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.