Friday, January 30, 2009

The Law of Averages

(Originally posted on the Parkour Generations blog).

300 level cat-pass precisions. That'll do! It sounded like a fair challenge for later that day. It had been a while since I'd focused on this technique so I felt I should pay it a little more attention tonight.

Throughout the day, the thought of the upcoming training session often crossed my mind but my attention was more often found wandering to what someone had said to me earlier in the week, as I had landed a precision. "You're going to fall and hurt yourself one of these days!" she had said with a smile, and I couldn't help wondering... was she right? Was I a victim to a law of averages that stated some day, somewhere, I was going to mess up a basic technique and seriously hurt myself? Was this an inevitability that was beyond my control? It wasn't a pleasant thought.

It's often told that the most dangerous moments in your training occur whilst you are executing the simplest of techniques and just not paying enough attention. I've rarely heard of anyone being badly injured or missing a big jump where they were fully focused and concentrating, so what could I do to prove to myself that I was not a victim? That I was in fact in control of this situation? The answer came quickly, tonight I would not miss!

So 300, became 300 in a row. If I missed the landing wall, if I overshot, undershot, missed with my hands or if both feet did not land on the second wall and remain there, I would start again from the beginning. Call it quality control or madness - it was probably a bit of both.

When I arrived at the spot where I planned to begin this experiment, I wasn't too happy to find the walls were soaked. Wet, dark and slippery with moss sprouting from between the cracks, the sharp-edged walls greeted me with a slick shine and were menacing to the touch. Great.

30 minutes later, after loosening off and warming up, an inner pressure I couldn't quite locate began to grow inside of me with each successful repetition. 3 became 20, 20 became 50, and the thought of having to start all over again began to haunt me, making each repetition a little more daunting than the last.
The only way to counter this building distraction was to force myself to treat each jump as if it was the first of the evening.
I would focus my full attention on connecting with the first wall cleanly, push just enough and land on the second, and remain there. For a while I felt things were going well, but as my confidence grew, so did my chances of complacency.

If there was indeed some unwritten law of averages, then how many times should I fall in 300 attempts at this, given wet and dark conditions?

Two hours had passed as I reached the half-way point. It was 9:30pm and I had managed 150 level cat-pass precisions and my forearms felt like lead. I hadn't even considered the physical toll this challenge would take. Shaking them off, I thought about the technique and realised it was like being in the pushup position and rocking on to your fingers with enough force to leave the ground temporarily, over and over again. I was tired, I was sore and I knew that although I might be able to reach the elusive 300, it would be a royal pain in the backside to have to start again any time soon.

Ten minutes later I restarted the process and the 151st repetition loomed. I wasn't sure how much I had recovered during the brief rest and the technique itself seemed suddenly unfamiliar in my head. Stop over thinking, this is just another simple technique.

I. can. not. miss. now.

200 reps. At this rate I should be finished by 11pm... 3 and a half hours after I started. If I miss now then I may well be watching the sunrise over my shoulder later today. I managed a quick smile as I thought that might dry the walls a little, if nothing else.

280 reps. My brain had switched off. There was no longer any pressure. The process was automatic and although my forearms begged for relief from the constant punishment, I had fallen in to a rhythm. I would pass over the first wall, land on the second, turn around, hop back, drop down to the floor and line myself up for another, repeating the phrase, "stay straight, medium power." in my head each time. That had become my curse, it had started twenty minutes earlier and I couldn't stop now, what if that was my lucky charm, my key to finishing this?

I honestly don't know if I would have started again had I missed then. Physically, I don't think I could have managed another 300. I'd learned my lesson already though...

There is no law that states one day we will miss. With enough concentration, enough focus, due care and attention, we can repeat a simple technique hundreds of times, for hours and not make a mistake. Accidents do happen and some things are beyond our control but we can greatly reduce our chances of messing up if we treat each and every movement as something important, something to be careful with.

I didn't do 300 level cat-pass precisions in the end.

The 301st was for the nice lady who had inspired my evening's activities.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

London Calling

It seems to be becoming a trend that I make a big change to my life every eleven years. When I was eleven years old I relocated to England and now, eleven years later at twenty-two years of age, I'm preparing to move to London to live on my own for the first time and begin teaching Parkour on a more regular basis. I wonder what turn my life will take when I'm thirty-three!

With Thomas readying himself to head off on yet another crazy adventure around the world with his 'special' shirt, I'll be taking on his classes down in the capital and I look forward to finding myself with a lot more free time to train, travel and explore. Practicing regularly with the rest of the team is something I'm particularly looking forward to and it will no doubt help me to improve and push my own level in new directions.

I understand that being a good teacher means you need to forever be a student of your chosen practice and refine your methods, to learn and adapt all of the time. I hope that whilst passing on my experiences and helping other practitioners on their Parkour journeys, I can learn a lot more about myself and the best ways to do that.

The big move begins on the 16th February!


Friday, January 09, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions

Quite often I receive emails asking questions about Parkour or my training and I wish I had as much time to answer them all as I used to.
It's becoming harder to keep up with them as this blog grows and I get less free time so I've had to think of some kind of alternative that I hope will take care of some of the more frequently asked questions. All of the following questions are ones I've been asked recently in emails or private messages and a couple I've added from older messages that I thought might be interesting to talk about.
I'll update this as necessary and if there is anything you'd like me to add then feel free to mention it. There will be a link on the right hand menu to the FAQ too, to make it easier to navigate to as more posts are added.

+Who are you?
My name is Chris Rowat, I was born in 1986 and I’ve been practicing Parkour since 2003.

+What is this blog all about?
This blog is a way for me to record and share my experiences in Parkour. It started off as a personal way for me to log my progress and to keep a few friends up to date with what I was doing and gradually grew to include articles and other things that I hope might help other people with their training. I plan to expand it further to include more useful content as time goes by.

+What is Parkour and why do you do it?
Parkour is a method of training your mind and body to quickly find ways of overcoming physical obstacles in a safe and efficient manner. The skills learned through the discipline can then be put to use in a range of circumstances, from aiding you in simple daily tasks to the more extreme possibilities of needing to escape from danger or reach and rescue someone in need of help. It is a pursuit to become strong in every sense of the word in order for the individual to become more useful to themselves and the people around them.
We are each given an amazing tool that is the human body and can choose to do with it whatever we wish but I feel an overwhelming obligation to use mine to better the lives of the people I care about and I feel this can best be achieved by practicing Parkour.

+What did you do before Parkour?
I used to play various team sports such as football and basketball and generally enjoyed being active. I began training in Shotokan Karate at about 13 years of age because I wanted to learn how to defend myself and I continued this for four years before stopping to dedicate more time to Parkour.

+How did you discover Parkour and when did you begin training?
My first experience of Parkour was seeing the BBC advert known as Rush Hour, featuring David Belle. It immediately sparked my interest but at the time I had limited Internet access and couldn't find any further information about it or what this athlete was doing. I later read a short article about Parkour in a magazine and it gave the impression that this was something that only a few people could do. Knowing I had no way of going to France to see these guys and learn something, I forgot about it. I later saw a trailer for a documentary called Jump London and realised that this was the same thing I had seen before. I watched the documentary and knew that this is what I had been searching for through my years of sports and martial arts. I believed that this might be something I could do after all, so began my training the next day.

+What are your personal training goals?
My long term physical goal is simply to continue on the same path of increasing my strength and to improve my technical skills. But for me, the mental aspect is something that I find more interesting than the physical. Will is everything and with the right mindset I feel I can achieve anything, even things that at first might seem impossible. I feel there is no point in having a strong body if I haven't trained my mind to use it to its potential. If I'm too scared to act in a dangerous situation then all of my physical training will be useless so I try to continually challenge my mind and do things that scare me.

+How do you approach physical training and conditioning?
My goal with physical training is to increase my strength, speed, power, cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance and flexibility. I try to be intelligent in my approach. I choose exercises that will have a direct positive impact on my ability to move and supplementary exercises to maintain muscular balance, prevent injury and protect my body.
Regular training of your entire body will help to strengthen and protect all of the muscles, joints and bones from the impacts and stresses found in Parkour. My physical preparation and maintenance amounts to over half of my total time spent training.

+Is weight training suitable for Parkour?

+How do you stay motivated to train through difficult times?
When I’m tired or when it’s wet and cold outside, or if I have other things on my mind, training can sometimes seem less appealing. At times like this I remind myself of my goals and think about the other people in my life that might need me to be stronger than I am right now. This train of thought alone drives me to go outside and improve regardless of what the circumstances are.
If you constantly ask yourself why you are training and answer them honestly, you can prioritise it appropriately and dedicate the necessary amount of time to it.

+How has Parkour affected other areas of your life?
Parkour has had a huge influence in shaping who I am and my life today. It has made me a healthier, more confident person and introduced me to many great people, some of whom have since become my closest friends. The travelling, the camaraderie and the feeling of being part of something positive is rewarding and it’s a really exciting thing to be a part of.
There is another side to the story though.
Parkour demands a lot of you and you quickly begin to realise just what you would need to sacrifice to reach a good level. It begins to affect everything in your life from your diet, to how much free time you have, your relationships with your family and friends and like anything worthwhile it takes a huge amount of time, hard work and dedication to excel in.
I carry the calloused hands of a coalminer twice my age and live with almost constant muscular pain from some part of my body healing from a training session. The blood lost over the years would feed a small nation of vampires and I spend a lot of time explaining that bruise, this scar, or some hole in my leg. When I think about everything I’ve given so far and look ahead at what I’m going to need to do to get to where I want to be, it’s not a pretty outlook, but one that is worthwhile, rewarding and a LOT of fun at times. The good points outweigh the bad!

+Does Parkour help you to deal with problems in other areas of your life?
Yes, when you think about some of the obstacles you’ve overcome and the process you used to do that, you begin to treat other problems in the same way. They are no longer met with panic or dread - you just begin to look for ways to overcome them. You think of how you managed to bring yourself to jump so far from a wobbling wet rail to a far off branch and realise that this problem in comparison is not so bad at all. If you stop and think about it, break it down and analyse it rationally, you can come up with a solution to this too and move past it in a similar way.

+Does your training change in the winter?
Yes. Not so much my methods but there are additional things that become important in the winter. I spend more time warming up, double check any surfaces I'm working with for moisture or ice and since it's darker I know my depth perception will be altered and I need to compensate for that. I don't have an interest in training in gyms, even when it gets cold, wet or generally unpleasant outside. There is always a way to train and in the winter, even the smallest, simplest things are suddenly great challenges for you to face. Use it to your advantage, realise that if you can do this jump now when it is so difficult, you will learn more than if you wait until it's easy.
Sometimes I think that I would prefer to live somewhere where the weather is hot and dry for most of the year but the truth is I don't. Parkour is a discipline that revolves around facing obstacles and finding ways to overcome them and I can think of no greater obstacle than a harsh winter!

+Who or what inspires you?
I'm inspired by a variety of sources and can relate to a lot of other athletes, disciplines and sports. Even a short sentence I read or hear can spark my imagination and help to fuel a training session. Music can be inspiring and interviews or advice from professional sportsmen often give me ideas.
In Parkour, I'm inspired by other practitioners, particularly the original French traceurs who I thank for their hard work and dedication throughout the years, without their efforts I wouldn't be doing what I do today.
Less experienced practitioners often inspire me too, anyone who shows a lot of passion for what they do and works hard to achieve their goals has my immediate admiration and respect.

+What advice would you give to someone wanting to improve their Parkour?

Regardless of what level you are at, the two main pieces of advice I would give to anyone wanting to improve their Parkour is:
  1. Avoid injuries.
  2. Find something difficult and repeat it until it is easy.
They sound simple but can be expanded on. To avoid injuries, you need to be careful and focused at all times, know your limits, condition your body to protect yourself and listen to your body when it needs to stop and rest.
Finding something difficult and repeating it until it's easy applies to almost everything. Whether it's a new jump that is on your limit or a certain number of pushup repetitions, confront what you find difficult and work on it until you find it easy. Then find something new! This ensures you're always pushing yourself to improve at everything and should help you to avoid plateaus. Once anything becomes easy then it's time to find a new challenge to stop your training becoming stale and boring.
There are no shortcuts I’m afraid, just keep training hard and try to improve a little each time you go outside and the rest will take care of itself.

+Why do you make videos?
I enjoy making videos and sharing ideas with people. It was video that inspired me to begin training so I value the power of that and if someone sees a video of mine and likes it then they might want to find out more or tell their friends about it. Either way I hope it helps the growth of Parkour and if other people make videos too then we can all share ideas, training locations and methods.

+Why do you not practice flips or acrobatics?
I’d rather spend my time training other things. These things look good and seem like fun but I’m not doing this to impress people. I have a goal of learning how to move as safely, efficiently and as quickly as possible over obstacles and to me, acrobatics just add unnecessary dangers to that.
I have every respect for people who train really hard and practice acrobatics but to me it’s a completely different activity.
In the same way that a lion wouldn’t consider adding any unnecessary flair or danger to crossing a fast-flowing river, I try to find challenging jumps, obstacles and routes that force me to face my fears and push my limits using just the most basic of techniques.

+What is your opinion on the differences between Parkour, Freerunning, L’art du deplacement and the politics that are so often argued over?
I try not to get involved with or think about these things too often. They all stemmed from the same place, the same people and essentially they are all very similar, with slightly different ideas behind them depending on who you ask.
I know what it is that I want to do now and have my own goals and ways of getting there, so whether someone else calls that Parkour, Freerunning or L’art du deplacement is not important to me. I personally train in a way that I believe is very close to what Parkour was intended to be when it was developed, and yes, I call it Parkour, but the name is not important to me, only that I continue towards my goals.
The real issue I have problems with is when people do reckless things that can then influence other people to think that is what it is we all do. We do not do stunts, daredevil jumps or jackass pranks and that is not Parkour.