Obstacles: Training vs Life

Photo by  EON Camerawork

I was asked by a friend: “I saw a post of yours a while ago that was describing some of the personal life obstacles you face, how has this shaped your training or views of parkour/movement?”

I replied immediately by saying: “Right off the bat I can say this will be another interesting thing to walk my mind through. Because those obstacles have probably shaped my training and views, but my views and training have probably also shaped those obstacles. Let me put some more thought into it.”

I suppose first I can say that I was facing obstacles like that well before I had started training. I think if I had not already faced some of the obstacles I had before I started movement, things might have turned out much differently. Back then, I barely did any movement and after high school was over I pretty much never moved... at least not in any organized way. Other than riding my bike to work (which did feel good) or moving around the warehouse there, I was just sitting at home on the computer much of the time. I worked in the warehouse at a Circuit City at the time that I am thinking back to now (2004-2008). Even now though, I can recall the way I moved in that warehouse sometimes and realize I was already kind of mindful of the way I would move. The way I would get/put big TVs off of/onto shelves higher than my shoulder height, sometimes getting things down from a shelf twice that height without using the lift - by splitting my feet across the aisles a-la-Van-Damme (not nearly as far!), pulling the large box out into the void, and then lowering it down safely (to another employee or to the ground, depending on the shelf I was on). I'm getting off track here, this is not answering your question... anyway, I moved, but not with a certain intent or the mindset like I do now.

When I started training it was just something to fill up my free time. What drew me to start with it was seeing an old video on YouTube of someone moving, they moved very gracefully and while I watched that I thought “this is how we should all be able to move… our bodies are all made for it... so why couldn’t I?” To keep this writing shorter, I will just say that it wasn’t until a training experience I had in 2012 that really opened my eyes to what movement could do for me (http://parkourwaysblog.blogspot.com/2017/03/where-it-started.html). This is what I meant above when I said things might have turned out much differently. If I hadn’t had some of the obstacles I had before this experience, I very well could have just taken the experience at face value. That is to say - it would have only been a physical challenge for me, something to see what my muscles and body could do. This would have been vastly different.

Once you have an experience like that, many other things begin to pale and become quite trivial in comparison. Meeting new people for potential work opportunities (since late 2011, I have been working for myself and running Parkour Ways) was no longer something that really made me nervous. I knew what I was made of, what I was capable of, and was not afraid to be honest and tell someone when I knew I could not do something they were asking or wanting me to do. This is one of the big things training has taught me that I have been able to apply back to life. It allows me, whenever I need or want, to dig as deep as I am willing at the time to either find who I am now or remind myself of who I have been.

Something I have never really talked about with anyone is the way my mind is constantly jumping around from one thing to the next. I don’t want to say I have attention deficit disorder or something, because I really don’t know, but it is very hard for me to focus sometimes. This is true for simple tasks like while cleaning the house but also for keeping my life in general “on track” with any goals or ambitions I may have. Training the way we do forces you to live in the moment. If you don’t, sometimes you’re screwed! Luckily, I have had absolutely zero serious injuries from training. The worst injuries I have had in my entire life are a broken wrist and a separated acromioclavicular joint, neither of which were from training (the former was from backyard wrestling when I was a teenager and the latter was sustained during stunt work on Divergent, jumping out of the moving train car). So with this in mind, I have shown myself that I can focus and be in the moment, I just have to actually commit to it (or have some reason to!).

When it comes to obstacles such as financial hardship or my home falling apart (because of the financial hardships), I have learned to take those and make them into personal challenges. Personal challenges that, because of the physical training, I go into confidently - knowing that I can and will make it through to the “other end” somehow. In fact, if I’m being completely honest, I think many of the challenges have come about because I have allowed them to. They are my own doing! I get comfortable… too comfortable. I see things starting to fall apart - and I just let them go! When things get to a certain point, it lights that fire in me. It creates that reason for me to focus.

I see it as an opportunity to challenge myself. So these types of obstacles are challenges in the same way that jumps can be challenges. I can let a jump make itself known to me (out training at a spot and suddenly see a jump I never saw before), or I can go out and seek a new jump. I can let life’s problems come to me when they will and deal with them promptly. Or, I can actually make problems - or make them more challenging by allowing them to grow - seeking a jump.

So you see, I have learned that training can be a separate part of life but life itself can also be training. I go through phases where I’m not training as much or as hard physically because I am training in other ways. Perhaps someday I will say “okay, that’s been enough” and I will stop making these things happen, but for now I still see them as incredible opportunities.

On that thought of “training in other ways”, I’d like to share another way that I like to treat everyday life as training. This is something I have actually been doing for years now. I can only recall having shared it with a class maybe once or twice, and with a teacher at a school I worked with recently. Let me set up a scenario. You’re standing in the checkout line at a store - whether it’s a retail store, grocery store, whatever. The line is taking much longer than you would expect. Maybe you even have somewhere to be and you are getting concerned that this wait will make you late. What will you do?

As any cashier can probably tell you, many people will get visibly impatient or even verbally upset - sometimes to the point of yelling and making a scene. Let’s look at just a few of the opportunities there are in a situation like this! Patience: train your patience. Wait in that line and keep your cool. Not just hiding that you’re upset, but actually getting rid of those feelings that you are upset about this. Anyway, what’s the big deal? Maybe you’ll be a few minutes late to what you have next. Is it that serious? Reflect: maybe you start to get upset and you think it’s about the line you’re in but you’re actually upset with yourself for not giving yourself a good amount of time to stop at this store in the first place. Problem solving: if you really do consider the wait to be a problem - maybe what you have next will be absolutely ruined if you are not on time - how can you solve this problem? There are many ways, I don’t think I need to go through them here! Social anxiety: if you have social anxiety, perhaps you can train that a bit if you discover an opportunity to comment on something to a stranger in line. Phone dependence: can you stand in this line until you’ve finished paying without pulling out your phone? Can you be present? Look around the store, look at people (yeah, in the FACE even!). Empathy and compassion: can you see this situation from the perspective of the cashier? How would you feel if you were at the register, had this long line, and were starting to see, hear, or even just feel that people were starting to get upset? What might you be able to do to help the cashier feel better? A smile, a look that says “wow yeah this guy’s taking forever but I know it’s not your fault and I’m okay with it!”, or even letting them know when it’s your turn that you didn’t mind the wait. There are probably a million other opportunities in these situations, but you see what I’m getting at now. Every… single… moment of our lives is an opportunity of some sort to either learn more about yourself or to actually work toward improving yourself in some way. Just to clear - improving yourself can be completely independent of and separate from improving your situation.

Recently I made a post about how my decision to go vegan was partially a decision based on the mantra “be strong to be useful”. If you’re reading this and rolling your eyes saying “great, this was all an elaborate ploy to try to convince people to go vegan”... shut up! You’re wrong! Do whatever you want! This is just another example of training being applied to my life. In the financial situation I find or put myself into much of the time, I think that I do not always have the means to directly help others. Going vegan was not a personal choice I made for my health. Honestly, I thought I might face some health issues because of it - I was diving into it. I dropped meat cold tofurky (I’ve made a vegan joke!) after watching Cowspiracy one night in the spring of 2015. Learning about the environmental impacts that the typical western diet filled with animal products has, I saw it as an opportunity to use my strengths to be useful to the world. Yes, I still have some ways to improve this (not everything I eat is local), but I’ve started on it. It’s not just about the environment for me either: having put more thought into it and reflecting on my own thoughts and feelings (even from the past when I was eating meat), I now better understand how I feel about the other creatures of the world.

Since I’ve brought up food, another way that I sometimes challenge myself is through the way that I eat. Sometimes I’ll go for hours and hours without eating, sometimes without even noticing, but sometimes choosing to do so because I have a lot going on. Other times, I’ll get more strict with what I’ll eat and when I’ll eat. I’ll make sure that I’m eating well, good quantities. And yet other times I will see how things go if I’ve only eaten junk. There have been plenty of occasions where I’m heading to the city to teach on only a belly of chocolate chip cookies. Let me be very clear here: these are not things I am recommending others should try doing. I am simply sharing some of the things I have been through or put myself through.

Alright, so I’ve written quite a bit here about how training has affected life but I’ve only touched on how life has affected training. I did mention that training itself would have been a different experience altogether if I hadn’t had some of the life obstacles I had before I started training. This is definitely true, and I think we might see it in a lot of new practitioners (meaning beginners, new to the discipline though they might not necessarily be new to or look new to the movements), especially younger ones. I believe many of them see it as that opportunity to improve their situation… and some have completely missed it as that opportunity to improve their self...

I also think that because I have put more of my focus/training into improving myself, I sometimes find it difficult to focus on, work on, or train to improve my situation. I have become quite adaptable - as proven by the various living conditions I have been through and put myself through. If you aren’t familiar with me or some of the obstacles I’ve been through, one great example here is my furnace having stopped working on Christmas day in 2015. I woke up that morning to a very cold house. Upon investigation, the furnace was indeed starting up but would shut off again before actually doing any heating. At the time that this problem presented itself to me, I was also having an issue with my car that ended up being quite costly. I ended up renting a car for a week in order to get my car fixed and still be able to drive to the city to teach. After paying for the rental, I had $70 in the bank (and no money elsewhere). Of course I could not afford to fix the furnace in this situation, so it became one of those challenges I would put myself through. I went the rest of that winter without heat. It was almost always the same temperature inside as it was outside. There were some interesting challenges I wouldn’t have even considered, like what to do if I’m trying to cook something on the stove and the olive oil has completely frozen! Other challenges came about from this experience, like, can I fix the furnace myself? Do I need to hire someone? Given past experiences and knowing my ability to solve problems, I was absolutely sure I could do it myself and save money that way. And I did. However, I waited until the next winter was knocking at my door again. I told myself I might just go again without the heat, but eventually realized how lazy I was being around the house when it was so cold… in other words, I got “comfortable” using the cold as an excuse not to do things. So I did the work, learned about furnaces, ordered the parts, and fixed it myself. This way I turned a “bad” thing into an incredibly positive thing that helped me to improve myself. That’s what it’s about!

Back to my point! When I find myself in those types of situations, I don’t always feel the need to work on physical movement. At least, not to train toward any serious progress. Movement then becomes more of a playful release for me rather than a tool to push myself any harder to grow. I was already pushing myself with the challenge of living in a frozen house. When life is feeling easier or I find myself in a better situation financially (usually short-lived), then I put more focus into the physical part of things.

Of course there are times when these two ways overlap (like the furnace - it improved me but fixing it also improved my situation). There are times where I am training hard and also enduring financial hardship. There are times where I am mostly playing with movement and am quite happy with my financial situation. I kind of just… let it happen the way it happens. I am experiencing life, rather than trying to craft one so much… and I definitely don’t care very much to craft the type of life that society seems to want us to have.

Thanks for reading.