Anne’s been lucky enough to get an internship this summer teaching parkour as part of a summer camp to at-promise youth in the Dove Springs neighborhood of southeast Austin. The first session just wrapped up, and we’ve got a little video here showing what it was like!
On Sunday, we had the privilege of helping HealthStart Foundation with their First Annual Community Picnic.
When I arrived, it was obvious that the event was very well-organized, with swarms of green-clad volunteers in the field behind the Mexican-American Culture Center. We unloaded our obstacles (precision trainers, a rail horse, and a vault box) and set up a mini obstacle course in one corner of the field.
Then the participants started showing up, and we played many games of follow-the-leader, first leading, then following the kids and volunteers over, along, under, and through our course. The adaptability of the obstacles served us well, allowing us to change the difficulty of the course depending on the children’s age, height, and ability level. Kids are naturals at this kind of thing, so I tried not to instruct so much as guide, support, and encourage their play and exploration. Their enthusiasm was contagious, even in the heat of a Texas April.
This was an awesome event – I know I had at least as much fun as the kids did!
Thanks to Aidan and Anthony for support and transportation, and thanks very much to Robin and Kim of HealthStart for putting this on and inviting us to be part of it!
When I was in high school, I hated being the ‘new kid’. At college tours and orientations, I balked and was irritated by the way the students were crowded together and talked down to, herded like cattle. When, during orientation, we were finally given freedom to explore the campus, I made a point of getting lost so that come fall semester, I wouldn’t be that freshman. Instead, I happily gave directions to other bewildered students and their parents.
This dislike of being a beginner – of having to admit my own ignorance, and sometimes start with nothing, has sometimes been incredibly frustrating. I have a thirst for knowledge that can be difficult to quench, but trying something in which I have no previous experience is often outside of my comfort zone.
Recently, however, I’ve decided not to look at it as how much I don’t know, but how much I can learn. Parkour has opened up so many doors in my life, and they all seem to lead to a happier, healthier, better lifestyle. A few new interests are nutrition, fitness, and education, naturally, but a deeper and less measurable change is a passion and a joy for life and the endless possibilities that surround me.
I remember an old story about a Zen master and a professor who came to learn from him. The professor was much more interested in impressing the master with everything he already knew. The master listened, and then offered the professor some tea. He poured until his visitor’s cup was full, then overflowing. The professor stopped him, exclaiming “The cup is full!” No more will go in!” The master nodded. “Like this cup,” he said, “you are already so full that there is no room for anything else. How can I teach you anything if you are already full?”
It’s a fault of mine, especially in areas such as martial arts, to be so enthusiastic and eager to impress my teacher that I overflow, and there’s no room for the things that I don’t know. I’ve found it works better if I can let go of the things I know, take that step into the unfamiliar, however scary it might be, and experience what I’m trying to learn without ego, without expectation, as a child would.
One cannot progress in any field without first learning the basics. There’s so much to explore in the world, so many sources of joy and wonder, if we only allow ourselves to let go of pride, acknowledge that we have much to learn, and allow ourselves to be beginners.
I often doubt myself. I doubt my determination. I doubt my stamina. I doubt my ability to reach my dreams. Sometimes I even doubt my ability to have dreams. I’m thirty years old and I began my journey in parkour just over a year ago. What the hell was I thinking? Too old, yes. Too old to begin the training. –That’s the doubt talking.
Doubt is instinctive. Much like its close cousin fear, doubt is something of an early warning system. It’s your subconscious reminding you that you are not perfect. And like fear, doubt has a rather wide range of error. There is always a reason for doubt, be it the lessons of past experience, a change in perception, or simple inexperience and unfamiliarity. Doubt is not born of a vacuum. It is an honest assessment based on available information. Honest—but not necessarily accurate.
Doubt is only part of the equation. It is the yin factor of decision. The “negative,” the submissive. It is the little devil sitting on your shoulder reminding you of every bad decision you ever made. It is the Dark Side; but as much as I love my Star Wars, the adamant and uncompromising pronouncements of Yoda and Obi Wan are only true from a certain point of view. While this dark side is not to be given free reign, you ignore it at your peril. As Mace Windu feared, as Luke Skywalker learned, the Dark Side isn’t only present in us all; it is a necessary part of us.
Our first reaction to doubt, our initial response, is denial. Doubt is a weakness. It is a chink in our armour. If acknowledged, we fear it could spread and undermine our confidence. Thus we tell ourselves that doubt is an illusion, a figment of our imaginations, and we have absolutely no cause for that nagging uncertainty threatening our resolve.
The other common reaction is to allow the doubt to take over, creating defeat and despair. This is exactly what the first response is trying to stave off. The doubt takes over and success is cut off before it has even been attempted. This attitude turns doubt into a self-fulfilling prophesy, the negative of mind over matter—you don’t believe, and that is why you fail.
The problem with both responses is that they give too much power to the doubt. Doubt is a note on the door, nothing more. It is an unconscious memo to yourself recalling details you may have forgotten. The note tells you to take stock of what you have an suggests likely points in which you may—may—want to make adjustments.
Doubt is not a mandate from the Heavens. Its pronouncements are not unjust decrees to be railed against with fists raised and much gnashing of teeth, nor are they inescapable fates to be meekly accepted as rote. Once it has been examined, its lessons considered, doubt can be either laid to rest or given its way. Adjustments can be made accordingly, leading to improvements that may not have been possible without the interference of doubt.
The confidence and insight gained from truly facing doubt and accepting it as an ally are difficult to glean from any other source. It helps us to shore up our weaknesses, both physical and psychological, without the often painful experience of an externally delivered “wake-up call.” It puts us through a metaphorical fire to purge the worst elements of ourselves and to keep us humble. Refined confidence, humility, and honest self-evaluation. That is the benefit of doubt.
My job has recently taken me on a two-week trip to Taiwan. Since my parents and the large majority of their friends were raised in Taiwan, I’ve heard plenty about the island growing up, and there were expectations for the trip. Most notably, everyone I knew who had any experience with Taiwan made a lot of fuss about the food.
A short snippet of history: Taiwan had been a political refuge during the communist revolution for people from all over Mainland China. With them, they had brought a great hodgepodge of culinary styles, and in order to deal with the gustatory overload, the people forced all the self-proclaimed chefs to fight to the bloody, delectable death. What resulted was a distillation of the best tastes from across all the mainland.
The first place my host took me after I got off the plane was to a bakery, in which were housed such buns that the mean breads of my youth endeavored to mimic. Every day, my host introduced to me new experiences, from the rice rolls filled with assorted vegetables, to vegetarian creations that duplicate the taste, look, and mouthfeel of meat, to tropical fruits that crunch and crisp and run down your chin.
And so much of it is entirely meatless. I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise that abstaining from meat is seen as holy. After all, Buddhism in one form or another has deep roots in this part of the world. But it brought me back to a question with which I had been struggling for some time now: what separates us humans from animals?
To me, this question is tied intimately to the path of the warrior-poet. If I claim to respect all human life, why should that respect not extend to other animals? There have been volumes of studies written about various animals possessing a sense of self, about animals exhibiting the ability to reason and learn, about animals fashioning and using tools. Any pet owner will attest to animals’ ability to exhibit emotion.
Some may argue that our faculties in these areas are more advanced, but isn’t that line of reasoning subjective? Are we even capable of creating a metric for “human” traits without introducing some kind of bias? I’m reminded of the Age of Exploration, where Western scholars wrote extensively on the “savages” of other lands. To many of the era, the willingness and ability to mimic European customs was tantamount to intelligence. Are we being as speciocentric as they were ethnocentric?
There are plenty of well- and poorly-argued articles freely available for review on the web about vegetarianism and veganism, from moral, social, and nutritional standpoints. This article does not presume to add to that body of work. Though there are several practitioners who have successfully given up meat, I am not one of them. I’ve never gotten very far in any experiment with vegetarianism without feeling far too weak to further my training.
What I will advocate, though, is a healthy respect for the animals we eat. I’ll agree wholeheartedly with those avid carnivores who protest that we clawed our way to the top of the food chain, and we have the right to do with it however we please. But why use that position of power maliciously? Though it is the natural order of things that we kill in order to survive, the respect and humility of the warrior-poet demands that we not take lives lightly.
Here are a few things that everyone can do while still enjoying whatever fare he loves:
(1) A simple word of thanks before digging into a sirloin, regardless of one’s religious views, can go a long way.
(2) Get to know your local butcher. Buying fresh, local meats not only lets you know where the meat comes from and how it was raised, but it’s healthier and greener, too.
(3) Don’t waste a kill. Okay, so most of us don’t know how to use every part of the sea bass, but at least finish your fillet.
Train hard, eat smart, and act with honor.