Fresh Meat: oh god someone put a shoe on the track

As mentioned previously, I’ve started roller derby. This is basically a sport played on a rounded track in which two people have a race through eight people who are having a fight about it. Also everyone is on rollerskates.

In order to join a derby league, you have to be able to skate without dying, which complicates matters. New people are put through a Fresh Meat course, where they are taught the basic skills (or drift slowly around in slack-jawed confusion while people with shiny helmets blow whistles and attempt to teach them the basic skills, anyway. I’ve never claimed to be a quick learner).

Once you are through Fresh Meat, you join the Wreck League (it’s short for wreckreational). Beyond this, league structure is a mystery to me. As far as I’m concerned the league I am involved with is like this:

Fresh meat: Sunday morning training group, where we fall over for two hours then go to the pub.

Wreck league: The guys who eventually turn up to the pub if we keep drinking for long enough.

A Team: I don’t know who these guys are but if you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and you can find them, maybe you can hire them. Also they start training as soon as fresh meat are finished, and you probably don’t want to wander onto the track in front of them. Not joking. They are quite fast and sometimes bounce violently off each other.

B Team: As these guys train in between the A team and Wreck, I don’t see them at the pub and don’t have to avoid the track at all costs to avoid being maimed by them. I’m therefore not 100% sure they are real.

Fresh Meat training sessions are such a happy time. There you are, going round in an anticlockwise circle (fuck clockwise) with your friends while people with interesting names yell things at you and blow whistles… and then it happens. Someone in charge deliberately puts a shoe on the track.

They might have put a shoe on the track because they want you to go around it. Or maybe they want you to jump over it. Or maybe they just like freaking us out. Who knows? Fact is, they’re bigger than me, their helmets are extremely shiny, they have quite aggressive-sounding names and that whistle is REALLY LOUD, so it’s best not to ask too many questions.

You may be wondering why this is a big deal. Shoes are harmless, right?

Nothing is harmless when you are going around a track on roller skates. Slight sticky bit on the floor? PANIC. Someone went past you quickly? APOCALYPSE. Piece of grit gets in your wheel? OH MY GOD WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE. Being much bigger than grit, shoes are the ultimate horror.

The first stage of finding a shoe – or even line of shoes – on the track is denial. Surely they can’t expect you to go around that? What if you trip on it and break all your limbs? And jumping – really? You have wheels on your feet. Is that even safe? Surely they don’t mean it. It’s all a mistake and someone will move it in a minute and everything will be okay again.

The second stage is anger. How could they do this to you? What loving god would allow this? All you want is to go around in circles, maybe fall over screaming a few times, and they shove a shoe right in your way? What the hell is that? It’s Women’s FLAT TRACK Derby Association, not Women’s SHOE-STREWN TRACK Derby Association.

The third stage is bargaining. Maybe we can just kind of slow down and go past the shoe instead of around it? Or maybe if we give it another few months, then try again? We’re not saying no to shoes on the track, just… maybe not right now?

The fourth stage is acceptance. You cannot escape the shoe. The trouble with a rounded track is that when you run away from something on it, you come right back to it again seconds later, so frantically sprinting away doesn’t work – and don’t even think about skating off-track. “But there’s a shoe in the way” is apparently not a valid reason to cross that line. So now you’ve accepted you have to deal with the shoe (or shoes), what do you do?

Generally, you are expected to go around or over them.

Around:

Approach the shoes (it’s likely there will be more than one). Don’t be tempted to turn around and go the other way – someone with a really scary-sounding name is probably watching you, and is definitely faster than you and WILL catch you.

Look at the shoe. Look at the coach. Shuffle past. Experience sadness at your failure.

Over:

Thankfully, years of parkour training have just about prepared me to hop over an object just a little bigger than my own foot. Basically, use your legs and scream a lot and before you know it the Shoe of Death will be behind you.

Good luck with your shoe challenges!

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Transitions: The Best Technique Ever

I’ve been learning to skate for roller derby. It’s going great – so far, I’m capable of going in a circle until someone blows a whistle and falling over in no less than five different ways. I didn’t even know it was possible to have so many variations of basically collapsing screaming onto the floor, but it just goes to show you should never doubt your own potential, doesn’t it?

The transition is a vital skill in which you turn around to face the opposite direction while maintaining direction of travel. Check this video for an example:

Now, this variant of the transition is all very well if your aim is to turn smoothly and efficiently, maintaining control and speed throughout, but I’m sure nobody is going to be surprised that I prefer a variant that is a little less focussed on these things, which I feel aren’t really… well… me. I’ve put together a step by step guide.

  1. Be going in a circle, preferably on rollerskates, and definitely anti-clockwise.
  2. Has someone just blown a whistle or used the word “transition?” Better take a few seconds to check, then a few more to work yourself up to the next several steps. You can’t just rush into these things, after all.
  3. Continuing to skate, but definitely slower than before because fuck this noise, pick up one foot. Turn your hips and put the foot down somewhere behind you pointing vaguely backwards. Don’t stress too much about how backwards it’s pointing. Think of it like a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, where the floor is the donkey and your foot is the tail.
  4. You will now be on the floor. My goodness, however did you get down there? This is a good time to pause and reflect on what the fuck just happened, why you have wheels on your feet, whether you even wanted to go backwards anyway, and whether anyone is about to run you over.
  5. After this short interlude, pick yourself up and turn, static, so you’re facing the opposite direction to where you first started. Now is a good time to pause and try to remember how to start skating backwards. Take your time.
  6. Go backwards. Be sure to scream continuously so everyone knows you are coming. Safety first!
  7. As a bonus, if you put your toe stops down and flail madly, you’ve done a derby stop. This is a super efficient way of stopping quickly, particularly if you are sure to follow all of the above steps.

Good luck with your transitioning! Next up: Existential Crises and You: The Dilemma of Shoes on the Track.

Fitness class – the Chainstore version

I went through a phase about a year and a half ago. I had been out of parkour due to injury and wasn’t quite brave enough to go back, and so I started going to fitness classes at the local generic gym. If there’s one thing I learned during this phase, it’s that generic gym fitness classes are not that great if you have actual fitness goals. For a start, they’re not really classes. Classes should teach you something, and I have no idea what you’re meant to be learning in generic gym classes. It’s certainly not proper form – yes, I know not everyone can do a perfect form push up or pull up or sit up or whatever. I know, because I’m not that great at all this stuff either. However, there are progressions for exercises, and then there are the injury-inducing horrors that I’ve seen.

Secondly, training should be showing you some kind of progress. You don’t need to be a total gains-obsessed gym bro, willing to do anything for an extra 1.25kg on your deadlift, but if you go to a class for week after week after week and nothing about your fitness level is improving, what exactly are you doing? Classes like that don’t help you with parkour. Parkour is hard, and requires a kind of fitness that’s about being able to move well, with strength and good range of motion and resilience – not the kind of “fitness” that is all about burning calories, wearing bikinis and takes how much you sweat as a measure of success.

Not that you don’t sweat at the Mov’ fitness class in Chainstore on Tuesdays. There were pushups. There were planks. There were even crunches, and my abs still hurt two days later – thanks for that, Forrest. But it wasn’t mindless repetitions and groaning – it was all about moving better, and being stronger for parkour. That meant that as well as the push ups, we had stations that included routes, clambering along a rail, squatting on rails and hoisting ourselves up walls. It was stuff that was aimed at improving strength, coordination and ingraining helpful movement patterns all at once. “It’s about resilience in parkour,” said one regular, Karen. “Training to last.” If that’s not what fitness is about, I don’t know what is – being able to move well, and do it for a long time without wearing yourself down or injuring yourself.

Another regular, Dean, gave me his take on the experience:

The movements and exercises themselves are usually pretty straight forward, often just exaggerated versions of movements you make everyday. However when you break them down and begin to utilize them the way we do in the classes they take on a different context and meaning. Suddenly you begin analyzing your body and its abilities in a new way. Like with all Parkour it’s a matter of developing your strength and other attributes by regaining a range of movement we no longer utilize in day to day life, but with the Mov’ classes we focus that idea on a single motion to begin understanding how it relates to the way you move your whole body.

As you progress and learn more, you start to piece together the singular attributes you develop to make better use of your whole anatomy.

While in a single class you’ll often go through dozens of different movements or exercises, unlike at a gym where perhaps a similar ethic is used to train specific body parts independently – with Mov’ no one exercise is done in complete isolation. Instead of utilizing weights, or machines to do it – you use your body as its intended to be. A simplistic idea with a huge variety of possibilities and implications. As Forrest would put it it’s ‘nothing complicated’ – just move.”

Chainstore isn’t like normal gyms, so I guess it’s no surprise that its fitness class is not like fitness classes at other gyms. It has formed a core tribe of regulars, too, led by Forrest, who takes genuine delight in seeing them grow and surpass their own expectations. They’re a fun tribe, but they’re also hard workers. They’re hardcore. I don’t mean the noisy kind of hardcore that you sometimes see at gyms, displaying as much testosterone as possible and making a show of everything – they are the kind of hardcore that gets its head down and works. They are hardcore without the ego – pushing their limitations without pretending they don’t exist, facing challenges without posturing, getting stronger without the flexing (despite the size of Forrest’s biceps). It’s a good tribe, and it’s open to anyone – just show up at 6:30pm on a Tuesday. Bring water, but leave your ego at home.