Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Height, Fear and Respect

I’ve been training for about 6-7 years now and I’d say I’m becoming pretty comfortable at height. I’ve heard many people make the comment that they ‘don’t really see it anymore’ and I’ve said similar things myself. A huge part of Parkour once your experience grows is looking at whether you can execute your well practiced techniques in a place which has more of a fear factor, for example a comfortable sized jump, but up high. When I started practicing on things like this I was extremely aware of the height and I found it really hindered my ability to push myself into a technique and also hindered the quality of the technique itself. With time and practice the height becomes much less of a factor, often to the point where it’s not a factor at all. I think it’s around this point that a traceur can go from being confident to almost reckless and it’s a transition, if I’m honest, that I had made myself recently. I want to share with you what happened to me when I didn’t see the height anymore.

It’s an average Wednesday evening and myself and Scott are driving back from a class. I’d spotted a potential car park/ rooftop training spot on the train one day and we were close by, so I suggest we check it out. Scott drives to the top of the car park and we jump out and peer over the edge onto the back of a shopping centre which has a big flat roof with some nice level changes. The space and height from the car park varies but it is very very close, with only a 6ft lane between the two buildings. The shopping centre roof is about 12-15ft high. The shops are closed and we figure we won’t bother anyone by checking it out.

We discuss some potential movement opportunities on the roof top, and Scott pops up on the car park wall and jumps across comfortably. I look from the stairwell I am standing in where the roof is literally 2ft away. I peer at the roof edge which is solid, give the rail a shake for stability and vault over to the roof. On my landing my foot just hits thin air. I miss the edge of the roof and fall into the lane, landing on my feet in stairwell and falling onto my back. It happens in a complete blur, like the opposite of when you finally break a big jump and everything slows down. I think I stuck my arms out and caught the edge of the roof for a brief moment which slowed my fall significantly, but I’m not really sure.

I sit up immediately and start checking my body for injury as I don’t feel any pain, my heart is pounding and I’m convinced something in my legs must be broken as I fell about 13/14ft. Short of a few deep gashes on my leg from the step, and some grazes on my arms from the roof/wall edge everything seems to be intact and I pick myself up. By this point Scott has leaned over to check I’m alive (!) and has climbed down to help me up. We return to the car with a bit of a nervous laugh and I’m in a bit of a daze.

In the days after this accident I felt extremely disappointed in myself for making such a stupid mistake and thought a lot about why this had happened, along with thinking how lucky I was to escape with a few scratches from a pretty big fall. I was grateful that something instinctive in my body kicked in and saved my fall and I know that’s from years of training and conditioning to protect myself from such falls.

But something else in my training had been missed.

I will openly admit it was completely my own disregard for where I was that caused that accident. I wasn’t focused in the way that I should have been, and just didn’t ‘see’ the height in the way that I should have. I won’t be making that mistake again. That’s not to say I’m going to suddenly stop testing my fear, just that I will let myself be a little more aware of it.

Fear is there for a reason and while we strive as traceurs to tame and suppress those feelings of fear, I think it’s important that we never lose respect for fear or forget that the body has inbuilt reactions such as fear for a reason, even if they aren’t as strong as they were when we started practicing.

As experienced Parkour practitioners we put ourselves in situations that have an inherent danger. Yes, we have trained extensively to eliminate a huge amount of the risk, but that risk still exists and should never be taken lightly. If you do train at height, it’s important to remember it’s not the big jump that you spend 20 minutes prepping for and focusing on that will make you fall. It’s the moment that you are not focused on and you make a silly mistake that would be hilarious at ground level, but not so much when you pop over a rail with a 12ft drop underneath.


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