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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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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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

Inspiration from Friends who are Killing It!

I am starting to feel like myself again in the mist of processing everything. At times like these, I can find it pretty hard to get motivated to train or work on the projects that I am normally passionately immersed in. My people, the family you have that are either blood related or not, have been incredibly supportive and have reminded me how many great things I am working towards. I am taking a little time to focus on all of the extremely inspirational people in my life and borrow a little energy from them. I wanted to use this post to celebrate just a few of the amazing people in my life and the infectious power that comes from chasing your dreams whole heartedly.

First up is my cousin, probably one of the most inspiring women I know. Her love for others (of the human and  the furry, 4-legged variety) and her hours upon hours of introspection is one of the few reasons I admire her. She has the ability to navigate through life’s major ups and downs with feeling and with flare.  When she was here in Vancouver for her brother’s wedding we were lucky enough to spend a couple of days together. She is going after her passion for food, mentorship and management while working her way up the restaurant chain. I have no doubt that she will one day own her own restaurant one day. And on top of that, she pursues it with such fashionable feistiness, I cannot help but want to do the same with my own pursuits. 

Next up is the stunt ladies in my life. One of them has been working in the sutnt industry for a while, one of them has made a major breakthrough this year and the other is quickly working her way onto the scene. They all come from different backgrounds of elite level activity.  Not your typically girls group either. Ju jitsu, muay thai, motorcycles are just a few of their collective passtimes. I sometimes feel intimidated when they bring me to their martial arts training sessions but other times they make me feel very confident in my own skills when they ask me to teach them gymnastics or parkour. Makes me realize that we may all be masters of our own trade but we are students of all the others. Not only are these ladies incredibly talented but they are so positive and accepting. They have brought me into their group, mentored me and provided support throughout the ups and downs.

Two of my most favourite people in the world are killing it as a team. I consider these two my family. I have been friends with the husband since we were in Grade 10 math class together. He knows me better than anyone. THe wife has been a total blessing to him, and to myself. Seriously, he is one lucky guy.  She is the full package deal and I never thought that I would have such a close relationship with another female. I love these two immensley. More importantly though, they have worked together, supporting eachother at different times, as each of them strives  towards their personal goals. She is new to the fashion design industry and is already experiencing immense success. He finally took the plunge and changed up his career path while simultaneously returning to the competitive golf circuit. A true team. Not to mention they are my biggest cheerleaders and have fully embraced and supported my lifestyle, goals and craziness. 

FINally there is one other special person in my life who is truly killing it. THe only other person I have met who can juggle ambitious career goals with a multitude of athletic persuits (both mainstream and extreme), volunteer work and a packed social schedule. And they do it with such passionate conviction. I don’t think that I have met anyone else who packed up everything and moved to China in search of a new career, in a new industry, on the other side of the planet. And I’m not talking about a fearless risk taker because those people scare me and belong in REdBull commercials. I’m talking about calculated risks that are outside of the score of almsot everyone I know.  Spending time with this person makes me want to be better at whatever I’m doing. Whether it’s problem solving at work, training my circus routines, learning a new sport like kiteboarding (see next post for more info on this grand adventure) or putting in that little bit of extra energy to network. It is rare to find someone that inspires you in all facets of your life. 

 So what do all of these people posses that I feel attributes to their “killing it”? First off, they all have passion. Very high doses of passion. Hardwork that is directed at a goal they want so bad they dream about it. Secondly, they are all very self aware. They have gone their own trails and tribulations and used those experiences to develop a keen sense of self. Thirdly (which is actually a combination of the first two), they do what they do, and go after what they do, unapologetically. They stay true to themselves, they stray from the norms, stick to their guns and they don’t apologize for it. And that is my definition of Killing it. Something to look up to as you are trying to get your motivation back.

AthleteInspired

The power of a matriarch

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I was sitting on a plane bound for my new-ish home in Vancouver after a brief stint in Calgary and an even more brief, stopover in Ontario. I had intended on spending the long weekend in a large gym, crammed with volleyball players and volleyball supporters, promoting the company a few of us started up last year. Six days working a booth, talking to parents about AthleteConnect and how it can improve not-so-little (even the 15-year olds are giants compared to myself) Lexi and Tyler’s opportunities to play post-secondary sport in Canada. Not a luxurious way to spend a long weekend but an entrepreneurial necessity.

Well I put in a solid 3-days at the Olympic Oval before I had to catch the red eye to say farewell to someone very dear to me. Someone whom I will probably see for the last time. While I was home amongst this looming sadness, I really started to think about the effect that a strong matriarch can have on a family. With the early departure of the patriarch, she is the one person who is responsible for maintaining the current branches in the family’s tree. She has been around long enough to amass an extensive collection of trails, tribulations, joys and successes. She upholds the traditions of the clan and can manage the politics of a family solely by the respect her presence in the room commands. She also happens to be the person responsible for filling you with ice cream sundaes, butter tarts and the birthday cards containing a bit of spending money.

As we flooded into our hometown from all over Ontario, British Columbia, Virginia and Australia, something overwhelmingly powerful happened. For the first time in 11-years, every daughter, son, granddaughter and grandson (as well as a few additions to the family, including a great-grandson) gathered in one place, caught up and reconnected with each other. Rather than sadness filling the air, there were hugs and laughter as everyone took turns sharing their latest successes and adventures. As the photographer grouped the four extensions of the clan around the almost stoic matriarch for one final portrait of it’s kind, there was a strong sense of pride and belonging.

The Ross Clan

The Ross Clan

So what happens to the many branches of a family tree when the matriarch has to leave us? Does each limb grow in it’s own separate direction, preparing to expand it’s own reach to the next generation? Who will step up to carry on and instill the family values and traditions that we associate with being ‘home’? Perhaps, large congregations of the clan will be limited to the wedding circuit.  Or maybe it will only be in times of major sorrow that our paths cross. A passing of the guard is inevitable. With it comes a wave of wonderful memories that become etched in one’s heart forever. It’s not an answer but a consolation within a process of change.

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Certain realities of money

Money. A reality and necessity of living. Especially in the wealthy, developed land we live in. A reality that has recently given me a not-so subtle kick in the pants. The pleasure of training and pursuing one’s dream without making much money (certainly not enough money to afford solo-rent, gas, organic/ free-range / GMO-free food, evenings at the local craft-brewery and any sort of plane ticket to anywhere) can apparently only go on for so long.

The difference between needing and wanting when it comes to the above mentioned list of creature comforts can get quite blurred with me. Living on my own gives me my coveted personal sanctuary. But the price tag on that, especially in Vancouver, is steep. My grocery delivery service allows me to eat good food, save time and avoid impulse purchases at the grocery store (whose checkout lines are a constant test of will against all of the rubbish magazines, chocolate bars and candy that call to you as you wait for your kale and avocados to be scanned and bagged). The personal and social benefits of enjoying a cold summer pilsner or warm amber ale with friends at the local watering hole are self-explanatory. A 6-pack of Glacier at home just cannot properly lift one’s spirits or quench one’s thirst. And then there are my monthly training expenses. Let’s just say they border on ridiculous.

The reality is that at some point, you either need to make some decent money to live or you have to say goodbye to ALL of those creature comforts we cannot seem to live without. I recently hit such a crossroads and found myself on the side with regular massages, farmer’s market double smoked bacon and surf sessions on the Oregon coast. I can only imagine how relieved my father was when I told him that I needed to venture back to the dark side of paper pushers and weekend warriors. I signed a year’s contract to run a gymnastics centre while my boss is on maternity leave. Unlike my previous job where I had to build up the gym from scratch, my sole responsibilities are to hold down the fort for a year and not make too many changes or mistakes. Not an entirely difficult task. And this deal was sweetened with enough flex time and freedom to continue a scaled-down version of my training regime.

First day on the job, obviously had to do a handstand...

First day on the job, obviously had to do a handstand…

I certainly didn’t jump at this endeavour right away as, with all decisions, there is an opportunity cost. That cost for me was training and networking time. For each hour on the job equaled one less hour I could train or one less hour I could meet a stunt industry professional on set for possible big break. But here’s the reality of it. I love a challenge, I love a regular paycheque (as I equate it to the hours of kickboxing lessons I can take and all of the exotic places I can escape to on my ‘vacation’ time) and I have a very hard time saying no. This is a great opportunity with a fixed timeline.

The traditionalist people in my life jumped for joy and offered little sympathy as I hung up my freedom to rejoin the working classes. The free-spirited people in my life, embracing alternative lifestyles were cautiously supportive. At the end of the day, the ability so save some more money away for a future bout “professional acquirer of stunt-related skills”, mixed with working for an awesomely energetic management and admin team who have graced me with some flexibility, made it very difficult to turn down. Do I feel like I have betrayed big dreams? Temporarily, yes. But that evening glass of organic vino, trip home to hold my new nephew and the occasional visit to the acupuncturist are pretty nice too.

AthleteInspired

 

Gem Alberta and one last big move

For those of you who have read some of my previous posts about moving, you will understand how long and drawn out this process has been. Well, what’s one more moving story. This one is hopefully the last for a while as this particular adventure concludes with all of my stuff (minus a sofabed) being in one location for the first time in 9 months.

I flew to calgary and got upgraded to a sweet rental car. From there I drove out into the middle of nowhere to a town called Gem. Possibly named for it’s beauty, which it has some. More likely named for it being as small difficult to find as a precious stone. If you blink while driving, you pass right through it. What brought me out to this part of the prairies you might ask. A real gem. My good friend from university who has found bliss in the countryside with the man of her dreams and a puppy who has paw-printed every piece of clothing I brought with me.

This wonderful friend of mine brought be out to be the guest speaker at the women’s provincial A1 championships for Basketball. To be honest, before I showed up to the banquet I had no idea what the event was, how many people were going to be there or what they wanted out of my speech. Not the best planning by someone who is very nervous when speaking to large crowds. ANyways, I shared my  experiences in sport and tried to impart how beneficial staying in sport after high school is. Whether or not I made an impact, let alone made any sense, these girls were wonderful. They listened, they danced, they sang, they laughed and I felt very fortunate to share this experience with them.

I don’t get to see this friend very often, and I miss her and her baking like mad so it was so great to catch up. Seriously, this lady baked all of the cupcakes for her own wedding. She always has some sort of delicious treat at the ready. THe visit and the baked goods served as an excellent distraction from driving a uHaul filled with the remaining wordly possessions I have, all the way to Vancouver.

The journey was pretty smooth. My couch did not make it. As in, didn’t even make it out of my condo. Officiallly a house warming present to whomever purchases my place. We lost a DVD tower en route and I managed to snap a metal IKEA storage frame when I muscled the uHaul door open upon my arrival in Vancouver. I needed to downsize anyways. All in all a successful journey and now I can continue to settle into my not sonew home.

AthleteInspired