Thursday, December 19, 2013

50 Ways To Be and To Last in Parkour | Part 2 - Training The Mind

(click the link to read this article in Greek or Polish)

In part two of this five part series I'm going to cover what I believe to be some of the more important aspects when it comes to training the mind to be strong for this practice. These topics are not in order of importance but just aim to provide some solid advice for developing and maintaining an effective mindset for training and improving in Parkour. Let's be clear, developing a strong mind is even harder than developing a strong body so it won't happen overnight. Parkour is not easy in any way, shape or form. It'll test you and often push you in ways you won't enjoy. You will get hurt now and again. Every time you train it'll expose and highlight your weaknesses, both physical and psychological, and give you a brutally honest answer if you ask, "So what can I do today..?".

To read an introduction to this article series and catch up with part 1, which covers training the body, you can click here.



14) The Art of War
Everyone is different but the way I look at it, when you strip all of the outer layers away Parkour at its core is about physically confronting challenges and obstacles and almost using movement as a type of weapon in this confrontation. In every conflict, to some extent one side will either win or lose and this is also the case in Parkour. When you are facing an inferior opponent then you have a greater chance of succeeding but you still need to be focused and calculating in your approach.. and the closer your opponent is to matching your skill, the more chance they have of defeating you. Of course, if you choose to face an opponent that outmatches you then you'd better have a damn good reason for it because you will probably lose.

To me, the jumps are the same in many ways. Even the easy ones require your attention and focus or they could kick your ass.. and even the easy ones have something to teach you. As you face more difficult jumps that are closer to your potential, you have to pay more attention and rely on your previous experience to figure out the best way to approach them. You need to be confident in yourself but at the same time do not underestimate them.

And when it comes to superior opponents.. facing jumps that are beyond your current ability is a recipe for disaster and you risk injury or worse. These opponents, or obstacles, should only be confronted as a last resort.

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." - Sun Tzu, The Art of War.


15) Accept that sometimes the obstacles will win.
You will face jumps that are well within your ability that you just cannot seem to crack today and this is a true test of your humility and patience. In these situations you are generally faced with accepting one of two choices. You can either walk away and come back another day, or you can remain and chip away at the problem in the hope of cracking it. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won't.

When you first notice a scary jump there is usually a very brief window of opportunity, during which there is a positive internal dialogue going on in your head. This could last anywhere between a few seconds to minutes. You'll be comparing it to previous jumps, reassuring yourself of your ability, testing the landing area and the take-off point, you may rehearse the run up and the approach a few times.. but ultimately this window of opportunity will gradually begin to close as the doubts creep in. The longer you stay, the more likely you are to invite fear, anger and doubt in to the equation and the scarier the jump will become. You will begin to over-think the problem and dwell on the negative possibilities and it takes a certain type of person to break through that, to remain positive and pry open that window of opportunity again. My partner described this better than anyone I've known to date when she told me that in this situation, she feels like she's far out at sea and trying to get back to the shore. Occasionally a wave comes that promises to take her back if only she has the confidence to stand up on the board and ride it home.. but if she misses the opportunity then it can be a long wait until the next wave comes.

I've faced countless jumps like this and I know first hand the feeling of staying and succeeding.. and the feeling of walking away. If you wait too long then there's not often a happy ending to be found in either. Walking away might leave you feeling frustrated and disappointed, but succeeding after so long and finding that the jump was simple and easy can actually leave you feeling worse, as you realise you just wasted an hour and a half and should have just jumped when the first wave came. There is often no joy to be found in breaking a jump after so long.. it's like you spent all that time fighting for something you believe in only to be told your princess is in another castle..

If it's a jump I know I can do and I feel strong then generally I'll ride the wave back home sooner or later.. but sometimes I'll walk away thankful I wasn't dashed on the rocks today.

With experience I've learned to recognise a jump that won't happen and rather than seeing this as a negative thing I've tried to treat this a bit like playing a game with an old friend. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but the real pleasure is in playing the game and there's always another wave to catch next week.


16) The Power of Now
Right, gloves off.. let's drop the sissy talk about disappointment and emotions and get back in the fight.

I believe there are many advantages to slaying a dragon right here and now.. before it grows and becomes a different beast entirely. It's crucially important that as a strong human being you have the ability to rise to the occasion when you decide to. Life won't always wait for a good time before throwing the shit at the fan so you need to learn to, no.. train to ignite that spark and light that fire at a moment's notice. If this is something you never do in your training then it's going to be that much harder to draw upon the courage to in a situation that calls for it. But if you're familiar with the feeling of pushing back when you're pushed.. and if you're familiar with smashing through that window of opportunity and putting all of the bullshit in your head aside and if you manage to just TRY the jump with all of your heart, then you have broken that jump and slayed that dragon, regardless of what happens on the other side. For breaking a jump is different from making a jump. If you know you truly gave it your all and didn't hold back with a single fibre of your being then win or lose, crash or conquer you broke it and won the mental battle, if not the physical one.

You will learn more from doing a jump now, today, at this moment than you will by coming back when you're 'ready' and when it feels easy. Sure, you could find a scary challenge, go away for a few weeks and train similar jumps, go inside to your nice warm, dry gym and replicate it with a mat and finally come back and do it without a pause but you will have bypassed a vitally important part of the process, if not the most important part of Parkour, and that is to face challenges head on and choose the more difficult path when one is presented. Step out of your comfort zone, rise to the challenge and dig deep. Get angry if you need to, find a reason, a purpose and a driving force that will make you do the jump. The time is now damnit.

Hate the idea of not trying it more than you fear the consequences of not making it and you will find a way to break the jump.


17) Do something that scares you every time you train 
It doesn't have to be terrifying but do something that makes you uncomfortable every time you go out to train. This regular exposure to fear will drip feed it in to your system and almost build an immunity to its sharper edges. You'll learn to process and manage this fear more easily, creating habits and processes for going through the next scary experience, in life or in Parkour.

The ability to deal with fear is a technique that can be trained and improved just like any other technique, and just like any other technique in Parkour it must be trained regularly if you hope to maintain and improve it. 


18) Breaking jumps
This is worth talking about in some detail even if the actual mental process will be different for everyone. I've seen people approach scary jumps in many ways and have varying degrees of success. All that is certain is that there is no foolproof method for overcoming the fear felt when facing a new jump. What works for me might not work for you.. but I can give you a few examples and things to consider that might help.

The phrase 'breaking a jump' comes from a French term and it simply means to break through that barrier of fear and apprehension that can form in the moments before trying something scary. With practice, it can become easier to break jumps but it's a very complicated process that can actually become harder during certain periods of your training. The problem is that the more experience you have in Parkour, the more you understand how a jump can go wrong and how much even a minor injury can set you back. The more you gain in terms of ability, the more you have to lose if it all goes wrong. In the beginning this is not something you think about because you have no such experience to relate to which is why beginners often have an easier time just jumping at something and trying it. Ignorance is bliss...

The first thing you need to decide is whether you're a person who needs to be calm to break a jump or someone who needs to be pumped up. I'm a bit of a middle-man in this field but like many others I prefer a brief moment of complete calm right before the jump, where all of the doubts float away and I flick the switch to GO.

However you prefer to approach breaking a jump it's important than when you do flick the switch, you go all out and don't hold back. If for example it's a running jump then you need to decide to go before you even take the first step. Practice the run up as much as you like but don't run at it and then try to decide towards the end of the wall. Confidence and predictability minimise risk. Hesitation and unpredictability breed danger. When you run off the end of the wall and jump halfheartedly then there is so much more that can go wrong. The situation is unpredictable because you don't know how much you've pushed and need to deal with things on the fly, very quickly. But when you push with everything you have then even if you don't make it, you still know how far you can jump so you know roughly where you will land, and you will spend more time in the air, giving you precious time to process the situation and react to the landing.

For the vast majority of problems in Parkour and in life, if you know you can make it and go all out then you'll be fine.

Some people listen to the background noises. Others sing to themselves. Many pace up and down breathing hard and a few spin in circles so they can see the jump with a fresh perspective every few seconds. I'm one of the people who counts down in their head and if I get to 1 and everything still feels good, I go all out and push for it. This countdown process only begins after everything else has been considered and processed. At that time I've already checked out the take-off and landing areas, I've made a brief plan of what to do if I overshoot or undershoot and I've worked out my steps for the approach. If it's a really scary jump but I want to do it then often I've visualised a situation in which I have to do the jump. I convince myself that staying where I am is more risky than trying the jump and failing it. This is not natural, takes practice and hell, I wouldn't even recommend it as it's a bit extreme.. but it works for me.

Breaking jumps is a test of willpower, of self-control and self-knowledge but there is a big difference in someone who is careful and calculating and someone reckless. The actual jump might look the same but the difference is again in the details. The intention and motivation behind their choice to do it can be completely different.

Watching other people facing jumps that are close to their potential is an incredible experience. You can only appreciate it fully when the person and the jump are equally matched at that time and it's the next best thing to doing it yourself. At that exact moment you are looking at a person stripped of all of their pretension and all of their ego. They can no longer hide behind their words or false claims.. it is a time for action. Regardless of how many of their friends are with them, they are completely alone. Nobody else can do the jump for them and they know it. Time seems to stand still or ceases to exist completely, background noises fade out and all of their attention is on one tiny little point of the Earth. There is an invisible but undeniable energy in the air, a high-frequency vibration you can't quite hear and a tension that could be cut with a knife. Like a freight train that wave is coming and you wonder if they'll have the courage to stand up and go with this one. If they do then just before it hits, something special happens. A half-second of absolute still and calm. You can see when they've accepted it, when they've flicked the switch and when they're going. They're now a victim to the experience. It's over in the blink of an eye and with the landing the background noises come rushing back, and the laughter, the cheers and the long sighs or relief replace the palpable silence. The fear is instantly replaced with joy and elation.. and it is that feeling right there that makes Parkour so addictive.

However you approach the process, aim to make your method more efficient over time. Find something that works for you and stick with it, training it with repetition just like any other technique. Learn to trust your method and refine it over time. Overall, your goal should be to minimise the amount of time that passes between you finding a jump you want to do, and you doing it.. and this is only possible from hours of deliberate practice.


19) Don't watch too many videos
YouTube has done a lot of good things for Parkour but it's a double-edged sword. Whilst it has allowed the practice to spread far and wide in a relatively short period of time and introduced Parkour to a massive audience, it has also managed to do so in a way that I don't believe best represents what it is I do. More than 90% of the Parkour videos I've seen on YouTube are terrible examples of the practice I know and love. You need to dig through a pile of crap to find the occasional gem and if you go by view count or popularity, you have no hope.

The truth is that the vast majority of the people I know who live and train Parkour with the same spirit and motivations as myself don't make videos every week. If they do at all then it'll be now and again when they think they have something worthwhile and meaningful to share. They release that video because they believe it could be of benefit to someone else and because it transmits a message to other like minded people.. not because they want the world to see their latest showreel that they spent more time editing than they did moving on the day they filmed it.

So if someone recommends a video to you or you have some free time then sure, go burn an hour on YouTube and get some ideas and inspiration or check out how the guys train in another country, but if the internet is filled with videos of people moving in a way that you don't, remember that you are definitely not alone and the reason you don't see many videos that represent the way you train is because the other guys who could make them are too busy training.

Decide what and how you want to train today and don't be concerned with the trends in the community. I've seen them go from rail precisions, to kong precisions and double kongs, to Justin Bieber haircuts with baggy pants and skinny t-shirts, to skinny jeans and baggy t-shirts then back to focus on some actual movements that were primarily 180 cat leaps. All of that shit is just surface turmoil but underneath the things that matter never change. Choose your own values and decide what movements you want to get better at.. and then train the hell out of them.


20) Read
Read books and articles from reliable sources. Find out how your body works and grows. Ask questions and find answers. Read books that stir the mind as well as books that will teach you how to eat for performance and recovery. Read books on how to stretch, mobilise, move and train so that you can maintain and upgrade the most complex and important machine you will ever own. Learn why most sports-related injuries can be avoided and how chronic pain can be alleviated by making a few simple changes to your daily habits and routine.

If I had to pick just a few titles that have been most useful for me in the past few years then I'd probably recommend:

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
Movement by Gray Cook
Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett
Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo (Author) and William Scott Wilson (Translator)
..and anything by Jim Wendler.


21) Train on your own
There are advantages to training in small groups that I will discuss in Part 3 but when it comes to training the mind there is no better way to improve certain elements than by training alone. Even the humblest of souls harbour an ego that is only present when in the company of others. It's the reason you stand slightly differently when someone walks in to the room and change the way you're speaking depending on who you are addressing. It's the cause of your defensiveness when someone questions your actions, even if they have the best intentions in mind as your friend. It's the reason for your excuses when you don't want to admit to just being too scared to do a jump and what brings you to say "I could do that easily if I didn't have this injury".

But when we remove the external influences from the equation you are left with just you, with all of your weaknesses and flaws up on the surface again. We can be honest for once and relax a part of us. Our mindset is different and our way of thinking, moving and training changes. We no longer consider someone else's opinion on that landing or worry about hesitating over a jump and how that might seem to someone else. It's liberating! And it's also a bit scarier in some ways. Without your friend to support or encourage you and without the pressure of someone watching you, suddenly your motivations become entirely internal. No longer are you doing it partly because your friends expect you to be able to.. no, the only reason to do something now is because you want to, because you choose to, for you. Nobody will know if you do or don't so making the decision to do something scary at that moment is fueled solely by your self-will and internal drive. It is selfish but in the best possible way.

Perhaps you're reading this now and thinking I'm an egotistical asshole but I'm trying to point out that this is something that we all have inside of us, to some extent. Some more than others. We all know the guy with the ridiculous ego who just can't stop talking about himself and his accomplishments but even the quietest, most down to earth person has a tiny piece of the same thing inside of them. I actually think that when kept in check this is a good thing and a normal part of being human. It's courteous and polite to reign in your bad habits and be a little more thoughtful in the presence of others.. but please, go wild on your own sometimes and experience intense, scary situations alone. You won't regret it.


22) Accept that your family and friends just won't get it
I'm sorry, but they just won't understand Parkour unless they try it for themselves for a significant period of time. You can talk about it all you like and describe it in the most fine detail but they will never truly understand the point of it and the psychological changes that occur over time through training unless they try it. They'll think they get it and you might even begin to believe they get it.. but Parkour needs to be lived to be understood. Accept that everyone is different and as much as you want all of your family to know why you do this 'crazy shit', sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

Good friends are made quickly in Parkour because you see people for who they really are. In a single day of training you might see the same person laugh, cry and bleed. You'll see them scared, determined, courageous, selfish and selfless, happy and sad. Because you're spending time with people in a high stress environment and sharing rich experiences together, bonds are made strong and fast with people you like. Seeing people for who they really are in training is a shortcut to getting to know them that might take months or years if you only see that person in day to day life at work or school. In fact, before you marry someone you would do well to put them in front of a scary jump if you want to see who they really are. They might not do it but their humility, honesty and assessment of the situation will reveal a lot about them.


23) Now and again do something crazy
I'm no stranger to ridiculous physical challenges and I don't think you should be either. These make no sense as far as linear, progressive training goes and shouldn't be done every week, or even every month. It's important to understand that they're more for the mind than the body. Title fights make no sense in terms of linear, progressive training for boxing since you spend over an hour getting punched in the face by a steam train.. but they set the stage for a chance to give everything you have and test whether or not that's good enough on that day. Win or lose, pass or fail, you leave the experience knowing yourself, your capabilities and your limits more than ever before.

Once in a while step out of your comfort zone and see just how far you can push it, just how long you can hold on for before your body quits. To know what you are capable of you need to go further than you have before and further than what is reasonable, or recommended. You need to go to the place where your body says stop.. then keep going just a little further.

A strong body is vulnerable without a strong mind to control it and the experience, confidence and self-knowledge you will gain from these challenges will help you to become a stronger person.

So whether it's 3 hours of quadrupedie, 1,000 muscle ups, a mile of rail balance, 500 jumps in a row, running to the next city and back before it gets dark, carrying your friend to their house a few miles away, climbing a mountain in the dark or whatever you dream of.. choose something difficult, but something that you only might be able to achieve.. for a challenge is not a challenge if you know you can do it. Aim high and let doubt creep in to the equation. Now you have to fight for it.


24) Empty your cup..
..and fill it with 80's action movies and their soundtracks.


Felix said...

Insightful writing as always, Chris! I'm looking forward to part 3.

P.S Number 24 is my favourite. ;)

Anonymous said...

I've found these articles to be really insightful. It is a great archievement in itself to have been able to cover this all so comprehensively and critically. The biggest thing that I have taken away from these articles so far, are to train 'more deliberatly' to overcome problems that are specific to myself and to learn as much as I can from everything I do (not just in parkour, but in life). Thanks a lot for writing these and I'm looking forwards to the 3rd part.

Timothy Chen Allen said...

Another thought (and action) provoking article. Your last article got me to change my training; I'm working hard on something I had neglected previously (rolls). I like what you say about breaking jumps here. I walk away from far too many jumps. And anything that encourages us traceurs to read is a very good thing. Well done; I'm anxious to see your next article.

Ariv Mj said...

Thank you for sharing, this answers everything.