That Fear Thing

Before you become a parent you observe other parents in and around your life and it's easy to look to their ways with the valour of naiveté and think "I will never be like that." When you become a parent, navigating rules and ways you don't yet understand, you look to other parents to see the way. How do they is it done? And the ideas you had before your child came into this world are buried under the weight of responsibility of keeping this small person alive, unharmed, especially unharmed as a result of your decision making.

But then, the "you" before your child arrived is still alive within and you want more, better, best, for your child because that is what they are intended to be. A better you. A stronger, fitter, more-likely-to-thrive version of you. So as they pass their milestones, you begin to test their ability. If you are like me, and it's likely you are because you're following and reading this blog, your child is an untapped source of potential, a rich and pure example of what we could all be like if only we hadn't been exposed - and ultimately succumbed - to fear, rules and regulations. It's not our fault, it's how we've been brought up in this society that thinks it means well but is ultimately misguided. 

So you battle with your own conditioning mirrored by the other parents in the playground telling their children that no, you can't climb that slide because it's too high, with your desire, your innate and primal desire to bring your child up to its own highest standard of physical competence. You joke to your friends that you're raising him like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the beginning of Twins...the prime physical and mental specimen and embodiment of strength and skill. You worry that you're becoming that parent, that pushy parent that puts everything into their kid. But at the same time, you don't want them to grow up like you did - slowly losing skill and gaining fear and having to battle through it just to get back to that wonderful stasis.

I'm not a natural athlete. I'm not being mean about myself; it's just the one of the many differences between myself and Ben ;) But I'm game for most things and Ben has introduced me to a lot of things I might never have tried. Before having our child, I dipped my toe in Parkour (only to find myself on the verge of sobbing one evening while trying to stand upright on a railing). But I remember that fear, that ridiculous feeling of just not being able to force myself to stand upright on a rail five foot above the ground. So in the playground with Quincy, I don't say no you can't climb that. I say go on then, I'll be here to catch you. I feel like a hypocrite as I encourage him to climb higher because I know I would never be that daring. His will, his desire is to keep climbing, little monkey paws grasping instinctively onto bars as he swings with such joyful exuberance, I could never stop him. And with each new skill gained, I have to wonder about where that desire comes from...why in our psyche is the instinct to swing joyfully from bars (branches)?

Our son climbed the highest slide before he could walk, he swings from bars, he traverses rope bridges, he pulls himself up the mini climbing walls, he has the desire to balance atop of high beams. He is 20 months old. Is this natural ability? Maybe but I'm not sure it's out of the ordinary, that we all have a level of natural ability that some of us keep and some of us lose. I think more it's encouragement to keep it going. We go to family parkour every week and while Quincy's enthusiasm is currently surpassing his skills, his desire is to move upwards. And most importantly he sees me balancing, climbing, swinging, maybe not with much skill and maybe not in an impressive way relative to the hundreds of movement examples around...but nevertheless, he sees me traversing a railing and he wants to do the same. We can no longer pass a bench or a fence or something without our son indicating he wants a hand walking across it.

It's that untapped thing, that potential we have. That thing that gets lost. That thing we do battle with and that thing that Ben works hard to re-introduce to his students. Freedom of movement and a desire to scale something than to look at it and think mmm no, it's OK. This is all our potential - to reach high with fingers outstretched. This is our human spirit, to reach and grasp and pull ourselves up. Is it a metaphor for our will to survive? Maybe! But more simply, at its base, it's physical playfulness and exuberance. There's many things to be afraid of in this life, many serious and realistic fears but falling off a wall is not one of them. So that five foot railing of a few years ago...I can't be afraid of it if I want our son to keep climbing higher and higher.

Some parents want their children to surpass them intellectually, to succeed in higher education, to get a great job, to succeed in many different ways. I just want my son to be free. Free to challenge that fear rather than succumb to it, free to run and jump and crawl and climb every day of his life. Because freedom in movement gives you the mindset to be free in every area of your life. Fear is you friend, fear is there for a reason. To protect you, to keep you responsive and in the moment. But as this great article from Parkour Generations Dan Edwardes explains, "During the time you felt fear, the fact is that you were quite safe and not being attacked. For the brief period when you were actually in danger, the fear ceased to be."

Failing is Part of Learning

In yesterday's class we practiced some rolling and very basic Judo falling techniques i.e. break falls or known as Ukemi. I am not a Judo teacher, but I remembered enough to teach the guys a basic hip throw. Hopefully I did my dad proud! The main emphasis was to introduce my students to Ukemi or the art of falling. It is vital one knows how to adapt and minimise injury when the unexpected fall or slip occurs. 

A great inspiration outside of the obvious martial arts origin is Parkour Ukemi, a fantastic resource analysing Parkour jumps/vaults etc gone wrong and discussing/breaking down how the practitioner recovered relatively unscathed. 

In the words of Amos Rendao, founder of Parkour Ukemi: "Failing is part of learning. Let's strengthen our community by studying the inevitable. Parkour Ukemi is a project that studies falling techniques related to the scenarios one will find through the practice of Parkour and other hard surface movement arts. It is highly practical and may even be necessary to keep us safe as our discipline evolves in ways we cannot presently fathom."

Exposure as Practice

Yesterday's class was a good reminder that one should expose themselves to the challenge of adaption - in this case adapting to one's environment and the situation. We are used to the challenge of adapting to the environment in the context of moving through it, overcoming obstacles, adapting to the different demands that we might not find in a controlled indoor environment - for example the different demands on your grip when holding onto a wall. And there are many different walls! We adapt to the tools we have available from a suitable rail, to balance and vault on, finding targets for precision jumps suitable for the individuals ability, to a good wall to practice handstands, hanging, traversing and climb ups on.

What we had forgotten was that we also have to adapt to people! From being told we are too old to play in an empty playground, to various security guards telling us we couldn't do this, couldn't move there - mumbling some nonsense they didn't believe about health and safety. To dodgy characters stalking us looking for trouble, to young bolshy skaters, hyped up off of pizza and Mountain Dew practically marking their territory and complaining that we couldn't move where they were skating... You'd think we would have empathy from a culture often persecuted and moved on for their love of practice in public... not today. Did this stop us moving? Hell no.

And this is all said light-heartedly as we all saw the funny side of the social challenges presented to our usual movement based ones. We adapted, moved on when we had to and managed to carry out our practice in a variety of locations. It was wet and slippery, great for staying mindful and we did have the element of looking over our shoulder for an added practice of dealing with our sympathetic nervous response whilst staying focused! We kept moving and we moved well and overall we spread the love of moving (many looks of admiration, questions and a very nice lady who played photographer for us).  


Conquering Fear

Here's Benjamin low walking, whilst balancing at height at one of the group classes. For some - balancing on a narrow surface above head height may seem out of reach... but you would be surprised what you are capable of (speaking from experience, the fear can be conquered for example). Proper progressions are needed of course and certainly a few questions need to be answered... How is you squat? Do you have the required mobility and stability? Can you low / duck walk efficiently at ground level? Can you hold the static low positions required? Do you have the right mindset? Do you want to be able to do it? The questions go on... Hopefully we'll see you soon to explore some answers.