Monday, December 4, 2017

Obstacles: Training vs Life

Photo by EON Camerawork

I was asked by a friend: “I saw a post of yours a while ago that was describing some of the personal life obstacles you face, how has this shaped your training or views of parkour/movement?”

I replied immediately by saying: “Right off the bat I can say this will be another interesting thing to walk my mind through. Because those obstacles have probably shaped my training and views, but my views and training have probably also shaped those obstacles. Let me put some more thought into it.”

I suppose first I can say that I was facing obstacles like that well before I had started training. I think if I had not already faced some of the obstacles I had before I started movement, things might have turned out much differently. Back then, I barely did any movement and after high school was over I pretty much never moved... at least not in any organized way. Other than riding my bike to work (which did feel good) or moving around the warehouse there, I was just sitting at home on the computer much of the time. I worked in the warehouse at a Circuit City at the time that I am thinking back to now (2004-2008). Even now though, I can recall the way I moved in that warehouse sometimes and realize I was already kind of mindful of the way I would move. The way I would get/put big TVs off of/onto shelves higher than my shoulder height, sometimes getting things down from a shelf twice that height without using the lift - by splitting my feet across the aisles a-la-Van-Damme (not nearly as far!), pulling the large box out into the void, and then lowering it down safely (to another employee or to the ground, depending on the shelf I was on). I'm getting off track here, this is not answering your question... anyway, I moved, but not with a certain intent or the mindset like I do now.

When I started training it was just something to fill up my free time. What drew me to start with it was seeing an old video on YouTube of someone moving, they moved very gracefully and while I watched that I thought “this is how we should all be able to move… our bodies are all made for it... so why couldn’t I?” To keep this writing shorter, I will just say that it wasn’t until a training experience I had in 2012 that really opened my eyes to what movement could do for me ( ). This is what I meant above when I said things might have turned out much differently. If I hadn’t had some of the obstacles I had before this experience, I very well could have just taken the experience at face value. That is to say - it would have only been a physical challenge for me, something to see what my muscles and body could do. This would have been vastly different.

Once you have an experience like that, many other things begin to pale and become quite trivial in comparison. Meeting new people for potential work opportunities (since late 2011, I have been working for myself and running Parkour Ways) was no longer something that really made me nervous. I knew what I was made of, what I was capable of, and was not afraid to be honest and tell someone when I knew I could not do something they were asking or wanting me to do. This is one of the big things training has taught me that I have been able to apply back to life. It allows me, whenever I need or want, to dig as deep as I am willing at the time to either find who I am now or remind myself of who I have been.

Something I have never really talked about with anyone is the way my mind is constantly jumping around from one thing to the next. I don’t want to say I have attention deficit disorder or something, because I really don’t know, but it is very hard for me to focus sometimes. This is true for simple tasks like while cleaning the house but also for keeping my life in general “on track” with any goals or ambitions I may have. Training the way we do forces you to live in the moment. If you don’t, sometimes you’re screwed! Luckily, I have had absolutely zero serious injuries from training. The worst injuries I have had in my entire life are a broken wrist and a separated acromioclavicular joint, neither of which were from training (the former was from backyard wrestling when I was a teenager and the latter was sustained during stunt work on Divergent, jumping out of the moving train car). So with this in mind, I have shown myself that I can focus and be in the moment, I just have to actually commit to it (or have some reason to!).

When it comes to obstacles such as financial hardship or my home falling apart (because of the financial hardships), I have learned to take those and make them into personal challenges. Personal challenges that, because of the physical training, I go into confidently - knowing that I can and will make it through to the “other end” somehow. In fact, if I’m being completely honest, I think many of the challenges have come about because I have allowed them to. They are my own doing! I get comfortable… too comfortable. I see things starting to fall apart - and I just let them go! When things get to a certain point, it lights that fire in me. It creates that reason for me to focus. I see it as an opportunity to challenge myself. So these types of obstacles are challenges in the same way that jumps can be challenges. I can let a jump make itself known to me (out training at a spot and suddenly see a jump I never saw before), or I can go out and seek a new jump. I can let life’s problems come to me when they will and deal with them promptly. Or, I can actually make problems - or make them more challenging by allowing them to grow - seeking a jump. So you see, I have learned that training can be a separate part of life but life itself can also be training. I go through phases where I’m not training as much or as hard physically because I am training in other ways. Perhaps someday I will say “okay, that’s been enough” and I will stop making these things happen, but for now I still see them as incredible opportunities.

On that thought of “training in other ways”, I’d like to share another way that I like to treat everyday life as training. This is something I have actually been doing for years now. I can only recall having shared it with a class maybe once or twice, and with a teacher at a school I worked with recently. Let me set up a scenario. You’re standing in the checkout line at a store - whether it’s a retail store, grocery store, whatever. The line is taking much longer than you would expect. Maybe you even have somewhere to be and you are getting concerned that this wait will make you late. What will you do?

As any cashier can probably tell you, many people will get visibly impatient or even verbally upset - sometimes to the point of yelling and making a scene. Let’s look at just a few of the opportunities there are in a situation like this! Patience: train your patience. Wait in that line and keep your cool. Not just hiding that you’re upset, but actually getting rid of those feelings that you are upset about this. Anyway, what’s the big deal? Maybe you’ll be a few minutes late to what you have next. Is it that serious? Reflect: maybe you start to get upset and you think it’s about the line you’re in but you’re actually upset with yourself for not giving yourself a good amount of time to stop at this store in the first place. Problem solving: if you really do consider the wait to be a problem - maybe what you have next will be absolutely ruined if you are not on time - how can you solve this problem? There are many ways, I don’t think I need to go through them here! Social anxiety: if you have social anxiety, perhaps you can train that a bit if you discover an opportunity to comment on something to a stranger in line. Phone dependence: can you stand in this line until you’ve finished paying without pulling out your phone? Can you be present? Look around the store, look at people (yeah, in the FACE even!). Empathy and compassion: can you see this situation from the perspective of the cashier? How would you feel if you were at the register, had this long line, and were starting to see, hear, or even just feel that people were starting to get upset? What might you be able to do to help the cashier feel better? A smile, a look that says “wow yeah this guy’s taking forever but I know it’s not your fault and I’m okay with it!”, or even letting them know when it’s your turn that you didn’t mind the wait. There are probably a million other opportunities in these situations, but you see what I’m getting at now. Every… single… moment of our lives is an opportunity of some sort to either learn more about yourself or to actually work toward improving yourself in some way. Just to clear - improving yourself can be completely independent of and separate from improving your situation.

Recently I made a post about how my decision to go vegan was partially a decision based on the mantra “be strong to be useful”. If you’re reading this and rolling your eyes saying “great, this was all an elaborate ploy to try to convince people to go vegan”... shut up! You’re wrong! Do whatever you want! This is just another example of training being applied to my life. In the financial situation I find or put myself into much of the time, I think that I do not always have the means to directly help others. Going vegan was not a personal choice I made for my health. Honestly, I thought I might face some health issues because of it - I was diving into it. I dropped meat cold tofurky (I’ve made a vegan joke!) after watching Cowspiracy one night in the spring of 2015. Learning about the environmental impacts that the typical western diet filled with animal products has, I saw it as an opportunity to use my strengths to be useful to the world. Yes, I still have some ways to improve this (not everything I eat is local), but I’ve started on it. It’s not just about the environment for me either: having put more thought into it and reflecting on my own thoughts and feelings (even from the past when I was eating meat), I now better understand how I feel about the other creatures of the world.
Since I’ve brought up food, another way that I sometimes challenge myself is through the way that I eat. Sometimes I’ll go for hours and hours without eating, sometimes without even noticing, but sometimes choosing to do so because I have a lot going on. Other times, I’ll get more strict with what I’ll eat and when I’ll eat. I’ll make sure that I’m eating well, good quantities. And yet other times I will see how things go if I’ve only eaten junk. There have been plenty of occasions where I’m heading to the city to teach on only a belly of chocolate chip cookies. Let me be very clear here: these are not things I am recommending others should try doing. I am simply sharing some of the things I have been through or put myself through.

Alright, so I’ve written quite a bit here about how training has affected life but I’ve only touched on how life has affected training. I did mention that training itself would have been a different experience altogether if I hadn’t had some of the life obstacles I had before I started training. This is definitely true, and I think we might see it in a lot of new practitioners (meaning beginners, new to the discipline though they might not necessarily be new to or look new to the movements), especially younger ones. I believe many of them see it as that opportunity to improve their situation… and some have completely missed it as that opportunity to improve their self...

I also think that because I have put more of my focus/training into improving myself, I sometimes find it difficult to focus on, work on, or train to improve my situation. I have become quite adaptable - as proven by the various living conditions I have been through and put myself through. If you aren’t familiar with me or some of the obstacles I’ve been through, one great example here is my furnace having stopped working on Christmas day in 2015. I woke up that morning to a very cold house. Upon investigation, the furnace was indeed starting up but would shut off again before actually doing any heating. At the time that this problem presented itself to me, I was also having an issue with my car that ended up being quite costly. I ended up renting a car for a week in order to get my car fixed and still be able to drive to the city to teach. After paying for the rental, I had $70 in the bank (and no money elsewhere). Of course I could not afford to fix the furnace in this situation, so it became one of those challenges I would put myself through. I went the rest of that winter without heat. It was almost always the same temperature inside as it was outside. There were some interesting challenges I wouldn’t have even considered, like what to do if I’m trying to cook something on the stove and the olive oil has completely frozen! Other challenges came about from this experience, like, can I fix the furnace myself? Do I need to hire someone? Given past experiences and knowing my ability to solve problems, I was absolutely sure I could do it myself and save money that way. And I did. However, I waited until the next winter was knocking at my door again. I told myself I might just go again without the heat, but eventually realized how lazy I was being around the house when it was so cold… in other words, I got “comfortable” using the cold as an excuse not to do things. So I did the work, learned about furnaces, ordered the parts, and fixed it myself. This way I turned a “bad” thing into an incredibly positive thing that helped me to improve myself. That’s what it’s about!

Back to my point! When I find myself in those types of situations, I don’t always feel the need to work on physical movement. At least, not to train toward any serious progress. Movement then becomes more of a playful release for me rather than a tool to push myself any harder to grow. I was already pushing myself with the challenge of living in a frozen house. When life is feeling easier or I find myself in a better situation financially (usually short-lived), then I put more focus into the physical part of things.

Of course there are times when these two ways overlap (like the furnace - it improved me but fixing it also improved my situation). There are times where I am training hard and also enduring financial hardship. There are times where I am mostly playing with movement and am quite happy with my financial situation. I kind of just… let it happen the way it happens. I am experiencing life, rather than trying to craft one so much… and I definitely don’t care very much to craft the type of life that society seems to want us to have.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Vegan? But why?

Disclaimer: this is not an attempt to persuade anyone. This was originally a response to someone in a conversation on Facebook. Hence it's lack of structure!
Obviously if people have no other choice but to consume animals, they will make that choice. But in most places and for so many people nowadays, that is not a necessity. It is only what they've been or become accustomed to. When I realized more recently in my adult life what choice it's been, that I've been making, I could no longer make the same choice I had been making until the age of 29. Veganism is not something only accessible to wealthy people. It's not [always] something that is handed to you because your life is easy...
My house has always been quite filthy to most peoples' standards to be honest, from when I was growing up and even now. Mold, dust, leaky basement, leaky roof, leaky pipes... I have not had a working oven since I think 2013. *Every* year I come close to losing my house because I can barely afford to pay the taxes. In 2014 when I had Laurent Piemontesi (one of the founders of Art du Déplacement, for those of my friends that don't know this name) stay with me it would rain in my living room all the way into the basement because my roof fell apart and had a hole in it. That hole had been there for over a year in total and grew larger and larger until I finally had some money to get the roof fixed in the summer of 2015. I woke up Christmas day in 2015 to discover that my furnace had stopped working...a wonderful holiday gift from the universe. I had to spend that winter with no heat (and part of the next winter) because I had $70 to my name at the time after having some bad car trouble that cost me almost every dollar I had. It was 0 degrees outside and 1 degree in my living room on one of the colder days. My refrigerator does not work fully in warmer months, sometimes it won't keep anything frozen. My car is having so many problems I've lost count lately. For a bit of time in 2010 I had to eat a lot of plain white rice because I couldn't afford groceries. I have student loan debt of over $13,000 still from 2007. I have a credit card company trying to sue me and garnishing some of my wages for another old debt. I haven't had any healthcare since my mom lost her good job when I was 16 (I'm almost 32 now, and she's since died of cancer in 2010). Right this moment I have a total of $310 to my name and that's before most of my bills come in the next week. My business has been suffering this year and I am struggling to make ends meet. I don't choose to be vegan because I'm some silver spoon wielding man-child who is served everything (for international readers: in case it has had any effect on your assumptions, I am nothing like our president and do not agree with anything he has been doing). I choose it because it makes sense to me with my (rather newly found, it's been 2.5 years) deeper thought into myself and what I really feel about these animals. I choose it because it is one way I can "be strong to be useful" for the animals (and the environment so - the whole world), when I can't always "be strong to be useful" for my fellow humans surrounding me because of my financial situations.
This is not a cry for help from me - I just want people to understand that veganism isn't always some snooty, lavish, rich-person-who-posts-vacation-food-photos-on-their-(seemingly)-perfect-life-instagram lifestyle. It's not always easy and I don't at all expect it to be.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Where It Started

Kurt completing a running cat leap, with Benoit below ready to spot. Photo by Andy Day.

I feel like I was always just kind of floating through my life. When I was much younger my mom had a good job working at Chase downtown for over 30 years. It was her first actual job, so it was all she knew. We (my brother and I) used to get everything that we wanted. We never really got to go on vacations because she was always working, but we always got toys, video games, movies, whatever. We had a lot of stuff. In 2001, Chase laid her off 3 days after Christmas. She was always the kind of person to worry, so she kind of freaked out and it was really hard for her. That alone affected me, but we also were "poor" all of a sudden. We couldn't get anything. I remember my mom telling me from the bottom of the stairs one day shortly after she was let go that we might have to take showers every other day in order to save on the water bill. It hit me hard, and I had no idea what was going to happen. I wanted to cry when she told me that because it was clear she had no idea what to do.

I still consider that point in my life, when my mom lost that job, to be the turning point in my life. That one change in our lives was this powerfully crucial moment that set off a chain reaction, bringing me to where I am now. Once we didn't have money, I started to think more. I started to live more - to find ways of getting by that weren't reliant on material possessions. I played outside as a small child but still always had toys and video games came quite early. So this felt new to me. I wasn't floating through it all anymore. I was more aware of things… more aware of the life going on around me.

Right out of high school I went to work in retail because we couldn't afford to send me to school. We couldn't get financial aid because of the money in my mom's IRA account (which she was saving to live off of for however long she needed to - which ended up being the rest of her life), and I had no way to get to a school anyway (I didn't get a license and a car until 2008). To be honest, I also just had no idea what I wanted to do and because of the way my life had been going, I felt really lost. I had no hope, and I felt that I would just lead a simple life working whatever little jobs I could land to scrape by.

I grew up being told that I was special and I believed it... until I finished high school. I didn't even go to my graduation because we couldn't afford the cap and gown. One of the gym teachers offered to pay for it, but I didn't like the feeling of being the poor kid that someone felt bad for. I honestly wasn't excited to graduate because I had no idea where my life would go from there. On the last day of school, I was walking down the mostly-empty halls and realized how many people I would probably never see or hear from again. People that were friends or acquaintances; those kids that I grew up with my whole life (I've always lived in the town that I'm still in today). There was no ceremony, no goodbyes for me. It was an abrupt end to almost all of those relationships I had had. It was overwhelming. I felt even more lost, and extremely alone. I came back a few days later to pick up my diploma. The halls were still empty. I wondered how long it would take for me to forget what the inside of that school looked like. I stepped out of the doors and was met with a crushing sensation that my life now had no direction.. I had no idea who I was or who I wanted to be. I had no idea who would be there with me or for me. Or if anyone would be.

Ever since those harder teenage years, I had felt like I was alone and that I would always be alone. That I would continue to pass through my life without a feeling of any purpose. That people would come and go throughout my life, but never stay. My dad told my mom he wanted a divorce when I was 7 and, soon after, he left the house. I would see him on some weekends, but he was never really there for me - even before he left. I think my memories of that - the notion that someone who could have been or should have been so important in my life could so easily neglect me and walk away - always stuck around and left me in fear of losing everyone in my life. I thought that for some reason I wasn't good enough or that I would never be important to anyone. Leaving high school so unceremoniously was like a loud reverberation of this.

Fast forward. I have been out of high school for 5 years already. During that time, my mom still hadn't found a good job to replace the one she had at Chase. She was now working at Target as a cashier to supplement the money she'd withdraw annually from the IRA account. She was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and had been told by her doctor initially that she had 6 months to live. I have a lot of haunting and heartbreaking memories from her fight against it. I vividly remember lying in bed asleep one night, waking up to her screaming from the other room. She had been sleeping on the couch instead of her bed for a while; I'm not sure why and I never asked. It was clear to me that she had been lying there awake, probably for hours, thinking about how she was told she has only months to live. She was crying out at the top of her lungs, "I don't want to die". She fought. She went through chemo treatment, had surgery, wore a wig... I remember her crying to me that one of the most disappointing things for her was that she'd lose her hair. She had some good days and bad days. She was still working at Target.

By 2009 I had been working at Circuit City for over 4 years and was still living at home with my mom. The company was going under and closing stores. My store started liquidating in late 2008 and once again I was lost and confused, losing relationships with many people I had known for months or years. My mom helped me get a job at the Target where she worked, in the electronics department. It was nice to see her once in a while at work - that was the first time I started to see my mom interacting with people as this separate person... not just as my mom.

I started getting into Parkour in 2008, but didn’t really start training regularly until 2009. I remember I was editing some really simple video footage I had shot of myself trying to get up a wall when my mom entered the room. She was curious what it was that I was doing in the video. I tried to explain it to her, I have no idea what I told her (I probably had a terrible understanding of what I was doing back then anyway) but I’m sure, her being the worrier that she was, that she didn’t like it.

In 2010 she was having a harder time again and made the decision to stop getting treatment.  She was in the hospital for days. I was working in the electronics area and one of my co-workers came to me with the phone and said "it's for you, it sounds important". I actually have a hard time remembering what happened next. I can't even recall who it was that called me, my brother, an aunt, or my sister... I don't know. They told me that my mom wasn't doing well and that I should head to the hospital right away. I was immediately shaken up and searched for my manager. My managers knew my mom too, of course. I told the manager that I needed to leave to go see my mom. He said okay and I left. I don't remember the drive. I'm pretty sure it was rainy, but I don't remember getting to my car or any of the actual driving to get to the hospital. I don't remember entering the hospital or getting up to her room's floor either. I got to the room in time to see her, but just as the family member on the phone told me, she was not doing well at all. I walked into the room and saw her lying there on the hospital bed, struggling to breathe, gasping strongly but at a slow rhythm. Many of my family members were in the room already. I had been in denial about all of this for years - her fight, the fact that she might not win it, the fact that I would lose this person that had really been the only constant in my whole life. It was my mom. She was permanent. She could never die. Now it was real and undeniable. There she was, eyes closed and clearly taking what would be her last breaths.

She was trying to speak. She was calling out our names (her three kids). She wanted to know that we were there with her. Her breaths got harder and harder, and then they stopped. I felt that she was still fighting. Just a week or so before, she was still at Target working at the register. I realized how strong she was to endure everything I saw her go through. They told her 6 months, and she fought through 4 years.

Once she died, I was terrified. Again I was lost, confused, uncertain about my future... we thought that we might lose the house, I didn't know where I'd go or what I'd do or how I was going to get past this time in my life. I felt so alone, maybe the most alone I’d ever felt. My family were there at the hospital but I still felt this way. I left and called someone that was once a close friend - I don't know why I called that person, but I didn't know what else to do. I spoke to her on the phone for a few minutes while crying outside of the hospital in the parking lot. I went back into the hospital, but I didn't really want to stay. I left and drove back to Target to let them know what happened since she was an employee there too. Again, I don't remember going to the car or the drive. I do remember walking into the store. I saw one of my other managers who was always very nice to me. She saw the look on my face, I told her that my mom just died and she walked me to an office in the back room to talk. I started balling again in that office. She was super nice and was trying to help me calm down. I don't really remember how that conversation ended. I don't remember leaving the store, and I have no recollection of where I went or what I did afterwards. It's all incredibly blurry, many missing pieces, like a dream fading away minutes after you wake up.

Fast forward once more. It’s 2012, I’ve been training Parkour regularly for a few years now and had completed the ADAPT Level 1 coaching certification in 2011. It’s summer time, hot as hell in Columbus, Ohio. I’m at an event called American Rendezvous - an annual event put on by Parkour Generations (and Parkour Horizons, back then) that included some of the Yamakasi in the line-up of coaches. The weekend was brutal but I was enjoying it. Then came an optional portion of the weekend - night training on Saturday night. It was scheduled to be two hours long and for some reason, I was under the impression that it was just going to be open training with everyone. I was wrong.

The coaches began to split everyone up into groups. I was put into the advanced group with Tomas again (I had been put into the advanced group for the entire day). We started with a run across a field and then quickly made our way up all three stories of the outside of the staircase of an apartment building. We ran across the upper balcony, made our way down the stairs and continued to run. I don’t remember all the bits in between the more memorable moments. The next thing I remember is coming to another staircase, this one going down. Tomas made a running precision jump from the top landing of the staircase down to the concrete wall of the 2nd landing. He wanted us all to do it. It was quite big for me back then, so I was one of the last guys to go at it. One guy before me fell forward after his feet landed on the wall - which wasn’t good. The wall we were landing on stood about 10 feet off the ground on the other side. Luckily, he broke his fall on someone else that was already down there, so he wasn’t too badly hurt. It was my turn to do the jump. A Yamakasi coach named Benoit was there spotting people at the landing on that wall. Looking at it, I was pretty sure I could make the jump from standing, though it was probably right around my max distance. I was more comfortable with that than running at it though. I stood there and assessed myself and the jump for a while, and finally made my move. I made the jump, got my feet on the wall and even felt pretty good about not falling forward or slipping off. Benoit grabbed me after I landed just to make sure. I was fine there, but I definitely appreciated his spotting!

Next, I remember we ran our way across the enormous parking lot of some kind of mall. I wasn’t much into running (ever), and I was already really having a hard time breathing from all the running we were doing. I ended up at the back of the pack with one other guy and Benoit. He stayed back there with us to make sure we didn’t lose the group, or maybe to make sure that we were okay to go on. He continued to encourage us not to stop, not to give up. We caught up to the group at another staircase, this one was part of a bridge. We ran up and down the stairs several times. On the way down, it was a ramp of concrete. On the way up, we ran up the stairs. We then made our way underneath the bridge to the staircase on the other side. We did more running up and down the stairs.

After we left the stairs, I don’t remember where we headed. I know there was a lot more running. The next part that I can recall was running down an asphalt path, like a bike path, not far from the water. We were behind from the group again, but we saw Tomas stop up ahead and he started to talk to the group. We couldn’t hear what he was saying at all, but all of a sudden the group sprinted away in different directions and tried to hide out of Tomas’ view. We were still making our way to him as he was counting down from 10, but we didn’t quite know what was going on. He finished counting, looked around, and counted up the guys that he could see (we were included). Then it became clear that he had told the group that we would do 10 pushups for each person he spotted. He saw 7 of us. So, completely out of breath, I attempted to complete the 70 pushups with the rest of the group. I don’t know how many I completed, but I am certain it was not 70. We did 10 at a time, but there was barely any break in between the sets. When we were finished with those, Tomas got back up and said we’d go again. He started counting down and we all ran away. I ran as fast as I could, I was NOT going to be one of the people to cause added pushups. I dove into the trees, long grass, and bushes that lined the river we had been following while we were running. I didn’t even know how close the water was or what I’d be landing on. I didn’t even care. I just jumped in as fast as I could. I was wearing a hair band for my then-longer hair. It got caught on a branch when I jumped in and I couldn’t find it. We ended up having more pushups in that second round, though I don’t remember how many it was. I want to say it was around 50.

We continued running. The next scene I remember was a dirt path through a small wooded area. Those white fuzzy cottonwood seeds were floating all around us. I felt like I was inhaling them, making it even harder to breathe. Benoit was still with us (those same two guys in the back, myself and one other). We caught up to the group again (this run was a little shorter) at a small bridge. We were to climb up the side of the bridge and then traverse down the outside of it in a cat hang until we reached the other end. From there, we climbed up and over the rail of the bridge we had been hanging on and met the rest of the group who were all bouncing in a squatting position together. We got down and bounced with them, quads on fire. We were facing down another long asphalt path when Tomas began to explain that we would be crawling to the end of it in standard quadrupedal movement, opposite hand and foot stepping together. The group started making their way down the path, pretty much in a single file line. I was at the back still and I was exhausted but I remember, at least for a little while, feeling better about this than I did about more running. I watched as the front of the group got to the end of the path (I don’t even know how long it was, but it was long). They rounded a wooden post that stood in the grass at the end of the path, and then turned themselves around and continued crawling backwards to head back. I couldn’t believe it. I thought for sure that this one time down the long path was the end of our session. Even so, when I got to the wooden post, I did what everyone else did. I got myself turned around and started crawling. It was fucking hard.

I finally made it back to the beginning, where everyone was once again waiting in a squat and bouncing. I joined them, again. Quads on fire times two.

Tomas started the next challenge. We were heading down the path again. This time, it was with ground kongs. From a squat, reach forward with two hands and place them on the ground. Then push with the legs and pull your body forward with the arms, bringing the feet to just behind the hands (held closely together, where they would fit in between the arms if they went far enough forward). Once more, I watched as the front of the line rounded the wooden post at the end of the path, turned themselves around, and then made their way back the opposite way: reach to the ground with your hands just next to your feet, then a hop of the legs combined with a push of the arms to pop yourself backwards. Push with the arms to get your hands off of the ground and get your weight back onto your feet. I was absolutely exhausted already, having to take very few steps at a time as I was still moving forward. After making it around the wood post, I got down to start my way backwards. I remember that by this time Tomas was already finished, and was now standing off the side of the path and walking next to me, watching as I took just one step at a time.

It was this moment that I broke. Tears started to form in my eyes. All of my muscles were burning. I had had no water this entire time and had been running more than I ever did at any one time in my life. Here was Tomas, standing nearby and watching me go through this. All of this pain came up. It wasn’t just physically hard anymore, it was emotionally hard. It was mentally hard. “Why am I doing this? Why am I here? Why is he making me do this? Why don’t I just give up?”

Remember mom. Remember how strong she was. Remember what she endured. Remember how she fought up until that last moment. Remember how hard she worked her entire life to give you the things you had and have. Remember how she would put others ahead of herself. Remember how strong she was.

This was the hardest thing I had ever put myself through. Here I was, alone as always. Struggling. Fighting. Hurting immensely. But this was nothing compared to what my mom endured. I was in denial that whole time while she was slowly dying. I ignored her. I didn’t know how to talk to her about it. I didn’t want to face that challenge. I couldn’t handle it, I couldn’t see her going through what she was going through. Those last days she spent in the hospital, I avoided visiting her because of this. I was selfish. Here was this amazingly strong woman who spent her entire life trying to provide for me, for us, for everyone she could… she needed me, and I wasn’t there. I was never there. I didn’t help. If I had made an effort, if I had faced that challenge, maybe I could have helped her turn her health around. She was still eating poorly. She didn’t exercise. She was always lonely. Depressed. Hurt. Betrayed. She was me before I found myself in movement. I was not a good son.

I was crying, still pushing myself one step at a time down that never-ending path. Tomas recognized how hard it had gotten for me to keep going. He got down next to me and said “come on, follow me, five steps at a time.” I told him I could barely do one at a time. He insisted that I try. I pushed as hard as I could. Sometimes I would get the five steps, sometimes I wouldn’t. But I was getting to the end. Remember how strong she was.

I got to the other end of the path. I was the last one. Tomas finished the rest of the path with me - it was most of the path. We ran as a group once more, this time to meet up with all of the other groups in a tennis court to cool down and stretch. I still wasn’t able to get water until the stretching was over. We had gone for more than two hours, because when we got to the tennis courts the rest of the groups were already there and already going through the stretches being led.

I will never forget this session. I learned so much about myself and who I am. I learned who I can be and who I want to be. What I want to do for myself, but more importantly what I want to do for others. I want to be there. I want to help. I want to show people their strength. I want to love and not be afraid to care.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Water is Life: Recap of Our Visit to Standing Rock

First of all, I want to give humongous thanks to everyone that donated supplies for us to take! We ended up with so much that we did in fact have to leave some behind. We will be shipping those items to the camp or possibly bringing them on a second trip (scroll all the way to the bottom for information on that if you're interested).

I won't be writing up a super long post about my personal experience at Standing Rock this past week and how it made me feel. If anyone is interested in hearing about those stories, I welcome anyone to strike up a conversation about it with me (but not here in the comments, either).

What I *do* want to post is just a quick bit of what was there, how we were able to contribute, and some other information that was shared with us while we were there. If you are only interested in how you can help without actually going - scroll to the bottom where I will post NEW links to help the camp that we actually stayed with (it was not the Sacred Stone Camp that I had been posting links to before we went). The camp we stayed at is called Oceti Sakowin.

Everything we'd need to stay there for an extended time was there and it was very welcoming. Everything was free and shared, and they let you know right away that you can stay where you like for as long as you like and that you can take whatever you need. They just ask that you try to give more than you take (I also later learned that this is one of the Lakota values, generosity). So, if you are considering going, you really should plan to be as self-sufficient as possible.

Here's what we saw there:

There are donation tents right near the entrance to the camp. It's quick and easy to unload your donations when you get there.

A sizable area with coats, sweaters, pants, shoes/boots, gloves, hats, scarves, sleeping bags, and blankets organized into separate areas. Coats were all on hangers and displayed almost like it were a store in a tent. We took some blankets for our tent because we didn't have any and didn't realize how cold it would get at night. I grabbed a vest to help keep me a bit warmer as I didn't bring a coat with me. There weren't many sleeping bags, so I'd guess that is something they are hoping to get more donations for.

Another sizable area. Similar to the clothing area - though I didn't step into this area because I had plenty of foods that I brought - I presume that all kinds of foods were available. I know they had canned goods, produce, etc. They also have kitchens in different areas, one of which we helped to move a donated stove into.

It is available and they have their own truck to filter their own water! Where we ended up camping, there were two enormous jugs of water that we saw people use all day long. They were so large we didn't see them have to refill them at all for the entire duration of our stay.

There were people chopping wood all day in a few places, one which was designated as wood for their sacred fire (it's been burning 24/7 since this #NoDAPL movement was started). One of the other firewood spaces was in the Oglala camp, which Gerardo ended up in for a good hour or so to help chopping wood. People drove around the camp to help distribute the firewood to people, including us.

This space had about 5 or 6 tents, and although we had no need to make use of any of it during our stay, their website says: "We have a Medics Camp to provide basic health care & an emergency response team with trained medical professionals". There was also a sign that said they have wellness counseling services. Gerardo, Angie, and Jessy all seemed to love the tea that they had at a station out in front of this area (I didn't have any because it had marshmallow in it, which is not vegan). Water was also available here.

There is a large hill in what I would consider the front of the camp (near the more prominent entrance) upon which they've installed quite a bit of solar equipment. You can charge your phones or other devices and there is a WIFI connection, though I was told that they are recommending that people don't use it because your devices could get hacked (I assume they meant by the police/military out there). Anyone who will be shooting photo or video for an organization is supposed to check in at the media area and obtain a media pass. Speaking of cameras, there are certain things that are not allowed to be photographed/recorded; if you plan on bringing a camera, it's probably a good idea to look into or ask about the guidelines (more info here

LGBTQ community
The Standing Rock Two Spirit Camp is a place for LGBTQ persons to gather and communicate. I did not interact with the community as I'm not LGBTQ (not that I *can't* communicate because of, I just didn't happen to), but I'm sure this would serve as a valuable community for any person who is.

The big white dome seemed to be the place for meetings: orientations, trainings, etc. were scheduled on a daily basis. We didn't make it to an orientation; our first day we arrived too late for it and on Tuesday I was the only one that woke up early enough for it but didn't want to go alone. It probably would have been super helpful to get to know the resources available to us and also where to go to help volunteer.

The fire is going 24/7, as I said above. They have prayers every morning and night. There is a man on a microphone who makes announcements for: people that are looking for or offering rides to the nearby towns (and not-so-nearby towns... some were going to Wisconsin, New Mexico, etc.), people who have court dates for having been arrested during frontline operations, other general announcements, and he cracks some silly jokes throughout the day. Water, tea, and coffee could also be found here near the fire area.

Yes, they have a security team with radios and they say that they are trained. You pass through their security team on your way in or out. They are very friendly people.

This is where you go to sign up for legal protection in case you go to a frontline operation and get arrested. They use donated funds to help bail out the frontline water protectors and cover any legal fees for court dates.

The signs in front and around the camp notify all that the camp is ALCOHOL/DRUG free. No alcohol or drugs are allowed in the entire camp.

No weapons of any kind are allowed.

These are non-violent camps. They are about peace and prayer. They call themselves water protectors, not protesters. They do not antagonize the police and they do not promote or accept violence. There are daily trainings for new protectors at 2pm and you are required to attend a training before going out for any frontline operations.

You are welcomed to help out in just about any way that you can! When we went in search for things to help with, we were told that day that they needed people in one of the kitchens to help wash dishes or help with construction work that was going on in the Oglala camp area. This is what we ended up doing: helped unload wood from trucks, duct-taped parts of a tent together to get it ready for a wood floor, chopped firewood, helped move framing into a tent for them to start building a floor, unloaded large bags of clothing and helped stuff this excess clothing into the framing to serve as insulation under the floor, and then helped move a small old stove out of the Oglala kitchen and move a full size donated oven into the kitchen. After these things we went on a prayer walk with what ended up being probably around 900 people.

Yes, they have them. There are plenty of port-a-potties all around the camp. If you don't like those, there is a casino some miles down the road (about a 7 minute drive I'd say) that has very clean bathrooms. There were showers at a marina further down that same road - but they closed them up the first night we were there because of the cold temperatures (they're closed for the winter). I just read on their website that they have access to showers at the Cannon Ball Community Center (this super small town is even closer than the casino) from 9a - 2p every day. We just didn't shower because the marina ones were closed and they hadn't gotten access to the community center yet as far as I know. It wasn't so bad :P

There were a lot of people who had their dogs with them. :)

They have a school for children that meets home school education standards.

The camp we were in was "Oceti Sakowin" (which means Seven Council Fires). You can donate to them directly via paypal:
You can also donate supplies, here is the supply list for this camp:

They ABSOLUTELY need PEOPLE to go and help! There is a lot they are trying to do to get ready for the winter (which is pretty much already there now). The overall feel at the camp is very safe. The police can be seen on the hills all day and they are flying planes and helicopters over all day every day, but if you don't sign up for the direct action frontline operations, you should be quite safe.

We've started a new movement called Strong&Useful that is currently focused on helping #NoDAPL. Please see the new section of our website for more background information on the cause and on how you can help.

Friday, October 21, 2016


H to the 2-OH!

About how much water do you drink each day? Do you know? You need water to live - not sodas, energy drinks, "sports" drinks, or coffee.

I've been refilling these Starkey Spring Water glass bottles with my filtered tap water to take with me on the go lately and I'm keeping track of how much I drink each day. I'm not keeping a log of any sort, I'm just making a mental note of how much I'm drinking.

How's it going for me? Well, I can definitely say that I haven't been drinking this much water since about 6 years ago. Water was never really something that I wanted. It always felt like a chore to drink it. I grew up on sodas and juices and would hardly ever have a glass of water with a meal (I mean, I literally have no memory of ever having a glass of water with a meal when I was younger!).

Years ago when I started training Parkour, I made the decision to stop drinking soda so much. At first I just cut back a lot on it, and then I completely stopped drinking it. I remember feeling good about that decision! But then... somehow... I got hooked on coffee. It doesn't help to work at a Target that has a Starbucks in it. I was slamming 2-4 mochas on most of my work days. I'd be jittery and shaky but just ignore it because of all the "energy" I felt like it was giving me. At least back then I was drinking quite a bit of water, too.

Fast forward to present day - for many, many moons now I have been drinking cans of sparkling Yerba Mate teas, juices, non-mainstream sodas (because "if it's not Coke or Pepsi, it's not bad for me", right? Wrong...), almond milk drinks, coffees, smoothies - just about anything other than straight-up water. Well I had enough of it and finally put my money where my mind has been for at least several months now. I dropped caffeine all together and started drinking water all day. I'm a little over 1 week into this journey of flooding my body with the goodness of mother nature's original delicious liquid. The best part? I haven't had any headaches, I've been sleeping well, and I actually have more energy now than I did when I was saturating my body with caffeine and sugar.

This is a decision I am wholeheartedly happy with and plan to stick with for as long as I possibly can and I don't feel any temptation to go back to the drinks of yesterweek (made that word up, you can use it, it'll make you cool).

So why am I sharing this with you all anyway? The decision to drink water came from a yearning to put my training to work in another way. I like challenging myself and I like testing out my discipline occasionally. Caffeine (and sugar) are known to be an addictive substance that many Americans are consuming at alarming rates on a daily basis. We know there are health problems that arise from that over-consumption, so why do we keep choosing it? 

Me? I have the excuse that "I was raised on it". That wasn't enough for me anymore. I'm an adult, I know it's not good for me, and I am finally doing something about it and taking responsibility for the bad decisions I've been making. Honesty is a value of art du déplacement - and if you can't be honest with yourself, how are you going to get anything done? How would you make any change to be the person that you want to be?

If you don't know how much water you're drinking each day, do you really know whether you're getting enough of it?!

So... where's your agua?

Read about Street Movement's (Denmark) "Drik Vand" (Drink Water) campaign with an abundance of glorious reasons for everyone to switch to water - including how it ties into Parkour/ADD and how it can improve the public's general perception of our discipline. Make sure you watch their awesome video there also!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Is Parkour for You?

"Parkour is for anyone, but not for everyone." I've been saying this for a few years now and it's entirely true. Still wondering if Parkour is for you? There's one simple question to ask in order to figure it out:

Do you want to improve?

If you answered yes to that, then Parkour training has an abundance of benefits to offer you. Maybe your aim is to get into better shape, to lose weight or to gain strength... but you want to have fun while doing it. Perhaps you want to move more efficiently or more safely? Do you want to finally find a true method of "functional fitness"? Would you like to have a stronger mind and a better understanding of yourself and what you are capable of? Do you want to face your fears with confidence and a clear mind? Want to improve your coordination and balance? Care to improve your creativity, your problem solving, or your reaction time? Parkour can do all of this for you.

What most people don't realize is that Parkour is not just moving around, and it is certainly not just about learning cool tricks or attempting dangerous stunts. Parkour is actually a mentality, a mindset, a way to go about your daily life and your physical training - no matter what it is that you're training your body or mind to do.

Want to get involved? Getting started in our classes is fairly simple:

  1. Create an account.
  2. Find a Class and sign up or request private training.
  3. Show up and train!

Yes, it's that easy! So, what's keeping you from trying it out? Maybe it's the cost? This should help: we're offering your first class for $10 right now for a limited time.

If that's not enough to help you out, we also offer discounts for financial hardships. Shoot us an email to ask about this type of discount. Tell us your story and we'll do what we can to help out!

You've signed up - now what?

You're coming to the classes, now become part of the community!

  1. Join our Facebook group.
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  3. Follow us on other social media channels! We're on FacebookYouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr.

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