Chilli con courage


I've lived long enough to have gone through some difficult experiences in my life and sometimes I've been told I'm brave for the way I've faced and overcome obstacles. I have noticed that though I may have an abundance of mental fortitude, I definitely lack physical courage. When I am faced with the decision to do some scary breaking jumps, rolls and movements, I don't have a lot of inner resources to help me. I am sometimes reminded of the Lion in the Wizard of Oz who asks to be granted courage; as a child I mistook it for chilli con carne and imagined him tucking into a bowl of it. 

Is there a difference between bravery and courage? One definition states that :

'bravery is the ability to confront pain, danger or attempts of intimidation without any feeling of fear. . . courage, on the other hand, is the ability to undertake an overwhelming difficulty or pain despite the imminent and unavoidable presence of fear.. . the essence of courage is not the feeling of being certainly capable of overcoming what one is faced with but rather is the wilful choice to fight regardless of the consequences'.

There are many reasons why I lack physical courage; as a girl growing up this quality wasn't emphasised or fostered; it is boys who are defined and define themselves by their physical capabilities. A man can easily prove himself to be courageous by undertaking physical trials without any demand to grow emotionally; emotions are perceived as feminine and physicality as masculine. There are a lot of heroes for boys and men who display the qualities of courage and bravery for them to emulate and draw upon. Fairy-tales and stories for both children and adults reinforce this gender programming and through trials and tribulations the man goes on quests and fights whilst the woman waits for her man to save her, looking beautiful but practically and physically incapable of much. 

As I've progressed in my training, I've had some compliments saying how much technique has improved and I don't jump or run like a girl anymore.

I was happy to accept these compliments until I gave it a bit more thought and decided that this reinforces the way men move is somehow the way we as women should aspire to. Even the highest level female parkour athletes don't move like men; they are often slower and have a different gait. Why do we have to strive to replicate men and why do I aspire to move, jump, run just like the boys? Women's participation in sports is lower than men and in extreme sports the gender gap is huge; in parkour the prevailing demographic is still young men.

To develop physical courage first we need to start with the mind; and there are so many obstacles to overcome and many of them are self-created. I think of it sometimes as a form of psychological warfare I engage myself with. Fear is the root of them all and they manifest in so many forms - fear of injury, fear of people watching, fear of judgement, fear of failure. It doesn't matter what it is, it's the same fear planting doubt in my mind. And with doubt this reduces the ability to commit, to be 100% sure of what you're doing, it can make the difference between doing a move and not. I often gave up trying when I didn't succeed immediately and would lament others who became successful in their chosen field, attributing all kinds of advantages to them that I didn't possess, forgetting that persistence in the face of failure is a powerful tool and great things can happen by chipping away slowly, over time.

Dan Edwardes, founder of Parkour Generations, has written has excellent article called 'Undoing the Architecture of Fear' where he talks about how fear is constructed over time.

'The key, I think, it to see any fear-inducing situation as an opportunity to understand one’s own process of fear and thus develop one’s psychological immune system. Strengthening the mind is surprisingly similar to the process of strengthening muscles: regular stimulus against resistance builds resilience and capability. So embrace those stimuli, in this case the causes of our fear, and realise they are your opportunity to delve deeper into your own internal processes and become a better version of yourself in doing so.'

He recommends various techniques to held inoculate oneself against the freeze response, where your body overrides your mind; it instigates inaction making it very difficult to continue and hard to keep focus. 

Parkour provides a powerful framework for me to increase and develop my courage in a clear and measurable way. It draws out my weaknesses and reveals them in both a mental and physical way. 'If it doesn't challenge you it won't change you' is a phrase I've seen on social media and it resonates with me; I need push past my comfort zone into known the edge, the unknown place where transformation happens. 

- F

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage
— Anais Nin