Last week I posed the basic question, “is it possible to eliminate fear?” which laid a foundation for what we are going to address in this week’s post. If you missed that article, you can read it here, so you are up to speed, but if you don’t have the time, it isn’t totally necessary. The contents of this article stand on its own. If you are not convinced of the basic idea behind my first post, this article will build on the idea by bringing it into the context of parkour. Keep in mind that this is my personal process for removing fear from my training, so it may or may not work for you. Do I still experience fear? Certainly, but it has become an increasingly more rare experience (in parkour at least), and has actually made my training safer. I hope it can do the same for you. Lastly, keep in mind that I gravitate towards the more traditional practice of parkour, and this article will reflect that. Overcoming the fear of doing a new flip or a new move is going to require a different approach than overcoming the fear of doing a precision at height. That being said, let’s get into it….
When I first watched the Star Wars Trilogy, I was just a wee little boy, incapable of taking any deeper meaning from the films. My favorite part was the cuddly Ewoks and their silly antics. Well to be honest, that’s still my favorite part. Nonetheless, when I returned to the films in recent years, I discovered some cool insights and subtle nuances that meant nothing to me as a slobbering, little child. Although it didn’t occur to me until recently, my approach to fear in parkour can be summed up perfectly by what Yoda told Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, “Named must your fear be, before banish it you can.”
o I still experience fear? Certainly”
It seems like pretty obvious advice on the surface. You might be thinking, “I’m afraid of giving a speech,” or “I’m afraid of this jump.” Big deal. What did that accomplish? but the real nugget of truth is buried deeper than that. We have to be much more specific. When we say “I’m afraid to climb this building” or “I’m afraid to do this jump”, we think we are defining our fear, but all we have done is stated the obvious and not gained any insight.When I am teaching one of my students to overcome a challenge that scares them, the first question I ask is “what exactly are you afraid of”? Their answer is usually, “uhhh, I don’t know. It’s just scary.” It’s easy to stay in this state of unawareness and never end up accomplishing the goal. Or worse, we figure out how to trick our minds into overcoming fear. This latter method is more prevalent than you might think, especially when people train in groups or with partners. How many of us have heard this line before from a friend or teacher? “Just do it. You totally got this”. The intention behind this type of encouragement is good, but all it does is reinforce a behavior of overlooking important details that fear is trying to illuminate.Sometimes the fear is obvious, but most of the time, you need to look deeper. Fear has a way of clouding your ability to analyze and if you don’t know where to start looking, you probably won’t find where it originates. I’m going to assume for now that your specific fears are still eluding you, so I want to give you a framework for finding them when you approach a new challenge. Fear is usually hanging out in your brain with his favorite pal: worst case scenario. This is typically your biggest fear. There might be other smaller fears hanging around, but we want to start with the most prevalent one first. That being said, I want you to thoroughly define the worst case scenario that is lingering in the back of your mind. Then I want you to work in reverse. What caused the bail you are imagining and how exactly did the event play out? A lot of people would say it is unhelpful to dwell on negative thoughts, but at this stage it is necessary to gain understanding of our deepest fears because they point to our greatest weaknesses. So, what caused this worst case scenario to happen in your mind? Chances are good, it was one of the following culprits….
- Environment: was this fall caused by a slippery, broken or unsteady surface?
- Ability to perform the intended move: Did you lack some understanding of the movement you were trying to perform or lacked the power to make the distance, rotation, etc.?
- Ability to react appropriately if the move isn’t performed as intended: Was the bailout you performed in your mind the appropriate one or could you have done something safer or more practical?
If your fear exists outside of one of these categories, then it is irrational or you can’t control it, so let it go. For example, if you are afraid that a bug might fly into your eye mid-jump, you are wasting your time. Worrying about things you can’t control is not going to help. If the worst case scenario is a bump or bruise, then it is obviously not a huge deal. However, most of the time, this is not the case and we want to avoid them like the plague. We accomplish this by making sure we have addressed each of the above elements.
Environment: Is your fear stemming from a lack of confidence in the surfaces involved? For example, are you thinking something along the lines of, “I’m afraid that I will slip on the take off” or “I’m afraid that rail is going to break or move?” If so, your fear would fall into this category. Almost every big fall or injury I have had has been a product of this component: a slightly slippery wall, a rail that was soldered improperly, an inappropriate fall zone on a gap that I wasn’t sure I could do, etc.. This element is absolutely critical and if overlooked, can result in serious injuries or worse. If you aren’t absolutely sure about your surfaces, especially if you are training at height, forget about the challenge and find something else. If you are interested in learning everything you can about this, I suggest you follow Tyson Cecka‘s work on building and understanding parkour environments. He is, in my opinion, the most knowledgeable on the subject.
“If you are feeling fear, ask yourself, what am I afraid of specifically? If you can’t figure it out, then look into the three categories above.”
Ability to Perform the Intended Move: If you find yourself thinking, “I’m afraid that I won’t make the distance” or “I’m afraid that I will overshoot,” these thoughts are indicating a lack of confidence in your ability to perform the intended move. Note: the ability to safely perform the appropriate bailout in these situations will also improve confidence and safety, but we will address that next. If you are not sure about your ability to perform the intended move, we need to address that concern through practice and progression. I am going to use precisions at height as my example because it is a common fear. (Note: Approaching a brand new movement is an entirely different ballgame and will be addressed in a later article). The precision at height could be a three foot wall if you are a beginner or a rail 20 feet up if you are quite advanced. Use your discretion here.
Over my years of training and coaching, I have noticed that many people prescribe that you practice the jump lower to the ground, but as an exact replica. This is useful for muscle memory, but I prefer another method. Practice a jump that is mentally easier, but physically or technically more challenging. For example, let’s say you are considering a standing precision at a height that scares you on a 6 inch thick wall where the gap is 7 feet. Instead of setting up a gap in the gym or finding a scenario outside that is an exact replica, but lower to the ground, consider practicing the same distance precision, but to something more precise, like a thinner wall or a rail at ground level. Alternatively, consider practicing a further stride (say 8 feet) to a 6” thick wall at ground level. Ideally you could try both of these, which would show that you have more than enough power and more than enough technique to perform the move you are considering at height.If you are incapable of pushing the boundary of either the distance, or the technicality at ground level, then you may want to reconsider your end goal. This is an indicator that you are testing too many boundaries at once. You are at the limit of your physical strength, the limit of your technique and on top of that you are trying to test your mentality. This is a test that I would be hesitant to recommend to even a high level practitioner. The issue in this scenario is that any level of fear or uncertainty could negatively affect your technique or your physical ability when it is already at its limit. This obviously compromises your safety. As a general principle, I try to stay below 90% capacity of my technique and power abilities when I am training at height. This percentage should be lower the less experienced you are. For example, if the most precise thing you have jumped to is an 6 inch thick wall, you probably shouldn’t jump to an 6 inch thick wall at a height that scares you. The same principle applies to power. If my furthest standing jump is 8 feet, I shouldn’t be considering an 8 foot jump at height. 7 feet would be more appropriate. Additionally, the height that you train at should be much lower the less experienced you are.
I will address the topic of training at height in a later article. For now, the take away is this: training at height is primarily a test of mentality. If the movement you are considering at height is not second nature at ground level and comfortably within your power and technique threshold, you shouldn’t be considering it.
Ability to React Appropriately if the Move isn’t Performed as Intended:This brings us to the final uncertainty you might have and it is the most common. Most people are afraid of their inability to react appropriately in the event that things don’t go according to plan. This is a product of a tendency for practitioners to only practice a move as it is intended. Therefore, the only practice of falling happens accidentally in the moment, which may be a rare occurrence. Thus, the practitioner in this scenario can’t expect to be good at falling. The practitioner that takes the time to build technique in the art of falling, is therefore safer and more confident in attempting new challenges. If you are interested in learning more about this concept and how to implement falling practice into your training, be sure to look into Amos Rendao’s work, “Parkour Ukemi”. I will also be talking about this concept on this blog quite a bit and have a slightly different approach, but Amos’ work is an excellent resource.
At this point, you might be thinking, “you just told me fear can be eliminated. Why are you telling me to focus on it so much?” Good catch, bub! Ironically, the path to removing fear from your training starts with hanging out with fear as much as possible and becoming very familiar with what it is trying to tell you. Just as you can eliminate specific fears by defining them and taking appropriate action, you can also begin to remove fear altogether if you understand the typical objections your fear has and address those concerns before fear has a chance to creep in. Show your mind that you are capable of analyzing your environment for potential hazards, knowing your current abilities, and addressing your falling options. At that point, fear no longer serves a purpose in your training.
This is a very basic outline of my approach. I could go into quite a bit more detail with the overall concept and each of those three elements, but this should give you a good starting point. Essentially, fear is a product of uncertainty, which means the presence of fear may be the product of incomplete analysis. If you are feeling fear, ask yourself, what am I afraid of specifically? If you can’t figure it out, then look into the three categories above. Are you uncertain about the environment? Are you uncertain if you can do the move itself? Are you uncertain about your ability to react if you don’t do it exactly as intended? Chances are good, you are not actually prepared for what you are considering because of a lack in one of these three categories. Find the piece that you are uncertain about and do something about it. Don’t just fight through the fear.
This advice might seem obvious to some of you, but I am concerned at the number of people who choose to simply override their fear instead of approaching it logically. Give this method a try. You may find that focusing on these things will temporarily make you more afraid, but if you can learn to assess potential dangers with a level head, it will ultimately make you more confident. It just takes practice. Let me know how this goes in the comments and stay tuned for part three next week. By the way, I am in the process of writing a book on this topic that will go much deeper. If you are interested in that, subscribe to my newsletter HERE for updates!
MYRM Co-Founder and Athlete