I’m not a very good or confident vaulter. Coming into parkour overweight, with dyspraxia, pretty poor fitness levels and worse confidence doesn’t help you to leap gracefully over walls and railings and boxes on day one. Or day two. Or day three. Building up fitness, improving body composition and getting that coordination take time. The confidence takes even longer. I still don’t lazy vault anything hip height or up. I can turn vault small obstacles and have even managed kongs, but for honest to god years the only vault I could or would do was the step vault.
This was hard. In the first few weeks of parkour classes, I had gone from basically crawling slowly and ashamedly onto a box while the rest of the class at Moberly sports centre (Remember Moberly? I ‘member) threw themselves gracefully and carelessly into the air, speed vaulting and slide monkeying with increasing skill and confidence. Not knowing Parkour Generations then like I did now, I had a creeping terror that there was a time limit. That one day they would take me aside and say as kindly as possible that it had been ten weeks or twenty or whatever the cutoff was and I couldn’t vault properly yet, that maybe I should reconsider and that this might not be for me right now.
One day, I was the first to arrive and the coach asked how I thought training was going. This was it, I thought. I apologised. I acknowledged I could only do a step vault. He said that was fine, that all of the coaches see all sorts of abilities. They see athletic people doing athletic stuff every day – and they didn’t care the way I thought they did. They weren’t impressed only by skill. They could see my effort, and they loved it. It didn’t matter whether I never got onto the highest box in the room. They didn’t care. All I needed to do was keep working.
But I felt like maybe I would never progress beyond step vault, I said. That might be it. And then that coach changed everything.
“That’s fine. We’ll just make it the best step vault it could possibly be.”
We’ve all heard about trying your best or just keeping going or it being okay to learn slowly. But what about knowing that even if you can only do one simple thing, you can make it the best possible version of that thing? What if, instead of dwelling on the stuff I couldn’t do and feeling ashamed, I became so good at step vaults that I could do them with speed and skill and grace and impeccable balance? What if the simple technique I felt ashamed to be “stuck on” became an awesome skill that I could be proud of?
I didn’t immediately stop feeling bad, of course. This isn’t a Disney movie. But I remembered, though. Whenever I started to feel like I shouldn’t be doing parkour, I remembered that it didn’t matter where I got to as long as I was giving it my honest all. And when coaches demonstrated a route that made me want to cry because I didn’t think I could do most of it, I found that one thing I could do and I made it as good as I could.
So I did. Every time I couldn’t do the kong or lazy vault or speed vault or tic tac, I remembered. I made that step vault better. And one day, years later, I saw something important. We were working on step vaults and I saw a fellow practitioner of a much higher skill level than me, who normally ignored the basic step vault in favour of a turn vault or speed vault, try to get over a railing. I couldn’t vault like he normally did. I was still stuck on that step vault of mine, landing one foot on that rail every time, and I naturally assumed that as a much more gymnastic traceur than me he would find this exercise insultingly easy.
He did not. He may have been able to do everything else miles better than I could, but he could not do this one simple thing as confidently and easily as me. All the time that I had been disparaging my step vault as the easy way out or baby version of a “proper” vault, I had been failing to see what it was teaching me. Without knowing, I had been practicing targeting – landing with the ball of one foot on a narrow surface- and the balance skills it takes to stay stable enough to complete the motion. Every time I had cursed myself for being too slow or pausing partway through, I had been training the balance to hang there mid-vault, balanced with one hand and one foot on a metal railing or narrow wall while I remembered what to do next.
Making my step vault the best step vault I could possibly do not only got me through feeling awkward and incapable. I had been building very important skills the entire time.
This lesson is especially important for me right now, when a bunch of health issues have left me less capable than before. I can’t yet do as much as I could, but every time that starts to overwhelm me, I remember. And I look at what I can do, and I grind. If I can only get onto the smallest obstacle, I make that approach as smooth as I damn well can, even if that means working to shave off a single step. And I never, ever disparage these “basic” skills like I once did. I stay open, respectful and appreciative of what they have to teach me.