Not something I’ve tried before

(Part 1 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

If this goes as planned, this series will be a very long sequence of posts that chronicle my diving into a particular book. The book contains 90 short sections; It’s a large, open-ended collection of ideas and vignettes on Parkour.

My plan is to study one section each week by reading it on a Sunday — Sunday mornings are when I most often have down time for reading and reflection. Then over the course of the following week, I’ll trying to keep the “idea” topmost in my “parkour thoughts”; Talk to others about it, read other related materials from my personal library, think about it in terms of physically moving, etc. Along the way during the week, I’ll try to write small (likely very small!) bits covering my explorations.

It will be interesting to see how far I get.


Parkour & Art du Déplacement

(Part 2 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

On September 4th, Vincent Thibault’s latest book, Parkour & Art du Déplacement: Lessons in Practical Wisdom came out on Kindle. (A print version is eminent.)

I was in Québec at the time, and it felt like an early birthday present. I took most of the day off to sit in a beautiful park, on a spectacular day. I devoured the entire book in one sitting. With every page, I became more convinced that I was going to be spending a lot of quality time with this book.

This book brings a fresh approach to understanding and exploring Parkour/Art du Déplacement/Free Running. No pictures, no explanations of techniques. Instead, it provides 90 distinct thoughts and ideas giving you the option of exploring your Parkour/ADD in your own way. You can read the entire book, or dive into one particular idea at a time. If you read it overall as one piece it will give you a great introduction to the Spirit and Philosophy of Parkour/ADD; If you want to “dive deep”, you can pick each of the ideas apart separately and explore them through your own thinking, exploration and communications with others.

The book includes both English and French written by the author — this is an exceptional feature of the book. Rather than being translated, Thibault is able to convey the ideas naturally in both languages. Native speakers of English or French will benefit equally.

Finally, this is the first book (that I’m aware of) which literally bridges the two most important languages encountered in the context of Parkour/ADD. If you are working on one of them as a second language, you can flip between the two language versions of the material and be assured you are getting a nuanced, and accurate, translation of the concepts.


How these posts are organized

(Part 3 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

I’m not going to quote/include any of Thibault’s book. Pull-quoting is time consuming to do well, and by the time I’m done, I’d have way more of his book “excerpted” here than I’d feel comfortable with. That means, if you really want to follow along, you simply must get a copy of the book yourself and read the original material. It’s easy, and you can thank me later.

As I begin each subsequent section in Thibault’s book, there will be a post titled to match the section. This way you can skim the listing of post titles and see the sections corresponding to the book. These “new section” posts have titles starting with the section character (§).


§1 – The growth mindset

(Part 4 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

“I can’t.” versus “not yet.”

Right out of the gate in the first section… hitting the ground running. This mindset is something that I already find critical. Critical in the sense that I attribute my success –– what success I can be said to have achieved –– to two things: This mindset, and sheer willpower/determination. (spoiler: the later is covered elsewhere in the book.) But I’d already made my own connection to the Stoics’ philosophy, and that’s a very apropos piece of bedrock.

aside: as this is the very beginning of this experiment, I’m going to be making this up as I go along. First bit of framework: I’m not going to quote/include any of Thibault’s book. Pull-quoting is time consuming to do well, and by the time I’m done, I’d have way more of his book “excerpted” here than I’d feel comfortable with. That means, if you really want to follow along, you simply must get a copy of the book yourself and read the original material. It’s easy, and you can thank me later.

I’m looking at this material in the context of: OK. I’ve read it. I understand, but what’s the action item? …or how do I use this as a catalyst?

Lehigh Valley Parkour has a few oddball traditions. One of them is a strong aversion to the word “can’t”. Community members will avoid saying it at all costs. The penalty for using the word is an immediate 5 pushups. Mostly, it’s an honor thing… we take the word “immediately” seriously; mid-run, in a car, in a restaurant, right now. Immediately. On the spot. Why?

Because when you change your words, you change your thinking. “I can’t get up that wall.” becomes, “I am not yet able to scale that wall.” Which is pretty weak sauce, and is still pretty negative. But, we quickly get sick of saying “not yet able”, and start getting creative… “I’d have to be able to jump higher to scale that.” …or run faster, or be stronger, or whatever.


I banned a word and I’ve flipped my thinking around.

Next up: let’s take the idea to class.


Post class thoughts

(Part 5 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

As I expected, I pretty much forgot about this project once I was on my way to class. So this is just my looking back at my experiences in class through the lens of this first section of the book. (I’m betting this is what’s going to happen another 89 times.)

I’m not going to pick apart every moment from class; I’ll just go over a few that come immediately to mind:

Balancing at height – We started practicing purposely bailing off a low rail and worked up to some climb-over tasks in a playground. Eventually we worked up to a “find something that’s high enough to be moderately uncomfortable” level of individual balancing. I headed for a 7-foot high long bar (like where swings would hang. sorta.) and struggled my way up onto the bar — that was a challenge in and of itself. So I definitely went straight at something that was challenging — falling from standing on a 7-foot bar is not trivial. I down-graded though after falling, because climbing up multiple times wasn’t worth the little bit of balancing I was managing.

Balancing on a rail – We were working with partners. We ended up mostly taking turns challenging each other. Try this, try this variation, etc making it increasingly difficult. At one point, I quietly headed off to the side for a rail to work on a sequence of variations. (Off to the side so as not to be a distracting, apparent-show-off.) So again here, definitely operating in the mind set where “the obstacle is the path”.

QM exercise – We ended with a laps challenge. For me, 3 laps of QM around a small-ish basketball court, followed by a running lap around the school. I pushed this really hard and it was here that I think the mind set really paid off . . .

In a discussion with Tracy after class, I came up with the idea that I seem to be using this mind set as a “razor”; An immediate yes/no testing tool. Your mind is busy with a stream of thoughts as you grind you way through hard work. In hindsight, I realize I was fast-processing everything with this combination of the mindset and a dash of stoicism. “Caution, quad nearly cramping,” is something I can affect; pause and unload that leg, or stretch it, or slow down. “Ow, stone in my hand,” shake it off when next I lift that hand. “I want to quit,” what? no, that’s not going to move me forward towards my goal. “How is [other student] still going so fast,” ignore that I cannot affect that. So it seems to have been just this long (long LONG) series of thoughts. Sometimes I’m certain I wasn’t finished with one thought before another preempted it; Which is fine, the really important stuff will preempt silly thoughts about a cool drink of water.

So it was nice to come away believing that I’m already applying this mind set in a big way.

Light bulb

But wait a second, here’s a new [for me] thought: This mind set also means there’s a difference between “stopping” and “quiting”, even though outwardly they look identical to an observer. I can STOP for the RIGHT reason, or QUIT for the WRONG reason. Stop before an actual cramp, verus quit because I’m demoralized. That’s another facet of using this mind set as a “razor”.


Work with curiosity

(Part 6 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

Finally, going forward, let’s practice tossing out our expectations of how we’re going to do today (and in life in general), and instead adopt an attitude of curiosity. We don’t know how we’re going to do at work, or in our relationships, or with our personal habits. We can’t know. So let’s find out: what will today be like? How will it go?

~ Leo Babauta

Another something that jumped out at me as part of my regular, ongoing reading. Leo talks a lot about “mindfulness” and related practices. If you’re digging Vincent’s section 1, I think you’ll like this too.


§2 – One thousand ways to read a book

(Part 7 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

Here Thibault draws an analogy from how one reads a book. The obvious way is to read straight through from front to back. But he points out, just as there are alternatives with a book, there are alternatives with how we view and interact with our environment.

I’ve said many times – this isn’t my idea but I’ve forgotten where I picked it up – that one aspect of Parkour is realizing that the obstacle IS the path. Things in the environment which once were “obstacles” become “options.” Things which others would never consider interacting with draw my attention and suggest ways to interact. As my curiosity developed, I literally began to see my environment differently.

Aside: One of my favorite Parkour jokes is that I’ve converted my ADD from “Attention Deficit Disorded” to “Art Du Déplacement”. (That’s the French name for what we call Parkour.) But I’ve subsequently been diagnosed with late onset “Obstacle Attraction Disorder” (OAD).

Here, there is a railing. Why, really, may I not walk upon it? Many of the reasons for staying off are internal: I may fall; I have poor balance; I’m afraid. The rest of the reasons are based on other people’s internal fears projected out into the environment: People think, “I may fall, therefore you may fall.” And so we encounter people yelling, “Get down from there you’ll hurt yourself!”

Aside: Here’s my opinion on liability issues. Railings, as an example, are clearly not intended to be walked on. So I’m implicitly accepting the risk of my falling off the railing. Further, I’m also implicitly accepting the responsibility to repair the railing if I break it.

Through Parkour, I slowly discovered all of these internal reasons which I’d never noticed, let alone attempted to address, which were holding me back! Not simply holding me back in the context of some particular obstacle. (After all, I could simply walk around that wall!) But rather, all those internal reasons were holding me back in the context of my entire life. I realized that climbing stairs was no longer trivial. Touching my toes was no longer trivial. Climb a tree? …no more. Live a full life, sleep well, run? Nope, nope, nope. As a human being, I have a birthright to move (with a hat tip to Ido Portal), and to interact physically with my environment.

(Spoiler: I also have a birthright to interact physically with my fellow humans, but that’s another section in Thibault’s book.)

So Thibault’s section 2 seems trivial at first glance, but actually speaks to a very deep, and fundamentally important idea.


Alternative paths

(Part 8 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

Post class thoughts? Not many. Class is usually pretty visceral, (as one would expect,) and there’s not much time for an internal dialog of philosophical thinking. There were of course various opportunities to come up with relatively creative solutions to physical movements and challenges. But nothing particularly interesting in the context of this discussion. I think the primary reason this “alternate paths” section didn’t stand out in class was that everyone there already thinks this way. Almost everyone in class is already applying this section’s ideas — at least applying it in the physical context.

And so, I hadn’t bothered to put up a “nothing to report” report. Until I happened to read:

As you begin to learn something, notice when you feel frustrated with sucking. It might be really difficult, confusing, full of failure. You’re out of your comfort zone, and you want to go back into it.

Now turn to this feeling of frustration, or whatever difficult feeling you’re having: confusion, impatience, boredom, feeling bad about yourself, wanting to quit.

Turn to the feeling, and instead of trying to stop it or avoid it … try sitting with it (or running with it). Just be there with it. Let it be in you, give it space.

~ Leo Babauta, from The Gentle Art of Trying Something & Sucking at It

I’m pulling disparate threads together here of course. But this is the feeling! I look at something really sketchy, challenging or downright scary, and my mind flees to the easy path. Took a lot of work to get my body to NOT flee to the easy path, which eventually gave my mind a bit of time to look at the “I don’t think so…” path and give it some consideration. In hindsight, I think it’s what Babauta describes so succinctly.

So, uh, yeah. What Thibault said. And also what Babauta said. :*)


§3 – The rose that grew from concrete

(Part 9 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)


Why does Parkour so effectively teach resilience? Because your regular world and your regular life are DESIGNED for your interaction. Stairs are a certain height, walking surfaces are smooth and even, door knobs are convenient, chairs, air conditioning, trains and autos; Everything you interact with is designed for human interaction. In a very real sense, that’s what “civilized” means.

Have you ever stopped to consider something as simple and common as doorways? What would life like, if – just for some historic reason – every doorway was only 4 feet high? Life would be much better simply because everyone would have to bend over regularly!

What if stairs were the norm? What if walking was the norm?

When you begin exploring your world through the lens of Parkour, you are told to intentionally seek out challenges. In Parkour practice, you’re exposing yourself to a hard choice: Bend your mind and body to the challenge, or face pain and injury. A good coach sets you up for success, but you’re still told to go under that railing, climb over that wall, and put your hands on that rough concrete. You have to teach your mind and body how to be resilient so that you can rediscover the ways already within yourself to interact with an environment that is, at best, indifferent to your wellbeing.

Once you see things differently, you can start interacting with things that were specifically designed for some reason other than human interaction. You start by looking at your world this way as part of a specific practice; “I’m going to class and the instructor makes us do this”. Eventually, the mindset becomes comfortable on its own without prompting, and you begin to automatically practice a mindful resilience in your daily life.

How could I get to that place over there without using that obvious pedestrian route? How would I get down there, or up there? Why am I eating inside when it’s so nice outside? What would I do if an emergency happened right now?

Once you are well and truly comfortable with the resilient mindset, your body relaxes and the physical uncertainty, or even fear, that you were unconsciously feeling goes away. In it’s place wells up good old natural Human Curiosity. Your mind says, “Sure, let’s go this other way,” and, “Let’s take this road less travelled.” It really does make all the difference.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~ Robert Frost, from The Road Not Taken


Was that resilience?

(Part 10 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

Sunday’s class contained a block of time where we were told to set a specific goal for ourselves, and then go work on it.

There’s a particular technique that I’ve been stuck on for nearly two years. It’s completely a psychological issue. Each time a coach brings up this technique, I equivocate, and they drop me back to the progressions for the technique. But, I can do the progressions, and every coach then says, “Then just do the technique.” Usually, they manage to encourage me enough to eek out a few tentative iterations of the technique. At which point I’m all like, “Yeah! Progress! Awesome!”

And the next time the technique comes up I have the EXACT. SAME. PROBLEM. I profess inability, the coach assesses the progressions, and then coaxes me through getting the technique. Over and over and over and over and over with too many coaches, way too many times.

Nemesis: n., this technique.

So on Sunday, armed with 15 minutes of time and delusions of making progress on my own, I set off to work on my nemesis.

(Here, there would be a montage and inspirational music.)

13 minutes later I had managed to scare the crap out of myself several times, and had accomplished absolutely nothing. I’d stared at it, fiddled with variations of feet and hands, and jiggered every adjustable parameter. Basically, I spent 13 minutes trying to avoid my fear. It was exceedingly frustrating because I’ve done this countless times: Every single variation, every attempt, every change, telling myself the things coaches would say, my worries, my self-reprimands.

So I’m standing there, mentally kicking myself thinking: “Yes yes, I’ve even tried mentally kicking myself countless times before. Fine. All I have to do it screw around for two more minutes and then this can be over.”

At which point I finally had a different thought: Section 3! Resilience! How can I specifically use resilience in this situation?

Truthfully, I had no idea how to apply resilience. I tried looking at the obstacle differently. I literally laid behind the wall and looked up from where I should land. I sat astride the wall and imagined the technique from the side.

I eventually tried again and — I have no idea why anything was different — I actually made one. Then a second. And then a third. And then, in fact, 13 in a row, banging out the last few repetitions as the instructor called us back together.

NOT comfortable: Even the success freaks me out so badly that my palms are sweating days later as I type this.

NOT impressive: It’s a simple technique. The 13 I did were teeny tiny baby versions with a low obstacle, and most of them had poor landings. Worst of all, I’m not the LEAST bit certain I can do it again.

Was it resilience? Was it stubbornness? Luck? Finally just strong/flexible/whatever enough to make it? I have no clue. I was jammed so far up in my “head space” that I haven’t the slightest idea what actually happened in those last two minutes.

Do I have a point here? I’m not even sure about that. This is just a story related to section 3.


Some days, Parkour is like this; It’s not all unicorns and rainbows.