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Parkour Fails: The Best Kind of Failure

We’ve all been there— a particularly difficult battle with a long running precision, a climb that’s just out of reach, a flip that you just can’t land at the end of the line. Parkour and failure get along like a house on fire. As maddening as it can be to repeatedly slam, shin, and crumple to the ground in a defeated heap, it is imperative to parkour training and can be far more useful than you might think. 

I was intrigued by a post I saw recently from Justin Balczak (@balczak) that made a couple of points about the benefits of failure that I’d like to expand upon. First is the Storror training mantra of “more information.” You have the potential to learn infinitely more about performing a skill, a jump, or any challenge when you analyze your failures. From improving technique or style, to sticking a more measured precision, success hinges on self awareness and understanding of why things go wrong when they do. Additionally, according to Justin the occasional fail provides the benefit of an ego check. It happens to the best of us; you have a great session, get overly confident, underestimate a challenge and wind up on your back. Reminding you once again, that concrete is hard and deserves respect.

Ever catch your toe? It happened to Justin Balczak (@balczak).

Ever catch your toe? Happened to Justin Balczak (@balczak).

Struggling to complete a challenge can be infuriating. You spend precious time and energy getting chewed up and spit out. Maybe you kick walls, spew vulgarity, maybe a challenge brings you to tears. To bring yourself down from heightened emotions and achieve success takes serious self control and mental fortitude. It takes just as much strength of mind to recognize when a challenge is beyond your reach, and to walk away. 

Marquis Bennett ( having to leave thanks to crumbling walls

Marquis Bennett ( overestimating the structural integrity of local walls.

Failing in a measured and prepared manner is an important tool for any aspiring parkourist. Utilizing the “prep” jump is without a doubt the most highly preached method of intended failure. Preps provide valuable information required for the first send, which was recently referred to by George McGowan (and historically Travis Verky and Danny Pierce) on the Motus Prodcast as a “dead send.” You know what they mean, when you finally move past landing just short of a ledge, and gloriously sail to the desired corner edge for the first time, surprising yourself and either bouncing the jump or slipping up. But this first non-committal send proves that the jump is in fact possible, as uncomfortable as the initial outcome might have been. When you’ve reached a level of awareness where you can make this first send confidently, and commit yourself fully to every attempt, your practice will improve exponentially. 

Jake Hlad making a great attempt at grinding a handrail

Jake Hlad (@jakeparkour) gets spat out by a hand rail.

Achieving this self awareness relies on your ability to push the fear of bailing out of your mind. It reminds me of a quote from the literary and cinematic classic Fight Club, “When you fight, and you realize that you’re not made of glass, it will change your life. You hold yourself different.” I think this is true of parkour; when you’ve experienced a couple of bails and falls, and you realize that you’re bone not glass, you can start to approach challenges with more confidence.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to learn how to fail efficiently. Actively practicing bouncing precisions safely, learning how to apply safety rolls to any fall situation, and learning some Ukemi are all necessary to falling comfortably and preventing fear from creeping into your training. 

Shea (@shea__butterrr) taking a spill

Shea Collins (@shae__butterrr) takes a spill.

Fear can be entirely debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be. Fear is a natural response to putting yourself in harm’s way, and is governed by an almond sized portion of your brain called the Amygdala. I once heard a sport psychologist refer to this bit of tissue as “that bitch Amy.” The Amygdala is responsible for fight or flight and your response can make the difference between committing to a challenge you know is possible and leaving disappointed. Fortunately, your fear response can be conditioned via repetitive mental and physical training. This means not only going out and training skills that scare you, but spending time meditating on and visualizing the skills and challenges you want to complete, attempting and failing at them with purpose and efficiency.

Marquis Bennett ( meets concrete

Marquis Bennett ( enjoying the process.

There are countless tricks you can use to help yourself go from visualizing to making the first jump. Many parkourists, myself included, rely on the 3,2,1 method— that is, counting down and sending on 1. This is a really effective way of committing yourself to a skill, but only if you’re consistent with your ability to pull the trigger when that countdown ends. If you back out of the countdown, the countdown means nothing, and you won’t be conditioning your mental toughness. Some will concentrate on deep breathing, relying on focus and control, suppressing their adrenaline as much as possible. It all comes down to knowing yourself and exploring beyond your comfort zone to find what works for you. The first “dead send” (my new favorite parkour vocabulary) is always the scariest, but handling your fear and committing to that attempt is a big part of what makes parkour addicting. 

Every bail is an opportunity. A chance to learn about yourself and the obstacle at hand, and a chance to be better than you were yesterday. The difference between repetitive failure and accomplishing your goals is reading your actions and making an improvement, for the betterment of your parkour training, and your well-being.