I felt anxious all day yesterday; worried that I would make a fool of myself at my third Parkour class after being one of the slower learners in my first two classes. Only three things kept me committed to going: (1) I had already booked a spot in the class and that might mean someone else was missing out, (2) I really need the strength and conditioning training, and (3) I felt the same way when I first joined my old university rock climbing club but ended up staying hooked on the sport for 2-3 years.
I arrived at the meeting point on the top of the Kangaroo Point cliffs a few minutes early for class. The view out over the Brisbane River and CBD was beautiful. I joined my classmates, paid my $10 for the class and signed my consent form. No turning back now – not that I wanted to because my instructors’ and classmates’ enthusiasm was catching.
As with the previous two classes we started with a warm up and some quadrupedal movements. At first I was nervous when I saw the instructor and my classmates move along a small section of wall near the edge of a low section of cliff but then I stopped, relaxed and remembered that our instructors are concerned for our safety and wouldn’t ask us to do anything that we weren’t able to. So I performed my quadrupedal along the wall, feeling secure and confident the whole way (though my legs were starting to hurt from fatigue the morning’s hard bike ride).
After our warm up we crept down the stairs focusing on silence. Our task was to be totally silent, including making no audible footfalls. This is to practice the art of efficient and low impact movement. One of the things our instructors like to focus on is low-impact movement and forefoot running. We are often asked to perform techniques, such as running and jumping, in silence so that we learn not to jar our bodies.
I was nervous as our instructors gave us our next task: to walk along the 2 foot high rail at the base of the cliffs. Unlike last class when I had a light post to hold onto, this week there was nothing to use for stability. I didn’t think I could do it and, at first, I couldn’t even crouch on the rail. But then I stopped, took a deep breath and told myself to relax. Just before I left work before the class I had read an article that said that walking on a fence or rail is all about controlling the mind. We don’t fall over when we walk on the ground so there is no reason we should fall when walking on a rail. So I told myself this.
I crouched on the rail with my hands in front of me. I take a deep breath and rock back, shifting my weight onto my back foot and lining my second toe along the fence. I release my hands and don’t fall. I stand up slowly, concentrating on using my leg muscles to push me up smoothly. “Yippee!” I cheer as I stand on the rail for a few moments.
I try to take a step but fall; I realise I’m tense and distracted by fear. But fear of what? Falling? There’s grass next to the rail and it’s only 2 foot off the ground. Fear of not being able to do it? Well, the first step is to commit to giving it a genuine try. Fear caused by my personal insecurities? But what insecurities should I have? I’m healthy, successful in my own way and live a good life. Hmm … I get back on the rail. I take a deep breath and relax. I rock my weight back. I use my legs to push myself into standing. I clear my mind as if I’m about to do tai chi and I start to move forward. I walk about 20m before I realise what I’m doing and start to laugh happily. I guess I can’t yet walk on a rail and laugh but at least this time it’s happy laughter that causes me to fall off the rail, not fear. I continue to hop on and off the rail, walking about 30m at my best. I also resolve not to do a big bike or run training session before next week’s Parkour class because I am being held back by muscle fatigue.
After a lengthy balance session we run the length of the Kangaroo Point cliffs, practicing our stealthy steps before running up the 107 steep and narrow concrete steps that lead to the small park at the top. Here we spend time practicing step vaults and speed vaults. We use a small wall about 1m high to practice our step vaults. I find these easy and enjoy the sensation of clearing the obstacle with ease. I manage the speed vaults well too but have some difficulty with my depth perception in the dim light (we’re practicing these by street light in the dark night) so I need to use two hands rather than the requisite one. But the instructors still give encouragement and congratulate all of us on our progress.
We finish the skills part of our session with precision jumps. There are two low walls running along either side of a path that’s about 1.5m wide. One wall is about 1 foot high both on the path side and the outside. The other is 1 foot high on the path side and about 1m high on the outside. I’ve not done precision jumps before so I’m not yet familiar with how much power to use to clear the gap. I decide to play safe and only jump towards the low wall, rather than risking skidding off the high one or jumping too far. Just jumping to the low wall is already a mental challenge and I’m proud of my achievement in managing to both complete the jump and follow the technique.
We finish our tough 2 hour session with chin ups and squats.
When I first started with Brisbane Parkour three weeks ago I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I would find a group of young gung-ho men and women who were interested in doing big tricks and jumps. What I have found is that the classes are run by highly experienced young instructors who want us all to enjoy ourselves while learning skills safely. They don’t put pressure on us if we feel insecure about a technique and they congratulate us when we overcome our own challenges to try techniques, even if we don’t succeed in them all the time. Mostly, they are patient and cheerful, never making us feel we aren’t good enough.
I don’t think I’ll get anxious about attending class anymore. I am looking forward to next Thursday night’s adventure and might just go for a swim in the morning so that I can focus my energy into techniques rather than fatigue. Besides, I think the techniques and strength I am gaining from Parkour are going to be invaluable come the Tough Mudder Sydney event in September where I’m due to participate on both days.