Recently I reached a year since I started training in parkour. Looking back, I’m excited to see how much I’ve learnt in that year, both in the physical skills that I’ve gained and in the way parkour has improved the way I think about my physical and mental abilities.
Thinking over what I’ve learned, the most valuable skills I’ve learned are not the clever quadrupedals and dramatic vaults (though, as this post will show, I’m pretty proud of those as well). The much more valuable skills are the mental skills that I’ve discovered and the age-old sayings about learning that I’ve come to believe in the last 12 months:
- I learn more with small consistent efforts than with a single huge effort. Hackneyed yes, but there’s a reason so many people swear by it for improving their craft. Things that I didn’t believe were possible for me to do became possible within a month or two of practicing regularly for two hours, once a week (and sporadically outside of that).
- Succeeding at a skill is one thing. Mastering it is quite another.
Many of the skills we learn in parkour – moving on all fours, vaulting, tumbling – can be learned in a few months. However, there’s a world of difference between my vaults and the fast, smooth vaults of someone who’s been practicing parkour for the last ten years. While we can both do vaults, an experienced traceuse* would take about a fifth of the time I do to complete the same vault.
- Doing a challenging thing well feels amazing!
There’s a euphoria associated with using one’s skills well. In parkour, this seems to be partly about the physical movement – there’s nothing I do that feels like the moment of hang-time above a bar I’m vaulting. However, part of it is also the satisfaction of excelling at a task. It’s not something I often find in my work (which involves less defined achievements), so feeling it at parkour is especially special.
- It’s easier to learn when I’m having fun
The first six months of my parkour lessons were extremely hard. I rarely made it through a lesson without taking a break, and I would always have limited movement on the following two days as my muscles dealt with the strain of unfamilar hard work. Despite that, I kept coming back. Initially it was to support my cousin, who had no other way to get to the lessons. Then, as my excitement about the material increased, I overcame my reluctance by thinking about what I’d achieved (and I looked forward to spending time with a friend who began learning with me).
Now I go because I love the learning. I’ve proved to myself that I will have fun and learn exciting things at the lessons. And, in a benevolent cycle, because I’m having so much fun I now learn faster and work smoother than I did when I was throwing myself hard at the new and challenging material.
While all these points are parkour specific, they build on similar discoveries from my other pursuits in the past, and will no doubt be applicable to the challenges I take on in the future. From here, my biggest challenge is to relax and keep these things in mind when it’s relevant, whether it’s a mental, physical or emotional goal I’m chasing.
* Traceuse: a female parkour practitioner. A male practitioner is called a traceur.