Usually, one only sees the highlights of a journey; The best photos, best stories, and best experiences are shown which paint the journey in its best light. Here, I’m trying to honestly show my journey by sharing my challenges, bumps, advances and failures.
This post presents a gallery of ALL images in this series. You can click on any to enlarge; you can even click on the first, sit back, and it’ll run them all as a slide show. The gallery is dynamic so it will automatically grow as I add more posts to this series.
If you want to repeat that little jump at an angle to a moss covered wall all day until you can do it with your eyes closed… well my friend, you are not alone. I want to repeat that jump with you. But let’s do 50, just to be sure. And one more for the others who can’t join us. That’ll do us both more good than that big roof gap whilst you hold the camera.
By now, all of my friends know I practice parkour with Lehigh Valley Parkour. I’m pushing 42, with graying hair and the BMI calculator says 34.9, (which is “obesity.”) So when people first find out, they raise an eyebrow and say, “You’re a brave soul!” or “Huh? The jumping from roof-top to roof-top thing?!”. …my answer is ‘no’ to both of those.
Please do not go to TouYube and look up parkour; Total waste of your time. This is one of those Catch-22 things where the people who believe — quietly, to themselves — that they “get it”… well, those people aren’t posting spectacular videos on TouYube. So you don’t notice their point of view on the whole thing.
I am not saying, “those people over there have it wrong.” I am not saying, “parkour is the One True Path(tm)”. I am not saying, “these ideas are to be found only through parkour.”
I am saying parkour is…
…a journey composed of tiny steps so easy that failure is impossible.
…the grueling, deconstructing, work of self-improvement.
Getting done right does not mean getting done slow. Getting done right means getting done fast. You will go faster if you do things right. You will go faster if you come down off the “high” generated by the illusion that effort is speed. You will go faster if you calm down, follow your disciplines, and refuse to rush.
While he’s talking about software development in general, and test-driven development specifically, this is true for – I think – everything. My experience is that this is true for software development, and other technical work. But it is also true of martial arts practice, parkour, games, building model airplanes… you name it.
The pervasive admonishment should be “do it well,” rather than, “slow down.” Do it well and you’ve – by definition – done it as fast as possible. What’s the point of doing it poorly? What’s the point of rushing to completion; If you didn’t do it well, then it’s not done.
When we are unaware of our thoughts and urges, which arise in the back of our mind mostly unnoticed, they have a power over us. We are unable to change if these unbidden thoughts control us. But when we learn to observe them, we can then release their power over us.
Meditation is practice for observing those thoughts, for being more mindful of them throughout the day.
Meditation is literally the easiest thing you can add to your life — 5 minutes, 2 minutes, even 60 seconds will do you good. As I wrote elsewhere:
If you were handed a large bucket of sloshing and disturbed water and told to calm the water, you should simply set the bucket down and wait for the water to calm. You would definitely NOT shake the bucket in an attempt to convince the water to calm down.
Driving, texting, walking, rushing, typing, watching TV, playing games, talking, frenzied eating. Set the bucket down for a few minutes.
To last? That old lesson about the brightest flame burning the quickest is particularly true in Parkour. What use is a person who lasts five years and has to stop training due to bad knees and a broken ankle? How useful is a body that can’t move pain free due to years of neglect and abuse? The journey of Parkour was never meant to be a brilliant flash of spectacle and show, it was always intended to be a lifelong pursuit of improvement and one that doesn’t need to end once the body begins to show signs of age.
Ignore the show reels. Ignore the spectacular. Those MAY be inspirational to you, but your journey SHOULD be a long series of small, eminently POSSIBLE steps. Go to your first class and try anything; try SOMETHING. Stop when your body has had enough. Repeat. In a few months, you will have grown so much that you will hardly recognize yourself.
You can harness and channel these needs, but a man completely ignores them at his peril. Modern men are told there’s nothing real about manhood — that it’s all a silly, outdated cultural construct — and they sure work hard to believe it. And yet they cannot shake a deep sense of malaise, and they don’t know why.
I consider myself very lucky. I’m expressing my mid-life crisis in some pretty healthy and productive ways. Instead of going on a more traditional bender, I’m shaking off shackles and bindings that I in fact put on.
One day I realized that there is no longer anyone left to tell me what to do. Certainly one has responsibilities, but there are precious few of those which are immutable bedrock. You look at your life and think, “Look at all these ideas I’ve accepted.” When you pick idly at some of the threads, the whole thing comes apart, and you find yourself in a row boat on the sea — or on a bicycle on the open road (choose your own metaphor). On the open sea in a good way; You realize you are free, that in fact you have NOT always been free, and that there’s an awful lot of life left to live now that you’re ready to start.
Two years ago today, I showed up at Wescosville Elementary at 4pm and tried parkour. A very big thank you to everyone ( Adam, Josh, Joseph, and Miguel in particular) who has been friendly, happy, and encouraging these last two years. This week I will be attempting the ADAPT 1 certification; I could not have accomplished what I have without all the help from the wonderful men and women of lehigh valley parkour. “allez, allez!”
My suspicion is that, in our convenient society, we don’t need to be acutely aware of our balance and body positions vis a vis the ground because many of us don’t do much physical labor anymore, or play freely as kids outdoors now that we have so many enticing computer games to entertain us.
More than a year ago, I wrote that parkour is about freedom (and much more.) There is also a visceral component that I’m finding is playing a greater and greater role.
Visceral, adj. characterized by, or proceeding from, instinct rather than intellect: a visceral reaction; characterized by, or dealing with, coarse or base emotions.
When you treat your body like a Cadillac meat vehicle – that is, when it’s just a mode of conveyance from one creature-comfort to the next – you soon cease to be intimately aware of what your body is feeling. A large part of the allure of parkour is the immediate and clear, honesty and reality of the experience of training. It’s obvious that your body and mind are not readily separable, but in normal daily life, one mostly ignores the body. In parkour, the body and mind have to work in harmony.
I have a lot more to say about this harmony (my personal interpretation, and explanation, thereof.) But for the moment, I’m just going to start with the above.
As you look back on the year that has just past, do you feel as though you spent another 12 months merely existing instead of truly living? Do you often go to bed at night with an anxious, sinking feeling that you wasted away another precious day of your limited time here on earth? One of my all-time favorite old books addressed this very concern better than anything else I’ve ever read.
This change really seperates people. It’s not going to be like it used to be. You can’t ‘go back to training’ as you once did. That one Jam that you remember is a small part of your whole experience that you remember fondly. It’s one highlight in a long journey, which isn’t just highlights. What’s the constant in these memories?
It suggests that a person should aim to be strong, but not just in a physical sense. They should aim to be resilient, free thinking, confident and yet remain humble. They should learn to be self-sufficient and useful to their loved ones and they should be aiming to always progress in some way.
Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. That’s what I have to say. The second is only a part of the first. Don’t ever forget what a friend once wrote to Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator had decided not to run for reelection because he’d been diagnosed with cancer: “No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office.”
Don’t ever forget the words on a postcard that my father sent me last year: “If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”
There will come a day when I can no longer do this.
Today is not that day.
…a wonderfully inspirational thought for us oldsters!
This photo of me at the crux of The Edge of Time (5.9R) in Estes Park Colorado was taken by Mike Bowyer in August 2014. I saw this caption on an image of a bicyclist posted by a cyclist friend of mine and wanted to make one that would hit closer to home.
I’ve been slowly collecting small thoughts so that I could begin writing something about my journey. Over a year ago, I found an oath on Nerd Fitness, but hesitated committing; There are bits in this oath that will demand 40+-years-big-ship-small-rudder sorts of changes of me. I’ve been revisiting it periodically to see how it felt each time I tried it on.
I love it. I’m committing to it.
Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I shall make no excuses and hold no grudges.
I care not where I came from, only where I am going.
I don’t compare myself to others, only to myself from yesterday.
I shall not brag about successes nor complain about my struggles, but share my experiences and help my fellows. I know I impact those around me with my actions, and so I must move forward, every day.
I acknowledge fear, doubt, and despair, but I do not let them defeat me.
I’m working with a friend of mine — Mike Bowyer — on a designed, intentional, training program. One of the critical components is working for specific times in very particular heart rate zones. So I’ve bitten the bullet, and am trying a FitBit. Online commentary seems to be that it’s not super-accurate, but I’m hoping it will do at least an ‘ok’ job of thoroughly recording heart rate during — saw this coming didn’t you? — parkour activities.
Group photo from the end of the “Gauntlet” event in Somerville.
I think my biggest accomplishment was the “didn’t hurt myself.” I certainly did a lot of physical things that were impressive (for me, and my ability.) But just being able to continue to ‘dig deep’ for hours on end — that was great.
As usual, I want to avoid name-dropping. But we did this one neat turn-vault landing on one foot and continuing on to step down and off the wall… that was something very different! Also, one of the first times I’ve EVER just “done” something and actually felt like I was really moving simply.
Some videos I took in April 2015 when I was last up in Somerville. This certainly isn’t a great answer to “what is parkour” in the global sense. But it will give you an idea of what I was working on when I had several hours to play on some scaffolding when I had unstructured time to just train.
This is funny, but that’s not why I posted this. See the bottom.
Imagine if you will, a bus load of 45 tourists — a perfect stereotype bus tour from a cruise ship. We all walk up a hill/road to see the Castillo overlooking Cartegena. (Very nice by the way! Photos coming soon.) Then we walk all the way back down. We reach an intersection, near our bus in the home stretch, and across the street is a small park with one of those long railings meant to keep people from J-walking.
The cross-walk says “go”, so there’s no traffic. Without thinking, I J-walked straight across and vaulted the rail.
…and I hear 44 people do a group groan. They had all followed me across the intersection and everyone had to walk all the way around the railing. (My mom shouted out, “Brat!”)
SO? Well, I did it without thinking, but FORGET ME.
Imagine what YOUR LIFE would be like if you vaulted a little railing after a long walk AND THOUGHT IT WAS FUN. What, really, is your excuse?
(…and if you’re in shape, or under 20, or can already vault a rail. Kudos to you! …but I’m not talking to you.)
Instead of berating yourself when you’re not motivated to exercise, or getting mad at yourself when you struggle with eating unhealthy food, take a step back and look at it from a different angle:
“How can you build the habit of success and put your focus there, instead of chasing the motivation to make it happen?
It’s easy to become ensnared – to chase motivation and fail – or rationalize inaction and never try. Every single one of us has fallen into this trap. I’d love to hear about your experience with this, and how you plan to (or already have) overcome it.
In a vague sort of way, I found this idea in my own training. As usual, Steve Kamb brings clarity to the party. This idea of incremental actions, of habits, and little processes that make success a foregone conclusion is at the core of my Parkour training.