§14 – Precommit

(Part 26 of 26 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

The devil is in the details?

On one hand pre-committment gives you the power of hindsight; the power of having a higher view point– the executive-level view. You can sort out all the nuances and make an objective decision. But the downside is that you’re intentionally surrendering the ability to make flexible, quick decisions down the road when your day-to-day passions might lead off in a new direction.

Do I want to be sacrificing following my passions?

I’ve attempted — sometimes even “done” :) — big projects where I’ve invested a lot of time up-front thinking, planning, and then started off on the journey. But later, in the midst of the journey, I started to have doubts. Not small, nagging doubts, but well-founded, objective doubts. When that happens I’m faced with letting go of the sunk cost of the prep work that went into the pre-committment. I start thinking, “Look at all this planning I did. Look at how far I’ve come! This doubt must be unfounded.” And suddenly all my pre-commitment is working against me. Granted, the original intention of the pre-committment is to make it easier to achieve my goals, but it can pile on sunk costs, or worse, pile on guilt, which never serves me.

In the end, it seems I simply have to know myself: These days, a 30 day challenge is something I can probably do, but 100 days will probably become a drag.

The devil really is in the details.

§13 – On Noticing New Jumps

(Part 25 of 26 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

I once visited the Hoover Dam in Nevada.

South of the dam, U.S. Highway 93 soars across the gorge 900 feet (270m) above the Colorado river. The view of the dam, from the pedestrian walkway on that bridge, is one previously seen only by helicopter. It is simply amazing.

There is a chest-high railing along that pedestrian walkway, and there is nothing above the railing.

The bridge is a “simple” arch span — all of the bridge structure is under the bridge deck — so there I was, standing on a sidewalk.

…next to a railing.

…900 feet in the air.

I leaned casually on that rock-solid railing and took in the unrivaled view.

I took some tourist-y photos.

The bridge occasionally quivered ever-so-slightly in response to a truck embedded in the streams of traffic flying between Arizona and Nevada.

I looked down, down, down to the river far below. It was a serene view; peaceful.

I noticed: The big, round, easy-to-hold top of the railing and the two-inch-wide concrete lip on the outside of the railing.

…and like a sucker-punch to the stomach, it occurred to me that I could turn-vault over that railing. I nearly threw up from the adrenaline spike. My knees went wobbly and had I not been on the sane side of that railing, I would absolutely have fallen off that bridge.

I slinked back to the car, hugging the side of the walkway away from the railing.

I have since looked up the numbers; it would have taken me 7.5 seconds to fall to the river, and I would have been traveling at 160mph (263km/hr) upon dipping my toes in the Colorado river.

I have never — before or since — been blind-sided so violently by a physical reaction. I went from calmly enjoying a spectacular view, to needing to immediately hurry the long distance to the end of the bridge where we had parked.

Noticing new jumps indeed.

§12 – Don’t jump

(Part 24 of 26 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

I wish I could have read this section from Thibault in the early days of my parkour journey.

If there’s an aspect of parkour training which is alien — or at least, was alien to the entirety of my experience — it is the idea of not jumping, of not doing the challenge, and having that truly be training.

Sometimes, parkour is simply spending time with fear. Sometimes, parkour is simply being calm in proximity with danger. Sometimes, parkour is simply learning to love oneself despite not reaching goals. Sometimes, parkour is simply walking away. While that may seem ok, it’s better than ok: It’s terrific!

In order to feel that one’s life is flowing more slowly — and fully — one might seek out new situations over and over to have novel experiences that, because of their emotional value, are retained by memory over the long term. Greater variety makes a given period of life expand in retrospect. Life passes more slowly. If one challenges oneself consistently, it pays off, over the years, as the feeling of having lived fully — and, most importantly, of having lived for a long time.

~ Marc Wittmann, from The Psychology of Time and the Paradox of How Impulsivity and Self-Control Mediate Our Capacity for Presence

§11 – Half Measures

(Part 23 of 26 in ~ Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

The keys to life are running and reading. When you’re running, there’s a little person that talks to you and says, “Oh I’m tired. My lung’s about to pop. I’m so hurt. There’s no way I can possibly continue.” You want to quit. If you learn how to defeat that person when you’re running. You will know how to not quit when things get hard in your life. For reading: there have been gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you could have–with your parents, with school, with a bully. There’s no new problem that someone hasn’t already had and written about it in a book.

~ Will Smith

Coming up short because of half-measures is not a problem I have. On the other hand, I am stubborn to a fault. Sure, I’m not stubborn every moment of every day, but I can easily muster my inner Bulldog when I need to dig my nails into the earth and push through things. I don’t think anyone has ever called me a “quitter.”

Self-injury? Behavior corrosive to interpersonal relationships? Mindlessly bashing myself on challenges both mental and physical? Being critical of others from a myopic view-point? Wearing my stubbornness as a badge of honor? Pride? Hubris? On all counts: Guilty as charged!

Clearly, I should continue to practice dialing-down the stubbornness. But, is there an appropriate amount of stubbornness?

Is play, or joyfulness, the key to finding the balance?

If I’m happy and having fun, does that rule out being stubborn?

Thibault’s section is urging us to avoid half-measures. But maybe I should occasionally practice putting in only a half-measure of effort. Maybe — just to practice not following through — I should try abandoning something for no particular reason?

§10 – Undershoot Overshoot

(Part 22 of 26 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.

§9 – Commit to the move

(Part 21 of 26 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!

§8 – Focus on the process

(Part 20 of 26 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?

§7 – Lemons

(Part 19 of 26 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.

§6 – I Choose To Fall!

(Part 18 of 26 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