010. Matthew Poprocki: Artistry, challenges, and personal expression

010. Matthew Poprocki: Artistry, challenges, and personal expression

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Matthew Poprocki does what he loves. Formally a visual artist, he is now a movement artist who likes to play and overcome obstacles. He discusses the challenges he’s faced and how he rediscovered his artistic expression through Parkour.

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On doing what he loves

Craig: So why do you do what you love?

Mat: See that’s an interesting question because I had to learn the hard way of why am I doing the things I don’t want to do? [00:00:30] Or why am I doing the things I hate? Or why am I doing the things that I think that I have to do? For a while, I feel like everybody thinks they have to do a lot of different things, and that there is this pressure growing up and just in our society that you have to do these certain things.

When it came down to it, I thought doing what I love wasn’t really a viable option. I couldn’t really pay my rent and do these different things [00:01:00] if I actually did what I loved. So I felt that I had to make a compromise. I really loved art and doing graphic design and painting and stuff like that. I was like, well, I’ll do graphic design, so that way I can make money.

What I really loved to do was being creative. Like just being creative, but what I ended up doing was becoming a graphic designer and-

Craig: Trying to bend that creativity to fit someone else’s mold.

Mat: And give my creativity to somebody else, [00:01:30] and to help other people, you know to do other people’s visions and dreams. So I did that for 10 years or so. I did that for a really long time until I just got so frustrated, I quit. I just recently got over this whole resentment to computers and technology all together because I was just so-

Craig: Total rage quit. Right. [00:02:00] Burn it all.

Mat: Yeah. I was really frustrated that I spent so many of my years sitting on a computer wishing I was doing something else, looking out the window going oh it’s such a nice day. I wish I could go outside and play.

But you can’t play! You’re an adult. You have to work. You have to make enough money. You need health insurance. You need to pay your rent. You need food. You need to, you know …

Craig: Tow the line. That’s the-

Mat: All these different things that keep you there. But what ended up happening is after [00:02:30] 10 years or so, I mean I got sick a few different times, where it was … It was detrimental to my health and my life.

The first time around, it turned into like an addiction with alcohol and drugs, is that that was my escape. I had to go to work and do these things, sit at a desk for so long. On the weekend, I wanted to have fun [00:03:00] and live life and live life to its fullest and take advantage of the time that I had. The only way that I knew how to do that was to go out and party, to go out to bars and jump on a table or a stage dive or-

Craig: You let it all hang out.

Mat: Do something crazy. And that was my output, but what that did to me over a long period time was make me really unhealthy. Then I found myself weighing like a hundred pounds, and I [00:03:30] was really sick and depressed and hallucinating just on my own, just because of how unhealthy I was. I needed a way out, and that’s when I found Parkour, and that was it.

What is it about Parkour that you saw as an escape?

Craig: So why Parkour? What is it about Parkour that you saw as the escape?

Mat: When I nailed it down to what I really loved to do, what I really love to do is play. [00:04:00] And Parkour is like the grownup version of play.

Craig: Right or the not yet and the not grown up version of play. It’s just play.

Mat: Yeah. Another thing about Parkour is that I was able to be creative. And that was also why I liked graphic design and being a painter and these other different things I did with visual arts, is I’m a very creative person. And I’m able to be creative with my movement.

Craig: Without having to be nailed [00:04:30] to a desk or a computer, all those things that you wanted to get away from.

Mat: Yes. I could also be very creative as a coach, so I could help other people and help other people learn movement. And that is to me, when I make a lesson plan, it is like painting a picture or making a sculpture or something. But I’m making an hour experience.

Craig: Yeah crafting a journey that you’re going to take people through.

Mat: Yeah, and so [00:05:00] I fell in love with this whole experiencing life, and Parkour has helped bring that out. Where my experiences before with being a painter is you have this experience. You make it, and then it’s on a wall. You know? And you want other people to experience that too.

But with Parkour, it’s that actual, when I jump, I’m in the moment, and I’m living that experience. Then once I have that experience, I can use that as paint and my palette to help others when [00:05:30] I’m doing my classes. And oh, remember that one time where I did that one jump, and I learned all these different life lessons.

Craig: How do I craft this to convey that feeling to them. Right?

Mat: Yeah. I went through a long time really questioning myself though. After I fell in love with Parkour, I just stopped doing art. I stopped painting. I was a tattoo artist for a little bit too, and I just stopped. I put all my stuff in a box, and I still have it in my closet. And I wonder if it’s every gonna come out.

[00:06:00] The thing is I feel completely quenched, like my creative tendencies are being fulfilled through playing around, swinging, jumping, having fun with kids.

Craig: Coaching and right.

Mat: Yeah, I get to be creative every single day in all these different ways is just a lot different, so I thought I was losing a part of me, when I had this transformation, and I was learning Parkour. Because I did art [00:06:30] for so many years, and it was such a big part of my life. I still have it all over my body, so I have that.

And I still love it. I look at other people’s art, and I can really appreciate it and I like to see beautiful things. But now I’ve learned a greater appreciation of experiencing things, of experiencing moments in art and ideas [00:07:00] and being in it.

So to me, Parkour is art. I realized after a few years, I didn’t lose it. I’m still an artist. I’m a life artist. I’m a movement artist. And I can still be creative, and I can play.

Seeing everything as an opportunity

Craig: Many people say that they enjoy overcoming obstacles, but when you say it, I know that you have a deeper, a more considered meaning behind that phrase, which is often thrown around quite lightly. [00:07:30] So I’m wondering if you can unpack a little bit about why you feel that overcoming obstacles has a deeper meaning for you?

Mat: For me, overcoming obstacles is a way of life. It’s my way of life. And it is the thing that I feel has ultimately changed my life and changed how I live. My experience is in everything that happens to me, or how I react [00:08:00] when things happen to me.

So before I learned Parkour, overcoming obstacles was not something I liked to do or something that I felt passionate about. An obstacle would happen, and I would feel like, oh no, this happened to me, and now I have to deal with this. This is a terrible thing.

But after learning Parkour, I started to see obstacles in a new light and a new way of thinking. So when something happens to me in my life, I don’t see it as a negative [00:08:30] thing. I see it as an opportunity for me to grow and become strong or demonstrate how strong I’ve become.

Something that’s recently, that’s happened to me, is I had my lung collapse. So old me, before Parkour, this would be a victim thing. This would be, “My lung collapsed. My life’s over. I’m gonna be stuck in bed forever. How dare this happen. Why me? So many other people, they live their [00:09:00] lives, and their lungs don’t collapse. Why did my lung collapse?”

Craig: Yeah, I was doing so great before this, but …

Mat: Yeah, and then I could just play on that for years, maybe for the rest of my life, I could use that as a disability, or why my life sucks is because I had a collapsed lung. But after learning Parkour and really finding and appreciating overcoming obstacles, when my lung collapsed, it was like, “Wow, here’s my chance to demonstrate how strong I have become.”

I’ve learned how to overcome [00:09:30] obstacles physically with my body, how to do pull-ups and climb-ups and kongs and all these different things. But here’s something that’s happened to me, and I’m gonna use that progressive method that I use when I’m doing Parkour. But I’m gonna use this with my body, and I’m gonna use it to get strong, and I’m gonna use it to get through the surgery. I’m gonna use it to become healthy fast, and then be able to get back to work and get back to doing what I love. I’ve done this before, so I can do it again. I’m just going to [00:10:00] get better and better at it.

Craig: That’s great mindset. Right.

Mat: Yeah, I didn’t see it as something that was terrible, and when I was in the hospital everybody was really impressed with me. I saw it as like, “Bring it on!’

Craig: Yeah, you were talking about the physical therapist, and you know, most people hate their physical therapist. “Oh, I don’t want to go. It hurts.” And your attitude was, “Yeah, tell me exactly what I have to do,” and your watch beeps every hour to remind you to breath, which is something they had you doing [00:10:30] as a physical therapy, but now it’s like that’s actually a really good thing to do.

Mat: Yeah, so they gave me exercises, and I loved them because I love exercises. I love trying to be strong. I love doing things in a progressive method where I break everything down into steps. So if they say, “Oh you do this step here, and then this step and this step, and you’ll be on your way.” And I say, “Yes, I trust that.” I know that. I know when I was learning kongs, I did not know how to do a full kong, but I broke it up into steps, and I learned each step, and then I put it together.

Craig: Understand the process.

Mat: [00:11:00] Yeah. So now, I could do this with my lungs. I could do it with my body. They sliced my back open to do the surgery, and so I lost all my pull-ups-

Craig: All the pull. Right.

Mat: All my upper body strength was gone, and at first I was hurt. I was like, “Oh man, I worked so hard on muscle-ups and pull-ups, and now I can’t even do one.” But then I was like, wait a minute. I’ve done it once. I can do it again. I know, actually, how to do it [00:11:30] better now.

Craig: Right.

Mat: So this time around, it’s gonna go a lot better than the first time I did it. So here’s an opportunity for me to focus on the fundamentals of pull-ups again. And the fundamentals of all my different exercises. Like as I felt like I lost it, and then I get to rebuild. So it was like a challenge. It was like a thing.

And so, with Parkour, we need to learn how to adapt to different environments. [00:12:00] So I just had to learn how to adapt in my life and adapt to having this big slice in my back. While I was in the hospital, I had to adapt having a tube in my lung.

Craig: In your lung.

Mat: Man, which was painful for a while, and oh man, it was so hard. But I knew that I could do it. You know, step-by-step, I could just watch the clock, and I’ll know [00:12:30] tomorrow I’ll be better than I was the day before.

Just like with Parkour, I’m getting stronger and stronger, more knowledgeable. And with going through the surgery, it was the same thing. It was just gonna happen again. You know? I know how to transform myself, and I’m gonna put it into practice.

I learned a lot of things from Parkour. I learned a [00:13:00] lot of valuable life lessons, but on the way, I’ve also learned things that seem unrelated to Parkour, but also, equally important life lessons. One of those life lessons that I’ve recently learned, but it’s been there throughout my whole life is turning bad things into good things.

And it’s weird for me to even say it bad because now, I kind of don’t believe there is bad.

Craig: You sort of realize those things [00:13:30] were actually good in the first place. Right?

Mat: Yeah, well to turn bad things into good things, it’s just I wonder if everything is actually good. And we just kind of make them bad, or we don’t want to adapt and change and learn.

Craig: Yeah, what makes it bad is your reaction to it. That’s what paints the bad onto the event.

Mat: So I’ve had some bad things happen in my life. Like how I was talking about earlier with my jobs that I didn’t like. [00:14:00] Those were bad, but now-

Craig: Yes, stressful, toxic, environments-

Mat: Now I really, truly appreciate and love what I do, where I’m working with kids, and I’m playing, and it’s a nice day, and I’m outside. Or I’m in a gym that’s comfortable, and we’re having a good time, and I’m doing it.

And it just makes me thankful. All the times that I was stuck behind the window or in [00:14:30] my cubicle at a desk, now just makes me really appreciate moving and feeling free and laughing and making jokes and doing all these different fun things.

Then even when things got bad at my other jobs, and I turned to drinking to try to get a way out. Now I appreciate how good and amazing it is to be sober. And how amazing is that experience. [00:15:00] It’s something I can’t give to somebody else, and I have a hard time describing it, but I have it for myself, and I love it. Sometimes it makes me so happy that I’ll cry from happiness. I would never have that though, if I never spent so many years being depressed.

Craig: If you hadn’t gone through the shadow, if you hadn’t walked through the valley.

Mat: So I learned that, and I tried to use that immediately. So something else that’s happened to me is that I [00:15:30] had my house robbed. I was at a first day of a job that I just started, and while I was at work training, my house was getting broken into.

Craig: Oh that’s horrible.

Mat: They were stealing my laptop, my monitor. They smashed my Go-Pro, and then stole the keys to my car, and I did not realize that until they took the car!

Craig: They came back later and took the car.

Mat: They [00:16:00] came back later in the night while I was sleeping. After I discovered my whole house was stolen- or all of the stuff in my house was stolen, and I went to bed. They came back and stole my car while I was sleeping.

I woke up, and I just look. And I’m like, “Did I leave my car somewhere else?” I don’t drink anymore. I couldn’t have just misplaced it. I’ve worked this out in my life. I know where my car is, but it’s not there. [00:16:30] Did it roll down the street?

Craig: No.

Mat: I mean it couldn’t have just rolled. Okay, it’s gone. Oh they stole it.

Craig: They came back and stole my car. Oh that’s rude.

Mat: Yeah, just like all the other stuff. So immediately, right off the bat though, from having all these different other experiences in my life that seemed to be bad, and I had such a hard time with them. And it took years until I understood that they were very good things to happen to me. I immediately put it into practice.

So I was like, okay, all my stuff’s gone. [00:17:00] I’m alive, and I’m okay. Like it’s not the end of the world. Can you believe that? For some reason, I always feared that losing your laptop and losing your camera and your car and different things, somehow that would end the world.

Craig: That’s somehow like, no that’s where the line is.

Mat: I’m like, oh my God no. I’m breathing. This is amazing. How can this possibly be? All my stuff’s gone, and I’m okay. I’m healthy, and I’m happy.

Craig: Did this [00:17:30] happen to you after your lung operation?

Mat: Yeah. Yeah. So this was shortly after. I’m still-

Craig: We’re laughing now, but this is not-

Mat: Yeah, it was just boom, boom. So I started to immediately put it into practice. I’m like okay, well maybe there isn’t bad things that happen. Maybe everything is actually good, and I just need to right now open my eyes to the possibility of what good could come out of this.

And I was like, all right, well what if I get a better [00:18:00] car than I had? And I was like, well that was like my nicest car that I’ve had. I mean it was the newest car I had. I’d kept it really, really super clean. People would get in my car, and they’d be like “Wow, how do you keep this car so clean? This smells like a new car.” But it wasn’t a new car. It was like a 2012, but it was the newest car I ever had.

Craig: You’d been taking care of it.

Mat: So, I let that come into my reality. I was like well yeah, I don’t know, maybe I can get a better car than I had before. Then [00:18:30] oh man, my camera’s gone. I can’t film Parkour. Well, what if you don’t really need to film Parkour right now?

Craig: How much time was I spending filming?

Mat: Yeah, what if I need to just practice Parkour not filming stuff? You know? And I was like okay, well I need to start doing Parkour with no camera, not filming anything. What about my computer? Well you hated design work for so much of your life, how about you live life without a laptop. See what that’s like. This is good for you. This is a gift. They took [00:19:00] your laptop, something that you’ve grown resent-

Craig: Yeah, it was actually a stone around your neck, and you didn’t know it until they took it away, and you stood up.

Mat: There you go. You know. And then I learned to appreciate it. My insurance company, luckily, I don’t know how it works. Normally it doesn’t work so well for other people. Things happened, and they were really strange.

One day it looked like I was totally screwed, that I was gonna lose thousands [00:19:30] of dollars off this. I wasn’t gonna get a new car. I was gonna have to get like a used car or something like this. Then the next day, it was like, oh no, actually it could work out. There was like this weird thing with numbers and the math, and now it’s taken care of. And it kept on going up and down, and I just kept on trusting that everything would be okay, and it’ll work out exactly how it should.

Craig: I’ll work that out when they make a decision. Right? I’m not gonna freak out.

Mat: It’ll work out how it will work out. And I ended up getting the nice car. I ended up getting a car [00:20:00] nicer than my old car in every way. My new car has better gas mileage, way better gas mileage. I never had a car that had such good gas mileage. Like now it’s like a hobby of mine, and I find enjoyment getting good gas mileage going down the street.

Craig: Hyper-mileing. Right.

Mat: I’m like, yes! I can’t believe this is possible. I’m doing it. It’s a newer car. So I had a 2012, now I have a 2015. So I really lucked out. My payments [00:20:30] are also so much lower. I really couldn’t actually afford the old car that I had, and I was always praying please help me with my bills.

Craig: Yeah, if I could just make it.

Mat: And then I made a joke that like the angels took my car away because they were tired of paying your bills for you every month. You don’t need this car. We’re gonna get you something else. It’s better, and it’s cheaper, and now you can be a coach. And you can only do that for a living, and you don’t have to have this expensive car payment, and you don’t have to spend all your time on a computer.

[00:21:00] But recently, today actually, I opened up my new computer for the first time. I had some hard time with it actually. I got so used to not having it in my life, that I really appreciated not having it in my life.

Craig: Not having it in your life.

Mat: But I’m opened to the fact that well, I’m gonna let new things come into my life, and I’m not gonna hold onto them so tight like I did with my other [00:21:30] belongings. If somebody comes and steals my new laptop, it’s okay. If somebody comes and steals my new car, it’s okay. I can have nice things, and it’s okay if it doesn’t work out.

So now I have a new laptop, and my new laptop is better than my old laptop. And I’m getting a new camera that’s better than my old camera is.

Craig: I’m sensing a pattern here. Right?

Mat: Yeah, so this has been, just something that I really wanted to share with everybody that’s listening to this podcast, is that you [00:22:00] really can turn negative, bad situations into good positive ones. It’s just how you see it, and if you’re ready. If you can open up and believe the possibility of something good could happen. It can.

If you’re new to Parkour, and you are doubting, I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can do Parkour. Or maybe [00:22:30] you want to be a Parkour coach, and you’re doubting that too. I would say just try to open up and be able to receive it.

See it as a possibility in life, and say, “Let it be an option.” Don’t instantly say, “Oh no this is bad. I can’t do it.” “Oh my lung collapsed. I can’t breathe anymore for the rest of my life, I’m totally done. I can’t exercise.” Or “I hurt my ankle once. I’m not good at Parkour.”

Craig: Right. Give up. Give up at the first sign [00:23:00] of difficulty.

Mat: Just use it as things to grow, and then you’ll be so much stronger after that.

On being just a normal person

Craig: Mat, I know you don’t want me to put on a pedestal, but I want to sort of drag you out a little bit further. A lot of the things that you have described, you’ve left out some of the details of the challenges that you really went through, and things were much more difficult than they sound.

I want to just sort of put you on the spot a little bit to get you to explain why you believe that you’re not special. Why do you believe [00:23:30] that this is just a regular way to live?

Mat: Yeah, that’s the thing. Sometimes I think to myself that I’m just normal. That I’m just your average guy. A lot of these things that I do isn’t something that is a supernatural feat. That I have something really super special that somebody can’t have themselves. I see everything I do as what an average [00:24:00] human can do. We go through life, and we have negative things happen to us. This is all normal.

Craig: Right.

Mat: We all get this opportunity to do this and see the world like this and be able to respond in this way. So once I started to do this, then my life transformed in all different ways then I possibly could [00:24:30] imagine. So when people who know me, different family members or friends that I’ve known for years, they think, “Oh wow, well Mat can do it, but I can’t do it.” You know?

You could totally do it. It’s completely possible to do it. I mean I don’t feel like what I did was too special, but maybe it might have been just making the right decision, which is definitely hard, but it’s completely possible.

[00:25:00] So I have my doubts as well. As an average person, I think “Man, there are so many other people that are talented than me.” And I see them in my life. They come to the gym. They can do awesome tricks that I can’t do. But the thing is that I keep on going anyways. Instead of comparing myself [00:25:30] to other people, I see everybody else is on a different path in their life.

We’re all in different stages. We’re all learning different lessons, and somebody might be very talented at one thing, and somebody might be very talented at another. So what I do, is I concentrate on the things that I’m talented, and I’m good at. I might not be the most talented athlete. I might not be on the Red Bull Art of Motion.

Craig: Right, or the best business person, or the best family guy, whatever.

Mat: [00:26:00] Yeah, but I wake up, and I do what I love. That overrides and overpowers where I lack in different skills. My love and my creativity brings me out of that. So I see myself as a very average, regular person, but since I’m doing what I love, and I believe in what I’m doing, that I can go on through my life and seemingly do these very impressive things. I [00:26:30] also believe anybody else can do this too. All you need is some challenges and a good vision.

Craig: A focused mindset.

Mat: Yeah, a good pair of glasses.

Three words to describe your practice?

Craig: And of course, the final question. Three words to describe your practice.

Mat: So, my first word is mindful, and I particularly like this word because [00:27:00] it makes me feel that I’m in the present moment. When I do Parkour, and I practice Parkour, I’m here. I’m now. I’m experiencing life. And to me, it’s the way of how I can live life to its fullest is by being here. And particularly, when I do different skills it heightens that self-awareness of being in the present moment.

Then my second one is being creative. I talked about [00:27:30] a lot of this during the podcast about how I love creativity. I love being a creative being. I love creating things, and so this is very important to me. Every time I practice Parkour, I’m creating something, and I don’t forget that either. Is that I like to see it as I’m a painter, and I’m painting all over with my movements.

Then the third word I have is high. So this is a little different, but [00:28:00] for me, it is a way of feeling. It’s my being when I’m actually practicing. Another word I was gonna use is connected or like connected to the universe. But I feel like high is a more accurate description because before I learned Parkour, I was looking for this highness in other different things. And I found it in other different things.

Craig: Substances. Right.

Mat: When people say, “Oh I like to get high.” They usually mean substances. But when I say I like to get high, [00:28:30] it means I like that feeling of being high, of heightened awareness of reality, of being, of experiencing life. And I get that in Parkour, when I’m moving around a different object, when I’m balancing on something, or if I’m really high up. I’m high.

Craig: Literally and figuratively.

Mat: Yeah. That’s why I love to do it. That’s what I do.

Craig: Well thank you very much Mat. It was a pleasure talking to you today.

Mat: [00:29:00] Thank you.