Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Parkour + Challenge By Choice: Are you stretching your comfort zone?

image from american parkour

Post Author:Zachary Cohn has been training Parkour since Winter 2006. He is a student at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he organizes the Parkour scene for Rochester. His interests also include martial arts, rock climbing, juggling, and watersports.
“You can make it, man.” Jeff calls out. “You already jumped next to it, you can totally make it.” Henry is standing, balancing on a rail, intently eying the railing six feet away. He's done rail precisions before, but never tried to jump to a railing quite this far. He smiles, thinking to himself that before Parkour, he never would have imagined himself even considering a jump like this. Henry bends his knees, throws his arms forward and leaps! His feet touch the other rail, his legs compress, absorbing the impact, and he stands up, balancing on the other rail.

Traceurs and traceuses are men and women who train Parkour, the French physical discipline of movement. Similar in appearance to obstacle coursing, traceurs find their obstacles in their everyday surroundings. We train to jump, vault, climb, crawl, and move through our environment quickly and efficiently.

On the surface, Parkour looks like a very individualistic activity. There is a single person attempting to overcome an obstacle – vaulting a table or climbing a wall. However, if you examine most training sessions, they consist of groups of people training together. While it certainly can (and should, at times) be performed alone, Parkour is in reality very much a group activity.

“Jeremy is kind of the ballsier one,” Ryan Kirk from Minneapolis, Minnesota, told me. “I tend to be more unsure of my abilities.” Ryan and his roommate, Jeremy, always train together. “I tend to keep him from doing a lot of stuff he probably isn't ready for, but he is always pushing me, urging me to do something when he knows I can. And usually, he's right.”

Ryan and Jeremy are excellent examples of training with partners. They are not a “team” in the sense that they have a team name and detailed member roles, but they certainly are a team nonetheless. They know each other's strengths and limitations, they look out for each other, and they have a common goal – helping each other progress.

These sort of training “teams” exist in Parkour communities all over the world, and are amazingly similar to the more structured and organized teams of the corporate world. There is often an emergent leader – someone who possesses a good understanding of Parkour, a fair amount of skill, and good leadership abilities. They end up fulfilling the role of teacher and organizer. The diversity of people interested in Parkour adds other advantages to the “team.” Some people will take a lot of interest in nutrition, exercise science, anatomy, or other relevant areas. These people fill supporting “roles” on the team, bringing in their outside knowledge and strengths.

Within a team, the weakest members will be those not disciplined in their work ethic and those not dedicated to the cause. In a business setting, this weakness will manifest itself in tardiness, poor quality of work, and can result in getting fired. In Parkour, this weakness is reflected in skipping out on training sessions, not completing drills and exercises, and this lack of commitment and dedication can end in injury.

At Rochester Institute of Technology, where I train during the school year, we have highly dedicated members and people just in it for fun. While we train hard during the normal training sessions, it's the highly dedicated members you'll find crawling through 3 feet of snow on their hands and feet during the height of winter, or training behind a high school in New Jersey until 3 o'clock in the morning. These dedicated people are going to be the ones who learn the most and make the most gains. On a business team, it's the highly dedicated members who will stay up all night working on a proposal, or come into work on a Sunday to troubleshoot for a client. It's these people who will usually be next in line for promotions, bonuses, and recognition.

No good team is ever satisfied with their abilities, and a great team is marked by people who strive to better themselves in either breadth or depth (or both!) of knowledge. A team of programmers working on a new application may need to learn a new language, or a group of soldiers practice non-verbal communication to better pass information in a stealth situation. Good traceurs can not be satisfied with simply knowing how to vault and how to jump. They must learn about physiology, kinesthesiology, anatomy, nutrition, first aid, rehabilitation, and so much more. A traceur neglecting any one area of knowledge is no different than having a tennis player who refuses to use a backhand swing. Understanding this desire to better oneself is critical to understanding teamwork in Parkour and in the office.

A traceur's drive for self-improvement extends to more than just Parkour. This philosophy of pushing your limits extends into everyday life. On the physical side, we train to overcome obstacles. But the mental benefits of Parkour push us to overcome mental obstacles and become more confident, more complete, and better human beings. This kind of drive for completion is important for anyone, traceur or not. Learning does not stop when one graduates college, but should continue one's whole life. Life becomes stagnant and boring when one stops learning. When someone stops learning, they stop growing as a person, and just like a in a movie – the static, two dimensional characters are always uninteresting and flat. It's the characters that change, learn, and grow that are the most interesting.

Traceurs are people with incredible drive, and an immense dedication to Parkour. This unity of purpose gives them the ability to meet complete strangers and within five minutes, act as if they were lifelong friends, passing through the forming stage of group development almost immediately. The storming phase is usually skipped completely because everyone knows what Parkour is, and everyone is coming together with the same goals – training. Norming tends to occur as the group assembles and begins to warm up – usually someone takes charge and leads the warmup. This sets the stage for what the group will be doing that day, and then the group can move on very quickly to performing – the most important phase of a team. If a group of men and women in the business world are dedicated and passionate about what they do as traceurs, they too should be able to move into the performing stage as quickly and efficiently as possible. This creates strong and effective teams, whether you are climbing a wall or designing a new product line.

Anyone who joins a group of traceurs hopes to get something out of it – new training methods, advice on techniques, etc – but in order to stay, they must also contribute. This give-and-take relationship is the very core of the definition of “team.” This not only applies to everyone, not just traceurs and Parkour. Teams need to come together, share their knowledge, and push each other to work harder. If they can do this, then the company, the team, and the individual will all benefit greatly.

Zachary Cohn has been training Parkour since Winter 2006. He is a student at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he organizes the Parkour scene for Rochester. His interests also include martial arts, rock climbing, juggling, and watersports.

http://www.rochesterparkour.com <-- This one will be up soon. site is currently being built and will be up shortly.