What are you doing?

(This question is part of the “What are you doing?” project.)

It’s funny the different stages my training has gone through. Sometimes the mindset is consistent but the movements are different other times the movements are the same but the mindset is different. It’s been interesting to reflect on the area of precisions in my training and how drastically the mindset has shifted from when I started till now.

When I first started in parkour I was just trying to learn the technique. I only attempted jumps that had little to no risk around ground level and drilled them over and over again. This seems to be a stage that’s becoming less and less common in people’s training and you can see the negative effects of that. It’s so much more appealing once you can do a movement passably to move on to bigger and cooler movements or then take that movement into more difficult contexts. While increasing challenge is an important element of training I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen succeed on something a few times and then assume they are ready for harder challenges only to then hurt themselves because even if they have the capability to do the challenge once, they are not consistent enough that failure and injury is a remote possibility as opposed to a likely result.

After a while I started to build trust in myself and what jumps I could hit consistently with a remote chance of failure as opposed to a likely one. As I got more comfortable in this area I began to increase the complexity and risk involved in these jumps. I would come face to face with a challenging jump and reassure myself that I knew my own capabilities and that the chance of me failing these jumps was extremely low. With that knowledge in my head I would work towards breaking jumps.

This mentality has some definite pros and cons to it. While I think that we should jump with success as the clear goal in mind, if our way of dealing with the consequences of missing the jump is simply don’t miss we are limiting our training drastically and leaving ourselves unprepared for the one time in a hundred where you miss that jump you should not be able to mess up. While not with every jump, a large portion of the jumps you do there is a clear bail option and identifying that and practicing it will open up a ton of jumps for you that you would not otherwise have been able to approach.

Throughout my training I’ve had some pretty cool experiences with ukemi (falling and saving yourself). Before I even started parkour and merely had some basic martial arts training at the age of 12 I fell head first of a ledge to concrete and used a dive roll to come out uninjured. A few months ago I missed one foot on a rail precision that was well over my head height and before I knew it I’d hooked that leg around the bar, grabbed it with both hands and swung myself down to a dead hang. People talk about these moments happening in slow motion but that’s not how I experience them. There is literally no thought and the moment happens in an instant as your body and the training you’ve given it reacts and acts on its own accord. If anything time seems quicker to me.

Ukemi was something I put some effort into but not much. Thankfully I’d been training it without noticing and so it was able to rescue me in more then one occasion and I used it to a minor degree on low risk jumps that I could try repetitively with little to no consequences on a miss. A transformative moment for my training of precisions was a workshop led by Max Henry in Boston at the Parkour Generations American Rendezvous.

I know I’m not the only one who had my training transformed by this workshop. I’ve heard both Sparsha of PKGEN Boston, and Ben from London, Ontario say how influential it was in their training. Max told us how when he works on those high risk jumps he often figures out what it is he is most afraid of in the jump and then forces himself to deal with that consequence first. Similarly to how difficult it is to get a solid handstand if you don’t have exit plans for both forwards and backwards it’s very hard to stick a precision if you don’t have solid backup plans for both overshooting and undershooting. Max challenged us on some precisions that had quite dramatic drops on one side of them to first not stick it and fall in the direction of the big drop and save ourselves by catching ourselves in cat.

At the time I couldn’t bring myself to do it but when I returned home I began to practice both overshooting and turning to cat and undershooting. I prioritized facing the fear and dealing with it by putting myself over the danger more so than actually sticking the jump. While obviously this is not the mindset with which you want to approach every jump it has helped me to wrap my head around actually committing to sticking a jump much quicker then just bouncing off to the side I feel safer on.

Training these bail options has opened up a whole realm of jumps that were inaccessible before. I’ve extended my training to include bails to swinging or hanging so I can attempt jumps to lone bars. Now I’m ok to try a jump over twice my head height that I may or may not be able to stick first try because I am confident in my ability to recover and keep myself safe.

Building trust with yourself is such an important part of training. In relationships, the more trust you build with the other person the more you are able to do together and accomplish. It’s the same thing with your relationship with yourself. If you don’t know your bodies limits or don’t trust it, how much are you really going to accomplish?

Something I’ve been working on is when I say I’m going to do something, doing it. If I say I’m going to overshoot, I overshoot. If I say I’m going to attempt this acrobatic movement, I’m going to attempt it. If I say I’m going to stick it, regardless of if I do I have to give it one hundred percent and put all of my energy into attempting it at the best of my ability. If we lie to ourselves we break that basic trust that is so essential in our movements. I will admit I’m not perfect at this yet. For some reason I find this much easier when attempting a scary parkour movement then when committing to a new acrobatic movement. If I say I’m going to jump I usually jump. But if I say I’m going to attempt that cast away I am infamous for being about to attempt chickening out and yelling one more before hoping back on the wall. With your mentality as well as the rest of your training as essential as it is to be hard on yourself, be patient and don’t expect perfection out of yourself right away. If you wouldn’t expect a student to be perfect right away don’t expect it of yourself.

These of course are not new concepts and have been around since the start but I highly recommend exploring mentality in training with the same, intentionality that we explore our movement. Every person is different and the most effective mentality is going to be different for each person. I suppose if I were to have two desired takeaways it would be to deal with the possibility you’re most afraid of first, and to build trust with yourself. That’s not just good for parkour but for life.