Entering The Dragon – A martial arts introduction

Andrea

When I began my pursuit towards a career in stunts, I knew that I had the acro and aerial abilities. I also knew that I did not yet have the fighting abilities required to be a versatile stunt performer. Fight, flip and fall equals the triple threat (and then there’s the driving, water safety, fire burns and any of the multitude of other special skills required to be a top professional, but that’s for another post).

I knew that learning how to punch, kick, evade, and strike with a weapon would be a painful experience. Both figuratively and physically. It can take a Sifu or a Guru between 10-25 years to become a master in one discipline and here I am hoping I can condense it into a weekend course. Ba! This was going to take time. Lots of time, discipline and humility.

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It is quite easy for me to show up to a gym and jump, flip, or contort my body with great confidence. The first time I showed up to a martial arts class, I felt so incredibly awkward and out-of-place. Holding a small stick in one hand and drawing an “x” in the air with it sounds simple right? I had forgotten how many thousands of cartwheels I have done in my life to be able to produce one flawlessly acro trick. Well that stick did not want to go in a straight line. It hit me in the side of the face, it fell out of my hand if I was holding it too tight or not tight enough, or I’d forget to swing that damn stick altogether as soon as the instructor asked us to move our feet at the same time. I was a hot, embarrassed mess. Out of my element.

I believe that many of us experience being the least knowledgeable or capable participant in a room. It’s not a great feeling. One tends to desperately jump to the part of learning where we are considered good or competent. That feeling of vulnerability, of needing guidance, patience and assistance to learn is far to uncomfortable to bear. Or is it? Perhaps it could be one of the most liberating experiences instead. In the words of Bruce Lee:

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I continued to show up, to be the least knowledgeable student in the space, to fill my cup with a new knowledge and a new set of skills. I have spent so many years of my life being a teacher of other sports, it became refreshing to submit my ego to the humble truth that a teacher can and should always remain a student. To truly learn something, one has to check their ego at the door. I have infinite examples of students I have taught in the past who spend the entire class interrupting me in order to demonstrate their knowledge and prowess. They get in their own way of learning.

I started taking martial arts class because I thought I had to, for my career. I have continued to study various martial arts because that ‘filling up of one’s cup’ every single class has become such a welcomed experience in my  life. My wooden sword “x’s” continue to get sharper and less awkward. I may never become a master at any of the martial arts I’m studying, nor is that my goal, but damn the journey is pretty sweet.

Athlete Inspired

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Culture Shock: A tool for growth and adaptation

I am fortunate enough to have been able to travel to many different places around the globe. From the mountains of Austria for a wrestling tournament, to the fjords of Norway to coach a team of female athletes or the beaches of the Philippines just to get away. Besides the breathtaking scenery, tropical climate and ancient architecture, travel can have a profound and lasting impact on a person. The biggest is the effect culture shock has on a traveller, and the growth and adaptation one can experience from being uncomfortable in a new place.


Now I’m not talking about the travellers perched at an all-inclusive in Cancun. I’m referring to the trips where you are the only English speaking athlete in a small town in France, trying to find the tournament venue. Or the trips where you are on such a tight budget, you have to weigh the options of hitch-hiking back to Auckland and purchasing a bus ticket so you don’t miss your flight home. One particular trip that I struggled with the most was travelling from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, Philippines. An excerpt from my journal was:

“Holy uncomfortable batman! Last night we took a 6-hour van ride to El Nido without knowing if we had any accommodations when we arrived. The whole town was booked up, our cell phones didn’t work and the topsy turvy highway left us a little too queezy to think straight. The only place we could find in the dark, had one room left, just for us. This room was something special. There were no windows. When the air conditioning was on, it was so cold that our paper-thin blanket could not stop us from shivering. When the air conditioning was off, the room produced a smell so unique and offensive that it kept us awake. As I lay there, unable to sleep for a single second, I plotted. I plotted ways to get back to Canada by first light. I plotted all of the money we should have wasted on an ultra-luxury hotel room. I plotted. My sleep is sacred to me and the lack of it made me so incredible uncomfortable.”


The next day we packed up our stuff and took a long walk along the beach to try and figure out a solution. After going door-to-door along the beach front hotels, we happened upon a room that had become available moments before we had showed up. We were 10-meters from the water and had quickly forgotten our sleepless night. We had arrived in paradise. We had used our feelings of discomfort to fuel our problem solving, and were rewarded for our efforts.


I believe that there is power from embracing discomfort. Not relishing in it. But acknowledging it, and using it to adapt or better our situation. Getting comfortable with discomfort also puts a few things into perspective; 1. It helps decipher the scale of the problem that is making us uncomfortable. Having one sleepless night is nothing compared to a major injury, or never having sufficient shelter like so many homeless people experience. 2. Working through these states of discomfort, teaches us that we can survive quite a bit. Once we’ve ‘survived’ something once, the subsequent times are easier and easier.

Next time you go to book a trip to a place where you do not speak the language, you do not have easy access to Google, or you are travelling solo, look for those moments that you can work through an uncomfortable situation. Celebrate staying fairly calm and trouble-shooting your way to a solution. Recognize the knowledge that has been gained. Culture shock can be fun guys (well maybe not fun, but definitely exciting).

Athlete Inspired

Where is my Safety Blanket?

Just this past weekend, I was able to visit my sister and my niece on the island. My niece is such a cool little cat. Without any fear, she climbs the furniture, jumps off the stairs, and hangs on the big kid monkey bars. Even though she is a bundle of freaking joy, she’s still only two, and that age range can come with some wild mood swings and a lot of meltdowns on the floors of various public places.

Toddlers seem to thrive with routine. Doing the same things over and over. It’s safe and familiar. They have their bottle they always drink from, their stuffed animal friend that comes with them everywhere, and their warm and cozy safety blanket that tucks them in at night. But then, the time comes when their bottle needs to turn into a cup, their stuffed animal friend is hanging on by a literal thread, and the cozy safety blanket is still there but does not cover the whole surface area of their new big kid bed.

My niece fights it at first, flailing on the floor of the local coffee shop because she wants her bubba. Shrieking at a pitch that is deafening to all mammals, insects and invertebrates over having to drink from a cup. You feel like the worst Auntie in the whole world (mainly because you hand the screaming child back to her mother and walk away, pretending as if you don’t know them). One day though, out of nowhere, she’ll be asking for more juju in a cup and the bottle has been long forgotten.

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Just like a toddler who detests being uncomfortable with change, we adults don’t react to it much better. We do everything in our power to avoid it. To stay in the safe zone. The monotonous environment that holds little to no surprises. And….little to no room for any sort of growth; physical, emotional, social, etc.

Discomfort is essential to growth.

My sister, like many others, is painfully afraid of heights. She thinks what I do for a living is insane because I am constantly putting myself outside of my comfort zone to learn new things, to overcome fears, to adapt. Well she surprised me on my last visit with a trip to the local climbing gym. She was determined to work through this uncomfortable feeling of believing she was going to fall to her death if she got on that climbing wall. The sister in me, found this irrational fear hilarious.

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She made it to the very top of the wall her first time and didn’t stop trying new problems until our hour session was up. I was really proud of her. Knowing her daughter, who was already eyeing up the 5.11 problems on the wall, she’ll need to do lots of these things to keep up.

It’s so easy to revert back to what is safe and painless.

  • To go back to the couch and watch Netflix instead of the gym because your muscles still ache from that inaugural workout
  • To avoid going to that new Meet-up group alone for fear of having to strike up a conversation with some stranger (who could end up being your next new friend)
  • To only jog or bike as your form of physical activity because the learning curve for rowing, climbing or cross-country skiing is just too intimidating

If we fail to work through these moments of fragility, we will fail to ever come close to our potential. Adapt or die is a thing. Our brains need new challenges to grow and build new synapses. Our muscles need new stimuli to keep from atrophying and to protect our joints from injury.

So next time, you find yourself experiencing that impulse to reach for your ‘safety blanket’, consider riding that wave of discomfort to the other side. It may take you to a new place. A place which you will never want to return from.

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And Just How Can You Live Your Fierce?

You do not have to be an extreme sports junkie, an Olympic athlete or a technology entrepreneur to be living your fierce. I truly believe that there is something in everyone that lights a fire, that floats their boat, that can encompass every part of one’s being.

I have friends who have left their careers as architects to write one of hopefully many  beautiful children’s books. That’s living your fierce. Another friend started a small business after having a child because work and creation is what drives her to be a wonderful mother. Other’s chase 50 kilometer trails, closing that big account at their firm, or learning a new language so they can experience more of the culture when they travel. These are all ways others have found to live their fierce.

Before any of these individuals could begin living their fierce, they all took some hard time to figure out who they really are, what they really want to do and why they really want to do what they chose to go after. This requires a level of self-reflection that we are all capable of, but may just need that reminder every now and again to do.

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Maria Stenvenkel wrote about “7 Things You Need to Know to Live Your Best Life and Make a Better World” in one of her latest blog posts. She touches on a handful of really powerful themes to explore that may help you figure out how you can begin, or continue, to live your life fiercely. For the full article, click here.

  1. You’re 100 percent responsible for your life.

  2. The thing that annoys you about others is a reflection of you.

  3. What you admire about others is a quality you long to express.

  4. You can’t drive out darkness with darkness.

  5. People are always doing the best they can.

  6. You have to accept what you don’t like about your life to move forward.

  7. You matter immensely.

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So take some time to yourself or chat with a friend, just make sure you do it because your life is waiting for you to start living it fiercely!

 

Live Your Fierce: A dose of passion for everyone

Coaching 3

To be fierce means to show a heartfelt and powerful intensity. When my business partner and I came up with this phrase, it instantaneously captured the very sentiment we were looking for. We wanted to find a way to communicate the importance and power of embracing your passion, as you embark on the unapologetic pursuit of your goals and dreams.

Living your Fierce is different for everyone. It can mean to love fiercely, to laugh fiercely, to pursue, to choose, to change, to feel, to experience something fiercely. It sounds aggressive and maybe it is, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be loud, obnoxious, or extremely intense. It should be powerful though. When I read the phrase “Live Your Fierce”, I get this vision of a massive lion growling atop Pride Rock… which of course is followed by singing Hakuna Matata… and then I hear James Earl Jones’ voice telling me to live my fierce (major Lion King fan here). I digress.

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Living My Fierce meant putting all of my proverbial eggs in one basket and moving to BC to pursue a career in stunts. It was scary, full of uncertainties and challenged me both physically and psychologically. I owe so many for helping me get to where I am. For finding my fierce and unapologetically living that every day. The other side of my fierce, is one of a coach.

It has taken me more than 2 years to gain the courage to put this company together. To gather the conviction, confidence and f*ck it attitude to share what I’m most passionate about with my circle of friends, colleagues and beyond. I mean, I’ve posted and documented much of my journey thanks to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I have not, however, shared my passion for coaching and inspiring others to learn to move with the online world. To help others find their fierce.

Haters are everywhere, critics abound, and an ill-placed need to only put out flawlessly edited / filtered content had paralyzed my efforts. But anyone who has taken one of my classes, workshops, private lessons or shared a training session with me, knows that I am off-the-charts enthusiastic, crazy and genuinely passionate about teaching people superhero level skills. I also believe that there remains a shortage of female led content out there. That had to change and I couldn’t sit at and home and complain about it unless I was willing to contribute to changing things.

I would catch so many members of my social circles try and concede that they “can’t” do something. I emphatically disagreed with all of them. Major physical impediments aside, a good instructor, some decent progressions and little (and sometimes a little more) time on task can bring the “can’t” club members to the “I just did it!” side. For a coach, that transformation is like nothing else. It’s the reason many of us teach.

So I want to offer others the opportunity to transform from a “can’t” club member to a “just did it!” club member. Find a way to live your fierce. The task, event or lifestyle does not have to be extreme, it just has to be the most honest representation of how you see your true self. Growl like Mufasa if you have to, it sure helps me, and share with me how you Live Your Fierce???

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Being Brave and Overcoming Obstacles

Why do we stop doing things that scare us? Not the things that will put us in grave danger, but rather the things that make us feel uncomfortable but could make us feel pretty darn good about ourselves if we successfully completed them. In the realm of physical activity, this is big issue. Often we stick to the basic jogging, riding, skiing because moving differently than we’re accustomed to is scary and fraught with danger.

In one of her blog posts BE BRAVE! “For big results, think small”, Julie Angel shares the importance of breaking the habit of letting fear stop you from moving. From trying something new. I had the pleasure of meeting Julie last year at the Art of Retreat in New York. I have already raved about her in my last post about the top females Move Me to Move.

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“It became clear to me during my first class that I had unknowingly developed a certain habit over the past 20 years. The habit of avoiding challenges and therefore facing my fears. On the surface I was cool calm and collected but inside I was scared of everything. I no longer knew how to be brave mentally and physically. I suddenly had to think about how to move, WTF! When did this start happening?” – Julie Angel (Photo by Anya Chibis)

She’s an author and a movement advocate. The above article ties in nicely with my “Fierce New Skill” of the month; the kong vault. So take this month and break out of that comfortable shell of yours. Try a new skill!

AthleteInspired

 

Parkour Athlete’s Packin’ Inspiration

Photo credit: Chad Bonanno and Tempest Freerunning

1.Luci Romberg

There are endless good things to say about this powerhouse. I have had a she-crush on her since I begun my parkour journey and throughout my stunt pursuits. I had the pleasure of creeping out, I mean meeting, Luci at the first North American Parkour Championships. She graciously accepted my decision for us to be friends.
She continues to have an incredible career as a professional stunt woman (being brought on as Melissa McCarthy’s permanent stunt double), continues to set the bar for female and male freerunners at international competitions, and headed up an female empowerment initiative called Tru Beauty.
Training with her will have you levelling up, hanging with her will have you laughing uncontrollably, and watching her success will have you inspired.
Click here for Luci’s Tru Beauty video.

2. Mandy Lam

Mandy spends her time writing grants and getting funding to introduce women to the sport of parkour. She focuses on the physical and psychological benefits of the discipline, as a lifestyle change. An exceptional climber and well-travelled traceuse, Mandy brings a cheerful calmness to her practice. She is a wonderful personal to engage in tête-à-têtes with because she strives to gain real connections with those who she trains with. It is these one-on-one discussions that put her on my list.
Meet Mandy in this video

3. Brandee Laird

She moves like no one I have ever met. Her strength and fluidity is beautiful while her bag of gadgets and juggling skills keep you mesmerized. She cares deeply about equality and increasing the level of acceptance in the sport. Brandee has poured a great deal of time into building up a thorough coaching apprentice program at Parkour Visions, as well as a curriculum that is accessible to the entire parkour community and beyond. Above and beyond all that, she is a beautiful soul with badass dance moves and is a hoot to train with…especially at night.
Click here for Brandee’s movement reel.

4. Melanie Hunt

One cannot spend time with this energetic and intelligent human without learning something. She is a full-time high-school English teacher at an international school in New York, as well as an American Parkour athlete and coach. We bonded over physical literacy and multi-disciplinary learning at the Art of Movement this past year. Her passion for higher learning, at any discipline, is immediately evident. Our world needs more teachers like this. The ones who fight for better education, for gender equality and walks (freeruns) their talk.
Here’s Melanie’s Facebook page.

5. Julie Angel

Julie’s publihsed works got me really pumped to revisit the basic movements of parkour and get in touch with the origins of the discipline. Many people who read her book felt compelled to return to a style and mentality of training that the founders of parkour embraced. I have never considered myself a ‘purist’ but Julie’s work birthed a new love for the movement. Then there’s her See & Do project and constructive approach to women in parkour is so well articulated. I often find myself reviewing my notes from our talks in New York. So many great things to be said about this brilliant woman.
Click here for the See&Do website.

6. Alice Popejoy

Mother, academic and coach. This mama defies parkour convention and is currently rocking a research job in Norway. She takes an avid interest in applying her research to the betterment of the parkour community. In a footnote, she is also an inspiration as an athlete. She went from not being able to do a push-up to overcoming her physical obstacles and becoming a solid practitioner and coach.
Follow Alice on Facebook:

7. Natalie Nikiforuk

If you need a person to lift heavy things, she’s your gal. One of the country’s strongest powerlifters in her weight class, this traceuse brings a lot of diversity to the table. I met Nat almost a decade ago and we’ve trained, performed and competed together in parkour ever since. We have both been referred to as “hobbyists” to the parkour world for our focus on multiple disciplines. Well Natalie, “The Hobbyist”, Nikiforuk not only lifts heavy things, she trains race horses for a living, takes her parkour training seriously and gives back the parkour community. Nat co-leads an annual women’s parkour event called Varkour Day, she designs logos and digital animation for community members and she is extremely passionate about increasing opportunities for women in parkour. We just shot our latest video, which we’re very proud of (considering we shot it over a weekend).
Here’s a link to our first parkour video:

8. Erica Madrid

I tend to have a bias towards former gymnastics, mostly because of how athletically versatile they are. From her early Art of Motion days, Erica’s gymnastics background has influenced her movement style in the parkour and freerunning world and was able to flow between the two disciplines quite well. The reason I admire Erica, is not just for her practice but for her perseverance with making parkour a performance art. She was recently cast in the new Cirque du Soliel show, Votla, which highlights parkour and freerunning (among other extreme sport movements) in a very artistically centred way. I can’t wait to see the show, if you can, check it out! (Click here for Volta teaser)

9. Lindsay Darlington-Rowat (PK Generations)

Some of the first female content I watched on YouTube. I remember writing down her parkour WOD’s and emulating them. I was also simultaneously hoping for a female community such as the one showcased in the UK scene. She was one of, if not the first female Level 2 ADAPT certified coach. The physicality required to pass the original gruelling coaching course was extremely impressive. I haven’t met her yet, but she is an impressive coach and athlete.
Here is one of my favourite challenges she posted.

10. Caitlin Pontrella

Caitlin’s passion for parkour runs deep. Not only was she a partner of the Movement Creative, she continues to organize some of the leading parkour community development events (ie. Art of Retreat). Caitlin has recently acquired her full Architect designation. Mad props to anyone who can balance a full professional load with a full recreational lifestyle. I want to know her secret to balancing such an intense workload. This lady really makes me want to move!
Check her website out: www.CaitlinPontrella.com