Monday, December 29, 2008

Loose Ends

The last couple of months or so have been fairly hectic with plenty going on to keep me busy so it has been nice to spend a couple of days over the Christmas period resting and relaxing with family. That said, I did seem to find myself sneaking out on at least three different occasions just to keep things ticking over.

Rendezvous III was a huge success and everyone involved enjoyed the weekend, despite the British weather throwing its worst at us on the Saturday. The Sunday was a much easier affair in comparison but with a healthy dose of hard work to remind us all that the weekend wasn't over yet. My thanks to Chris and Thomas for the accommodation and everyone involved in the careful planning of the event that ensured the large number of attendees were kept safe, had fun and hopefully learned a few things to go home with and integrate in to their training. You can read a more detailed report about the weekend's events here.

The weekend before the third Rendezvous I had travelled to Lisses on a whim, with a couple of friends just to get away and return to where it all started. It was a whirlwind weekend and there was barely enough time to settle down before it was time to leave again but it was great to meet up with Gouda, Kaz and Cisco, as always. It's a real pleasure to know you can travel hundreds of miles to a foreign country and instantly have something in common with someone that defeats any language barriers there might be. It was my fourth visit to Lisses and passed by far too quickly, but I don't doubt I'll be back soon... there's certainly something special in the air there that leaves you with a renewed energy to feed from when you return home, and this trip was no exception.



Training over the past few days has been great. I've been making the most of the difficult Winter conditions and using them to my advantage.

On Friday I trained with my friend Joe in the night and it was freezing, with ice covering everything that didn't move - and even most of what did move. We proceeded with great care and repeated simple jumps that were suddenly not so simple knowing that anything less than a perfect landing was asking for trouble.
One particular standing arm jump we had found was teasing me and I was battling with myself trying to decide whether I should do it now or come back when it was light, dry and when ice wasn't an issue. It was high enough to make the thought of missing unpleasant and the take off had a damp, icy feel to it underfoot, with patches of moss not helping matters. The landing roof was in line with my knees some 11ft or so away and after I'd checked that out I realised it was difficult enough to walk on nevermind catch from a jump! I had to do it. I knew it would be simple in better conditions, so the real challenge was doing it right now when things couldn't get much worse. I made sure my technique was as textbook as possible and got plenty of height to give my hands time to spot the landing and adjust to any last minute patches of ice that jumped out to greet me.
All went well enough and although my foot placement wasn't perfect, since I had expected them to slide much more than they did, I was quite pleased. I had more confidence for the next two repetitions which I used to improve the landing before we moved on and continued our careful training around the eerily quiet, ghost-like town on a grim boxing day's eve.

The next night I had another opportunity to take advantage of difficult conditions. Joe had mentioned a particular arm jump on a rooftop that we had both done before but he warned me that it was a whole different story at night and he was right! What had been a relatively simple jump in the daylight when we had done it together months before was now one of the most intimidating things I've seen in a long time.
The jump is a fair size but the wall where your feet land is set back about a foot from where your arms need to grab and although you could see the wall without too much trouble, the roof where your arms were supposed to grab was pitch black, and impossible to pick out from the darkness behind it. With some lights on the ground to your right that killed any potential night-adjusted vision you could hope to develop, this was not going to get any easier.
After another mental battle and dragging out all of the old motivations and reasons why I had to do this now, rather than later, I forced myself to just focus on having the best take off possible to give me plenty of time to find the roof when I reached it. When I reached the roof I realised it wasn't any easier to spot the landing but I had remembered how the jump had felt in the day time and based my hand position on that, found my hands connecting with something and held on like my life depended on it. It didn't - missing would simply have meant doing your best to land on a dark roof somewhere a few feet below but the thought of hurling myself in to complete darkness and relying solely on memory made me all the more inclined to hold on and treat this as a 'do or die' moment. Repetitions two and three were as always, much easier and I could approach them with more confidence after the first had filled me with a rush of adrenaline and had my heart beating like an angry drum.

So yes, I hope you're all making the most of Winter and not limiting yourselves to gyms or indoor training... now is an ideal time to get out there and really push your boundaries and limits, especially your mental side. Take extra care in difficult conditions and work with smaller, simpler jumps, you will find that they are suddenly much more challenging when you add factors such as limited light, ice, rain, fog, damp, cold and anything else you might meet at this time of year.

Have a great start to 2009 and I'll see you all in the new year!

*B*

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

PINWC Domain

Since I know you all value time saving and efficiency so much, I've just purchased this domain and forwarded it to my blog to save you all typing in the long '.blogspot.com' address - so update your bookmarks accordingly!

Yes, after deciding I wanted to put more effort in to this blog by padding it out with more content I thought that should be my first step... and over the next little while I'm going to try and make the blog much easier to navigate and have different sections for articles, videos, training plans etc. I'm also going to experiment with tutorial style videos for techniques and conditioning exercises in the near future.

That's it! Just wanted to let you guys know what the plan is. Keep training hard and remember, power is nothing without control...

-Blane

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Common Denominators

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that from the outside, every practitioner of Parkour is seen to be part of one large collective under the same umbrella. It is only upon closer inspection that it becomes possible to see that so many of us are doing different things and just choosing to use the same word to define what we actually do.

Now in my opinion not one of these definitions, motivations or reasons to practice are more righteous or better than any other, for I think it is important that we all follow our own paths and do what makes us happy. But it is interesting that as individuals we have all found something that draws us to this one word, that we then twist to mean something slightly different to each of us.

"What are you doing?" is a question I often find myself answering when I am training and each time that I do, I tend to answer a little differently. There is no definitive, simple answer to this question for me and I would imagine most of you have felt the same way when someone has inquired as to what it is you are doing.
"Parkour." tends to be the default answer that I hear myself and others use most frequently. And, "Oh! That free running stuff where you jump off buildings, right? Do a backflip!" is unfortunately one of the more common retorts that the word Parkour prompts.
But if we ourselves cannot agree on what we are doing, as a community, then how can we really expect members of the general public to?

You have to admit, the word itself is not particularly attractive or easy to say, so I think it is obvious that there is something else within the discipline itself that attracts all of these people to attach themselves to it and label themselves as practitioners of Parkour. A common denominator that unites us, if you like.

Extreme sports are relatively new and have become more and more popular as people have found themselves in increasingly dull and unsatisfying jobs. 'Weekend Warriors' are everywhere and you will know some of them, I'm sure. They're the ones who work Monday to Friday and use their weekends to escape and try to compensate for their tedious weeks by jumping out of aeroplanes or abseiling down cliff faces, in Wales.
With levels of obesity and depression at all time highs, alcoholism and drug use everywhere and everyone being told what to wear, where to go and how to think by a select few… is it any surprise that so many of us are looking for an outlet and way to escape all of this?

Could it be the freedom associated with Parkour that unites us, then? The fact that we don't make use of any special equipment means there is no board, wheel, bearing or handle to break, or restrict us. There is no need to avoid certain surfaces, weather conditions or locations. There is nowhere we cannot go, nothing we cannot make use of - the variables that spoil other sports and bring some activities to a halt, are the things we actively look for to challenge us. We strive in what would often be considered as difficult conditions and this makes Parkour very attractive and accessible to the masses.
If we are all just trying to quench some primal thirst for adventure and freedom, it is only natural that so many of us would be drawn to something where such freedom, physicality, self-improvement and courage are so widely employed and valued.

Most of us are social beings and enjoy interacting with others. We like being a part of something… so after their initial experience of Parkour, individuals often find themselves on one of the many forums or online communities that grow in number by the day, trying to find more answers.
Tragically, their new-found sense of freedom and excitement that is inherent in their discovery of Parkour is so often destroyed when they join our communities. They are told by everyone else what it is they are doing and what they should be doing. No longer are they on their own path, fueled by a moment of inspiration, but they are suddenly redirected on to one paved by everyone else.
Why they stood up and decided to explore their potential to move in the beginning is no longer their driving force, their goals are adjusted and purpose refined as they find out more and more about Parkour.
Ironically, instead of retaining their individuality and pursuing their own goals, these people try to conform to an ideal that nobody can agree on in the first place! But there is comfort in a crowd, strength in numbers and a satisfaction felt when one is part of something.
I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I wanted to find the 'secrets' to becoming great at Parkour and to find out more and more about the discipline, rather than exploring how I can become great at what it is I want to do... and succeed in being who I want to be.

So the reason I believe that we have so many different definitions of Parkour is due to us all retaining a part of our individuality and trying to do our own thing - but at the same time wanting to hold on to our place in the community so we can claim to be part of something bigger. 'Parkour' becomes what we all do, despite us all actually moving in different ways, for different reasons.

We do have something in common with each other though. What unites us is movement. It is what we do with this movement and our reasons for developing our mental and physical capacities, through movement, that is unique to us all. Whether we call it Parkour, Freerunning, L'art du deplacement or even 'Rage Froobling' is irrelevant. Words are overrated and poorly used. In the end I think all that matters is that we all retain our individuality and do what makes us happy, and avoid getting too caught up in definitions and terms.

'I practice Parkour', and to this day I think what I'm doing is very close to what the founder(s) intended that to be, but if an official definition was released tomorrow and it differed from my goals, it wouldn't bother me to call what I do something else. I enjoy being a part of a community who share a passion for movement but I think less than 5% of the people I have met and trained with practice for the same reasons, and to the same end, as myself.

And that is a good thing.

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. - Oscar Wilde

-Blane

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Origins

On the 10th of September 2008, I will have been practicing Parkour for five years. It seems like just yesterday I watched Jump London and I can still remember my first training session the day after. It is as fresh in my mind today as it was back then and I can almost smell the freshly cut grass that I dropped and rolled on to from the roof of a gymnastics club near my house...

It had taken seventeen years for me to find something that finally ticked all of my boxes. At the time I had been practicing shotokan karate for four years and although I did enjoy it, there was always something missing - I would go to the classes because I felt like I had to become stronger and learn how to look after myself and the people I cared about... but couldn't help feeling unsatisfied. Competition never interested me, scoring points was not important and katas seemed redundant. I'm very thankful for everything I was taught by Mr Weatherby, my sensei and teacher, but I don't think karate was my calling.

In Parkour I had found something that looked so fresh and exciting, something that was entirely non-competitive, an activity that was so simple to begin, but impossible to perfect... something that would challenge me but give me a freedom that martial arts could not.
I think those are the qualities that attract most people to Parkour in the beginning - they see the spectacular jumps, the smooth combinations and the seemingly impossible becoming not just possible, but simple, to these men and women who don't seem too different to themselves.

This honeymoon period is one of excitement, fun and a feeling that they are recapturing a part of their childhood, playing and exploring and meeting some great new friends. But there comes a time, not too long after this honeymoon period where suddenly they realise just what it would take to truly excel in Parkour. Because behind the veil of nice jumps and quiet landings of the more experienced traceurs, is a person who has invested considerable time, dedication and effort to reach the level they are at.

I've seen a lot of people come and go over the years - some have turned up once or twice, others for a month or two and a few for a couple of years, before deciding they didn't want to continue with their training. Parkour is not for everyone, it takes a certain type of person to prevail through the hard times and come out the other end of them, ready for more.

Everyone enjoys that honeymoon period and it lasts for different amounts of time for different people, but afterwards they are all faced with asking themselves if they really want to sacrifice as much as they will have to, to reach a really good level. Although I was attracted to Parkour for the reasons I mentioned earlier, it is not the reason I continued to train, day after day, week after week. My honeymoon period ended and my reason for training changed quite quickly.

Growing up I was a very active child and obsessed with action films, I would watch Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Jackie Chan films over and over and what was obvious to me was that these guys were the heroes because they were strong and capable of looking after themselves, their families and their friends... they were honorouble and prepared physically for whatever the baddies could throw at them.
That stayed with me as I grew up and I became interested in many different sports, martial arts... anything physical that would help me to become stronger but I didn't really know to what end.

It wasn't until I found Parkour that I understood the importance of training your mind, as well as your body. Without a strong mind and a will to act and use your physical capacities, then we are useless. What use is having big, strong arms if you are too scared to enter that burning building to carry someone you love to safety? That's an extreme example but highlights the need to train your mind along with your body.

So when I found Parkour and understood this massive hole in my preperation to be 'strong', I never looked back. I face my fears and doubts and push myself to do jumps and movements that scare me because I want to have the physical and mental strength to face my fears and doubts in an emergency situation, should one ever arise around me. That is the reason I train today and what keeps me motivated and willing to go out in the rain, alone, in the dark, to push myself in difficult conditions.
There are no medals to be won, no trophies will ever sit on my shelf with my name engraved on the base and my family and friends may never fully understand why I do, what I do - and I am fine with that. Knowing that I am more capable of looking after the people I care about than I was yesterday, is enough for me.

So those are my origins in Parkour... my reasons for starting, my reasons for continuing and the reason I will continue to do what I do for as long as I can. Five years sounds like a long time, but I have so far to go and I can become so much more than I am, so much more useful.

I can't imagine what the next five years has in store for me but if it's half as good as the first five, I'll be a happy man.

I edited a video from all of the footage I have captured to look back on in time to come, if you would like to see it then I've included it below.



Download available here, thanks to Andeh.

-Blane

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Moderation

I realise it has been a while since I updated my blog and a lot has happened since my last entry. Although I won't go in to all of that just now, I promise to post a full write-up of the Italy trip along with a video and photos when I have time, which should be in the next couple of weeks.

For now, the following article came together after I noted down some potential solutions to the worry that despite training hard and often, I might be neglecting certain aspects of Parkour in favour of others. This one is a combination of my training ideas, methods and thoughts of late and is primarily aimed at slightly more experienced traceurs, although there might be some ideas in here for everyone...


I find that one of the toughest obstacles I regularly face in Parkour is not a physical barrier, but the challenge of managing my time and ensuring that I am progressing as a balanced and complete practitioner. With so many different aspects of training needing equal attention it can be tough to manage your time so that you can keep on top of the various technical and physical goals that you might have.

Never have I claimed to have found the ultimate method of training for Parkour and everything I have shared on my blog thus far is a work in progress that will hopefully continue to evolve and improve as time goes by. With each evolution of my training I try to strip away that which I have tried, tested and then found useless... whilst holding on to that which helps me the most, to ensure my training remains as productive as possible.

When I began my training in Parkour I would simply go out and try to do as many new jumps as I could. I quickly realised that this was not the best way to progress and knew that I needed some kind of structure to my training that would allow me to grow stronger whilst continuing to develop my technical ability.
So for a long time I created complex and rigid training plans that would have me training certain things on certain days and it worked quite well, until I began to suffer from small overuse injuries, frustration, plateaus and I found that my training had become very mundane.
I then threw my rule book out of the window and simply listened to my body, mainly using careful technical repetition to condition and strengthen my body, specifically for Parkour.
Now, I find that the best way for me to train is to employ a variety of different training methods and make each training session very different from the last, to prepare for the widest range of circumstances and keep my body guessing.

But one issue I find with such an open-minded approach to my training is that it can be difficult to ensure that I am training everything I need to in equal proportion. When you allow yourself to listen to your body all of the time it can become easy to subconsciously choose the exercises and training that you enjoy the most, perhaps to the extent of neglecting some other important aspects.

If you find yourself facing a similar dilemma then as I once tried you could come up with a precise plan that sees you training specific things at specific times on specific days and this would work well in an ideal world where we did not have to factor in the various drawbacks that accompany such an unyielding routine. If you fall sick one day and cannot train then suddenly you have a hole in your wonderful new plan and will miss out on a particular type of training for that week...

So how can you maintain a flexible and sympathetic training approach that allows you to listen to your body, yet simultaneously organise your time to cover each aspect of your training?

One possible solution is to use what I will call a 'rotary system'. This rotary system will allow us to organise our training despite the various obstacles life might suddenly throw at us in the form of injuries, illness, work, studies, family, friends and the other countless things that require our attention.

First, let us look at a handful of the various training aspects that I feel I should maintain and develop in equal measure…


1) Physical development and maintenance

1.1) Conditioning
1.1.1) Low-medium resistance exercises and a higher repetition count to promote the development of greater muscular endurance.
1.1.2) Isometric exercises to promote the development of greater muscular endurance.
1.1.3) Lower intensity exercises that raise the heart rate for a prolonged period to promote the development of cardiovascular endurance.

1.2) Strength training
1.2.1) Higher resistance exercises combined with a lower repetition count to promote the development of muscular strength.

1.3) Power training
1.3.1) Higher resistance exercises with an emphasis on performing less repetitions but at a quicker pace, to develop power.
1.3.2) Sport-specific power and resistance exercises employing dynamic Parkour techniques.

1.4) Stretching
1.4.1) Stretching the muscles to increase the safe range of motion permitted by specific joints.


2) Technical development and maintenance

2.1) Repetition
2.1.1) Perfect repetitions of a particular technique or sequence of techniques to a predetermined number.
2.1.2) Perfect repetitions of a particular route using various improvised techniques to predetermined number.

2.2) New movements
2.2.1) Training in old or new environments with a specific aim to achieve or 'break' new jumps and overcome new obstacles.

2.3) Improvised moving
2.3.1) Moving from one destination to another using improvised techniques best suited to the obstacles encountered.
2.3.2) 'Stealth' training with an emphasis on moving with minimal sound where speed is not a priority.
2.3.3) Moving around with no particular destination.


That is just a simplified version of what could become a very complex list of things I should be training and I have not taken specific techniques or exercises in to account simply because it would take too long and there are too many variables. If you are interested in testing this training method then I encourage you to create your own list of things that you wish to train in equal measure and plan around that.
You may notice some of these training aspects cross over in to more than one category, for example it would be quite possible to train 'Sport-specific power and resistance exercises employing dynamic Parkour techniques' and 'Perfect repetitions of a particular technique or sequence of techniques to a predetermined number' at the same time if you happened to be repeating a precision jump. Nonetheless I included them separately for they could either be classed as technical or physical training methods.

I normally begin my training sessions with an analysis of my current condition to determine which parts of my body are ready to train and which may benefit more from rest. Based on this analysis I will then look at my rotary system and decide what to train.

Since the vast majority of technical training demands the whole body to function as one unit, I tend to only train technically on the occasions when my whole body is feeling good. If you train technically when you are tired and not at your best then there is a good chance you will be sacrificing form and committing poor technique to muscle memory, which is not good. However, it can be beneficial to occasionally train certain techniques whilst you are tired because you can never predict your physical condition in the unlikely event that you may need to do a technically demanding jump to save your life.

Although it does not matter where in the rotary system we begin, for the sake of simplicity I will follow the order I described in the earlier example to describe the process in more detail.
After the initial analysis, if only my upper body is fresh then I would spend that session conditioning. Next time I feel that only my upper body is ready to train, whether that be two days, four days or one week later, then I will spend that session developing my strength. The next time only my upper body feels good, I will focus on power training. After that session I will return to the beginning of the rotary and condition. This will ensure all aspects of my upper body training are being developed equally regardless of how little or often I find the time to practice.
Similarly, if only my legs feel fresh and my upper body is needing rest, then I can condition them, then next time I can work on developing my leg strength and finally my power... before returning to conditioning.

When your whole body feels good then this is a great time to train technically and really make the most of your fine condition. You can repeat techniques, go looking for new challenges and obstacles or just move around freely, improving every aspect of your training. Once again you could use a rotary system here to ensure you are training all that is important to you.

Here is one possible rotary system based on the aforementioned plan:

Training when only the upper body is in good condition:
  • First session - Conditioning (1.1.1 + 1.1.2 + 1.1.3)
  • Second session - Strength training (1.2.1)
  • Third session - Power training (1.3.1 + 1.3.2)
Training rotation when only the lower body is in good condition:
  • First session - Conditioning (1.1.1 + 1.1.2 + 1.1.3)
  • Second session - Strength training (1.2.1)
  • Third session - Power training (1.3.1 + 1.3.2)
Training rotation when my entire body is fresh:
  • First session - Repetition (2.1.1 + 2.1.2)
  • Second session - New movements (2.2.1)
  • Third session - Improvised moving (2.3.1 + 2.3.2 + 2.3.3)

With regards to balance training and stretching, I personally prefer to include these to some degree in every training session and sometimes I dedicate a whole session to just improving my balance if my body is needing rest, therefore I don't include this separately in the example above. I also spend time at the end of most training sessions stretching, except on the rare occasion that I may pull a muscle or injure myself in which case stretching that area can be detrimental to its healing or can even damage it further.
The core muscles are worth a special mention too since these can be greatly affected by both upper and lower body training and are involved to some extent in almost every movement we make, acting like a hinge between both halves of your body. I tend to spend some time training my core muscles whenever they feel good, which normally works out to be three or four times per week.

If you would prefer then it is possible to further break down the rotary system above and rotate around at least six aspects of training for upper and lower body, by only training one specific kind of conditioning or power training each time you practice, but I prefer to include different types of exercises even when I only work on one aspect of my training. If you wish to adopt a similar rotary system then feel free to adapt mine to suit your needs and preferences, making it as simple or as complex as you require.

The reason this system works so well is that it is a sympathetic yet complete method of training specific to your goals. Used alongside a training diary you can easily keep track of your place in the rotary and clearly see what has not been trained in a while.

Below is a simple flow chart to explain more or less how I tend to plan my training sessions. The chart does not take stretching, balance, core development or various other particular training aspects in to account and is just just intended to be a general guide.




I will road test this system thoroughly over the next couple of months and come back with my thoughts... I just wanted to share my ideas on the matter first.

-Blane

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Excelsior (ever upward)

I wanted to step up my technical training before heading to Italy and decided I may as well film some things along the way. I filmed on 4 different days over the past couple of weeks and the vast majority of movements in here were done for the first time during this period.

Critical feedback is always welcome!



Download a better quality version here.

-Blane

Friday, May 02, 2008

24 Hour Parkour Takeover on Youtube

I'm very proud to be part of a huge moment in Parkour history as Youtube is taken over by 'real' Parkour for 24 hours.

In an effort to show true training, discipline and the community, Parkour Generations have assembled a collection of 12 videos to put forward to Youtube that will feature on the main home page and at least 18 other local countries' home pages until midnight tonight. I was honoured to be invited to be a part of this and hopefully my old PINWC video will help spread a positive message alongside the other excellent videos.

It's a great opportunity for millions of people to see what Parkour is really about and will go a long way towards informing the masses as to what it is we actually do... hopefully changing people's opinions of it being outdoor gymnastics, acrobatics, crazy stunts or roof jumping.

More details on the Parkour takeover can be found here.



-Blane

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On The Road - Italy

For a while now Thomas and I have been planning a trip to Italy that will see us setting off on an adventure from his home town in Tours and embarking on an exciting road trip that will take us across the Northern half of Italy. Along the way our plan is simply to train, share methods and ideas with the local traceurs, explore and have fun.

Chosen for it's natural beauty, various delights and attractions, Italy will be the perfect place to explore in style from the airy open-top of Thomas' version of the legendary Citro├źn 2CV, as seen in the photo below...



We are also both delighted to be joined on this trip by our good friend Andy 'Kiell' Day, who will be there every step (and leap) of the way to capture the many special moments with his considerable photography skill - as well as teaching us a thing or two around the Dolomites with all his recent climbing experience I'm sure!

Our plan is loosely in place now and with the aid of many generous locals who have already been in contact with us to offer some very kind hospitality, we know it's going to be a very memorable and positive experience.



Above is a rough map of our planned route. Starting in Tours we will navigate anti-clockwise around Italy with the first scheduled stop being Torino, then moving on to Genova, The Cinque Terre (La Spezia), Pisa, Florence, Sienna, Roma, Napoli and Pompei, before heading North again alongside the East coast of Italy.
Once on the East coast our idea is to travel to Vicenza and Verona before exploring the Dolomites and its collection of Via Ferrata, or Iron Roads. These consist of a network of iron ladders and rope bridges secured in to the sides of the mountains and they were first built during World War I to support troop movement throughout the area. I'm particularly excited about this section of the trip as the photographs I've seen from other climbers have been really whetting my appetite and sparking my sense of adventure...





Before or after the Dolomites we will be stopping off at Lago di Garda (Lake Garda) and finally Milano before beginning our journey back to Tours.



Right now our plans are all just that - in the planning stage - and although this is the rough guide we will be following, there will remain an element of flexibility and freedom throughout. Therefore it is very difficult to say right now which days we will be visiting which cities. If you like the idea of our trip and reside in any of the cities or destinations we have mentioned, or if you have any other suggestions for places we might like to visit... feel free to contact either Thomas or I here and we will see what we can do!

Our trip will begin during the end of May, beginning of June time and will finish when it is finished! We don't want to put a strict time limit on this trip but we hope it will take 2-3 weeks to complete.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Balancing to Failure

Since I trained my legs hard on Saturday and my arms were still recovering from a previous training session, I decided to have a few hours of easy training yesterday and work on my balance. I found a nice long rail a little over waist height and decided this would make a good training tool for today.

My original plan was just to walk along the rail, turn to one side, crouch down, hold my arms out straight to the front for 5 seconds, then clasped behind my back for 5 seconds, stand back up and walk back. I found myself enjoying this and didn't feel ready to drop off when I reached the start again so I kept going, repeating the same walking, turning, crouching, standing, turning, walking process each time.

I wanted to find out how long it would take me to fall off the rail so I kept going.

The length of the rail was 144 of my feet, heel to toe and since my feet are 27cm long I later found out the rail was 38.88m long.

After 35 lengths I fell off, it was during one of the crouches I lost balance and dropped backwards to my feet. I was quite disappointed as it seemed careless and a lapse in concentration. I decided I would keep going to 50 lengths and do one additional barefooted length for every time I fell off since the rail was very cold and it seemed a small incentive not to fall off again.

I fell off again during a crouch around the 46-47th length and I can't put my finger on what I did differently which is frustrating, if I knew what I did wrong then I could fix it, but it just suddenly happened.

The other strange thing that I noticed with my focus on the rail for so long and an out of focus ground below it, is that after half a mile or so my vision was affected. When I would reach the end of the rail and crouch, turning to the side and looking ahead, the ground would appear to warp and ripple in waves!
This was very strange to me and didn't seem to affect performance but it was quite surreal and interesting to note that after enough time balancing my vision will be temporarily affected. It didn't last very long and settled down quickly but for the first few seconds of each crouch the ground was moving like the sea. I imagine it's just confusing to the brain for the eyes to focus on a rail moving backwards and the ground below out of focus doing the same.

After 50 lengths I jumped off the rail and removed my shoes and socks and repeated the walk up and down once again for the 2 falls, it felt nice and fresh and I noticed it was easier barefooted, your feet can grab the rail and wrap around it slightly.

To sum up:

Distance walked before first fall - 1360.8 meters.
Distance walked before second fall - 1788.48 meters.
Distance walked between the falls - 427.68 meters.
Total time crouched with arms straight out in front - 4.3 minutes.
Total time crouched on rail with hands clasped behind my back - 4.3 minutes.
Total distance walked - 2,021.76 meters // 1.26 miles.

This is by far the longest distance I've walked on a rail in one session and it was good training. My goal for next time is to do the 50 lengths barefooted without falling off once - and if I do I will start again from 0.

I felt as though I could have continued longer too, there was no strain felt on my body. Maybe I will build up to 100 lengths in one go or start doing them sideways, crouched, backwards etc.

The reason for this entry is just to highlight that after a while (hours) of balancing, it might affect your vision. If you give it a try it then let me know what you find!

-Blane

Friday, February 15, 2008

Life at 9mph

On the morning of Saturday 9th February at 07:45 I left my house with my bicycle and heavy rucksack towards the train station to meet with Joe and Tim. I was feeling excited and happy to be beginning my first real adventure, the first of many I'm now sure.

The night before I had been packing my bag and trying to be ruthless with what I should take with me since I had limited space and I would need to carry everything on my back the whole way. Maybe I should have bought some panniers to carry some of the weight but it was too late. I only packed 2 pairs of socks, one spare jumper and a couple of pairs of underwear. Those and a set of waterproofs should be all I need in terms of clothes and besides, the weather was supposed to be good so hopefully I would stay dry.

Around 08:00 I met the other guys at the train station and we were all excited yet a little apprehensive about what lay ahead, none of us had ever attempted anything like this before. Our goal was to cover 75-80 miles both today (128km) and tomorrow, climb the second highest mountain the UK on day three and cycle home over the next two days.



The ride started out great with the sun heating up as we progressed and the roads stayed fairly flat, giving us plenty of confidence and energy. Shortly after, as we reached the 10 mile marker, we had our first technical problem when my back tyre was pierced and we spent a little time at the side of the road changing the inner tube for one of our spares. Here, a really nice guy stopped his car and offered to help us since he could sympathise with our bike problems after cycling all around the UK for years. He told us a few stories, wished us luck and went on his way. It was a unique and unexpected moment, his generosity surprised us all. We never did catch your name but thank you for stopping and offering to help.

Our plan from that moment on was to replace all of the inner tubes if/when they broke with our spares, then repair the broken ones at night when we set up camp. This would keep us moving forwards and save us time. It was a good plan but in practice it proved to be futile.

We were making good time and were moving forward at a good pace but I was finding the riding particularly hard and I didn't know why. I thought I should be fit and strong enough to at least complete the first day without any trouble but on the uphill sections I was really struggling. It wasn't until day 2 that I realised I had cycled the first 40 miles with my front brake half on! Halfords, having made the stupid mistake of actually selling my bicycle to another customer, had to build another one for me whilst I waited and they obviously didn't do a thorough service and check of my new bike. In their hurry they didn't set up the brakes properly and all this way I had been cycling against the friction of having my front brake rubbing on the rims. Since I wasn't an experienced cyclist I just thought this was how it was supposed to be and kept going as best I could.
By day 2 my gears had also shown signs of a poor setup and from this point on I was also reduced to 4 reliable gears, the others would make the chain grind and jump around... not great considering the hills we would soon face.

It wasn't long before we reached Penkridge - about 40 miles from Hinckley, where we left that morning. It was around 12pm by this time and we were feeling good when we faced our second punture. If you had told me we would also be repairing our 13th puncture here in Penkridge I would have laughed at you, but you would have been correct.

Joe had 3 punctures in the space of 10 minutes or less. This was pretty funny and we were laughing about it but just after we fixed those, we carried on down a country lane where some fallen stealth branches leapt out of nowhere and destroyed our morale and inner tubes yet again! Unbelievable.



By the time we found all of the holes and repaired them it was late afternoon and we hadn't had much experience setting up our tents and equipment before, so we decided we should make camp here, fix all of the punctures properly and get some food. We soon found some woods in a nearby field and thought it would make a great place to camp for the first night. It took us an hour or so to set up camp and build a small fire to keep us warm later on.


^The woods we spent the first night camping in.

Joe and I headed out for supplies whilst Tim stayed to watch the tents. We headed out and walked to the nearby village where we were told there was a garage 200 yards down the road, great news. 4-5 miles later, after more terrible advice and directions from locals, 2 cyclists who ignored us, a van that also completely underestimated the distance and even a police car ignoring us as we tried to ask him for advice - we finally came across a little shopping area with a garage, a Somerfield, a chip shop and everything else we could possibly want. We stocked up and after cycling all day then walking all this way, we were really tired and decided to get a taxi back to the field we were camping in. Nobody seemed to know any local taxi numbers but finally a really kind and generous lady offered to drive us to the town centre where we found a taxi firm and another chip shop. Here we bought fish and chips and then took a taxi back to our field. It was really funny to see the driver's reaction when we told him to stop in the middle of nowhere and as he watched us disappear in to a big field with purpose, he must have been wondering where the hell we were going.

When we returned to the woods we started the fire and ate our food which tasted so good! We used some water to look for bubbles in our inner tubes and after an hour or so we thought we had fixed them all, little did we know the next morning would bring yet more repair work.



We woke up early and packed up before realising our tyres were still flat and it was only then we realised my front brake had been on this whole way. Failing to fix it we just disabled it altogether. A couple of hours later and we just couldn't understand why our inner tubes would seem to be fixed then miraculously go down again just moments after we put them back in our tyres. It turned out there was the smallest thorn buried in the tyre wall that would pierce the tube every time we pumped it up to a certain pressure! When we finally got rid of this everything was fine and we got back on the road - but it was about 1pm by this time and we were still only 40 miles from home, already beginning day 2 where we were scheduled to hit the 150 mile mark that night.

13 punctures in one day!!!

We cycled as hard as we could but with only 4 hours of daylight and lots of uphill sections, we only managed to cover another 35-40 miles. We had covered in two days, what we had planned to cover in one. Not a great start.

That night we stocked up on food again and camped in a huge farmers field where we found more woods and set up the tents there. We failed to keep the fire alive thanks to all of the damp wood but just running around trying kept us warm enough and passed some time. I managed to zap myself on an electric fence designed to keep sheep out of the woods, much to the amusement of Joe. The previous night Joe and I had slept in my two-man tent and Tim had slept with all of the bags and equipment in the 3 man tent but tonight we tried two men in the bigger tent so Tim had some additional body heat to keep him warm.
So I was alone in my tent that night and it was absolutely freezing. I had all my clothes on, my hat and my sleeping bag zipped right up but the cold stopped me from getting much sleep. Every time I did manage to sleep I had the weirdest dreams that were really happy and colourful... it was a very long and strange night.



The next morning day three began well. We packed up and got back on the road determined to make it to Llanberis, which according to my map was about 65 miles away. We faced some monster hills today and when we reached the tops hoping for an fair downhill segment, we were simply faced with a long slightly uphill slope that forced us to keep peddling or face rolling backwards. It's surprising how much this takes out of you and I just tried to look down and push one leg forward, then the other and try not to think about it too much.

Entering Wales gave us a lot of hope as it was the first time any of us had ever travelled to another country entirely by our own power and effort. As soon as we got in to Wales we noticed sheep everywhere and began to be followed by fighter jets overhead flying around for training purposes. It was funny to see people moving so quickly overhead whilst we moved forward so slowly up these hills.



Tired, smelly, hungry and thirsty we hit the 40 mile mark and seemed to have been riding uphill the whole time. We stopped in a little town and stocked up yet again on food and gorged ourselves. I asked a really nice old guy who was on his way home from the pub if there were any public toilets nearby and he laughed, informing us there was not, but he then told us to, "Go to the pub and tell Mia that Richie said we could use their toilet!" Soon after he left laughing to himself and saying he would invite us to use his toilet but he lived too far away.

We headed down to the pub but didn't find a Mia working there, we just used their toilet anyway then got back on the road thinking we had only another 25 miles to travel. Since we were really sore and tired we decided to walk up any big hills we faced and ride the flatter sections. Many hours later we were cycling in pitch darkness along A-roads and the stars gave us so much hope and energy. Thinking we should fall on Llanberis very soon, we stopped at a late-night shop for more food and were devastated to hear my map was misleading and that we were still another 45 miles from Llanberis! Our morale and hope of completing the trip in the original time was shot to pieces and we were stunned to silence for a few moments before deciding to just keep pushing forwards in to the darkness and see what we could do.

That night we covered another 10-15 miles through complete darkness, with more punctures, my back brake failing completely and the cold biting at our faces. Finally we came to a halt having cycled for 11 hours with only 1 proper break for lunch. We were about to set up in a field when I shined my torch in to the corner and saw 50 little eyes staring back at us! The sheep looked like possessed dogs ready to devour our kneecaps and bikes. We moved to another field and set up as quickly as possible, using my tent for the supplies and bundling in to the bigger tent to share body heat. We were all completely exhausted and although we hadn't made it to Llanberis we were proud of our achievement that day.

Day 4 was a slow start, we were all tired and sore from our cycling but knew for sure this time we only had around 30 miles to cover. The day went well but we still had to face so many huge hills without any significant downhill stretches to rest. It was soon obvious that it was impossible to get home in time now so we decided we would still climb Snowdon but get a train home if possible.


^Snowdonia gradually coming in to view.

But half way through today's journey our luck changed when we came across the most incredible downhill stretch. It took us through a winding series of roads high up in the mountains and we zipped through the quiet roads with the trees and nature all around us. This downhill section seemed to last for ages and it was by far the most scenic and beautiful terrain we had met so far. Things were picking up!

At the bottom of this stretch we reached Betws-y-Coed and found a railway station where we would come back to after we climbed Snowdon. We had a brief rest here then began the last 17 miles of our journey to Llanberis. This was exclusively uphill yet again and took us a long time but we were happy in the knowledge it would be all downhill on the way back to the station. As we reached the last five miles or so we came across the road leading up to the Pen-y-Pass which is a long and winding road, uphill of course but by this time we didn't care. We just kept going and soaked in the inspiring views of Snowdonia, walking up the steep slope pushing our bikes. When we finally reached the top and arrived at the well-known Pen-y-Pass, we paused here for a moment to admire the summit of Snowdon, just visible over the mountains before continuing.

None of us were expecting the most ridiculous downhill section imaginable on the other side of the Pen-y-Pass. It was long and windy and such a relief, even after the slope finished the speed carried us in to Nant Peris and it wasn't long before we reached Llanberis, our final campsite due to its proximity to Snowdon and the Pen-y-Pass. Here we found a campsite near to the youth hostel and we should really have expected it to be at top of another long steep hill! Half way up the hill we met another local called Richie who was a drunken guy that lived in a caravan in the next field with his dog. He said he would go to the shop and get some beers and come and have a drink with us, we laughed it off and continued wondering if we would ever see him again.

After booking in for the night we set up our tents and sure enough, Richie soon kept his word and came up with beers, some cups and a torch/radio combo that he soon tuned in to Radio 1 and turned up loud.

Not wanting to offend him we spoke to him for a while whilst he tried to get us to 'rave' with him to radio 1, drink his beer and smoke with him! After we kindly refused all of the above, he sat down and fell straight in the pre-built fire in a drunken mess... thankfully we hadn't lit the fire yet but I had to help him get out and he soon went home. We never saw him again but I wish to thank him for making us all smile, we hope we didn't offend you by not accepting your gifts Richie!


^The final campsite.

We all slept well that night and the next morning we woke up early and headed in to Llanberis town centre to find a bus to the top of the hill we had rode down last night. At the top we walked over to the beginning of the Miner's path and decided we'd try the other first, the Pyg. This would give us the choice of tackling the toughest route on Snowdon, Crib Goch, should we feel capable.



The route started out easily enough and it's fairly well maintained. Despite cycling for 4 days we were overtaking most groups we met along the way which felt nice, all of our physical training seemed to help us to go on and on without too much trouble. About 40 minutes later it was decision time, either we continued on the Pyg track or we tackle the infamous Crib Goch.

In the end we chose the Crib Goch. It started off fairly simple but soon we were faced with steep climbing sections where slipping was just not an option and some proper climbing situations that were made harder with rucksacks and our depleted physical state. Nevertheless we pressed on again and again until we reached the first ridge.


^The group in front as we looked on at what was to come. The knife-edge ridge of Crib Goch is considered the hardest route to the Summit of Snowdon and I can fully appreciate why so many people need to be rescued and air-lifted off the mountain during these final stages.


^Another view of Crib Goch, I've highlighted the route we scrambled across to get to where I took the photo.

The ridge itself was quite dangerous. You need to scramble across the top of the ridge that is never more than a metre wide, often much less. Sometimes you find yourself using the top as a hand rail and looking for foot holds as you keep moving sideways, focusing on everything but the lethal drop either side of you. We had all experienced heights and moving at height before in Parkour training so this didn't phase us much at all, as long as our hands were firmly planted on a handhold then we knew we could hold on should our feet slip. After half an hour or so of moving across the long ridge we faced the first tower that was quite a challenging climb.


^Scaling this tricky rock tower with a massive drop just next to us proved one of the harder parts of the route. Failure was not an option and going back was out of the question. We just pressed on and kept going up, looking for hand holds and hoping they would hold - we had found plenty of loose rock sections so far.

Beyond the ridges and towers there were a few more tricky sections and steep or vertical climbs with big drops all around us, we had to stay fully focused and be careful as the wind sometimes picked up and threatened to pluck us off the mountain. Some of the sections had loose rocks and hand holds and at one stage a fairly large boulder began to slide as I passed it and I only just managed to get my foot around it to stop it dislodging completely and heading straight for Tim's head. A close call for sure.

Proud and happy that we'd conquered the hardest route on Snowdon we continued towards the summit. As we got close there were a lot of people all walking towards one of the highest places in the UK, second only to Ben Nevis in Scotland. It was strange to see everyone moving in the same direction towards a small stone compass in the distance on top of the peak.


^Hanging on to a rock face with the summit in the background.

The summit itself is special, on a clear day you can see England, Ireland and Scotland and today was a very clear and sunny day. For as far as the eye could see, everything was below us and we could even see a large portion of the route we had cycled to get to this point. It made it all worthwhile; all the uphill struggles, the punctures, the cold nights and the compromises. We had made it!


^Part of Crib Goch from the Summit.


^On top of the world!

The walk down from the top was long and hard as our quadriceps were really feeling the descent, trying to slow us down and stop us falling all the way down the Miner's track. A quarter of the way down we came across a stream running down the mountain face and filled out water bottles with the cleanest, clearest water I've ever tasted, it seemed so pure. We found the resting place of the stream near the bottom and it was a gorgeous blue-green coloured river surrounded by picturesque mountains and a view back up to the summit.

We pressed on and after another hour or so and we were back at Pen-y-Pass waiting for an hour for a bus that never came. Some other people had been waiting even longer and nobody knows what happened to the buses that night. Some kind driver stopped to offer some us a lift down to Llanberis and a guy who had been whining about the public transport and some woman who came past everyone shouting "I have a child!!" decided that gave her priority, and they got in the car. We were too tired to protest and didn't really mind. The woman later came back for two girls, an American and a Scot that we had been talking to and they promised to come back for us when they got their car! We were so grateful for that and after 20 minutes or so they kept their promise and showed up, giving us a lift down in to Llanberis.

That night I bought and ate an entire chicken and loads of snacks as we all tried to pack in the recovery food whilst we phoned every local taxi company in the yellow pages to try and get one to take 3 bikes and 3 people to Betws-y-Coed for 7am the next morning to catch the train. None of them were interested in running a minibus for that time so we were faced with getting up at 2am the next morning and cycling 17 miles to Betws-y-Coed.

After 5 hours of sleep we woke up and in the dark, disassembled our tents, packed up our gear and headed for the Llanberis pass through deserted streets and under the stars, it was eerily quiet. When we reached the pass itself there were no street lights and we were dwarved by the mountains all around us and feeling really insignificant under the beautiful stars. It was the last real test of the trip to get up the Llanberis pass, pushing our bikes with all our gear on our backs and fighting to put one foot in front of the other over and over. An hour and a half later we reached the top and had a 5 minute break before rolling down the long hill on the other side - which was interesting with a half-working brake - I'm just glad there was no traffic at the bottom as I veered on to the junction at 20mph with white knuckles trying to get the brake to work.

We spent the next hour flying down the hills in the darkness and really enjoying ourselves, reflecting and laughing about the 5 days behind us and lessons learned.

We arrived at the train station 30 minutes early and just tried to stay warm until the time came when our train should arrive - unfortunately it didn't. Faced with the thought of spending another day in Wales we were really disheartened and ready to collapse when we saw a light in the distance. It was the train! It was late and caused us to miss all our connecting trains but the main thing was we were sitting down and travelling towards home, it felt great.

We changed at Llandudno junction, then again at Chester, then Crewe, Birmingham and I left the guys at Nuneaton to catch a train to Hinckley as they continued on to Leicester.


^Tired and sore on the way home.

And so I arrived home around 1pm on Thursday 14th February. After 170 miles (273km) almost all of which was uphill, 18 hours, 9 minutes and 21 seconds of cycling, 5 nights camping under the stars, a maximum speed of 28mph and an average of around 9mph, I was at home and felt happy to have completed my first adventure but sad that it was over.

The trip was a real eye-opener and a taster in to a lifestyle I wish to live more of in the future; travelling and experiencing new things with friends, testing myself physically and mentally and seeing the world. I value greatly the ability to be self-sufficient and not only survive, but thrive in difficult conditions and situations. I learned a lot of useful things during this trip that will stay with me as I tackle future obstacles.

This was a just the beginning of my adventures and I proved to myself I could cope with this kind of thing. The most important result of this trip is that it has given me confidence and valuable experience for bigger and better things to come.

Thanks to Joe and Tim for coming with me and helping me laugh through the hard times, whilst giving me company to share the good times with. It would have been a lot harder without you guys.



-Blane

Monday, January 28, 2008

Snowdon

A few weeks ago I decided that I needed a challenge and I sat down to consider some possibilities. Fairly quickly I came up with the idea of cycling somewhere, the question was where?
I also had the idea of climbing a mountain and began to look at the possibility of combining both a cycling and climbing trip.

Shortly afterwards Snowdon seemed like a great choice! I would cycle there, climb the mountain and cycle home, all I needed was some camping equipment.
I've since bought a tent, sleeping bag, a new bike and some other new camping gear to prepare for the trip which should take five days to complete. The great thing is the stuff will be used for future trips and challenges so although it was expensive, I know it will be worthwhile in the long run.

The total distance to cycle is around 300 miles (or 483km) and considering I have not cycled in a few years this seems like quite a worthy challenge.

Yesterday I cycled to a large public park in North Leicestershire known as Bradgate Park, both to test my new bike and its speedometer and to do some training for the Snowdon trip. My aim was to cycle there, hike up to the highest point in the park, where a folly called 'Old John' can be found, then cycle home. It was a nice ride and really hilly, which made some sections very difficult and tiring, especially on the way home but I was determined not to give up or walk even a metre of the uphill segments. I kept thinking "If you think this is hard, the Snowdon trip is going to be much harder!"

I left Hinckley at around 11:30 and I felt great to be flying along in the sun with the wind in my face. Using my map and a compass I negotiated my way through a range of small towns and villages and along some nice country roads along the way. The uphill sections were tough and the downhill sections were a lot of fun and often a welcome relief.

The total distance cycled was 36.88 miles (59.35km) and combined with the steep hike in the middle, I was really tired and hungry when I got back in to Hinckley around 17:00. Despite taking 5.5 hours I was quite pleased with this when I took in to account the amount of uphill sections that I came across and the hour or so spent at Bradgate Park.
My total cycling time was 3:36.09 hours and apparently I did an average of 10.24 miles per hour with a top speed of 29.4mph, which is useful to know for my Snowdon trip. The road that takes me 90% of the way to Snowdon never exceeds a 5% gradient so hopefully I can push that average up to around 12-14mph.


^Part of the approach up the hill towards Old John in Bradgate Park, which can be seen in the distance.


^Old John up close. From here you can see most of Leicestershire

I expected to feel sore and weak today but my legs feel just a little sensitive, other than that I feel fine.

When I begin the trip to Snowdon I will have to cover 75 miles (about 120km) per day on my bike, two days in a row, climb Snowdon (1085m above sea level) then cycle 75 miles per day home to make the whole trip in five days. My aim is to leave on the 9th February and return on the 13th.

Here are some of the views I will hopefully see on the 11th of February...


^The summit of Snowdon.


^Another view of the summit.

-Blane

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Inner Game of Parkour

"The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills... He aims at the kind of spontaneous performance which occurs only when the mind is calm and seems at one with the body, which finds its own surprising ways to surpass its own limits again and again... The player of the inner game uncovers a will to win which unlocks all his energy and which is never discouraged by losing"
- Timothy Gallwey, Introduction to The Inner Game of Tennis.

I was recently given the opportunity in France to read an interesting book called The Inner Game of Tennis. Despite having never played tennis for any more than 2-3 minutes in my entire life, I learnt a considerable amount about some mental aspects of sport, pressure and the concept of two selves that I had never previously considered. This book, combined with some other lessons that I learnt in Tours has resulted in a dramatic change in how I approach a new jump that I would typically find scary. I want to share that approach in this article to help other people deal with the doubts and fears they face before a new obstacle.

Whilst trying to subdue our fears and doubts in front of a new jump, we all have our own methods of dealing with an increased heart rate, pupil dilation, increased tension in our muscles and erratic breathing. Some people try to hold their breath, others count down from five, some people close their eyes and others shout reassuring words to themselves.
But regardless of how unique your preparation is for a new movement, there is something that we all have in common when it comes to dealing with this fear. An internal battle between two invisible selves begins and this is the reason we often feel such inner conflict and turmoil before a new obstacle.

Timothy Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Tennis suggests there are three types of tennis player and I think there are similarly three types of practitioner to be found in Parkour:

1) The overly positive thinker, filled with self-esteem because of his superior game.
2) The overly negative thinker, constantly analyzing what is wrong with him and his game.
3) The player of the Inner Game, simply enjoying and doing that which seems sensible.

1) Now the overly positive practitioner of Parkour, who believes his or her abilities are superior to the people around them, place themselves under incredible pressure. Before a new jump their mind is filled with thoughts concerning the cost of failure and how they may appear to the less experienced people around them should they fail and miss the jump. They fear that people will judge them, begin to doubt their ability, laugh at them or talk behind their back. Just when they need to focus and concentrate, they find it difficult due to these potential dents to their ego distracting them. The other potentially dangerous practice this practitioner may regularly follow is underestimating a jump, thinking their superiority means they don't have to give a jump their full attention.

2) The negative thinker in Parkour faces a new jump with immediate doubts and a destructive lack in confidence. Before they even step up to face the jump they are remembering the last time they fell whilst trying a similar jump. They are worrying about how much sleep they had last night and wondering whether this could be the chance they deserve to turn their training around and fix it. When they finally look at the jump, they doubt their ability to judge the distance from experience, measuring it using their feet, feeling weak in the legs, heavy in the arms and becoming increasingly anxious. Contrary to the overly positive thinker, the negative thinker is often guilty of over-analysing jumps and underestimating their ability to complete them.

3) The ‘player of the inner game’ approaches every new jump with a fresh pair of eyes. They rely on training and previous experience to carry them through the new jump and have absolutely no consideration for their reputation, ego, the long-term costs of failure or success, telling their friend that they did the jump, filming it for their new video or getting injured and being out for a month. There is no negative or positive, past or future - just here and now and this challenge that they wish to complete. They are realistic about their ability and can give the jump their full attention whilst not over-analysing it.

If you fall in to either of the first two categories then there is a good chance you are regularly frustrated or even angry when you practice, fearing more than just obstacles. In this article I would like to help anybody stuck in those categories to change their mindsets, if they want to.

The solution is simple when you realise all of the potential problems mentioned exist because there is a conflict present. There are two selves at work and only one can eventually help you to complete the jump.

Self 1, ‘the teller’, is responsible for telling your mind and body what they should think and do. It is the voice inside you that is used to help set goals and targets, warn you of danger and make decisions. This is what reminds you of the cost of failure, success, injury, missing the jump and making the jump. But Self 1 also has trust issues and the other factor it tries to control is how we move. It floods your mind with thoughts such as “Make sure you bend your knees”, “Keep your left hand open until the last moment”, “Use plenty of power to make the jump” and “If I miss I will need to somehow save myself”. It can tell you “You’re useless, you’ll never be a great traceur” or tell you “I am great! I can do anything today”.

Self 2, ‘the doer’, is responsible for doing what it has been trained to do. It has no interest in external matters or opinions, no concept of the issues Self 1 tries to distract us with. It is simply the accumulation of past experience and training. Unfortunately it is rarely allowed to surface in front of a new jump as it is often bullied in to submission by Self 1.

As young children we exclusively relied on Self 2.

When we were learning to walk, we were never told by Self 1 to “Stay balanced, put one foot in front of the other, swing the arms, keep breathing… and keep the back straight” and we had no ego in place to warn us “If I fall, people could laugh at me. The other children might think less of me because I cannot walk”.
Instead, we trusted Self 2 - we simply experienced another person walking, tried to copy them, probably fell over… but deep inside us lessons were learnt. Maybe we fell to our left, so next time, without thinking about it, we will lean a little more to the right. By this simple process of testing, evaluating the result without ego, and deciding what should be done to improve, we learnt how to walk and if you are reading this, you are probably quite skilled at walking, thanks entirely to Self 2.

So when did we stop trusting this incredible learning tool?

As we grow older we learn lessons of shame, embarrassment and failure. Self 1 begins to surface and affects our every action, not just in sport but in all other aspects of our lives. Suddenly every action has a chain of consequences and based on the outcome, we label the result as either good or bad, positive or negative, right or wrong.
When we were learning to walk there was no good or bad, simply what worked and what did not. We did not consider falling as a bad thing, it was simply what was a natural part of learning how to stay upright more often in the future.

The solution then is to find a way to deal with the trust issues of Self 1 and give Self 2 a little more credit, it did afterall teach you how to walk. But remember Self 1 is still useful to us because it has an ability to set goals and new challenges for us, as well as warn us of danger. So ideally Self 1 should set a realistic goal and then allow Self 2 to achieve it with complete confidence in its other halves’ ability. When both selves work in harmony and do their job, the outcome is highly rewarding.

What I have been training to do recently and explaining to the people I train with is to place more trust in Self 2 when faced with a new jump. To do this you need to find a way to quieten your mind, distract Self 1, and let Self 2 take complete control, just like it did so successfully when you were a child. Self 2 does not need to think about distances or heights and provide you with words and numbers as feedback, it just adapts to the obstacle based on previous training and experience. No specific thoughts of the required power, speed or techniques are necessary - Self 2 basically receives a goal and does whatever is required to achieve it.

Most people feel a certain pressure before a new jump, a tension or a tightness. They are trying to force themselves to do the jump but this is not the approach I recommend. You need to think of this process as a release rather than a force. Let your body do what it already knows how to do. If you drop a ball from a roof and want it to hit the floor, you ‘let it go’ and trust it to hit the floor - you don’t push it towards the floor whilst your mind is full of calculations and theories.

So how does Self 2 work?

It works due to the complex methods of learning from experience. Every repetition, exercise and past movement has taught you something that no book, spoken word or video can. It has strengthened pathways between your brain and your muscles and given your body experience and knowledge with which to better perform similar actions in the future. It is far more reliable than trusting Self 1, because Self 2's nature does not change depending on your mood, preferences and opinions of yourself or whether you think you have something to gain or lose from the new jump. Simply put, it is unbiased and reliable.

Obviously it is important to have plenty of previous experience and training to rely on for a new jump so this is why training must be gradual and a steady progression is vital to stay safe and healthy.

The idea of two selves at work can apply to everything in life but the other main purpose it has in relation to Parkour is when it comes to teaching others what you know.

Self 2 learns by example and experience. We were never told how to walk, we watched an adult walk then tried to copy them when we realised it is a more efficient way to move. Leading primarily by example is the best way to teach Parkour. If you describe any way to pass an obstacle to a student using only words and instructions, the student will panic and try to memorise everything and ultimately fail to understand the necessary movements required.

If we simply ask the student to casually observe whilst you pass the obstacle, they will pick up and process thousands of lessons without thinking. They will see your posture before you jump, the order in which your limbs move, how you land and where you were looking during each stage. They may not remember everything but it has still been much more productive than simply describing the movements.

After a few demonstrations and observations, if the student wishes to try to replicate the technique they will exhibit a number of similar traits to the example they observed. Some traits may be incorrect and some might be absent, but this is natural since they can’t expect to learn everything immediately.

It is now the job of the teacher to be a Self 2 teacher and not a Self 1 teacher. We were not told to lean more to one side when we fell over whilst learning how to walk, this was obvious when we looked again at the adult examples around us.
The teacher should not be a ‘teller’, they should be a ‘doer’.

Instead of telling the student “don’t move your arm that way, move your arm this way…” The student should be encouraged to “watch my arm, and consider how I move it and how moving it in this way helps me to do this technique”.
This way the student is not given a distraction from the overall technique. If you point out that only their arms need to be corrected, they will place so much emphasis on correcting the arm positioning that they will not be considering the rest of the movement. Whereas if you simply add another visual layer to their experience they will find it much easier to integrate this in to their overall progress with the technique.

This also helps to eliminate ego since you are not telling the student they are doing something ‘good’ or ‘bad’, simply advising them to focus on a certain part of the movement and synchronising their movement with yours piece by piece.

If you have ever asked another traceur how they managed to do something and they answered "I'm not sure, I just did it", don't think of this answer as useless to you or think they're bring rude, it's probably the truth. They just let themselves do it and so can you.

Joe, a good friend of mine, recently had some trouble with a new jump that was within his ability. He was becoming frustrated with himself and wanted to leave it for another day. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to walk away and he came back for another look and decided he wanted to do it today after all. He spent some time sizing the jump up but was listening to Self 1 too much. His head was full of thoughts about where his arms should be, where his legs should be, how much power he should apply, how much he had to turn in the air etc. I decided now would be a good time to introduce the lessons I had learnt to him.

There were some similar jumps nearby that were simpler and Joe had done in the past many times so my aim was to point out the differences in mindsets when faced with the different obstacles.

Standing before the old jumps he had done many times, Self 2 was clearly in control. There were no distracting thoughts and his mind was not busy, he simply looked where he wanted to be and allowed Self 2 to get him there. He relied on his training and considerable amount of past repetitions.

Immediately after he would go back and stand before the new jump but the mindset would change, it was like a big switch was flicked between the two selves. Suddenly he was thinking again about how much power he would need, where his limbs should be and many other distractions entered in to his head.

I asked him to watch me do the new jump a few times but not to pay particular attention to one part of the movement, just casually observe the jump. I didn't tell him how to do the jump, just showed him how it could be done.

Joe felt much more confident about the jump now and could clearly see the differences in mindset depending on which obstacle he was looking at, it was obvious to him this is where the problem was. He just needed to silence Self 1 and he managed to do this using a simple piece of card.
I held a piece of card on the landing areas of the old jumps and time and time again told him not to think, just do whatever it takes to reach the card. I moved the card just before Joe landed and every time he landed where the card had been just before. After a while of doing this and managing to completely switch off Self 1, distracting it with a simple piece of card, we moved over to the new jump and I placed the piece of card on the landing area. Without thinking Joe did the new jump with ease. His arms, his legs, his power, his position in the air were all flawless. The card was not important, it was simply a distraction to temporarily silence Self 1. Many other methods could be used to switch off or distract Self 1 but this particular one worked for Joe on this jump. Afterwards he said the difference was that he didn't over-analyse it and think about the specifics, simply decided where he wanted to be and let his body take him there.

It is important to note he was not wreckless and just jumping wildly, he had already made all the calculations and decided he could do it safely, this was just a different way of actually doing it.

You can experiment with different methods of distracting Self 1 and gradually you will learn how powerful Self 2 is and how reliable it really is. Instinct and ‘feeling’ a new jump is based on experience and you should know as soon as you look at a new jump whether you can do it or not… if you decide that it is time and you can do it then it is time to switch mindsets and let your body do it.

Another useful tool in combating a busy mind is to convince yourself that this is in fact not a new jump, you have done it before. If you remember the last scary jump you did, you will recall how it was much easier the second time you did it. This confidence is simply a switch in mindset and if you can convince yourself this is not the first time for you and just another repetition, the new jump will be much easier. You are not being over-confident, simply using this method to distract Self 1 and trick it in to letting go.

It is worth mentioning that a degree of sensibility is necessary before you begin experimenting with these mindsets - do not try to eliminate Self 1 altogether because it does a good job of keeping you safe and reminding you of any dangers in a new jump. It is the voice of experience, but not experience itself.

Listen to Self 1 as you decide whether it is time to try this jump and if you are ready for it, give yourself a clear goal and visualise where you want to be in as much detail as possible - then allow Self 2 to take control and achieve the goal without interference.

Mastering this ability to switch mindsets on demand will greatly benefit your progression and although I am not entirely able to switch between the mindsets just yet, this is what I've been working hard with recently and already I have noticed big differences. In the moments where I have successfully trusted Self 2 in its entirety to complete a new goal, I have been much more aware of each split second throughout a technique and been able to adjust accordingly to any variation as though time itself had slowed down a little... Of course it had not but it was all thanks to having a clear and focused, tranquil mind.

So who wants to play the Inner Game?

-Blane

Huge thanks to Tim Gallwey and his book, The Inner Game of Tennis and to Thomas Des Bois for opening my mind to these concepts and ideas. Credit also has to be given to Plato who explored the idea of the tripartite soul over two millennia ago.