Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin

A world chess champion and a world martial art champion - two fields of achievement that seem vastly unrelated, yet Josh Waitzkin is a master of both.  That alone should make you take notice and want to find out more.  It did for me!  This a book for learners and teachers of all fields and levels of ability.  Expect to be inspired!

I first came across Josh Waitzkin through Tim Ferriss on Tim's blog.  From there I read a digital copy of Josh’s very captivating autobiography “The Art of Learning” over a very short period of time.

With a focus on his learning, and how that learning transcends the specific subject being learned, be it physical or mental, Josh details his early life from the beginnings of chess through to the completion of his Tai Chi Chuan world title.

What I enjoyed the most about this book was Josh’s way of explaining complex principles and details of learning within the context of both physical and mental disciplines.  For example, he describes how to directly control the center of the chess board and then steps it up to show how masters of the game can control the center of the board without appearing to do so, with pieces that are positioned outside the board.

In the martial arts side, he explains how many of the so-called “mysterious” powers of martial artists are really a matter of mastery of very specific techniques and a higher level of physical fitness than most people have ever experienced.

Josh emphasises the mastery of basics as a necessary foundation to excellence, and shows that it is upon these basics that highly refined skills rely upon.  This has the advantage of reducing the complexity of the learning process, to a level manageable by almost everyone, in order to reach excellence.

Reading the last few pages, I was lifted up by Josh’s words to a point that motivated me to write up a plan to conquer the world (in a good way).  This is such an inspiring read that I would recommend it to anybody.  In fact, I recommend it to everybody!

You can watch an interview of Josh Waitzkin below:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Freedom Means Following Rules

Another post from my old parkour blog:

March 13th 2009
Every so often I hear someone talking about parkour and they say something like this, "I love parkour. It gives you the freedom to do whatever you want and to train however you feel."
This is often followed up by something like, "No rules, just parkour!"

I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet when I hear this because when you get right down to it there must be an element of following rules and sticking to boundaries to successfully practice parkour.

Let me elaborate. If you want to get good at anything (being successful at it), you must discipline yourself to practice regularly. No practice means no progression. So that means we can write at least one rule. It is the nature of any discipline that you actually discipline yourself to follow it. This is in fact an act of deliberately reducing your freedom so that you can improve.

Things don't end there (thank goodness). Like an experienced practitioner of any discipline will tell you, the real freedom comes after the thousands of hours and countless repetitions of movement and physical conditioning. Only then, when you have a good strength base and the technical movement has become instinctive, are you really free.

Even then there are limitations that exist because we are human. No amount of training can prepare you for 100 foot drops for instance. These natural laws are a barrier to complete freedom, though it could be argued that accepting our limitations brings great freedom. Know thyself!

Another limitation that is inherent in parkour comes from the altruistic side of things. We do not trespass knowingly and when security or police ask us to move on we are polite and respectful, following instructions and seeking to build good community relationships.

So what exactly do people mean by "being free" in parkour? Some are just mistaken and learn fairly quickly that you must train long and hard before taking the big drops. Others have an aspect of teenage rebellion in their attitude and want freedom to do what they want. I personally hope that it is more along the lines of breaking out of the boxes that society makes for us, and increasing our physical capacity so that we can do more than before. Something that takes into account some positive values for the good of mankind.

If we can do progressively more with our bodies and minds than before (in a positive way of course) then it can safely be said that we are increasing our freedom, and even the freedom of others.

Be strong to be free!


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Google, Marketing, and the Environment

How could these three words possibly be linked?

Watching a commercial for nappies, it struck me.  Yes, really: nappies.

The commercial was offering a product that saved the consumer from at least one confusing choice when purchasing nappies.  “Is there really a difference between nappies for girls and nappies for boys?”
The solution was to have a nappy with a longer absorbent strip inside that covered the areas that both girls and boys would wet.  A nappy just for girls would not suit boys because of the limited coverage of the absorbent strip, and vice versa.  So they made a nappy to suit both.

The problem that occurred to me was that a combined nappy would be inefficient in it’s use of material.  Further to that, all of these little inefficiencies in life could add up to a huge impact on the environment.  

Issues of disposable nappies versus the environmental consideration of water cost of cleaning reusable ones aside, it occurred to me that if we had enough information about the required application of out limited resources our problems would be solved.

If we knew exactly the amount of absorbent strip required for each child, along with other relevant manufacturing details with enough precision, then we could make a product so personalised that there would be zero wastage.

So that’s the environment link.

Now Marketing
One of the biggest problems in marketing is knowing who to target your product towards.  The best advertisers know a lot about their target audience and about the products being advertised.  The closest match between a product and a consumer will result in the most sales, and the most people being happy with their purchase.

There is no point in marketing nappies for boys to people who don’t have a baby boy.  If, by some trick of manipulative marketing, a company manages to sell some boy nappies to someone with a baby girl, then they wouldn’t be happy with the outcome.  And if it was through a genuinely deliberate act on the part of the nappy seller, they would lose repeat sales and would probably have to waste resources on returns.

It is hard to fake a genuine interest in the consumer.  Once again, the best marketers and advertising companies will try to best serve the consumer and the product or service provider.  Leaving aside the further complexities of marketing, such as showing people that they have needs that they don’t know about and building their desire so that they wish to have that need fulfilled - something morally questionable but frequently done.  Leaving those extras aside, perhaps we can learn from the best advertisers (information collectors).

There is no question that the environment is an issue of great importance.  The information we need can be looked at from a marketing perspective.  The environment is the consumer and the people that want to interact with the environment are us, the people who want to profit from our interaction with the consumer.  In an ideal transaction, both the environment and ourselves will prosper.  In a less than ideal transaction one party will be worse off.  The better we know what we want from the environment and the better we know how the natural resources available to us can meet those desires, the happier and healthier we all are in the process.

So that’s the marketing part.

Now Google
In our everyday use of the Internet giant, we might easily forget that the main business of Google, and how they make their money to sustain their enormous web presence, is through highly tuned and effective advertising.

Whenever you search for nappies on Google, you might notice (unless you have tuned yourself to ignore them) that there are advertisements surrounding the search results.
Through various practices of data collection, about you, and the products available that you search for, Google seeks to provide the best results.  The money making part of their company seeks to link businesses to the consumers who want those links just as much as the businesses.

We tend to forget that advertising is a two way street.  Perhaps because in the past we have been exposed to the “shot gun” style of advertising through “old” forms of media such as TV, radio, and paper sources.  These targeted (and still target) a wide range of people because they didn’t ultimately know enough to tailor make their advertising to the viewer.  So we patiently sat through a bunch of irrelevant adverts that were sometimes humorous enough to captivate us, even if the product was totally irrelevant to us as a consumer.

Nowadays we don’t have to be interrupted by marketers and advertisers for them to do their business.  They can use the interactive power of the Internet to advertise alongside of our activities and we can have a look at the adverts when we feel like it or if we can’t find a product or service we are after.

That’s a little off the track.

The main thing we can take out of it is that Google is a company (one of several) with the resources to advance our information gathering needs.  If you take a look at recent news releases, you can see that many companies are taking an active interest in the environment and working towards the goal of having as little negative impact on the natural world as possible.  It should be a relatively small step of getting companies like Google to share their technology in order to benefit the “green” goals of the global community.

The current methods of marketing are easily missed because of the ways they enormously benefit the consumer.  It almost seems as if they are serving the consumers more than the businesses.  Facebook gets you to “like” comments, but they also get you to “like” celebrities, charities, products, and other groups.  Amazon started with book sales and each consumer gets to rate and write reviews.  It’s a concept that is quite far spread and the more the consumers have a say, the better the system benefits both the consumers and the sellers.

The final step in the chain is to have some way to link reviews, and other personalised information, to individuals.  Their preferences can then be used to personalise products and offer recommendations uniquely suited.  This could seem invasive but is a necessary trade-off for excellent service.  

My only personal concern in this (because the privacy issue is a deliberate trade-off for me - though still keeping some in check obviously) is the concern that what was once done by personal brokers, real people who would get to know you as an individual, can now be done by computer software on a server across the other side of the planet.  

I worry that people might feel more disconnected, despite being better connected.  That seems to be the biggest challenge in meeting people’s needs.

Putting it all together
I’m sure you are beginning to see how advertising strategies, of getting to know the consumer, can help provide favourable outcomes for both sides of the sales transaction.  Let me try to present a larger view that applies these principles to environmental concerns, and even more.

World domination can come about through the one who offers you everything you need and want, while at the same time taking everything from you that you don’t need or want.  These resources that are surplus to your requirements can then be supplied to others who don’t have them but want them.

“World domination” is a bit of an attention grabbing phrase but I use it to draw your attention to the power of these principles.  The concepts exist, but the weakness is in the details of the information that can be collected.  

If we consider shoes, and the incredible number of factors that lead to the “life-cycle” of a pair, then we hit some issues that force us to overcompensate and waste resources.  The purpose for the shoes (sports, fashion, protection) will affect the materials used.  Work boots need to be more sturdy than slippers but they don’t need to be made of titanium.  Individuals will need different shaped inners and might prefer different coloured laces.  Many shoes are sold with two pairs of laces, with one pair that is totally wasted.  Other wastage could be in the extra thread used to double or triple stitch to meet the individual usage requirements of the most extreme situation when the average user might be fine with just double stitching.

All of these things are such small details that they are too hard, currently, to collect and use to plan for production and marketing.  Even with the vast range of shoes available, there is still a large element of “shot-gun” marketing and product design.  While it might not seem too bad, considering the millions of units produced, it will add up to tonnes of wasted materials and energy in producing those materials.

This is an impact on our environment that we would rather not have.  Every resource taken from the earth adds to depletion and potential scarcity.  We have to put back everything that we take, in some form or another, so that we don’t lose out in the future.  Both sides of the transaction have to benefit for the process to be sustainable.  So our detailed knowledge of what to take and what to give back will be beneficial for everyone.

Now apply this to the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the social contacts that we enjoy, the technological devices that we use.  If we had a way to measure our personal requirements down to the finest detail, then we could provide for those so that we fit these details of our lives like a glove.  When everything fits and functions for us perfectly, then we will be happier, and our efforts to reach this happiness will be minimised.

The next step is to use the technology to predict what you will need for the future.  This is where is gets really tricky.  As far as I know, there is no system out there that makes complex calculations leading to recommendations of what you are going to need.  Simple predictions yes, like growing up and needing bigger clothes, but complex predictions no.  

We know that, given enough detailed information, it is possible to give you everything you need in as efficient a manner as possible.  Is it possible, though, for a computer to predict how your personal tastes will actually change in the future?  Maybe.  But that will involve an even more open disclosure of personal information that people are unlikely to be comfortable with.  It might take some careful marketing to convince people en-mass of the benefits.

So there you have it.  Saturday evening’s musings on Google, marketing, and nappies.  

It’s never quite what you expect is it?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Reminded by Rain

Matthew 5:38-48  "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  (39)  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  (40)  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  (41)  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  (42)  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  (43)  "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  (44)  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  (45)  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  (46)  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  (47)  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  (48)  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This passage struck me afresh this morning.  Once again I am stunned by the radical injustice we are called to participate in.  Not only was it unjust of God to forgive his children and punish his son Jesus in our stead, but he calls us to do the same in allowing ourselves to be abused and by loving what is not worthy of love.

The cross should be a constant reminder that Jesus was unjustly abused and has loved many who were not worthy of love.

The rain should remind us that God blesses both the just and the unjust.  Who are we to refuse to do the same when God is our perfect example to follow.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just keep moving forward

Another historical post from my old parkour blog

March 11th 2009
While running a training for some students at my school, I made an important discovery/observation. Let me set the scene:

We have a covered in area at our school canteen with an upward curving roof overhead, two walls at either end with two rails in between about waist height for most students. I was running several drills to make use of these rails and to begin to work on flow (roughly speaking, flow is the linking of movements together to produce efficient, i.e. "flowing", movement).
  1. The first drill was to go from one wall to the other using different methods of passing the two obstacles (the rails). This is the experimental stage when traceurs are learning how to pass the obstacles in different ways and finding out what works best for them at their level of ability and according to their body type, etc.
  2. The second drill was to go there and back, doubling the number of linked movements and incorporating a change of direction at the far wall. More speed was expected also.
  3. The third drill was to go there and back and there again, adding a mild endurance factor so that beginners are getting a bit tired in their movements by the time they head back for the last time. At this point the traceurs are learning what they can do when they are tired or at least when they don't have time to think of the next move, i.e. the most efficient movement over/under the obstacles. More continuous movements can be linked as traceurs become fitter so that they are pushing out of their comfort zone into tiring territory.
What I discovered during this drill was that under pressure to keep moving (from myself, not others) rather than stalling at each obstacle to reset for the next move, I was pushing on and trying to keep as much of my body moving forward as I could. I found my moves losing form and regularity in the quest for continuous movement. I would compare the feeling to being warm water trying to move downward through the path of least resistance. I say warm water because cold water doesn't seem right for some reason.

This is where the links to various martial art philosophies would naturally fit in, but I'm more interested in describing the moment so that others can "look" for it and recognise it.

So what exactly happened? I had two out of the four moves prepared in my mind. First, a lazy vault with outside leg leading, second a monkey vault that made use of the momentum developed in my first move to send me flying over the rail, touch the wall then back and into improvisation mode. A sort of speed vault into a sideways underbar with my 120kg hurtling towards the concrete and a wild (but successful) hope of my arms on the rail saving me from blunt force trauma. Touch the wall again and turn for another speed/pop vault into a shambling roll under the final rail that felt a lot smoother than it looked. The last two moves were conducted with a kind of calculated desperation yet at the same time my mind had switched off and my body was on automatic.

There are other ways of developing this automatic movement. One is by drilling moves over and over and over so that you become highly fatigued and have to concentrate to perform every minor movement properly.  Or when you are running a circuit of some kind continuously so that as you tire your movement breaks down to the most energy saving and flowing form possible. The difference between these two methods and the school training described above is that a circuit or movement drill makes use of conscious methods of movement and the goal is not speed so much as perfecting technique or building endurance.

So how to find this type of movement where you get in the zone and just keep moving forward? One way is to focus on speed over short distances, and to have a good base of fitness and movement experience. Another could be to pick a near by destination without planning a path and just go there as quick as you can. You could also go exploring in a new place with no intention of passing an obstacle more than once (you can come back later if you find something cool). This idea of a journey or adventure will help keep your interest and motivation high also. One final way could be to just run at an obstacle and see how you instinctively get over it.

I believe this way of training is essential to a traceur's continued progression and motivation. It is useful to try this sort of drill every once in a while to see how your trained moves are impacting on useful, instinctive, and efficient movement.

Happy training!


Functionality versus Display (History)

Another historical post from my old parkour blog:

March 10th 2009
Many people who come across parkour for the first time mistakenly file it under a performance or artistic display - something like an extreme sport or circus type of show for spectator edification.

My introduction to parkour was through a desire to be able to perform a back flip, amongst other things. I've never been out to show off or to impress people. Instead I like to inspire others. Unfortunately, flips are good for capturing attention, which is essential to the act of inspiring. I thought that if people could see me, a 120kg tank, performing the seemingly impossible that they could be inspired to try something difficult too, or at least become more physically active. Instead, the majority of people are more interested in seeing the spectacle and being entertained with nothing of worth feeding into their personal lives.

So the question arises: "Should I stop doing some things so that others are not mislead about the nature of parkour?" I find myself inclined to answer "No" because human nature, being what it is, will find a way to corrupt what I do anyway. I can't count the number of times people have asked me to do a flip. Admittedly some have heard that I can do a back flip and a curious, but many others see me vault or jump and make the spurious link between parkour and flips without this prior knowledge of my abilities. I can only assume this is because of various youtube videos they might have seen and the compulsion to seek out entertainment.

So what about movie stunts and display performances of parkour? My thinking is that the intention of the performance should be to inspire or demonstrate "good" parkour, including if possible the "spirit" of parkour. Performance that is purely for entertainment purposes, for the average Joe that watches TV every night of the week and does very little exercise of his own, should be avoided.

Now here is where it gets really deep and difficult. Does everyone have the capability to do good parkour? The reason this is deep and difficult is because the answering of the question is not really possible without some assumptions about life and even metaphysical considerations. I'll leave the answering of this question up to the individual but I'm interested readers comments.

Getting back to more familiar territory, when considering functionality and display we can draw parallels between the controversy that arose in the naming of disciplines. The whole, "flips are not parkour" deal. From the get go it is important to point out that many of the founders of these disciplines do not make any distinction between them. Originally the name for this type of movement was L'art du deplacement. Parkour was David Belle's term for the same thing and Free Running was an English translation of Parkour. Videos of several of the world's top practitioners and founding traceurs have appeared in public forums making this clear (check out parkour generations or search for "Stephane Vigroux interview" on youtube to find out more). Prior to these clarifications, parkour was usually described with words like discipline, efficiency, useful strength, and with regular links made to Methode Naturelle as a sort of founding discipline. Free Running was for show offs and crowd pleasers, i.e. the performance/entertainment side of things. With the news that there was no difference between parkour and free running, the global community was rapidly forced to reconsider their philosophy. Instead of having different names, we are now forced to consider the attitudes within the PK/FR/LADD community. It comes back to functionality versus display, except this time it seems there is less room for entertaining the observers. I think this is a good thing because participation in parkour is more important than merely observing.

So where does this leave those out to entertain and show off? Firstly, this is not automatically a bad thing. Entertainment is a fact of life and without show offs human based entertainment would not be possible. People are beginning to use words like acro (short for acrobatics) to describe the less efficient and less useful forms of parkour that traceurs would generally not consider to be a genuine part of the discipline. Between acro, tricking, b-boying, etc there are enough outlets for those that want to aim more towards performance. Many traceurs even practise these things to challenge themselves in different ways, though when I do this I consider it cross training and not a part of parkour. I am not the authority though, that honour is reserved for the founders.

Parkour is still notoriously difficult to define and there are still some remnants of controversy over the names used to describe this and similar activities but, regardless of this, I think we can agree that the intentions and attitudes one trains with will determine whether our discipline is a positive force in the world. If functionality is your philosophy then great! Train hard and train safe. If entertainment is your driving force then also great! Train the same but remember to do your best to send a positive and responsible message.

I hope this has clarified some things and made you think!


Where are things going in the NZ parkour scene? (History)

Another historical post

March 9th 2009:
Compared to much of the rest of the world, we have a fairly small and undeveloped parkour scene in New Zealand. That's not to say that we're not growing and developing. We are. Here are a couple of things that are developing around the country.
  • This year saw the first official national parkour gathering run by Physical Graffiti in Wellington. During Waitangi weekend around 70 people (by my estimate) came from all over the country. You can read more about the gathering here.
  • Local groups are getting into more regular training and are training smarter. This can be seen through the discussion of training strategies on the nzparkour.com forum and I have personally seen some great stuff at the various local trainings I've visited outside of Hamilton.
  • There is a growing number of traceurs that began parkour within the last year or two who have passed through the "beginner phase". What makes this important is that they have come through without being put off by the cautions and firm words of advice about safe training from other members of the nz parkour community. Generally, to survive the social pressure this long, they have had to adapt their training according to this advice and are now promoting good parkour. It also helps that people are getting older and more independent in their training. Parkour is very attractive to teenagers and we see many come and go. The teenagers that have stuck with it are moving into their late teens and early twenties now, providing more maturity and experience to the scene.
  • Various beginners sessions are being run
  • Professional video productions are being released from time to time
  • Groups are performing demonstrations at events
This sounds like a lot, but compared to the world scene we are just beginning. We also have fairly low numbers of people practising regularly though, as I've indicated above, this is growing steadily.

NZ Parkour Association?
The idea of a NZ parkour association of sorts has been raised from time to time over the last couple of years.  Why this hasn't happened yet is largely due to our low numbers. Recently a need has become more obvious to provide an official group to represent parkour in NZ. An organisation seems to be required who can be a contact for media to provide informed commentary on parkour related news/events, direct film makers towards traceurs who can assist with video production or stunt type of work. Inevitably tied up with media things is the need to have parkour positively promoted and faithfully represented. An authority in other words.

There are some dangers of course. Is it possible to have some sort of regulation of parkour without killing the "freedom" of the scene? Does the nzparkour.com website function as enough of an authority to meet these needs? How can an association be set up that is safe from corruption and commercialism? How do we navigate through the mess of opinions within the NZ scene while having genuine authority within such an association? Who would be involved and how is the balance of power safely guarded? All of these questions and more will need to be discussed, but it is clear to many NZ traceurs that an association is becoming more necessary. We do have the advantage of seeing what the rest of the world has already put into place. Parkour Generations, for instance, are a good model for a group that has positively promoted parkour while contributing in a useful way to their local (non-parkour) community.

It seems inevitable that parkour will be misrepresented for many years to come by the adrenaline junkies and crowd pleasers, and it seems inevitable that an association in NZ will be formed in part to combat this but also to present parkour in keeping with the French founders desires. It is only a matter of time, but whoever is involved in this process must be aware of the cautions raised and primarily the problem of doing it with the blessing of the wider parkour community without "going maverick" and wrongfully claiming authority and representation.

I look forward to seeing further growth.


Monday, May 23, 2011

A Page From (Recent) History

A little over two years ago I started my first blog about parkour.  I haven't updated it for some time so I decided to transfer those articles over here and gradually shut down that blog to reduce my divided focus.  It makes for some interesting reading.  Here is my first ever blog post:

March 8th 2009:
The Inevitable Introductory Post
After resisting the urge to start a blog about my parkour for a long time, I have now become convinced that I have something to offer in this type of forum. That alone isn't enough for me to want to take this step. I have weighed the pros and cons and decided it is time well enough spent.

The disadvantages are fairly clear:
This will take time - I am already very pressed for time in my life.
This will be a long term commitment - to continue to update and add thoughts and ideas.
I am opening myself up to further public introspection of my parkour - as much as I'm happy to do what I do and I am confident in my understanding of parkour, there is the fear of accidentally misrepresenting parkour or someone assuming I speak for a particular parkour community.

But the advantages tip the balance enough:
I now have some experience, though still very limited, that I can share to aid others in their personal parkour and community development.
As a fairly analytical person who is pretty good at interacting with people (I think so anyway), I can offer advice in a clear and relatively easy to understand form.
I am not a typical body type for parkour (think front row forward in Rugby) so I can offer support to a unique group of people.
I am one of only a few older people (I'm 28) in the NZ parkour community.
I try to travel around and train with different groups in NZ to actually meet the real people which gives me a good idea of what's actually going on.

What is my involvement in New Zealand parkour?
I started training around December 2006
I've contributed various articles and summaries of useful information that I've discovered during my progress in parkour
I'm a moderator on the www.nzparkour.com forum
I've run introductory sessions for groups of beginners who are out to give parkour a go (some groups of 25+)
I've run regular trainings for high school groups and others for over a year now
I helped to organise a 3 day (unofficial) national parkour gathering

Expect to see on this blog:
A rough outline of my training methods
Articles I've put together about training
My personal progress (goals, etc)
My thoughts and reflections about the NZ parkour community
Parkour events coming up
and more...

I hope this will be a source of useful information and an inspiring read for many. Please subscribe and provide me with feedback as it develops.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Sam's Journey (+ free e-book)

It's happened!  My first published work is now available for purchase on Amazon.com (or you can get it for free at the link below.  You can buy it to help support my writing if you like!)
A short collection of poetry, prose, and reflection from the early days of my writing.  Some of these I'm almost ashamed to have written but others I'm rather happy with how they represent certain feelings or concepts.  Baring my soul for all to see including the not so cool bits.

The cover is meant to be very simple and straightforward with the imagery an obvious link to the title (which is deliberately absent from the cover because it's not just my journey).

If you are reading this, you are most likely a regular reader so by way of thanks I am offering my book to you for free, for a limited time.  You can download the entire book here (follow the link and save from the Google Docs "File" menu).

This publication is dedicated to my lovely wife.  We've come so far together already, and the journey is just beginning...


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Weight Loss Through Parkour

What is 130kg minus 40kg?  A miracle?  Maybe, but this is a miracle that YOU can replicate.

I want to share how a 130kg monster began his journey from morbid obesity to become an athletic parkour instructor of 90kg.  My aim is to show others how they can begin the journey, and to provide some tools for them to continue on their own to reach personal goals and more.

Pre-parkour Sam
130kg, able to lift heavy things, able to shuffle along at a slow jog for an hour or so, not able to handle my own body weight so well (despite having a rock-climbing background a few years in the past), and not having any real desire to try and control my eating habits.  While I’ve always been pretty active, the strain on my heart from carrying so much extra weight could not have been good for me.  To accomplish physical goals that others found easy I had to work many times as hard.

When I came across parkour on the Internet, I didn’t see my weight as an obstacle.  I had a vague idea that it might limit my performance but I knew I could start small and then build up.  To be totally honest, I wasn’t even really aware that I was so overweight.  This lack of self awareness meant that I felt on the inside like I imagined the smaller people around me must have felt.  If they could do it then I could do it too!  From the perspective of the low 90kg weight, I can’t imagine how I managed, though it is clear from my experiences that it is possible for grossly overweight people to take up something as athletic as parkour.

First Rolls
The first rolls in parkour were easy.  Where less fleshed out frames struggled to avoid bruises, I rolled within my comfortable padding.  Almost everyone who takes their first steps, learning the foundational skill of rolling, will become wary of committing themselves to parkour due to the pain inflicted.  Because I could perform this skill and enjoy it, I was buoyed up by my enthusiasm and took the next steps in learning to develop my strength and skill through disciplined training.

Looking back, I would advise anyone (fat or thin) to find something early on that they are good at, and feel good doing, to practise a lot.  This will give you the enthusiasm to get you through the less exciting, but very necessary, repetition of basic movement to build strength and skill.

I would also advise finding someone with a few years of experience to guide you through the initial exploring.  Someone experienced enough to help you make some quick technical gains which will get you hooked on the successes.  It is inevitable that the progress will slow, but it is better to have positive feelings when this stage is reached and you have to knuckle down to continue your development.

Shrinking and Pain
After my rapid initial gains (or losses!) of about 10kg, I settled at a still rather large weight for a couple of years.  I didn’t realise that to make further progress on my physique I would have to take a serious look at my nutrition.  More on that in a few paragraphs.

In the mean time I developed a number of weight related aches in tendons and ligaments.  I was always careful to stay within my limits, not jumping off high obstacles and carefully controlling my movements to avoid impact.  But my connective tissue wasn’t able to keep up and I was rapidly scaling back my training to focus on rehabilitation of tendon problems in my knees and shoulder, and ligament damage in one of my ankles.  I also had occasional lower back spasms which were incredibly painful.

Minute muscle imbalances and small technical errors became major irritants.  These fractional problems were developed and amplified mainly through the extra weight being carried and the high number of repetitions required for the technical mastery that I craved.

The aches taught me a lot about supplements (Glucosamine, Chondritin, Omega 3 EPA from fish oil) and I discovered some amazing resources on stretching, biomechanics, and something I later learned was called manual biofeedback.  What nobody ever told me was that I was just too heavy for what I was trying to do and that I needed to take a look at my nutrition to help heal and prevent further injury.

Parkour practitioners will tell you that you must start slowly because there is a lot of impact and the strain on the body is huge.  Building up jogging distance and basic movement, such as push-ups, squats, and pull ups, is essential.  But big people will still feel the pain of over-training, much more than our slighter brothers and sisters, unless we first take steps to shrink our bodies.

After doing a little reading of sport science derived nutritional advice, I started to cut back on sugar, bread, and most carbohydrates.  I looked at my energy intake using the charts on the packets of food I bought.  Considering I was training almost every day, I figured that I could eat probably twice as much “energy” as the recommended for regular people (this was still quite a cut in my intake as I was probably eating 8 to 10 times what regular people should be eating!).  This saw me drop to around 110kg and I was starting to feel the difference in my energy levels and movement ability.  It was like someone had decided to grease up my joints and inject me with concentrated super-ness.  I felt springy and light and for the first time I really thought about my weight as something that was holding me back.

Exploring further about nutrition and dieting, I discovered Tim Ferriss and the Slow Carb Diet.  The method included eating as much as I wanted and I could still lose weight!  It sounded too good to be true but my appetite for junk-food persuaded me to give it a go so that I could go back to eating the comfort food.  While I was worried, in the back of my mind, of giving up the gains/losses I had made so far, my past eating habits ended up working for me to drop down to 90kg by the time I got married last year in July.
The difference between my 130kg frame eating junk and my 90kg frame eating junk was that I would formerly eat any bad thing at any time but now I save up the bad things for one day per week.  6 days of discipline is easy when you can look forward to 1 day to binge!  

Hungry for More
After shrinking by a third, maintaining a pain-free body at a healthy weight, and feeling so amazing from the freedom of movement I’ve found; I’ve moved to a more sustainable nutritional regime that allows me to maintain my weight in the low 90kg region with energy for an active life.

I’m dreaming of running an ultra-marathon in the not-too-distant future, I’m still working as a high school teacher, and I’m training and instructing parkour regularly - still making progress with my movement.

My encouragement to other fat people (embrace the truth so you can move on from it) is to find some movement you enjoy, even if it is just walking, and learn how to eat in a healthy way.  Diets tend to be hard and bad for you in the long run - instead try to develop healthy eating that you can do for the rest of your life.  

Now that you are inspired to get sorted, here are some links for great nutritional information.  I would love to hear from others who have been inspired by my experiences and anyone else who has found their inner self (inside the fat self!).

Now, please take the time to enjoy a couple of my more recent parkour videos featuring the lean Sam.  All the best!