Where the Magic Starts: Winter Training
Around this time every year there’s always a shift in the balance of the outdoor classes. The nights start to chill and darken and people drift off away to warmer spots – the indoor classes, the gym, or even home and the sly reassurance of the sofa. That shift, that’s where the magic starts. When the stakes rise and the wills fall, and those who are left start to settle in for the winter, the best part of all.
My first ever parkour class was indoors. Not just my first, many after. I get it, indoors is cosy, warm, safe. It is wonderful too – fun, energetic, colourful, comfortable. Soft horses to vault on, dry surfaces, a roof and walls, bright lights and music. Outside though, that’s my love. Out in the grime and the dirt and the dark estates, the hidden side of the neon-lit city.
Outside is where parkour meets life. Where your jump shifts because suddenly the light is bad, the brick is hard, the edges sharp. Everything shrinks and everything expands. The world is tougher, harsher, harder. The group is smaller, quieter, more focused. The fears are bigger, closer, looming over as you eye up the jump.
Somehow, in these concrete estates, winter night after winter night, that’s where my life changed. That’s where I moved out of the comfort of my world to date, away from always being safe, sticking to the bright-lit streets and the comfortable cafes, and chose to strap on a backpack and head out into the dark. That’s where the friendships were forged, in the grit-cold walls, where we learned our limits – physically so much futher away than we’d realised, mentally so much nearer. That’s where we returned, week after week, to the triumphs and the failures and the discoveries, faced them and kept coming back. That’s where I learnt to trust myself – and where I learnt how much I didn’t.
I understand it now, but at first I found it odd, incredible, that it was the toughest sessions that were the best, the most fun. The ones where I had to force myself to go, when the sofa was calling me after a tough day and that autumnal snap of cold outside was biting deep. Or when the challenge seemed just too much, where I was praying for it to end but somehow while always keeping going. Or the ones where it was freezing cold, or wet, or both, when the rain kept deluging down in buckets, where we were washing dirty hands in puddles, clinging onto slippery rails, keeping moving and moving and moving to stay warm. They were the best of all – the most satisfying, the most bonding or fun or funny. The most transformational. Magical again; black-clad figures running into the dark, cloaked in the camaraderie, the rain, the challenge. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers – and sisters.
It moves, the world, constant shifts and angles. Going back in the winter to a precision I did one summer’s eve, and finding that now it’s so much darker, or I have less bounce, the streetlamp is flickering, the ground is dewy damp and glassy. It’s transformed into a different beast. Or the cat leap, that once was unthinkably far, but suddenly, years later, is an easy possibility. Going back with friends to a place we trained in years ago, having the memory of the struggle and trauma of an old injury come flooding back, and realising how far I’ve come, how far we’ve all come.
I don’t take credit for my tenacity. I chose to turn up, yes, but that’s more a tribute to the awesome teachers who made it so enticing, so challenging and addictive and enjoyable. The class mates who turned up and made it even more so. The determination and perseverance of everyone who helped everyone else. The reminders ‘of course, stop any time guys, go get a croissant’, that meant no one ever did. Strength and endurance building inch by awesome inch.
I still doubt myself, but looking back I know those nights transformed me, and it’s rippled far beyond parkour. Just like walking away from those warm cafes and pubs, turning away from so-called-friends who stopped wanting to see me once I chose training over drinking on a Friday night (not many, but some), a little while ago I walked away from my cosy job. As I headed out into the rain, crawled on hands and feet through metres and metres that have turned into miles and miles of walkway stone and gravel, as I faced the fears and failed and failed and succeeded and failed on jump after jump after jump and kept turning up, that’s where I built the courage, the conviction, the loss of any other option but to leave my comfy job, my well-sat sofa of a career, and head towards the things that scared me even as much as they called me on.
I don’t know where it will end up or how long I’ll be out here, and for sure I think about retreating back to the comfort and warmth of the safe indoors of a life every now and then. Right now though, I’m still outside. I’m standing at a jump, eyeing it up, wondering if I have the courage to do it. This is me, my demon, in life every bit as much as parkour: not even that I’m questioning whether I have the strength and skill, just trying to summon the courage to apply them. It’s a battle of wills – mine against mine.
I had a realisation this week. I’d let my parkour training slip as I focused on other things, and with it slipped the experience, the practice of facing these fears, of taking the jump. So I need to get back out – back out to the real world of parkour, the estates, the dark, the evenings closing in. Back out to where I can be a student again, get pushed, have to face up to my fears, rediscover the fail and fail and fail and succeed and fail of conquering them, and grow again in strength and endurance and friendships as I do. I’ve remembered how incredibly lucky and happy I am that I know this, that I get to play it out in the parkour, surrounded by some of the most inspiring, incredible and powerful people I know. The timing is perfect. The dark nights are closing in, and this is where parkour meets life, where the magic starts – again.
See you out there.