Have you ever been to a big jam and someone starts eyeing-up a big move or jump? Then all of the sudden, it becomes a huge deal? People start gathering around, and yelling, “you got this! Just do it!” The athlete begins breathing quickly, and pacing back and forth. He might even be shaking a little. After a substantial amount of time preparing, he finally goes for the move and despite a lack of coordination and composure, he lands whatever he was hoping to do. He yells and jumps around in excitement, as the crowd cheers and everyone feeds off of this energy. Other people in the crowd see how well his accomplishment was received and they want that same satisfaction and approval. The result is multiple people going for things that they aren’t ready for, or making huge deals out of movements that actually aren’t that hard for them.
This approach to overcoming fear is exaggerated in the jam environment, but it is still prevalent in small training groups and can even spread to the training that someone does on their own. Granted, the crowd isn’t there to cheer them on, but the breathing patterns are the same, the buildup and the pacing back and forth is the same and the ultimate goal of overcoming a huge mental obstacle is there. I have seen it in my hometown and all over the country. It is an approach that closely resembles extreme sports and glorifies the adrenaline rush. It glorifies making mountains out of molehills and encourages athletes to approach challenges that are questionable, instead of challenges that are appropriate for their level. Not only that, it can be taxing on the nervous system, which has several negative repercussions. We will address those in future articles.
Over the next few weeks, I want to respectfully challenge an idea that many parkour practitioners advocate; a position that I feel contributes to the approach I described above. This idea is that fear is a necessary component in safely training parkour. I imagine you are raising your eyebrows right now, but I would encourage you to keep an open mind and hear me out. My reasoning is, most likely, the opposite of what you are assuming. With some work, I think I can change the way you think about the topic of overcoming fear.
To start, let’s look at some quotes on overcoming fear in the context of parkour. I pulled these from the top hits on google. There are many more examples, but these are the most relevant and from athletes that most people are familiar with…
“Fear is a natural part of our make-up, it keeps us safe and acts as an early-warning system when you’re approaching potentially high-risk or dangerous situations. And forewarned is forearmed, as the wise ones say. So you don’t want to conquer your fear entirely; you need it. But you want it to serve you rather than dominate you.”
Breaking The Jump: The Heart of Parkour. www.parkourgenerations.com.
“Fear is an important tool to help keep us safe”
Ronnie Shalvis. Overcoming Fear. www.ronniestreetstunts.com
“The first kind of fear is the protective fear. This is the fear that keeps you from making that jump beyond your abilities and stops you from trying that kong gainer. This is the most useful fear. It’s the guardian angel that, when listened too, can help keep you training for years.”
Patrick Witbrod, Fear in Parkour. www.americanparkour.com
“You should NEVER suppress Fear, fear is a wonderful gift that stops us killing ourselves. Its just knowing what to be afraid of that’s important, and that’s what we learn through parkour.” Tim Shieff.
Interview with Tim “Livewire” Shieff. www.chennaiparkour.com.
“Fear protects you and helps you to stay safe”
Jason Paul – Conquering Fear. www.farang-mag.com
There are of course many more articles, videos and other media from parkour athletes all over the world that advocate this idea that fear is what keeps us safe. The only opposition seems to come from a few outliers that embrace a “DGAF” mentality, who try to ignore fear altogether. These people are generally less vocal and their approach is very far off from the one I advocate. That being said, I think we can safely say that the parkour community in general embraces the idea that fear is necessary to safely train parkour. With some work, I hope to convince you that this is a false cause fallacy and that credit for safety is being given to the wrong party. Not only that, I hope to convince you that it is actually safer to train without fear, under the right mental framework, than it is to be afraid of a movement and overcome that fear. And of course, I want to show you a different approach to fear that puts you in control and will make you a safer, more confident athlete. But before we do all that, let’s start from the ground level by examining if it is theoretically possible to remove fear from the equation. This first post might be of interest to some and less interesting to others, but my whole argument rests on the idea that we can begin to eliminate fear from our training, so it is necessary to establish that this is at least theoretically possible.
Separating emotion from circumstance
Does a snake in the room make you afraid? Does the act of standing on the edge of a building evoke fear? It depends on who you are and how accustomed you are to the experience. The whole idea that you can eliminate fear rides on the principle that emotion is separate from circumstance. To establish this, let’s look at the emotions of happiness and sadness, since they are easier to conceptualize. I think we can all agree, barring any chemical imbalances, that someone can choose to be happy or sad in a given scenario. There are of course easier and more difficult situations to do this in, but it is still up to the individual to respond to the circumstance at hand. It’s easiest to see in less severe situations like getting a minor injury as an athlete. The general inclination is to feel sad that you will have to take a some time out of your typical training, but you can also choose to see it as a time to focus on improving a weakness or working on something completely unrelated to parkour and ultimately be happy about it. Even in the most extreme circumstances, like the death of a family member, someone can choose to celebrate that person’s life instead of being sad, while taking comfort in the fact that the person in question is no longer in pain (assuming they were in pain to begin with). Again, this is much harder to accomplish and a simplification of a complex matter. There are a lot of factors in a person’s emotional state, but I think we can at least agree on the basic principle that our ability to be happy or sad is not a slave to circumstance. We are, for the most part, at choice to how we respond to the events in our life, both big and small.
This is also true of anger. To illustrate this, let’s examine two different parkour athletes (Max and Melissa) working on the same jump. They each spend 15 minutes trying, but neither of them accomplish the goal. Let’s look at their different approaches and subsequent reactions: Max becomes more frustrated and angry with each failed attempt. At the end of the day, he feels like it was a waste of time. Melissa on the other hand, feels encouraged on each failed attempt because of how close she is getting. Although she never achieves the jump, Melissa is happy to have found a challenge that was just outside of her ability because now she has a goal to work towards. Melissa also recognizes that these attempts will make her stronger for when she returns to try again (assuming she gets proper nutrition and sleep). The circumstance is exactly the same for Max and Melissa, but their emotional responses were different.
There are countless examples, which illustrate that circumstance and emotion are separate and this is probably not going to seem all that revolutionary to you. Yes, it is true that death generally brings about sadness; Sex mostly results in happiness; and an internet troll will often bring about anger. However, in each case, one can feel indifferent to the situation or even feel the opposing emotion if they choose to.
What about fear? It is one of the primary emotions, so one might assume that it too is separate from circumstance and thus, a choice. This is the point where agreement begins to fade. It seems that many people assume that fear is an uncontrolled response, while others believe we shouldn’t try to control it. People who do are sometimes labeled as reckless, regardless of their method.
The first misunderstanding comes from a lack of specificity regarding fear and surprise, which are often lumped together or mislabeled. Surprise can be triggered by something like a rustling in the bushes, which results in a widening of the eyes, quickening of the heartbeat, etc. Then there is the emotional response to that initial surprise once context is established. This emotion could be fear or it could even be happiness if your friend was the one hiding behind the rustling bush. Alternatively, you don’t have to feel any emotion at all. Surprise can dissipate if the source is deemed negligible. Nonetheless, the emotion of fear is separate from surprise and it is separate from whatever circumstance that gave rise to it.
The other primary cause of fear is anticipation, which is easier to distinguish from fear than surprise. You can anticipate something happening without feeling fear or any other emotion, like when you drop a ball and anticipate it hitting the floor. But let’s say you are in a more intense situation, like sitting in the passenger seat of a race car. In this moment, you can choose to anticipate death or serious injury and be afraid, or enjoy the experience and be happy/excited. If you are used to the experience, you can just sit there and feel indifferent or even bored. Nonetheless, the idea that fear is not a choice just like any other emotion; all comes down to lumping the circumstance together with the emotion.
TL/DR: Our emotions are reactions to circumstances; not slaves to them. We are at choice in how we react to events in our lives and the challenges that we approach in our training. This includes the emotion of fear, which we will dive into next week.
I imagine there may be some disagreement on this first post. Perhaps you like to think of yourself as a victim to circumstance and that you are not in control because it takes the responsibility off of your shoulders. Or maybe you enjoy letting the world take you into dips and dives of emotion because it is fun. To each their own. Personally, I see that this life is a finite thing and I would rather spend my time enjoying it than letting the whims of the world sway me. If that doesn’t appeal to you, the articles to follow probably aren’t going to be your cup of tea because I will be talking about a way to approach movement in a very logical, level-headed manner.
If you were hoping that I would address the crux of the matter in this first article, I’m sorry for leading you on. I had to establish that it is theoretically possible to remove fear before I could move into the meat of my argument and approach.
BE ADVISED: please don’t go out tomorrow and start throwing yourself off of stuff with the reasoning that “Dylan told me fear is unnecessary”. That’s far from what I’m saying. Give the basic premise some thought and come back next week for part two.
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MYRM Co-Founder and Athlete