Max Henry shares his introduction and journey into parkour, and how he’s gotten to where he is. He unpacks his book, the Parkour Roadmap, explaining what it is, and why he wrote it, before delving into his work on the Water Project with Know Obstacles. Max discusses his thoughts on the infrastructure of parkour, the changes parkour could undergo as it evolves, and the responsibility he feels to preserve the heart of parkour as it grows.
Is there a story you’d like to share?
Craig: So in every podcast episode, I try to get it to asking the guest if there’s a story you would like to share because, as I said often, the Parkour community is full of spectacular stories. And what I’m really interested in [00:30:30] is a story that’s special to you. So one that you’re passionate about. It can be an insight, it can be pretty much anything.
Max: So, there’s so many stories. I mean, I’ve traveled all over the place and it’s cool to think about those, but I think based on kind of what we’ve been talking about today, I’d maybe just like to talk a little bit about how I started training? Because one thing that I get a lot from people that I train with now is … They look at me and they go, “Wow. You’re not afraid of anything.” Or “This is crazy. How do you do that?” And they just assume [00:31:00] that it’s some genetic mutation. And I have like a twenty minute video that I filmed on my dad’s handi-cam from 1998 that’s on YouTube actually, of me talking to a camera. Setting up a camera and just talking to it for minutes about, “I’ve been trying this jump for days.” It’s like a two foot rail kong-pre. And people just assume that if you’re at a certain level, there’s no …
Craig: You’ve always been there.
Max: Yeah, exactly. [crosstalk 00:31:26] Oh, you must have started and you were just amazing. Or, whatever. [00:31:30] So I kind of would just like to share the way that I got into training because I think that it’s very accurate to the way that I still train and it’s kind of very true to … It explains a lot about who I am and how I train.
So my best friend Calvin, who was my initial training partner … We didn’t have a computer when I was a kid. I didn’t have a computer until I was fifteen. So we used to go to the library, hop on the computer. And one day we were there and we were on YouTube, looking at videos. And he just turned to me and [00:32:00] said, “Man, I saw this crazy news report the other night about some guy who could just jump on walls like Spiderman.” And I was like, “I’m not going to let you go without … You need to be more descriptive. What do you mean?” And he couldn’t really explain it. Him trying to …
Craig: No words, right.
Max: He was like, “It’s just like this guy. And he kind of would like jump on the side of a wall and then stick there for a second and then go to another wall. And then he could jump to little metal rails. It was crazy.” And [00:32:30] so I was just … I had no idea what he was talking about. I can’t even picture it in my head. And I was kind of like, “Jackie Chan?”
He was like, “No, it was way crazier. He would jump between buildings. Thirty feet.” And I didn’t know. And he couldn’t remember what it was called. So we went on YouTube and I was really into martial arts and stuff at the time, all kind of self-instructed. So I was like, “I don’t know what it’s called. Let’s just look for things.” So we’re typing in just whatever. Extreme stunts, things like that. And then [00:33:00] finally we typed in Spiderman guy jumping on buildings. And the letter P. Because he remembered it started with a P, but he didn’t remember what it was. So we typed in Spiderman guy jumps off buildings, the letter P. And the first video popped up was David Bell’s Speed Air Man. And then we start watching it and he was like, “Oh my God. This is it. This is it.”
Max: And I was like … At the beginning I was ragging on him. I’m like, “Dude, how did you not … It’s some dude with tattoos flexing. How did you not be able to describe this?” And then as soon as the [00:33:30] action started …
Max: My brain was just like totally …
Craig: I have no words.
Max: Yeah. It was just mind blowing. I didn’t know how to compare it. There was no context for me. And as soon as I saw it, I was just like, “This is so intense. I want to do this. I do not know how the heck I would ever be able to start doing this because it’s just massive roof gaps.”
And I went to the playground right across the street. And I remember climbing up onto something like a fence. Four feet high, five feet high. And I was just like. [00:34:00] I don’t want to jump off of this. Nope. Forget that. I went down. And I was a gymnast when I was a kid, and I remember thinking, “Okay. Where can I start? That’s something that scares me, but will be in my range?” And I was like, “Oh, you know what? I used to love doing tumbling, like back hand springs. Haven’t done one in years. Let me see if I can do it.” And I had, probably for two hours, stood in a field and just tried to commit to a back hand spring. And I had never experienced that level of mental frustration until that moment. Because even as a kid in gymnastics, you [00:34:30] have a coach, you have mats. Progression, do it on the trampoline, do into the pit, whatever.
Craig: Right. As soon as your stuck, they give you the … Here’s the wedge. Here’s the …
Craig: Here’s the mental suggestion.
Max: So it was fall and I remember just piling a ton of leaves into a pile and flopping onto my back for an hour. Just like, “Okay. This is the worst that could happen.” And I’m basically just jumping up into the air and landing on my neck. Like, “Okay. I can do that and I’m safe.” Finally, my buddy Calvin’s like, “I got to go. I got to go. My mom needs me home.” And so he had to leave. And I was like, “I don’t want to do [00:35:00] it alone. ‘Cause I might die and no one will know.” So I finally committed to it. I did it totally fine on my first try. It was perfect. And I was just like, “Of course. That’s how it would happen.” And I just remember that mental process was really crazy. And there was still a moment that I didn’t know where to go after that. And then … This is what I told Blane when I met him, when we were hanging out in June at American Rendezvous.
I remember, I was scrolling through videos. I saw an old Cambridge video which I watched. [00:35:30] Training in summer of 2006 training in Cambridge. And then I saw Blane’s Excelsior video and when I saw him do a rail precision and stick it.
Craig: Yeah, it’s like … Did they freeze the video [crosstalk 00:35:43].
Max: My brain literally was like, forget everything else that I’ve seen. If I can land on a rail and stay there, I will be happy with my entire life.
Craig: The meaning of life is a stuck rail pre.
Max: To me, that was just like the most amazing feat. I didn’t [00:36:00] know it was humanly possible to have balance that was good enough to do that. And so I remember in June, I went and told … I was like, “Blane, yeah. When you did a couple of those rail pres in the Excelsior … It was literally life changing for me. I saw that and I was just like … I didn’t even think a human being could do this.” And he just turned to me and he was like, “Well, I think you’ve got the whole jumping to rails thing down since then.”
Craig: You can move on to something else.
Max: So … It’s funny, ’cause to me, I look back to that story and I have pretty much the exact same [00:36:30] approach. I was a wuss, figured out a less wussy thing to do that was still scary. You know, managed to commit to it after a long time, got it really easy on my first try, and then decided I didn’t like flips and wanted to do rail precisions. And that basically sums up my entire Parkour experience since then. So that’s ten years of Parkour training in a nutshell.
Three words to describe your practice?
Craig: All right. And of course, the final question is, can you describe your practice in three words?
Max: I was thinking of one earlier. Which I think is pretty accurate, although I feel like it’s a dual edge. When I first started training, I would have said, “Jumping and thinking.” Is basically my entire training…
Craig: That’s three words. Jumping and thinking.
Max: …and thinking. And “Thinking about jumping.” Those are kind of both my things. And then now, what I’ve been trying to get to is basically, “Jumping without thinking.” That’s kind of been the processes. It’s like, developing the habit, thinking about it, analyzing it, tinkering with all the techniques. And then now at the point where you kind of just throw all that out the window and say, “All right. It’s all ingrained in my body. I’ve done fifty thousand, a hundred thousand repetitions. Now I just need to trust that it’s all there.” So … I guess those would be my … I guess that’s kind of like a nine word process, but … The evolution of my …
Craig: The evolution of getting down to, “jumping without thinking.”
Max: Yep. ‘Cause if you start there. You’re just going to fall apart. That’s how you … That’s definitely how you fall apart as a human being. You just break immediately.