Adam McClellan discusses his work with Parkour Generations Americas, the parkour community in America, and his local community. He goes into his transition from martial arts to parkour, before delving into goal setting and how he motivates himself. Adam finishes by sharing people he draws inspiration from and why coaching parkour is so important to him.
Craig: [00:19:30] 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: This is a story that to me describes the grit of parkour, which is something that I think lacks [00:20:00] sometimes in the parkour community. People miss the grit element. I’m going to see if I can describe it.
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. [00:20:30] 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.
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 [00:21:00] 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.
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 [00:21:30] than 50% through my strength, and I’m less than 50% through the drill, but I’ll give it my best.”
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, [00:22:00] nobody wants their arms blasted. We’re all tired as it is.
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 [00:22:30] 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.
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 [00:23:00] 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.
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. [00:23:30] 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?
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 [00:24:00] 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.
So, I’ve never been so happy to do 50 one-arm pushups, but I was because I knew that I gave it [00:24:30] 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: One final question. Can you describe your practice in three words?
Adam: 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.
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: Some people rattle off three quick words, and then I have to say “Could you unpack those a little bit?”
Adam: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 senses 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.
So strength, touch, and spirit are a great way to define parkour in my mind.