A while ago I started going to a boxing gym. I’m not the most aggressive person in the world (or the state of New York, or even my house for that matter) but I’d started to feel like I was losing my edge, getting a little soft. I needed to go somewhere I could push myself until I became a sloppy, sweaty, semi-gelatinous mess spread out on the floor. I guess my brain decided the right place for that was a boxing gym.
It was a tiny gym nestled between a Chinese supermarket and auto shop in Queens, totally unassuming…just a yellow banner with the name of the club and a few posters for upcoming fights taped to the window. You wouldn’t have known from walking by that there were Golden Gloves champs that trained there, or that the owner was one of the most respected boxing coaches in New York. The glass door and windows were fogged up - body heat inside butting heads with the subzero temperatures. I opened the door on my first day not knowing what to expect.
There were two guys sparring in the ring, another one shadowboxing in the corner. Someone was jumping rope next to me and I could hear a speed bag pounding away downstairs. One of the coaches came up to me, showed me how to wrap my hands, how to stand, how to throw a jab, then he put me to work. There were no clocks...you worked until you heard the bell. You’d rest and when the buzzer sounded, you had ten seconds before the next bell rang and you were back to work. After 20 minutes I couldn’t lift my arms. Five minutes after that, my legs were cooked. Ten minutes later, the workout started and by the end of the session I was every bit the semi-gelatinous puddle of human Jell-O that I’d wanted to be.
As I slowly unwrapped my hands (surely they hadn’t taken thirty minutes to wrap in the first place?!) and wobbled my way toward the door, a sign caught my eye.
No photos or videos allowed inside! You are here to work...anyone caught posting pictures or video on social media is OUT!
I smiled...there was definitely a part of me that had wanted to take out my phone and post something to Snapchat or Instagram, to say “Look at me! Look how hard I just worked!” So much of our life these days is built around social media and sharing every accomplishment. The sign was a reminder that that part of my life had no place there. The gym wasn’t for looking good, it wasn’t for getting recognition or being “social” or having fun...it was for training. It was a temple, dedicated to the dying art of hard work.
There are plenty of places in today’s world where “hard work” is a dirty word. Look around any high school or college campus and you’ll find some students showing you what I mean...heck, I was one of them. Our society places value on results, and getting those results in the most efficient way we can. This mindset is responsible for amazing breakthroughs in science, math, and technology, but it comes with a price. When you value the end product above all else, your appreciation for the process suffers.
Parkour is a funny thing in that for many of us, all it is is the process. Parkour is a study in preparation - its value lies almost exclusively outside of its “results.” In this way, it goes against the grain of social norms. It’s training, and when someone asks you “Training for what?” there’s no perfect answer. Some might say “life,” or “everything,” others might say “to be ready.” It’s the process, the grind, the preparation, the hard work. That was what I loved most about parkour when I first started, and what still keeps me motivated to train every day I can. This train-till-you-drop mindset is also the thing that seems to be slipping away from us.
It’s been happening for years. We’ve had plenty of warnings. Blane’s Dilution in 2007. His Call to Arms post in 2012. There have been hundreds of Facebook posts, forum threads, and videos addressing it. But we forget. We get absorbed in the results - the “how far can I jump?” - and forget the process. We tell ourselves, “What’s the point in drilling a simple standing precision 100 times? It won’t make my jump any bigger!” or “I won’t get any good clips out in the rain, so why go out today?”
I’ve been guilty of it. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially since for so many of us our day-to-day lives revolve around minimizing the process and maximizing the result. But we have to remember to slow down, especially in our training. So start off simple and spend some time consciously training at the altar of hard work. In case you’re like me, and forget how from time to time, here are some good places to start:
1. Ditch The Camera
Video can be a great tool for examining your technique, staying motivated, and sharing your progress with friends. It can also turn traceurs into attention-seekers and “social media” athletes. Take a week every month to just train. Leave your camera and phone at home, grab a few friends, and break some jumps. I needed a sign at a boxing gym to remind me, so take this blog post as your reminder!
2. Go Back To The Basics
Try to stick a precision 100 times in a row. Balance on a rail for 10 minutes. Traverse until your arms fall off. Try and QM 400 meters without stopping. Will it make you “better” at parkour? No, probably not...but you’ll become better at enjoying the process, even when the results are failure and pain. And that’s not such a bad skill to have.
3. Train Your Old School Spots
When I was in high school I remember pushing myself to failure during training on a regular basis. In many ways, I was more dedicated, strong-willed, and passionate about training back then. Whether this is some twisted form of nostalgia or what actually happened doesn’t matter; what matters is these memories have gotten me to go back to my “old school” spots and push like I’d just started parkour again. In a great 2007 blog post, Thomas Couetdic writes, “...there was in Lisses a taste for very hard work.” Certain spots have an air about them - you go there knowing you’ll end up in a pool of sweat on the floor. Find those spots and cherish them. Bring them flowers and visit them often and treat them the way you treated your first girlfriend. Just don’t forget them.
4. Build A Community
If you want to work hard, you’re not alone. Find people, bring them together, and build a community of strong-minded individuals. King Solomon was on to something when he said “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Having a group of dedicated people will help hold you accountable, and push you beyond where you could go on your own.
5. Learn From Your Weakness
Go climb, or box, or take a Crossfit class. Do something you’re bad at. To get stronger, most of us need to be reminded of our weakness. I like to have my nose rubbed in it on a regular basis! Find things that make you feel weak and let them motivate you to get stronger. Allow yourself to be inspired. Read Bruce Lee. Watch old training videos. Avoid complacency and satisfaction like the plague!
When I walked into that boxing gym, I didn’t know what I was looking for. It took me three or four weeks of sweat, bruises, and soreness before I realized...I’d been looking for something to wake me up. To kick me out of my comfortable routine of jumps and progression and filming and hanging out with friends. Training there - a gym with no clock, no cameras, and no excuses - brought me back to my earliest days in parkour. It forced me to confront the fact that I’d started to lose my taste for hard work. I’d lost sight of the fact that not every challenge in parkour is designed to make you more controlled, or increase your kong precision. Sometimes, it’s about getting dirty and pushing until you can’t push anymore, then crawling in the dirt, then collapsing and wishing you’d never been born. All because you wanted to see what would happen.
Parkour has never been about the results. It isn’t about how far you can jump or how many followers you have on Instagram. It’s about you, and your journey. It’s about the process. It’s about taking pleasure in the hard work, not avoiding it. Some day, some of us may drop out of training. Some of us may lose the fire, or find it kindled by something else, and move on. Some of us may train until we’re wearing sweats over our Depends, and we’ll get to see what seventy years of parkour training does to the human body. But between now and then lies the process, the training, and the hard work. So let’s learn to make the most of it.
Max Henry is a traceur and instructor in New York City. His book "The Parkour Roadmap", provides an in-depth and entertaining investigation into Parkour history, culture, and technique. The book will be available on Amazon and KnowObstacles.com on May 2, 2017.