credit: Ahd Photography
I practice alone more often than not.
Did I choose to? At first yes, but often it was circumstance not preference that decided for me. As I wrote before, starting out with Parkour I didn’t discover anyone else to train with in my area for near a year. I relied on Youtube videos and other tutorials plus heaps of trial and error to figure things out. I made progress, but I wouldn’t call it impressive. It took attending some state jams with NC Parkour and training regularly with Colin and our small group to make more significant, and broad, improvements to my Parkour skills.
Now, I’m not aiming to malign solo training here wholesale. For myself I’ve discovered that training alone gives me the space and freedom to focus on refining techniques, drilling sequences I’m struggling with, and trying silly experiments (do I ever stop?).What is solo training not as good for? A few things come to mind: rapidly correcting errors, pushing the edge of your abilities further out, and seeing new possibilities. The value of camaraderie can’t be overstated either.
Back in February I caught a broadcast from APEX Movement on Facebook about a work exchange program they were starting at their gym in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve been following Ryan’s Youtube channel ever since I started practicing Parkour. More recently I had been getting all evangelical about Amos’s project, Parkour Ukemi, ever since I saw the original Parkour Visions summit talk he gave. Needless to say I couldn’t say no to an opportunity to learn from those guys and I shot Amos an email right away.
Skipping ahead (it’d be a boring story if they just said no, wouldn’t it?) it was agreed that I would spend the whole month of March at APEX Movement Boulder. The deal was unlimited access to their gym and classes in exchange for working for them on some projects for the month. Such a super awesome deal that I was thrumming with energy for about a whole week after I booked the flight to Denver.
Arriving in Boulder
You never know what to expect on the first day in a new place. To kick things off Amos picked me up from the bus station in one of the sketchiest vans I’ve ever (personally) seen - just spray paint “free candy” on the side and the look would be complete. We headed straight for the gym to meet everyone and check out the space.
Before arriving at APEX I had spent no time in gyms, aside from visiting gymnastics gyms on extra rare occasions. All my training up until then had been outdoors with whatever I had available to me in the environment. I felt like a kid in a candy shop when I stepped inside. Rails and obstacles everywhere! The best part, for me, was the design of the space and obstacles; both aim to mimic what you would encounter outdoors. Well, almost. Their sweet rail setup I’ve never ever encountered outside. It’s super rare to find even a half decent set of scaffolding to swing around on. Half the reason I had avoided gymnastics gyms for Parkour was that it was all padded and springy, which wasn’t realistic at all. APEX bridges the gap nicely. The floors and obstacles are all hard, but crash mats and padding can be added to make the learning process safer. Having a bit of insurance does open the doors to all kinds of creative experimentation.
This ain’t about the space though. It’s about the people. I could have spent the month training with the crew at APEX around the streets of Boulder and learned as much (maybe more) as I did from spending a month in their gym.
…Granted it’s pretty damn nice to not have mountains of snow or thunderstorms (the bane of classes in North Carolina) cancel everything. Does that make a difference in how large or strong a community can form? I’ve got no idea. It was clear after just a few days at APEX that their community was vibrant and diverse, in both skill levels and demographics. I had a solid idea of the caliber - read: miles above mine -of Ryan, Amos, and the pro team thanks to videos (2012 Showreel and the 2012 Parkour Tour) before I arrived. The other instructors and many of the students, especially some of the kids, were equally impressive.
The first class I got to see was Time Trials, where the instructor sets up a course with a defined beginning, at least one checkpoint, and a finish line. The objective? Get to the finish line with as few scratches (mistakes) as possible. Between just getting off a plane and still battling a persistent cold I decided to just watch. After seeing the first round I was intimidated enough by the speed that everyone blew through the bar sections with that I honestly would have been afraid to join in anyway. By the end of the month I was decent at traversing bars quickly, but I’m still nowhere near that monkey like fluidity some of the guys were putting on display. Anyhow, time trials were my favorite class there without a doubt. Why they’re awesome is worthy of its own blog post though, so I’ll leave that for later.
A month of endless training
With free reign in the gym I spent most days taking at least one of the classes plus spending plenty of time outside of classes practicing some of the new skills I was picking up (even excluding technique improvements there were a lot) . Top that off with two hours of open gym each day and it was a crazy amount of movement. I don’t want to think about how much I spent on food for that month…you’re welcome Whole Foods.
As a teacher the Level 1 and Level 2 classes were interesting to take part in and watch. Seeing how other instructors handle their classes, particularly large classes like APEX had, and what cues they use is hugely beneficial for learning how to become a better teacher. More than that watching others teach kills assumptions and demonstrates that often times there are multiple correct ways to teach the same skills; with less rambling than I’m prone to on occasion too!
The Level 3 classes and Time Trials were where the primary challenges lay for me. Despite my best efforts to arrive at APEX completely fresh I was _still _battling that cold a week into my stay. That cold made me feel all flinchy and hesitant during the first Level 3 classes. As that cleared and I became more familiar with both the space and the people I was training with that hesitation began to fade. I became more confident again and began to push my limits both inside and outside of the classes.
It would have been hard not to, honestly. I was surrounded by an amazingly skilled and supportive group the entire time I was there at APEX. I had enough people at around my strength level doing things I thought (personally) impossible that my perceived barriers came down easily. Huge cat passes (4’ high with a 5’ clear distance), tic-tacs, fields of rail strides, and diving 360 underbars underneath 3 foot high railings are just a handful of the more memorable ones. Well, that and some bizarre hybrid technique involving a mantle shimmy and a tic-tac that I wish I had gotten on video; as I said, time trials are fun.
Clearly I had the ability to do any of those techniques, but when out training alone, well it wouldn’t happen. Either the move would seem impossible and I wouldn’t even see the option or I’d think it was too long or high of a move to try. When I saw someone else do it first, and I knew they weren’t some superhuman, then it didn’t take much convincing for me to try it. Guess what? Most of the time I got it and when I didn’t the fails weren’t spectacularly bad.
Elevating your own game is far easier when you’re surrounded by a community of frustratingly skilled individuals. When they’re as supportive and helpful as the group at APEX it’s near impossible to not grow and go further than you ever thought you could go.
Big thanks to everyone there for making my month in Boulder super awesome. A month was not near enough time to spend at APEX, and I will be returning again (and again, and again) whenever I am able to. In the meantime I have a favor to ask…
Help APEX Boulder grow!
APEX has a huge new gym space in Boulder which they’ve finally moved into this month after years of struggle to find a bigger and better space to house the gym. They are raising money to build out the gym with bunch of cool features and they can use all the help they can get. There are only a couple of days left in the Funding campaign and they are ~60% to their target.
Head over to their campaign on Indiegogo to check out what they’re doing. Even if you can’t contribute share the page with friends!
I’ve been mum on how my journey is progressing and damn quiet on the blogging front lately. I have some grand changes to the Quest that I’ll talk about in a future post. Before that though, this entire post has been about the power of community. I witnessed the power of a strong and supportive community at APEX. It’s been about a year now since I went began this vagabonding journey. Travelling alone teaches you a lot about yourself, what you value, and what you need to live; community is part of that. I think it’s about time I returned to the community that built me and continue to help it grow.
Don’t worry, all the travel plans are still green lit, I’m just making them bigger. Stay tuned. ;)
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