Life Philosophy
Behind a Jump: Mental Challenge and the Feeling of Success
17th February 2017
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In this post I tell a story about some parkour training and a jump I did as part of it. It isn’t the one in the photo, but it was somewhat similar. The aim is to try and get across how the mental benefit of parkour can work, and so the wordy-storyness is part of it.

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It was a Saturday. My week of uni work was over, but I had job applications to do: all of the trainee-lawyer (pupillage) deadlines are on midnight at monday, so Saturday, Sunday and Monday are dedicated to those.

I didn’t force an early start, allowing myself to get some sleep, before heading in to work from uni. The job applications weren’t fun, but they weren’t too bad and I had feared they would be worse. There’s a huge mental intimidation: in many of them, 500 people apply, 20-30 get invited for first interview, 10-12 for second interview, then two offers at the end of it. It’s also something I’ve been looking towards since I was fifteen, and now it is here. Trying to whittle down my experiences and reasons into 150-word chunks and craft them into something that flows is tricky. Mentally and emotionally I wasn’t great, though not too bad either.

A parkour friend, Tom, was around in the afternoon – he had messaged me a couple of days before – and while I felt under time pressure, I knew I needed to be outside and active and that parkour would do me some good. We met, wandered around, and found our first spot. We worked on ‘underbars’ (going underneath a railing while holding onto it), but they felt clunky to me and I couldn’t get them to to work well; then I found a vault-to-grabbing-a-wall challenge (catpass-armjump) which I improved at, but didn’t manage. Both of these added to my general rubbish mood: it isn’t working and I’m no good. Tom was then working on a couple of vaults, one of them kicking off a wall first, and I joined in with these and was able to do them fairly well, which made me feel more able.

We then walked off to look for another spot. This took awhile, as I didn’t know exactly where to go, and we chatted as we walked but I wasn’t feeling very present so the chatting was tricky. About fifteen minutes before Tom had to head off, we came across a railing and wall on a driveway to a building. But then I noticed a wall round the side of it, and in checking that out we found the roof of a parking lot roof-garden (for the building), which had walls on one side and some steps and walls on the other. This was a pretty good find – a lot to do here!

We did a few jumps between walls and running up walls, but then Tom had to leave. Just before he did, I found a Challenge. This challenge is what the post is about. While every jump is a challenge in a way – you set yourself a thing to do and try to do it – there are some that are actual challenges, something that isn’t easy but requires either physical improvement or mental effort. I showed it to Tom, but it was too much for him to try quickly, and he left.

This one was a mental one: physically easy, mentally challenging.

Taking off on the roof-garden, vaulting over a low wall, landing on a wall below it. It was in the corner of the roof, above the gate for the garage below, and off ‘forwards’ was a drive to the road. To the ‘left’ was an alleyway for side-access to the neighbouring building, which had a wall between the ground-level alleyway and the driveway to the basement-level. The vault was slightly diagonal, to land on the wall next to the alleyway.

Incase it doesn’t make much sense, here’s a sketch which may or may not help. Left is top-down-view, the right is from the driveway.

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Physically, the vault going forwards was quite easy. Two hands on the wall, going forwards, legs through the gap, a push from the hands while in the air to rotate to be more upright, then landing on the wall with feet in front of the body. Not much power was needed – I was doing one step run-up before the two take-off steps, taking off with my feet split so the back leg could lift up more. It had to be fairly controlled and precise: because the landing wall was perpendicular, it was a sideways landing, so there wasn’t much to absorb the momentum. Too much power and the overshoot would be into the alleyway – the wall was only about a metre high on that side, so quite an easy drop, or could bounce off the wall first. But too little power and on that side was a 2.5-3m drop. Not an insignificant fall, I should be able to land and roll or breakfall if I have to, but it might mean a bit of bruising.

As well as the technical-precision and the drop, the other problem was how slippery the take-off was. The rain had combined with an oily-muddy-slimy slick layer which my shoes had already absorbed. The steps and take-off had to be very steady to not slip.

So the vault was all about mental control and comfort. I eventually completed it, after maybe fifteen or twenty attempts. The aim was to land it three times in a row: that requires a certain amount of consistency. Initially, I was putting in too much power and bouncing into the alleyway – which is no surprise. After about four attempts I thought: ok, you’ve shown that you can do the vault and land on the wall, sticking it is going to be too much, let’s leave it at that and go. Which was quite close to being accepted. But I also knew: this was a challenge which I might be able to complete, and that’s the negativity from earlier talking. Being aware of how my thoughts work and having done many parkour challenges before, I have a lot to compare it to. So I pushed those thoughts aside and got back to work.

On the eighth or so vault, my body decided to land it slightly differently, turning sideways to land with both feet facing ‘forwards’ for the landing wall – which meant that the drop would be falling ‘backwards’ instead of jumping sideways-forwards. That gave a jolt of fear after I landed. But it was also my first landing. I continued, the next two not staying on the wall but with one or two more which did.

Then I gathered my concentration: I had made it enough times that I knew I could do it, making it just a matter of mental focus and concentration. I don’t know whether I achieved it immediately after that, but I then made it three times in a row. I landed facing ‘forwards’ on the wall, feet separately as if to carry on running, and on the first two I did carry on running along the wall. On my third one I got it just right, so I landed and stuck it. For good measure, I also did a fourth one. I tried a fifth but overpowered it and came off again.

Challenge complete, training session over, I grabbed my stuff, bought some food, then went to a nearby cafe to carry on with applications. The completion of the challenge gave me a wave of positive feeling: I can do things. Even when they are scary, and scary for good reasons. I was able to control myself and manage the feelings and complete it, all on my own. I am able. Let’s go! Completing this jump carried me through the rest of the evenings.

It’s easy when training to only venture slightly outside the comfort zone: things that might take mental effort and be uncomfortable, but fairly achievable. This was the first time for a short while that I had ventured much further out, and it reminded me what it’s about. This is what is special about parkour, this is why I do it: other sports are also fun and good for you, but this mental-challenge-overcoming is hard to find elsewhere.

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