"Learning how to make things turns you from a spectator into a participant, from someone at the mercy of the system to someone who is helping to run the system. Learning how to make gives you the guts to make more, to fail more often, to get better at making."
- Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?
All you need to practice jumping is the smallest of targets. In this case the wooden edges separating the mulch from the pavement. Given the width (an inch, maybe?) landing accurately is hard. One sure case of "smaller is harder" with this sort of thing. Jumping quickly between targets, even when small, is also a guaranteed way to nuke your energy.
And a bit of bonus video of recent training that I actually remembered to record:
Spotting movement opportunities around you is a trainable skill. In parkour we call this either parkour vision or traceur vision. In Feeling Creative it was all about the benefits of developing this vision; now it's time to learn how to train it.
To improve parkour vision you have three means of learning (in order of usefulness): visualization, learning from community and video inspiration. Let's start with the most important, visualization.
It's a fancy word, but all we're talking about is imagining yourself moving. It doesn't matter whether a movement is possible for you, especially at first. Just picture yourself moving through the environment right in front of you.
Without further direction trying imagining a route might be daunting. That's okay. There's a method to improving your vision until you're flowing through your environment with nary a thought necessary.
You'll go through three basic stages as you improve your Parkour vision: experimentation, combination, and improvisation. For fun, let's look at these stages through a metaphor.
Stage 1: Experimentation
Learning movement skills is like learning a new language. You've got your nouns (obstacles) and the basic verbs you've learned (techniques) which you combine to form sentences. Stage 1, then, is simply learning to look for pairings of obstacles and techniques. You see a waist-high railing and think "I could lazy vault that," or a wall taller than your head "I'd need to wall pass (run) that." You can practice this anytime you're out, whether on foot or in a vehicle. Look at an obstacle and ask "How could I pass over/under/through that quickly?" Do this constantly.
If you're practicing every day, identifying obstacles will become second-nature quickly. However, there's another part of the skill you need to train: spotting gaps. Learning to look for gaps is more difficult, requiring a more active imagination, especially at ground level. Why is it harder? First, you have to have a sense of your jump range and the ability to perform the mental calculus necessary to gauge a jump and know whether it's physically possible for you to make. Second, you often have to learn to see what isn't obviously there. A gap doesn't need to be a yawning chasm to be a good challenge. Gaps that are millimeters high are still gaps, and if you're a beginner they are the best for testing the limits of your abilities. Painted lines, parking stops, curbs, rocks and benches are everywhere and vary in challenge from beyond easy to impossible. You don't need to venture far from the ground to find, or create, gaps.
Stage 2 - Combination
The next stage in learning a language is to begin to move from sentences to paragraphs. With our metaphor, this means stringing movements together. Now we're getting into the meat (mmm) of parkour, navigating your efficiently.
By this point you should be able to recognize obstacle/technique pairings and jumps with ease. If you do, then the simplest way to approach Stage 2 is to imagine yourself starting where you're standing (point A) and pick a spot beyond a set of obstacles (point B) and imagine how you could efficiently get from A to B. Got it? Now try it.
This method works whether you're dealing with two obstacles or twenty. If you're interested purely in the practical, escape and pursuit aspects of Parkour practice, you only need this approach to develop great parkour vision.
Stage 3 (and beyond) - Improvisation
After a ton of practice in the first two stages you'll begin to internalize the techniques and ability to see routes. Now, stop thinking and stop planning. This is Stage 3. Improvisation happens best when you let your skills flow through you, trusting your body to know what to do. It's the ultimate test for your skills, quickly revealing what you're well-practiced at, as well as what you still need work on.
To clear flaws we continue practicing, sometimes still in Stage 3, but more often returning to Stages 1 and 2 for further refinement.
Beyond that, Stage 3 practice becomes more about exploration, imposing limitations, and creating hypothetical scenarios to drive creative use of Parkour vision, but that's for another time.
Learning from community
I've trained in many spaces, often for years, thinking I had identified all the movements I could do there. I trained around the Forest Theater steps for over six months without seeing the progressive precision jump challenge (a small gap, see what I mean?) there. Then friends show up to train and jam and one of them does some new thing there and I'm proven horribly, horribly wrong. Harnessing the vision of more experienced practitioners, or just practitioners with different experiences, can point out blind spots in your own awareness.
There is no magical formula to finding those blind spots. All you need is a community to train with from time to time. If you're training on familiar ground, simply pay attention to what and how the others are practicing. Then (if it's doable for you) it's just a matter of practicing it yourself and remembering to keep an eye out for similar opportunities elsewhere down the line.
Even if you're in a new area, there are opportunities to enhance your vision through watching what others are practicing. Keep an eye out for how other traceurs/traceuses interact with different obstacles or obstacle pairings. Likewise, participating in conversations and talking through possibilities in a spot is a great way to get insight into how others visualize routes.
Watch other people, then try applying what you see to your own visualizations and physical practice.
The final, and most limited, place to improve your parkour vision is through watching videos. Good parkour videos are hard to come by, so this option should be used sparingly (or we'd be watching all the time instead of training).
Excellent parkour videos can, like learning directly from your community, reveal possibilities you hadn't ever considered for movements and creative use of space. What are you looking for in a video? The ways specific techniques are used with obstacles, novel movement combinations, unusual obstacles and many other things. You can't often copy what you see (either due to skill level, location, or safety) but if you're creative enough, you can adapt tactics and movements to your current level and locations.
Here are some recent inspirations to get you started. Start with this video from Scott Bass - it's long but well worth it. Another few I really enjoyed recently were Creativity, parkour of the weak, DüDieDinosaurier and Absolute Vulnerability.
Take the ideas you glean from your friends and community and from videos, and bring them back into your own practice of visualizing movement. Whenever you have the opportunity, take your imagined movements for a road test. The immediate feedback from your physical practice will help to nourish and tailor your visualization ability, resulting in more quick, creative, consistently realistic and personalized imaginings. Then just ride the growing wave of possibilities to practice everywhere, all the time and forever.
Keep imagining and let your creativity and vision soar.
Traceurs see the world differently.
Where some see a dead end, we see a short-cut. This mindset shift transforms obstacles into opportunities. A (seemingly) singular path-dictated by the structure of walls, railings, and other elements of the environment-can become a multitude. How? By interacting with, instead of avoiding, the environment and that begins with a trick of the imagination. Picture yourself moving over, around and through the obstacles around you.
This ability to imagine yourself flowing over obstacles and spotting opportunities for movement can be an immense boon for your creative powers, in every arena.
"Don't think! Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things." -Ray Bradbury
Thinking in words can hold back creative potential. Words simply can't convey as much detail as we can quickly get from our sensory imaginations. In the time it would take me to describe to you the gist of the route I'm imagining I could come up with ten other possibilities. In the same vein a painter can picture an entire painting in his head, a filmmaker can imagine the intricacies of a scene or a developer can see the finished product of her code.
It's tempting to think those are all innate talents, but they aren't. Creativity, like anything, is trainable and can be improved with practice. My own experience is a good example. . For most of my life I've held the unfortunate belief that I'm simply not creative. I assumed I was the rational and logical type of thinker, and 'creativity' was not in my wheelhouse at all. As a kid I didn't have any real artistic inclinations and didn't find myself spontaneously generating creative ideas, especially not of the visual sort.
The shift towards a creative mind begun after I started practicing martial arts regularly. When I wasn't at the dojo I found myself imagining scenarios while walking down the street. I would visualize exactly how my attacker(s) would behave and mentally test effective counters. Practicing those visualizations had effects beyond martial arts practice. Sometimes ideas would manifest as images (more than I'd like as memes...thanks internet), I just lacked the skills to put them on paper.
Parkour blew the door off of this whole creative thinking thing for me. As part of daily practice I had to scan for opportunities, imagining how I could jump, climb, and crawl my way around. Parkour is different in that way, as you're imagining what you can do right now in this real space, with its unique set of conditions (available obstacles, grip conditions, weather, etc.) and limitations. And it's the limitations which are, paradoxically, the key to generating more creative ideas. Creating movement under the restrictions of your environment, skillset and ability level is an excellent way to test and flex your creative muscle, with immediate feedback to boot!
"Structure and freedom are two sides of the same coin. Structure yields freedom to creatively roam." -Todd Henry, Die Empty
It wasn't long before this scanning process moved beyond the boundaries of training into my daily life. Now whenever I'm out I find myself constantly searching for movement opportunities, regardless of whether I intend to act on them. For myself, the more time spend playing movement possibilities through my mind, the more creative powers I unlocked elsewhere. Anything from ideas for posts (like this one), pictures to create and spontaneous movement ideas now manifest frequently. The missing piece now is the skillset to bring them into reality, but that too simply requires practice (like the sketch that opened this post).
Clearly the act of thinking in a different way, without words, had unlocked a creative side of my mind that I had thought, or perhaps rejected, I didn't have at all.
Take advantage of thinking with your senses to build your creative capacity. Parkour practice is a powerful tool for flexing your sensory imagination and continuously training your creative muscle. Always stay on the lookout for possibilities and imagine them, without words, to speed your creative thinking and forge new ideas.
"Passion is the wind in your sails, but practicality is your rudder." -Danielle LaPorte
In Part 2 we looked at how purpose can help you select an art with high odds of developing into a passion. Examining that same purpose can also help us decide on our direction for practice. After all, practicing an art because you love it is amazing, but it can lead to a scattershot approach if you don't know precisely where you're aiming.
Near the end of my brief class with Sébastien Foucan in London last year he told me that it's important to understand the reason why you're practicing. Due to being just a little starstruck, my memory of his exact wording is no longer there, but he gave examples of traceurs who became bored with Parkour after running out of bigger jumps to land and trickier vaults to execute. They had no specific direction for their training, thus becoming aimless and eventually losing interest in practicing. To avoid that fate, ask, "Why do I practice?" The answers to that question will steer your training.
I prefer to answer with an inspirational persona as my aim, my direction. That persona could be a person, profession, fictional character or your own custom concoction. Having a concrete identity to work with paints a clear picture of the skills and traits you need to build.
When Foucan asked me for my reason why, I responded quickly with "to become a better teacher." Long-time readers may remember a second answer I added in an email: to become Batman. One answer is highly practical, while the other is practically impossible- daydreaming about tactical Parkour (yup, that exists) aside. It doesn't matter how realistic (or not) your chosen persona is, so long as it provides you with a clear aim. To progress as a teacher I look towards the teachers I admire and recognize that I must develop a deeper understanding of each movement, how the body moves and how we learn. For Batman, well, there's a lot going on there so we'll use that as a case study in a moment.
Your chosen persona is your north star. Refer to it often to catch yourself when you're drifting, and adjust your path accordingly.
Now you can proceed to the next step: based on your model, deciding what skills to practice. Here you have two options (which can be combined): find a coach, mentor or community who's been through the process and can show you an effective route, or research your target thoroughly to craft your own path.
Under the Hood
What we're going to look at now is a simple framework to help you make decisions on what to practice. Bear in mind, the framework is a starting point which makes decisions easier and clearer, not a solution in itself. I'll use the "becoming Batman" direction of mine to provide a concrete case study in a moment. First, the framework.
Whenever we look towards an inspiration we see the final product; the refined skills built from extensive practice. We can't see the path they took, and even when we can it was a path that worked for them and their situation. I'm certainly not gonna be learning from a secretive clan of assassins nestled at the summit of a mountain somewhere (even if that would be awesome). What we can do is spend time reverse engineering the skillset to figure out our own route, one step at a time. How does it work?
We already have a persona to work with, which provides easily identifiable skills and traits (how do they move? Act? Think?) to work backwards from. The next step is to take that big list and research (books, videos, Youtube, courses, forums, asking experts directly and whatever else you can find) the core skills; the highest impact skills that you'll use ~80% of the time or more (credit to Tim Ferris and his DiSSS method found in the learning hacks section of the 4-Hour Chef. Once you know what to focus on you can put together a simple practice plan. My example:
Batman is a master of martial arts, stealth, and movement; a broad net to cast. As a martial artist he has the skills to disable his enemies without lethal consequences; he's a balanced, adaptable, fighter with excellent control. The core skills to focus on would be footwork (always), effective punches and kicks, blocking and an assortment of joint locks and chokes. Without going deep into it, two basic plans come to mind immediately: first, a solo training session focused on striking while integrating footwork, either shadow boxing or using a bag. With a partner it would be blocking practice, joint lock/choke setups, and then working on transitions from blocking into submissions. As you grasp the basics it's useful and fun to have each session revolve around a focused theme, whether that's a trait of your persona (speed, grace, power, etc.) or a more abstract, even philosophical, concept-Ninjutsu uses the gogyo, or wheel of five elements to structure training. In the case of Batman his adaptability would be a great choice, so the session might focus on quickly switching between different opponents, fighting styles, weapons, etc.
The specifics of the plan depend on the individual: strengths and weaknesses, level of practice, etc. Making a solid plan of approach can be one of the hardest pieces of any project, so I suggest using the "ready, fire, aim" approach: make a plan you think will work, try it, and based upon the results adjust your future plans. Discovering how to help yourself learn efficiently is itself an important part of the process.
Ask yourself who you want to become. Pretend, adopt a persona, and daydream about your inspirations. Use your answers to guide your practice and move towards excellence.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the previous post we talked about passion and how it can provide you with motivational fuel to keep practicing. But passion tells us little about how to choose; choosing an art to develop, or if you've already chosen, what to focus your practice on. That's where purpose comes in. With all the movement arts I've stuck with I stumbled into passion, when selecting for purpose.
Now, of course it's only natural to be excited about a new thing. We humans love the new, gadgets, experiences, relationships, workout routines, you name it. New is unknown, and when something is unknown anything is possible; passion rests somewhere in that possibility space. However, if initial excitement was all we needed to find something we loved, then we'd have a glut of guitar gods, prolific artists and martial arts masters. Excitement can get you in the door, but passion develops over time.
If excitement alone can't point you towards a true passion then what's missing from the equation?
Perhaps it's understanding why we're interested? The source of the excitement? Dig deep enough and you're either excited because it matters to you (intrinsic motivation) or because it matters to someone else (extrinsic motivation), to the outside world. Making your choice based on the perceived desires of others-whether an individual, culture, or even society as a whole- is a waste of time. At best you might get lucky and find something that you're also intrinsically motivated by. Endeavors based upon a desire to look good in the eyes of others, either from appearance or superior status/skill or from a feeling of obligation-shame is often involved, and an epidemic in the realm of health- will fizzle out before long. If you want to find something that truly makes you feel alive, the interest must ultimately come from inside yourself.
The Interest-Purpose Loop
If choice should be based upon your own genuine interest, how can that help guide one towards pursuits with a higher probability of developing true passion and undying curiosity? Combine your interest with a purpose. Just as the interest should be your own, the purpose should also be specific to yourself. The possible combinations of interest and purpose are infinite, so I'll just use myself as an example.
My interest in Ninjutsu was due to an intense fascination with Ninja. I've always preferred the stealthy and agile characters to the strong, favoring thief archetypes in RPGs and playing every stealth game I could get my hands on (much love for the Splinter Cell series). What was my purpose for practicing Ninjutsu? Learning a practical self-defense art with an emphasis on escape. The combination of philosophy and history that resonates with me and skills which make me feel capable of handling myself and protecting others has made Ninjutsu a perfect fit. For Parkour my interest stemmed from philosophy, again, and seeing the inspiring possibilities of the art on Youtube. When I got started the purpose was purely to round out my Ninjutsu training by becoming ridiculously good at escaping—the ultimate way to win is to not fight at all. My interest in dance was the least expected of the three. I've been consistently inspired by incredible ability of B-boys (most of all B-Boy Issue ) to move their bodies in ways I thought impossible, especially while improvising. I dance to explore creativity and self-expression in movement, which also helps with creativity elsewhere. Dance is also my laboratory for testing theories on movement and how to hack movement learning.
In all three cases I picked the art due to that link between an existing interest of mine and some specific benefits I wanted to get out of practice, which was my practical purpose for practicing (say that three times fast). I didn't know what to expect from any of them when I started, all I knew was that they looked interesting and it'd be fun to try them out. Now I can't see myself stopping any of them, ever.
Pick a practice based on your genuine interest. There is no one 'truth' and no right answers here, only what is meaningful for you. You'll know you've found something if you'd do it even if it was a closely guarded ninja secret and you could tell no one.
Move for you.
In part 3 we wrap up the series.
Passion doesn't need to be constantly fiery and all consuming; it can be a steady curiosity and commitment. You don't need to want to die for your calling or chain yourself to a tree for your cause. Genuine curiosity and sincere interest are burning coals that can warm you for a good, long time.
Seeking out passion in work has become a huge trend of late. The internet is teeming with blogs and websites dedicated to passionate work; work with purpose. Passion feels good. You get lost in passionate work; your whole body and mind are engaged, driven and alive.
However, the search for passion rarely extends to how we move. That's messed up. Movement is central to our humanity, after all—our [brains exist for movement.](http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_wolpert_the_real_reason_for_brains.html "Daniel Wolpert, The Real Reason for Brains (TED)
Movement was once essential to our survival, but no more. In some ways that's unfortunate, because maybe we (as a society) would be healthier for it. But our freedom from the worry of becoming tiger food has an upside: we can now move for the sheer joy of moving.
Now, I'm a big advocate for learning practical skills and the concept of être fort pour être utile ("be strong to be useful") from parkour's philosophy often directs how I practice. Practicality can provide purpose. A clear practical purpose is great (we'll get into that in part 2), but if you ask me "why do you keep practicing parkour?" practicality wouldn't be the answer.
Parkour gives me joy; that is why I practice.
Practicing because it makes you happy flips the paradigm. Our culture is obsessed with results and doesn't give a damn about process, unless it's a faster one! When you enjoy the practice the process of improving is satisfying on its own. The benefits to physical health, appearance, mental wellbeing and vitality are the sweet dividends of your investment in a lifelong practice.
"It's understanding the value and significance of the journey itself. That the treasure at the end of the path is, simply, more path." -Dan Edwardes
Joy is a loaded word. Joy doesn't have to be some overpowering sense of cheerfulness, or endless enthusiasm. Joy can simply be that quiet peace that takes up residence when you are doing something you enjoy.
I believe that anything that brings us joy or happiness circles back to what Danielle LaPorte (check page 4 in her workbook) calls our "core desired feelings." In brief, those are the desires that, when you dig deep enough, consistently call to you. It's possible to better understand why certain practices light you up and others don't by drilling deeper into your desires. To give you an idea of the process I'll use myself as an example.
Here are my current identified core desired feelings from the exercise gently tweaked over the course of this year:
- playfully challenged (originally "driven")
- free (added recently, after much debate). Confronting a new jump or obstacle throws me into problem solving mode. How can I get over this? What's the fastest way? Are there safer or quieter moves or even routes to try? Succeeding at the task makes me feel capable, strong, and by extension, powerful. Parkour makes me feel one with my surroundings. I can see the routes and know that I can go anywhere; play anywhere.
The motivation to keep on practicing never escapes me because the senses of immense freedom, power and challenge are there whenever I practice.
Passion provides the engine of stick-to-itiveness to keep practicing; keep improving, even when things get difficult or confusing or you hit a plateau. Find an art where you can enjoy not only the long-term gains, but the simple daily process. If you're becoming better than you were yesterday, and enjoying it, that's the only result that matters.
To borrow a phrase from my friend Colin, "keep moving."
In part 2 we'll dive into the practical side.
I spent most the majority of my time in both Iceland and Ireland in or near nature. Sure, the contrast between the two is stark: after Iceland's tree-less volcanic landscape arriving in Ireland felt as if I'd just wandered into the Amazon by accident; so verdant.
Still, in each case I was able to be in contact with the land almost continuously. And for those 2 months, and I must have gotten real used to the subtle calming effects of immersion in the natural world. I've been back state-side and in a city again for just a few weeks and the urge to slip into the woods already came back within a few days of getting here; far more quickly than I remembered it happening before. Usually that desire is triggered by a need to seek out a quiet place to think; dropping into deep thought is easier for me out in the ( at least semi) wild. Anyway, that's a topic for another time.
With it being proper summer here I can finally explore barefoot again (was still too cold in Iceland, most of the time)! The tendency to wander into the woods to think gives me the convenient excuse to practice outside of the urban environment. Usually it's hard to find good opportunities for playing in nature in cities, but luckily DC is a good city for it. There is a slash of forest (Rock Creek Park, but it's not some crappy manicured park) running through the northwest towards the heart of the city. Even better is a more untamed part of the place is just a 30 minute walk away. I headed out yesterday on one such walk to hash out some thoughts on the post I had originally planned for this week and also record whatever movement play/challenge I cooked up once I got into Rock Creek Park.
Originally I thought I would try some routes across the smattering of fallen trees around the area...but then I found a rock.
A good lifting rock.
One does not say no to a nice lookin' rock, especially when it's been so long since I've lifted any. Ahem.
Right, so here's a pretty raw video (fail included) of a challenge I made for myself with that pretty lil' rock. (Made it up as I went, only rule was to not let it touch the tree trunk)
How much did it weight? No idea, lighter than a stillborn calf (story for another time) but a bit too heavy for a proper clean...so in the 70-100lbs range?
If you find a good rock, tree, unsuspecting cat, or anything else that is begging to be picked up...try something with it.
I practice alone more often than not.
Did I choose to? At first yes, but often it was circumstance not preference that decided for me. As I wrote before, starting out with Parkour I didn't discover anyone else to train with in my area for near a year. I relied on Youtube videos and other tutorials plus heaps of trial and error to figure things out. I made progress, but I wouldn't call it impressive. It took attending some state jams with NC Parkour and training regularly with Colin and our small group to make more significant, and broad, improvements to my Parkour skills.
Now, I'm not aiming to malign solo training here wholesale. For myself I've discovered that training alone gives me the space and freedom to focus on refining techniques, drilling sequences I'm struggling with, and trying silly experiments (do I ever stop?).What is solo training not as good for? A few things come to mind: rapidly correcting errors, pushing the edge of your abilities further out, and seeing new possibilities. The value of camaraderie can't be overstated either.
Back in February I caught a broadcast from APEX Movement on Facebook about a work exchange program they were starting at their gym in Boulder, Colorado. I've been following Ryan's Youtube channel ever since I started practicing Parkour. More recently I had been getting all evangelical about Amos's project, Parkour Ukemi, ever since I saw the original Parkour Visions summit talk he gave. Needless to say I couldn't say no to an opportunity to learn from those guys and I shot Amos an email right away.
Skipping ahead (it'd be a boring story if they just said no, wouldn't it?) it was agreed that I would spend the whole month of March at APEX Movement Boulder. The deal was unlimited access to their gym and classes in exchange for working for them on some projects for the month. Such a super awesome deal that I was thrumming with energy for about a whole week after I booked the flight to Denver.
Arriving in Boulder
You never know what to expect on the first day in a new place. To kick things off Amos picked me up from the bus station in one of the sketchiest vans I've ever (personally) seen - just spray paint "free candy" on the side and the look would be complete. We headed straight for the gym to meet everyone and check out the space.
Before arriving at APEX I had spent no time in gyms, aside from visiting gymnastics gyms on extra rare occasions. All my training up until then had been outdoors with whatever I had available to me in the environment. I felt like a kid in a candy shop when I stepped inside. Rails and obstacles everywhere! The best part, for me, was the design of the space and obstacles; both aim to mimic what you would encounter outdoors. Well, almost. Their sweet rail setup I've never ever encountered outside. It's super rare to find even a half decent set of scaffolding to swing around on. Half the reason I had avoided gymnastics gyms for Parkour was that it was all padded and springy, which wasn't realistic at all. APEX bridges the gap nicely. The floors and obstacles are all hard, but crash mats and padding can be added to make the learning process safer. Having a bit of insurance does open the doors to all kinds of creative experimentation.
This ain't about the space though. It's about the people. I could have spent the month training with the crew at APEX around the streets of Boulder and learned as much (maybe more) as I did from spending a month in their gym.
...Granted it's pretty damn nice to not have mountains of snow or thunderstorms (the bane of classes in North Carolina) cancel everything. Does that make a difference in how large or strong a community can form? I've got no idea. It was clear after just a few days at APEX that their community was vibrant and diverse, in both skill levels and demographics. I had a solid idea of the caliber - read: miles above mine -of Ryan, Amos, and the pro team thanks to videos (2012 Showreel and the 2012 Parkour Tour) before I arrived. The other instructors and many of the students, especially some of the kids, were equally impressive.
The first class I got to see was Time Trials, where the instructor sets up a course with a defined beginning, at least one checkpoint, and a finish line. The objective? Get to the finish line with as few scratches (mistakes) as possible. Between just getting off a plane and still battling a persistent cold I decided to just watch. After seeing the first round I was intimidated enough by the speed that everyone blew through the bar sections with that I honestly would have been afraid to join in anyway. By the end of the month I was decent at traversing bars quickly, but I'm still nowhere near that monkey like fluidity some of the guys were putting on display. Anyhow, time trials were my favorite class there without a doubt. Why they're awesome is worthy of its own blog post though, so I'll leave that for later.
A month of endless training
With free reign in the gym I spent most days taking at least one of the classes plus spending plenty of time outside of classes practicing some of the new skills I was picking up (even excluding technique improvements there were a lot) . Top that off with two hours of open gym each day and it was a crazy amount of movement. I don't want to think about how much I spent on food for that month...you're welcome Whole Foods.
As a teacher the Level 1 and Level 2 classes were interesting to take part in and watch. Seeing how other instructors handle their classes, particularly large classes like APEX had, and what cues they use is hugely beneficial for learning how to become a better teacher. More than that watching others teach kills assumptions and demonstrates that often times there are multiple correct ways to teach the same skills; with less rambling than I'm prone to on occasion too!
The Level 3 classes and Time Trials were where the primary challenges lay for me. Despite my best efforts to arrive at APEX completely fresh I was _still _battling that cold a week into my stay. That cold made me feel all flinchy and hesitant during the first Level 3 classes. As that cleared and I became more familiar with both the space and the people I was training with that hesitation began to fade. I became more confident again and began to push my limits both inside and outside of the classes.
It would have been hard not to, honestly. I was surrounded by an amazingly skilled and supportive group the entire time I was there at APEX. I had enough people at around my strength level doing things I thought (personally) impossible that my perceived barriers came down easily. Huge cat passes (4' high with a 5' clear distance), tic-tacs, fields of rail strides, and diving 360 underbars underneath 3 foot high railings are just a handful of the more memorable ones. Well, that and some bizarre hybrid technique involving a mantle shimmy and a tic-tac that I wish I had gotten on video; as I said, time trials are fun.
Clearly I had the ability to do any of those techniques, but when out training alone, well it wouldn't happen. Either the move would seem impossible and I wouldn't even see the option or I'd think it was too long or high of a move to try. When I saw someone else do it first, and I knew they weren't some superhuman, then it didn't take much convincing for me to try it. Guess what? Most of the time I got it and when I didn't the fails weren't spectacularly bad.
Elevating your own game is far easier when you're surrounded by a community of frustratingly skilled individuals. When they're as supportive and helpful as the group at APEX it's near impossible to not grow and go further than you ever thought you could go.
Big thanks to everyone there for making my month in Boulder super awesome. A month was not near enough time to spend at APEX, and I will be returning again (and again, and again) whenever I am able to.