003 – Interview with Thomas Droge

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Craig: Hello. I’m Craig Constantine.

Thomas: And I’m Thomas Droge.

Craig: And this is Parkour, They Said. Thomas has been practicing Tai Chi and Qigong and many other consciousness awakening practices for the past 30 years. He’s been a healer, an acupuncturist, a bodyworker, a herbalist, a truth teller, and spirit whisperer for the past 20 years. He’s taught Chinese medicine, Qigong, and meditation classes across the country and has attended numerous trainings in Daoism, Chinese medicine, meditation, and healing, and [00:00:30] of course he practices Parkour. Welcome Thomas.

Thomas: Hey, what’s happening?

Craig: We’re doing a podcast recording.

Is there a story you would like to share?

Craig: Thomas, is there a story that you would like to share with us?

Thomas: Yes, Craig.

Craig: Good, because I thought you were going to say, “No.”

Thomas: It’s funny the weight that comes with the phrase, “Is there a story you’d like to tell us?”

Craig: Right. What’s the statute of limitations on …

Thomas: Yeah, exactly. Right?

Craig: [00:25:30] In Arizona there’s a law –

Thomas: Motorcycle racing and … Right

Craig: I know, right. I miss those days.

Thomas: So, I’m a Chinese medicine doctor. I’ve been doing it forever. I spent a lot of time in my life, professionally, learning everything I could about western medicine, and everything I could about Chinese medicine, and trying to figure out everything I could possibly know about doctoring at this very [00:26:00] high level. Although I would always tell people that I was doing it because I wanted to be good at it, I was really doing it because I wanted to be smarter than the smartest people I knew in the field. Then I would spend my time trying to check in and see. So, I’d go hang out with really smart doctors or people with IQs over 160, and I’d hang out with them and I’d like test my knowledge all the time to see if I was keeping up.

And [00:26:30] I spent all this time in my life going around testing myself and other people. I ended up in this constant state of judgment of like, “Am I smart enough?” and “Are you smart enough?” And I would do both of these things. And I became really close with a local doctor here in the Lehigh Valley named Kristin Reihman, who’s amazing. She’s a family medicine doc, and we ended up doing a lot of training together in Lyme Disease. I would hang out with her and we [00:27:00] would talk about life at the hospital, and in private practice, and what’s it like for her to practice medicine, and all the sort of limitations that kept showing up in her life where she couldn’t do the things that I would do in a treatment room because the law was so strict around what a medical doctor could or couldn’t do.

I found myself spending time with her talking. And I remember, specifically, [00:27:30] sitting with her one day and we talking about Lyme Disease, and we were talking about medicine, and healing, and the whole process of how bodies, and people, and sprits all change, and she looked at me and she said, “Why do you spend all this time trying to show me what you know?” And she just caught me totally sideways, like “Why are you doing that? Like, you’re brilliant.” “But I’m just curious.”

And she was being [00:28:00] completely honest, and I said, “Oh, you noticed that.” And I started to talk to her about it, and she said, “Yeah. I think that,” she said, “You know, I think you’re brilliant. I think you’re incredible, but I think you don’t need to, I don’t think you need to do that,” and it was so interesting because she’s a very like gentle, giving person, and it was somehow, she gave me this permission to just accept [00:28:30] myself for who I am. Somehow that just flipped the switch in my brain, and the second she said that I realized that every place I’d been testing I was trying to be good enough, and then get someone to tell me I wasn’t bad. The second she did that I think I let go of like thirty things I was trying to do that I didn’t actually care about at all.

Craig: Crossed those right off.

Thomas: Including western medicine, which I was like, “I don’t actually care that much about western medicine.” I really don’t. And I [00:29:00] was like, “and that’s fine,” and I just got so free in that moment. And I mean, I can’t thank her enough, because it literally was, like for whatever reason in that moment in time, she just turned the key and this giant cage just sprung away from me, and all of a sudden I could be free to do anything I wanted to do, the way I wanted to do it, and that was great.

I want people to know that what you are, and who you are, and the way that you move through [00:29:30] the world, is the best way that you can be, and the less time that you spend trying to get some authorities approval, or run away from some fear of who you wish you hadn’t been in the past, or what you hadn’t done, or who other people thought you were, the more you can let go of all those things and just be you, the freer you will be and the more amazing you will be.

002 – Interview with Jonny Hart

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Craig: Hello. I’m Craig Constantine.

Jonny: And I’m Jonny Hart.

Craig: And this is Parkour, They Said. Jonny Hart has studied fine arts at … Wait, what does this say? He teaches for Los Angeles but went to school in New York?

Jonny: I went to both.

Craig: I’m so confused. Okay. Wait. He’s from Los Angeles and then he went to school …

Jonny: …at the L.A. Academy of Figurative Art. And then went to New York Academy of Art.

Craig: And then went to New York, and went to an outside class called [00:00:30] Fit Strong?

Jonny: Get Strong.

Craig: Get Strong, right. And met Jesse Danger. This is so complicated. All right, let’s try this again. This is Jonny Hart and he’s … You know what, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. He uses Parkour to teach art to kids, he uses art anatomy to teach Parkour to kids. It’s really complicated, we’ll try and untie some of it.

What are you working on now?

I am working on developing more sustainability in my movement practice and training. I am trying to work through a chronic injury or at least learn to work around it better. I am also trying to learn patience with this, reminding myself that I have my whole life to train…if I maintain myself well. I am continuing to develop the foundation for a lifetime of movement, training, and playing. I am learning to balance training and recovery and my individual recipe for self-care that will hopefully sustain my ability to use my body the way I want to. I am learning to listen to the subtle cues when my body is asking for something and then make accommodations for this. It is frustrating to feel limited, but the limitations wax and wane and I learn that my body is different from one day to the next. Its needs are different from one moment to the next, but if I listen well and I adapt as necessary then I am able to continue moving along as intended. I used to see (or hope that) progress was a forward projection, but I’m realizing more and more that progress is not linear and that challenge has many forms. When I adapt to receive both the ebbs and the flows more gracefully I better align myself with my goals, in spite of any set backs. It is all part of the same path. I have to remind myself to be grateful for all of my vast capabilities and not be so hard on myself for the areas where there is still much room for growth. With the proper approach I have the opportunity to experience anything I want to. I am trying to create an enlivening and worthwhile experience in the way I use/experience my body- a lifelong and sustainable experience.

How has your practice affected your life?

My life changed so dramatically it’s hard to sum it all up! So many opportunities have become available. There are obviously physical benefits, but I am stronger in many ways. It has taught me to overcome adversity and challenge logically and systematically. But there was I time when I wasn’t supported. I was even told that it wasn’t a good life choice to dedicate myself to the practice because I couldn’t turn it into a career. The money never mattered to me, It was the training I was in love with. Now I’m a Senior Coach for Parkour Generations Americas, Boston and I couldn’t be happier.

How has your practice affected your life?

Moreso now than when I was actively training, a few of the ethos of parkour have really shaped my life. Specifically, the ideas of “leaving a place better than how you left it” and “saying I can’t really just mean it’s not a priority for me right now” have really become the go-to sayings in my life. Those two sayings alone have driven me to pursue higher education, do awesome projects in the tech world, and all-around be a better person.

Years later, those two sayings have stuck for me.

Also, I think that the overall openness and friendliness of the parkour community is still something that I seek out in whatever kind of job or organization I am working in.

001 – Interview with Adam McClellan

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Craig: Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.

Adam: …and I’m Adam McClellan.

Craig: …and this is Parkour, They Said.

Adam McClellan is a Director of the Americas branch of Parkour Generations, the largest professional parkour and coaching organization in the world. As an ADAPT qualified Level Two Coach, he is regularly invited to teach and speak at events. Adam hosts classes and workshops in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, which has become a hotspot of activity on the East Coast. He offers expert knowledge in coaching and inspiring [00:00:30] children, a specialization he has introduced into the ADAPT Level One course curriculum in the United States. Adam’s charismatic coaching talent makes a significant positive impact at each parkour event he attends.

Welcome, Adam.

Adam: Hey, Craig. Thank you.

What are your goals?

While it has improved noticeably even in the two years since I began training, there’s still a big lack of diversity in parkour, especially among coaches and other highly visible practitioners. As welcoming as everyone was when I started training, I couldn’t help noticing that when I looked around, I didn’t see anyone like me. It took me a long time to start feeling comfortable talking about myself, because there were no conversations happening, nothing to give me any indication of how people might react. The story I hear over and over again from people who fall outside the archetype of young, athletic and masculine, is “I loved it so much that I stayed, even though…” And every time, all I can think is, what about the people for whom that wasn’t enough, or the people who never tried in the first place because the images they’ve seen don’t include anyone like them?

The parkour community is amazingly accepting, and really does believe that there is room for anyone, but it’s not always very good at showing that when someone comes to train for the first time, feeling overwhelmed and out of place among a lot of people who don’t look like them. I’m working towards coaching myself, and in doing so I want to talk more openly about my own differences, to provide what bit of visibility I can. I also want to start conversations, with coaches, community leaders, and the community at large, about what we can do better to support people from underrepresented groups. Parkour has changed my life, largely in ways directly related to how I deviate from the popular image of a parkour practitioner, and I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to have that experience.

How has your practice affected your life?

Parkour is, without question, the best thing that has ever happened for my mental health. I’m transgender and autistic(though I didn’t realise the latter until fairly recently), with a side order of depression and anxiety. When I first found parkour, I was a mess. I was very isolated at the time; there were a lot of people I called friends, but socialization was difficult enough that spending time with them, when I did, often just made me feel more lonely. Out of college and the effortless social contact that dorm living and student groups provided, and in a career with inconsistent work, I rarely left the house, which did nothing to help my depression. I had dealt with the worst of my gender dysphoria by then, but I was still far from comfortable with my body; we’d reached an uneasy truce at best.

The change when I started training was immediately noticeable. As nervous as I was at that first class, as impossibly sore as I was the day after, I was /happy/. And for the next few days, I stayed happier and more functional than I’d been in a long time. So I came back. And kept coming back. There were days, early on, where I would walk to class almost in tears except I couldn’t figure out how to let them out, and once class started I’d be happy enough to have coaches commenting on how consistently cheerful I was.

Classes let me trick myself into getting much needed social interaction; I wasn’t going to talk to people, after all, that would be scary, I was just going to learn things. But the people there included me anyway, shy and quiet as I was, and before I knew it I had been absorbed into the parkour community, a community which has countless times been there to support me when I’ve needed help, and for which I am endlessly grateful.

Parkour has given me tools to face difficult situations in my outside life as well. Starting conversations is not so different from breaking jumps, and talking in front of people can be approached much like balancing at height. The focus on adaptation in parkour has led me to be more comfortable making adaptations in life that work for me, rather than trying to fit myself into the models society expects. The confidence I’ve gained from succeeding(and failing) at the challenges parkour presents has done a lot to help me find the courage to attempt challenges elsewhere.

Training has also completely changed my relationship with my body. My body had never been something I actively liked. As a child it was just kind of there, the way my family’s dinner plates were, and not something to care about one way or the other. When I started questioning my gender, and later transitioning, it was a source of distress. I thought of my body in terms of how it appeared to others, of which undesired feature might cause some hopefully well-meaning stranger to inform me that excuse me, this was the /men’s/ restroom. I hid in oversized t-shirts and tried to avoid being seen. When I started training, I started seeing my body instead in terms of what it could /do/. Why should I care if my hips are wider than might be expected when I can climb over a wall or land on a rail? Parkour introduced me to a whole world of fascinating possibilities, and suddenly my body, rather than being an unwanted burden I carried around with me, was my partner in achieving them. For the first time, I see my body as truly a part of me, and a part I’m glad to have.

How did your training begin?

I’ve always been an active person. Running and jumping and climbing on things has just been what I do, but it’s taken a lot of different forms over the years. I started down the path that lead me to parkour when I was in middle school, I was into roller blading, skate boarding, and BMX.

Eventually that petered off and I was looking for a new thing to fill the void. I happened to stumble across a YouTube video, not of Parkour, but of this thing called jumping stilts, which are these contraptions that you strap to your legs that you stand about 18 inches off the ground. It has a big fiberglass leaf spring so you can jump, it compresses and you can jump 6 feet high and do crazy acrobatics.

So I saw a video of a guy doing this and just doing backflip backflip backflip backflip down the street and I thought: I want to be able to do that! So I ordered a pair of those immediately, and I basically spent the next 5 years diving head-first into that.

I did that in college, and when I moved up to Boston in 2009, I was looking for a gym that would let me in on stilts in order to learn more acrobatics. I found this gym that said, “Yeah, that’s cool, you can do that.” They happened to also be starting a Parkour class, and asked would I be interested in that and I said, “Yes I would be! I’m going to do that too!” Well, turns out it wasn’t really a Parkour class, it was just an adult gymnastics class and they just called it a Parkour class to get people to go.

I started doing that. It took me towards one of my goals of learning standing backflips and better air awareness which is what I wanted to learn at the time. And then, probably, 6 months later that gym went out of business, because cheerleading gyms are not viable business models.

I continued down the parallel paths of still doing jumping stilts, and now doing Parkour. I found some of the local community at the time, but it was pretty small and disorganized. I got together with some people, and was mostly still training in gymnastics gyms at time because I was more interested in the acrobatic side of things.

After a couple years of self directed training I wound up taking classes through the same coach that was teaching that adults’ gymnastics/parkour class at another gym. After a couple months of that, a new guy showed up, and said, “Hey I’m Blake! I’m from Parkour Generations and we teach classes in Boston now, and we’re running an instructor certification class in a couple of weeks. So I wanted to come meet everybody and tell you that’s a thing.” I ended up riding the subway home with Blake and we had a good conversation.

I met Blake, probably three weeks before they were running the first ADAPT level one coaching course delivered by Parkour Generations Americas here in Boston in 2013. I didn’t think anything of it on the day that I met him, I was thinking, “Oh, there’s another Parkour group here in Boston.” But over the next 2 weeks I had 3 or 4 friends not in the parkour community independently find the Facebook event for the ADAPT course and sent it to me saying, “Hey, I thought you might be interested in this”, and I was like ‘meh’. “Hey, I thought you might be interested in this”, meh… “Hey, I thought you might be interested in this” Hey! …maybe I’m interested in this!

Then I was like, “well yeah, it’s only a little bit of money and a weekend, so even if nothing comes of it, I might as well try.” So I went over to attend one of PKGB’s classes, just thinking, well if i’m going to go learn how to coach from these guys, I’m going to go see what they do. I took a class and it was great fun! The Parkour Generations philosophy and the Yamak way of training is very different from the more gymnastics/acrobatic training that I’d been doing. But I think it was what I needed and has done very well for me over the past four years.

So, I took one of their classes, talked to Blake afterwards and I said, “Hey, remember me? We met a few weeks earlier, and I’d like to take that instructor course that you mentioned.” …and I’ve been working for him for four years now. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time to get in on the ground level of the expansion of Parkour Generations in Boston.

How has your practice affected your life?

Training parkour has affected me in many ways. I’ve gotten stronger. I’m getting older, but I’m definitely in the best shape of my life, which is great. The biggest effect of training has been changes in my perception of what I can do and what possibilities are open to me. We often focus on looking at jumps that are scary or at the edge of our ability and assessing the challenge against our skill sets to convince ourselves that we can do what might at first appear out of reach. After analyzing my own training for so long you start to analyze other parts of your life and find what other obstacles you have held up as insurmountable.

The biggest of these was a major career change. I’ve been a software engineer for a number of years and about a year ago was fed up with office life. I was unable to work, sleep, train, coach, and have a social life. After a lot of thought and debate I decided the thing that needed to budge was work. I was comfortable where I was, but needed to push my boundaries to see what I could really do. So, I left my comfortable office job and now coach parkour, as well as a few other odd jobs to support myself. Training has both supplied me with a new career path as well as a framework for continuous self improvement.