I went back to my parkour lessons after five months of injury, travel and Christmas break. It’s been a great afternoon for rediscovering what I can do (more than I expected after so long away) and what I need to work on (more joint mobility and resilience than specific moves, it seems). More importantly, it’s reminded me why I spend this time throwing myself at walls, bars and gaps each week. It was incredibly rewarding to return to a community I love, and to a sport that challenges me in an area I hadn’t seen as my forte. It’s challenging me to be my best as a whole person, rather than compartmentalising my mental and physical abilities. Coming back knowing I’d have to work back up to my previous ability has also put some extra weight behind the idea that “parkour is more about the trials and tribulations than it is about the triumphs“. While I’ve come away exhausted, I’ve also come away invigorated and re-inspired. You can rest assured, you’ll be hearing a lot more about parkour here.
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.
My parkour class yesterday marked a year since I started training. I’m planning a post on the wonderful mental and emotional education I’ve had through parkour, but today’s post is a more superficial record of how much I’ve learned over the last year, and what I’m able to learn in just 12 months.
Here’s the list of my current progress, with links to videos in case you’re curious about what each one is. Many of them are shown at a far higher skill than I’ve reached, but (unless the dot point says otherwise), they are all techniques that I can demonstrate.
- Approaching wall climbs (not quite there yet, but I got a lot closer in yesterday’s lesson. One of my instructors says he took 18 months to learn, so I’m pretty happy with this progress)
Rolls (that is, somersaults, but with a focus on rolling diagonally across the back to avoid damaging any vitals (like the spine!). These were also part of my ninjitsu lessons some years ago, included on the basis that they get you out of trouble pretty quick if you’re on the ground, and they can be used to recover from a fall without getting hurt.
Quadrupedal movement. There’s a bunch of different styles, including forwards, backwards and monkey quads. These are used to get around quickly on the ground without taking the time to stand up, as well as for precarious or cramped places.
Tic-tacs (pushing oneself off a wall/tree/other vertical object to change direction)
Precision jumps (though I haven’t made it to this height or distance yet.)
Cat passes. These were my Achilles heel, but I’ve recently conquered them, and now they’re a favourite thing to practice on low bars. Notice the comment in the video about ‘approaching the obstacle head-on’. It looks like a minor challenge in the video, but learning that I had the skills to survive running face first at certain obstacles was one of my most important achievements in parkour this year.
The theory for reverse vaults (these look like they will feel fantastic when I figure them out!)
When you’re a kid, visiting an amazing playground is the greatest experience ever. And these fantasy-themed playgrounds around the world have us wishing that we were kids again so we could run around in them like small, crazy people.
Never mind being a kid! The parkour practitioner in me wants to be all over these, especially the Spire Playground and the Rainbow Nest. Playgrounds have become one of the important places in my life again since I started learning parkour – they give access to a range of obstacles that aren’t often found, in a way that encourages light-hearted enjoyment of movement, which makes them perfect for practices.