Not something I’ve tried before

(Part 1 of 22 in ~ 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 22 in ~ 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 wisdom1 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.

Parkour and the Art du déplacement on Amazon


  1. http://www.amazon.com/Parkour-Art-déplacement-practical-pratique-ebook/dp/B014VP34QG 

How these posts are organized

(Part 3 of 22 in ~ 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 22 in ~ 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.

BOOM

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 22 in ~ 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 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

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.

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, from A Guide to Dealing with Frustration & Disappointment in Yourself1


  1. http://zenhabits.net/disappointed/ 

§2 – One thousand ways to read a book

(Part 7 of 22 in ~ 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 22 in ~ 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 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

Resilience.

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 22 in ~ 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.

meh.

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

Others’ thoughts on what exactly is resilience

(Part 11 of 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

A key point from the following podcast is the idea that resilience is not a “broad” skill, but rather something that you develop in a particular aspect of your life. Being resilient in social circumstances is not directly related to being resilient in a violent (eg, combat) circumstance. So that’s something to keep in mind: In Parkour, we’re practicing and developing our resilience in the context of MOVING, and moving is something we do every day.

So that’s what we’ve taken, that idea of resilience and we’ve applied it to human beings and we tell people, you should just bounce back. Bounce back, bounce back. I actually believe human beings can’t bounce back. The reason why you can’t bounce back is because you can’t go back in time. So the 19 year old Marine who leaves for Afghanistan is never going to be 19 again. Parents who lose a child are never going to be the same parents again. The entrepreneur whose business goes bankrupt is never going to be the same entrepreneur again. So what resilient people are able to do is not to bounce back from hardship but they’re able to integrate hard experiences into their lives in such a way that they become better. That’s what I think is really at the heart of resilience.

~ Eric Greitens, from Resilience With Eric Greitens1

The link it to a transcript of a podcast, (I recommend just skimming the transcript,) from my ridiculously long queue of podcasts. I was skimming through the list culling a few episodes and realized this one was apropos of the current section from Thibault’s work.


  1. http://www.artofmanliness.com/2015/03/12/podcast-105-resilience-with-eric-greitens/ 

§4 – Close the gap

(Part 12 of 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

“What would the greatest version of myself do?”

I can think of no better personal compass than that simple question. I whole-heartedly agree with its sentiment; that exploring your own concept of “greatness” is the single most important thing you can do. Each of us will come to a different answer; potentially very different answers. But, the act of honestly exploring your own conceptions, and the act of self reflection, are what will move you in a positive direction.

I had already begun embracing this idea of seeking the greatest version of myself. As part of that effort, I took up a personal Oath which clearly reflects the idea.

What is Parkour?

Thibault’s section 4 is about seeking personal greatness and striving to constantly improve. That’s clearly a “big picture” goal involving one’s entire self. But we can also use this idea of “closing the gap” to investigate our every-day description of what Parkour is.

When asked, many people say that Parkour is about “efficiency”. They say that Parkour is about “moving efficiently” or “getting from A to B efficiently.” (“Quickly” is also used.) Alternatively, there are many people who dislike the “efficiency” description. Some prefer “personal expression through movement”, “pushing the boundaries of human movement”, or even simply “freedom”. There are many alternatives to the “efficiency” description, but it is undoubtedly one of the most dominant descriptions.

Where did I stand before reading this section?

If you practice Parkour, you will be asked (and often!), “What is Parkour?” I realized I would do well to have a one-sentence answer to that question. I’ve found that people are pleasantly surprised when I have a clear, one-sentence answer. Almost everyone asks further questions and a conversation about Parkour grows naturally from there.

My one-sentence answer is: Parkour is using challenges to improve oneself.

And now?

When I read Thibault’s section 4, it struck me that Parkour is exactly about “getting from point A to point B as efficiently and quickly as possible.”

Point “A” is here; the me of today.

Point “B” is there; the me of tomorrow.

Point “B”; the me of tomorrow

(Part 13 of 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

Over the last few years it seems I have — finally! — learned some key lesson about pace; the idea of enjoying the journey. The idea of focusing on what I can control. The truth that some of these projects I will not finish, some places I will not see, and some people I will not manage to spend enough time with. These ideas are patently obvious and unequivocal, but learning the Lesson, and deeply and truly making it part of your work-a-day life and personal philosophy takes effort.

When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.

~ Leonardo de Vinci

Years ago I started journalling as a form of self-reflection. It enables me to look back. Sometimes it’s a travel log, but mostly it’s a “this is what I was thinking” log, a glimpse at what I was working on, inspired by, or frustrated by. After a large amount of writing and thinking I gained enough perspective to start removing some things, and changing others. I learned to say ‘no’ to some things I would have taken on in the past, and learned how to rearrange other things to make more space.

I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on Earth. Then I ask myself the same question.

~ Harun Yahya1

But only recently have I found myself turning more often to look forward, rather than back.

What would the best possible version of myself do?
Walk the Earth with eyes turned skyward.
Point A to point B, efficiently.

Close the gap.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adnan_Oktar 

§5 – Moment to moment

(Part 14 of 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

I reached section 5, and got stuck.

It’s obvious the key idea of section 5 is mindfulness. So I started by thinking about “mindfulness in Parkour practice.” But I wasn’t able to find a compelling thread to unify my thoughts. I came away from a few writing sessions with nothing of value. Eventually it occurred to me to circle back and reconsider my writing process.

I reread this whole series and — aside from, “Wow, I suck at writing!” — it struck me that I have been “unpacking” each of the first four sections. My process has been to sift each section for a key idea, and then simply spend time thinking about that specific idea:

What exactly does the idea mean?
Do I already know and understand the idea?
How does it relate to my Parkour practice?
What other areas of knowledge does it relate to?

But section 5 is already short and to-the-point and doesn’t need to be unpacked.

I’m so META Even This Acronym:

Stop the presses! It seems I have just discovered the concept of being mindful of the writing process. /sarcasm

Next up:

I am actually writing something about section 5 now that I have a different plan.

Practicing mindfulness

(Part 15 of 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

Mindfulness is an inward directed practice of contemplation. It is a continuous process of being present. For me, because it was initially unfamiliar, it was more difficult to approach than the obvious physical activities such as running, jumping, and climbing. But after some practice, it became a critical part of the foundation on which I’ve placed many other parts of Parkour.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness at large in one’s life. For example, Leo Babauta, of Zen Habits, has a great piece titled, 9 Mindfulness Rituals to Make Your Day Better I am a firm believer that mindfulness across the full breadth of daily life yields big benefits. But in this post, I’m focusing on the practice of mindfulness within Parkour.

In many ways, mindfulness is like any other skill that you can practice intentionally. But unlike other skills, failing to be mindful leaves me with blindspots. These blindspots, which are closely related to the Dunning Kruger Effect, create space for “unknown unknowns” to lay hidden.

Worse, lack of mindfulness is akin to: Failure of attention, which leads to injury; Failure to notice moods and emotions, which leads to loss of interest in the short term and training plateaus in the longer term; Failure to notice signals from my body, which leads to chronic injury and developmental imbalances.

Options for practicing mindfulness

One option would be to set out explicitly to practice mindfulness. (“Today, instead of practicing vaults, I’m going to practice mindfulness.”) Unfortunately, I would need to be highly mindful in order to stay on task working on being mindful. But, if I could be that mindful, I wouldn’t need to practice being mindful. (Which is a Catch-22 that makes my brain hurt before I even start doing anything.) In the end I find that saying, “I’m going to practice mindfulness,” is simply too vague to be motivating.

Another option is to passively rely on fellow traceurs, or coaches, to call me out for “not being mindful”. (Or for them to set up specific “mindfulness practice.”) But mindfulness is too important for me to simply rely on other people to hold me to it. It’s much better for me to practice it intentionally.

To make the options more complicated, it is not at all clear how I switch from being NOT mindful to being mindful enough to notice that just-a-moment-ago I was NOT being mindful. Heavy stuff that. In reality, I usually notice my mind has wandered, (“I’m paying attention to irrelevant things around me,”) or I notice my practice has become unmotivated, (“When did this get boring?”)

Shoelaces

So how do I practice mindfulness? I think of it like tied shoelaces. It’s important my shoelaces be tied, but I don’t obsess over them by constantly checking my shoes. I simply tie them when I notice they are untied.

I practice mindfulness when I notice I’m not being mindful.

My mindfulness drill

So when I notice, what can I do, exactly?

I locate a small jump. The jump needs to be well within my ability; not something risky or overly tiring. I want a relatively easy jump that I know I can do without thinking. It must be any easy jump, because there can be no nervousness or doubt. I’m purposely selecting a jump to set myself up to be lulled into NOT being mindful.

I physically prepare to jump. I position myself, arrange my limbs, engage muscles, etc. Eventually I arrive at that point in space and time which would normally be the last point before I jump. At this exact point, I wait. I am poised, comfortable, ready, willing and perfectly able to jump. I know I’m in at the correct point when I suspect that if someone startled me, I would jump involuntarily.

I find my thoughts are like birds flitting around a cavernous room. Some thoughts are on-task as they seem related to the jump: The way my body feels; The anticipation of being in the air; The expectations of the landing. But depending on how mindful I am, there are more or less other “off-task” thoughts flitting about the room.

The sky is blue.
How much time is left?
I’m thirsty.
There’s an ant where I’m going to land.
What’s for dinner?
People must be looking at me funny.
…and on and on and on.

I am alone with my thoughts, and I am simply an observer in a room with these harmless, incorporeal, flitting birds. I notice as many of the thoughts as I can, taking special notice of the ones that I believe are related to the jump. I don’t fight with the thoughts, because I cannot catch nor chase away any particular bird. In fact, chasing them is worse than useless because they simply loop around to become “the thought about the thought I just tried to chase away.”

Gradually, some of the extraneous birds fly away. When I think the number of extraneous thoughts in my head has reached a point where it’s as good as it’s going to get . . .

I jump.

§6 – I Choose To Fall!

(Part 18 of 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

I’ve now read the entire book several times, and Chapter 6 never ceases to inspire!

Three thoughts:

I may not be the strongest. I may not be the fastest. But I’ll be damned if I’m not trying my hardest.

~ unknown

 

It ofttimes requires heroic courage to face fruitless effort, to take up the broken strands of a life-work, to look bravely toward the future, and proceed undaunted on our way. But what, to our eyes, may seem hopeless failure is often but the dawning of a greater success. It may contain in its debris the foundation material of a mighty purpose, or the revelation of new and higher possibilities.

Failure is often the turning-point, the pivot of circumstance that swings us to higher levels. It may not be financial success, it may not be fame; it may be new draughts of spiritual, moral or mental inspiration that will change us for all the later years of our life. Life is not really what comes to us, but what we get from it.

~ Chapter 14, “Failure as a Success”, from Self Control, Its Kingship and Majesty, by William George Jordan, 1907

 

The application in the Ways is to falls in life. To be able to take a disaster or a great failure, with the whole personality, without shrinking back from it, like the big smack with which the judo man hits the ground. Then to rise at once.

Not to be appalled at a moral fall. Yet it is not that it does not matter. The judo man tries by every means not to be thrown, but when he is thrown it does not hurt him and in a sense it does not matter. It matters immensely, and yet it does not matter.

‘Falling seven times, and getting up eight.’

~ “Falling”, from Zen and the Ways, by Trevor Leggett, 1978

§7 – Lemons

(Part 19 of 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

“Lemons” simply reminds us that sometimes we need to make lemonade from whatever lemons we find before us.

I am acutely aware of this aspect of Parkour; This searching what is right in front of me for something to do. Initially I felt like a one trick pony. Every time I’d be faced with some little area, I’d stare at it thinking, “I can only do, literally, a step vault. What am I going to do here?!” Yet somehow, I manage to force myself to stand in the face of my ineptitude and to search for inspiration.

Eventually I came up with a sort of “wedge” for the problem. I would seize on, literally, the first thing I could think of. Often that would be something even I felt was ludicrous. But this first ludicrous movement, got me moving. (That’s the wedge.) From there, I invariably saw something else.

Usually the second thing was also ludicrous, but sometimes it was better (whatever “better” might mean to me at the time). So I’d change to doing the second thing. I’d throw my shame and ego to the wind and start doing repitions of whatever that first ludicrous thing was, then the second thing if it was better, and so on. Sometimes, I could only see a single thing which I feared, and so I’d start with ludicrously simple progressions to the thing I feared.

In my mind, I called this “busting rocks”. Pick the biggest, ludicrous rock and smash it. Pick the next biggest rock, and so on. As I smashed, I’d remind myself of something I’d written years ago: “Parkour is the grueling work of self destruction.”

One day, I participated in the most surreal jam session. On a sign. It was just a slightly sloped, big flat sign with a map on it and four skinny legs into the ground. One person did something near it, “interesting,” I thought. Then a second person did a little sliding thing across it. And I thought, “I wish I could do something on there.” And the wedge happened automatically and I thought, “I can try this ludicrous move.” And I tried it, and someone said, “Craig, what are you doing?”. And I failed. And someone else said, “OH! That’s totally a thing!” And in the blink of an eye a dozen world-class traceurs — people whose abilities all boggle my mind — LINED UP to play on this little sign. And for what seemed like eternity, we all took turns trying crazy stuff on a sign, at night, in a busy public square. And passers-by stopped and some even applauded or cheered. And we all ate ice cream and drank milk-shakes as we waited our turn and pondered our next go. And I for one wanted it to never end.

It was the greatest lemon pie I have ever tasted.

§8 – Focus on the process

(Part 20 of 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

Early on a brisk Saturday morning, I was struggling to find the motivation to put solid effort into a quadrapedie workout. During a break, I was talking to someone about how I’ve recently been dropping goals. I’ve always had a laundry-list of goals such as getting to a free-standing hand-stand, or a specific number of pull-ups. But I’m learning — slowly — that blindly chasing goals only leads me to injury and failure. Tenaciously refusing to let go of a goal can be counterproductive, even overtly unhealthy.

I find it’s easy to learn, and easy to get some new bit of knowledge stored in my mind. But it is difficult to get my instincts and feelings to change to align with that new knowledge. So it is with my processes and goals: I know it’s all about the process, but my instincts and habits are to create goal upon goal. I regularly get caught up chasing the goals, and lose sight of the process.

How far ahead can I see? How wisely can I set my goals? Do I chase them blindly causing my journey to veer off? Or do I have a broad spread of goals that firmly draw me in my desired direction towards the horizon, and ultimately, to the end of my journey?

§9 – Commit to the move

(Part 21 of 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

No this. No that. No delay.
~ Sensei Wirth

“If you want to go east, go east. If you want to go west, go west.”
~ Koichi Tohei Sensei

“If there’s somewhere you need to be, you need to start walking.”
~ uncertain; possibly Lao-Tzu

Each of those quotes expresses a certain commitment to beginning; to taking action; to moving in a direct way. But what really is commitment? I thought I knew what commitment was, until I started to think deeply about it. Now, I’m uncertain.

There are some things to which I am deeply, unshakably, committed; Take breathing for example. At first glance this seems trivial since it’s a physiological imperative managed by the body. But if I imagine a scenario where someone is trying to prevent me from breathing, I can easily imagine myself consciously acting — wildly, vigorously, berserk even — to achieve the goal.

What would it mean to be that committed to something of my own conscious choosing?

What does it mean to “be committed to” a new habit?

Sure! I’m committed! I like this new idea — this new habit. I’m going to really stick to it! I have goals, and a plan. Let’s do this!

…and a month later the habit is nowhere to be seen. Does that failure mean I was actually not committed when I thought I was? Did my commitment evaporate over time? Are there degrees of commitment? Is there some minimum level of commitment necessary at the beginning to achieve certain goals? Does commitment need occasional inputs of energy to keep it going, like a spinning top? Or is commitment a simple binary — yes, or no?

Perhaps understanding commitment would be easier if I tried to untangle a simpler type of commitment. What does it mean to “commit to” a physical action in the very near future?

This jump scares me. But I know I can make it; I’ve definitely jumped this distance successfully many times. I know there’s value in doing this jump. I should do this. I want to do this! Okay, I’m committed! I’m ready! Here I go! abort! ABORT!!

What happened? I thought I was committed? Was I lying to myself when I said, “Okay, I’m committed”? What would it mean if it was possible to lie to myself– to truly believe myself when I was lying? Did my commitment somehow evaporate in the moment just before I aborted? Did my body — my physical corpus separate from my mind — somehow, literally, physically refuse my mind’s directions? Is that even be possible?

Here’s another experiment I’ve performed countless times: I get set up for a jump which pushes my limits. There are some consequences to missing, some real bit of danger is present, but it’s a good jump, something I know I can do. I’ve checked my surfaces, and I’ve explored and thought out everything to look for unknown-unknowns. I’m ready. The thinking-me-brain commits — really commits — we (the me-brain and the body) are ready to do this! And then I notice that my palms are sweating. Wait- What? Who called for sweating palms?!

Therefore I’m forced to wonder: Does my body have a mind of its own? In fact, I believe this is the case. We know the brain — the entire central nervous system — is an amalgam of layers. The thinking me’s consciousness is just the topmost layer, and there are deeper layers, sometimes called the “lizard brain”, performing fully autonomous functions. Performing many autonomous functions.

After all of that thinking and experimenting, I’m starting to believe that commitment is actually easy. The thinking-me-brain is good at committing to something after a bit of reasoned consideration. Committing may be one of its greatest skills, in stark contrast to the body’s short-sighted visceral behaviors.

So what then is hard?

Learning what level of control I am in fact able to exercise over the rest of my body is hard!

My commitment evaporates when my body rebels; When it literally, physically refuses my thinking-me-brain’s commands. My commitment evaporates when unconscious triggers, and reward/feedback loops, guide my actions when the thinking-me-brain isn’t actively paying attention. The teacher leaves the classroom and the students start throwing paper airplanes. “I thought we were committed to reading our studies! …why all this fooling around?!” I thought we were committed to this jump! Why have we not jumped?! Why are our palms sweating and heart racing?!

The more I examine this situation, the more it feels like the thinking-me-brain is a tiny little prisoner who has very little control over almost nothing.

“Commit to the move,” the book says. The tiny, weak, thinking-me-brain would love to practice talking the body into doing things it doesn’t want to do. So let’s — thinking-me and the body — let’s go out and see what we can agree to commit to!

§10 – Undershoot Overshoot

(Part 22 of 22 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

Thibault uses the phrase, “mindful resource management,” which resonates with one of my frequent avenues of thought.

Today, I can easily take one thousand steps without risk of injury, and I could take one thousand steps every day without developing chronic injury. In fact, such regular walking is improving my general health. (Although I expect that at some point it will simply be maintaining my general health.) Clearly then, these resources are well-spent on walking. But what about some specific running precision? How many can I do well? How many can I do before I’m tearing down my tomorrow-self more than will benefit my next-week-self? What about some other challenge? Where is the tipping point where I go from, “sustainable growth,” to “acute or chronic injury?”

To answer my own questions I must apply mindful resource management and calibrate my efforts. These concepts are important, explicit and obvious in Parkour. With movement, success or failure is usually obvious, and I can continuously calibrate my movements as I over-/undershoot. Initially I “throw myself at it” with flat trajectories and smash-crash-bang landings, but eventually I learn to “float in” with higher trajectories, more power, and more control.

In a larger sense, this applies not only to my Parkour efforts, but to my everyday life. Much of what I do could be calibrated: Food consumption; Listening skills; Speaking skills; Time spent interacting with others versus time spent alone; Self-reflective thought versus philosophical discussion; Mindful meditation and recovery work versus high-intensity physical training.

In the largest sense, this calibration tracks a life-span.
Beginning with the frenetic activity of youth, actively trying to carve my life through the universe: Overshooting. Then comes the inevitable, timorous, mid-life reversal to a hyper-aware, hyper-reflective approach: Undershooting. And then finally — hopefully! — a calibrated, broad, world-view.

A balance of give and take.
Power and control.
Life and death.
Yin and yang.