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Finding Yourself Through Parkour

Am I who I think I am? This is a question that I’ve asked myself over and over again, year after year. Art school can be a very humbling place. You devote most of your waking hours making work that you hope reflects the way you feel and communicates your ideas about yourself and the world to others. The process of having your work critiqued in front of a class can be a mortifying experience. It was an experience that sometimes made me doubt myself and ask the question, “Am I who I think I am?”

I don’t believe this question ever allows for an answer that you can be satisfied with. The question is always one step ahead of the answer. In art‑which concerns itself primarily with the process of creation‑the idea only exists in your mind and your heart until you’ve actually made the thing. Often times we have ideas about who we are and what we’re doing that have no foundation in reality. We think we’d ace Jeopardy, we’d win in a fight with that drunken jerk, or that attractive person would say “yes” if we asked them out. Meanwhile, most of us have never had to test our powers of recall under the pressure of TV cameras and a studio audience, we may or may not have ever been in a street fight (let alone triumphed over the adversary), and have absolutely no reason to believe the attractive person is interested in us‑I’m only speaking for myself on this one; you may be Adonis incarnate. Somehow, this doesn’t deter us from being the heroes of our own‑potentially‑unrealistic inner monologue.

In art school, somewhere along the line I realized that this inner fantasy world was ridiculous and I had no reason to believe most of what I was thinking about myself, because I wasn’t testing my ideas about who I was in any sort of substantive way. It was at this time that I discovered parkour. From day one the most important aspect of the discipline and the culture was the willingness and necessity to put your ideas about who you are and what you’re capable of to the test. Not a test pitting you against anyone else‑as I’d experienced with wrestling and kickboxing when I was younger. This was a completely different kind of test. A perfect storm of what you thought you could do, what you were capable of doing, and what you were willing to do.

Through my training, I quickly began to realize that I’d been walking around with an overinflated sense of confidence in myself. However, my training wasn’t just humbling for me. It was also replacing the old, false confidence with a profound new understanding of who I was and what I was capable of. On an almost daily basis I was putting myself in uncomfortable, highly stressful, and potentially dangerous situations. And I trained myself to thrive in these situations, to find comfort in discomfort, to manage stress, and use my mental and physical resources to mitigate danger.

But none of those accomplishments are going to matter tomorrow. One of the most important aspects of this type of training is the ability and willingness to live in the moment. Who cares what I did yesterday: that was then, this is now. So what if I sprinted up that hill eleven times yesterday: can I do it twelve times today? So what if I’ve been to that spot a thousand times before: can I get from point A to point B on all fours today? Can I do the same flow line I was doing yesterday, but blindfolded this time? Challenge is limitless and the rewards are exponential. Having an almost scientific method to analyze yourself builds an unshakable belief within. It creates a sense of yourself that’s not based on abstract ideas, but measurable results.

The type of training we do in parkour is a level playing field. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, how much money you have, how conventionally attractive you are, or any of the other typical yet arbitrary social indicators. What matters is the nature of the challenge that you assign to yourself; and, how creative, efficient, or heartfelt your efforts are during those challenges. Hopefully, your training gives you a deeper understanding about who you are and what you’re capable of on that particular day of your life. After a hard day of training, the grass looks greener, the beer tastes better, and I love life just a little more than I did yesterday. Am I who I think I am? Who knows… If training to move between two arbitrary points is a perfect metaphor for anything, then it’s that the question is far more important than the answer and the journey is far more important than the destination.

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