I haven’t noticed before, I’m looking to create something here, right now, in this moment. And I think that, by doing that, and by committing to that practice and by sharing that practice, we can really explore the potential in ourselves and in the spaces we go to.

What are you doing?

(This question is part of the “What are you doing?” project.)

Well, I think I’m playing around. A lot of people call it Parkour. And I don’t know if I feel really comfortable calling what we’re doing Parkour, because people use Parkour in an exclusive sense. When I say an exclusive sense, I mean a sense that excludes certain practices. Some practices are acceptable to characterize under the label Parkour, and some aren’t. I’m not really interested in what I’m doing, as much as how it feels to do it. I think that I’m doing a lot of what other people call Parkour, and that’s great. I love that that label helps me find other people who like doing things that I also really like doing.

But I really feel like I’m playing, and exploring space. I feel like I’m trying to do things that are new, and challenging for me, so that I get more comfortable with all sorts of body movements. Sometimes I want to emphasize certain body movements, and sometimes others. Sometimes I want to imitate a challenge that I’ve seen someone else do. But if I’m not having fun, I’m going to stop doing it. So I think the most important thing for me is to enjoy what it is I’m doing. I think that, if I had to characterize it, I’d call it playing, rather than Parkour.

If, to answer, I guess, a little more rigorously your initial question, if I were to define Parkour, rather than what it is that I’m doing, I would say that we should open the definition of Parkour to be as inclusive as possible. We shouldn’t say, “That’s not Parkour.” We should allow people to use it in any context. I know that some people think that’s politically very dangerous, but I think that it’s more dangerous to run the risk of marginalizing certain people in communities by keeping Parkour an exclusive term.

What are you doing?

(This question is part of the “What are you doing?” project.)

I’m exercising right now. It’s called parkour, but, it’s a form of exercise where you can use your environment instead of going to a gym. …and everything you can do at a gym, you can do with this. It incorporates so many different exercises! You can do body weight things, you can run and you can do lots of jumping. It’s a full-body work out.

What are you doing?

(This question is part of the “What are you doing?” project.)

It’s funny the different stages my training has gone through. Sometimes the mindset is consistent but the movements are different other times the movements are the same but the mindset is different. It’s been interesting to reflect on the area of precisions in my training and how drastically the mindset has shifted from when I started till now.

When I first started in parkour I was just trying to learn the technique. I only attempted jumps that had little to no risk around ground level and drilled them over and over again. This seems to be a stage that’s becoming less and less common in people’s training and you can see the negative effects of that. It’s so much more appealing once you can do a movement passably to move on to bigger and cooler movements or then take that movement into more difficult contexts. While increasing challenge is an important element of training I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen succeed on something a few times and then assume they are ready for harder challenges only to then hurt themselves because even if they have the capability to do the challenge once, they are not consistent enough that failure and injury is a remote possibility as opposed to a likely result.

After a while I started to build trust in myself and what jumps I could hit consistently with a remote chance of failure as opposed to a likely one. As I got more comfortable in this area I began to increase the complexity and risk involved in these jumps. I would come face to face with a challenging jump and reassure myself that I knew my own capabilities and that the chance of me failing these jumps was extremely low. With that knowledge in my head I would work towards breaking jumps.

This mentality has some definite pros and cons to it. While I think that we should jump with success as the clear goal in mind, if our way of dealing with the consequences of missing the jump is simply don’t miss we are limiting our training drastically and leaving ourselves unprepared for the one time in a hundred where you miss that jump you should not be able to mess up. While not with every jump, a large portion of the jumps you do there is a clear bail option and identifying that and practicing it will open up a ton of jumps for you that you would not otherwise have been able to approach.

Throughout my training I’ve had some pretty cool experiences with ukemi (falling and saving yourself). Before I even started parkour and merely had some basic martial arts training at the age of 12 I fell head first of a ledge to concrete and used a dive roll to come out uninjured. A few months ago I missed one foot on a rail precision that was well over my head height and before I knew it I’d hooked that leg around the bar, grabbed it with both hands and swung myself down to a dead hang. People talk about these moments happening in slow motion but that’s not how I experience them. There is literally no thought and the moment happens in an instant as your body and the training you’ve given it reacts and acts on its own accord. If anything time seems quicker to me.

Ukemi was something I put some effort into but not much. Thankfully I’d been training it without noticing and so it was able to rescue me in more then one occasion and I used it to a minor degree on low risk jumps that I could try repetitively with little to no consequences on a miss. A transformative moment for my training of precisions was a workshop led by Max Henry in Boston at the Parkour Generations American Rendezvous.

I know I’m not the only one who had my training transformed by this workshop. I’ve heard both Sparsha of PKGEN Boston, and Ben from London, Ontario say how influential it was in their training. Max told us how when he works on those high risk jumps he often figures out what it is he is most afraid of in the jump and then forces himself to deal with that consequence first. Similarly to how difficult it is to get a solid handstand if you don’t have exit plans for both forwards and backwards it’s very hard to stick a precision if you don’t have solid backup plans for both overshooting and undershooting. Max challenged us on some precisions that had quite dramatic drops on one side of them to first not stick it and fall in the direction of the big drop and save ourselves by catching ourselves in cat.

At the time I couldn’t bring myself to do it but when I returned home I began to practice both overshooting and turning to cat and undershooting. I prioritized facing the fear and dealing with it by putting myself over the danger more so than actually sticking the jump. While obviously this is not the mindset with which you want to approach every jump it has helped me to wrap my head around actually committing to sticking a jump much quicker then just bouncing off to the side I feel safer on.

Training these bail options has opened up a whole realm of jumps that were inaccessible before. I’ve extended my training to include bails to swinging or hanging so I can attempt jumps to lone bars. Now I’m ok to try a jump over twice my head height that I may or may not be able to stick first try because I am confident in my ability to recover and keep myself safe.

Building trust with yourself is such an important part of training. In relationships, the more trust you build with the other person the more you are able to do together and accomplish. It’s the same thing with your relationship with yourself. If you don’t know your bodies limits or don’t trust it, how much are you really going to accomplish?

Something I’ve been working on is when I say I’m going to do something, doing it. If I say I’m going to overshoot, I overshoot. If I say I’m going to attempt this acrobatic movement, I’m going to attempt it. If I say I’m going to stick it, regardless of if I do I have to give it one hundred percent and put all of my energy into attempting it at the best of my ability. If we lie to ourselves we break that basic trust that is so essential in our movements. I will admit I’m not perfect at this yet. For some reason I find this much easier when attempting a scary parkour movement then when committing to a new acrobatic movement. If I say I’m going to jump I usually jump. But if I say I’m going to attempt that cast away I am infamous for being about to attempt chickening out and yelling one more before hoping back on the wall. With your mentality as well as the rest of your training as essential as it is to be hard on yourself, be patient and don’t expect perfection out of yourself right away. If you wouldn’t expect a student to be perfect right away don’t expect it of yourself.

These of course are not new concepts and have been around since the start but I highly recommend exploring mentality in training with the same, intentionality that we explore our movement. Every person is different and the most effective mentality is going to be different for each person. I suppose if I were to have two desired takeaways it would be to deal with the possibility you’re most afraid of first, and to build trust with yourself. That’s not just good for parkour but for life.