001. Adam McClellan: Community, goal setting, and coaching

Podcast episode


Craig (00:04): Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.

Adam (00:06): And I’m Adam McClellan.

Craig (00:07): And this is Parkour They Said. Adam McClennan is a Director of the Americas branch of Parkour Generations, the largest professional parkour and coaching organization in the world. As an ADAPT qualified Level Two Coach, he is regularly invited to teach and speak at events. Adam hosts classes and workshops in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, which has become a hotspot of activity on the East Coast. He offers expert knowledge in coaching and inspiring children, a specialization he has introduced into the ADAPT Level One course curriculum in the United States. Adam’s charismatic coaching talent makes a significant positive impact at each parkour event he attends.

Craig (00:40): Welcome, Adam.

Adam (00:41): Hey, Craig. Thank you.

Craig (00:42): What are you working on now? Let’s begin at the largest scale, the global scale, the Parkour Generations Americas scale, and we’ll work our way inward from there. So, can you give me a glimpse into some big-scale things you’re currently passionate about?

Adam (00:54): Yeah, absolutely. Right now, something we’re focusing on from the Parkour Generations Americas perspective is creating new partnerships that create new senses of value with the people we’re working with. So we’re in contact with large fitness corporations and trying to create connections with governmental organizations, whether that be military, whether that be school-based, whether that be Parks and Recreation, but we’d like to create those connections and start taking the value that parkour has to offer and using that to increase the value that they can put into the work that they do as well.

Craig (01:27): Okay, so do you see the role of Parkour Generations as a one-by-one, where you’re approaching individual school districts? You named a bunch of different types of organizations. Or do you see that the role would be to develop some sort of national standard, something that the school board hiring a PE instructor would look for the check mark for “This person can teach parkour”?

Adam (01:45): I think the answer is both. I think first, you need to make those connections and you have to build trust, and you have to gain a reputation. You start by doing small events or small partnerships or providing them assistance for free just helping out, being a friend. Then from there, you gain that reputation that gives you the accreditation and authority to say “These are the decisions I think you should make.” All the way to the point of eventually creating real systems that people follow.

Adam (02:12): That’s how Parkour Generations made its way through the generations, if you will, is that they started off doing things right, earned respect, and now organizations such as the American Council of Exercise, the ACE as we call them, use the standard of ADAPT as a way to regulate whether or not a coach is in fact qualified. We’ll walk our way through that process and go from small to big.

Craig (02:35): Terrific. All right, and from a more community-sized scale … I know there’s a big community in Boston and the community here in Lehigh Valley. What do you see those communities doing in the last year that’s been different from previously?

Adam (02:46): I think the big change that’s happening across America, not just in the community such as Boston like just here in Lehigh Valley, but all over the US is that we’re starting to realize that arising tide lifts all boats. Through events like Art of Retreat, which is a gathering of all the coaches and community leaders of the US, through events like that we’re coming together and realizing that we can all benefit by working together. While competition is natural and in some ways healthy, our focus is collaboration and helping one another first. That allows us to compete in healthier, happier ways where we can involve more people into the process of learning parkour.

Adam (03:25): That hasn’t always been the case. America has for a long time been divided, and there’s been lots of political and cultural differences.

Craig (03:34): Right, it’s our strength and our weakness at the same time.

Adam (03:35): Yeah.

Craig (03:36): We’re really great at going off and doing our own thing, but then we don’t come back at the end of the day.

Adam (03:40): Yes. Not only I think you’re exactly right Craig, but I think we are starting to come back, and that’s something that doesn’t happen a lot. It’s something that I think is so powerful about the parkour community, especially now, is that you can go to someone who does exactly what you do, and you can appreciate what they do. You can go to their event, you can give them a handshake and a hug, and go “Wow, you did a really nice job,” and you can mean it. Versus in corporate America, if you meet someone that does what you do and they do it really well, you probably don’t like them for it.

Adam (04:05): So that’s a powerful thing, and it’s starting to move across the American culture. That is very special to me.

Craig (04:11): Okay, and back down all the way to the personal scale. What are you working on now, maybe in terms of training or even in terms of learning, languages, martial arts? We can go further afield if you like.

Adam (04:21): Yeah, I think for me, it’s about explaining the community. That’s where I get my highest level of return on investment. Community is always what it’s been about for me. I like training. Training is a passion of mine, but I like helping others to train even more, which is, as you said, a strength and a weakness within itself. What motivates me, what engages my passion, is creating an environment where the community is that much stronger and that much closer and tighter and more beneficial to the larger community around them.

Adam (04:50): To be more specific, the current focus is seeing if there is a way to indeed open up our own facility, our own gym, and what’s involved in that, not so that we can only train indoors, and not so that we can run tons and tons of classes. That isn’t the goal. The goal is “Can we have a hub?”, a place where people can meet, and when you got to park your car somewhere, you can put it there. When you want to just be with your friends and get away from the rest of the world, that’s the place to go.

Adam (05:15): That’s the kind of place I want to create. It’s a community center for the parkour community and anybody who could even be associated with it or wants to join it or learn more about it. So, I would really like to create that space, metaphorically and physically, and that’s a goal of mine in 2017.

Craig (05:34): Okay. Maybe on an even more personal scale, what are you up to these days? Are you working on kong freeze, or are you running, or are you completely swamped by the work-a-day job combined with the running the parkour community?

Adam (05:48): Yes, yes, and yes. I’m very passionate about all my professional pursuits, even the ones that aren’t necessarily related to parkour, and I enjoy those. Those are going very well. I work in the childcare industry in addition to doing parkour-type stuff, and that’s rewarding. A thousand children walk in and out of our many doors all across Lehigh Valley every day, and knowing that you’re making a difference there is powerful. I enjoy my day job, so to speak. However, making a difference in the parkour community is really where my heart lies.

Adam (06:18): Over the course of many years of training, you have your ups and your downs in a lot of different ways. You might really be focusing on jumps, and you get good at jumps. Then you might really decide to focus on flips, and you’re good at flips, but now your jumps aren’t as good. It’s a very difficult juggle. You can’t be perfect at everything. I think having focused on community development and international and national involvement, some of my personal training is harder to keep up. Trying new ways to train in the winter, I’m swimming, I’m going to the gym and trying some different weight training methods that I’ve never tried before, I’m trying some training at home, just the smaller personal stuff. I’ve spent so much time training with other people that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be within yourself and do some of your own training.

Adam (07:05): So that’s been happening for me in the past few months. I think if I can focus on that through the winter and continue to develop my own sense of training within me, then by the time it’s the spring and the summer when everybody comes out of the woodwork, I’ll be back to where I want to be in terms of my own physical training and able to share it in the full way. So that’s what I’m thinking right now.

Craig (07:25): Well, that’s an interesting idea of cycles. A lot of people come to that idea after they’ve gone through a couple of years of training in parkour. They realize that they need to do different things at different times of the year. We’re in the northern hemisphere here. It’s gray and winter outside, so we’re all looking for ways to do heavier lifting and keep motivated.

Craig (07:42): One thing that I wanted to bring up is I know you have a pretty extensive background in martial arts, in terms of the number of years you put into it, starting very young and continuing on. One question I had for you is it seems to me that at some point you had to step away from that and allocate less time to it. I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts or anything you wanted to say about having to change the primary love of your life from one … They’re both physical activities, but they’re fundamentally very different.

Adam (08:08): They are, and what you just said, Craig, is wonderfully accurate. I really did have to flip the switch on the love of my life. Since I was a kid my father was in the Vietnam War, and his father, my grandfather, taught karate to the World War II troops. So he knew judo and some of the old-school basic karate that we see in the old movies. He was a combat instructor and taught Asian martial arts to our guys so that they could have a better understanding of hand-to-hand combat. He taught my dad. My dad talked about that here and there. So as a kid I always thought “That’s super cool.” What kid doesn’t want to be a Black belt and doesn’t want to do karate?

Adam (08:48): I was always interested in it, and on top of that, I was bullied at school. I was very short. I was the second shortest person in my class. For what it’s worth, the shortest person in my class was my main bully, ironically. Yeah, so of course, that affected me. So at age eight or nine, I want to say nine, my parents and I decided that we want to look at martial art schools.

Adam (09:11): We walked around. It’s pretty funny, in downtown Emmaus, there were two karate schools directly across the street from each other. We drove into the parking lot of one. We were walking up, and you know how schools have glass windows so that you can see the class from outside? I looked through the window, and I saw a girl who was probably a teenager, and she had a Purple belt on. I knew enough to know that that was kind of a high rank. So like “I’m gonna watch her for a second.”

Adam (09:34): So I’m standing on the sidewalk looking through the window, and they were doing a drill. She was kicking a pad in front of her and a pad behind her, like a front kick and then a back kick. She just looked awful. She was terrible. It didn’t look cool at all, and I thought “I don’t think I want to learn here. That girl’s not very good.” So I told my dad “I want to go across the street and go to the other place.”

Adam (09:54): So I went to the other place. Lehigh Valley Martial Arts was the name of the school, and I met the instructor, Paul Miller. It was awesome. I really liked him. I really liked the other instructors that were at the school. I liked the kids that I saw. So I ended up joining. I can thank that Purple belt for … Whoever that girl is out there, I appreciate it.

Craig (10:12): The anti-example.

Adam (10:13): The anti-example. Exactly. She was the perfect contrast for me. So I joined that school, and that was my passion. That was my dream as a kid. All I wanted to do was be a martial arts instructor. In my late teenage years, as I was in college, I was a martial arts instructor. I sort of achieved my goal and was right on the edge, or the premise, of at least being a head instructor for my very own school. Right about when that happened I was also getting involved in parkour. It was a difficult choice, and I had to decide “Do I want to continue being a martial arts instructor, or do I want to take my parkour coaching career a little bit more seriously?”

Adam (10:55): I made the hard choice to do parkour. The reason behind that is pretty straightforward. It’s pretty honest. It’s that the more I got involved in the martial arts culture and the martial arts community, the more I saw that it was largely driven by ego. You didn’t necessarily have to be really good to be a martial arts instructor. You didn’t even have to know what you were doing necessarily. You just had to look good and act tough, or be big and be large, and throw your weight around physically.

Craig (11:27): Play the part.

Adam (11:28): Or metaphorically. Exactly. You could really act a martial arts instructor, and a quick Google search will show you that that happens across the world. Don’t get too much time Googling though, you’ll get depressed. The parkour community, on the other hand, I have yet to meet someone who I consider better than me that is not obviously better than me. Anyone out there who says they’re good at parkour, they can’t do one jump without it being shown one way or another.

Craig (11:53): Right. Movement makes it immediately obvious.

Adam (11:55): Right. Exactly right. It’s a transparent art. It’s a transparent skill. You could be a big karate guy and wear whatever color belt you want to wear with however many stripes on it you want, and you can toss a guy around who’s psychologically conditioned to give into that. You can either convince yourself or everybody around you or both that you’re really good, but when it’s you versus a rail or you versus the empty space of a very large jump, you either are or are not. There’s no guessing. So that element of the parkour culture, which is a sense of humility versus your obstacles, as opposed to ego versus your students, really drew me in the direction of parkour.

Craig (12:33): You touched on some of your goals before, so I want to circle back to talking about what your goals are.

Adam (12:37): Sure.

Craig (12:38): You are obviously an extremely busy person. Do you set objective goals for yourself? By objective I mean “I’m gonna do 437 pushups in an hour by November 3rd.” Do you set objective goals, and how do you stay motivated on longer-term projects, whether they’re personal projects, work projects, PK Gen projects, and how do you measure your progress?

Adam (12:57): The answer to that is a surprising no, and as much as any person will tell you that’s specific goal setting, smart goals starts with specific. So you should have specific goals set out, and there is absolutely truth to those methodologies. However, you have to know yourself, and you have to know what your motivations are. I happen to know that the more specific my goals are, the less motivated I get about them because I like to deviate from goals when I see an opportunity to dom something a little bit different or a little bit better.

Adam (13:28): So I set broad goals. I say “I want to be better at X,” for the purpose of example. I’d say “I want to be better at breathing while I’m moving. I want to be able to control my breath better during movement and not be panting and be out of breath. That’s a goal that I want to have accomplished soon.” I’ll set a goal like that for myself, and what that does is I’ll wake up in the morning and go “Okay, how do I want to go about this exactly?” I’ll say “Well, why don’t I start by going for a run and seeing what my breathing’s like and how many breaths per step and for how long I end up doing.” I’ll pay attention to that and give it my full attention and intention.

Adam (14:04): At the end of that run I’ll go “Okay, that’s where I’m at.” Maybe it’s better than I thought, maybe it’s worse than I thought. Then I go from there. I go “Okay, how can I improve this?” I’ll go out and maybe do some route training or I’ll go swimming and discipline myself to only breathe on every four or sixth stroke for as long as I can, or I’ll do some breath holding training or Google how to improve your lung capacity. Having the freedom to investigate different opportunities not only gives me more knowledge, more experience, and more fun frankly, but it also gives me the tools that I can then share with other people.

Adam (14:34): So, again, my motivation isn’t necessarily just to improve myself. It’s to gather resources that I can share with the community around me. I learn a lot more by leaving myself open than I do by going “Must do X plus B divided by C equals my end result.” Either I got it or I didn’t.

Craig (14:52): Okay, and then you probably wind up with a constellation of those little goals that you’re working on. So obviously [inaudible 00:14:58] too you have 57 different things that you’re going in different directions. If this one calls to you today, that’s where we’re going today.

Adam (15:04): That’s exactly right.

Craig (15:05): That’s great. People that I’ve talked to have very very different ways of answering questions about goals. I’m like “I have a millimeter ruler.”

Adam (15:15): As it should be, Craig. As it should be. We’re all different people and we’re all motivated by different things. Any behavioral psychologist will tell you that motivation is one of the greatest variances of human behavior. You just have to know yourself well enough to know what motivates you because setting a specific goal might be exactly what you need, or it might be exactly what tears you down.

Craig (15:35): Yeah.

Adam (15:35): So you just have to know yourself.

Craig (15:36): That’s an excellent point. Whom do you admire? Everyone has their sources of inspiration, people they aspire to emulate, people whose words seem to call to them elsewhere. You’ve expressed interest in Jackie Chan, Leonardo da Vinci, and Peter Parker. So could you give some of your thoughts either on those individuals if you want, or if you’d prefer to touch on some completely different people?

Adam (15:58): That’s hilarious. I won’t touch on those three people. I wrote that almost mockingly as a college entry essay. You really dug at me there, Craig.

Craig (16:04): We’ll leave that as an exercise for the listener. Maybe I won’t even link that.

Adam (16:09): See if you can find it. Good luck. People from whom I draw inspiration or who I look up to, that has to start with my parents. Anyone who knows me and knows my charisma that you referenced earlier and my character, which I try to constantly improve, will best understand who I am if they were to meet my parents. My parents are amazing people, and they are the perfect contrast that helps make me the person that I am. My mother is best described as a fireball. If there is any gas in the room she will ignite it. I mean that seriously. She’s a fearless woman. So much of my charisma comes from her. She was an actress and a model and a singer and author, and you name it, she’s probably done it. A small business owner. So she’s always had that drive.

Adam (17:05): My father on the other hand, is one of the sweetest and kindest men or fellow I’ve ever known. He’s just an incredible guy. He would dedicate all of himself to anything if he knew the cause was pure. So that fire and charisma balanced with a sense of principle is where I draw most of my inspiration from, from my parents.

Adam (17:29): Beyond that, I’ve been lucky enough to have incredible influences in my life. I mentioned my martial arts instructor, Paul Miller. Many of the other instructors in that school also who are now currently my friends and my peers I’ve always looked up to. In the parkour community there are some really incredible people I’ve met who have either amazing discipline or an amazing lack of discipline that leads them to being very interesting people.

Craig (17:52): Now I want to know whose name you’re going to drop for amazing lack of discipline.

Adam (17:56): Ozzi.

Craig (17:57): Okay, that’s what I figured you were going to say.

Adam (18:00): No, Ozzi Quintero is indeed a disciplined man, but he’s a free spirit, and there’s a lot to be said for that. So, for someone like me, that’s an influence that was beneficial to see someone so free and so willing to break the rules to do what they believe is right is a cool influence.

Adam (18:16): I’ve just been very fortunate above all. I’ve had a great family, great friends, great coaches, great peers. So it’s led to a great life for me, and that’s because of those people.

Craig (18:26): Terrific. In the same similar vane, do you have a favorite quote or a favorite inspirational mantra that you …

Adam (18:34): Oh, man. All the time, but they change all the time. I mentioned before how my motivation comes from constant change in freedom. So I’m not the kind of guy that would tattoo a phrase onto myself because-

Craig (18:48): I wasn’t going to ask about tattoos, but okay.

Adam (18:51): Because two weeks later I look at the tattoo and go “Yeah, I don’t know. That’s not the most powerful thing I’ve ever read anymore.” So, I don’t know. I would say above all, if I had to choose anything at all, I would probably stick with the principle that you should work hard and you should follow your values. All of the inspirational quotes and things that I find are usually creative variances on the general concept of “Be good to people, and do things for others, and follow the values that are close to your heart, and never stop chasing them.”

Craig (19:27): Right. All branches from the same tree.

Adam (19:28): Precisely. So there’s my trunk.

Craig (19:30): Okay. Going in a lighter direction, I’ll give you an easier question afield. So, is there a story that you would like to share? The global parkour community is filled with amazing grand stories, but I’m wondering if there’s a more personal story that you’d care to share? Perhaps a memory that makes you laugh? Something that inspires you or reminds you of your parents or your friends or someone who-

Adam (19:52): This is a story that to me describes the grit of parkour, which is something that I think lacks sometimes in the parkour community. People miss the grit element. I’m going to see if I can describe it.

Adam (20:06): I was taking my ADAPT Level Two course, not my assessments, but my course. The course is a fairly gruesome five-day process. Basically it has two purposes. One is to teach you a bunch of stuff that hopefully you will benefit from in terms of coaching and exercise methodologies and everything you need to do to be a coach. The other half of the course is just designed to kick your ass. That’s its only purpose, whether you’re 100% prepared for the course or whether you haven’t prepared at all. It doesn’t matter. It’s going to be hard not matter what you do. They designed it that way, and that’s a good coach. A good coach would see someone and go “Okay, they’re good, but I’m going to find this way to push them.” That’s what’s going to happen if you take that course.

Adam (20:49): So I was taking that course, and we were working on one of the physical conditioning elements with the course that we were going to be assessed on at a later point. It was sort of like a practice round. What you have to do is you have to hang in a cat position on the wall, and you have to traverse across the wall. I don’t know the numbers exactly. It’s either 15 or 30 meters one way, and then the other way, and with a climb up in between. It’s just a lot of grip strength and whatever.

Adam (21:16): Grip strength has never been my strength, Craig. Anyone who trains with me knows that’s something I avoid with every ounce of my willpower. So I dreaded it a little bit, but I got in the cat position, I went all the way down the wall and did the climb up in the end, and was like “Okay, I’m more than 50% through my strength, and I’m less than 50% through the drill, but I’ll give it my best.”

Adam (21:35): So I’m coming back, and what I hadn’t shared yet is that the guy who was leading the course informed us that if we fall off the wall and we hit the ground, and this was maybe a 14-foot, maybe 15-foot wall, so when you’re hanging off the wall, you’re still 10 feet off the ground, and it’s more than you want to do although you won’t die. So he tells us that we have to do 50 pushups is we fall. So nobody wants to do that. We’re in the middle of a course, nobody wants their arms blasted. We’re all tired as it is.

Adam (22:04): I’m about halfway across the wall and my bent arms become straight arms because they’re giving out, and the grip of all of your finger becomes the grip of half of your finger as you move down the knuckles of what can last anymore. I’m thinking I’m not going to make it, and I’m sure they can see that, and they’re going “Come on, Adam. Do it.” And I’m like “Ah.” So I keep moving, I keep trying my best, but I decide mentally that I’m not going to let go. I’m just not going to do it. I’m going to hold onto that wall. So I’m going and I’m going, and I’m hanging on the wall with everything I have, and I feel my hands start to slip, but mentally I engage. I’m like “I’m not letting go of this wall. I got to finish this challenge.” So with every ounce of my strength I press and squeeze against the corner of that wall, which is a rounded wall by the way, making everything worse.

Adam (22:47): So I’m really gripping with my fingertips as I go, and as though someone had my by a rope from underneath, I yank off while holding onto that wall with as much strength as I possibly can. So I fall all the way to the ground, “Ka-thump,” down on the ground, onto my feet, and then onto my hips as I just collapse onto the ground. My fingertips now are bleeding because I really tried to hang onto that wall as much as I could.

Adam (23:12): On top of that, I had a shoulder injury, subluxated shoulder which is like a partial dislocation, that I’d been very slowly letting heal. Well, I didn’t do a good job of that. The shoulder gave out as I was holding on because I really had mentally decided not to let go. So, everything except gravity listened to me. My shoulder listened to me, my fingertips listened to me, but gravity didn’t listen to me. So it yanked me off the wall. My shoulder was in pain, my fingertips were bleeding, and I decided to go ahead and do 50 pushups on one arm, because what was the other choice?

Adam (23:49): I enjoyed those pushups. It took me a while to do them, but I was proud to do them because I felt like I had given it my all, and it was a good metaphor for me for what parkour training is like, which is it’s inevitable that you’re going to fail. If you’re not failing, then you’re definitely doing something wrong because you’re supposed to find your limits. There are parts of it that are going to suck the whole way along. You’re going to have ripped hands, and you’re going to maybe get injured in a small way. That’s a perfect possibility, but you’re going to grow. You’re going to learn something. You’re going to get stronger physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. All those benefits are going to come along with it.

Adam (24:24): So, I’ve never been so happy to do 50 one-arm pushups, but I was because I knew that I gave it my all. I knew that I didn’t give up earlier than I needed to. To me, that was a success, and it’s just a perfect put-together of what the parkour grit is like for me.

Craig (24:43): Hey, let me give you the wheel here for a bit. Is there anything else you’d like to share? Anything about coaching development, community development, or just random things I haven’t asked you?

Adam (24:51): I think coaching is the thing I’m most passionate about. That’s what I think I’m going to choose to share random thoughts on. There are a lot of parkour athletes in the world. There’s a lot of them, and there are many that are unbelievably skilled. Just last weekend, you and I were both at an event, and there were a lot of dudes there who were doing a lot of really cool jumps. Many of them were doing things I would not even … Yeah, they jumped further than my peripheral vision [inaudible 00:25:16] watch them. It became a tennis game, turn your head side to side, watching. Incredibly skilled athletes, and that’s just the beginning.

Adam (25:26): Across the whole world there are Russians and Danish and Korean and Chinese and Japanese, and there are athletes in Saudi Arabia who are doing things that I can’t do. It’s amazing how many athletes there are out there. What we have to ask ourselves is “Why are we even doing parkour, and what is it that we could do with parkour?” To me, if we’re not finding effective ways of sharing what parkour truly is, then we are sort of failing. By that I mean, while you as a specific athlete or a practitioner may truly enjoy parkour for yourself, and it may benefit you,

Adam (26:02): I challenge you to ask yourself whether it’s benefiting those around you, and what perceptions are you creating to those around you when you make that show real video, when you post your biggest move onto Facebook for all your friends to see? Just look at the comments. Read the comments from your friends, and ask yourself what exactly message is it that you are transmitting to everybody around you? Do they think you’re crazy? Do they think what you do is insane? Is it your aunt telling to you be careful, and some random girl telling you how cool you are, or is it people being inspired by you? Maybe it’s a mix of those things, but look at those comments when you post that video and see really what affect you’re having.

Adam (26:41): If you see an affect that is maybe turning people away, either in the sense that they think you’re crazy and what you’re doing is dangerous, or even that they go “That’s cool, but I can never do what they are doing, so I’m just going to see parkour as this distant thing.” If you really care about the benefits that parkour has to offer, maybe take a second to think about what influence you’re having on them, whether you’re drawing people in or pushing them away with what you’re doing.

Adam (27:05): So as a coach, as someone who’s passionate about involving people in the process of parkour, I’m challenging any and all listeners who are parkour athletes to consider if there are ways that they can learn to share the message of parkour and the value of parkour to the people around them. There are a lot of way to do that, and I’m happy to go into more detail, but even just the most basic coaching methodologies of how to share and how to listen and how to see what people need, how to break down the movements that you know into bite-size pieces that they’re going to be able to enjoy and draw from as just a few examples of things that you can do to help share parkour in a more effective way.

Adam (27:42): If I could wish one thing upon the world, it would be that everybody had that mentality, because if they did we’d have five times as many people practicing this art and doing wonderful things in the world.

Craig (27:51): One final question. Can you describe your practice in three words?

Adam (27:56): Three words? I’m going to cheat. I’m going to cheat. I’m going to use what we commonly refer to as The Three Pillars of Parkour. I can’t even tell you where I learned this. I know it goes way back, but I’m not exactly sure from whom. The Three Pillars of Parkour we define as strength, touch, and spirit. I like that because pillars are supports. They are things that if you take one away, the thing that you’re holding up may indeed fall down and topple over. So, I think pillar is the perfect word to describe these three things because you could remove one of those, and you would still have something, but it wouldn’t quite be parkour.

Adam (28:32): So to me, strength has a shallow meaning and a deep meaning, and I’ll be pretty brief about this because I could talk forever.

Craig (28:39): Some people rattle off three quick words, and then I have to say “Could you unpack those a little bit?”

Adam (28:44): Let me save you that trouble. There’s an obvious meaning to strength that I don’t have to really walk you guys through, but strong muscles and strong joints and being able to withstand the impacts and forces of this physical practice that we are a part of. So you need strength to so that. If you take away that strength, you’re going to give yourself a whole lot of injury. So you need it.

Adam (29:07): Of course there’s obvious deeper meanings to strength as well. Strength of mind and strength of spirit. Having strength was the original goal of the practitioners in the first place, not just physical strength. Many of them already had that more so than either you or I have right now, but they needed a deeper strength. They needed a strength of identity and a strength of community and a strength of spirit and a strength of confidence that’s inside them. So, you can get all those things from parkour, and you should seek them through parkour because parkour can give it to you. So strength is important.

Adam (29:38): Second one is touch, and touch is a weird word. Certainly when you tell it to kids, they giggle because they’re like “Will you stop touching me?” That’s obviously not what we mean. Touch is a word that implies the difficult-to-describe element of sensitivity and control and balance and carefulness in movement, because you can have strength or power in your movement, but if you don’t have a sense of touch, either A, you’re going to create injuries for yourself. You’re going to be blasting through every movement that you can, but you need to be able to control it. You need to be able to be completely in touch with that movement so that you know exactly what’s happening, and you can make adjustments if you need to, or whatever.

Adam (30:19): So that sense of touch in your movement is what separates parkour from football. Maybe not all of football. There’s probably some football players out there that have great touch, but I think it should be a requirement of the element of parkour. You need that sense of touch in order to refine your movements.

Adam (30:35): Of course, there’s a deeper element of touch. To me, touch is being in touch with yourself, being in touch with the people around you. Just as you need sensitivity and control with your movements do you have sensitivity and control with your community. Are you treating the people around you well? Are you offending them or inspiring them? Are you making a difference in your town, or are you scaring your town when you’re jumping off of those walls? So being in touch and having that sense of touch … Sensitivity is probably the best synonym. Having that sense of what is happening around you is crucial because otherwise we’re going to run into the problem I described earlier, which is that we’re bounding off stuff, and we’re not realizing the effect we’re having. So you need that sense of touch and community.

Adam (31:17): Of course, last, is spirit, the third pillar. When you say spirit, people often either think magic voodoo spirit, or other people think school spirit. I kind of mean both, but not in the voodoo way. The most shallow definition of spirit is having willpower, basically. It is having that spirit, just like when you’re cheering for your football team, do you have spirit? Do you have energy behind it? Do you have the desire for them to do well? Do you have the willpower to succeed? That’s spirit, and that’s important to have. If you don’t have it, then you’re just going to be mindlessly and emptily doing your practices of touch and strength.

Adam (31:59): There’s obviously a deeper element to spirit as well. There’s your own personal spirit, your character, your development, the deeper parts of you that you have the opportunity to develop as a person. As you can change your body in parkour, you can change your awareness and your sense in parkour, your strength and your touch, but you can also develop you, your identity, your spirit through parkour because there is so much to learn and so much to discover. So, if you take away that spirit element, I think it’s a much more empty practice. It becomes more of a sport and less of an art. While both of those things are good, it’s so cool to combine both into one practice.

Adam (32:38): So strength, touch, and spirit are a great way to define parkour in my mind.

Craig (32:44): Well, thank you Adam McClellan. We really appreciate your time and energy today. It’s been a pleasure.

Adam (32:48): Thanks, Craig.

Craig (32:49): Of course, there’s a website. Visit parkour.theysaid.world for this episode’s notes and transcript. The site also has writing from people around the world, and everything is available in a dozen languages. Start with the About page which has our contact form, details about Twitter, Facebook, volunteering, sponsorship opportunities, and more.