Humble beginnings

Craig: Right. And one of the things that I think is interesting about your story, is that you’re on your one, two, third iteration of the gym. So, the gym started inside a gymnastics space, and then, I’ll let you tell the story, but you’ve moved through three iterations, which is pretty unique, I think. Most people are happy if they can pull it off once, so what I’m interested in really is, there is a huge, [00:07:00] I think, a huge number of people in America who are islands, just because of where they live. America is a big place, so I went to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, one time and there was a group of five people who were super into this, and we showed up and it wasn’t that they were better than I was, but it was…I did a weird climbing challenge and it was just like this seed idea and then they were off on it for forty-five minutes. I’m exhausted, and I moved on. So somehow you managed to go from a guy with this urge that drew you off the sofa… [00:07:30] and how did you get to opening the first gym and then…what’s the actual story with the second gym and then the third gym?

Dylan: The shift where I eventually started thinking that I might be able to share this discipline with others professionally was actually when I got invited to do the level two course. When that first happened and then when I went there and had that experience and it was so amazing, I started to think, “Oh, wow, if[00:08:00] other people who I respect so much can think of me in this way, that I might be in a position to share this with others then maybe I can think about myself in that way as well.”

Craig: Community pulling you up kind of concept.

Dylan: Right. A couple months after taking the level two course, I founded the organization, Innate Movement. At the beginning times, there was literally just a handful of us. But it did occur to me, there was the catch-22 that I think a lot of people face when they’re thinking about [00:08:30] building a gym or trying to build up a community. I’ve heard a lot of people ask, “Oh yeah, I want to create more of a community where I am, how do I go about starting it?” Because there’s the catch-22 of there’s some people who are down to come to their first parkour class outside, just meeting in a random park. That’s awesome. That is sort of self-selects for a certain type of person, which is maybe the most…people for whom parkour-

Craig: The stereotypical parkour practitioner-

Dylan: Right is the type of person who would do that-

Craig: Park in a random parking lot, show up with a bag, not know what’s going on, have the wrong [00:09:00] shoes, and still have fun.

Dylan: Right, exactly. But then there’s the rest of everybody who would much prefer to come to a space that seems very official and padded. So there is that catch-22. Basically the way it was is it started with a regular outdoor class, and then started renting space in the corner of, like you said, a gymnastics gym. At that time, I set it up with them where I was like, “Okay, I’m going to give you 50% [00:09:30] of everything I make, so if I make eight dollars this month, I’ll give you four, and it’s all good.” I was still working full-time and just doing it on the evenings and weekends, and in the early times, one of the important clutch things was just having a few ringers at the classes, like my now wife, Rayna, would come to every single class, and my dad. Just so that it wouldn’t be weird and awkward when a new person would come and be like-

Craig: Wait, wait, why are you running, come back!

Dylan: Exactly, “It’s just me and you in this room, and like, it’s not weird, come back, please!” Yeah, so, we would-

Craig: Just somebody [00:10:00] balancing changes the whole dynamic.

Dylan: Right, exactly, just someone else in the room training so people feel like, “Oh, this is something that’s happening I can get involved with.” It was one of those fake-it til you make it things in a way-

Craig: If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, that’s what we call a duck.

Dylan: Right, exactly. Then, slowly but surely, some people started getting involved and a few months into that initial process, the fellow who had had the gymnastics place that we were renting time out of [00:10:30] announced, “I’m not gonna do this anymore, I’m just gonna close up shop and you have a couple weeks, so good luck.” It was this really existential crisis moment where the organization faced dying in the crib type of thing. At that point we looked around for other spaces, and we hadn’t grown enough where it really made sense to get somewhere huge. I was just too scared by promising to give someone so much money for five years-

Craig: 35 hundred square feet is a lot of money to sign up for five years.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Craig: That leads me to the thought that it may be that doing things wrong, maybe for years and wrecking your health, may be the path that you need to follow. [00:19:00] There’s a whole bunch of questions that spring to mind that really are good at digging into, they seem obvious, but when you dig into the answer, it gets much more complicated. One of them is, if you had a time machine and you could go back to your 25, 20-year-old, 15-year-old self, what advice would you give? Tell me where you were at that time, too.

Dylan: I was a really angry kid. When I was like 15, I had this episode where I smashed my head [00:19:30] through this plate glass door in the front of my parents’ house out of rage. I got super cut up. I still have scars on my face and my neck where it was one of those classic things where the doctor was like, “If this had been a millimeter deeper, you would have bled out.” It was really bad-

Craig: And the bolts on your neck are hardly noticeable.

Dylan: Right, Frankly, I was pretty angry, and I partied way too hard during my [00:20:00] college and twenties and stuff. I think that if I could go back and give some advice, it’s funny, but honestly, I would probably just try to convince my younger self to start training sooner.

Dylan: [20:17] Because one of the things that parkour has been for me… it’s funny, advice, right… I’ve found that ideas… In my life, just having [00:20:30] an idea in your head often times doesn’t do the job, you know? If it’s an abstraction, you know, “Try to be more like this…” but like, what the heck? How do I do that? Where as, one of the beautiful things about parkour is that…in a certain way…even though it’s a philosophy, and even though it’s, like you said, a lens, that’s a great way to think about it, to a certain degree, the methodology of it is what has really been successful to me. It’s like, “Go do this thing.” [00:21:00] Like, when in doubt, QM. When in doubt-

Craig: As trite as it sounds, the obstacle really is the path.

Dylan: Right, exactly. I feel like for my teens and my twenties I was trying to think my way into happiness, and I couldn’t ever find it because I would just lose the thread and get back into dissatisfaction and-

Craig: Destructive behavior.

Dylan: Exactly, self-destructive behavior.

Craig: And you don’t have a lot of resources at that age. It’s not like you could just take ten grand and “I’m gonna go to France and find myself.” You’re really [00:21:30] physically constrained as well as mentally.

Dylan: Absolutely. The thing that really changed everything to a large degree was just parkour. Where just the doing, it’s like, “Okay, go do this thing and then see what happens.” And what ends up happening is that the joy sort of rises to the surface. It naturally emerges from doing this thing, rather than trying to think these thoughts. Maybe [00:22:00] one way of saying it is before I was trying to think thoughts and create actions, and now what I do is do actions and have the positive thoughts surface. So probably the advice I would give my younger self is just start training parkour.

How has your practice affected your life?

Craig: In Parkour, we all talk about fear as a thing that we work, we try to make it an ally, try to use it. And some people talk about the phrases, “Breaking the jump.” And a lot of people who maybe don’t do Parkour, who might listen to the podcast, wouldn’t that be great, those people might have no understanding at all about the fear or this breaking the jump idea. So we stand at the edge of a bridge and [00:15:00] it may or may not scare us, because I’m thinking, “I could actually do a turn vault here and it’s a long way down.” And then that suddenly scares me.

Somebody who would never climb on a railing in any context isn’t the least bit scared. So, it seems to me that this whole idea of fear and how you try to break jumps is something that you don’t even realize that that is there, until you begin doing Parkour. So my question is, is there a similar type of fear or the need to break challenges, maybe, inside the artistic creative process?

Jonny: [00:15:30] Absolutely. Yeah. So people look at what you do, when you’ve got 10,000 hours of work into it, and they go, “Oh, you must just do that stuff fairly effortlessly.” And the fact of the matter is, every new painting, I specifically pick, essentially, a jump to break. I specifically make sure that it’s engineered that there’s something in there that I have no idea how to do it. And none of my skill set has prepared me for it. And you get started, and then eventually you kind [00:16:00] of work around the challenge little bit. And eventually you’re like, “Okay, we gotta do this now.”

Craig: We gotta do this, right.

Jonny: And you may fail miserably. It may be a painting that you leave out on the sidewalk, which I’ve done before after working on it for a full month.

Craig: Let me know where it is the next time. I’ll pick it up.

Jonny: It was gone in twenty minutes. Because I regretted it, I thought about it, about thirty minutes later, I went, “huh.” I peeked out the window and I’m like, “Yeah, it’s gone.”

Craig: It’s gone.

Jonny: And then I did it again. And again. Yeah, I don’t learn from my mistakes very well. But [00:16:30] yeah, you may fail miserably, or you’re gonna break through it, you’re gonna learn something new about yourself, and you’re gonna develop a new skill out of necessity that you didn’t have at the beginning of the painting. So that’s what keeps me excited about making paintings, is because I couldn’t do the same thing over and over again. I have to manufacture some sort of potential failure there.

Craig: Do you have, let’s call that a drive. Do you have that drive before you started doing Parkour?

Jonny: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah, I feel like I’ve lived with the spirit of Parkour before I ever knew [00:17:00] that that was a thing.

Craig: Well that’s interesting, because people come to Parkour from different walks of life and different experiences and different things call to them. And I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say that the breaking the jump part of Parkour, which scares people to death, when you first start doing this. You’re like, “Seriously? You want me to do what?” I’ve never had someone say that was the part, like, All right.

Dear Diary, today someone said breaking … I mean, I’ve seen lots of different aspects and everybody who does Parkour [00:17:30] for a length of time eventually comes to understand what we mean about breaking the jump and they understand why we do it and why it’s valuable. But I’ve never had somebody say, “Oh yeah, I’ve found that over here in painting.” I’m not laughing at it. That’s awesome.

Jonny: Yeah. Well I’ve sought that out in every other, you know, before Parkour I was deep into kickboxing. And it was the same thing. That fear of.

Craig: I was like, “How do I write the biography for this?” Like, um, do we skip the part where he was hustling in Scotland? Yeah, let’s skip that part.

Jonny: So many stories. But [00:18:00] yeah. Kickboxing, I started when I was really young. I was super drawn to it. Because I was terrified of fighting.

Craig: Being kicked in the head?

Jonny: Yeah. Well no, just fighting in general. You know, I got bullied a lot in school. Just unfortunate, I don’t know if I was necessarily a target over anybody else, but just maybe quieter, nicer than some people, you know? So I’d let people do whatever. So I was terrified of fighting. I didn’t do anything back to people that were bullying me because I was like, “Oh, I don’t know. What happens if you get in a fight?” You know, it was just this fear of the unknown. And then so I was like, “Screw [00:18:30] that, I’m just gonna go take some martial arts and see what happens. Let’s go do it in a safe…”

Craig: I’m gonna pay someone to kick me in the head!

Jonny: Sounds like exactly my life plan, right there. Yes. So I went in and I started doing that kind of stuff, and it scares the living shit out of you to get into a fight with another person. You never know what they’re capable of, whatever. But I like doing it with no anger involved. It was just the, “I don’t know what you’re gonna do to me, I don’t know what you’re bringing to the table here, but let’s find this out.”

Craig: There’s a whole parallel right there between Parkour, if you’re emotional about [00:19:00] the jump. For those of you who don’t do Parkour, we’re not necessarily talking about literally jumping but whatever the thing is you’re trying to do, we call it a jump. The moment when you’re trying to, “Should I do it? Should I not do it?” And you get terrified and emotional? That might be the lesson right there. To just realize that it terrifies you and you’re emotional and then walk away.

So to be able to find that same, that’s a common thread, in the martial arts that you did, in that martial arts thread, you were interested in, the obstacle was, “What’s this dark spot in the corner over here? I don’t know what’s going on. Let’s go over there in the corner.” So that’s [00:19:30] a great parallel there too. So I think you were pretty much destined to be into Parkour. I don’t think you had a choice.

Jonny: I think so.

Craig: You thought you were an artist, no.

Jonny: The moment I met these people.

How has your practice affected your life?

My life changed so dramatically it’s hard to sum it all up! So many opportunities have become available. There are obviously physical benefits, but I am stronger in many ways. It has taught me to overcome adversity and challenge logically and systematically. But there was I time when I wasn’t supported. I was even told that it wasn’t a good life choice to dedicate myself to the practice because I couldn’t turn it into a career. The money never mattered to me, It was the training I was in love with. Now I’m a Senior Coach for Parkour Generations Americas, Boston and I couldn’t be happier.

How has your practice affected your life?

Moreso now than when I was actively training, a few of the ethos of parkour have really shaped my life. Specifically, the ideas of “leaving a place better than how you left it” and “saying I can’t really just mean it’s not a priority for me right now” have really become the go-to sayings in my life. Those two sayings alone have driven me to pursue higher education, do awesome projects in the tech world, and all-around be a better person.

Years later, those two sayings have stuck for me.

Also, I think that the overall openness and friendliness of the parkour community is still something that I seek out in whatever kind of job or organization I am working in.

How has your practice affected your life?

Parkour is, without question, the best thing that has ever happened for my mental health. I’m transgender and autistic(though I didn’t realise the latter until fairly recently), with a side order of depression and anxiety. When I first found parkour, I was a mess. I was very isolated at the time; there were a lot of people I called friends, but socialization was difficult enough that spending time with them, when I did, often just made me feel more lonely. Out of college and the effortless social contact that dorm living and student groups provided, and in a career with inconsistent work, I rarely left the house, which did nothing to help my depression. I had dealt with the worst of my gender dysphoria by then, but I was still far from comfortable with my body; we’d reached an uneasy truce at best.

The change when I started training was immediately noticeable. As nervous as I was at that first class, as impossibly sore as I was the day after, I was /happy/. And for the next few days, I stayed happier and more functional than I’d been in a long time. So I came back. And kept coming back. There were days, early on, where I would walk to class almost in tears except I couldn’t figure out how to let them out, and once class started I’d be happy enough to have coaches commenting on how consistently cheerful I was.

Classes let me trick myself into getting much needed social interaction; I wasn’t going to talk to people, after all, that would be scary, I was just going to learn things. But the people there included me anyway, shy and quiet as I was, and before I knew it I had been absorbed into the parkour community, a community which has countless times been there to support me when I’ve needed help, and for which I am endlessly grateful.

Parkour has given me tools to face difficult situations in my outside life as well. Starting conversations is not so different from breaking jumps, and talking in front of people can be approached much like balancing at height. The focus on adaptation in parkour has led me to be more comfortable making adaptations in life that work for me, rather than trying to fit myself into the models society expects. The confidence I’ve gained from succeeding(and failing) at the challenges parkour presents has done a lot to help me find the courage to attempt challenges elsewhere.

Training has also completely changed my relationship with my body. My body had never been something I actively liked. As a child it was just kind of there, the way my family’s dinner plates were, and not something to care about one way or the other. When I started questioning my gender, and later transitioning, it was a source of distress. I thought of my body in terms of how it appeared to others, of which undesired feature might cause some hopefully well-meaning stranger to inform me that excuse me, this was the /men’s/ restroom. I hid in oversized t-shirts and tried to avoid being seen. When I started training, I started seeing my body instead in terms of what it could /do/. Why should I care if my hips are wider than might be expected when I can climb over a wall or land on a rail? Parkour introduced me to a whole world of fascinating possibilities, and suddenly my body, rather than being an unwanted burden I carried around with me, was my partner in achieving them. For the first time, I see my body as truly a part of me, and a part I’m glad to have.

How has your practice affected your life?

Training parkour has affected me in many ways. I’ve gotten stronger. I’m getting older, but I’m definitely in the best shape of my life, which is great. The biggest effect of training has been changes in my perception of what I can do and what possibilities are open to me. We often focus on looking at jumps that are scary or at the edge of our ability and assessing the challenge against our skill sets to convince ourselves that we can do what might at first appear out of reach. After analyzing my own training for so long you start to analyze other parts of your life and find what other obstacles you have held up as insurmountable.

The biggest of these was a major career change. I’ve been a software engineer for a number of years and about a year ago was fed up with office life. I was unable to work, sleep, train, coach, and have a social life. After a lot of thought and debate I decided the thing that needed to budge was work. I was comfortable where I was, but needed to push my boundaries to see what I could really do. So, I left my comfortable office job and now coach parkour, as well as a few other odd jobs to support myself. Training has both supplied me with a new career path as well as a framework for continuous self improvement.

How has your practice affected your life?

Parkour has pretty much become my life.

Despite how strange that sounds, my passions in life now all revolve around Parkour and the economy that surrounds it. I’m proud to say: I make a living, doing what I love, because of Parkour.
I started working when I was 14. It was an outlet for me to escape life at home and a way to socialize with people I’d never met. Around a couple months, before I started working, I started training parkour. My whole reason for working in the first place was because I had this new obsession with Photography. I wanted to upgrade from the cheap point and shoot (I probably stole from my mom) to a big bad DSLR. It only took me half the summer to save. So with the next few weeks of awesome New England weather ahead, I took my camera with me to Boston every time I went out to train.

Then I was introduced to Hub Freerunning.

I liked Parkour, and I liked Photography. The only reason why a crazy group of freerunners and an awkward teen from Brockton met is because of those two things. And now after 8 years of roof missions, long car rides to quarries, parties in NYC and too many other shenanigans… I am coaching, managing, and designing for Hub Parkour Training Center.

When I was 10, I wanted to be an Aeronautics Engineer.
Wow, I was such a freakin’ nerd.

How has your practice affected your life?

My parkour practice has helped me to understand the lessons we are taught in life, and some that are not. Parkour has enabled me to physically experience verbal lessons in a completely metaphorical sense.
Here is the wall. We are trained so see the wall as a barrier to somewhere else. Here is how to get on top of the wall. The wall has become a passage to that other place. What was once a wall is now a passage, a stop is now a go, and a barrier is now a launchpad. Here I deliberately use words that can apply to both parkour and life. The line between them has been blurred which has led to a more authentic version of myself.

How has your practice affected your life?

Parkour has effected every part of my life. Embracing the philosophy of parkour has caused results that I never imagined for myself. I took up Parkour in my late thirties simply as the next fad to try out. I expected it to last for a short period of time and then move onto the next thing. I had several discoveries that changed everything for me.

At first I discovered a physical challenge. I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was and took this training on with a passion. I had self esteem issues where I needed to be the best in the class I took so that I could convince myself I was worth something. I trained hard to pass a “trial” invented by the first person I met in the parkour world and compared my progress to those around me. In that training, I met passionate people that placed no importance in comparing themselves to others. I discovered an attitude of self comparison that was profound. The idea of simply being better than i was yesterday shook my value paradigm.

I learned that parkour is about challenging yourself to discover your own boundaries. And from understanding your limitations you get to fully know yourself. And then you get the choice to grow or simply be present to yourself.

This philosophy not only manifested physically, but mentally for me. I embraced it fully and obtain extraordinary results in my life. My results at work excelled, my family relationships grew, my friendships deepened and even my love life expanded. My practice of parkour is now how I practice life itself.

How has your practice affected your life?

Parkour did a weird thing where it just seamlessly assimilated into my everyday life, and it ended up feeling like I had always been doing it. I guess it did replace skateboarding and rock climbing, but most of the changes that came from parkour were pretty subtle. However, there are two things it changed.

Since for a long time I was the only one in my high school/college peer group who practiced parkour, it always fell on me to mentor new people who wanted to try. I ended up taking a heavy leadership role as a result.

The second is coaching parkour is the reason why I live in New York right now.