Friday, December 31, 2010

Beyond Basics Classes – “Reach, Escape”

The outdoor classes are split into 3 different groups, “First Timers”, “Basics”, and “Beyond Basics”. I can only speak for my experience in the “Beyond Basics” group, but I was pretty impressed with the classes. Usually taught by Chippa, the current president of the APA and one of the longest practicing traceurs in Australia, these classes are very different from anything that I’ve ever experienced. While the warm-up usually consisted of a run to a certain destination, nothing was impossible after that. I found this out the hard way on the first day as our run diverted after a few hundred meters to include a climb up a wall that wouldn’t have been my first choice of climbs had I been on my own. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I had my laptop in my backpack, but despite that, I made it. One of Chippa’s main goals with the Beyond Basics class, and with the APA in general is to encourage people to practice “useful parkour”. This is evident in all aspects of APA classes, especially the Beyond Basics ones, which essentially teach to the motto of the APA, “Reach, Escape”.

My second Beyond Basics class was probably one of my favorite classes ever. After a warm-up run that included climbing over various buildings and attempting some basic movements like “kong-to-cat”, aka “cat leap to arm jump”, we headed up to the huge park that borders the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. There we talked for a bit about the “useful” aspects of parkour before Chippa introduced us to the main activity of the day. The “escape scenario”. The rules were simple: one person is the pursuer, the other person is the pursued. The goal of the pursued is to keep away from the pursuer, by whatever means possible, until the pursuer is too exhausted to continue. The pursuer on the other hand has the task of catching, and subduing (not usually gently) the pursued. While it may sound a bit Spartan and brutal, this exercise does a great job of imitating a real-world situation of being chased.

The first round I was the pursuer and knowing that my “victim” probably didn’t have the same endurance as I did I decided to play to my strengths and use the wolf technique of tiring him out before striking. This was decision was reached partly because I knew my endurance was pretty good, and partly because the guy that I would be chasing looked like he would definitely have kicked my butt if it came to wrestling. My technique paid off and his initial burst of energy out of the blocks soon gave way to dodging and zig-zags that I was able to follow at an easy lope, cutting corners and staying about 10 meters behind the whole time. After about a minute of running full steam and zigzagging all over the place he was sufficiently tired out for me to take him down in a diving tackle (I was pretty pleased with this, especially given my lack of rugby/American football experience).

For the next round we switched roles and again I decided to defer to my strengths. After a surge out of the blocks to get some distance I ran the guy around the park for about 5 minutes, using just enough energy to stay 20 meters ahead, which let me dictate which way we ran. Since we’d initially come up to the park by a hill, I led the guy up and down the hill before I put in a surge that pretty much broke the pursuit. The next two rounds went pretty much the same as the first two, and by then the other guy was absolutely exhausted.

The last round really put things in perspective for me because I was chasing Chippa. He’d been watching my technique and right at the start he jetted off with me right behind. I thought that I would be able to use the technique on him that I’d used before, but about 50 meters into the exercise he vaulted over a low wall and dropped out of view into the botanical gardens. After a moment of hesitation I followed him, much more slowly and cautiously, and emerged from the gardens to find him across a hill about 200 meters away, catching his breath and looking warily across the hill. Using the cover of the trees I was able to sneak up close enough to catch him by surprise. After a brief flight I managed to run him down on the open ground. The exercise did a great job of showing me my strengths and weakness. It was obvious that on open ground my distance running experience gave me a distinct advantage, but the moment it came to unknown territory and foreign obstacles I lost this advantage. I’ve often wondered what a real chase scenario would be like for me, since I know that I would almost undoubtedly revert to my instinctual running technique. But what if there isn’t any space to run? Definitely something that made me think and really shows the more “useful” aspects of parkour.

The whole “Reach, Escape” philosophy is one that really appeals to me. For a while now I’ve been struggling to explain to others, and myself, the usefulness of this sport that I’m practicing. The vague explanations of personal fitness, connecting with my inner child, and being “useful” usually fall short, and I end up feeling like I’ve done an inadequate job explaining. The “Reach, Escape” philosophy gives a specific reason for the training, to be able to use the skills that we train in order to escape a dangerous situation, or to reach a certain destination, whether it’s to help someone in need, or to get back into the house when your friend has locked themselves out. The “Reach, Escape” philosophy comes primarily from the philosophy of David Belle, who had a very strong desire “d’être fort pour être utile” (be strong to be useful), an ideal inspired and taught by his father, Raymond Belle. Short and sweet, I feel that “Reach, Escape” can be interpreted in a variety of different ways, and is one of the simplest, yet most encompassing explanations that I’ve encountered so far.

Parkour with the APA in Melbourne

And now for the important part. The parkour in Melbourne.

My first introduction to parkour in Melbourne was a class that was held at the Trace Facility two days after my arrival. While the journey to the Trace Facility from the city is slightly sketchy, especially when done in the semi darkness, the facility is probably one of the best indoor parkour training facilities that I’ve encountered or seen in pictures. In addition to this, it also serves as the unofficial headquarters of the Australian Parkour Association (APA).

The facility is housed in a converted auto garage that has been meticulously planned out by its owners, who were some of the first people to start training for parkour in Australia. Below are some pictures and videos of the facility, although they definitely don’t do full justice to it.



The inside of the Trace facility with a great view of the scaffolding that is currently in place.  (That's me in the yellow doing my 101 muscle-ups).  Photo courtesy of "The Fist" Photography.
   
A traceur going from the scaffolding to "the wall".  Photo courtesy of "The Fist" Photography.

From what I’ve seen and heard, the Melbourne chapter of the APA is by far the most advanced of the APA cities in terms of the classes that they offer and the jobs that they do. After observing the workings of the group over the past month and a half, I’d have to attribute a lot of that success to the experience and guidance of the leadership that has developed in Melbourne.

While the there aren’t quite as many classes offered here as with Parkour Generations in London, it’s still a pretty impressive schedule, especially given the very small number of instructors that are responsible for teaching all of the classes available (for more details, check out the APA website for Melbourne here).
 
Something that has become increasingly apparent to me over the past 6 months is that any parkour organization that wants to do any sort of significant teaching is limited by how many experienced and effective instructors that it has. Not only are insurance policies dependent on the ratios of students to instructors, but the constant grind of teaching, and normal life changes can result in a high rate of attrition. The need to keep instructors “fresh” and motivated is just as important as ensuring that there is a well-established source for the development of new instructors to cope with the expansion and change-over than occurs naturally.


Indoor Classes

The indoor classes at the Trace facility start off similar in many ways to the ones that I experienced with Parkour Generations. Most of the warm-up exercises were very similar, if not identical, to the ones that we did in London and it gave me a somewhat surreal feeling of déjà vu- same exercises, different accent, other side of the globe. While the warm-up wasn’t nearly as conditioning-intensive as some of Forrest’s (co-founder of Parkour Generations and infamous for his conditioning exercises), they got my muscles and joints ready for the rest of the training session. The rest of the class was spent working on various movements and routes, with a brief conditioning and stretching session at the end. Since the facility was much more suitable for parkour than any of the ones that I’d been to in London (not as many padded or cushy obstacles as the Westminster or Moberley sites, and a lot more stuff to work with than the Optimal Life Fitness site), the instructors were able to focus more on forming routes that mimicked an outdoor environment, both in the realness of the surfaces (hard walls, sharp corners, and unforgiving floors), and in the employment of the “fear” element. Like the classes in London, the indoor class included traceurs of a wide range of skill levels and the instructors did a good job of separating the groups so that the less experienced or less skilled members weren’t intimidated or dominated by the more experienced guys. All in all, I was pretty impressed with the indoor classes and especially with the facility. Another nice thing about having the facility “within the family” (owned by traceurs that are training) is that it can be opened to host “open sessions” in which traceurs can come by and train at their own pace at certain times throughout the week, usually on Friday and Saturday afternoons.


Outdoor Classes

The only outdoor classes officially hosted by the APA are on Sunday mornings in the center of Melbourne. While there is only one outdoor class per week, it’s pretty hard to compare it to any of the indoor classes for a number of reasons. The first difference is the size of the group. While indoor classes can range from 4 to 20+ people, the outdoor classes routinely have between 50 and 90 people participating. Every time I arrived at the “Waves” sculpture that served as the meeting place for the class I was shocked by the sheer number of people that had come out. In fact, the APA recently made the decision to have a “summer break” for the outdoor classes from early December to early February because due to the schools being in summer vacation they were getting too many people (120+) participating in the classes on Sundays and didn’t have enough instructors to safely lead the groups.
The classes start with a few announcements and the instructors issuing wristbands to all participants. The wristbands are a nice touch that the APA does partly for insurance reasons, and partly for common sense. The wristbands allow them to keep track of the number of participants, and ward off the spectators that often try to join in mid-session. The names and emergency contact details of the participant also fulfill certain insurance policy obligations while provide valuable information in an emergency situation.

After having everyone sign in and put their emergency contact details on a wristband, the group was divided into three classes. The “First Timers” class is mandatory for newcomers to APA classes, and like the indoor version, covers the basic movements and also a lot of the safety information. While it’s not the most action packed class, it works well for the APA because it ensures that everyone is on the same page for the classes and understands when the instructor tells them to do a “precision jump to the rail then a cat leap over the wall followed by a forward roll upon landing”.

The “Basics” class is probably the largest group and is made up of all different levels of experience and backgrounds. It’s usually the largest group and the goal is provide people with a working understanding of parkour and the various movements. The “Beyond Basics” class is reserved for the more experienced traceurs that can pass the “entry requirements” (See below) and the classes that I attended focused on doing things that teach traceurs to the see the “bigger picture” of how parkour can be applied in their environment while providing a pretty tough workout and conditioning session.

The entry requirements to participate in the Beyond Basics class*:
•Do a climb-up from a dead hang without using your elbows
•Run 2km in under 10 minutes
•Roll on concrete
•Speed Vault
•Dash Vault
•Lazy Vault
•Turn Vault
•Cat Pass
•Precision
•Arm Jump
•Wall run
•Tic Tac
•Forward and Reverse Underbar

*taken directly from the APA website

These entry requirements ensure that the progress of the group isn’t hampered by people lagging behind and also creates a sense of semi-elitist camaraderie among the group that often leads to additional training sessions outside of classes. After 4 months of training with Parkour Generations I was able to jump into the “Beyond Basics” and will elaborate more on that experience in the next post.

After the 2-hour class each of the groups meets back at the Waves sculpture to stretch and cool down. The instructors hold a meeting amongst themselves to debrief on their respective classes and to critique each other’s performances. I found this practice to be a really good way to develop good instructors and also to make sure that the goals and ideals of the APA were maintained. It also served as a venue for the instructors to learn and critique each other and for the more experienced guys to share their expertise and wisdom.


Instructor Training

There is also a free “Instructor Training” class is held in the early afternoon on Sundays before the main classes. Usually led by Chippa, this class is geared toward developing the next generation of instructors for the APA, something that might not sound too useful, but is in fact one of the main reasons for the APA’s success in Melbourne, since there are a lot more qualified and motivated instructors here than elsewhere in Australia. While not as “standardized” as the ADAPT course that I did in London, the Instructor Training has been a great way to develop my teaching skills and pick up tips on leading classes. One of the good things about the course is that it meets weekly, which allows for time to digest and think about things instead of having to “cram” during an intense 5-day course like ADAPT. The APA also hosts a more official and intensive “Instructor Training Course” in early February that is rumored to be similar of similar intensity to the ADAPT course but unfortunately I’ll be gone by then so I’ll just have to come back to Melbourne another year to experience that.


General Observations

It took me a while to put a finger on the reason, but from the moment that I started training with the APA I was aware that there was a different maturity level here. It wasn’t until Fizz (who is also in Melbourne for the start of her own “around the world adventure”- see October post for SOTF race for a pic), commented on the fact that there weren’t many people our age here that I realized that the age level here was very different than the one that I had become accustomed to in London. While I suspect that this has a lot to do with the fact that the classes that I attended in London were reserved for adults and the younger generations had their own classes, all of the gatherings and jams that I’ve been to here seem to have a more youthful and playful vibe. While it’s definitely been fun hanging out with high schoolers (who have some really high levels of parkour by the way), it’s also left me feeling slightly “old” at times. I’ve found that the main differences are in the energy levels and humor genres of the group. Practical jokes are common, and spontaneous wrestling and matches erupt frequently among the group whenever they aren’t training. I strongly suspect that this attitude comes partly from some of the veteran guys, who have serious and organized fronts that mask a very playful and mischievous side. This can be seen in all sorts of the activities that go on before, during, and after training sessions, but might be summed up best by some of the following videos and images.

My introduction to the game “British Bulldog”, best described as a full contact version of sharks and minnows. While not normally played as violently as in this clip, we were pretty pumped up on endorphins from a hard training session…


Video to come when I get a faster internet connection


After the last outdoor class before the summer break someone started the “sculpture climbing” challenge involving the giant “Waves” sculpture.



What starts like this....


... often escalates to this.  Photos courtesy of "The Fist" Photography.


Some of the videos made by Travis, a traceur that could easily be mistaken for 18 or 19 if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s 16…


Posing for the camera on top of the "Waves" sculpture.  Photo courtesy of "The Fist" Photography.

Video to come when I get a proper video connection

Another thing that has struck me about the APA activities in Melbourne is the lack of females training. Of course there are the usual girlfriends and groupies that seem to accompany any sort of parkour group (the parkour lifestyle usually leads to a pretty high proportion of 6-packs), but unlike London, where a lot of these women trained as well; the classes here have been noticeably lacking in estrogen. While this may be a good thing given the number of high school guys hanging around, I was still surprised to find this and it definitely creates a much more macho/testosterone-laden dynamic, that while usually helpful with training, is one that I haven’t had much of since running track.

I’ve actually been pretty surprised in general to see a distinct lack of emphasis on female sports in general in Australia. I’d assumed that it would be like the US or UK where, although women’s events are often not as well attended or popular as men’s sporting events, female athletes were still a relatively common sight and are well respected. However, I’ve been continually surprised by the unequal ratio of male to female joggers on the banks of the Yarra, of women walking around in workout attire, or of women’s professional or amateur sports in general. I suspect that the fact that the APA doesn’t have any female instructors might have something to do with it, but after talking with a number of women in London, France, and now Australia, the lack of a “Women’s Only” class might be even more important. While I don’t want to attempt to address the whole “Women in Parkour” issue in this post because it merits a lot more discussion than I’m prepared to write at the moment, the “Women’s Only Class” is steadily becoming a topic of particular interest to me. Is that really the best way to encourage more female involvement? Is there a more effective and inclusive way? Does it have a positive long term effect or does it create a false impression of the global “co-ed” parkour scene?

Another thing that has been interesting to observe here is the apparent disconnect that exists between Europe and Australia on certain aspects of the history of parkour. While I’ve found that the YouTube videos that traceurs watch are pretty much the same around the world, there are a number of elements of the “Founding of parkour” story that are different here, or are left out in general. Like I found when talking to traceurs in the USA, the Yamakasi are relatively unknown compared to David Belle and Sébastien Foucan, and a lot of the recent efforts to reunite Freerunning, ADD, and Parkour are only just now making their way to Australia, where the classic “freerunning vs. parkour” battle is in full pitch. Personally I think that this is similar to the fact that many Europeans and Americans take little interest in the happenings and geography of Oceania, and likewise a lot of the traceurs here don’t care too much about the “parkour politics” going on in Europe. That being said, there are a number of people that are VERY well informed on the state of the sport on a global scale, as I found out my first day of training in Melbourne when I met someone studying for a “doctorate in parkour” (more on this in an upcoming post).

All in all, the past month and a half in Melbourne has been a lot of fun and I’ve found that my parkour is improving steadily as I learn to combine ideas and techniques from the plethora of “mentors” and models that I’ve had. The more I travel the more I realize that these places I’m visiting each have their own “flavor” of parkour and that each brings a new perspective to a sport that is still in the adolescent stages of forming itself and determining what it wants to be when it grows up (sounds familiar…).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Melbourne

Now that I’ve been in Melbourne for more than a full month it’s probably time that I let people know what I’ve been doing all this time.

Since my arrival in here in early November I’ve been living in a hostel called Nomad’s All Nations Backpackers. Although my living arrangement isn’t quite as good as the one that I had in London, I’ve managed to sort out a deal with the hostel in which I do housekeeping and random jobs around the hostel for 20 hours a week in return for free accommodation. Although the math works out to well below minimum wage here (a week would cost AU$161, McDonalds starting salary is AU$17/hr, I make AU$8.05/hr), it works pretty well with my schedule and allows me to get to know all the ins and outs of the hostel (still undecided on whether this is a good or bad thing so far, as there is some stuff I’d rather not know). The actual work isn’t too bad, especially since my dish washing, laundry folding, bed making, and room cleaning skills have now progressed to the level of “veteran housewife” (for the record, I was pretty competent at these things before coming here). While this makes me even more qualified for the role of “trophy-husband” or stay-at-home-dad in the future, I’m still debating about whether to put this on my resumé.

The hostel, about a 10 minute walk from the city center, 100m from the Yarra River.

The hostel itself is one of the better ones that I’ve stayed at, minus a few details like the barbed-wire spring mattresses, and the fact that I share a room with three other people (although it certainly beats sharing with 19 other people like in London). Since I eat, sleep, work, and hang out in the hostel I’ve come to kind of regard it as “my hostel”. This means that the people that leave their dishes out on “my table” after meals are subject to the same scorn and muttered curses as the ones that leave empty bottles strewn around “my rooms” when they check out, or throw up all over the bathroom when they can’t handle Aussie bars (my role includes cleaning up after each of these undeserving groups). While the lack of privacy can be inconvenient at times, I’ve found that I really enjoy having the constant hustle and bustle around me. I don’t know if this is because I’m secretly craving human contact or whether I just miss the group living accommodations of the “American college experience”, but either way, I haven’t encountered any of the loneliness problems that occurred in London. Maybe I’m just getting good at this traveling solo thing…?


My first impression of Melbourne, and of Australia in general, was that it was almost like coming home. I’ve found that Melbourne has a lot of similarities to Boston, and Somerville in particular, in that weird mix of hippie, hipster, cutting-edge, organic, and just-plain-eccentric (most of those meant in a good way). For me Australia seems to blend a lot of the more British qualities with American attitudes and ideas. While this was a bit disconcerting at first since I wanted to categorize everything as either American or British, after a month I’m mastering the art of accepting things as just “Australian”. While my introduction to Australia wasn’t the best (see earlier Sydney Post), Melbourne has been much better. I’ve found that people here are very friendly and open, and the sheer number of foreigners here makes every new introduction exciting. In fact, besides the parkour guys, I’ve met very few actual Australians. Part of this is due to where I live, and the people I meet there, but I think that part of this is also due to the fact that Australia, like the US, is a country that has been mostly populated by various waves of immigrants from other countries so there is a very multi-national feel to it. This is further augmented by the 1-year working visa program that Australia offers. This visa, which is very easy to obtain, allows people to basically drop everything back home and come live/work in Australia. The result is that there is a huge demand for this temporary labor, and basic jobs are pretty easy to come by even in a dismal economy. While most of those jobs are manual labor, or unskilled jobs, the strength of the Aussie dollar, combined with the a starting salary of around $20/hr, sunshine, and adventure, make a year abroad pretty appealing to recent graduates of European schools that have been rejected by their own economies (in particular France, Britain, and Germany).

 
Flinders St. Station, the main train station, gives a good idea of the architectural mix that makes up Australia. (Photo courtesy of Wikicommons)

While the wages are about 2-3 times higher than in the States, the prices here are also pretty inflated, especially on stuff like fresh fruit, veggies, and any sort of foreign brands or products. The standard Puma t-shirt (yes, I’ll admit that Puma has a special place in my heart) that runs for $20 in the US and 15£ in the UK will be about AU$40. I’ve been told that this is primarily due to the really high import taxes in Australia, which apparently mirror the normal income taxes at almost 50%. While this may seem high, keep in mind that it finances a health care system that is really good and all-inclusive, as well as similarly extensive social welfare and unemployment systems (the reason that beggars are largely scorned and ignored here, since the state gives enough money for them to live pretty comfortably). This welfare system has it’s pros and cons, like any government program, but has resulted in a “nanny state” mentality that can be a bit overbearing at times (helmets are mandatory, fare evaders on public transport are put in headlocks, jaywalking not only has high fines but is actually strictly enforced, and prostitution is both taxed and legal).

The few Australians that I’ve met outside of parkour have been a pretty interesting and eclectic group, ranging from the people that look like they just walked straight out of the bush*, to the businesspeople that have the familiar harried and stressed looks of those stuck in the rat race, to the drug addicts that like to come over and watch us train in various parts of the city. However, the majority of the people that I’ve met here are pretty similar to their American or British counterparts, both in how they look and how they behave. And of course no observations of a new country by me would be complete without a reference to the attractiveness of the better-looking sex. The women are definitely pretty attractive here, but this observation isn’t entirely fair since upon talking with some of them I often learn that they aren’t actually Australian (does that still count?). I also suspect that after the past few months of seeing lots of long pants and sweaters in Britain I’m being unfairly biased by the appearance of short skirts, halter tops, and bikinis.
*The “bush” in this case is not the shrubbery adorning the front lawns, but rather is the Australian term for the “wilderness” that exists outside the urban centers.

Melbourne itself is a pretty interesting city, with lots of cool buildings and plenty of green space. The city is a fairly artistic one, and there are lots of random sculptures spread throughout the city where one least expects to find them. While I don’t have any good pictures of them due to the poor resolution of my camera (I’ve given up trying to get good pics), the sculptures themselves are pretty cool.

One of the more interesting sculptures that's right outside the State Library (Photo courtesy of the Web).

In addition to embracing more traditional forms of artwork, Melbourne also has a very vibrant graffiti scene. While there are the occasional petty tags in places that it’s probably not appreciated, there is so much space to paint on here that I haven’t noticed nearly as much “delinquent” tagging as I’ve seen in other cities. As a result of this accepting attitude toward graffiti train rides are a much more visually stimulating experience, and a lot of the alleyways and pedestrian side streets in the city center are a lot more vibrant and colorful than in their natural state.

I picked this pic for the contrast, but it gives a decent idea of how prevalent and accepted it is here.  (Photo from walkingmelbourne.com)

The Yarra River that runs through isn’t the cleanest of rivers, but the banks of the river have been pretty well planned to include lots of open space and decent running trails. While the city itself isn’t exactly runner friendly (actually having wait for traffic lights is a pretty foreign concept to me), the parks to the north and south of the city center are pretty big and have plenty of good places to run, even during the midday heat. I’m told that there are some really good places to run a few train stops away from the center of town, but the sorry state of my running shoes (I definitely miss the days of free new shoes every 400 miles) has kept me relatively close to the hostel.

Melbourne cityscape as seen from one of the many riverside parks (Photo courtesy of the Web).

While the city, and Australia as a country, seem to be pretty technologically advanced, there is one aspect of life here that has stood out to me as very “20th century” (no, I’m not trying to sound posh). The transport systems in both Melbourne and Sydney are both about 10-20 years behind those of other major cities that I’ve been to, and are not only over-priced and inefficient, but also not very reliable. While the Sydney one was much worse than in Melbourne, I haven’t been too impressed with the Melbourne one either. The tram, bus, and train systems are run by different private companies, and don’t have very good connections between them. Paper tickets that have to be inserted into the machine is still the primary means of entry, and a new “MyKi” (think Oyster card, Navigo, or Charlie Card) system is still in the infantile stages (not all buses or trams have them yet, they don’t always work, and very few people use them). The pricing system is also not very well constructed for a lot of people and is very expensive, which leads to very high rates of fare jumping, which is both easy and widespread here. Overall, I haven’t been very impressed with the intracity transport. For intercity transport I’ve found that like in the US, people travel primarily by car (or bus/coach) to get from one city to another, although there are a few discount airlines that operate in a manner similar to EasyJet in Europe. Due to the sheer size of distances here, cars are often a must for people that live outside the city center, although I haven’t seen many of the American-sized cars that I was expecting to see.

Since I don’t want this post to drag on too long, and also I want to be able to do full justice to the subject, I’m going to write about my experience with parkour in Melbourne in the next post.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

1000 muscle-ups

Since leaving London I’ve been trying to keep abreast of the events and training activities of the community back there and I realized that the event below is not only noteworthy, but potentially of interest to a lot of people back home. As parkour becomes more and more popular and widespread, the use of parkour as a fundraising agent is being explored. While this isn’t the first charity event involving parkour that I’ve heard of, it is by far one of the most impressive, not only due to the movement being performed, but because of the sheer volume of repetitions. The concept is pretty simple, it started off as a semi-joking question of “is it possible?”, started to germinate in people’s minds, became a popular topic of discussion amongst a core group of people in London, and eventually evolved into this. The rules: 24 hours. 1000 muscle-ups.

Below is a video demonstration for those of you that might not be familiar with “muscle-ups” (Courtesy of American Parkour Website).


The video below was put together to publicize the event, for more information you can go to the Parkour Generations website.



Just a note on what the money is actually being raised for. Naoki is a Japanese teenager that I met during the month that I spent with the Yamakasi and the rest of Majestic Force in the summer of 2009. When I arrived he was the other “foreigner” that was shadowing the team at the time. While I was there to do research and interviews, Naoki was there to train, and was pretty impressive for his age, even when his extensive martial arts background was taken into account. He was my first glimpse into the next generation of traceurs that was developing throughout the world, and kind of opened my eyes to the true international extent of the sport. He was also a really friendly and fun-loving guy, and always seemed to have a smile on his face. Despite not knowing more than a few words in French and a limited grasp of English, he got along pretty well and even did a brief interview for me to include in my research. After spending a few weeks with the guys in Evry/Lisses he went to London to train with Parkour Generations. Apparently he made a pretty big impression while he was there because when I arrived in London a year later people still said his name with a slightly reverent tone. While in London, Naoki broke his back during a training session and had to be repatriated back to Japan after being stabilized in a British hospital. In Japan he has undergone extensive medical treatment to get back to health and despite the fact that he was initially told that he wouldn’t be able to do parkour again he has made a pretty impressive comeback.

Video of Naoki pre-accident:



Needless to say, the cost of the repatriation and ensuing medical costs have been huge, so any money that can be raised to defray those costs will be most welcome for his family.

When I first heard of the challenge back in October I thought about trying to attempt the full 1000. At that point I had just done 105 over the course of a 1.5 hour class and was pretty confident that with 2 months of training I could be in physical (the mental is the tough part here) shape for it. Since my departure from London I’ve been struggling to keep muscle-ups in my regular routine and will admit that I haven’t been quite as rigorous about the conditioning as I could have been. In an effort to not injure myself by attempting things that are out of my range I joined some of my fellow “classmates” from London in doing 101 repetitions to support the efforts of our instructors at PKGen. I completed mine this past Friday with surprising ease, clocking in at a pretty speedy 25 minutes, 45 seconds, and ripping only one callous off in the process. While they definitely weren’t as hard as the last time I did them, I definitely started to feel it for the last 20 and was hard pressed to stay motivated to do any more. I managed another 10 after a break just to set a personal record for “Muscle-ups in 1 hour” so now I guess I have something to shoot for….

As I write the guys have just finished the challenge back in London. At the moment they are probably either in a comatose state of exhaustion or having their hands stapled/superglued/taped back together from their efforts. The last word I had from someone on the inside was that witnessing the event in its later stages was somewhat akin to watching someone give birth, over and over and over…

Hopefully I'll be able to post a link to the video that they make for the event in the near future …


Great job guys.



Note: for those of you interested in donating to this very worthy cause, click here:


Another note: HERE is another parkour fundraising event that was done by a guy that I met in London at the ADAPT Instructor course. 8 miles of quadrapedie to raise money for victims of the Haiti earthquake (To see what the "cat crawl"/"quadrapedie" is, see below).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sydney

Sydney seemed to pass by in a blur of jet lag with glimpses of sunshine. Due to my slight delay in arrival time I got there late on a Friday night, 26 hours after the hostel was expecting me. I waited in the rain for about 5 minutes before someone heard me knocking (apparently check-in was only available from 10-5pm, kind of surprising for a hostel.) After dropping off my bags I went out to find something to eat. The part of the city that I was in, Balmain, was not the gastronomic capital of the world, especially at midnight, and I had to settle for a sub-par kebab outside a local nightclub. After inhaling that, I went to sleep dreaming of the delicious fresh fruit that I had left behind in Singapore and wondering if I would ever be able to leave the rain behind.

I was woken at 3am by an arm on my leg on the top bunk. I looked down to see a face peering at me through drunken eyes. I kicked the arm off my bed and turned over to go back to sleep only to be awoken a few moments later by the afore-mentioned arm joined by the rest of its owner as they tried to get into my bed. I kicked both from my bed, which made the won’t-remember-anything-in-the-morning owner fall into another lodger’s bed. This person was even less receptive of visitors than I was and she started shouting at the guy, which after a moment of confusion sent him stumbling back to his own bed. I turned over and went back to sleep.

Around 6am was awoken by a shrill cry of “He pissed all over my clothes! WTF!”; followed by a not-quite-as-shrill “and he pissed on the new guy’s suitcase”. After looking down to see that it was indeed my suitcase that had acted as the backstop for the cabinet-shaped urinal, I decided that I couldn’t do anything about it at the moment and would probably react better when I had slept off the jet-lag. A few hours later I got up to assess the extent of the damage and see if anything needed to be cleaned. Luckily my suitcase is apparently piss-proof in addition to being hard to handle, and everything inside the suitcase seemed to be dry and urine-free.

After a shower I set out into the late morning to find something to eat and got a nice tour of downtown Balmain as well. While it was a lot more inviting during the day than at night, I found that things were just as ridiculously expensive as they had been the night before, and that my dreams of surviving on $10 a day were a bit ambitious. Upon my return to the hostel I made friends with some of my fellow lodgers, all German, and went into town to explore the harbor with them. We meandered by the wharves and the Opera house before stopping in the botanical gardens to hang out and play with the massive parrots that lived there. After we got bored there we stopped by the supermarket on the way home where my hopes of inexpensive living were further dashed. I spent the rest of the night in the hostel mingling with the residents as they participated in the internationally practiced hostel activity of getting drunk on the low-budget alcoholic option, in this case- street wine, aka box wine or pinard, or “goon” in Australia.

The next morning I packed up again and headed back to the center of town. I locked up my bags near the greyhound bus terminal and went off in search of the Sydney Parkour group which was supposed to be hosting classes and a jam that day. After getting a bit lost I managed to find them, and spent the rest of the day hanging out with the guys. I took part in the morning class so that I could see how the classes were structured down under, and discovered that although the accents and some of the movements were different, we all did the same sport. I also found that I was just as tight and out of shape as I had feared after not doing any serious training for almost a week. While the class was good and reasonably well-run, I realized just how much I had taken Parkour Generations for granted. One thing that Sydney did have on London was the weather though, since it had finally started to be warm and sunny again, and most of the training that day was done down by the harbor with a beautiful view and nice breeze.

After the class I stuck around and trained with some of the more experienced guys from the area that came down for the day. While the dress-code was markedly different (I’ll explain in another post) the attitude was pretty similar to the Sunday gatherings in London. One of the things that struck me most about parkour in Sydney was the prevalence of water as either an obstacle or a backdrop to a lot of the stuff. The wharf formed a great training spot for the guys and included a number of water jumps that I hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me to document it, but there were a number of precision jumps from the new wharf to the decrepit bits of the old wooden wharf that were still standing. While the jumps ranged from about 7 to 15 feet, they all featured the 10 foot drop into the water below and lots of old wood. Something to try when I come back to Sydney. After giving me a quick tour of the wharf I went with some of the guys to meet the rest of the group, which was doing flips into the harbor from one of the lower docks. While I was initially surprised by the fact that someone would voluntarily jump into the harbor (Boston, London, or Paris aren’t exactly good places to swim in the harbor unless you want a 3rd eye or green skin), they guys assured me that apart from the jellyfish the harbor was fine to swim in. I hung around with them for the rest of the afternoon until it was time for me to head back to bus station.

This is a video that features some of the Australian guys, most notably Shaun Wood (long blond hair). I've included it since I don't have any pictures from my stay and one can get a glimpse of some of the training environments in Sydney.  A bit different from London....  While I didn’t get to meet the majority of the guys in the video during my pass through Sydney I’m hoping to meet them at some point during my time in OZ since I keep hearing about them from people around the world.



For more information on Australian Parkour Association and the various classes offered in Sydney you can visit their site here.

12 hours on a Greyhound bus and one really horrible fried chicken sandwich later (it was that or candy for dinner, I probably should have chosen the latter), I was in Melbourne…

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quantas flight QF32 (Yes, I was on it)

The next morning I got up at the crack of dawn (which is actually pretty early in Singapore since it was approaching summer and is pretty close to the equator) to take the train to the airport. After another series of negotiations at check-in to avoid the massive baggage fee I arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare. I should probably note that the plane that I had taken from London, and would now take again to Singapore, was the Airbus A380, Airbus’s newest and biggest plane, with a capacity of almost 500 people (it had two floors-enough said). Despite its size, boarding didn’t take that much longer than with any other plane, although I’ll admit that I was pretty dubious when I first saw the number of the people waiting by my gate when I arrived.

The first part of the flight went fine, and it wasn’t until there was a large bump in the middle of my Inception movie, quickly followed by another smaller one, that anyone realized that something was wrong. After a few seconds of people looking around in confusion someone to my left (I was in the middle row of seats toward the back of the plane) looked out their window and started drawing attention to it. From my vantage point all I could see were a bunch of people to my left looking out their window and jabbering to each other. A flight attendant came over, looked worried and then want to the back to call the pilot. Shortly thereafter the pilot came on the intercom and said that we had just lost power in one of the engine on the left wing (there were two on each wing) but that there was nothing to worry about and they were aware of the situation. He came on a few minutes later to say that they were running a series of diagnostic tests on the engine to determine the extent of the damage but that there were 5 pilots on board so everything was under control. This sounded good to me so I went back to my movie while the people on my left continued to jabber and gesture to each other in a primal state of excitement.

After about 5 minutes into the tests the pilot came back on to say that the damage was severe enough that we had to turn back, but would have to dump fuel in order to land safely. We spent about 45 minutes dumping fuel (I don’t know where, and am still kind of curious as to what happens to the dumped fuel) en route back to Singapore. Throughout this time the pilot came on the intercom to reassure people of their safety and to tell us that they had done multiple simulations and practice drills of this sort (with multiple engine fails instead of just one). He also kept telling us to make sure not turn on our phones or other communications devices, and to this day I’m not sure whether this was out of concern for the plane’s navigation systems or of trying to keep the press out of it until the plane landed at least (I later learned that there were a number of people that called home, and even one idiot that was twittering about it).

Someone to my left recorded the pilot's announcement:

The landing went fine, although you could feel the tension in the air inside the cabin right before we touched down and there was a lot of applause after we came to a stop. Then came the fun part. Apparently one of the engines on the left wing (not to broken one) refused to shut down, which became slightly risky when one of the passengers to my left noticed the puddle of clear liquid that was developing under us. When it was sighted that this liquid was coming from the plane, and that the broken engine was now emitting smoke (hard to see when traveling at high speeds), the steward in our back cabin got on the phone to the pilot. The hurried and worried looks out the window and the excited whispers of the passengers continued for a few minutes before the fire department arrived and was able to spray foam on the fuel and water into the still-running engine to force it off. Throughout this time the plane was getting steadily hotter and more stifling since all the systems had been shut down in an effort to shut off the misbehaving engine and minimize the risk of fire/explosion.

The landing and the smoking wing.

We sat in the plane for almost 2 hours as the plane was evacuated one row at a time. Of course the first and business class passengers were evacuated first, presumably along with their caviar and whatever else they get that the “lower classes” don’t see, and then the rest of the plane got off, starting from the front. Since I was about 10 rows from the back of the plane, I was among the last of those off the plane, and the only upside to this was that halfway through the evacuation the order to “leave all personal baggage besides passports and wallets” was dropped and we were allowed to take out belongings with us. This entire process took a while, and had there been a need for us to get off quickly I hope that it would have went fast since at that rate I doubt I would have gotten off a sinking plane before it touched the ocean floor. Part of the problem was that there was only one mobile staircase available to evacuate people, and the flight crew seemed to be very worried about people tripping down said staircase and suing Quantas. Despite their worries, everyone got off safely and we were bused back to the terminal.

One of the few passengers who talked with the media and didn't over-dramatize it:


Video of the tv coverage as we saw it. The details are quite right but you get the picture:


There we were greeted by water, snacks, some paperwork, and more waiting. I spent the next two hours wandering around the terminal looking for “real” food and watching the news break on CNN. It was kind of a shock for all of us to see since the extent of the damage didn’t look nearly as impressive from the inside as the images that we saw plastered across the television.

Right around the point when I was considering going to find another “real meal” instead of the crackers and cookies that they kept trying to give me, we were finally given the news that we would be going to a hotel for the night and would be put onto another flight in the morning. After more waiting in line (yet again, first and business classes went first) we were bussed to the hotel and given vouchers for dinner and breakfast. After a quick look around the hotel room I went down to dinner.

Video of the hotel room to come when I get an internet connection that allows me to upload video (suffice it to say that it was a pretty nice 3-4 star hotel).
Both the hotel and the meals were much nicer than anything that I had experienced as of yet on the Watson, and definitely beat the hostel and kebab/gyro sandwich that awaited me in Sydney. The dinner was a buffet (my favorite), which meant that I was sure to leave the table satisfied and not bemoaning small portions. After dinner I went to explore the city with one of the passengers that I had befriended and we spent the rest of the night meandering around the city, and hanging out on the hotel terrace. We finally decided to call it a night around two in the morning, a decision that I regretted as I woke up 4 hours later for the buffet breakfast before catching the private shuttle to the airport at 7am.

At the airport I re-checked onto my flight, and boarded the nowhere-near-as-nice plane that had been substituted by Quantas for the A-380s that it had grounded. My first impression of the plane on entry was disappointment, a feeling that deepened as I sat in my seat and saw that the personal television was smaller, the seat more cramped, the fabric wasn’t as nice, the table wasn’t as well designed, and the bathrooms weren’t anywhere close to as spacious-feeling as on the A-380. However, all the engines functioned normally and the flight to Sydney passed without further incident.

So all-in-all I have no complaints from this entire experience beside a vague sense of injustice about the treatment afforded to first-class vs. normal passengers. I spent a night in a very nice hotel, had two big buffet meals, got an extra night to explore Singapore, made friends with a very attractive and interesting fellow passenger, and got to my destination only 24 hours late. Quantas handled the situation very well from my observations, and although I haven’t received anything yet, I’m told that there is some sort of compensationpipeline.

Singapore

My departure from London went well, despite a minor “baggage problem” at the airport in London that almost made me reconsider staying in London for another few months. Apparently the travel agent in London that set up my Around-the-World ticket neglected to tell me about the luggage details. This meant that when I showed up to the airport with my baggage I was told that I was overweight. After I realized that the lady at the desk was talking about my baggage and not my massive physique, I soon found that international flights in the rest of the world have different baggage standards than international flights from the US. While international flights from or to the USA are allowed 2 pieces of checked baggage (each must weigh less than 50lbs).  The rest of the world is only allowed a combined checked-baggage weight of 23kg.  This meant that the two bags (23kg and 20kg) that I had packed to according to US standards were way over the limit. I asked if I could just pay the fee and go anyway, thinking it would be the usual $50 charge that I’d paid on past international flights, but when the receptionist calculated it out she said that the fee would be 440£!!! Needless to say, I was not going to pay a fifth of the ticket price for my baggage, so after the thought of staying in London till after Christmas flashed through my mind I got ready to negotiate. This ended up being unnecessary as the lady was very nice and either the look of despair when she told me the price or my dashing good looks did their work and I was given a waiver through to Sydney. Looks like I’m going to be losing some weight in Australia.

The actual flight to Singapore went fine, I managed to fit in about four and a half movies, 3 meals, and a few naps, and woke up to find that the weather had gotten a lot warmer but that it was still raining. The 30-minute tram trip from the airport and 4-minute walk to my hostel left me drenched in sweat and cursing the amount of luggage that I had brought. After dropping off my stuff in the hostel I changed into shorts and a dry t-shirt and headed out into the tropical night to look for food. My hostel was located in a part of town that wasn’t very touristy so food wasn’t too expensive and I ended up eating at a restaurant around the block where a lot of the locals were eating. Despite the fact that I couldn’t really identify anything on my plate besides the dumplings, I really enjoyed the meal, and ended up eating there the next night as well. After dinner I walked around for a while and stumbled across a fruit vendor near the hostel. We had a long discussion in his broken English about all the different fruits he had to offer, most of which I hadn’t heard of, and I ended up walking home with 4 big plates of fruit to try before I collapsed into jet-lagged and dreamless slumber.

I got off to a late start the next day in an effort to realign my internal clock (which failed).  After an unsuccessful effort to link up with some of the Singapore parkour guys on Facebook, I took the train into the city to explore Singapore. I arrived at the southern point of the Marina and walked all the way around the waterfront looking at the skyline and taking a lot of pictures of the really cool buildings.*

*Note: I have learned that despite giving great quality video, the Sony SXR-63 does not take good pictures at all, hence the very blurry series of shots below.  Still trying to figure out a way to get pics with more than .6 megapixel resolution, but haven't had much success.


The view that greeted me as I came out of the tram station.


The skyline in the background.  As you can tell, I hadn't quite adjusted to the sunlight yet.
 
My vote for the coolest building in Singapore.  Designed to look like a cruise ship at the top, the low pixelage does poor justice to the view.


The merlion, symbol of Singapore.


One of many sculptures that seem to have been distributed at random around the Marina.  The Marina has been the focus of a huge redevelopment effort in the past decade, and it's now a very beautiful and relaxing place to spend the day.
 
After making my way around the Marina I headed into the center of Singapore. I ended up walking through most of the downtown area during my wanderings and made a point to visit the two major ethnic centers that had been hyped up to me the most, Chinatown and Little India. While Chinatown was pretty interesting, with some cool Buddhist Temples and lots of interesting shops, Little India was pretty disappointing.  Beside the Hindu temple it just seemed like street with a bunch of shops selling cheap trinkets and plastic goods.  There was a big covered market at the end of the street that was somewhat more interesting, and I enjoyed watching the groups henna tattoo artists at work (almost got one and then realized that I didn't know what to have them draw and even if I did, I didn't have anyone to show it to).

The Hindu temple in Little India.

Interior shot of the Buddhist temple in Chinatown.  Does not do justice at all to the splendor of the decoration.  Kinda of hard to get a good shot with low light conditions, no flash, and dismal resolution.

Throughout Singapore I was struck by the blatant consumerism and a need to buy that seemed to be just as intense, if not more intense, than the one that I had gotten used to in the States. Maybe I just wasn’t as aware of it back home, but Singapore definitely seemed to emphasize having the “newest and latest” version of everything from cars to toasters. I was also disappointed to find that the prices in Singapore were nowhere near what I had expected or hoped. I had envisioned a haven of low-priced digital cameras and other electronics but instead found that I had gotten better deals on some stuff back home before I left (and this was even taking into account the government tax that was refunded if you spent enough money).

No riding, no smoking, no spitting, no jaywalking, no cursing, no eating on the tram, no drinking on the tram, no alcohol....

..... no walking on the grass, no cameras in the tram stations, no cell phones in certain areas .....

... and my favorite sign of them all.  The classic pun that I saw all over was "Singapore is a fine city."  Lame but very true.

I stayed downtown late enough to watch the sun set on the skyline and then took the tram back to the hostel. After another meal in a restaurant near the hostel I stopped by the fruit vendor again to pick up a few more plates of different fruits to try. Out of all the ones that I tried, during my two days in Singapore, the dragon fruit and the Thai grapefruits were really good so hopefully I’ll be able to find them in Australia.


My new favorite fruit.

One of the best sculptures that I saw throughout the city.  I did a double-take and had my shirt halfway off before I realized that these kids weren't going anywhere in the near future.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Halloween in London

My last day in London was actually Halloween and despite my worst fears, the English have definitely advanced a lot farther than the French in their celebration of this Americanized “holiday”. While I’d say that they haven’t quite attained the level of the typical large American college campus, the number of people that were brave enough to wear their costumes in the Metro all weekend long was pretty impressive.
Of course, mixing parkour and Halloween costumes always has interesting results, especially when Halloween falls on the day of the monthly “Off the Wall” event when people from all over the region meet in London to train together and hang out.
This costume was neither made nor brought for me.  However, the combination of peer pressure and nothing to lose made for some sweet pics.
 
It was kinda chilly.

No comment.

Brian brings trust falls to a new level.  Not only does this help to create the spirit of community that's so strong in London, but it's a decent workout after a while.

London style parkour bonding.


The official group pic of the event.*

Thanks Brian!

Training Note:
On a side note, and in the interest of continuing the subject from the previous post, “The incorporation of fear into training”, I recently did the precision jump* that took the bite out of my leg at Vauxhall (see the August post for pictures). Since the injury, I’ve had a mental block each time I’ve approached this jump, despite the fact that it’s not a particularly hard one and is well within my reach. Apparently the emotional/mental damage takes much longer to heal than the physical wound. Since that first real “parkour injury” I’ve often found myself hesitant to do a lot of precision jumps, as there was always a lingering fear of a repeat injury. As I didn’t want to leave London with any reservations about jumping I decided that I had to do the jump before I left. About a week after the Edinburgh race I was in Vauxhall for a PkGen class and after it had finished I decided to stay and do some extra training. Despite the fact that it was already dark (it was getting dark around 6:30 in London at that point) and the fact that I had already been training hard for a few hours, I was more than physically ready to do the jump. I did the jump a few times without any difficulty besides the mental psych-up before the first one. I returned a few days later after the Halloween “Off the Wall” event and did it again, this time while dressed as Mowgli (sorry, no pictures of this as there wasn’t much clothing involved). While I’ve felt good about re-conquering the jump from a purely competitive angle, I’ve also found that there has been a big upsurge in my general confidence for parkour, as if there has been a huge weight lifted from my shoulders- someone described it as getting my “mojo” back which is probably the best description I’ve heard.
*For the non-traceurs out there, a precision jump is when you jump from one point to another, landing precisely and “sticking” the jump (like in gymnastics, sticking means that once you land you don’t move). In this case the jump was between two walls about 2ft high, 4 inches thick, and about seven or eight feet apart.

Monday, November 15, 2010

GoApe Course & “The Incorporation of Fear into Training”

After the Survival of the Fittest race in Edinburgh Daniel and I decided to head to the local GoApe course to make the day even more epic try pack as much physical activity into the day as possible. After a communications foul-up and a long hike through the local fields of Linlithlow (a small town about 40 min from Edinburgh) we managed to find the park. Since Daniel works at one of the sister parks in England he was able to get us in for free, which was pretty nice since it normally would have been pretty far out of my “adventure budget”.

Introducing Daniel.  Here he's demonstrating one of the more advanced techniques of the GoApe course.
 The park itself was relatively new, and according to Daniel it had a number of obstacles that weren’t featured in the other GoApe courses around the UK. Designed and built by a French company, the course was made up of 5 different “sites”, each of which included an initial ladder climb up into the trees, and then a series of passages between the tree tops before a zip line brought us back to ground level. While the first site was a training site to get familiarized with the safety equipment, and therefore it wasn’t more than 5 or 6 feet off the ground at any point, the others were all at least 20-30 ft up in the air the entire time, with some going even higher. Each of the passages between the tree tops was different, including ladders, hanging logs, tubes, tightropes, dangling ropes, and suspended platforms; even a giant Tarzan-style swing that dropped us about 10ft before swinging us into a cargo net suspended 20ft above the ground.

One of the "passages".  No, I'm not levitating.
 Just to be clear- I’m not normally wild about heights, something that seems to have fluctuated a bit with my parkour training the past few months (walking along the edge of something high up is ok, but the moment it comes to do a precision jump or something really technical I start to get nervous and jumpy). With that in mind I was a bit apprehensive at the beginning of the course especially as I began to climb up the very basic ladder to the first crossing. I soon found that I was totally comfortable with the heights, and I actually enjoyed the adrenaline rush of looking down at the forest floor every now and again. While part of this may be due to the fact that I was still on an emotional high from the race, I strongly suspect that this sense of comfort and security was due to the intense safety measures that were in place. We were attached to the system at all times by one or safety lines at all time and the few times that I got slightly uncomfortable were when the wind picked up in particularly high area and the trees started to sway a little bit, or that moment just before I would take the step off the edge of the platform onto the zip line. The most intense fear came with the Tarzan swing, which included a brief bit of free falling after I stepped off the platform and before the rope pulled me into the arc. The mental strength needed to force myself to make that first step was definitely similar to the feeling that I’ve had before some of the larger jumps that I’ve done with parkour.


Post Tarzan Swing impact.


Daniel coming down one of the zip lines.
 
Just kinda hanging out on the way down.


One of the locals that we saw on our cross-country hike to get to GoApe.
 I had a fair amount of time for personal reflection on the 10-hour bus ride back to London later that night and the GoApe experience gave me a new perspective on things that I had been brooding on recently, in particular the incorporation of fear into my training. This is a subject that came up during training sessions a number of times during the previous weeks, especially as I began asking some of the more experienced practionners about what I needed to do to continue improving. The technical training of parkour can only take you so far in the sport, and there is a point at which the mental aspect becomes just as important, if not more important, than the physical one. After 5 months of hard training I have reached a point where I am physically capable of most of the basic movements of parkour. However, I often find that my physical abilities are limited by my mental strength and it is only now that I have begun to specifically train this aspect of the sport.

While I may be able to perform a movement at ground level, where the possibility of bodily harm is minimal, the moment that it comes to do the same movements at a higher height, or in an environment where the danger is elevated, it becomes an entirely different story. The obstacle that looks doable when standing at ground level takes on a different size and shape when you actually set up to tackle it. There is a moment of hesitation and fear, so strong that you can almost taste it as it rises inside you in the moments just before you go, and it’s this point that often determines whether or not you will make it, especially if it is towards the limit of your physical capabilities. If you embrace the fear, acknowledge it, accept it, and overcome it, than as long as you have the physical ability to do it, it is very likely that you will succeed. If you feel the fear, and refuse to overcome it, or are unable to do so, you start off the attempt already handicapped, and most often you will pull up short, or won’t put 100% effort into it, both leading to the same end result, although second one can have more dire consequences if the obstacle includes a more dangerous element.

While the GoApe course marked the first deliberate attempt to start working on my ability to overcome this fear (I had resolved to start working on this the day before I left for Edinburgh), it has since become something that I try to incorporate into every training session. I have found that it gets gradually easier with each successful attempt, but I’ve also found that a failure to confront and overcome the fear can set me back an entire day or week’s worth of progress. While this encourages me to face this fear and continue to work on it, I’m curious as to how this will work out in the long run, as given my competitive nature, I can see myself refusing to back down from a challenge that I set for myself despite the fact that it may be beyond my capabilities at the time. That said, my approach to parkour has been relatively analytical and reserved, so I don’t think that this will pose any dangers to my personal well-being.


The camera couldn't decide whether to focus on me claiming this small Scottish hill for America or the awesome view beyond said hill.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pics from Edinburgh

Some of the pictures that I took while in the city and while walking through the course. (please excuse the poor quality, I’ve just learned that despite what the guy said that sold it to me, the video camera I bought takes pictures at about .6 megapixels, good enough to look decent on the 2” viewing LCD, but not very good when you go any larger.)
View of the castle from below.

Another view of the castle, this time from the finish line of the race.

And another of the castle.... I guess I liked it.

Shot from the castle hill over the northern part of the city.


Arthur's Seat in the background, a lot more intimidating when looked at from below.

View up the Royal Mile at sunset.

A shot of the Observatory and surrounding monuments (the mix of architectural styles is a lot more distinctive with better photo quality)