Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Keep Calm and...

So here's my day real quick: woke up two hours after my alarm was supposed to wake me (because I'm a beast at sleeping, not because I'm bad at waking up...), rushed to get ready and leave the house. Stepped outside to see that it snowed again and was still snowing, so I had to brush off my car and I knew traffic was going to take forever. I didn't want to be late to the school workshops today, but I still wanted to go to the gym to dismantle equipment and pack it into my car before I headed over there. The GPS was saying I'd make it... so I took the risk.

I went to the gym, dismantled all the metal rails and put them in the car. Next I picked up one of the smaller vault boxes and carried it down the stairs and was headed out the door with it. I was holding the box up with one arm and pushing the door open with the other. I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my left hand. I looked over at my hand immediately, and realized there was a BEE on my palm. It had stung me. I yelled out a nice word in pain (use your imagination for that one) and flung the bee to the ground. I had actually seen that same bee on Monday night when I dropped off this smaller vault box at the gym. When I saw it, I thought "that's weird, they should all be dead...oh well" and let it bee (har har). My mistake I guess.

So I put the box into the car, put some snow on my hand right away and continued. I got in the car, rolled the window down and started to drive with my hand hanging out the window (it was probably about 15 degrees out withOUT the windchill while I was driving on the highway). I connected my phone to the stereo to put my music on. I set it to shuffle. The first song that comes on: "We Swarm" by The Glitch Mob. I laughed out loud for a little while. You gots good jokes, life... good jokes!

I kept my hand numb out the window for most of the 35-minute drive to the school in Riverside. I arrived there without any problems, carried the equipment in, and started setting up. The classes were pretty hectic, those kids had a ton of energy and quite a few of them didn't know how to deal with it! The vast majority ended up doing really well though, and learned a handful of movements. Oddly enough, in a K-5 school, the 1st graders were the best behaved!

Lunchtime rolled around. Kids started pouring into the gym, apparently that's where some of them spend their lunch period to eat (there are benches/ledges along the walls). One of them who had asked about getting my autograph before during the class came up to me and said he had paper now (I asked him to get paper and a pen when he asked me during the class, because I didn't have any). I dug a pen out of my bag and wrote something down for him real quick. Other kids saw this go down and immediately a huge line was formed. Some of them hadn't even taken the class with me yet, but the other kids had told them who I was. I wrote each kid a personalized message with their name (which I asked each of them, and made sure the spelling was correct) and my "autograph" (weird to say that). I handed out business cards to some of them (my business cards are more like trading cards with a photo covering one entire side, and there were about 12 different photos). My 30 or so cards that I had with me all disappeared fast. So that was half of my lunch period!!

I headed to a Jimmy John's that the staff told me was nearby. When I got to it, I began to turn into their odd entrance for their parking lot - at which point I realized there was a pole I needed to avoid on the right side of my car (I was turning right into the lot). So I made sure to avoid that pole... then realized I hadn't made sure to avoid the BUILDING on the other side of the car. I smashed up the front left of the car a little bit (just cosmetic, cracks/dents in the fiberglass). I actually laughed at myself again, backed up and pulled into a spot.

From there the day didn't get any more interesting really. I had more classes after lunch and before I knew it, the day was over. I saw a lot of the kids as I was heading out of the school with equipment and they were all saying bye and thank you and telling me stories. Kids are great!

So, to recap, I woke up two hours late (which was still 6:00am), drove probably around 200 miles today, packed and unpacked equipment from the car twice, got stung by a bee in the middle of a snowy winter, and drove my car straight into a building... and all of this happened for a workshop that I was doing for free (this particular school didn't have any sort of budget for this sort of thing). My favorite part - I was able to keep a good mood throughout the day.

The point of this blog? I believe that part of one's training should be keeping a positive attitude, and to not take life too seriously! Sometimes bad things will happen. It is up to us to find a way to get through them. Keep calm and train the mind. :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

School Testimonials

From Mr. Brian Kaye, principal at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, IL:

"The whole experience was great! I really appreciate the time and effort you took to walk me through the experience and then to actually follow-through on exactly what you said in our initial meeting. I know that you had to jump through the hoops in order to get into the classrooms, but I hope you can see why this was done for the benefit of the students. Your preparation and quick communication were indicators that you are serious and you are willing to do whatever is necessary to make this work. I sincerely appreciate and applaud your professionalism and persistence. I do hope that we'll be able to partner in the future and I wish you nothing but success in the future."

And from Mr. Colin Craig, Health & PE Teacher at Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, IL:

"Having dreamed of teaching Parkour in my middle school PE classes for the past 5 years (but without knowing how to do so), I was thoroughly excited at the opportunity to bring Kurt Gowan to Thomas Middle School (Arlington Heights) to work with my 6 graders. Because of stereotypes and the way Parkour is portrayed in the media, it was a challenge at first to bring Parkour into the school. Kurt handled this with great professionalism and did a phenomenal job of alleviating the concerns my fellow staff and administration had. He explained how Parkour is a discipline- it’s not just a physical sport, but one that requires just as much, if not more, mental strength and endurance. It is about having the intrinsic motivation to push yourself to achieve more than you ever could- to overcome challenging obstacles with perseverance and discipline, focusing not on competing with others but in building camaraderie with others who share similar goals and passions. Kurt instills these values into his audience from the get-go, beginning each class with a unique warm-up that is fun and challenging but that also emphasizes the hard work it takes to develop the skills necessary to be successful in Parkour. Kurt leads by example as he participates fully in every activity he leads with the classes, which is astonishing considering the high intensity level of his warm-ups!

When it came to teaching the actual Parkour movements, I was quite impressed with Kurt’s creative and resourceful planning. Even though he was given two 30-minute classes to teach my students, he was able to teach several great movements, including cat leaps, safety vaults, traversing walls, and other creative movements using equipment we already had (such as our gym bleachers and steppers), to bringing equipment he utilizes at his own studio/gym. Each lesson with packed with activities, keeping the students stimulated and challenged. I was blown away how well Kurt’s lessons were so progressively taught, with each movement leading up to a more advanced movement in a way that allowed students to make rewarding progress, keeping them engaged, excited and motivated. He provided ample opportunities for differentiation, encouraging students to work at a pace and level at which they were most comfortable, creating a safe environment for everyone. Kurt provided fantastic feedback, both visually and verbally, and worked individually with many students, steering them towards success. It was very exciting for me to see how few students could initially do a successful cat leap, and by the end of the period nearly all of them achieved success!

Finally, as great a job as Kurt did teaching them physical movements and instilling the values of hard work and perseverance, Kurt has a personal testimony that is so valuable for students to hear. The fact that Kurt admittedly was a non-athlete in high school, a video game junkie who was unsure about what he wanted out of life, amazed my students as they witnessed the incredible movements Kurt demonstrated in class. Kurt shared how he developed a passion for Parkour, and worked extremely hard to become good at it, and how this passion has flourished into a career that has led him to invaluable life experiences. This is a story that resonated greatly with many of my students, and already I have had a handful expressing a desire to sign up for classes with Parkour Ways. As a teacher, there is no greater joy for me than to see students discovering new interests and passions that will undoubtedly impact the person they will become!"

Thursday, December 5, 2013

TMS Workshops

This past Monday and Tuesday, I had the wonderful opportunity to step into a school and take over SIX entire PE classes for 6th graders throughout the day. The school is Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights, and I almost cannot begin to explain how awesome the experience was! Of course, I was there to introduce them to parkour - something many of the kids had heard of before, but almost none of them had tried or been correctly exposed to!

It took some time to get my foot in the door here. PE teacher Mr. Craig discovered me through the Parkour Ways Facebook page, having seen a post I made about wanting to get into more schools and putting together more workshop events. He ran it past his principal who, at first, was hesitant about idea because he was under the impression (as most are nowadays, can't blame him!) that parkour is about dangerous, silly tricks (not his words by the way).

It took a while for Mr. Craig to convince the principal, Mr. Kaye, to consider the idea. Once he did though, we set up a meeting to discuss what parkour actually is and after I confidently explained this to him, we continued the conversation to talk about what I could do with the kids! Mr. Kaye was then quite excited to bring the workshops to the kids and have them exposed to this wonderful discipline. Some weeks went by and more discussions were had, and eventually we had picked our dates!

Teaching these workshops was one of the best feelings I've ever had. Honestly, it was just down-right amazing. Some of you already know that I've done workshops with a school before, and most of you also know that I've taught countless kids now through my classes, but being IN the school made it so much different. It was like the school believed in me and what I do so much that they were welcoming me inside, and it was official.

I've completely changed from the kid who made trouble in school, didn't apply himself to anything, and didn't think he'd ever turn out to be anything. It was an eye-opener being on the other side of things, sitting and standing with the teachers, and it was really nice to be on the kids' side simultaneously, bringing them something fun and new that they were excited about.

I got to share a very brief version of my story with the kids at the end of day 2. I explained to them that I got into parkour without any prior background in any sports, martial arts, gymnastics, or even having taken any sort of formal fitness classes (aside from the PE classes I had at my own schools, which I cannot say did as well a job as Mr. Craig is doing with his kids...). I let them know and made sure they understood that parkour is for anyone, of any age, shape, or size.

I was a little tougher on the kids through day 1. The warm-up was more difficult, utilizing quadrupedal movement and my student-favorite "rest position" in between the variations. During the warm-up, I touched on subjects that are very important to me. The first thing I made sure I squeezed into the day was that parkour was not meant to be dangerous. Quite the contrary actually. Parkour (and even freerunning, which some are also confused about) is meant to be safe and the risks involved are meant to be taken in a managed fashion. I used my now-typical reference to the "flips and crazy tricks you see on YouTube or in the movies" and added a quick note that "it's not about jumping off of roofs either" to make a point that this was not what parkour is all about, and that it is not necessarily the goal of our training to be able to do these things.

As always, the warm-up was a way for me to open up their eyes to the fact that our training is difficult, and that it is a discipline. I did not completely exhaust the kids, though of course some had more trouble than others. I made sure with each class to take some moments to explain to them one of the main concepts or ideas behind the training: being strong to be useful. I elaborated and told them that "we want to be strong so that we can use that strength for a good reason... not just to lift heavier objects or to jump further, it's not about the numbers. We want to be stronger so that we can help other people."

During each of the quadrupedal movement blocks of the warm-ups, I specifically chose one of the variations and instructed the kids that they were going to "stay together" on this one. I was emphasizing the notion that we are doing this to be stronger, and another very important concept behind the training that I shared aloud with every class: "nobody is better than anybody." Kids these days, especially the athletic ones, need to understand that just because they can jump higher, run faster, throw a ball further, or whatever it is that they may do "better" than others, doesn't make them better than anyone else. I joined them for this chosen variation of the quadrupedal movement, so did Mr. Craig (who also participated in many other parts of the warm-ups, and I admire and applaud him for his participation!), and we moved as a group instead of as individuals. The kids, of which I had up to 25 at a time, were told to make sure they were paying attention to the rest of the group each time they took a step with this variation of the movement. If they got too far ahead of the group, they were to rejoin us in what was one big, wide line of wonderful people. They were also told that we would not leave anyone behind, and we didn't. Once in a while I'd stop moving and wait to see if the kids would notice. At first, they would keep going for a few steps and then take notice. Once we reached the center of the gym, they were paying much more attention to the others and were staying together even moreso.

During one of the classes, I also felt the need to talk to the kids about one of the other very important aspects of parkour: the spirit of "never giving up". One student in particular was having a very difficult time with the quadrupedal movement, and had actually burst into tears while still completing the exercise. This student was not giving up, though, and I could tell she had that fight in her that could really do something amazing in the future. I got down and helped this student finish crossing the gym on all-fours while the other kids watched and waited in the "rest position" (it is not a rest, for those of you who have not seen my classes). Once the student was back with the others, I paused the session (they still remained in "rest position") while I talked to them again.

"Another important thing about parkour is that you never give up", I told them. "Life is hard. Life is not easy. If you are thinking life will be easy for you, I can tell you right now that you are wrong." I was on the verge of tears myself as I explained this to these sixth-graders, thinking about the things that I've been through over the years and how many of these will go through similar things, maybe even worse. I thought about my mom, who died of cancer in 2010; she was and is one of the biggest reasons and inspirations for me to do what I am doing with my life now.

"Life can get very tough, extremely hard sometimes. We need to be strong, to never give up."

After the warm-ups we moved on to working on cat leaps and the kids were able to really enjoy trying something fun and exciting to them. They all listened attentively to my instructions as I broke the movement down for them and gave them new things to focus on as they tried the jumps. Toward the end, we also worked on traversing in the cat position and most of the kids also took a crack at climbing up from the cat position into what is commonly referred to as a "top-off" (arms straight, hands on the top of the wall, feet dangling), before trying to skillfully climb back down into the cat position.

Day two was much more lighthearted and playful. The warm-up was still challenging of course! But we worked on a few more creative movements and I got to show the kids some more advanced movements that they could aspire to work up to. At the end, we took these wonderful group shots that you've seen spread through this post. To see the rest of the photos, check out the album on the gallery page here.