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The Tale of a Two-Year-Old Traceur (And What You Can Learn From Him)

I passed my two year anniversary of doing parkour a few weeks ago! Watch my celebration video, then read on for a look at how I got to where I am today.

Once upon a time, there was a short, bespectacled, teenage, MMORPG addicted, nerdy, skinny-flabby internet potato. One afternoon, while engaging in the fine art of stalking his Facebook friends, he came upon a status talking about a friend’s day of doing parkour. Curious, he looked up parkour and found Ryan Doyle, Daniel Ilabaca, and the 3Run crew. Flabbergasted and intrigued at these awe-inspiring movements, he began inquiring about how to get started doing parkour.

From that day on, Alan’s world changed.

That’s my “origin story.”

Not the most exciting one on the planet, right? A quite common one, actually: guy sees parkour, guy tries parkour, guy loves parkour, guy does parkour.

What’s not so common is the journey I took to get to my current skill level.

I started parkour on March 17, 2010. The first few months of my training were the usual basic vaults and a lot of wallruns up the side of my house. It was at this time that I decided that I was going to do an aerial, no matter what. Flips were terrifying and far out of my reach, but a modified cartwheel? I could totally do that.

Sometime during May, I worked up the courage to bike to a nearby college campus and train there. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was very fortunate to have a good urban training spot within a few miles of my house. Since I didn’t realize it, however, I didn’t really make good use of the opportunity, only going five or six times from May to August. I was able to get a few of my friends into parkour (who still practice to this day, I might add), and our jams at the college campus remain some of my fondest memories.

During our last jam together, I stressed my right ankle far beyond what I should have, leading to an ankle injury that lasted a month and a half. At the end of August, I moved to my current location on the coast of Virginia – a place that is the very definition of “rural.” There is nowhere to train that isn’t either a terrible spot or in a very public location. With my dedicated parkour training ground gone, I started tricking more. Not knowing the meaning of overtraining, I did literally hundreds of hyper-fast one-arm cartwheels to try to learn aerials. To make a long story short, I had an ankle injury off-and-on from August 2010 to April 2011. Since a painful ankle makes real parkour just a little difficult, I really started focusing on upper-body strength and flexibility during this time.

2011

2011 was not a year of progression. Instead, it was a year of recovery from my ankle injury and regaining and solidifying my current skills. Without going through the whole process in grinding detail, I fixed my ankle by…

  • Doing Dogen’s ankle exercises.
  • Completely stopping all training (except for stretching) for two weeks during March.
  • At the end of those weeks, I started very gently doing barefoot jumps and small tricks.
  • Started the FYPK tumblr to combat my unfulfilled parkour addiction.
  • Kept doing basics until the middle of June, which was when the pain finally went away for good.

When the ankle was finally healed, I spent the rest of the summer and a large part of the fall trying to return to my original level of skill, especially getting back the longed-for aerial. In August, I got an over-the-door pull-up bar, which led to vastly increased handstand times.

In September I started my first year of college at the same time I started this blog, both of which cut into my training time considerably. Over the winter, I did manage to get swinging gainers, brandies, sloppy aerial switches, and an ugly-duckling 540 kick.

2012

2012 has been good to me so far. I’ve done a lot more conditioning than I have in the past, largely thanks to the motivation of my friends over at Fitocracy. I’ve solidified my front flipping skills to the point that I no longer have any fear of doing a front tuck or webster; I’ve even started to do them barefoot. Speaking of barefoot, that’s how I train almost all of the time now. Whenever I have to go in public, I wear my Feiyues. My ankles have never been stronger.

My upper-body strength is increasing as I actually try to get stronger, instead of merely accepting increased strength as a consequence of parkour. I’ve begun tricking even more, and more capoeira has entered my movements – helicopteros, anyone?

I have high hopes for the rest of 2012. Summer and progression, here I come!

What You Can Learn From Me

For the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about my training history. There are some lessons to be learned from both my mistakes and the things I did right.

Pain is not your friend

If there’s a part of your body that’s giving you trouble, training through the pain is not hardcore; it’s plain stupid. Pain exists for a reason, and it’s not to make your life miserable: pain is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong. If you ignore your body’s signals, then you will get injured. If you’re hungry, you eat. If you’re thirsty, you drink. If something hurts, then you stop doing it. I ignored my ankle pain and lost a net total of something like 3–4 months of training, plus 2 or 3 months of training at decreased capacity.

Don’t ignore pain.

No gym? No problem.

Notice one thing I didn’t mention at all?

A gym.

That’s right. At no point at all in my training have I had access to a gym, either gymnastics or weightlifting. Am I strong and fast anyway? Can I flip and trick anyway? You decide from the video.

Bodyweight exercises are for the beastly. Foam pits are for the weak.*

*Okay, not really. I’d be a much better flipper and tricker if I had mats and plyometric flooring and yes, foam pits. On the other hand, learning flips outside on grass and sand takes a lot more mental strength than learning them in a controlled, comfortable environment like a gym.

I stand by what I said about bodyweight exercises.

You don’t need a personal trainer

Another thing I didn’t mention? A teacher. I am completely self-taught. And when I say, “self-taught,” I really mean, “YouTube-taught.”

I never had a parkour mentor that I actually knew personally. Through the power of the internet, Kyle “Epic” Mendoza, Jujimufu, Ryan Doyle, and the 3Run crew were my teachers. Yes, having an experienced traceur to guide me would have been fantastic – and I probably would have avoided the ankle injury – but I don’t think that the lack of in-person guidance was a huge hinderance to my progression.

Be independent. Help yourself.

Imagination really is everything

(And not just because Tim Shieff said so.)

When I first moved to my current house, I was absolutely dismayed at the lack of training opportunities. There was nothing.

Or so I thought.

Now, with a touch of imagination, a dash of creativity, and a splash of hard work, I’ve got places for bar work (a high pull-up bar I built myself, and a tow rope strung between two trees); places for kong vaults (railings near stairs, two different downed trees); places for wallruns (side of the house, a tree); a place for websters and front flips from a height (stumps); a place for precisions (planks and more stumps); an emulation of aerial straps (two ropes attached to a tree); a place for wall spins (another tree). Do I have conventional railings to vault and precision to or concrete walls run up or buildings to climb? Nope. Does it annoy me? Yep. Do I let it affect my training? Nope.

Think about where you train. How could it be better? How can you make it better?

Nature training can be rewarding

You know how many times I referred to trees in the previous section? Me too. It was a lot. Trees for jumping from, wallrunning, wall spinning, vaulting, precisioning…

You don’t need access to a Dame du Lac or a London Imax 1 to train. Sometimes training in nature can be even more productive than in the city; running through a forest, you can’t always make a clean vault and you don’t always know if the ground is soft or hard and you can’t count on that tree limb to hold your weight when you do a massive precision to it. You have to adapt your skills to your surroundings.

Parkour may have originated in the city, but the reach/escape utility of quick, efficient movement has been around since the beginning of time. Return to nature and discover how you would fare if a saber-toothed tiger was chasing you.

Parkour Changes You for the Better

Of the many changes that parkour brought to my life, the “training mentality” and the massively increased self-confidence are the two that have most positively affected me.

Skills don’t come overnight. You have to work at them, practice them, train them. Once I realized this, my life started making so much more sense. Grades aren’t as high as I want? More homework needed – no, more mental training needed. Still a little awkward in big groups? More social training needed. Becoming good at something only happens with time and practice.

Before parkour, I was a short skinny-flabby bespectacled MMORPG player, which does not make for a confident teenager. I’m still a short teenage bespectacled computer geek, but I’m not skinny any more. I don’t waste time – well, not too much time – playing useless games. I no longer hide in corners at social events. I no longer feel intimidated by anyone who is taller than me (i.e., most males). I don’t give in to peer pressure. I know exactly who I am and where I’m going. All because of parkour.

My name is Alan, and I am a traceur.

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  • Liz Jackson

    Since Fitocracy doesn’t allow enough room for lengthy comments, I’ll leave them here, as a rough running stream of consciousness while watching the vid/reading the blog post:

    1) D’aww, it’s a baby snakey!
    2) Are you sure you aren’t part monkey?
    3) DUCKS.
    4) 2:40: all I can hear is the “George of the Jungle” themesong– watch out for that tree!
    5) 3:40: the MU and flips are very impressive, but I’m so busy going OH MY GAWD THAT STRUCTURE IS SO UNSTABLE that I can’t really appreciate.  Pls stay safe.
    6) 4:55: I reiterate my monkey remark.
    7) My favorite part is the bloopers at the end. :D

    Overall impression of vid and blog post:  you have worked your ass to perfection (as Cixelsid’s group challenge confirmed), and your hard work and dedication are truly impressive.  Keep working, keep blogging, and keep vidding! <3

    ~Soria

  • http://katebachus.com/ Kate Bachus

    Absolutely awesome.  Also what Liz said about the DUCKS.  XD

    !!!

    You’re amazing.

    Kate

  • Susan Anderson

    What a freakin’ incredible journey.  Thanks for documenting and sharing, and many happy and odd trails to you.  :) (FM on Fito)

  • http://parkour.au.com/ Pava

    Hey man, Pava from PK panels here. Firstly, love your blog. Been stealing videos from you for close to a year, you’ve really got your ear to the ground. Secondly, this is GREAT! Not the first time I’ve seen the positive benefit of PK practice, but I loved being able to see a progression video that compound the transformation so well. Thanks for the experience. 

  • JiAltair

    Are good expensive shoes better than lots of cheap shoes?

  • Carmen

    Nice progress video!! =) Keep up the good work..