Unleash your inner superhero with parkour
November 20, 2015
So what did you do this past weekend? I'll be honest — November is not my favorite month in Summit County. As an outdoor enthusiast and longtime local, the idea of taking one run at a local ski resort on the White Ribbon of Death has lost its appeal. Luckily, with our recent good fortune of white gold from Ullr, hiking up the mountains to catch a few powder turns has been epic this month.
Nonetheless, this past weekend was my escape from the mountains to play indoors at Apex Movement's training facility in Denver on a quest to learn parkour. When I shared my weekend experience with friends, they asked me, "What exactly is parkour?" Surprisingly, the core of the sport has been around for hundreds of years, yet it was not until I took a trip to Colombia, South America that I first saw a group of kids performing incredible tricks in a local park.
Parkour, in general terms, combines philosophies and fundamentals from gymnastics and martial arts, yet breaks free from structure. The sport can be described as a free-flowing art form, utilizing the most efficient means possible to get from Point A to Point B. Since I love to step out of my comfort zone, it was time to get challenged.
You have probably seen these maneuvers performed on a YouTube video and thought to yourself, "Wow! That is incredible!" Parkour's core fundamentals focus on movements as an expression of art to overcome obstacles. Before I was ready to jump eight-foot gaps between two tall buildings in a single bound, just like a superhero, the professional guides at Apex Movement taught me the core basics to improve my performance.
When looking at the entire parkour process, you might think to yourself that it seems impossible. But Austin Lutz, my professional guide, reminded me that nothing is impossible — your brain has just not yet learned how to do it.
Get ready to fall
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The biggest benefit to training at Apex Movement was being in a safe environment, with a soft floor and mats where I felt comfortable falling. As Summit County adventure athletes, we love new challenges, but when was the last time you went out skiing and said, "Today, I'm going to deliberately practice the art of falling?"
Parkour's key fundamentals and techniques teach our bodies and minds to fall with awareness and equanimity. When we learn to fall safely, injuries can be minimized in many situations. The reason injuries occur is that we have not learned to be fluid with the fall; instead, we tense up and become rigid.
During my class, I felt the fluidity of my falls, kept light on my feet and went with the momentum I created instead of trying to control it. Falling and failing is highly encouraged in this sport because that is where the real learning begins.
Out of the comfort zone
We all know that change can be scary. As someone who has traveled the world, I consider myself adaptable in new situations. But, my parkour guide challenged me to think and do things differently.
With a background in gymnastics, I had already acquired certain skills like flips, twists and cartwheels. During the parkour learning process, I focused my energy on a new skill known as a wall spin. Even though I had a background in inversions, years and years of gymnastics, practice upon practice, I only utilized the strength of these skills on my dominant side.
Determination and the wall spin
I was determined to learn a wall spin. Basically, the move looks like a side flip, using your hands to spin a 360 up and over the side of a wall. After watching a video on how to do it and with professional help from parkour guide Austin, we began the progression.
First, move a cartwheel against the mat on the wall. Once I felt comfortable, I moved the cartwheel higher up on the mat and finally turned that cartwheel into a two-foot punch off the floor, using my hands to swing my legs around the wall.
What fascinated me was taking a simple move like a cartwheel, something I had performed many times, and transforming it into a really cool side flip off a wall. The baby steps helped build my self-confidence and slowly taught my brain to master the wall spin on my left side. I felt like a superhero, but, as soon as I was basking in my accomplishment, Austin said, "Now let's try that same move on your right side."
What? Years of gymnastics had placed me in a mental box that kept me feeling comfortable only on my dominant side. The thought of changing sides became terribly frightening. I kept thinking, "Why can't my brain synapses connect?" Had all this programming convinced me that I was a lefty (leading into movements with my left leg first) and that doing anything with my right leg was not possible?
In life, we place mental blocks on ourselves because we want to hold onto a belief system that might hinder us from stepping out of our comfort zone. Falling became a part of the process, and eventually, my brain reconfigured the mechanisms from a different direction. The breakthrough "ah-ha!" moment for me was thinking, "The next time I convince myself that I cannot do it, think again."
Play like a kid
Children are amazing creatures because they believe anything is possible. As we grow up and are faced with uncomfortable situations, we are afraid to be wrong or to fail. Parkour teaches you to think like a kid again, that anything is possible if you just believe it is possible.
At a certain time when learning to perform the wall spin on my opposite side, I had to think like a child, convincing myself it is possible because I just performed the same move on my other side. Success comes when we take a moment, open our minds and think of new challenges like a child. Playing, having fun, constantly moving and staying creative, flexible, agile and fearless are fundamentals of this sport, but as we grow up, we forget to believe that anything is possible and instead make up excuses that prevent us from taking risk and moving forward.
Go back to the basics
When learning a new activity, we often want to bypass the basic, beginner fundamental moves and jump into superhero status. But, without the key building blocks, it is a recipe for disaster.
As I was learning to retrain my brain in each stage of the wall spin progression, it brought me back to the movie "Karate Kid." Mr. Miyagi taught his student "wax on, wax off," and, even though this was a basic move, through repetition it became the key component to his martial-arts practice. When faced with a complicated, high-risk move, taking it back to the basics will eliminate fear associated with failure.
Parkour training can help athletes perform better at any sport. It can also reduce the risk of injuries from falling and challenge your inhibitions. Go ahead, take the risk, break the rules and remember this quote from Ben Franklin: "We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing."
Shawna Henderson is a multi-sport adventure athlete and founder of AdrenalinEscapes.com, a web-based booking platform to connect active travelers with guides and adventure sports in Colorado. Through her website and writing, she offers insights on new outdoor gear, activities and destinations to fuel your passion.
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