The Elder Traceur #2- Salil Maniktahla

Be Afraid! Be a Little Afraid! 

By Salil Maniktahla

One of the things we talk about a lot, or else avoid talking about entirely in our training around here is...fear. I've been thinking about fear a lot lately, and I have some breaking news for you, based on a minor epiphany I had last night: Fear Is Your Friend. It's not always your friend, and not usually right away, but yes...fear is your friend.

Allow me to explain.

When I first started training, one of my goals (almost subconsciously) was to avoid being afraid. I trained hard, I worked on techniques and learning new skills, all so that when I tried something, I wouldn't be afraid. Needless to say, this didn't go over very well in the real world. I think I was scared out of my mind the first several outdoor jams I went to.

I'm calling this first period "The Big Fear," because it can seem like everything you try is scary. Vaults, rolls, cat-hangs,'s! This is totally normal for most people starting out, and my advice to you if you're in that phase is to STICK IT OUT, because...

...after a while, the Big Fear went away. I didn't even really notice its absence. I only felt more confident, more relaxed. But still, now and again, I'd get scared. I'd see a big move that someone very skilled could pull off the first time, and I just wouldn't have the cojones to try it. It was too far beyond my training and where I was at that moment. Later, if and when I'd progressed to the proper point, I'd try and work on that thing...then.

This happens to each of us, all the time, I expect. We all know someone who's just so damn good that it's both amazing and also a little demoralizing to watch them work out and train. You see them pull off that fantastic jump, that flip, that move that you just know you can't do, and it blows your mind. God, you think. I wish I could do that.

Then you get back to your regularly scheduled training and try not to dwell on their super-mutant freakazoid awesomeness too much, because it hurts your ego a little. "Man, if I'd just started training about ten years earlier, maybe I could do that kind of stuff, too," I'd sometimes think to myself (or say out loud, for those of you who stand next to me on a regular basis and feel like calling me out).

I'm calling that part the "Can't Do That, But I Can Avoid It" fear. It's characterized by a strange sort of rationalization process. Any advanced move that seems too hard (or in reality is kind of scary) is something you find ways to avoid. If you're not careful, you can wind up only focusing on things you already know and feel comfortable with. Doing this, you can get stuck in a rut, and never even feel like you're doing anything wrong. If you regularly think things like, "That looks cool, but it's totally outside my skill level," or "I'm really not good at the low-level skill that leads up to that bad-ass one, so yeah, no way."

One of the things I've learned since I've started training in parkour is what I call "Fear of the Real." Have you ever pulled off a move in a gym or a controlled environment, and then you got out into the "real world" and that same move...that same darn move!...had you beat?

Once, I was with some friends climbing around on rocks in Great Falls, VA. There's a great spot for cat leaps. The jump isn't far at all, the vertical drop is maybe 4 feet...but all of us who stood at the edge of the rock formation got scared.


It wasn't too hard. It was too real. Clearly, failing this jump had some dire consequences: you'd fall onto the jagged tumble of boulders below you and at the very least twist an ankle. Possibly you'd break an arm.'d die.

Another example: recently, one of the instructors at the gym set up a "Ninja Warrior"-style obstacle course. None of the moves were overly difficult, but one involved a leap to a pullup bar from a small box. Total distance was under 5 feet, definitely. It was easily within range of my jumping ability, and I knew that rationally, but it wasn't something we'd practiced much. I didn't know how it would feel, how my body would feel, how I would recover if I missed. Again, the consequences were too real.

How do you overcome Fear of the Real? You take a deep breath, and you go ahead and do the move. Again, scaling and progressions help a lot. You might try a shorter leap to the obstacle first, and get your confidence up. You might do that repeatedly. You might try jumping to another obstacle that's closer, and then working your way to the larger jump. But at some point, you do ultimately have to simply face it and try for yourself.

What I'm realizing now is that being a little afraid (not terrified, not paralyzed, but slightly afraid) is a good thing. It keeps you moving, and tells you you're right at the edge in your training. It's a great gauge for how hard you're pushing yourself overall. If you can't move, if you freeze up, you're too afraid. Try something else. But come back once you can move again and push yourself. Try it again!

Make it your mantra. Be Afraid! Be Just A Little Afraid!

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Written by Janine   
Monday, 26 October 2009 19:01
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 21:49