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Quals Story – Part V

By Ross McGachey

 

—–AFTERMATH—–

 

The deadline passed and nobody from Adelaide had submitted all of their testing modules. The physical was only part of it. Without instructors, we had to stop running classes for six months and suffered a bit, but we were in a better situation than some communities.

 

I was working on the long term community project component of my L3 qualification but had submitted everything else, so I sucessfully applied to the APA committee for a fast tracked approval on the basis of the community need and provided that I update them on my project´s progress.

 

My community project was to develop an 8 week coaching program based around the fundamental principles of Parkour into a tool that instructors could pick up and run. It can be found here https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BxSNiBe7EL5rdGljOHVpUkFIQnM

 

Acting as a L3 Senior Instructor I was able to continue working with Adelaide´s instructing community and guiding them through the process. I was able to assess and qualify instructors up to L2. I ran two physical assessments for L1.5 and 2 and did my best to help applicants prepare. I could clean up the other modules with them, doing interviews for theoretical tests, marking off class plans and watching them unfold in real life for the practical component. I suffered the heartbreak of actually having to fail my friends when they didnt meet the standards and struggled with fairness and impartiality.

 

Now the Adelaide community has recovered from the deadline and is running classes with qualified instructors while others are slowly working on their qualifications.

 


SAPA classes 2018 with some of the instructing crew

 

Six months later I received a certificate from the APA saying I was a Level 3 Senior Instructor. The wristband I had braided as a reminder of my goal finally came off. It was the end of a chapter that began four years earlier with a beginner instructor and ended with a community leader, instructor coach, well rounded traceur, and somebody who could choose a huge obstacle and find a way to overcome it.

 

——-

 

It´s hard to say what I gained or lost from my quals journey. It spanned such a long time and was so integrated into my life and training that it can´t really be isolated. It´s easy at least to say that I am now qualified at the highest level of instructing in a not for profit volunteer run community association that I´m immensely proud of. I can teach classes almost anywhere in the world which makes me happy, and I have the voice of my peers to vouch for me. I am recognised as a community leader and confident assuming that role. I am trusted to assess and qualify other instructors. As one of the few level threes, I have a position of respect within the APA which helps me to have a positive influence. I also have an implicit role in teaching instructors which I enjoy a lot.

 

But training for the quals had a much more important impact on me.

 

As far as my personal training goes, it was mostly focused around the physical test which was my biggest challenge. The wide and consistent technical requirements ironed out the neglected aspects of my technique. I had to work on techniques I had avoided, and where I had trained on only one side, I had to balance that out. I became physically strong to endure the long challenge of a full test. I became mentally strong to overcome the obstacles that had been deliberately put there. The test required an ability to push beyond comfort, to commit to long term goals, to demand the highest standard from yourself, to be resilient, to prepare, to be self aware and self critical, to aspire and achieve. I worked on and improved so many parts of my personality in chasing the goal.

 

In involving the community so deeply in my approach I broadened the impact. The sessions we ran helped all of us to share in the benefits and together we were working towards a big goal as a community. I also developed myself as an instructor coach, organiser, facilitator, assessor, communicator, professional and friend. I was socially present more than ever before and felt connected as part of a group that relied on each other. I felt empowered to make a change in the community and to use my passion to serve others. That still empowers me now.

 

It was effort well spent.

 

——-

 

Thanks to the APA for their work in general and on the qualifications, and more importantly for the good intentions and passion behind them.

 

Thanks to the Adelaide community and SAPA for being the platform for my growth as an instructor, and the hugely supportive family you are.

 

Thanks to everyone involved in Parkour who taught me the lessons I needed to approach this test with the resilient, self-developing mindset and philosophy it requires.

 

I don´t know what the qualifications system is like at the time of your reading, but my advice to anyone wanting to be qualified as an APA instructor is to be prepared. Know the organisation you are applying to and what you want from it and want to give to it first. Then know what they want from you as an instructor and a representative. The test is a condensed version of that. A job interview where they have given you the right answers already. You have it written down so you can be ready. Use that. Look at the test. Read it. Do it. Do it again. Do it again until you could do it in your sleep. Do it until passing is a foregone conclusion, and go and help others along the way.

 

I would like there to be more tools made available to instructors by the APA to help overcome the obstacle of becoming qualified, and more tools for instructors in general. I think it is admirable for an individual to problem solve themselves to reach a goal, but it is also admirable for us to pool our knowledge to become and create better instructors. We have a unique national framework for Parkour teaching and we should have a platform to share what we have developed. If you are aiming to become an APA instructor and have ideas for ways that the APA could help you and make it easier, please let your state representative know!

Quals Story – Part IV

By Ross McGachey

—–2015, 2 weeks before APA qualification deadline—–

 

A bunch of the APA committee and interested people went to Melbourne for an APA think tank and to run a big last ditch assessment before the deadline. It was December and only a handful of people in the country were qualified. There was definitely a feeling that we might have failed again to enforce the deadline and that we would have to postpone it another year. Many of us weren´t very prepared.

 

Perhaps ironically, but very necessarily, the APA thinktank saw us spending three full days basically scrapping the quals and reworking them into something better. This was part of a process of constant community driven reevalution that the APA is getting better and better at and it´s one of the things that makes me most proud of the association. We identified many issues with the quals and a huge need to reform the system we were trying to put into place. Among other issues, the testing was daunting and hard enough that it was prohibitive. Our instructing community was proving itself incapable of surpassing the huge barrier we had set ourselves. Also, the logistics of running these massive assessments were a big cause for complaint and made the whole thing even harder to implement. To assess and qualify someone required a huge amount of volunteer hours from the assessor.

 

So having agreed that the current system was broken before it was fully built, we then went to make our attempt at the deadline. Chippa ran a big physical test event for levels 1.5, 2, and 3 at the Trace Facility with about thirty applicants, largely senior instructors from interstate and local instructors of all levels.


Steve Berry at Melbourne physical assessment Dec 2015

 

This physical test took the group about seven hours to go through.

 

We started outside Trace with rail balancing and I was feeling confident. All of this was just going through the motions for me and I didn´t feel pressured, I knew my problem areas and I was focused on them. Rail precisions, cat precisions, and rail squats were still not ironed out to a point where I could relax about them.

 

Travis from Adelaide had not had enough time leading up to the test to train properly for it so he was originally going to just observe but he decided at the last minute to jump in with the test and see how he went.

 

People failed and dropped off at different parts. Some people were surprised. I guess they hadn´t prepared and didn´t realise their weak points. Some people knew their challenges and still didn´t make it.

 

I was doing the rail squats next to Matt and Isaac from Perth. We knew it was one of the most daunting and high pressure parts because it was the only element where a single mistake meant failure. I had trained it to an obsession and passed with no problem despite being a little anxious. But my heart was beating fast watching the others and I felt the pressure in the air. I remember somebody walking past and making too much noise and me snapping at them. Matt started strong and then without much warning he overbalanced and fell. He was out just like that.

 

It was a shock and an upset. He had smashed everything else. Without him passing Perth parkour was in a bad position and would have to fly him some other time to Melbourne to be retested. In the next few weeks we looked for excuses and grounds to appeal. At the thinktank we had agreed to permit one fall on the rail squats in the future. We all agreed the current requirement was too harsh. But that was just in discussion and we were being tested on the old terms. Perth was dependent on him and so it was not in the APA´s interests to be strict and cause damage to our community over one stupid fall. We could overwrite it. But as I recall Matt chose not to appeal. He had gone into the test like all of us knowing what the deal was. He had started the squats knowing what it meant to fall. So he kept that promise to himself and did not pass.

Doing the physical assessment

 

I passed almost everything without a hiccup or a doubt. I flew through the cat precisions and stuck all six. I could rely on my preparation. But then came the rail precisions. A couple weeks before I hade gone out and stuck 50 in a row to see where I was at but they were still hit and miss. It could take me a while to get into the zone, but we weren´t given a while. As a technique assessment, we had six marked attempts, plus an unmarked practice if we chose. Of the marked attempts, we had to perform 5/6 at class demonstration standard. Anything but a stick wouldn´t cut it.

 

I was nervous but confident until I failed my practice jump… and my first marked jump. I would have to stick the next five in a row or be knocked out. I jumped four times and stuck four times, trying not to let it get to me. On the fifth jump I landed and slightly overshot. There was a wobble. I had to swing one of my feet for balance, But I stayed on and didnt fall. It got a nod from Chippa and I went on to demolish the test.

 

Travis who had jumped in at the last minute had a few worries but his general training was good enough that he passed the level 3 as well. Of course I was happy and relieved for my communty and proud of my friend, but also I was super pissed off that he could just rock up and pass when I had put in so much dedicated effort. Still pissed off too.


Senior instructor applicants after the test

There was a decent number of passes on the day, and a lot of fails. A lot of it came down to preparation. Knowing what was coming and having trained for it. Some people had never attempted a full run through and unsurprisingly many didnt make it. But the APA came out of that day with a bunch more instructors on their way to full qualification and something of a framework of senior instructors to implement the system across the country.

Hey

We were about to pass a milestone into the next chapter of teaching Parkour in Australia.

 

Parkour: the spectacle, the practical, the philosophical, and where competition fits in

By Amy Han – originally posted on her blog, Falling leaves and a bird

 

Parkour as a spectacle is easy to define. It looks beautiful, impressive, terrifying, exciting. It’s often fast, it often flows, it can look animalistic and superhuman. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular on YouTube, why shows like Ninja Warrior have so many viewers. Parkour as it is widely understood – an extreme sport for super-fit adrenaline junkies and/or ‘crazy’ teenage boys  —  is so far from most people’s everyday lives that it fits perfectly into our constant hunger for a vicarious experience of danger, excitement, fear, pain and satisfaction from the safety of our couches.

Parkour as most practitioners understand it is quite different from this. Parkour is big jumps and small jumps. It’s rhythm, flow, balance, teamwork, strength and discipline. It requires self-checking and courage, an embracing of fear and challenges in order to be better. It’s on rooftops, it’s on the ground, it’s in cities and in nature. It’s quiet, serious, creative and playful. It’s personal and universal. It’s asking questions. It’s endless possibilities. It’s an extension of everyday life, a way of making sense of the madness. It’s experimentation, repetition, refinement, and precision. It’s damn hard at times. It hurts. But it also makes you stronger, literally building a thicker skin. Parkour is a means of getting from A to B, working with your environment rather than against it, or being complacent within it. Parkour is taking your power back. It’s a pathway to freedom in a world in which it’s easy to forget how much you have, how much you’re capable of, and what you have to contribute.

Parkour is not a competition. There is no winning in parkour, just as there is no winning in life. There is only constantly striving to do the best you can with what you have. Your ‘parkour career’ doesn’t end when you get injured, or you establish yourself as the best in the world (whatever that means).

You can’t measure who will be most useful in an emergency, or who trains the most sensibly to last longest, or who has grown the most on a physical, emotional, spiritual level since they started. There are too many variables. Those concepts don’t fit neatly into an event; they don’t make for very sexy TV.

But parkour movements fit easily into competition culture. You can compete to see who has the biggest jump, the fastest time, see how many techniques you can demonstrate over certain obstacles. I can see how this can be motivating, driving practitioners to become faster, stronger, more technically proficient. Obviously it can be fun, and bring people together as they cheer each other on.

I’m not against having any competitions which measure some aspect of parkour skill at all. I’m not against a reality TV series showcasing the incredible athletic ability of people I already know are amazing to the masses. I have huge respect for people who have competed in Ninja Warrior – to me they are admirably brave and strong for not only tackling the course, but for not having my fear of epically failing in public! I have found it particularly empowering to see women competing on the same course as men, for the same prize.

My concern is that you can only compete with parkour movements. It can look like parkour, but the intention is different. And viewers will always, unless we work really hard to make it otherwise, assume a parkour movement competition isparkour.

Personally, since I was very young, I’ve lost interest in most activities the moment they turn competitive. I grew up around some pretty competitive people. Roaring, cocky, throwing racquets and clubs, slamming doors competitive. Play hard to win, even if it means getting injured, competitive. I know it wasn’t their intention – I was always encouraged to join in – but I never felt their passion for competitive sport. I was never very ‘good’ although I enjoyed playing, and this made me decide that I wasn’t sporty. So I retreated to my quiet activities of reading, writing and crafting things.

Maybe it was growing up in a competitive culture, a society in which things are validated by levels and awards. But as I got older and more passionate about writing, I craved something more than personal satisfaction, wanted to share my work with more than my teachers and parents. The only apparent option was to try and become a published writer by entering writing competitions for kids. One prize meant so much to me I cried when mum couldn’t find the awards ceremony venue, even though missing it wouldn’t change the fact that I had won a prize. On another occasion, I won a national short story competition. I still remember how I hung up the phone after receiving the news and danced around the house. When an extract of my story was read out to a full banquet hall, I heard someone behind me whisper to their neighbour, “Wow, that was actually really good!” (not knowing I was in front of them) and that’s still the greatest compliment I’ve ever received, one I never would have received had the competition not existed. So I think I understood then how much winning and recognition meant to others in sport.

The existence of writing competitions gave me a structure to work with – goals, deadlines, themes, and incentives. Not everyone would need it, but it helped me. As writing is such a solitary activity, and with no friends or mentors who loved to write like I did, it provided a way of comparing what I wrote to others my own age, and gaining feedback from professionals. I was awarded and published a few times, rejected many more, and the whole experience made me a stronger, more confident and more determined writer. It gave me perspective and kept me grounded. Not once did I think that just because my work wasn’t chosen, that I had ‘failed’. It just meant that that story wasn’t right for that competition, it wasn’t ready, or I needed to practise more. Again, I know not everyone would respond in this way, but it worked for me.

Amongst creative writers, there is a strong mutual understanding that success is based on chance as much as skill and hard work, and that lack of recognition isn’t necessarily a measure of the quality of your writing. JK Rowling is a popular example – Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before a publisher finally saw some potential in it. Dedicated writers are persistent, consistent, and passionate; they write because they must, because it brings them joy, because it challenges and satisfies them. If you are writing for money or fame, you shouldn’t be writing, despite the fact that competitions and many avenues for recognition exist.

But back to parkour. Personally, I fell in love with it for many reasons, but it was it’s non-competitive aspect that kept me training. It reminded me that I can and do love moving. I love playing, exploring, being outdoors, challenging myself without worrying about tests, levels, shows or races. I can play and be challenged in my own way, developing practical skills and having fun, and that is not only ok but the norm.

I’ve been trying to work out why I reacted in one way to competitions in sport, and another way to competitions in writing. And I think the answer is that in writing, I was motivated by the confidence that I could be noticed – if I tried hard enough, if I learnt as much as I could, if I stumbled upon the right opportunity. And no matter what happened, because I never told anyone I entered anything unless my work was selected, I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s expectations.

In sport, I was de-motivated by the acceptance that I had no chance of winning, or even helping a team to win. I didn’t want to get in the way. And no one seemed to be playing just for fun.

The question is, do we want parkour to be a thing that is a casual part of more people’s lifestyles, like walking a dog or riding a bike? Or do we want it to be a pursuit only the able and passionate need bother even try?

Honestly, I just want people to move more and play more, no matter their age, gender, background or ability. I would love to see more value placed on movement for movement’s sake, in the same way I have tried to build Creative Write-it up as a space for kids to be creative for creativity’s sake – don’t worry about grades or if what you do seems silly or doesn’t work. It’s the trying, the process, where the lessons lie. And I truly believe parkour has a lot to offer mainstream modern society, whether the ‘moves’ are part of your everyday life or not. How to face challenges and measure fear. A culture of effort, self-improvement, longevity, and sticking together. An awareness of environment, a connection to it. I’m not saying parkour is the only way to find these things, but it is definitely a way. Parkour provides an antidote to disconnection from the environment, ourselves, and each other, during a time in which disconnection from all of these is one of the biggest, most dangerous problems we face.

If parkour competitions had existed when I started, I’m certain I would have stopped very early on. It would have been like every other competitive sport I’ve tried and lost interest in because I was never going to win, and didn’t even want to. And I worry that now that competitions do exist, and they are likely to continue to, that many people like me will never experience the multitude of positives parkour has to offer. I worry about a shift in culture, from an inclusive, welcoming community, to one in which more people are driven by money, fame, and ego. In which more people are driven to win, no matter the cost. At its worst, I fear parkour becoming another sport which links competition and depression in both the ‘winners’ and the ‘losers’.

If there is a way for parkour competitions to exist without losing our integrity or hurting the inclusive culture we’re all working so hard to cultivate, I’m doubtful. But, based on my experience as a writer who has found value in writing competitions, I’m also hopeful.

Competition culture isn’t going away. The media isn’t going to lose interest in an activity that seems ‘extreme’. But it makes the role of parkour coaches imperative, in the same way we (at Creative Write-it) are constantly reminding kids that the ‘creative writing’ component in their upcoming scholarship exam is only tapping into a tiny element of what it really means to write creatively, in reminding trainees that only so much can be taught. Training for competitions is a very specific skill-set that does not nearly encapsulate the whole of parkour training, in fact the competition element itself is not parkour at all. And training without any interest or intention in competing is just as valid.

Keep teaching, training, sharing, talking. As Julie Angel’s See & Do project suggests, the more people see, the more they will do.

It’s a tricky balance, but not an impossible one.

Amy Han is a traceuse and instructor with Melbourne Parkour. She is also the author of YA novel Breaking Jumpswww.amyhan.com.au

Further reading:
Federico ‘Gato’ Mazzoleni, Parkour in the Entertainment Language, 2016
Giorgio Ferre, Defined in Practice, 2016
Alex Pavlotski, Parkour and the link between Competition and Depression, 2016
Julie Angel, See & Do, 2013 – present