Craig: Welcome to the Movers Mindset podcast, where I interview movement enthusiasts to find out who they are, what they do and why they do it. In this episode, Dan Edwards explains the value of playing games and unpacks what motivates him. He discusses the struggle of choosing where to spend your time and energy and the difficulty of distractions. Dan shares his insights on parkour’s relationship to efficacy, and the power and importance of storytelling.
Craig: But first, do you know that our website also has answers to training-related questions from athletes? Is there a specific athlete you’d like to hear from? Reach out to us on social networks or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.
Dan: Hi, I’m Dan Edwards.
Craig: Dan Edwards is a parkour teacher, leader and the co-founder and CEO of Parkour Generations and creator of the international ADAPT qualifications. He has helped to teach and spread the benefits of parkour to thousands of people across the education, fitness and sporting communities. Dan speaks regularly at major events across multiple continents and has a deep interest in human potential and the search for self-knowledge. Welcome, Dan.
Dan: Hey, Craig. Good to be here, man.
Craig: Dan, the more people that I get to talk to on the podcast, the more I just love talking to people. And I always want everyone that I interview to understand that I don’t have an agenda, and I just have things that I want to talk about and things that interest me. And people find some of them interesting, and that’s great.
Craig: Where I want to start today is, can you unpack the Superfight? I don’t want to call it a shtick, but I got a little bit of that through Andy’s Hero Forge project. And I’m just like, “Okay, whoa. Where did that come from?” And I don’t want to go so far as to say, “Could we try one?” because I have no clue how it works, but can you tell me a little bit about them?
Dan: Okay. First of all, we have to do one. Damn, I should have brought the deck. Superfight. The first thing you have to understand, I suppose, is that Fisher, Andy Fisher, and me go a long, long way back. I’ve known him for 35 years, probably, and we’ve basically been best friends for pretty much all that time. We know each other very well and we are both equally stupid and idiotic in what we like to do and talk about. And we have the same movie interests and the same books we like and whatever.
Dan: We kind of know what we’re going to both enjoy. And he was down last night, actually, and we will just spend whole evenings talking crap and playing games and watching movies and watching stupid stuff, watching TV shows. And then talking about really erudite, cool, sophisticated, intelligent things as well, and then going back to the crap and the rubbish. And Superfight, it was a game that Fish found and we wanted to try because we try loads of games. And so he brought it down and we tried it. And we liked to so much that we thought we would actually record an episode, just because we thought it was pretty funny and he wanted to put it on the Hero Forge podcast. And I’m a guest, co-host on that at times or whatever, somehow.
Craig: A recurring. You’re a recurring theme.
Dan: Yeah, yes. And whatever, if it helps him out. So I did that, and then he said every now and again we’ll release a Superfight episode. It’s really interesting you raised it, actually, because I haven’t thought about Superfight for a while. And then someone, literally two days ago, was like, “You should bring Superfight back and it should have its own podcast,” or whatever.
Craig: Well, you know.
Dan: I don’t think that’s going to happen. But it is a really fun game and it’s just an excuse for us to talk crap. And the coolest thing about it, actually, which was never released, is that we did a load of episodes that were for our friends only. We would take one of our friends, mentally, and that friend we would then have as one of the Superfight characters. And he or she had to then go through three rounds of Superfight. It was like a pagoda, like a grisly game of Death [inaudible 00:04:02] to try and win against the game. And one of us would play the round and one of us would play the [inaudible 00:04:08]. And we put most of our good friends, who are all equally stupid as us, and no one ever passed.
Dan: It’s weird. The Superfight game has this weird, magical skill that you cannot win three times in a row against it. No one ever did. A lot of them got to the third level but never quite beat the third level. And we played really fairly.
Craig: That goes just like Game of Death, right?
Dan: Exactly like Game of Death. That was what we based it on. And those episodes we only sent to those friends. Obviously, we couldn’t release them because they were … I guess, no one’s going to know who those people are, for a start. But they were the first [inaudible 00:04:37] recorded those. It’s a really cool game. We should definitely play it. You would enjoy it. Maybe you would enjoy it. I don’t know. It’s if you have a really stupid sense of humor.
Craig: I would say I’ve been accused of having a stupid sense of humor.
Dan: Then you’d probably like it.
Craig: I’ve spent way too much time playing the original AD&D back in the day.
Dan: You’re golden, then. You’re golden.
Craig: I’m golden. I really don’t understand all the mechanics of it. When I first heard it happen, the discussion about it, I thought, “Okay, this is just silly and it’s funny.” But then I realized you’re actually using the most critical part of your brain. You’re saying, “All right, reasoning lump of gray matter. I’m going to give you a stupendously ridiculous challenge. Go.” And I was like, that’s really brilliant because it forces you …
Craig: I’m wondering, after you play a couple of rounds of Superfight and then you have a couple of whatever your preferred beverage is, and then you move to the erudite discussion, have you ever gone into what is it about this game that actually makes it seem like such a magnificent scalpel to wield? And why is it always so much fun, it’s just evergreen?
Dan: We’ve never discussed that as a podcast. But I mean, we’re big into games, I guess. We were playing games of many types since we were kids, and still do. We do like to analyze games, I guess, and break them down and think, why is this good? And there are some really, really clever card games out there at the moment. There’s another one we’re playing at the moment called One Night Werewolf, which is just fantastic idea. It’s super simple.
Dan: And it’s basically a group of people around and you get given a card as to what your character is, and it’s random. And you’ll either be a werewolf or a villager or whatever, or a spy or a thief. But no one else knows, and you play the round. Certain different roles get to swap different cards in at different times and change who they are or whatever. And then at the end of the round, you all have to guess who the werewolf is. And the werewolf’s obviously trying not to be caught.
Craig: To be caught, right.
Dan: He’s trying … It’s super simple. It takes 10 minutes to play a round, but you have to really, really think. It requires real focus to think, “Wait a minute. Is this person bluffing me? Or is …” And I have to work out, are there two farmers in here? It becomes really, really testing.
Craig: Right. Prisoner’s dilemma and true psychology all mixed in, right?
Dan: Yeah. It’s great fun. And Superfight is kind of like that. I mean, it just puts you in stupid situations where you’ve got to basically argue and debate effectively and come up with a reason. And convince your opponent as to why you think your character should win with those abilities and stuff. It’s just a reasoning tool, I suppose, and debate tool. And also, you can draw on the lore, the extensive lore you have if you’re a fanboy like me. The extensive lore you have on all things superheroic and whatever.
Craig: Yeah, see, I’m going to die a horrible death. My character is going down. You’re just going to outmaneuver me.
Dan: I mean, you don’t necessarily need to have loads of info. But if you’ve got the info, you can normally argue. Or you can normally come across if you’re arguing from a position of strength, which is why I was able to beat Fisher quite regularly, because I have more of that geek knowledge than he does. He’s probably smarter than I am, but I have more of the geek knowledge so I was able to win more often, I think. He would deny that. He’ll probably say he won equal amounts. But if you count up, I’m pretty sure I’m ahead in the scorecard.
Craig: Dan, today is the beginning of a whole bunch of interviews that we’re doing here in London, so I’m jet lagged and I haven’t slept. So I’m coming out of left field, and the next question I want to ask you is, we were at an event and it was at night. And there’s always night missions, and I think you were actually a cyclops. I think as I walked by, you had a flashlight stapled to your forehead and you were looking. And it was kind of funny because I saw you, because you have a flashlight on your head. And it like, the cyclops is coming toward me and I was just like, I had to rage-quit the game. I was just like, “No, I don’t give a crap if you shine that flashlight on me.”
Craig: And I had a little exchange with you where I said, “I don’t know how you do it. How do you manage to stay so passionate and energetic?” And at the time, it was a throwaway comment that I had made because I was heading for the shower. But afterwards, I thought, “No, actually, Dan is really consistently not just energetic and motivated,” because people, I think, would agree to that. But I think you’re also … Now, this is a question is, is this true? I think you’re also very uniformly, really grounded at motivating yourself.
Craig: And one of the questions I have here is, all right. You’re 40 [inaudible 00:08:57] years old and you’ve been training forever and you’ve been doing martial arts and you’re doing parkour and all these different activities. And you’re in spectacular shape. How do you manage to get up every day and keep doing what you do to live your life? Where do you go? Do you have days where you have dark days where it’s like, “Oh, it’s Tuesday, I don’t want to do anything, I’m staying in bed”? How do you stay motivated?
Dan: It’s a good question. And it’s not one that I’ve ever had to really ask of myself, I think, in great depth. And the reason is probably because I started training and started … Because of the stories I grew up on and what I exposed myself to when I was very young, the concepts I exposed myself to and took very seriously when I was nine, 10, 11 years old, and then throughout my teenage years, that’s just how I think. And I can’t really remember being alive before that because I don’t remember being that young. That’s just the way my life has always been.
Dan: I mean, I was raised on stories of action heroes and martial arts and fantasy stories and these ideas of basically superheroic figures, heroic figures. And that was incredibly important to me. It’s kind of the first thing I can remember. And part of that paradigm is training yourself, is making sure you’re in a good enough condition to be of use at whatever time and to look after yourself and being resilient and all that sort of stuff. And having the skills to solve the problem, as heroes in all the stories always eventually end up with those skills, have to learn those skills or whatever. That was embedded.
Dan: And my martial art training was so fanatical from that age onwards that it was just drilled in, I suppose, that this is what you do. You train. This is just part of your life. It’s never really been a question of maybe I should stop training. It’s just a question of what training am I going to do this week? And what am I interested in, what do I want to learn next, and that sort of stuff. It’s a learning thing. It’s a continuous desire to learn.
Craig: Yeah. I’ve seen you take large … I was going to use the word detour, but I don’t mean in a negative way. I’ve seen you take large, tangential trips to learn to throw knives and axes, and I forget how that one all went. But I think that really says a lot about someone who’s willing to put in work to at least understand where mastery level would be, if not actually achieve mastery level. But that’s non-trivial, to even be able to understand what the masters are doing. And I think I’ve seen you do that in a couple of different physical arenas, and that’s not something that a lot of people do.
Craig: A lot of people become, not a one-trick pony, but I only studied one martial art. I didn’t go, “Oh, I should probably take a detour and go learn judo because it’s very closely related to aikido.” I never went that far. I just worked on one thing and then I switched to another thing. There’s a line of question there. I could say, are there any things that you have abandoned? Maybe you look at knife throwing and you say, “All right. I understand and I’m glad that I did that and I feel as if I’m done with it.” But is there anything that you’ve picked up, and we were talking about tea before, you ever started going into something and, “No, this is not cool, I don’t want to do this”? Have you ever really dropped something entirely?
Dan: I mean, I suppose it depends on what you mean by dropped. In terms of there are things that I have trained more intensively and then not, and then stopped putting time into that training. But I wouldn’t say those things have been dropped. I would just say they were part of a training path and they’ve informed that path and added to it, so you carry that knowledge on with you. It’s just a question of, am I going to spend five years training on this or one year or 20 years?
Dan: Some things I have trained, some things have always been the core. Obviously for me, parkour is one of those tangents because I didn’t start with parkour. For me, the through line is actually probably just general, practical competence. And a huge part of that, my emphasis when I was young was on fighting, but it also included things like survival skills and-
Craig: Yeah, everyday carry.
Dan: Yeah, exactly, skills like that. And then fitness and then cognitive learning and mental skills, I guess, as well. And you realize how important they are as well, things like being resilient and being focused, and meditation, mindfulness.
Craig: Yeah. And you had to travel.
Dan: They’re all part of the same path. For me, it’s just one path and that’s the through line. And then I’ll experiment with other things here and there. Like, I went through a phase of studying archery quite a lot and getting into things like that. But I don’t train archery every week. But having trained it enough to understand the principles of it, that I find very useful, because I know, okay, now I can shoot a bow if I need to. And it’s great fun, and if the opportunity comes up to keep training it again, maybe in the future I will.
Craig: Yeah. You could pick it up and really, really shine it.
Dan: Yeah. I mean, it’s all part of one training pathway, which is this search for competence. Physical and mental and emotional, I suppose, competence.
Craig: If I say who’s the first person that comes to mind when you think of the word competent, who comes to mind?
Dan: First person. That’s tricky. It would probably be a character from a story.
Craig: That’s great. What character?
Dan: It would probably be Batman, someone like that. Because these-
Craig: Yeah. I would, it’d have to be Batman.
Dan: Right. A super competent guy, right? He could just deal with any situation, he’s trained himself. Him or someone like Captain America.
Craig: I feel like this is about to become a Superfight, because I’m going to say, because it wouldn’t be Tony Stark because Tony Stark is actually quite incompetent. I’m like, “Oh no, we’re going down the … Here we go.”
Dan: Yeah. And that’s a whole nother discussion, right? Superheroes.
Craig: This brings up … I mean, I didn’t intend to do this. I don’t plan these stuff out in advance. But I’m like, oh, wow. This is actually the Superfight, is using one particular tool set that you know it’s kind of a way to check it. Like, let’s try this out every once in a while and have a cool Superfight with somebody to verify that this particular skill really works.
Dan: Yeah. I mean, one of the games we’ve been playing, for example, Superfight sort of came out, sort of … The reason we like Superfight is because it’s similar to a game that we’ve been playing for about 30 years, me and Fisher and a lot of my friends. And that game is called No Tools, No Shooters. It’s a verbal game, you just play it when you’re walking down the street. And one of you just says, “Okay …” And the classic entrance line is, “Strip to the waist, no tools, no shooters,” which means that these are the parameters of the fight.
Dan: They strip to the waist, you’ve got no weapon. Tool always means weapons. No weapons and no shooters, no guns. It’s basically just hand-to-hand. And then you pick two names, and then you look to the other person and they have to justify why they think who would win. It could be celebrities, it could be your friends, it could be anything. And we’ve been playing this for years.
Dan: And then when Superfight came out, we were like, “Man, the guys who created Superfight stole our idea.” Because that’s basically what that is.
Craig: It’s the basic idea.
Dan: It’s a better version of our game. But the reason we used to do those debates was always literally, it’s just thinking … Sometimes it’s jokes and joking, and sometimes it’s quite serious. Like, who do you think is more competent in this situation? And you can put rules to it. You could say, “Strip to the waist but with a shooter of their choice, Jack Bauer versus Jason Bourne in a city. Go.” You have to justify who’s going to win that and why. What are the skills? It is a sort of tactical training method, in a way, a theoretical training method.
Craig: Yeah. A flexible mindset to try and figure out, here. Here’s a pile of junk thrown on the table. And my dad used to tell stories about mechanics that he worked with. And they would look at his tool set and go, “Yeah, those tools are great. They’re new and everything.” He said, “But a real mechanic can fix something with a beach basket full of crap. Wanted, broken tools, you should be able to still do the job.” It strikes me that what you’re doing is honing that flexible mindset, that problem solving. And the other side of problem solving is the weakness finding. The idea of, “How do I accomplish X?” also involves where have you failed in the thing I’m attacking? Where have you failed to prepare so that I can find a way to penetrate? It’s interesting.
Dan: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah. I think it all originates from that through line. And it’s just that me and the group of friends that I grew up with … A lot of them. Not all of them. Some of them were actually quite sane, normal individuals. But a lot of them went down the same paths or journeyed along that path with me and they are quite fanatical about these types of training. You’ll see on YouTube, Fish is the same. And so those are the things that interest us, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about. Yeah. It’s pretty sad, really, but shortens the day.
Craig: This is going to seem like it’s from left field, but what I really want to ask you next is what are you currently, if anything, struggling with? What’s something that you’re like, “All right, I hope nobody spots me. I can’t do climb-ups,” or any more … I know that’s not the problem. But what are you currently struggling with?
Dan: In training?
Craig: In any way that you want to answer the question at all. I mean-
Dan: What’s something I’m currently struggling with? Probably the biggest challenge at the moment, and the thing that I find very interesting as a skill to develop, is how to manage the amount of things that we, as humans, in a modern, industrialized world, want to do and learn and are expected to understand and follow and put into our day. How do you manage all of those things? Because I do a lot of shit. I mean, I do a lot of stuff. And it’s quite easy. And I would consider that I’m very disciplined and have always been very disciplined since I was young, because that’s how I spent my entire youth, was creating a crazy amount of discipline.
Craig: Building discipline.
Dan: And at the expense of developing any other skills. I have no emotional intelligence or anything like that. I was like this-
Craig: Would you say discipline is your superpower?
Dan: If I have one, that was it, yeah.
Craig: I think so. What are you currently struggling with?
Dan: So, I’ve got lots of discipline. But even as someone as disciplined like me, it’s really, really tough to manage your day and not get swept up in all the crap that we’re bombarded with by communications, by social media, by the world, by the news, by the world we live in. Managing our … Deciding, basically filtering that, I think, is a skill of what am I going to focus on? What am I going to do? What am I going to learn? What am I going to give my time and attention to? That skill, I think, now is a primary skill for human beings in the modern world because you’re just bombarded.
Dan: And if you’re not careful, you actually sacrifice your autonomy and your choice. You sacrifice your ability to decide your identity. And your identity just becomes a reflection of the crap that’s thrown at you on social media. You just end up reflecting that back to the world, so it becomes this vacuous thing. And the phone. I mean when I was at Art of Retreat, one of the things I was talking about was the danger of the phone as part of my talk about managing your day. And I really think that the mobile phone is possibly one of the most dangerous inventions for the human species in terms of the-
Craig: Yeah. Dangerous like a super powerful tool. You can cut your arm off with this, kids. Not dangerous like it’s going to literally kill us. The phone, I’m not going to choke to death on it. But it is a really powerful tool. And it didn’t come with instructions.
Dan: Didn’t come with instructions. Super powerful, but because of that, the danger it presents to us in that it’s also very insidious. And you don’t realize how much your life is actually governed by this thing. And how much everything you think and decide and all that is governed by a tool that is designed by people who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars designing it to addict you to it, et cetera, right? That’s just one example, the phone, which is where you get all your information, all your contact, all that sort of stuff. And you don’t choose that. That’s filtered for you by someone else, by algorithms and things.
Dan: If you’re not careful nowadays, I think you can very easily get lost and come to the end of your life perhaps and think, “Wait a minute. I didn’t really decide my life. Everything was decided for me and I just went along with it and I didn’t really choose my day.” I think filtering that, that’s the skill I’m really always trying to work on now. Which is about actually, how do I decide what I do this day? What do I do first? Do I play the Russian roulette of the first thing in the day, picking up my phone and checking my emails? That’s Russian roulette, because you could get a shitty email in there.
Craig: Get out of my head. Oh my goodness, yes.
Dan: Right, exactly. And if-
Craig: Absolutely. I call it surfacing. I don’t surface in the morning when I first get up. I get up really early and I don’t surface for an hour and a half.
Dan: Dude, that’s awesome.
Craig: And I’ll put this on microphone, I’m actually … Adam McClellan challenged us at a class recently, “Come up with a thing you do every week.” And one of them I said was, “I’m going to go back to doing morning meditation.” I do a morning stretching and recovery session, but now I’m like, “I’ll go back to sitting in seisan and do enter 15 breaths.” And I’m totally with you on the … If people would take one piece of advice, it’s don’t surface until at least a specific, “First, I’m doing this, this, this, this, this.”
Craig: Right in the morning, I work on the podcast project. And then at some point I open up email client, WhatsApp, like 15 different mediums, and I look at all the things. And I mean, I think it’s great, it’s a privilege to have all of those people engaged. And then I go, “Okay, all right. I only got time for four, so these three go here.” And then I sort it. But I’m totally drinking the Kool-Aid.
Dan: And the thing is, you’ve got it. Not many people get it. The vast majority don’t get it and don’t do that. Like for example, I was at the Art of Retreat doing this presentation, and these are all … The people listening to this presentation are all go-getters, they’re self-motivated, most of them are over-achievers. They’re really disciplined people themselves. And I asked them the question, “Who amongst you, the first thing you do in the morning is roll over in your bed and turn your phone on and check your emails? Who does that?”
Craig: Not all of them?
Dan: Probably 90%, hands went up. It’s like, wow. And you know that’s a terrible thing to do, but-
Craig: Well, this is sleep deprived. I was reading a bunch of articles about this on the airplane in airplane mode. And one of the questions that I have is if you … Actually, I just lost my train of thought. That’s how sleep deprived I am. Can you keep going? Because I’ll find my train of thought.
Dan: Yeah. And then I think to me, that skill is the skill that I think is really important to develop. And for me, it’s about each day. Now, the meta for me is how am I going to manage my time? Because you’ve only got a certain amount of time in life, and what do I think is important enough to prioritize on a given day, in a granular sense, and in a given week and a year? So, almost like programming. What’s your microcycle, what’s your macrocycle, mesocycle? And how are you deciding what’s important enough to give your time to? Because if you don’t decide, your phone and social media will decide for you. And then you’re at the whim of fate. I mean, then you’re not choosing anything.
Dan: I think that skill is really important to develop, and that’s the one that I work on the most. It’s not a question of what am I going to train now, so much, because my training is always, in some ways, organic and continuous. Now it’s a question of how much time I’m going to devote to training and how much time I’m going to put to other things and project development and et cetera, et cetera. And not project developing, time off, that sort of stuff.
Dan: I think that’s a really tough skill to develop, and I think more and more that skill needs to be taught at a younger age. Because people, they’re not taught that sort of stuff and they grow up with the phone strapped to their hand. And I think I heard recently that the average adult touches their phone 3,000 times a day.
Craig: I can totally believe that. And yeah, there are so many of those little nuggets that we could trot out that are all totally true and scary. One of the things that I did, and I don’t remember when. Maybe I did it two years ago. I went and I took my phone … I’m pulling out my phone here so Dan can see that I’m not full of shit. And that’s the home screen on my phone. It’s completely blank. There are no apps on it.
Dan: Zen screen.
Craig: All the apps live off to the right and I … Oh, do you have the same screen?
Dan: Oh, no. I was going to say that’s a zen screen. That’s a really cool-
Craig: Yeah, it’s just completely blank. It’s just the background of the phone. And I open it up, I pull down to search and I open the app that I was looking for. And when you said 3,000 … I just read an article. It said try this. I open my phone so many times. I open it up and I’m looking at a blank screen. And I’m like, “What did I open the phone for? I don’t know.” Close the phone. I did it hundreds of times a day. I’m like, “I’m staring at my blank phone again. Why am I doing this? Oh my goodness. I am a trained …”
Craig: I don’t know if I did it 3,000 times, but it is literally the case. And I did the experiment on myself. I just move all the apps off the front, you’ll open the phone and instead of hitting the F for Facebook, you’re going to go, “Oh, I don’t see the visual cue. What am I doing here?” And now-
Craig: Yeah. It totally works. Now I pick up the phone, I swipe down. And I’ve also gotten faster at searching, so I can open the phone, find my weather app, look at the weather, swipe along, then close it quicker than I could before, because I used to get distracted. I used to like, I’m looking at, “Oh, there’s the F. I could go into Facebook.” I’d go in. I wish I could think of where I read that. My guess would be it was Leo Babauta, that guy from Zen Habits. That’s probably where I got that from, one of those guys.
Dan: Dude, that’s a great idea.
Craig: It’s brilliant. If you’re within the sound of our voice and you’re thinking that we sound like we’re making sense, try it. Just go on your phone. It takes the pain of moving all the apps, make a blank screen on the front, and then just see what that does to your phone. My iPad’s the same way, my Mac is the same way, the desktop is completely clear. The dock is down and I only launch apps by command, space, search for the app and bring it to the front. It’s always on demand. But the phone was an eye-opener.
Dan: And that’s an example. I mean, that’s a small change, right? That’s one small change. But that one small change could be the thing that actually creates a cascade effect of changes for someone. It’s really important to just have the discipline to go, “Right, I’m just going to make one change,” and do that. And then that can have a huge effect because that will free up two hours of your day, because you’re now not searching mindlessly. And then those two hours you can do other cool stuff, and so that creates more good changes.
Dan: I think that’s really important, that sort of stuff. And those are actual, practical things people can do. And no one’s being taught them, so if you’re already clever enough and already driven enough to look for strategies-
Craig: Right. I didn’t find that 10 years ago. Or whenever. They didn’t even have phones then.
Dan: The distractions weren’t there then. It’s really interesting stuff, that. And I think more and more that’s … In a way, it’s a form of parkour. I remember talking to Steph years ago, Stephane Vigroux, and I asked him about, “What are you doing in your training now, man? What’s your training?” Because he’s been training longer than most of us in parkour. And he said, “My parkour now is really in navigating the entrepreneurial world. And in a way, learning about business and things like that.” He said, “That’s my parkour now. That’s where my path has taken me, because that’s something I have to adapt to and learn and understand.” And I was obviously going down the same path, so I was like, “I totally get it.”
Dan: That’s really interesting in that that mindset is it doesn’t matter whether you’re learning to jump or backflip or fight or whatever. But what matters is that you’re learning and that you’re challenging yourself and having to adapt to that thing whatever it is. And in a way, purely that is the parkour philosophy.
Craig: Dan, I’ve said before, everybody on the podcast has heard me say, that I love to collect stories. Because I believe that when you hear someone tell a story, the passion that they use, the words they use, the story they pick, all those things, really reveals a lot about the person. I’m wondering if there’s any story that you would like to share.
Dan: I have a lot of stories and most of them are probably really dull. But let me tell you a story I told recently, I suppose. It’s a very short story. But it’s a story that I think has a good message in that when I got into martial arts when I was very, super young, I began training actually not in a school. I began training by myself, with my friends, and we just used to fight at school. Just trying to become Bruce Lee, pretty much. That was the depth of it. But anyway, we fought a lot and we weren’t constrained by any kind of tradition or the right way of doing things or etiquette or any of that stuff. We just fought, so we were really learning practical skills really early on, which is kind of cool in a way. But anyway, got in a lot of trouble, et cetera.
Dan: Then a couple of years after that, I got into actual martial art training. At some stage I was like, “Well, I should actually, probably go and learn formally how to do this stuff.” And then went down that path for decades. But one of the most interesting things I learned early on was that one of my first teachers told me that the most important thing in martial art is sweeping. And not sweeping the leg, not like Karate Kid, “Sweep the leg, Johnny,” or whatever, but sweeping the room. And when you’re young, you’re like, “I thought the most important thing in karate was kicking someone’s throat out or whatever, surely?” But no. It’s like no, no, sweeping’s first. And it was a Japanese tradition.
Dan: And obviously, at the beginning if you trained in any of the Japanese traditions, any of the budō or whatever, then every class pretty much begins with sweeping the dojo. And you don’t have any choice, you just do it because you’re a white belt. You’re just like, “Well. Oh, okay. Everyone else is doing it.” And everyone is doing it. This is the important point, is that all the high grades are doing it too. All the [judansho 00:29:41] et cetera are also sweeping the floor at the beginning of the class. Everyone does it without any thought. And so I did that.
Dan: And then as time went by I began to understand why you do it, obviously, in terms of the leaving the ego at the door and the humility it brings, and also the attention to detail and all that sort of thing. And then through my life that’s kind of been a theme that’s been repeated. And I see in all great what I call cultures of excellence, I suppose, whether individual or group cultures or whatever, that they have this real dedication to detail. That sweeping first story, as in sweeping is the most important thing. Just focus on sweeping first, do that.
Dan: That was replicated more recently when I met … Another name drop, but when I met and befriended a guy called Jozef Frucek, who’s the founder of Fighting Monkey. And one of the stories he tells is about early on in his training, he met a very high-level dancer. And he asked the dancer, “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from movement? What’s the key rule in your movement training that you think everyone should follow?” And this guy was a world-class dancer. And the guy said to him, “Cleaning.”
Dan: He said, “What do you mean by that?” And he said, “What I mean by that is if you focus on attention to detail and do everything very cleanly, every little thing you do as perfectly as you can. Then if you imagine the accumulation of years of training, if you think of it as putting one sheet of paper on top of another as you’re building up a stack of pieces of paper. Every day of your training is a piece of paper. If you put that piece of paper on slightly crumpled and slightly dirty and slightly bent, and then you put another piece of paper on top of that, slightly bent, slightly crumpled, and another, and then another and another. Pretty soon, your stack’s going to be very wobbly. The foundation’s not going to be strong. It’s going to be all over the place, probably fall over.”
Dan: “Whereas if you make sure every page you put on is clean, as in you have real attention to detail so it’s really crisp, it’s ironed, there’s no creases in it, then your stack of paper is going to be really solid, really aligned, and have a great foundation. And it can go really, really high up without falling over. So you build that foundation. So, cleaning first. Cleaning is the most important thing. Everything you do, clean it,” basically is his idea. When you’re training, do it cleanly, to real detail. And that, I think …
Dan: It’s really interesting that wherever I go in life, I hear all the masters and the great, because I would consider Josef a master in terms of movement. They all come back to this simplicity of just how you do anything is how you do everything, basically. So, do things really cleanly, real attention to detail. Don’t skip anything. Don’t cheat yourself. Don’t skip the last meter at the end of your 400 meter [quadripedi 00:32:32] challenge. Don’t stop at 399 meters, do 400 meters. It’s that same thing, it’s that do it cleanly. And if you do that, then everything will progress and work out well and you’re much more likely to build strength and excellence.
Dan: When I heard that story young, the martial arts story and my teacher saying sweeping’s the most important thing, at the time I probably didn’t understand it. But over the years, over the 30 years or whatever I’ve been training, I’ve come to understand that actually, yes. This is the most important thing. And so now I try and pass that on to people, is like, “Yeah, do the sweeping.”
Dan: That story, that stuff that I learned from martial arts and those disciplines I think is very important to … I think that sort of stuff also ties into the movement world. Or rather, sometimes it’s lost in the movement training world. The movement training world don’t have an understanding of that kind of thing. And I think that’s really important because, I mean, I’ve been involved now in the movement industry and the fitness industry for years. At every level, I suppose. And at some stage, you look at it and think, “What’s the point? What’s the point in being a good mover? All these people talk about being a mover, being a good mover. Why? What’s the point? You’re going to die. Why does it matter if you’re a good mover of not?” It’s like, what does it actually do?
Dan: And I think therefore it comes back to when you look at the martial arts, and there are many flaws in the traditional, disciplined martial arts, obviously, as you know. But one of the things they do well is that a lot of them don’t emphasize the physical side of it. They will say, “Well, the reason we train the physical side is as a vehicle to explore these concepts which are far more important in life, such as discipline, honesty, courage, humility.” The values, right? And so training is almost a kind of a vehicle to get to those, but physical capability’s almost a byproduct, and fitness and things like that are almost a byproduct of living a good life.
Craig: It’s like the verification that you know how to work … Sometimes they talk about sculptors work in clay and movement artists work in and on the body. And that’s just the proof that you know what you’re doing, is it should show in the body. But that wasn’t the reason you did it. And I’m asking-
Dan: Yeah. I mean, yeah. I guess it comes back to the … And particularly in the fitness industry, but the movement industry is similar as well in terms of it often has it backwards in that it trains to be fit, to move well. That’s missing the point. The reason you’re fit or need to move well is so that you can live properly and explore the world and do things. You’re missing the wood for the trees. You’re trying to build the cart before the horse, if you’re focusing on, “I’m just going to make myself the best mover I can,” or, “I’m going to be as fit as I can.” Why? The only reason to be fit is so that you can live a good life and explore and explore your passions and all that sort of stuff.
Craig: And can you be physically fit if you’re not also mentally fit? If you haven’t taken apart your philosophical, if you haven’t actually stopped to … The most important word, I think, is why. And if you haven’t actually begun to think about why then there’s a whole field there that you haven’t begun to understand.
Dan: I think, and as [Sinek 00:35:38] said, you’re to start with why. I think it’s right. I mean, if you’re a kid, you’re not going to start with why, and fair enough. Because you’re going through the apprenticeship and you’ll learn the question why as you go through it. But as you get older you should definitely start thinking, “Why is it important to learn these things and train these things? Am I training fitness just to be fit for some arbitrary reason? Because I’m not going to last, so it doesn’t matter really.”
Dan: Your health is going to give out, so the question is what are you going to do with that health? What are you going to do with that fitness? What are you going to do with that training? And that’s why parkour has some good … Those elements of strong to be useful and stuff like that. If you actually think about those things, it makes a lot of sense because the reason you’re training is so that you can do things. Not just so that you can be good at parkour or good at movement.
Craig: Yeah. And the ante, the, “I want to also not be a burden insomuch as possible.” To also not be a burden in addition to also being able to be helpful. But those are two sides to that. It’s not just, “Can I help someone?” but, “Can I carry the things that I would like to carry? Or do I have to call my friends and get help?” to make a really simple example, that I want to also enable myself.
Dan: Yeah. That kind of self-reliance and the autonomy and yeah, the self-efficacy that comes through that kind of training. But yeah, I think it’s a really interesting thing that you’ve got to get those values and those principles into whatever practice you’re doing. And not lose sight of them for the sake of just having this idea of being a better mover or a fitter athlete or whatever. Because really, what do those things mean, really?
Dan: For me, that search for meaning, I suppose, should be not always at the forefront of your mind every day when you go training, but it should be a question you ask regularly of yourself. And check in and think, “Why am I doing all this?” Because that will keep you on a good path and you may come to the answer one day, might be, “Actually, yeah. I don’t need to be doing this now. There’s something else I need to be spending my time doing because it no longer matters that I’m fit,” sort of thing. People will be going, “No, you should always be fit and healthy because …” But maybe you get to a stage where you’re like, “Well, actually, the things that are more meaningful to me now don’t need that, they don’t require that.” And then you’ll have time for something else.
Craig: Right, at that level.
Dan: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know why. Perhaps you could go into that. But I guess I see it a lot now with the movement industry and people talking about being movers and better movers, and this movement’s better than that movement and blah, blah.
Craig: In some sense it’s an enlightenment phase that I think the whole space is going through, so people have realized that the trophy in the window is no longer the right metric to measure by. The metric of how many wins and how many losses. And now it’s good that we’re hearing people talk about, “You should be fit.” It’s like we’ve moved up a level. So it’s better. I think it’s better than it was maybe when I was a kid. But you’re right. I think there’s definitely way more that can be dug into there about why.
Craig: You mentioned self-efficacy and this thought popped into my head which I’ve been having randomly. I don’t know where the seed for this comes from, but there’s something special about parkour. And I don’t want to go into the whole rabbit hole about that, but there’s something about going into that environment, just me and the stuff, whatever it is. And there’s no … You can’t lie to yourself. If you shin yourself on the jump, it’s pretty much you didn’t make it. And if you do make it, you’re clearly … There’s such an objective. There’s such an interface with objective reality. I think something happens to …
Craig: It happened to me, it happens to people psychologically. They go into that space and the first thing they do is they just observe the space and they get parkour vision and there’s this whole journey you go through. And I think when you come out of that, when you complete that first level-up, you see everybody else differently. You don’t just look at that person who cut you off on the road and have a judgment about them. You see them as another free agent in the environment. And you can do it in other physical endeavors too, but somehow for me training in parkour showed me that I was missing my self-efficacy, is what made me think of this when you said that word. I was like, “Oh,” this idea came to mind.
Craig: Having just thrown it at you with zero warning, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that. Or if you have anything, any pieces of that puzzle on the table there that you could help me put into the frame somewhere?
Dan: I mean, well, I completely agree in terms of the first day I went training in parkour was when I was living in Japan, actually, in 2001 or something like that. But the first day I went training, that was the first realization I had was, “Oh, this is …” You can’t hide. You can’t hide from this. And I’d been training in martial arts for a long time by then. But in the martial art world, you can hide. You can hide behind your belt, you can hide behind the idea that, “I can’t show my skills because I’m going to kill people.”
Craig: Hide behind your friends, you can hide behind your teacher.
Dan: All that sort of crap. But in parkour, you can’t hide. Either you can do the jump or not. And it’s a ruthless training discipline in that way, and like a mirror. I always thought of it, it was just like a mirror. You’re looking in a mirror every single day in parkour and it’s showing you what you’re like. It’s not judging you, it’s just saying, “This is what you’re like today. You can do it or you can’t do it. You’re lazy, you’re not lazy. You’re strong, you’re not strong. You’re brave, you’re not brave.” It’s just saying, “That’s the truth.” It’s a real way to understand yourself and get a huge, really harsh injection of self-knowledge. Sort of like, “Oh my God, this is-“
Craig: That can go good, that can go bad, right?
Dan: And a lot of people find it very hard, I think. But if you persevere with it, you will basically get a very real understanding of who you are and what you can do. And then also, yes. Ideally, you should begin to understand that the only two things in the world you can control are your thoughts and your actions. And they decide what happens in parkour and that’s it. And once you understand that, you then realize that everything else, whether it’s the road rage guy in the car or whatever, or the weather or whatever, you realize, “Well, I can’t control it. But I can only control my reaction to it. So that’s something I should control, is my thought in the situation.”
Dan: And it does give you huge self-efficacy, I think. You have the opportunity to learn that in parkour. I don’t think you automatically learn it, because look how many millions of people do parkour and perhaps don’t learn that.
Craig: Well, and this is where the whole unpack of people, like, “But that’s not parkour.” And then we have the discussion of, “Let’s try and define parkour.” I just think that that’s a good definition of it. If by practicing the thing that we’re considering calling parkour, if you practice that thing and you get this lesson out of it, that’s a pretty good definition of it worked, let’s call it that. I’m not a big fan, I don’t really care much about labels and names. I’m just like, “Yeah, we know it when we see it.”
Dan: Yeah, exactly. Yes, yes. There’s a quality to it you know, but yeah. I mean, I agree. And for me, I think the term I always prefer to use for parkour is a transformative practice. If you are using it to transform yourself in a positive way, good.
Craig: You’re on the right track.
Dan: Yeah. It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing backflips or not or whatever. If you are using it as a transformative practice, if it is that for you, then great. I mean, there can be no problem. All those debates and things like that, I’ve always thought those debates were fairly redundant. And they’ve only got more redundant over time. They got louder for a while and they got quieter for a while, but yeah. They’re a waste of time.
Craig: Well, and there’s a constant wave of new people discovering the world, discovering the Internet, discovering … There’s always waves of new people who are like, “Oh, I want to pick a side.”
Dan: Yeah. Yeah, it’s interesting stuff. But I suppose now at least they have … It’s interesting how communities develop, because the more experienced communities I suppose now, a lot of them have sort of dealt with those problems. Doesn’t mean they don’t have new problems to deal with. But a lot of them have sort of dealt with those problems.
Dan: For example, in the UK we don’t really see now the whole parkour versus freerunning debate very much any more. No one really cares. That debate was done, shelved. Most people come into it now and they just pick what they’re going to do in terms of how they’re going to train, but there’s not a big debate any more about, “I’m doing parkour or freerunning.” That went five years ago. But in certain other countries, it’s still very much alive, that debate. Yeah. Some interesting stuff.
Craig: We’ve been all over the place here conceptually, but I still feel like we’re coming back to storytelling each time. The idea of learning self-efficacy is you’re really experiencing a journey. And that’s a form of storytelling, only you are the story. So I feel like we should talk more about the use of storytelling. And now, maybe let’s bring it back. As much as I don’t want to always talk about parkour, but now let’s bring it back to a little bit more nuts and bolty stuff because it’s easier to talk about.
Craig: What is it that makes some sessions, and this is hypothetical, what makes some sessions so special because they bring in storytelling? I think we’d agree when instructors bring in storytelling, it makes those sessions special and memorable and particularly good at delivering a message, delivering a lesson. I’m just wondering what is it about storytelling that seems to fit so well with movement practice and so well with self-efficacy?
Dan: Well, it is going to improve everything. And the reason is because there is nothing else but story. All humans only ever live in a story. They only perceive the world through story, their own story. You answer to your own narrative, right? A series of events happens but you create a narrative through that and a through line that is your identity. That’s created by you. Human beings are story generation machines. That’s what human consciousness does, and that’s what sets us apart from animals that don’t have that prefrontal cortex and the ability to do that. We are storytelling machines, and therefore we resonate with stories because that’s what we know.
Dan: If you tell someone a message through a story, it is going to be more likely that they will remember it. It will be stronger, it will have an affective impact on them, an emotional impact on them, and therefore they will remember it, they will embed it, they will replicate it. But this is not to say, when you say bringing storytelling into training, it doesn’t mean you have to create a story about dragons. It is already a story. The fact that they’ve come to the class and you are the person teaching the class, that is already a story. You don’t need to talk about any story to make it a good story. The story’s already there.
Dan: The question is, if you’re the coach, if you’re creating that experience … And I suppose in ADAPT, for example, in the Level 3 Coach Certification, we talk about the profound experience and how really excellent coaches go into creating profound experiences for people. They’re not so much necessarily focusing on making people better jumpers or runners or fitter. They’re now thinking, “How can I create a profound experience for individuals which will have an impact on their life?” The more experienced teachers in any world, I think, are just very good at understanding that there is already a story in operation here just because these 10 people turned up to my class. They’re already looking at me thinking, “I am a certain person in their story. I’m the guide or the mentor or the enemy or whatever, but I’m a person in their story depending on their narrative. And they’re people in my story, because I’m the coach or whatever and therefore I see them as this.”
Dan: How you manage that story, that will decide whether the session is a good one or not. So, all coaches are storytellers. Some of them are just better than others. For example, our Night Missions. They are different in that they are … We very definitely make them themed. We very clearly give them a theme and a … We tell them, “This is the story,” at the beginning and we tell them, “These are the themes we’re going to work on and this is the challenge you’re going to try and overcome.” And it’s done in often a very serious way, because stories can be very serious. But those are definitely using story in an overt fashion.
Dan: But the majority of training sessions that we run or that I run and that coaches run, I suppose, they’re not necessarily overtly saying, “Here’s the story,” and you’ve got to imagine you’re throwing battleaxes or whatever. But whether they do that or not, they are creating a story for the people in that session. They are the architects of the story. And the sooner a coach understands that, the better that coach will become, the quicker that coach will become good, I think. Because you understand that as soon as they walk through the door and see the space and-
Craig: [inaudible 00:47:35].
Dan: That story has begun for them already. This is now a scene.
Craig: It started when they left their house, right?
Dan: Yeah, on so many levels. But you have control of it when they come into your space, when they meet you at the station for the outdoor class, when they come into the gym, whatever. When they meet you on the field of battle for the thousand [inaudible 00:47:50] or whatever you’re doing, the story begins the minute they walk in. And so how you are, if you’re telling the story, how you act from the first second will begin to affect the story. And the more you can manage that and control it and influence it the way you want it, the more likely they will have a profound experience. And the more likely they’ll go away thinking, “That was awesome.”
Dan: But it doesn’t necessarily need to be an active, “Let’s do this as a story, people.” You don’t necessarily have to do that. You can do that, but you don’t have to do that. The best stories are stories that you don’t realize you’re in the story. The best stories are when you’re reading a book and you forget that you’re reading a book. And then something brings you out of it and you’re like, “Oh, I’m reading a book.”
Craig: Completely immersed, right?
Dan: Yeah. The best movies are the same. And it’s the same with creating a good story in a training session. You want them to go through the session and forget that they’re part of this story, that they’re really massively invested in it emotionally, in the challenge or whatever. And then when it ends, they go, “Oh, that was a thing. This was actually its own thing. But while I was doing it, I was just in flow state,” I suppose, right?
Dan: That’s what I think about storytelling. And I think everything is a story and everyone is living their own story and that’s why I think it’s a good thing to understand storytelling and story arc narrative, all the beats that go on.
Craig: Pardon my verbal tics. Since we’ve dug into this, are there any books that come to mind or videos or things that you want to just name-drop? If you just drop them then we’ll find them and put them in the show notes. But I’m just thinking, this would be a good opportunity if somebody realizes, “Oh, maybe I should work on that as an actual skill that I should practice.” Are there some things that jump to your mind?
Dan: Yeah. I mean, obviously I’m massively into storytelling because I’m a writer and now I’m moving into screenplay writing and whatever and have written-
Craig: Oh, congratulations.
Dan: Well, it’s early days yet. I’m used to writing a story, I suppose.
Craig: I got to interview you right as you were becoming successful as a screenplay writer. Awesome.
Dan: Some way off. But I’m hugely into it. And if you want to study the structure of storytelling, I think there are some books that are fantastic on that. Obviously one of the classics is McKee, who wrote the book called Story, Robert McKee. And that book is given to all Hollywood screenwriters when they begin. I mean, really they should read that. And he was writing it from the point of view of movies.
Dan: And then John Yorke wrote a book called Into the Woods. And John Yorke is the guy who basically made EastEnders popular. He basically created the episodic format of TV sort of thing and made it popular. And I’ve been to a couple of his lectures. And that book, Into the Woods, I think if you want to get into storytelling and understand the structure of storytelling, the physics of storytelling, let’s say, then that book I think is probably the best that I’ve encountered. It’s really, really good.
Dan: If you like screenplay writing, then Save the Cat is an amazing book on screenplay writing. But these are nothing to do with training or parkour or movement. But-
Craig: But in a way, they have everything to do with training.
Dan: But, yes. If you get into it and you understand the story arc you can go, “Oh, okay. That’s why the end of act two is always like that, and the beginning of act three is like that.” And then you can go, “Therefore my class or my challenge session-“
Craig: Would work better, yes.
Dan: “Follow those beats, it’s going to be good.” The way we do the Night Missions, which are nine or 10 hours long, you have to do that. You have to think, “Where is the belly of the beast? Where is the elixir moment? Where’s the mentor that they’re meeting?” You don’t necessarily going to tell them those things, but you have to think, “These are the bits I have to get in there.” Because it’s been demonstrated, and Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey is a good study of that, I suppose, that that is how humans experience the world.
Dan: And Yorke basically brings it down to physics and says there is only one story, and the reason is physics. It means there can only be one story. And the story is basically thesis, antithesis, synthesis. And that’s it. And that’s the nature of how all things work on the physical level. There’s an action, there’s a reaction and then there’s something that comes out which is new.
Craig: Equilibrium, right?
Dan: Yeah. Or an equilibrium or a balance or whatever. And all stories are pretty much that. If you start to understand that, then you can actually frame your training sessions like this. This is a very high level way of thinking about coaching, I suppose. But-
Craig: And you can … And I’m sorry to interrupt you, but you could also deploy this on yourself. I’m wondering, is this possible? Can I use this as a tool on myself? Can I decide that when I’m having a bad day or a bad week I can say, “Oh, oh, oh, wait. Oh, I see where I am. This is the end of act two. I got it. Go.”
Dan: Yeah. This is the belly of the beast, yeah. And I’ve been in the belly of the beast for 10 years, so it’s a big belly of the beast. But you’ve got to figure that out.
Craig: You saw right through me.
Dan: But absolutely, yeah. And when you get to understanding … I mean, in a way I understand that’s hugely important. Because if you understand that you are creating, you’re the architect of your own story, then you have power over it.
Craig: Yeah. You have self-efficacy again.
Dan: Now you’re like, “Yeah, I can shape the story and I can decide how I think about it. And it’s just a story.” I think it’s really, really important, powerful stuff. And I think storytelling is probably the oldest art form in the world. And it’s probably the original art form of humanity, in a way, and the way we pass knowledge down and all that. So it’s, yes, super important. And doing it in a training session, bringing in, that’s why it has the resonance. Because humans are story machines, so if you feed them stories they will be happy.
Craig: And of course, the final question. Three words to describe your practice.
Dan: I’m going to use the three words that I think also describes the learning structure of the human mind, which we teach when we’re doing ADAPT in terms of coaching theory and stuff. Which is effectively, explore, challenge, adapt. And I think that’s also a pretty good definition of how parkour came around. But that really is the learning structure of the human mind in that you basically explore, you go out and you find things. You experiment with things. Those things challenge you because you can’t do them, because they’re new. And then you have to create an adaptation to deal with that challenge and to solve it, to solve the problem.
Dan: In other speak, it’s action, feedback, iteration, I suppose, in coaching speak in that do something, get some feedback and then iterate using that feedback. It’s a structural thing, I suppose, which is again a storyteller thing, I suppose. And I think it’s good because it summarizes really probably where parkour came from. It’s just the idea of exploring the world, finding challenges and then creating adaptations to overcome them or solve them. And then starting again and then exploring somewhere else and then exploring somewhere else and exploring somewhere else. And that cyclical thing is as long as you’re doing that and you’re training, as long as you’re following that open feedback loop, because that’s what that is, I suppose, then your training’s going to lead you to good places.
Dan: The problem comes when you have a closed feedback loop, obviously. Then that means you’re not doing any of the exploration. Then you’re going to have limitations as to what you can achieve. So I think I’ll probably go with those few words, yeah. Explore, challenge, adapt.
Craig: Thank you very much, Dan. It’s been a pleasure.
Dan: And for me as well.
Craig: This was episode 63. For more information, go to MoversMindset.com/63. And there’s more to the Movers Mindset project than just this podcast. Visit our website for more free content, to join our email list or to read about how you can support this project. And I’ll leave you with a final thought from Winston Churchill. Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. Thanks for listening.