Four Years

One of the earlier photos from training. At least a year after I begun. Before that I dodged pictures too well.

It all started with a Youtube video; that’s a story you’ll hear often when you ask long-term traceurs/traceuses what inspired them to begin practicing Parkour, and the same was true for me. I get the feeling that most jump straight into trying Parkour out for themselves after that bolt of inspiration. Maybe I’m just an overly cautious type, but I dove into researching instead; that took perhaps a bit too long…I started the research in late 2008 (based on registering on the American Parkour forums) but didn’t get started training until around Feb-March 2009 after I had decided Parkour meshed super well with Ninjutsu philosophy. The delay was worth it, I think. I picked up a lot of good info about the philosophy, mindset, and proper training progressions from around the internets. I wasn’t charging in to training completely blind, but even then progress started out plenty slow.

I began by focusing on landing practice and lots of conditioning, which was especially important because I stubbornly decided I was going to train only in minimalist shoes (Vibram KSOs at the time). The conditioning kicked my ass, which was a huge surprise because I was already training 3-4 times a week, including some intense grappling over at the NC Quest Center. Even with only that practice and dabbling in some basic techniques I was becoming increasingly convinced that Parkour was awesome, so I picked up a tutorial DVD and scoured the internet for more videos to try to improve faster. The training was haphazard as I started out trying to learn the most difficult and/or high energy techniques first, because of that progress was slow. It took me close to a month to figure out the cat pass through trial and error (even with an excellent tutorial), and even then the resulting technique wasn’t that good (using a two foot takeoff, ugh). I learned a lot through that process of failing over and over, but having a more thorough technique progression and a little feedback could have cut that time in half, at least. I’m sure it has helped me become a better teacher, but man, I do wonder what my progress would have looked like with some help earlier on; it was somewhere around a year of solo training before I began to work with Colin all the time.

Coaching, progressions, and feedback

After I started coaching with Fifth Ape got plenty of first-hand experience seeing how much of an impact some solid gradual skill progressions could have on learning speed, especially when coupled with good technique feedback. It’s both amazing and frustrating to teach a student a new technique and see them get it within an hour, when that same technique took me at least a week to figure out on my own. Ah well, it’s for the greater good.

If you get the reference, we can be friends.

I need to rewind a bit. I had some grand plans to move to Europe and start a business over there long before the whole wonderful experience with Fifth Ape started. If I’m anything it’s overly stubborn and persistent, considering that was over three years ago by now. Sticking with the stubborn theme, I was firmly of the belief that trying to teach via the Internet wasn’t workable, because it wasn’t the optimal way to learn. Afterall, immediate feedback is key for rapid learning and you can’t get that from a bunch of pre-recorded pixels, no matter how good the content.

Unlike the whole relocating to a foreign land thing, my stubbornness did slowly erode in this case, which all started when a mother of a Fifth Ape student asked if we had any way to learn some of the stuff online, and I had to tell her no. Getting some hands on coaching is perfect if you have access to some good coaches, but if you don’t…well, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good as they say. It took questions like that and remembering that when I started I had that tutorial DVD from American Parkour that at least pointed me in the right direction as far as good technique and safe training was concerned.

Jumping into online course design

There’s a funny problem that happens when you start up online coaching and people know of you as a Parkour teacher…they want to learn Parkour. Now, I could “teach” online by scouring the web for good tutorials and just pointing them to them and saying “do this, and then that,” or be stuck with what they already know, which is presumably very little; neither was an acceptable option. I decided I needed to create something of my own. At first I was just going to do it piece wise as I needed by students. It dawned on me go big and create a comprehensive course instead (formatted similarly to Fifth Ape’s old Parkour Fundamentals course) instead. Afterall, I was going to create all these videos eventually anyway, right? My grand idea evolved into creating the resource that I wish my past self could have had access to as I began my solo journey into Parkour. Cheating the learning curve by packing all the experience and collective knowledge I’ve gained over the past four years with the help of amazing friends, mentors, and teachers (I added these to a Gratitude page earlier) about Parkour into one big course. Now where did I put that time machine…?

After figuring out the outline of the course in December I decided to split the course in half, focusing on the super important stuff that everyone could use for the first half, and leaving the more specialized, complex, and specific techniques for the second half. I’m glad I decided to split this into two pieces. I could list plenty of good rational reasons to split it, but sticking to my “one reason heuristic” (if you get the newsletter you know what I’m referring to ;) )my reason is distinctly irrational. It hurts to admit it, especially to myself, but the real reason is I don’t know if this project will succeed. I’m afraid that it will fail. It’s new and strange feeling for me, working on a project for months with no way to know if it will work out in the end; only armed with the belief that I must create this, regardless of its success or failure. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I hadn’t expected to be recording nearly every day (so close to every day, damn you rain) for a month to a month and a half. Maybe I’m making it sound difficult, but I discovered that I love the video making process (if that wasn’t obvious already) and got my hands on some better editing tools which has me all excited (squee!). A good helping of viking-blood to be able to record for hours in the cold (stubbornly still wearing a t-shirt) helped too - the risk vs. danger blog was done in around ~36F weather, for reference.

The persistence paid off, and I reached my own self-imposed deadline of finishing up the video on Friday. I’ve decided to add a couple more videos to the first course to make it a bit more comprehensive, so those will be done tomorrow. My plan is to release the course onto Udemy properly on Monday the 4th which will give me time to finish up encoding* and uploading the last of the videos and editing the drafts of the handful of documents included in the course. If you’ve signed up for my email newsletter I’ll throw you a 25% off coupon for the course, valid for the first month that the course is live. If you aren’t on it yet, sign-on up directly below this post. After this I’m going straight into working on the second half of the course and thinking up ways to make it an even better learning tool (toying with the idea of audio only lessons).

*Thank Zues for Adobe Premiere, I would still be encoding videos two weeks from now if it wasn’t for the ability to queue multiple videos and leave my poor laptop to churn through 5+ hours of them while I recorded even more video.

Bonuses: I have somewhere around 80GB of raw footage (that’s after deleting ~20GB to clear space) and I’m sure there’s enough video of me doing and saying stupid things to the camera to make a short “deleted scenes/blooper reel”. If you help share out the course once it’s live and it reaches 50 students I’ll sift through the footage and make a horribly embarrassing video of some of that stuff. Otherwise all that footage is going bye bye. ;)

(There might also be some involving doing borderline stupid/unhealthy things in the snow. I haven’t decided what I’m doing with that…yet)

Off to Colorado in March!

In awesome and weirdly coincidental news I’ll be going to spend a month training and learning from the guys over at APEX Movement in Colorado. I’ve been following Ryan Ford’s stuff since I began training, so it’ll be great to finally meet him in person. I had just missed an opportunity to train with him in France in October. Perhaps this is an accidental four year Parkour anniversary gift to myself? Thanks, I’ll take it!

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