Elements of Surprise

First up, an update on goals vs levels in the Balance and Accuracy class. In a fit of despair, Andy has decided that FINE, they can be levels and FINE, I can name those levels after pokemon if I really want to. I think a little piece of his soul died when I informed him that I was working on Balance Level Bulbasaur. You know what? Jumping is hard. You have to use your arms AND your legs AND your abdominal muscles all at once in a coordinated manner. I don’t really do coordination, which makes the Jump Training elements class hard for me. You’re probably not going to be surprised to hear that we jumped a lot in this class. We jumped UP. We jumped DOWN. We jumped ALONG. We worked on landing form (which, incidentally, really complements the Wednesday accuracy class). There was a lot more variety in this class than I expected, and we went from muscleups (yes, muscle ups in a jump class) to kongs to routes in the space of an hour. By the time I got home after this one, I was so knackered that I could barely get to bed because I had forgotten how to legs. I didn’t know that was possible. On a personal note, the elements classes are having unexpected effects. My unconscious expectation was pretty much along the lines of “hey, we’re going to focus on skill X. That’s cool. I will improve at skill X.” That’s not entirely wrong, but some additional stuff is going on. When you focus on a skill, it highlights your strengths and weaknesses in that skill, and those aren’t always what you would expect them to be. So far, I’ve learned the following things:

  1. I can actually jump further than I tend to believe. However, I am not using my arms at all, which holds me back. It doesn’t hold me back nearly as much as my incorrect beliefs about what I can and can’t do, though, which Yao has been mercilessly forcing me to face up to in ways that only he can. As much as I flail and complain, it’s helping.
  2. My balance skills are actually not terrible. However, not only am I uncomfortable with two-footed jumps, my accuracy with those isn’t great. That discomfort is something I’ve always kind of avoided in regular classes, but Wednesday accuracy drills are making me deal with it – and dealing with it works much better than trying to avoid it, by the way, in case you were wondering.

I’m also beginning to feel that these sessions interlink with each other and with the regular classes. Yes, they’re stand-alone classes – but what you do in one feeds into what you do in another. I actually had a really frustrating moment in Thursday Jump Training when I repeatedly failed a jump that logically, I knew was well within a safe distance for me. I may not have managed that jump – but this Wednesday, that frustration helped me to finally do a rail to wall jump that I’d thought was too scary-looking the week before. Also, despite the whining and various sounds of distress I subjected everyone to in Passing Obstacles last week, I noticed a surprising amount of self-confidence in the regular Wednesday class routes, and the less-regular partner obstacle drills (there is no class like the Wednesday night Chainstore class) after having worked on getting over precarious piles of danger. Speaking of the unexpected, quadrupedal movement class. There are lots of really great reasons to work on quadrupedal movement. However, these aren’t why I like it. I like it because I want to be able to do this:


We didn’t actually get to crawl out of a TV and kill people with our eyes, but I helpfully added some creepy zombie sounds, so that’s pretty close. In addition, Kevin demonstrated a creepy-looking lizard crawl variant that caused us to make various sounds of horror and disgust. The weird thing about QM is that while it can sound kind of impractical (when was the last time you monkey-walked to work?) it’s used to condition the body for so many things. Last summer, I went off to Ireland for a juggling convention and spent most of my time learning basic acrobatics stuff. What did we do on day one of the afternoon workshop with my friend Emmet? Lizard crawl. What did the conditioning class immediately after? Yeah. Lizard crawl. QM is great low-impact conditioning for the entire body. It helps your coordination and proprioception without much chance of you smashing your legs into railings – when I first started parkour, I was a confused mess of uncontrolled limbs, and I honestly think that the million and one variants of crawling, prancing (yes, like a pony. Thanks, Dan) and bouncing about on all fours has done a lot to help with that. It didn’t hurt my overall strength and fitness, either. There’s also the creative thinking aspect. You have to move while keeping a knee above your head. What do you do? How about keeping your hips up? Have you thought of something? Cool. Does it actually work? How does it feel to balance that way? Do you fall over when you move? Is there a better way? Doesn’t everything look weird when your head is upside down? In short, I’d recommend this class unless you’re the Chainstore dog or a chimpanzee.

Also, bonus point: there’s a mobility class immediately after. Low impact conditioning and mobility work? Pretty good Saturday afternoon, really.

Doing ALL the things – Parkour Elements

It’s really great that Chainstore launched a bunch of new classes just in time for me to return after my shoulder injury (did I mention I have a shoulder injury? It’s almost better! Better enough for some classes, anyway). Excellent timing.

Monday is “passing obstacles”. We all know the best way to pass an obstacle is my special variety of step vault, but amazingly, this doesn’t always work. What if there’s only a tiny gap over your obstacle?

This is a surprisingly tall man sliding through a surprisingly small gap.

What if Yao is waving a stick above you, and if you go too high he’ll viciously beat you?

That was not a rhetorical question.
That was not a rhetorical question. I’m glad my large classmate is amused, though.

What if the obstacle is a super awkward shape, because several other obstacles are stacked precariously on top of it?

Things to never, ever say to Yao: "Don't let me die! It's my first class back!"
Things to never, ever say to Yao: “Don’t let me die! It’s my first class back!”

It turns out that my answer to all these scenarios is some form of step vault, accompanied by sounds of distress. I’m the bestest student ever.

The main takeaway from this class wasn’t fancy, flippy vault techniques. In fact, we were asked to forget we had ever learned parkour, and to just clear the obstacles in ways that made sense to us. Instead, we learned to think. We looked at our ideas for getting over something and through a gap, and considered what worked about them, what didn’t, and WHY. We tried out our ideas for improving them, with mixed results. We used our bodies, yes, but this was also a massive brain workout.

Tuesday was mobility. I’ll be honest – mobility work is a chore for me, and something I’ve neglected so much for so long. If I had started doing the work earlier, it’s likely I wouldn’t have hurt my shoulder (I don’t know if I mentioned my injured shoulder). I am not the only one, either. When I talkto non-training people about parkour, they assume that we all break our heads on the floor on a regular basis. In actual fact, I know far more people injured through overuse and under-recovery/mobilisation than falling off a building and bouncing off a car. So while jamming a lacrosse ball into your glutes isn’t quite as appealing as getting a new pb backsquat or managing to kong precision to a railing WHILE ON FIRE, if you’d like to do these awesome things and keep doing them for a long time, then it might be a good plan to suck it up and sit on the painball.This is why the focus was on keeping joints and tissue healthy and able to move, rather than being able to do yoga poses (I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with yoga and I actually really quite like it, but I once went to a yoga class where the instructor got us into table position and announced that she wanted to be able to balance her latte on our bellies, and I find that idea even more uncomfortable than foam rolling, so I was pretty glad about that).

We're either using lacrosse balls to mobilise our abused tissues, or we're lying down and talking about our feelings. YOU DECIDE.
We’re either using lacrosse balls to mobilise our abused tissues, or we’re lying down and talking about our feelings. YOU DECIDE.

We learned a good bit of theory while massaging ourselves painfully with lacrosse balls and rollers – I’d like to say that this distracted us from the discomfort, but I’d be lying. On the other hand, the facial expressions of my fellow students were pretty entertaining. The main takeaway from this was exactly how to identify and target problem areas, making it all a bit more realistic to deal with. I think the hardest thing about trying to get into regular mobility work is how overwhelming it is. You pick up something like the famous Supple Leopard book, and it feels like you need to spend three hours a day foam rolling and doing unspeakable things with barbells, or it’s pointless and you’re doomed to be a dysfunctional failure forever. It doesn’t have to be that way, I swear. Come along on Tuesdays or Saturdays. It will be okay.

It's hard to get away from Chainstore when James literally ties us to the squat racks with giant rubber bands.
It’s hard to get away from Chainstore when James literally ties us to the squat racks with giant rubber bands.

Wednesday is Balance and Accuracy day. These things are quite important if you’d like to avoid fallingover and smashing your face into the floor, completely disproving what I just said about this being less common than overuse injuries. We spent half an hour on rail balancing, and the other half hour on precision landings. For both skills,we had a series of goals. Once you hit a goal, such as walking backwards and forwards on a rail for one minute, you could attempt the next one. At this point, I should note that Andy is adamant that these are GOALS and not LEVELS. Apparently this is because he doesn’t want anyone to start announcing that they are a level 5 balancer or something. I have no idea why he’d think this might happen, or why he was staring REALLY HARD at me while saying it. No idea at all.

We're landing behind the line. You don't want to land in front of the line. Trust me, DO NOT CROSS THAT LINE.
We’re landing behind the line. You don’t want to land in front of the line. Trust me, DO NOT CROSS THAT LINE.

This is a class of drilling and focus. How could it be any other way? You cannot have consistent accuracy without repetition. I highly recommend this class if you want to balance well and land safely on objects. If you would prefer to do slapdash comedy bails, maybe give it a miss (also, what’s wrong with you?)

Careful, now!

Bonus learning outcome: If I’m standing on a slightly unsteady railing while Leon lands on it, he catapults me into the air slightly. It’s nice to discover a new skill, isn’t it?

I asked for a target line on this box for my landings. I got this face. It may be representing Andy’s feelings about the distressed sounds I make when he makes me stand on railings.

Stay tuned for the dance party that is jump class, and the mysteries that await us in “quadrupedal movement.” I’m not doing the swinging one, though, sorry. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I have an injured shoulder.