Monday, December 17, 2007

Tours

I was going to write a day-to-day report of my trip to Tours but that would be quite boring to read and would only make sense if you could see the places I was describing. Instead I'm just going to mention a few important things and keep it short.

I had high expectations of the trip but the reality far surpassed those hopes. In short it was the most progressive week in my training so far and I really pushed myself, especially mentally. I've come home with a greater understanding of what I should be focusing on, how to deal with fears, how to let my body adapt to new obstacles, how to trust my instincts and how to teach others. The most important thing I did during the week was to bring my mental level in tune with my technical and physical capacities. I feel much more comfortable knowing exactly what I can do and what I can't yet.

A great deal was learnt from training and spending time with Thomas and I thank him for everything he said and showed me but also for everything he didn't say - to allow me work certain things out for myself. He found a great way of communicating with me when I was thinking too much about a new jump, sometimes using encouragement and sometimes helping me to become angry at the obstacle. He said just enough and just the right things to help change my mindset and 'flick the switch to green'.

I wish to also thank his mother for the incredible hospitality, I can't begin to describe how appreciated it was (Hi to Nemo and Nissy too!).

The highlight of the week for me, and perhaps both of us, was a jump to a tree that was rooted in a wide and fast-flowing river. The conditions were very difficult with no way to test the landing surfaces, the stability or grip of the tree. The take off was less than great too, with wet leaves and an unstable ground that threatened to fall in to the river at any moment. We made a decision to go for it and after a lot of mental battling we both made it to the tree and back without falling in. To face a jump in such difficult conditions with a real incentive for not messing up was refreshing to me and I felt so alive when I caught the branch I aimed for. The jump was not particularly big and the video really does not do it justice, but it will forever hold a special place in my mind for being the greatest obstacle I overcame during my trip to Tours.

Other notable moments worth a mention included a long and arduous off-ground challenge that truly tested a wide range of technical and physical elements (kudos to Thomas who did the vast majority of it with 4 litres of water and a camera in a backpack!) and a really tough finger shimmy on a tough rounded ledge that had my forearms in spasms and my heart racing!

We only filmed a small portion of what we got up to and even then it was mainly single techniques and small technical movements. Although it is not at all a fair representation of the excellent week, I've put together 7 minutes of the best footage to share with people, hope you enjoy it.



-Blane

Monday, December 10, 2007

Back to the Parkour

Tomorrow morning I am travelling to Tours to spend some time with my friend Thomas. As many of you will already know, Thomas is a very experienced traceur, a really nice guy and an inspiration to many. I feel privileged to have an opportunity to spend time with him in his home environment and I'm going there with a large 'empty cup' to fill it with as much as knowledge as possible. I'm sure it will be a greatly positive experience and will affect me in many ways - but I most look forward to just getting to know the man and forging a solid friendship with a very like-minded individual.

I'll be home on Saturday with a few stories.

*B*

Rendezvous II

On Saturday evening I attended the second major Parkour gathering held by Parkour Generations. In my opinion it far surpassed the first in terms of organisation, structure, intensity and value. Not that the first rendezvous was lacking in any of those areas but it seems the guys over there have greatly honed their teaching abilities during the few months between each meeting and they managed to squeeze so much more in to only three and a half hours.

The seminar started with a 30 minute warm up consisting of lots of jogging, running up and down stairs, running outdoors, running indoors and then a fair few circuits of skipping, running sideways and running backwards. Next we were exposed to a healthy dose of bouncing on the spot on our toes, on one leg and side to side which really got the blood pumping and the calves burning. Finally we did lots of quadrupedal crawling variations, weighted squats with a partner on our back, joint preparation and general loosening off.

Now the real work began. There were a total of five different stations; four in the gym and one outside. We were split in to groups of around 10-15 people and spent 25 minutes at each station where a whole host of interesting challenges awaited us. We were presented with a series of obstacles and shown a possible route through them then encouraged to find a way past them that suited us. With each lap of the station we were encouraged by the veteran French traceurs present to try something new and more challenging. All the time they were constantly giving us personal feedback and advice with each lap of the station. This format worked very well and although there were a lot of people present, I never felt like it was too crowded due to the space management and station system.

The time flew past and before we all knew it we had been training for three hours without rest and without realising how we had been moving past physical obstacles that both challenged and inspired us, as well as mental barriers of fatigue. I was pleased that the intensity of this session was nothing new to me as I have long become used to the feeling of 3-4 hour training sessions without rest.

To finish the session we warmed down with Laurent who led us through a series of very relaxing stretches and I felt my core temperature gradually return to normal resting rate using the breathing exercises. Finally we spent five minutes lying flat on our backs with our eyes closed focusing on our breathing and letting the blood flow through our bodies. I nearly fell asleep as a wave of comfort just washed over me.

Sadly the day was coming to a close but before leaving there was a 'question and answer' opportunity with the Yamakasi, Forrest and Stephane really expressing their opinions and giving everyone some valuable advice and encouragement for the future.

I wish to thank everyone who made this day possible - everyone at Parkour Generations, the additional French traceurs who travelled over for the event, everyone who attended and worked hard and in particular Laurent - who I feel left everyone going home with a new sense of personal purpose and a deep spirited question resounding through our minds: 'why do you practice?'. Indeed every action must have a purpose, or it is simply a wasted effort.

Five Weeks

I promised I would return with some reactions and results to my recent changes in training methodology and I can happily confirm the outcome of using more technically relevant exercises to improve my Parkour has been nothing but positive.

In five weeks I've added 4 inches to my horizontal standing jump distance, which may not sound like a lot but I feel it is considering I also 'felt' this progression bit by bit in my mind. My legs feel stronger than they have ever been, not only in their ability to propel my body forwards and upwards, but in their ability to resist impacts and landings.

My upper body feels so much more coordinated and less like a series of individually functioning parts. My grip strength and endurance have improved and although it's hard to measure these I feel a lot more comfortable traversing with just my arms.

Perhaps the most important development has been in my mental state. Not that physical training and conditioning has ever been considered a burden but it is so much more rewarding to know I'm not only building strength and endurance, but I'm fine tuning technical aspects and keeping the work rate high to also benefit my cardiovascular system. The other refreshing aspect is being able to vary my surroundings a lot more and work with a different set of obstacles each time I train.

BUT.

There are some important issues that I need to highlight with this method of training.

1) I feel you must have a very solid foundation level of fitness before you consider trying this. I know if I had not devoted so much time to gradual leg development in the past then these past five weeks could have given me a severe case of shin splints and other overtraining symptoms. The same can be said for the upper body training. It has been so much more intense and demanding that I feel I would have done some damage to my shoulders or elbows if I had jumped in to this training before I was ready. Some people might disagree but I would not recommend this method of training to anyone with less than a year or two of experience in more traditional strength training methods.

2) You need to learn how to rest. I recommend you work really hard during your training sessions, give 100% effort then rest sufficiently to allow the muscles, joints and tendons to repair and recover. This might take two days, it might even take three. This is fine. Your old routine might demand you train legs Monday and Wednesday but your body does not understand 'days', it sometimes takes longer to heal from a very intense session. Drink plenty of water and stretch regularly.

3) Be disciplined and well-rounded. Don't let this type of training break your overall focus and don't give in to temptation. It would be easy to fall in to the trap of only training the traditional muscle groups and in the same way each time because you enjoy a certain exercise. But you must remember that Parkour is simultaneously all-inclusive and all-exclusive in its demands for fitness. In principal it's a perfect method of training the body. There are no limits or constraints to the possible dimensions of an obstacle so we need to train every muscle and fibre in our bodies equally and in proportion to avoid muscular imbalances, neurological weaknesses and general weak-links in the overall chain.
We are not training our bodies for arm jumps, precisions and passes - we are training our bodies for every conceivable obstacle and those techniques are merely potential solutions, not the solutions, so remember to vary your training for every eventuality.

I am aware that some people have criticised both myself and this method recently, stating it is dangerous and non-complete and will lead to weaknesses and overtraining symptoms. I urge these people to be even more scientific in their responses and judge this method by the results, not by the theories. Look at the long-term results of this method not by studying me or by comparing it to other activities, but by studying the guys who have been using it for over 10 years and are the best in the world at what they do. It is unfair to begin to judge this method if you do not first understand what Parkour is - to understand it takes a considerable amount of time practicing it.

It is obvious that the most effective way to build raw strength is by putting the muscle under gradually greater tension and this is more easily achievable and manageable by lifting weights... but this is irrelevant in a discipline that requires at least as much mental development and strengthening as it does physical. Most competitive sports focus entirely on physical performance but Parkour is easily and often misunderstood as just an activity where being able to jump the furthest and run the fastest is the goal.

Friday, November 02, 2007

When Worlds Collide

My bedroom walls may well have seen more blood, sweat and tears than the Saw and Hostel franchises combined over the past 4 years.

In this torture chamber/laboratory, that also has a bed, I have tried and tested many different exercises, apparatus, angles, reps, weights and a vest, on a quest, to find the absolute way to prepare my body for Parkour. The problem was always having to wait to see what effect these exercises would have on my ability to move when I went outside to train technically.

Through speaking and training with more experienced traceurs, experimenting on my own and reading a lot of material on the subject, I have finally settled my mind on the best way to prepare my body for Parkour. This is not some new discovery or a secret being unveiled, as many people will already practice this form of training and you can find details about this elsewhere, but this information seems to be fragmented and spread across a dozen forums amongst the arguments and hostilities often found there. The reason that I am writing this is just to bring the information together and share the method with people who do not know about it or have been scared to give up their current training plan to try it (as I was). It is also to state that I think it is the best way to train physically for Parkour. This is not so much a recommendation for newer practitioners to Parkour, as it will take a solid strength foundation to train in the way I am suggesting in this post. If you undertake any of the advice in this post without a certain amount of prior training and conditioning then you are very likely to pick up injuries and cause more damage in the long run.

I have received many emails in the past asking for physical training advice and even requests to create an entire weekly training plan for people to follow but it is nearly impossible to really help these people without meeting them and knowing their current level and ability. This article should help all of them to progress physically without having to worry or even think about it too much. It should hopefully provide a simple solution that is better in the long run than a fixed schedule.

When I was beginning my training and up until around 2005, everyone in the UK was still experimenting with physical training and its relationship to technical ability in Parkour. Compared to the information, videos, articles and advice available now, 2003 was effectively the dark ages of Parkour in this country. It would have been even worse for guys like the Saiyans who started quite some time before me, so I have a lot of respect for those guys who were slugging it out and trying their best with minimal help from any sources in France.

Most of you have probably heard of (or may even taken part in a) Hell Night. These were physical battles alone or alongside some fellow warriors and these training sessions really developed my strength and endurance. But it also had a negative consequence, which is why I stopped doing them. I was gaining a lot of bulk that I did not really need. Although I thought this increase in size was good at the time and would improve my technical ability in the long run, time has proven that I did not need this extra muscle, as I am leaner now than I was following the 20+ week program, yet stronger and faster than ever before. That is not to say that I regret creating Hell Night - quite the opposite in fact, I think that I needed it to develop an understanding of my body, my limits and most importantly to build the mental fortress that is still with me today when it comes to pushing through pain barriers.

Although I would still recommend some type of loose weekly program to people who are just beginning their training and need to concentrate on building an initial foundation, I think a more organic approach to this is necessary rather than ‘X’ sets of ‘Y’ reps of ‘Z’ exercise.

Being a bit of a planner when it comes to this kind of thing, I used to create very complex and diverse weekly training plans to stick to, where I would train legs on a certain day, arms on another and train technically on certain days. Using this method, everything was structured and being controlled. It had its advantages as I could record progression by counting the reps and sets and seeing a gradual increase in my ability but it had more serious disadvantages. The main problem was that if a body part was still sore and tired when it came to the day that I planned to exercise it, the training I did on that day was damaging to my muscles, which were still in need of rest and repair. I was following a regime more suited to a predictable machine than an ever-changing and complex organism.

The mistake that I was making was not listening to my body. I understand better now that the body is very good at letting the brain know its current condition and we should always listen to it to see how we feel and adjust our training accordingly. If something hurts or feels stiff then it needs rest and/or time to repair. If you exercise fatigued muscles then all you are going to gain is an injury and you are wasting time and energy.

Rest is equally as important as work in Parkour. Finding the balance is vital to your progression and longevity.

The other problem with such a strict and planned approach to training is that you end up doing the same exercises each week. The body loves to be active and it is good at rebuilding muscles after they have been broken down, but when you target the same muscles from the same angles every week, the tendons and joints surrounding those muscles begin to suffer as they can not heal in the same way that muscles do. It is therefore important to really vary your exercises when you train to avoid overuse injuries such as tendonitis.
Not only is performing the same exercises each time determimental to your health, it can be very laborious for the mind. You should regularly challenge both your body and mind by keeping the exercises spontaneous and interesting. If you can, train and spend time in new environments and you will begin to notice new technical possibilities too, all things to keep your mind busy and your routine fresh. There is nothing worse than dreading an upcoming workout because you know how hard it was last week. Do something new this week, surprise yourself with improvisation and as long as you work hard, this is a positive and productive way to train.

Before newcomers to the discipline discover the benefits of additional strength training and conditioning exercises to improve their Parkour, they just move around doing new jumps and finding new challenges. This is fine for a while but when they reach their first plateaus, most begin searching to find a tool to speed up the conveyor belt that is transporting their level onwards and upwards. This theoretical conveyor belt used to travel at a furious pace in the first few months of training, and they want that back when they hit the plateaus. Once they find the tool to do this (additional strength training), many put all of their energy in to this new solution hoping it will bring them the same rewards that they used to see when they first started training. The reality is that we never progress as fast as we did back in those first few months, when our minds were sponges and we were plunged in to the Parkour pool head first. Just like children learn more in the first few years of their lives than they will when they enter adulthood, there are no preconceptions and everything is absorbed.

But this is hard to realise at the time of our first slow down period and we become desperate to get our training ‘back on track’ – even though there is actually nothing wrong with it and this period is completely normal.

Once the benefits of strength training and conditioning are discovered and we begin to make progress with it, we notice how this is affecting our technical ability, as we can suddenly jump higher, swing further and run faster once more. New doors and possibilities open up to us and we find ourselves progressing at a faster rate again.

Eventually on this path I came across another difficult, yet well concealed obstacle that proved a challenge for me to overcome until recently. An obstacle that I can best describe as a colourful tree called ‘S.A.C’ that sat on the edge of a vast and dark forest called ‘Parkour’. As I walked towards this metaphorical forest (my first few months of training), overcoming smaller trees and obstacles on the way, I was suddenly faced with the imposing forest itself (my first plateaus). My initial reaction was to walk the perimeter to find an easy way in (to find a fix to that which is slowing my progression) until I came across the S.A.C tree. The Strength And Conditioning tree offered a path deeper in to forest. This is a bright, attractive and healthy way to progress further in Parkour so it is an obvious route for many people to take. But what we need to remember is that this tree is still an obstacle regardless of how attractive it is.

It can be very easy once we reach the forest to stand too close to the Strength And Conditioning tree because it seems to offer us so much. But what we need to remember is the reason we approached the forest in the first place when we were learned of its existence. When you first saw Parkour or heard of it, you did not consider the brutal training needed to become the best you can be, you wanted to fly, to be set free and be able to do all of these amazing things that these other people were doing, whether for your yourself or for other people.

I once stood so close to this tree that I could no longer see the forest behind it. My mind was consumed with my body becoming stronger that I almost lost sight of the overall goal, which was to progress deeper in to the forest and develop my ability to move and overcome all obstacles in my path. My technical ability suffered a bit of a setback and I was becoming nothing more than a guy who worked out a lot and occasionally did some proper Parkour - this was not right and obviously did not last long. I had to rethink and shift the balance as I was spending around 80% of my time strengthening and conditioning my body, overtraining and not having any energy to train techniques. By week 20 of Hell Night perhaps only 20% of my time was spent training technically. So I stopped Hell Nights and began to explore what my new body could do technically and it took a while to synchronise everything again.

For a while quite recently I followed a slightly more organic regime in which I would train either upper or lower body depending on which felt ready - and if they were both tired, I would simply practice balance and foot placement drills. I trained technically on a regular basis too but I still felt that there was a distinct difference being made between the physical and technical training days and that they were not being integrated enough.

But now my training has changed yet again and it has been simplified even further. My physical training is directly linked to my technical training in a way that is so obvious, I am surprised that it took me this long to subscribe to its many benefits.

My new training regime allows me to progress deeper in to the forest towards my goals but with deeply ingrained lessons carved in to my calloused hands to remind me of what I learnt back at the perimeter, climbing around in the S.A.C tree for so long. It taught me that I needed to find the balance in my training.

This method that I am talking about states that the body becomes good at doing what it does. Repetition of technical movements, done in a controlled and focused manner is the best way to get better at those technical movements, but at the same time, this repetition of technique is the best way to build the muscles needed to do the technique better.

Take the following as examples...

-To improve your Parkour ability, doing 50 precision jumps near your maximum distance is more beneficial for you than doing 50 squats, it is also a great deal harder and will target exactly the muscles you want to build.

-Doing 25 arm jumps followed by a climb up each time is more beneficial to your Parkour than doing 25 pullups and then doing 25 pushups or dips.

-Repeating many laches is the best way to prepare your body for, and improve, your laches.

-Repeating running jumps is the best way to prepare your body for, and improve, your running jumps.

This list could go on and on.

Drilling a lache immediately followed by a muscle up is much more beneficial than just repeating the muscle up. Just by adding something simple to it turns it from being just a physical exercise in to a physical exercise AND a technical one, since a lache followed by a muscle up is something you could well be called upon to do in an emergency situation. It is unlikely that you would suddenly find yourself hanging from a bar or branch ready to muscle up, you have to arrive there somehow so we should bear this in mind and practice this too.

If we focus on what we are doing and really work hard on these repetitions, training like this physically is in my opinion far more beneficial than doing singular bodyweight exercises. You will use more muscle groups in unison, develop your technical ability, have more fun and be less likely to reach a plateaus in your training due to the almost infinite variations of exercises you now have available to you with no additional equipment needed.

In the past I trained my legs using pistols, squats, one-legged glute raises, calf raises and a whole host of other exercises. These have all no doubt contributed to my current jump distance but in a less efficient way than if I had targeted the exact muscles used in the way they would be called upon during Parkour training itself. It would have been more efficient to repeat the actual jumps I wished to do over and over again.

I had tried repeating jumps in the past with moderate success but never really committed to it fully or considered it as a viable or complete replacement of my old regime of using bodyweight exercises. So on Wednesday of this week I decided not to do any pistols, calf raises or any other singular motion. I would simply repeat jumps. It is now Friday and my leg muscles still ache from that session. Climbing or descending stairs is quickly met with fresh reminders that I worked my ass off in that session and targeted specific muscles that had never before been worked the way they were that night.

In the image below I have illustrated the jumps that I repeated...




+First I repeated the standing jump on the red line 100 times, 50 times in each direction. Going from the lower wall to the higher one is quite close to my maximum jump distance.

++Then I repeated the standing jump on the yellow line 100 times, 50 times in each direction.

+++Finally I repeated the standing jump on the white line from the floor to the higher wall 50 times.

This type of training was extremely refreshing to me and it was amazing to think that I was working my muscles harder than before and in a way that was also directly beneficial to my technical progression.

Another way you could implement this concept of training and see immediate results, is to find a rail that you can only just jump on to from standing and repeat jumps on to it from the floor each week. When you can jump over the rail, you have progressed and need to find a higher rail. How much simpler can training towards a goal become than that? It is an instant way to monitor your physical and technical progression without having to wait and go outside to test your new muscle gains after a gym workout or doing lots of pistols. It is using all of the muscles you need to use to develop your standing jump ability, without adding unnecessary bulk.

Also, your body does not know what Tuesday, March or 3pm is. It has no concept of the system we use to record and organise our time so it is completely unnatural for it to stress the same muscles on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6pm every week and expect the best results. The body does not work this way. If you really broke them down on Monday with a new exercise then it might take until Thursday before they have healed completely and you should not try to force them in to more training when they are not ready. It is now my opinion that strict training schedules and plans can be dangerous things if taken too seriously.


Not only does your body have no concept of the time that our brains do, it has no idea what a pushup or a weight is. It simply breaks down when in use and rebuilds itself stronger to protect itself from the same abuse next time. So with that in mind, doing pushups will make you better at pushups... doing pistols will make you better at pistols... and therefore it is no real surprise that doing precision jumps will make you better and doing and resisting precision jumps.

I am now completely stopping the conventional singular exercises as a test. No more sets or reps of pushups, pullups, chinups, pistols or glute raises etc. Just repetitions of basic movements that use exactly the same muscles used in those exercises mentioned, but in a way that will directly benefit my technical ability. Sure, my climbups can become better by doing pushups and pullups, but not as good as they can become by actually doing climbups. This principle will be applied to all techniques and exercises. I will still use those movements to warm up my body as they are simple, quick and less stressful for the body than many other techniques, but my focus will be shifting to much more repetition of technical movements.

The method was talked about by Stephane Vigroux in 'Le Singe Est De Retour' but despite having seen that so many times, it never really occurred to me just how widely used and successful this method was for him. I know from other sources that this is a very popular way to train in Lisses and the one that David Belle has taught other people who came to train with him.

I am not completely against the traditional exercises that have brought me this far in Parkour, they certainly have their uses in building strength, endurance and speed. I also definitely see the benefits of certain exercises such as quadrupedal walking, the muscle up and shimmying or climbing. I just aim to avoid the singular, more isolated exercises that make it very difficult to see whether they are actually helping or hindering your progression.

It is at this time in my training that I feel the need to connect what was previously two conflicting worlds for me. I need to amalgamate my physical and technical training for the benefit of my overall goals.

I think this method of training could benefit a lot of other people who are still searching for the perfect way to train for Parkour, so I wanted to bring together all of these ideas in to one place for people to look at. Read it if you like, take from it what you wish and discard anything that you don't feel will work for you. Good luck and feel free to leave your opinions here!

Here are some quotes in support of the concepts and methods mentioned in this post:

Stephane Vigroux - "There is one jump there. But if you repeat it many, many times, you are working physically."

Stephane Vigroux - "When I'm training everyday, first thing I just do a little check up of me, and my body, so ok today, how I feel? How is my mind first? Am I lazy or not? How are my legs? My arms? And when I've checked everything, I plan, not the training, I just plan the way I'm going to train. I mean more leg exercise today or more arm exercise and I define if I'm going to train physically or more technically."

Thomas Des Bois - "be careful of rigid training programs, they can get you injured if you train too much. I prefer "listening" to my body and seeing what i can work on presently. If my arms feel tired, i'm not going to work on them. That way, you can prevent long term injuries."

I will post again with my findings in this training method when I have fully explored it and tried it for a while. You may have noticed I also made a few template change to my blog, I thought I should tidy it up a little bit in celebration of its first birthday, it has been exactly a year since my first post!

-Blane

Friday, October 05, 2007

How often do you train?

Or would it be easier for you to answer, 'How often don't you train?'

You might be counting up the hours and days now and coming up with an answer along the lines of "twice per week", "4 times per week but I do a bit everyday" or even "I train every day". What I want to explore and explain here are some things that I have noticed mentioned here and there in forums and in bits and pieces of articles, but I have never found it talked about in great detail or emphasised enough to reveal it to possibly be the easiest way to improve your Parkour.

The secret to improving in this discipline quickly becomes obvious to beginners. The formula is simple; the more you practice, the better you become. So how can we practice more when our demanding lifestyles and jobs seem to swallow more and more of our time each week?

When people begin their training, they often focus on the movements that they have seen either in videos, or in person of (particularly good) traceurs, that are out of the ordinary - and why not! They look so spectacular and different. But what they all regularly fail to notice are the movements that they, themselves, already do every day, also being done in a superior way in front of their eyes.

I was lucky enough to be invited along to a gym session earlier this week, near to where I live, to teach, answer questions and offer advice to a group of perhaps 25, 10-18 year olds who had been training for various amounts of time. Some had just started, others had perhaps two years or more training behind them already.

One of the things that I realised quite quickly is that everybody who asked for advice, asked how to do a particular part of a technique better, or for advice on a specific moment of the movement, but nobody asked what to do before the movement, after the movement or what to do whilst in the air.

It got me thinking back to when I started and I was exactly the same. I would focus on the split second of spectacular action when I watched a movement. Whether it was the contact of hands on the wall, the clearing of a rail or the moment where the hands grabbed a branch. That was the impressive part for me and the part I was trying to learn. I wasn't even considering the foot placement for the run up, my posture in the air or the landing.

At the session, nobody asked me how to land after a cat pass or how to begin the run up - only how to do the cat pass itself when they reach the obstacle. Which was interesting. This is completely normal and I'm glad it happened because it encouraged me to write this article and taught me a lot about my own progression and training.

I've mentioned before how frequently that I find people who have been practicing for a year or two who think they are very good now and mastering techniques, ready for bigger, higher, further challenges. But it is only after those first few years that people begin to appreciate just just how deep the Parkour root grows, underground, hidden where you cannot see it at first.

Over time I have come to realise that from the moment I begin my run up for a jump, every single step, swing of the arm and intake of air, up until the moment I stop moving after the obstacle(s), is a part of the technique I am doing and should be treated with equal importance. This is why precision and perfection is so important to me and why I repeat things over and over until I'm happy. The passing of the obstacle might be fine but perhaps there was a stutter in my run up or maybe I held my breath unconsciously half way through. If so, I need to do it again properly. I wouldn't consider something perfect until all of these issues are considered and addressed. Only then will I be satisfied.

I went on holiday two weeks ago with my parents and we spent a great deal of time going to different places, walking around and visiting local places of interest. Whilst out walking one evening by the beach, my mum asked me if I missed training as much as I usually do at home and she was surprised when I answered that I was training right at that moment. We were on a completely flat pavement just next to the beach with nothing that could really be considered an obstacle or obstruction for at least 100m in every direction (unless you include the sea).
She seemed confused and when I explained that I was working on my foot placement, and that when we reach that coke can around 10 metres ahead of us on the ground, I will be on my right leg, and the ball of my foot will be in line with it, she smiled and for a brief second was given a glimpse of just how deep the practice of Parkour can go. It was nice to hear her say that she never realised I trained so often. I reached the can with my right leg, ball of foot in line with it and picked it up to put in the next bin we found (for recycling, of course :P).

To get to the point, the purpose of this article is to express how I believe we can practice Parkour all day, every day. There is absolutely no excuse for not having enough time to practice, since I believe we can practice every time we 'do' anything.

Although I am not very good at this yet, lately I have been working on concentrating on my every movement, whilst doing an everyday task, such as eating, driving my car and walking around my room. I find that I can only keep this up for around ten to twenty minutes at a time before something distracts me momentarily, but that period of time is incredible. I feel more connected with my surroundings and the world in a way that is very refreshing to me. It seems to create more awareness and I feel very calm and centred during these times.

The idea is to pay more attention than usual and maintain a state of higher awareness as to what your body is doing and where you fit in to your surroundings. I was once introduced to a concept known as, 'Zanshin', through Shotokan Karate. It refers to a state of awareness - a state of relaxed alertness. I believe I have more use for this concept now in Parkour than I did practicing martial arts.

You can try this now if you like, from wherever you are reading this. Consider walking to the nearest door. What is in the way? Perhaps there are people or chairs, a bed, a ball or stairs. Walk to the door and from the time you look away from the screen, focus on every single thing. Feel the intake of air as you prepare to move, focus on each muscle contracting as you stand, with just only enough force to shift the weight of your body on to your feet. Why have your arms moved? Return them to a neutral position. Turn purposefully, using the least amount of energy possible without unnecessary movement. How many steps will you need to take until you reach the first obstacle? Plan the distance of your steps appropriately so that you know which foot will be nearest to the obstacle when you reach it, decide how to move past it, move past it and continue to repeat this process until you reach the door. Now do it again from the beginning but with predetermined thought, simply move and be aware of everything your body is doing to get there. Move slowly but smoothly to begin with. It's almost a machine-like routine. If you look at Arnold Schwarzenegger's movements in Terminator 2, everything is ruthlessly efficient and every part of him seems to be moving for a reason, with purpose. No flailing limbs, no faltering on uneven ground, no reason to move at all unless that movement has a purpose to help him to achieve his goal.

I'm not suggesting that we all walk around like robots but this is a good example of a being moving with precision and purpose. It is this precision and purposeful movement that I am trying to practice every time I move, but it is difficult. I soon forget what I'm trying to do and lose concentration a little, but each time I try it I find I can do it for a little longer than the time before.

The benefits are numerous as they are vast. Not only will you conserve energy and be less likely to get injured as you move, you will also be improving every aspect of your Parkour, as your limbs learn to move with more precision. Most of us are guilty of using too much energy to complete every day tasks. Even to open a door, most of us open it more than we need to. Stop using handrails, you don't need them. Stop using elevators and escalators, you don't need them. They rob you of the one thing that we are trying to regain here, time to practice. If you must use an elevator, push the button with only enough force to make it light up. This kind of attitude and train of thought can be carried over in to every aspect of your life. Be methodical in everything that you choose to do.

For more examples of individuals moving with precision, watch Tom Cruise in Collateral or Matt Damon in the Bourne movies. It seems that actors can be very good at being precise when they want to thanks to their study of the human body in motion.

My ultimate goal is to move with precision and purpose, all day, every day. Whether I'm lifting a pen, practicing arm jumps or shopping for... bananas. This would conserve a great deal of energy, help to avoid accidents, teach me more about my body and generally allow me to train my body for up to 16 hours per day in a way that would directly improve my Parkour. Some might even argue that this is the very essence of Parkour itself. I would be simply trying to move with efficiency and precision all of the time, with no difference in mindset between going to the bathroom and passing a rail. Both should be done with equal concentration and precision by the student who wishes to achieve their potential in controlling their body whilst it is in motion.

I like to look around me when I am out in busy streets, I look at the way people walk and I often notice people who seem less caught up in bottlenecks and less likely to bump in to someone as they are moving through the sea of people. They move with more grace than the people around them. I wonder whether they are a martial artists or a dancers perhaps... for it seems that people who spend more time focusing on their movements, even through a hobby, move more efficiently even when they are not thinking about it.

If they could be conscious of this superior grace and realise why they reached their destinations quicker than the average person then they could truly begin to progress to elite levels in their chosen fields, by simply practicing more than other people do.

Perhaps we can do the same.

-Blane

Sunday, September 09, 2007

EscApe Artist

Well it's been a while since I updated this and quite a lot had happened since the last entry. I had a fairly major training accident that saw 5 stitches in my shin to hide the bone that showed itself about a month ago.

I was doing a routine climbup on the end of a wall and some bricks fell off, I fell back and landed on my back - which was fine - but then I was really unlucky to have 3 bricks cemented together smash in to my shin, edge first, and cut my skin open all the way down to the bone.

A few hours later and after an injection that went RIGHT inside my leg next to the bone (OUCH!), I was stitched up and limping home. The timing couldn't have been worse as I missed out on the Trace Gathering that I was really looking forward to. I guess it wasn't meant to be... sorry to the people who expected me there! Thanks to Timmy, Joe and Ian for looking after me in the hospital, much appreciated.

I didn't get any photos of it before the nurse did a tidy sewing job but here's the morning after...




Besides that I've been filming some new clips and slowly making a new video. It all came together tonight, just in time for my 4th year anniversary of training.

The four years have flown past at a scary speed and so much has happened in that time. I wish to thank everyone I've met through this amazing discipline, every one of you have helped to shape me in to who I am today and for that I'm very grateful.

I'll be quiet now and show you the video, I hope you enjoy it...



Apologies to everyone that has emailed me or posted on my blog recently and not got a reply yet, I've not had as much time on the Internet to browse through them recently but I'll answer them all this week, thanks for your patience!

-Blane

Friday, July 13, 2007

First clip of a OAC

Here's a quick clip showing my first filmed one-armed chinup. They're progressing not too badly but I've been focusing on other things recently. I'm currently able to do 2 on my left arm and 1 on my right when I'm fresh and I'm working on building up to 5 on each arm.



-Blane

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Descent

Following on from my previous post and the discussions that concluded it, I'm staying on a similar track with this one and I want to talk about how pressure can affect us when we face danger and how we can deal with that pressure by making simple decisions right now, that will increase our chances of survival.

When faced with the stress of a life-threatening engagement, we don't rise to the occasion, we descend to our level of training.

I think this is very important for everyone involved in a discipline such as our own or even martial arts to consider - and I wanted to share it with everyone that reads my blog.

If you don't think your training is thorough in preparing you to save your life and escape from dangerous scenarios then perhaps there are some things in this entry that might help you - and if you do think that your training is thorough enough then I really would appreciate your input so please leave a comment after reading this.

As some of you will know, my current understanding and practice of Parkour is different to some other people's and I really see Parkour as being much more than simply the movements we see in so many videos... I believe Parkour is about being strong in every sense of the word and being able to survive when the going gets tough which is why my studies extend beyond that of learning how to move efficiently.

To quote my friend Thomas Couetdic,

I believe that Parkour, however wide it may be, is not a discipline in itself, but a piece of a bigger thing. If you follow the idea of Parkour (at least as it was when i got into it) to the extreme (being able to save your skin from any dangerous situation), then you should not only train to jump, run, climb, etc... You should also be learning about survival techniques, escape techniques, fighting, and things like this.


You can read some more of Thomas' thoughts here but it is this 'extreme' mentioned above that I am following and interested in discussing in this post.

Most of the time we train in comfortable environments, perhaps with friends, not really in any more danger than we put ourselves in. In these circumstances we can put all of our focus and attention in to our techniques and movements without having to worry about any other danger such as coping with the chemical changes in the body that occur when we are faced with danger.

When we are faced with the stress of a life-threatening situation, our body's natural defenses are engaged and frankly most of us, myself included, are not prepared for this.

Here in the Western world, we have become a generation of protected individuals; protected by law enforcement, CCTV, prison systems, physical deterrences and satellites. It's easy to become complacent under these circumstances but all of today's and tomorrow's technology cannot (yet?) change human nature. There will always be murder, theft, rape and crime in general, not to mention natural disasters - and this is why I find it's important to always be aware of our surroundings and to prepare for dangerous situations. But the likelihood of us preparing for these things are slim until we've experienced them for ourselves. It is not until we have become a victim ourselves that we realise that we are not as protected as we think and I think we need to make more of an individual effort to train ourselves more thoroughly.

All of our modern-day advantages become truly useless when we are faced with danger. We even forget all about our family and friends (unless they are directly involved) and what might scare you is that we also forget a significant portion of our training in a crisis.

When we have plenty of time to think and plan and calculate, we are capable of amazing things during our training sessions. We can use our experience and physical ability to decide on the best course of action to tackle a new obstacle but this generally takes some time to take everything in to account and plan the new jump. But what if we remove that period of time from the equation?

If we were being chased by a crazy man with an axe who was trying to kill us, our best chance of survival would be to put a worthy obstacle between ourselves and the man, be that a large wall, a drop that he would struggle to take without breaking a leg or a massive arm jump over a ravine. The bottom line is, an experienced traceur would have the best chance of survival if they could employ their training and experience effectively.

However, the techniques that we are still trying to perfect, the ones we haven't done thousands of times before are immediately considered unreliable by the brain and therefore are not instinctual in our escape process, we can't naturally do them without thinking about it.

Now if we were chased by this psycho in a place we knew, a place we trained at every week and a place we were comfortable moving in then the chances are we would escape. We already know the distances, surfaces, loose bricks and paths to escape and all we would have to do is feed off of the adrenaline to heighten our senses and try to stay calm to some extent to allow our training to be useful.

Now I think we would all agree that these chances are significantly reduced in an unfamiliar environment but there are things we can do to overall improve our chances of survival in these new circumstances, besides regularly drilling the usual techniques in new areas.

So how can we replicate these conditions to prepare for these situations? It is very difficult but it seems possible to some extent since some martial arts, such as Krav Maga, attempt to prepare the student of their combat system more effectively by simulating more realistic situations than a dojo, such as sparring in a darkened room with flashing lights and deafening music. This simulates a nightclub, where there is obviously the potential for danger and gives the student experience in defending themselves in a situation where it is likely to be necessary.

We can't force the body to release adrenaline when we know it is only our friend chasing us when we play tag, but things like this can help you learn how to stay calm under pressure and to act when there is someone behind you putting pressure on you.

Here is an example of a good training session you could have to prepare for a potentially life-threatening situation:

Get a friend to get a big black permanent marker pen and get him to chase you, trying to draw on you... this might sound really funny and I laughed when I thought of it, but this is fairly effective training for escaping someone with a knife, a situation where you couldn't afford to be hit even once. At the end of the game, if you have any ink on you then your peruser could have potentially stabbed or slashed you in that location.
You might think this will be easy for the pursuer since he only has to hit you once but think of the advantages you have! Unless they can do a one-armed climbup, which probably results in less than 2% of the entire world population, then a simple medium sized wall pass would be sufficient in slowing down your friend as they will have to put the pen in their pocket or attempt to struggle over whilst still holding the pen.
The great thing is, the majority of the population are not trained for overcoming obstacles so if you can escape your traceur friend, you can easily escape a random thug.

With this simple experiment we can experience how a knife gives a pursuer at least one major and immediate disadvantage during a chase. It is experience like this that can give us the confidence to remain calm in a real life-threatening situation as we know first-hand the likely benefits you are going to have as you flee. It is all well and good to simply read these things but go out and try it so you experience it rather than imagine it.

Without this type of training and others like it, I believe we are severely limiting ourselves and lying to ourselves that our training is thoroughly preparing us for the day we may have to save our lives.

'We descend to our level of training' is the key to my earlier statement since our brain's will disregard anything that it considers unreliable and untested. Any 'maybes' will be considered not worth trying and we will be left with a very watered down version of our level.

By training in more realistic scenarios we can succeed in turning more 'maybes' in to facts, that the brain will have confidence employing if/when the time comes to put it in to action.

There is another problem that lies in the brain having too many options! You may have perhaps 5 different techniques that you consider effective in passing an average height hand-rail so how can you pick one in a crisis over another? Can you do that quickly if you haven't already thought about the possible consequences? Are you certain that you will just be able to adapt to the situation and pick a technique at the time?

What if you can't..?

Many hand-to-hand combat experts have recommended learning as many combat techniques as possible to prepare for every eventuality - but many of the same experts also recommend spending time deciding on simply 3-4 different techniques that you are certain you can execute with adequate power, speed and confidence to end the confrontation... so that you're not faced with the 3,000 techniques you learnt in the dojo running through your mind and trying to pick one in the heat of the moment.

I think it is in times of safety that we must consider these things logically so that we don't have to suddenly make the decision under pressure. Don't give the brain so many options as this causes it to panic - give it solid, concrete decisions and training based on previous logical thought so that it can lose all doubt in your ability to successfully employ this technique to save your life. Your brain has enough jobs to do during a crisis as it's trying to manage chemicals, muscles, oxygen intake etc. Give it one less thing to worry about, today.

Decide now which ONE pass you can use most effectively when faced with the average hand-rail so that when the time comes you're not faced with such thoughts as, "SHALL I CAT? SPEED? JUMP OVER?!" as you approach the obstacle.

These decisions today, might just save your life tomorrow, as you descend to your level of training.

-Blane

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

2,400 - The magical number of repetitions

This short entry is just to express some of my opinions on repetition.

2,400... That's how many repetitions it takes for a movement to become instinctual (according to experts who worked with the British SAS to determine how much training they needed in certain combat techniques).

Now this might not sound like too much hard work - most of you reading this are probably now pondering whether they have done over 2,400 cat passes, 2,400 arm jumps and 2,400 metres of balancing on a rail etc. But what we have to remember is that every single obstacle is slightly different.

Think of every cat pass you have ever done and I'll bet you cannot think of two that were absolutely identical. Take in to account the approach, the heights, the widths, the distances, the weather, the dust, the humidity, the cuts on your hands at the time, the lunch you had to affect your weight and it is very unlikely that you have ever done two identical cat passes on different obstacles (or even the same one!).

So these magical 2,400 repetitions suddenly seem not so simple to complete.

According to those experts' findings based on a LOT of research, an SAS soldier in training would have to repeat a particular knife attack technique 2,400 times before it was drilled in to them and an instinctual reaction. This couldn't be done in a day since this relies on the soldier being fresh and perfectly executing the techinque whilst under realistic training conditions and in the mindset of actually killing someone.

So to bring this to the interest of us, the traceurs, this would mean that just ONE movement on ONE obstacle would need to be repeated 2,400 times whilst you were fresh and completely focused, before that ONE movement on that ONE obstacle might be considered an instinctual movement!

This hammers home the point of repetition being key, something that we've all heard from Parkour veterans time and time again but perhaps we fail to fully comprehend the messages' magnitude.

I'm sure I've done over 2,400 repetitions of every type of pass that I practice but I honestly don't think I could say I've done that amount on one obstacle whilst I was fresh and fully focused in the mindset of doing it to save my life. In fact, I know I haven't.

So for anybody who thinks they have 'mastered' a particular technique, it might come as a surprise to hear this is almost impossible since it would require around 2,400 repetitions of the technique on every single obstacle, ever created plus every one being created every day... not to mention the maintenance of that perfection.

I believe a man could spend an entire lifetime training just one technique on one obstacle and never develop it to the level of every one being 100% perfect without exception. Which is why it's funny to read lists of techniques on forums that people have 'mastered' in their first month of Parkour.

But don't worry or become disheartened with never being able to perfect your favourite technique - strive towards perfection by all means - but just remember that you can only ever finish somewhere on the path towards perfection, never at the destination itself.

There is always room for improvement.

-Blane

Monday, May 21, 2007

Pulling Power and Diet Update

Well the one-armed chinups are coming along. I have done a few on my right (weaker) arm but they're not consistent yet and I need to be 100% fresh to do them. With a bit more work I should be able to get it up to the level of the left arm with which I can do a repetition and a slow negative with relative ease.

When I first started training these I was also working towards a one-armed pullup, which I abandoned since I didn't want to overload myself. I was therefore surprised to find that I could do a one-armed pullup with my left arm with no additional training. It seems the muscles built to achieve the one-armed chinups were enough to allow me to do the same with a pronated grip. I'm really happy with this since I was thinking this would be another while down the line and require specialised training.

So as it stands I can pullup and chinup with my left arm consistently and chinup with my right arm when I'm fresh... the obvious next step is to work towards being able to chinup and pullup on both arms individually, whenever I please.

Once I have achieved this benchmark in pulling power them I'm going to cease progressing with it for a while and just maintain that level, whilst switching my focus to pushing power in the form of handstand practice, elephant lifts, weighted pushups for endurance, gymnastics planche and ultimately in this period, 10 one-armed pushups per arm with perfect form (feet together, body straight).

My leg progression is going well too, I've implemented a few new training techniques in to my leg training such as isometric holds similar to martial arts stances, jump repetitions, weighted pistols and generally focusing on jumping ability in my technical sessions.

One thing that I've been really happy with recently is my diet. It has always been 'ok' in that 5 or 6 days per week I was completely strict with what I ate and then at the weekend I tended to splurge a little and indulge myself. But recently, in the last two or three weeks I've been completely aware and careful with what I put in my mouth and I've noticed a big difference in my ability as a result.

My diet over the past three weeks has consisted of fruit (ridiculous amounts), vegetables, chicken, turkey, soup, wholemeal bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, fish, weetabix, oats, yogurt, nuts and that's pretty much all I can think of. I've been drinking water, milk and fruit smoothies/juice exclusively. That is all that I've consumed and I feel a lot better for it, I think I've lowered my body fat percentage further than ever before and I never feel bloated or hungry anymore... all of the processed chemicals seemed to be gone from my body and it feels good to be in control of the situation (I still supplement with whey protein, cod liver oil, glucosamine sulphate and a multivitamin).

I've never counted calories or weighed my meals and I don't plan to start now - I prefer to just listen to my body. The occasional cravings for something sweet or chocolaty still happen at the weekend but so far I've resisted and gradually my palette is changing. I'm going to try for two months without anything 'bad' in my diet then hopefully I'll be fully converted to healthy eating and lose the cravings for sweet foods!

Hope you're all training hard and seeing lots of progression, I'm off to eat an apple or four. ;-)

-Blane

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Planche Progression

Just a quick post to say I managed 21 muscle ups (planche) tonight in one set.

It's been a long while since I went for my max number of repetitions and I shouldn't really have tried it tonight since I had an extreme arm session last night... I think I could have got 25 if i had been fresh.

So that's a goal for the next little while, to push my maximum muscle up repetitions in one set up to the 25-30 mark.

I've still not managed a full one-armed chin up with my right arm yet but my left arm ones are now quite consistant - I think I'll start with weighted negative repetitions to help my overall control with them.

-Blane

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bananaman Joins The OAC Club

Firstly, I wish to thank everyone who visited my blog over the past couple of weeks and left comments on my article. The amount of feedback was very unexpected and I'm really glad the post had such a positive impact on so many people in the community. For those who contacted me via Email, Myspace, Youtube, by phone and in person regarding the article, I appreciated all of your kind words. Thanks also to the various organisations who contacted me asking to publish the article on their respective websites, it helped spread the word.

Just a quick update on my training:

Some of you may be familiar with Bananaman, the fictional schoolboy also known as Eric, who turns in to a superhero when he eats a banana. If you are not, please click here.

"...For when Eric eats a banana, an amazing transformation occurs. Eric is Bananaman. Ever alert for the call to action."

I reached one of my training goals yesterday by completing a one-armed chin up through the full range of motion. My secret? Just like Eric, all it took was a banana!

Half-way through the session I took a quick break from training on this new scaffolding tower, had a drink, peeled a banana and took a bite... with the banana still in my right hand I walked around a bit and jumped up to grab a horizontal bar with my left hand. I started pulling and for the first time, didn't stop until my chin was right over the bar. It must have been a funny sight to see my face straining, chewing, smiling and laughing at the same time whilst waving this half-eaten banana around, but it was worth it.

I did 3 complete repetitions throughout the rest of the day and plenty of partial repetitions. Although I could only do a complete one with my left arm, I'm sure the right arm isn't too far behind as I can also do 90% of one with that arm and it felt a little closer than ever yesterday.

So if ever there was a secret to breaking through that barrier and achieving something that is just beyond your reach, think of Eric and consider a banana might be the solution...

The one-armed chin ups have been on my mind since I last visited Lisses and met Thomas Des Bois for the first time. He inspired me to begin training for them and I began the process on Monday 19th February 2007. I started using a belt around my chin up bar and used that to support the pulling arm. This, combined with slow negative repetitions formed the basis for my training and I set a goal to complete one complete repetition with each arm by 1st May 2007. I now have 14 days to complete one with my right arm to meet my goal.

And this was not the end of my banana-powered adventures for the day, later on I rescued a football from a tall tree that some guys in the park kicked a little too hard. I believe that if everybody in the world completed just one random act of kindness everyday then the world would be a much better place. Whether this is helping an old lady cross the road, retrieving a ball from a roof or pushing a old man and his wheelchair up a steep hill (Nice one Jin - hahaha), we should be using our skills and training experience to aid others as well as ourselves.

Tune in next week for more adventures of Bananaman!

-Blane

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dilution

Dilution:

a) The process of making weaker or less concentrated
b) A dilute or weakened condition.
c) A diluted substance.


I've not posted for a while as my mind has been busy and it's only now that I feel I want to share the outcome of my thoughts. This entry may offend you, it may seem like it's directed at you and maybe it is.

I can live with being disliked for telling the truth, but I can not continue living with this opinion and not sharing it with the people I think it might help. I know I am not the only one who shares the following opinions and I feel it is worthwhile voicing them if it changes just one person's mindset and helps them. This is primarily for a friend of mine who I haven't trained with in a little while. A friend who seems to have become a little down with his training, a little distant, a little worried that he's not as good as other people. This is for him and all of the other people who feel disheartened watching the people around them do things they cannot... and also for the newcomers to Parkour.


Yesterday was my 1300th day of practicing Parkour. I'm not a big believer in anniversaries but it was on this day that the thoughts of two weeks came together and fused to become solid in my head.

I started training 1301 days ago on September 10, 2003, the day after Jump London aired for the first time on Channel 4 and it's amazing to think how much has happened and how much my life has changed since then.

I vividly remember the very first training session I had, 185 weeks and 6 days ago. It was with my good friend at the time, Tom, and we were both so excited from watching Jump London and wanted to jump right in and get started! I remember trying some vaults, small jumps through a gap in a moving swing and I remember the first real experience of fear in Parkour as I jumped off the roof of a local gymnastics club and rolled on the grass. It was terrifying at the time and I think it was around 12ft high. I did this because I thought this is what Parkour was, jumping off high things and living to tell the tale the next day. Oh how far we’ve all come since then... or have we?

Now as most people will tell you, the days after your first session are hellish. Who remembers that unspeakable sensation of pain just walking up a flight of stairs in the days following your first real hardcore session? I remember my quads feeling like they had been assaulted by a gang of angry thugs with baseball bats for 2 weeks.

These days there is a wealth of great information available for people starting out in the discipline that I did not have access to in the beginning of my training. It was mostly trial and error, with a large dose of the latter. But despite the benefits that learning from past experiences of veteran traceurs can bring, I can't help but wonder if there are consequences to this.

I realise how difficult it must have been for David Belle and all of the other original traceurs of Lisses as they plunged forward in darkness over 15 years ago having no idea what they were doing or where it would lead. They slowly carved a path in a new direction and lit it up along the way for people to follow. It took many years for those guys to create the most basic movements and refine them to the extent that almost any obstacle could be overcome using just a handful of varying techniques and it is a truly remarkable accomplishment. An epic journey that a new traceur of today can bypass, almost, as they learn 10 new techniques in 2 months, that would have taken perhaps 5 years worth of training back in Lisses in the early 90's to achieve.

So at the rate we are developing, progressing and learning, surely we will catch up to them carving in the distance and be able to help them light up the path, right?

No, I don't think so.

I think we are travelling so quickly along that same path that we are going to run out of fuel before we reach them. They are looking behind them and see us in the distance and I think they are probably hoping we reach them to help the discipline grow, but I don't think many people of future generations ever will.
To quote Stephane Vigroux, "I think for many people it has to be more personal... everybody's moving... I'm really happy for them... but too quickly, too fast, too easy, too much show... too much."

There are guys who have been training for less than a year that are doing bigger and further things than guys who have been training for four years and I believe this is mainly due to the library of knowledge available now. This may sound good in principle, that as the generations go on, we will have new guys able to sidestep the trial and error process and just stick to what has been proven to work, to get to a good level in Parkour. But I'm worried.

I think that the trial and error approach taught the original traceurs of Lisses a vast amount about themselves and injected them with a creativity and passion and courage that is being forgotten today and is being replaced with 'by the book' training. Not only do I believe that their mental and physical adeptness is far superior to my own, I believe this will be further diluted as the generations go by and the future traceurs begin their training. People now have lists of movements to learn and tick them off as they do them and quickly move on to something new, something bigger, something more impressive.

The best way to get respected in the Parkour community today seems to be doing the biggest and best things with the minimum amount of training to get there. As long as you do it, it doesn't matter how sloppy it was, how slow the climb up was, how precise the landing was or how much damage it did to the person. Everybody spreads the word that "X" did "Y" so they must be better than “Z” since they have only been training for “W” months! This approach can quickly escalate and recently I feel it has been destroying the true nature of Parkour. People are doing things to be recognised by other people and it’s tough for the people working hard and progressing steadily to see this going on around them. They feel pressured in to attempting things beyond their level when they see it happening and that’s not their fault.

To me, Parkour is a long and worthwhile campaign - not one short, epic battle.

I'm not only worried about the mental progression and creativity of new practitioners being sacrificed, I'm equally concerned about the physical costs of such textbook progression.

Like myself, some of you may have memories of a granddad who was the only one in the family that could open the pickle jar at dinner time, despite his advanced years. This 'granddad strength' I speak of was no miracle - it was the product of 60 years of manual labour and a strength produced from many years of repetitive muscle use.

I'm concerned that the shortcuts available to today's practitioners might rob them of the irreplaceable muscular development that the Lisses traceurs have, the deep rooted neurological pathways and the vast amount of muscle memory that no book, article or spoken word can give to them. The granddad strength.

We all know you can condition your body from the beginning of your training and this will help your technical ability but I still feel people are moving too quickly and progressing too fast. I regularly see things being done by newer traceurs that guys with years of experience haven't done and sometimes the more experienced guys feel bad... often they find themselves questioning their training and wondering why they aren't as good, wondering where they got left behind and wondering why everybody seems to be better than them.

People have come to me, literally depressed about their training and looking for advice and asking where they went wrong, wondering what the newer guys have that they don't. The answer I've given to these people is simple. The new practitioners doing the massive jumps, the impressive techniques, the big, the hard, the long, the far etc. have ignited a fuse that will see them burn out years before they might want to, simply because their bodies are not ready for what they are doing. It's not just a question of knees, what about the damage being done to the shoulders of new guys doing big drops from branch to branch? What about their elbows?

What will be the long-term effects of this?

What will be the long-term effects of doing 12ft level arm jumps when the shoulders haven't experienced 10,000 smaller ones?

What will be the long-term effects of dropping 15ft to concrete when the legs haven't experienced 10,000, 5ft drops?

Time will tell.

Look at the best traceurs in the world. Go to Lisses and see them, talk to them, train with them and learn from them. They are not the best because they are genetically gifted or were crazy to try all the new things when they were younger and they are not the best because they progressed quickly. They are the best and the strongest because the progressed steadily. They built layer upon layer of armour on their bodies over years and years, repeating things thousands of times and not rushing the process. They have deep rooted granddad strength and resilience and resistance to injury that comes from gradual progression.

Various interviews with David have all asked about injuries and David has shaken his head and said his knees are fine, his arms are fine, he has no pain. This is after 18 years of training. By contrast, today we have guys with one year of training behind them taking months out with knee problems, shoulder dislocations, tendonitis... surgery to repair the body before 20 years of age. Is this a coincidence? Or is this because we are pushing too hard, too fast, trying to be the best and compare to others?

Parkour is a personal journey and one that is hard work. There are no shortcuts and there are no quick fixes. If you want 'to be and to last' then I suggest you take a long hard look at your training and ask yourself if you are doing this for fun, for a few years until you can settle down and get a job, get married, have kids and retire. If so then do what you want, do the massive jumps, do everything you want to do and don't look back. Just be aware that you are having an effect on the others who are in this for the long haul and working hard to get strong. Try to bear this in mind when you say “I did this, so why don’t you?” to them.

But if you want to truly discipline your body, become strong and last in Parkour then you must not compare yourself to anybody else. It can be too tempting to get talked in to doing something beyond your level when you see less experienced people doing it. Be the bigger man/woman and realise the damage they are doing to themselves and take pride in knowing you didn't succumb to peer pressure. In 10 years when they're walking with a cane, you will be able to do that jump a hundred times without generating a bead of sweat.

I’m not sure how we can help the future generations of traceurs and the future of Parkour. By providing them with our experience we can prepare them but it must not become a substitute for trial and error or we will all become clones of our teachers. There must remain an element of trial and error and an element of exploration. They must also be allowed to progress in their own time without feeling the pressure of people around them. I’m going to make it a personal goal of mine to help the people I see feeling pressured in to doing something they don’t want to, it would be great if some people reading this could take the time to join me.


To summarise the two points in the above article...

1) If you’re new to Parkour, research as much as possible and learn from the people who have walked the path before you, but do not lose your creativity and ability to think for yourself. Try new things, explore different methods and progress at your own pace. What you need to remember is that the people before you have more physical experience that has built what I refer to as ‘granddad strength’ and that cannot be taught or passed on. You can rush the theory but you cannot take shortcuts on the practical stage if you want to last in this discipline.

2) If you are more experienced in Parkour and feel like newer people are better than you, do not feel pressured in to pushing yourself too hard or doing things just because they are. Try to warn them of the dangers of trying things beyond their bodies’ conditioned state - even if they can do something, doesn’t mean they should. They are learning faster than you due to the wealth of information before them, due to your hard work.

If you care for the future of Parkour then it is your duty to help them to progress sensibly and remind them that they should slow down when you think they are going too fast. If we do not do this, Parkour will slowly die as its practitioners become weaker and weaker duplicates of past traceurs due to injury, overtraining and joint destruction.


Are you going to help to dilute Parkour and the new traceurs, Or are you going help to concentrate it and strengthen them?


"Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
" - William Butler Yeats


-Blane

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lisses 2007 Video

I finally finished editing the video from the trip to Lisses.

We should have planned things a little better but ended up training hard all week then realised we hadn't filmed anything! So on the last two days we tried to capture what our bodies would allow us to do after a week of punishment.

It will mean more to the people who were there than it will to the general public but I thought I would share it with those who are interested...



-Blane

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The one-armed bandit

Having become obsessed with one-armed chinups and one-armed pullups three weeks ago I wanted to post a quick update on the situation...

I'm currently focusing all of my upper body workout days on my one-armed pulling power. At present I'm able to complete 6-8 'one arm and one pinkie*' chinups on both arms. That is one arm and the pinkie* of the other hand on the branch/bar/whatever. I'm also able to do 12-15 second controlled negatives now that have improved from my 4-5 second ones 4 weeks ago when I experimented to see what level I was starting at.

I've also explored working with a belt wrapped around the bar for my other arm and also tried locking off at various points.

I think the gains in grip strength and pulling power in just 3 weeks of training this technique is pretty amazing. I've noticed definite improvement in my chest, lats, forearms, biceps, triceps and abs just from working towards the goal of one-armed chinups and that's all good.

Other ways I'm testing my one-armed strength is by drilling one-armed arm jumps at the weekends which simply involves doing as many different arm jumps as possible and using only one arm to control the landing. I currently can't to a one-armed climbup but that's something else I'll be working on in the next little while.

Once I can do 10 'one arm, one pinkie' chinups per arm and 20 second negatives then I'm going to add my weighted vest for resistance and begin the process again starting with 8 second negatives and 4-5 'one arm, one pinkie' chinups with weight.

My goal is to be able to do 1 unaided chin up with either arm by 1st May 2007, giving me about 8 weeks to achieve this. I'll keep updating my blog with my progress.

I think this will be the third milestone in my upper body development, the first one being the planche (muscle up) and the second being the planche-en-force (muscle up from strength).

*I'm unable to find a definitive answer as to whether it's a pinky or a pinkie! I think I prefer pinkie because it's longer than pinky and my pinkies or pinkys are quite long.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Evolution of Hell Night

With time, it's now obvious to me that Hell Night needs to evolve into something else. A more personal battle.

It's been over 20 weeks since the first Hell Night in Leicester and on Wednesday of this weeek we tried something different. The idea I had was to take each individual's personal weaknesses in to account and suggest that each person focus on that weakness.

Hell Night was an essential programme to condition my body and mind to a higher standard. I'm stronger and faster than I've ever been and my body fat percentage has dropped. But I have to admit I was perhaps being a little selfish by shaping the exercises around my personal goals of increased upper body strength and power.

Since most people have much stronger legs than they have arms anyway, everyone was happy with the program and saw results. Fast.

But after 20 weeks of conditioning, all of the people who weren't mentally tough enough to push through the pain barriers, keep going when they could hardly breathe and do that one final rep when it felt like their heads would explode have stopped coming. We're now left with the hardcore warriors who know what it means to work hard to achieve results and have a great mindset to make the most of those 4 hours.

So I think it's only now with almost 6 months of experience that we're all ready to step away from the group element and focus on training in the areas we each need to improve on individually. For example, on Wednesday I spent 4 hours doing pushups, muscle ups, dips, cat crawling, climbups, shimmying across sharp ledges and running on my own because at the time my upper body felt strong and I wanted to break it down and test it's ability to heal. The next day I had only minor stiffness in my shoulders and today I'll be training one armed negative chin ups and pull ups. Next Wednesday I'll work the various leg muscles for 4 hours.

I think in the old programme, a major motivator to keep going was to see the man in front and the man behind sweating and suffering the same pain as you so it was a test to push myself just as hard when I knew it was just me suffering in that particular exercise. But afterwards we all got together again and agreed it was a brilliant session and people were happy they could work on their weaknesses. Nobody had trouble driving themselves as hard as usual.

We had tested the idea of not using the group for support before when on a couple of occassions we completed the 4 hours in total silence without bellowing "COME ON, KEEP PUSHING" or "AAAAAAAAARGH!" every few minutes (hahahaha) but this was a bigger step.

I think it takes a very disciplined person to exercise and push themselves for 4 hours with no encouragement so if you've recently started your own Hell Nights in your area then I would suggest continuing with the group training and supporting each other in a general body strengthening programme until the minds and bodies are collectively strong enough and just need some refinement in certain areas. When you get to that stage (I would recommend 20 weeks as it seemed like a natural time for us) then look into what your weaknesses are and focus on them without relying on your unit for support.

Hope you all have a great weekend, I'm in the mood to train arm jumps galore! I'm hoping there's gale force winds and heavy rain so I can drill the jumps I'm comfortable with in harsh conditions.

-Blane

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lisses

As I expected - my return to Lisses was just what I needed to refresh my mind, body and understanding of Parkour.

We were lucky enough to spend a great deal of time with Thomas-Des-Bois throughout the week and getting to know him, his training and his motivations has been one of the most defining moments in my training to date. It has changed my views on physical training once again and reminded me that to be useful able to use our ability in a 'real' situation, we need to broaden our training methods and imagine more extreme scenarios when we practice. I also picked up some very useful psychological techniques for overcoming fear and progressed more technically in that week, that I think I could do in 3 months at home.

It was also cool to catch up and train with other friends such as Jerome, Gouda, Bruce and Alex. I'm forever grateful for the 'always welcome' reception in Lisses and it's a true testament to their attitudes that they're still so open to visitors even after seeing their discipline exploited by various worldwide associations.

We trained every single day and night and having just done a quick count, I've worked out that we trained for just under 60 hours of a possible 154! Take into account the hour or so we spent eating per day and the 8 we did sleeping each night, and it truly was a case of doing nothing but eating, sleeping and training our asses off.

One of the most important parts of the trip for me was getting to know the guys I regularly train with week in, week out. I've known one of them for over 2 years and the others for over a year but you don't really know someone when you only spend two days per week with them so living with these guys for a week was truly a test of our friendship and I can happily say we all grew much closer during the week. I've not laughed that much in a LONG time.

So despite having written a long article on a training plan I was trying just before going to Lisses, I've decided to abandon that plan and train on a more day to day basis depending on what parts of my body are tired and what parts are feeling fresh. I've learnt in the past week that learning how to listen to your body and adapt your days' training around that is more productive and less likely to result in overuse injuries than sticking to a strict regime. Although regimes have worked very well for me in the past, I think that it's only now with that experience that I can trust my body to tell me what needs work rather than plan equal amounts of exercise for each body part during the week. If however you feel your training is lacking structure and it's what you might need more of until you can trust your body, then check out my article on Periodised Training for an alternate method of progression I researched over the past couple of months.

Having realised my strength level and ability in Lisses, my goal for now is to develop serious leg power and resistance by training repetitions of landings from a height (I'll carefully discover the height I'm comfortable landing from without a roll). Once per week I plan to do 50-100 repetitions of landings from this height then over time I'll very slowly increase the height until I notice my leg power improving significantly. Having spoken to Thomas about this in detail he advised me of how to do this in a safe manner and how to land and 'resist' the shock properly using muscles rather than trying to absorb it and risk damaging joints.

I am also going to work on my one-armed strength techniques such as pullups, chinups, hanging at different lock angles and of course pushups.

I'll let you all know how this training plan is working out for me and list the advantages and any disadvantages I come across.

-Blane

Friday, February 09, 2007

'Snow Doubt I'll Be Back...

...but it won't be for a week. :P (Terrible play on words and the current weather, I know).

So I'm off to Lisses with 6 of my good friends to train, learn, recollect my thoughts and just ground myself again by realising how weak I really am compared to the French.

See you all when I get back, take care and train hard.

-Blane

Friday, January 26, 2007

Back To Business and... Lisses.

Filming for the past four or five weeks has been fun at times but mostly it was a chore to carry around a camera and tripod with me. I'm looking forward to getting back to just moving around without worrying about my stuff.

I'm going to Lisses again in 15 days with all the guys I train with regularly. There will be 7 of us and we'll spend a week developing ourselves as traceurs in the best possible company. Although it's my third time visiting Lisses, I still look forward to it just as much as ever - as each time I go, I come back with a new understanding of Parkour, how I should be training and with a refreshed and focused mind.

Over the next two weeks leading up to Lisses I'll be focusing on balance, foot placement drills, strength maintainance and very simple basics so that I'm 100% when the time comes.

I'd like to thank everyone who contacted me and left messages for me on forums, by email and by leaving comments on my blog about my video... I'm glad you all enjoyed it. My next goal is to capture Hell Night some time in the near future to help all of the people contacting me with questions about it, to set up a similar program in their local area. :)

Have a good weekend, train hard and eat well.

-Blane

Monday, January 22, 2007

Video Release

I'll finish editing the footage and release it tonight...

EDIT: It's up! YouTube link - Docendo Discimus

40mb Permanent Host (right click save as) - Thanks to Andeh for the hosting.

Enjoy.

-Blane

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stepping it up with protein!

It seems as though it's time to step my strength training up again - last night I completed the most demanding workout of the week (besides Hell Night) and at the end I hadn't broke a sweat! It's obvious that Hell Nights are truly doing great things for my body but it's becoming harder and harder to challenge my body on the other nights that I focus on conditioning. I may need to invest in the 20kg weighted vest as I don't think the 10kg version is tough enough now for pushups, pullups, chinups etc.

I think another contributing factor to my increased strength and recovery is that I've started taking whey protein shakes after my workouts to maximise muscle recovery and feed my muscles with high quality protein when they need it most. I highly recommend investing in a tub of whey protein if you take strength training and conditioning seriously. I bought mine from Holland and Barrett for about £20... if you wait until there is a sale (usually every two months or so) and stock up then apparently you can get the same big tub for as little as £8. I started taking the supplement a week ago and there's no doubt I'm recovering faster and gaining lean muscle mass and definition with no side effects.
If you're worried about taking supplements to boost your training then there's no need with whey protein, there's no steroids or 'weight gain' involved, all it's doing is whacking 40g of protein into your bloodstream to feed your muscles after a workout. It also comes in four flavours; strawberry (I can vouch for this one being gorgeous), banana, vanilla and chocolate to suit your personal tastes.

So if you're struggling to eat enough chicken, turkey, eggs etc. during the day to keep your protein levels high, then consider looking into protein shakes - you won't be dissapointed.

Video Update: It's 90% done. I have 2.5 minutes of edited video ready to go and with another 30 seconds of footage and some polishing off, I'll whack it all together and release it. ETA - 1 week.

-Blane