Stepping up

Every time someone asks me how long I have been doing parkour, I feel a twist of anxiety in my guts. The truth is, I have been training (with long breaks due to injury and other unpleasant things) for about six years, and yet every single time I am at a class or event where we break down into groups, I put myself into a beginner group for new to fairly new people.

I rationalise this pretty well. I’ve trained for years, yes, but my ability is pretty low in a lot of areas – I do not jump far, my wall runs aren’t very high, I’m not very confident, I may be recovering from an injury or serious mental health stuff, it doesn’t matter anyway because you get challenged whichever group you are in, whatever. And sometimes that is fine. Spending some time in the complete beginner group when you are returning from a major concussion is pretty damn reasonable. In my case, however, I was beginner for life.

This was entirely defined by what I cannot do, with no consideration for what I can do and what I know pretty well. I cannot jump very far – but I can land with precision and I understand technique well enough to know when and why I want to jump two footed (never, thanks, I hate it), one footed, and with different power levels. I can’t jump to rails with confidence but where they are low enough and a comfortable distance for me, I am fully capable of doing so and sticking the landing. I cannot wall run very high but understand what I need to work on and how to do it. I am not very able to all with cat leaps, but this is thanks to a shoulder injury keeping me off them and not a basic lack of understanding. I am afraid on high, rounded rails but am perfectly capable of balance and can do a few variations. On a flat rail I am happy to balance at height, and am able to bail safely enough to do so in situations where an uncontrolled fall would mean serious injury or death.

None of these things are a hallmark of a complete beginner with little to no training. I have been completely ignoring what I have learned over the past few years.

What I didn’t fully realise until these weekend is that my lack of progression is in part due to my choice to keep at a lower level. How can I start to work on my technical hangups and improve my vaults if I keep myself in the group of newcomers who are just starting to learn how to get over a wall? In what way will it improve my jump skills to keep myself learning absolute precision basics over and over again? Training those basics is vital, but I have years of knowledge and am capable of doing so on my own.

And so I made a choice to draw a line under that, grow a pair (of whatever) and step up – and that is why I put myself squarely into the intermediate group at Rendezvous XII.

It was the best RDV weekend I have had in years, and this is why:

  1. I’m going to sound very unlike myelf for a minute. I’m never going to be an awesome top-tier parkour expert but… it turns out I am so capable. I am so much more capable than I realised. I cannot get over how much I can actually do. It may not be impressive to experienced traceurs, but holy shit yes I can balance VERY HIGH UP with confidence, I can chuck myself forward on a rail (not at danger height!) and still land safely and controlled, I can do weird step vaults over slippery, awkwardly angled branches, I can clamber up old drainpipes and across stairwells pretty good. I can drop from height, I can jump from difficult angles onto weird targets. If I had done my usual “Well I’m not so good at stuff, better stay in beginner group” I would not have done all this to the level I did over the past three days. People in any group at these events are challenged, but the higher level of the people around me meant that partners and coaches expected more of me – but instead of scaring me, it gave me the confidence to believe that yes, I am so very capable.
  2. I knew more people in my group. Beginner groups are often really great for getting to meet new people, as most people in them have not been around for a huge amount of time. Seeing your new friends grow and develop over a weekend is magical. It amazes me how much people can learn and change over an intensive few days like RDV – people come in on the first day looking scared and apologising for how bad they imagine themselves to be, and a couple of days later they are hardened, can do things they never imagined and have pushed each other and built each others’ confidence as they faced stuff they are probably not at all used to. You don’t come out of a weekend like that unchanged. But when I joined the intermediate group, I met people who had travelled to be there and also got to hang out with people I have trained with. We knew how to help each other out and cheer each other on. Nobody demanded I be able to do everything (thankfully) but everyone’s assumption that yes, I belonged here and have experience and ability pushed it home that I am very much part of London parkour. It was not a surprise to anyone that I could do things.
  3. Honestly, there was plenty I couldn’t do. My wall runs need an awful lot of work. I need to take more (calculated) risks with my vaults. I need to be less hesitant with jumps and risk bailing (which we worked on, by the way – this was especially helpful for me). This is something I was very much afraid of. Even though I know it doesn’t work tat way, I was afraid that I would be told by someone that I couldn’t keep up and that I should go to the next group down, that my inability was bringing the group down and that I didn’t belong there. Sorry, guys. I know you’d never do that. I just get irrational fears sometimes. In actual fact, the things I couldn’t do were helpful. I needed that challenge all along. I didn’t collapse in an emotional heap. I finally understand that I should be training at a level where I struggle to keep up sometimes and that it doesn’t have to make me feel bad about myself. At one point, we were crawling along hanging underneath a rope. I was so much slower than everyone else – and instead of sadly accepting that I was too low in ability level, I automatically assumed that I could do it if only I figured out where I was going wrong. It turned out that I just needed to stop trying to keep three points of contact at all times.

If I had stayed at my comfortable fake beginner level, I would still have trained hard this weekend. I would still have challenged myself and learned stuff. But I would not have come away with a huge confidence boost, the realisation that all the coaches who have been telling me I am better than I think I am have been right all along, and the overwhelming eagerness to make some real progress. It is well past time I level up, and it is going to happen.



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