23 Jan Resolve to Train
Malikah asked me to write something topical for New Year’s. “How about something to do with making a resolution to learn Parkour? Like, how would you resolve to learn Parkour?”
I wrote the following:
1. I would find a parkour gym
2. I would work out there a lot, until…
3. …I knew parkour.
We both laughed at this, but then I got to thinking. Clearly, this isn’t so simple a task for all people. Many people see Parkour practitioners and think, “There is absolutely no way I could ever do that.”
But the truth is we’re not magicians. We’re the same as everyone else; we just spend our time learning how to move through our environment. It’s no different from learning the intricacies of law, or surgery, or information technology, or any sort of technical expertise.
Buried in that statement, though, are quite a few assumptions and ideas, and I don’t mind scraping down to a few of them.
Let’s assume that you accept that initial premise: you can learn Parkour, too. After all, why can’t you? If you’re a relatively fit human being with functioning limbs, capable of walking around on, then you possess the physical qualifications to learn Parkour.
You’ll have to deal with your body’s initial limitations: the current state of your being before you begin training. This is no joke, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the primary reason that people come, try Parkour, and then quit after a month. It’s easy to get discouraged with your abilities, particularly if you’re after or expect instantaneous results (something our culture places a premium on). But unless you’re already an extraordinary athlete of some sort, the odds are that you’re not going to become a star Parkour performer in just a few short weeks—and some of us will never become a star, ever.
So? You absolutely will get better, and the longer you practice, the better you’ll become. My martial arts instructor from when I was a child says “If you come to learn just to be a black belt, then you’ll quit when you get your black belt. Save your time, go to Wal-Mart, buy yourself a belt, and keep your pants up.”
What he meant was, the belt isn’t the point. There’s definitely a sense of accomplishment in setting and attaining concrete goals, but if that’s all you’re after, then you’re doing it wrong.
The same holds true for Parkour. If your goal is to become the next Ryan Doyle, Levi Meeuwenberg, or Tim Shieff, good for you, but realize that it takes a great deal of work, luck, and talent to operate at that level. For most of us, it’s not realistic to expect that sort of achievement, or even only that sort of achievement. Most people have day jobs, relationships, families, and other obligations they need to meet, and if you don’t measure up, you might find yourself quitting out of frustration.
What I consider a better approach is to own your training. Rather than measure yourself against any other person, you must measure yourself against yourself as you were yesterday. If you don’t see progress, then you’re not training well. But you have to be very self-aware, and ruthlessly self-critical. It’s not enough to know your weak areas. You have to actively address them.
And the study itself is important…and ongoing. Learning any physically demanding discipline rests on some key ideas. First, “use it or lose it.” Just because you were able to do something at age 16 doesn’t mean you can still do it. This is true for martial arts; it’s equally true for Parkour. Keep doing it so that you don’t lose ground. You must practice, and practice, and practice.
Remeber, you cannot improve until and unless you practice. The idea is not just to tread water, but to enhance your abilities through focused training, and address weaknesses with attention. If you train well, you should be making progress.
And what’s the point of all this improvement? You will forever be thinking about the training, both the physical aspects of it, and then reading and imparting meaning into it as well. You’ll discover things that seem terrible, but are actually really fun. You’ll find things you never knew you were good at, and learn that you aren’t as good at some things as you thought you were. In short, you’ll gain a better understanding of yourself and your development.
Finally, the point of all this learning is to pass it on. This is also often overlooked in America, where the emphasis is frequently placed on individual achievement above everything else. But if you learn to move fluidly and do amazing things, yet leave behind no legacy apart from your own history of feats, then the primary thing you’re exercising is your ego. There will always be someone better than you at something: wall runs, flips and tricks, simply being graceful or lighter on their feet. But there are never enough good teachers.
At some point or another, you’ll get discouraged. And that’s where you will be truly tested. It’s easy to do things when things are easy. It’s so much harder to accomplish anything when you’re in a bind. And challenges can take so many forms: a longer work schedule, a relationship that places demands on your free time, a physical limitation or illness, a new videogame (I’m not picking up “Skyrim” for this very reason), travel, injuries…there are always reasons not to do Parkour.
Your job is to find your way around, over, under, through, and past them. If you don’t, then you’re going to stop learning, or else what might initially seem like a temporary break from training may turn into a permanent state of affairs. And I personally believe that the truest measure of a person is how he or she deals with adversity. I think the core philosophy behind Parkour is that people should learn healthy approaches to challenges, and that comes out in all aspects and areas of their lives as their training progresses.
As I go back and re-read this, I’m realizing that this is rather subjective, and that what I’m talking about is how I prefer to train. You’d definitely read a different article if it were written by someone else. My approach to Parkour training is pragmatic—I believe it has great value, but I also believe that people must have balanced lives, and Parkour can and should be a part of life for me, but it is by no means the only thing.
So getting back to the original question, how should you resolve to learn Parkour? Get out there and do it! Just get started…and maybe read this again in six months or so, and see if you’re on the right track!