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.

What are you working on now?

​I’ve been spending a lot of time rock climbing, but I’ve also been applying that to my training outside. Climbing has changed how I see a spot. I was out training, and went to this cool spot, it was an old dilapidated building, and the first thing I see and immediately latched onto was this sketchy rusty, little tiny brick ledge. ​I was like, I need to do a cat leap to that and build a route around it.

Right now, I’m in a reflective period with my training. I’ve had a huge goal of working towards my ADAPT level two certification, which has been a three year process that I’ve been working towards, since 2013. I finally achieved that last June. ​I took the summer to rest and play. I took a step back from intense physical and mental training being my main focus. I worked on a couple of non parkour related side projects. My movement has been focused on fun, play, and enjoying movement rather than focusing on any specific technical aspect.

Now I’ve taken that four to six months to relax and enjoy movement, I’m swinging back into winter. It’s time to turn up the dial again. I must get strong, I must get better, I must jump further, higher, faster. Now I’m going to swing back into a sort of more intense training regime for the winter.

I haven’t really figured out what tack that’s going to take yet, or what specific goals I want to set for myself. I know my goal for this winter is just, train hard again, you know, filling any voids in my whole body strength and mobility.

Is there a story you would like to share?

This story happens during an intense physical challenge, but it’s not about the physical challenge. It’s about the ability of parkour to bring people together, and to make really good friends really quickly. When I did my ADAPT level two course three years ago now, it’s a five day course that is a lot of physical training, as well as learning a lot about coaching. On the last day of the course, we’ve been going for four days straight, eight hours a day. Probably more than that. They tell us, “All right, get up the next morning, and we’re not going to go to the spot we’ve been meeting all this week. Go to this other spot on the other side of the city.” Which fortunately for me the course is in Boston, and I knew what was coming when they told us to go meet at Harvard Stadium.

The other participants might not quite have known what they were in for. But this a standing challenge in Boston to run up the steps of this massive stadium, that I had known about, and been like “Nope. Not interested. I don’t want to do that.” But they brought us over there for the last day of this course. So, we’re given the challenge of running the steps of the stadium. We’re given a time limit. We’re slogging through. None of us had ever done this before, so we didn’t really know how to appropriately pace ourselves.

There were 14 people on the course. All but one of which I had never met before. This was our fourth day. You spend four days doing that kind of intense training with people, you get to know them pretty well pretty quickly. Then having this stadium be the ender to wrap up our last day. Everyone is exhausted. We’ve all got different pacing strategies. But we’re all there for each other, and we’re there to make sure that everyone finishes.

We came around to probably two thirds of the way through the stadium. I don’t remember if I caught up to Evan or Evan caught up to me, but we crossed paths. After the initial sprint everybody falls into their own pace and we were pretty far apart from each other. We crossed paths with each other, and we’re just like “We’re sticking together. We’re going to make sure each other finishes this thing. We’re going to get this done.” I wouldn’t have finished that stadium without Evan, and Evan has since told me that he would not have finished that stadium without me. The fact that we were just both there fighting through that together having just met each other four days ago.

He has since moved to Boston and now coaches with us. We are fantastic friends. Just the fact that we can forge our friendship through that fight against all those stairs has been a really great experience that I have shared again and again with a ton of different people through parkour which is great. Another reason that I highly recommend that people travel as much as possible and go train in other cities with other coaches with other practitioners. Find those challenges, because that’s where you make your best friends.

How has your practice affected your life?

Parkour has pretty much become my life.

Despite how strange that sounds, my passions in life now all revolve around Parkour and the economy that surrounds it. I’m proud to say: I make a living, doing what I love, because of Parkour.
I started working when I was 14. It was an outlet for me to escape life at home and a way to socialize with people I’d never met. Around a couple months, before I started working, I started training parkour. My whole reason for working in the first place was because I had this new obsession with Photography. I wanted to upgrade from the cheap point and shoot (I probably stole from my mom) to a big bad DSLR. It only took me half the summer to save. So with the next few weeks of awesome New England weather ahead, I took my camera with me to Boston every time I went out to train.

Then I was introduced to Hub Freerunning.

I liked Parkour, and I liked Photography. The only reason why a crazy group of freerunners and an awkward teen from Brockton met is because of those two things. And now after 8 years of roof missions, long car rides to quarries, parties in NYC and too many other shenanigans… I am coaching, managing, and designing for Hub Parkour Training Center.

When I was 10, I wanted to be an Aeronautics Engineer.
Wow, I was such a freakin’ nerd.

What else would you like to share?

Parkour’s Hedonic Treadmill

The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

When we think about Parkour we mainly think about how to reach the goals we set for ourselves. We don’t think about is the influence others can have on us and how we view ourselves thru our own training style and accomplishments.

The reason I mention the hedonic adaptation is because in Parkour we rarely become complacent with ourselves. We are always pushing for the next big goal or challenge we see, even if it is just outside our reach we still work toward it until we can firmly grasp it. However, it is only recently I have discovered that we can fall into the trap of always feeling like we “suck” and we need to progress at a much faster rate to achieve satisfaction with ourselves and our training.

I think it’s quite normal after being in the game for 2+ years to feel like we need to constantly progress. After all, the first two years is usually the prime time we “learn the tech” and start actually feeling like we’re getting better compared to when we started. That feeling is normal and it applies to all humans, no matter what it is, we suffer from this trait of adaptation and complacency when it comes to new experiences. When we look at parkour, a sport/discipline that constantly introduces us to fear and doubt within ourselves, we are dealing with overcoming challenges daily. When we overcome challenges we previously couldn’t it is such a euphoric feeling, its one of the reasons I think we all love parkour so much. We feel so accomplished and we feel like we broke down the door that was holding us back but this feeling is short lived. It may last for the rest of the day or the next 5 minutes after a successful jump but regardless how long the feeling last, eventually we are looking for that feeling again.

We want the feel of accomplishment because it’s how we judge where we are as an athlete and as a person. We want to know we can keep achieving great things and reaping those rewards and feelings from it. Although one of the hardest things about being in this community is that there is almost no way you can avoid falling into the trap of comparing your training and accolades to that of someone else you feel is “better” and I use that term loosely. There have been times in my own training where I’ve felt like I wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t training as hard as I should be because I wasn’t progressing as fast I used to. Its only now I’ve learned that my progression is slower for two reasons. 1) I am older and now coach parkour as a job/career. Because of this I am more careful with my body as not to approach a challenge without taking careful steps to secure my safety. This is normal because as a coach, if I get hurt I can’t work and that means no money, plus it also means negative feelings will start taking over because training is also my therapy and being injured only adds to the pessimistic attitude I can exhibit if I don’t train enough. 2) As my training continues the challenges I am looking at have gotten increasingly harder. I am not doing the same kind of jumps I was when I started, which in turn means that I am getting better even if I don’t complete the jump, it is just harder to feel that sense of accomplishment when the task or goal is not achieved, only attempted. These two factors were lost on me before, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t hit the jumps that others were, especially when I had a harder time conquering the same jumps others made look so easy. Factor in the fact that most of the time these practitioners were much younger then me and I started to feel almost obsolete like I wasn’t good enough anymore.

It took almost a year and a half but I came to the conclusion I was becoming complacent in my training and my overall behavior towards life. I was comparing instead of investing in myself. I realized the reason I became upset was because I was trying to emulate what I saw others do and because of that the adaptation to my progression led me to become almost depressed and lower self worth. I was so used to the daily grind of going out and leading our weekly sessions that I didn’t realize how I made the transition from playing the game to teaching the game. I got used to having Parkour be my life for so long I almost lost that feeling of accomplishment even after smashing certain challenges.

It was only after a recent trip to Pinnacle Parkours Philadelphia gym that I rekindled that feeling and truly became okay with my style and where I was at in the world of the Parkour community. I realized that it was okay to not be the best; it was okay to compare myself but not judge myself on only my athletic ability. It was almost as this new feeling hit me and I felt alive again, I knew that my style of parkour was about conquering my own fears and doubts. I use the physical jumps I am scared of to help achieve a higher level of self-esteem. For so long I thought I was getting used to the daily grind and parkour was becoming part of that for me, and that was scary because it started to feel like all the time I invested into training and getting better was almost worthless. Like when you break up with someone after 5+ years of being together, a part of you just felt like you wasted time while the other part is trying to convince you that it wasn’t.

The hedonic treadmill is something I think we face as humans because we get complacent and we lose the sight of the original goal. I started training because I wanted to do ninja stuff and survive a zombie apocalypse, now its become more for me. It’s my job, my hobby, and it’s become my lifestyle. I’ve made countless new friends and relationships because of it and I’ve done things pre-parkour me would lose his mind over. It was okay to get complacent and feel those moments of self-doubt because that was a way to show me how to appreciate what I almost started taking for granted.

So my friends I will leave you with this, when you feel like your not achieving what you set out to do, Parkour oriented or not, do not let that overwhelm you. It is a sign from the universe that you are being tested to see if this is what you really wanted. Those who find there way back to the path will realize that there are more things to accomplish and more goals to conquer and those who don’t will find there next passion. It’s okay to get used to something, but it’s just a test to see if you can find the passion within that keeps you going.

What does your practice mean to you?

Throughout the years I’ve thought of many things that parkour is to me. A way of thinking that breaks you out of the normal pattern of movement. A fun pastime, something that I can always have a good time doing. A great way to meet people, and a way both to stand out from the normal flow of our society and to fit in to a community filled with people of similar mindsets (in a certain regard.) I have been thinking of one thing more recently: Parkour allows us to be better.

Not necessarily in a prideful condescending way. I believe that all people are equal in importance. However, there is something about this art that allows you to take your body beyond the limits of common knowledge. If you need an example, just think of all the people that treat you like your crazy for practicing parkour, a thrill seeker with a desire to do dangerous things. “Normal” people don’t think of the human body, or their human body at least, in the way that we do. Before I practiced parkour, a 10 foot drop was in my mind an almost guaranteed injury. It was not possible for the human body to withstand such things. I would have never thought that my body was capable of so much more. I grew up loving superheroes and sci-fi. The idea of being something more than a normal human was, and is, intriguing to me. Parkour is my way to achieve that goal in the here and now. I can be better today than I was yesterday. I can do more than I thought possible today than I could years ago. I can be more than the average human. I can muster my strength and push my limits until I reach a level that no one thought possible. This art allows us to be better than average, better than just normal. I really admire that about parkour.

I am currently attempting to become a police officer, and I definitely feel that training in parkour has prepared me. I have trained my body so that it is able and efficient, and with that body, I can help other people who do not have the same mindset as me. I can not only show them that we as humans are more capable than we think, but I can use my skills to help keep them safe, and to serve them.

Practicing parkour means a lot of things to me. Right now, however, the focus is on bettering myself. I believe someone relevant to this conversation once said, “be strong to be useful.” That is what practicing parkour means to me right now.

How did your training begin?

My training began a few years ago but the question is why? The answer is, I don’t know. The beginning of my practice is pretty vague and I don’t really remember how I started. All I really remember is that I wasn’t a big fan of traditional sports like football and baseball (with some exceptions) and I just started to practice parkour. Ever since I started I haven’t stopped practicing, progressing, advancing my technique, etc.

What are you working on now?

Physically

I am Soooo weak. I have been building for a year every day. now that i finally have a gym I’m focusing on getting back into shape.

Mentally

I’m focusing on creating a functional set of parkour programming focusing on psychology instead of a movement progression. I’m working hard on creating new innovative parkour builds. On the scale of large gym/park space, And on the scale of small, repeatable, modular obstacles. Also working on uping the standard of parkour builds nation wide. Currently working on a way to help standardize marketing for other parkour groups.

Emotionally

I’m a pretty abrasive douche. some people get along GREAT with me and love my straight forward blunt style. So normally when i meet people they either love me or hate me. Both in extremes. Though I’m fine with being hated, I don’t know when I’m hated a lot of the time. so that sucks. I need to know, ya know? Also I would like to be able to control it if I choose. currently since I don’t always know who I’m offending, I don’t know WHEN I’m offending.

What else would you like to share?

So, first off – open a new window in your browser, get onto youtube, and find an old Parkour video that you are in, which you feel is from a good time. It might be a sampler, a jam video, an event, whatever.

How was it? Things are different now, right? It’s not like it used to be then. I miss that.

I hear these sorts of remarks a lot from traceurs of all kinds, including a lot who are now training less, or not at all.

I want to talk about this idea of striving to keep going, keep training.???????????????

Our community as a whole, and your individual smaller communities are always changing. People come and go, jams grow and disappear, your training goes up and down. You change. And at the end of all that, there’s a much smaller number of people still out doing Parkour years later compared to the number of people that have been a part of it, or connected with it along the way. This change really seperates people. It’s not going to be like it used to be. You can’t ‘go back to training’ as you once did. That one Jam that you remember is a small part of your whole experience that you remember fondly. It’s one highlight in a long journey, which isn’t just highlights. What’s the constant in these memories?

It’s Parkour.

Parkour is still there, its still something that you can go and do. What you have to ask yourself is – is it the true idea of training Parkour, really living it, that attracts you? Or is it the memories of your initial achievements, trips with friends, conversations on a rooftop after a late night training session? These things are really important – they inform your experience of Parkour and they form part of the discipline for each person. But they change.

The most accomplished traceurs in my eyes are the ones who always find time for training. Regardless of their circumstances, commitments or priorities – there will always be Parkour in their lives. That is extremely hard to achieve I think and is one of Parkour’s greatest and most constant challenges. It’s an honest and brutal discipline, and not everyone can rise to the challenge of doing Parkour for a lifetime. At the real essence of it, is the challenge. It’s always there, if you want it. Maybe the challenge is to just go out and train for the first time in a while. Maybe it’s to stop training the same stuff and be honest about where your comfort zone lies and ask yourself if you stay in it. Whatever the challenge don’t go looking to the past – look forward. Move forward. Find what Parkour truly is for you, and just you, in each moment and then in the next – because that’s the one relationship you know can always be there:

You, and Parkour.