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.)

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.

Travis’ Gym and Community

Craig: [14:25] I have to say that your parkour gym (Axiom Parkour), there’s something about the way that your gym construction is layered. I don’t know. I always feel like I’m looking at Norwegian or Swedish furniture. I mean, it looks like an Ikea done correctly. I wanna just go there and, like, “Look, it’s a table during the day, and it’s a parkour obstacle at night.”

Craig: [14:43] There’s just something about that, about the aesthetic that you build, and I’m guessing that that just called to you, too, so that’s why you build things. But you seem to have this cavernous space, and you just keep throwing toys into it. So what are you doing with your community there at the gym, and where are you going with that?

Travis: [14:57] So there’s two driving focuses of the gym and the build and the design, really, of it. Unfortunately, one is frugality.

Travis: [15:14] So, for anyone who hasn’t seen, it’s dimensional lumber. Everything is constructed from dimensional lumber, mostly two-by-sixes – stud-grade two by sixes, but if you order enough of them, there’s enough premium that you can …

Craig: [15:27] If you nail enough of them together, they get straight.

Travis: [15:30] Yeah. Yeah, you can face. You can face enough good, solid boards. Right?

Craig: [15:36] Enough square board feet, right.

Travis: [15:38] For all the facing for things. It allows me to build things for the future as well. It’s not perfectly permanent. If I glue and I perfectly round the edges of plywood to this size box, that is the size board that it’s going to be. If I have an untouched – other than a little bit of sanding or whatnot – two-by-six, I can take that two-by-six off and use it as framing. It’s not perfectly permanent. Right? Where it is, it’s not going anywhere. It’s not moving. But I can Lego it.

Craig: [16:15] Repurpose it. Right.

Travis: [16:15] I can deconstruct it to be able to do more. Yes, that’s a tremendous amount of work and probably not even worth it in the time vs. the the money thing, but it’s an option. Through my builds, I’ve kept that as a focus of a universal usability, that, “I can use this, but I can also deconstruct it. I can put it in my car.” More of a versatile design.

Travis: [16:40] So, when given the option to fill a gym space, it was difficult, because I can make up my own rules. If I have to fit things into a closet, now, there’s constraints.

Craig: [16:52] Right.

Travis: [16:52] But without constraints, it’s writing the term paper on anything you want, and it takes you forever to figure it out. But if you have … Right? If you have a tiny, specific thing, you can write 20 pages about it, because you’re confined.

Travis: [17:05] So what I did is I created an anti-object, I call it – one that you see and you don’t know what prescribed movements to do on it. It’s not great for a vault. It’s not a great length for precision. It’s not a great height for things. It’s not great for anything. So it kind of breathes innovation, because you have to re-adapt. You have to re-apply to it.

Craig: [17:33] Yeah, mental flexibility required. Otherwise …

Travis: [17:35] Right. I learned everything outdoors. It’s where parkour is supposed to be. It’s where the heart of it is. It was difficulty, opening an indoor space, ’cause conflicting, ’cause I don’t really want to.

Craig: [17:51] Right.

Travis: [17:52] But there’s a necessity to do it. So how can I embody the sense of exploration, the sense of innovation, that you normally find when you just come to a new spot in the city and say, “Okay, how can I apply the movement to this space?” Right?

Craig: [18:04] That’s a good point.

Travis: [18:06] I wanted to try to bring some of that in. Through the design, I’m finding out now, a year and a half, almost two years in, through the design of the modular equipment has, I think, more to do with it than maybe the actual design, physical design of the equipment, ’cause this current setup that I have at the gym right now, I think we can leave for a little bit more.

Travis: [18:27] Usually, I rotate about every three months, for curriculum- wise, keep things fresh. Once we’ve completed the challenges, “Okay, it’s a limited space.”

Craig: [18:34] “We know this spot. Okay, let’s make this spot” …

Travis: [18:37] Right. Right, right, right. But the thing that I have now was more loosely designed on curriculum and more so just designed to replicate an urban sort of planter setting that we all love.

Craig: [18:49] Oh, planters.

Travis: [18:50] Ooh, planters and stairs.

Craig: [18:52] Something more architecturally recognizable. Right? I just had a flashback to Government Center. There are these really cool stairs and planters in Government Center. Anyway, sorry.

Travis: [19:02] Yes. Oh, yes. But that’s what it’s supposed to be.

Travis: [19:07] But, yeah. While we’re on this topic of conversation, I’m at a bit of a conflict right now, where I’m pouring in so much time and energy to build this community where there was nothing. Okay? The nothing called me to this area to build the gym, except for God, except for through prayers. He says, “This is the direction that you wanna go.” No business sense – okay? – to do what I did.

Craig: [19:38] Right.

Travis: [19:38] Zero. It was a terrible business and entrepreneurial decision, but it all worked.

Craig: [19:45] But you … That’s where your passion is, ’cause if you go the business sense-ical way, you’re not gonna have passion. If you have passion, you can pretty much do anything, if you have the passion to get behind it.

Craig: [19:57] So the gym is, I guess, relatively convenient to where you live, but what you’re saying is there isn’t a huge community of normal, regular people.

Travis: [20:03] Zero, yeah.

Craig: [20:05] Zero.

Travis: [20:05] I mean, not parkour people, just in how many people live nearby.

Craig: [20:07] Right, right. So Walworth County. If you would like to go look it up, Walworth County is like that’s where they export the cornfields from?

Travis: [20:17] Rural. Without exaggeration, in most places, there aren’t curbs. So for what I call interactive architecture, places to jump on that are sturdy enough to jump on or wheelchair ramps or anything like a simple spot completely does not exist. Beautiful kettles and moraines. Beautiful woods. We have a gorgeous ski hill over there. But just … It’s not built up.

Craig: [20:50] Absolutely no space.

Travis: [20:53] No close urban city settings, in the least bit, in Walworth County, and nobody was asking for classes. I did not have a slew of people, like, “Let’s start a class down in Walworth County.” The opportunity came up. The right people came up. The right price came up.

Craig: [21:08] Space was there.

Travis: [21:09] It made no business sense, so I was just like, “Well, I believe in what I’m doing. Like you said, I have the passion to do it. I believe I have a quality product. So if I can get a family in, they will tell a family, and they will tell a family.”

Craig: [21:24] Sure.

Travis: [21:25] “That’ll be that.” Truthfully, that’s how it’s all grown. The people that are with me that were there at the beginning, I mean, I can’t get them to stop talking. They just find people on the street and, like, “Listen. Even if you don’t like parkour” …

Craig: [21:43] They become evangelical about it. Right?

Travis: [21:44] They have.