Automation & Absence

Automation & Absence

Like a well-oiled machine

The aim in training is generally considered to commit techniques and movement patterns to muscle-memory, achieving a near-instinctual response time when (or if, I’m not that much of a pessimist) needed. But does it necessarily work that way?


Out & about this afternoon, training Parkour, and I noticed a couple of things I wanted to try. One in particular was a jump I used to do several years ago; a running cat leap (also known as “Arm Jump” or “Saut de Bras”) to a window ledge, climbing up and jumping back (landing in a roll).

Since last doing the movement I have become stronger and more powerful, so I landed the cat leap without issue. Climb up was staggered (partly to technique, and partly because I was nervous of hitting the window), and the jump was fine…but for some reason I thought nothing of the landing. As in I literally gave it no active thought. The timing had changed, so the well-oiled machine had been replaced by the slow kid in class, and in the mean time it meant a rough roll.

Repeating the jump, I made sure to think about every asepct and guess what, it went perfect.

Practice makes Permanent

Instinct basically is a response to stimulation that is hardwired into your DNA, so achieving “instinctual movement” is not really attainable – it’s the repetition and “learning by doing” (specifically by trial and error) that prevents you from forgetting i.e. learning how to ride a bike is effectively encoded into your cerebellum.

Instinct Basically

Not that Instinct

I used to flip regularly, and would be on auto-pilot – I’d do the setup, and my body would take care of the rest. Today I figured it was still the same and quite literally forgot to jump up (out of a round-off). I landed low, and just realised that I had not bothered to even think about the movement pattern.

There is an inherent arrogance involved in instinctual movement – believing that your body knows best, and leaving it up to chance. Today was a calm reminder to tread a little more cautiously, and stay consciously active.

Effect of absence

Since I had stopped training, the movements I had previously committed (over the course of 5 years) to memory had changed – since it’s about muscle contraction & proprioception, and your body changes over time, absence allows for the timing to become at best a little rough around the edges, or worse flat-out dangerous.

Back to scratch; Grindstone & Square 1

Square 1 – it is not a starting point, but rather a central hub. You may leave at any time, but all routes pass through at least once…you will be back. The important thing to realise is that this in itself is not a bad thing. Yeah, setbacks suck & are more than a little irritating, but so what? Do you believe failing to be beneath you?

If you are afraid to fail to the point of inaction, success is an impossibility. Resetting at square one is a step that says “Ok, now let’s try it this way” – it shows progress, and mental resilience. You might not like the area, or the cost of rent etc…but deep down you know it’s temporary – work hard enough and you escape the slums of Square 1.

For me this involves movements that I used to do. The dreaded “memory lane” that bisects Square 1; full of broken dreams, rose-coloured shades, exaggerated feats and plain ole-fashioned lies. Putting to bed the idea that if I used to do it, know how it’s done and feel capable, then automatically thinking “Yes I can!” is important. The grindstone is needed. It tells you in absolute terms, not in hazy nostalgia memory. When you work at movement in all situations & circumstance, levels of fatigue etc…then you know for certain whether or not you’re capable. Otherwise it’s a guestimate, and it’s not pleasant being wrong if you’re upside down in the air.

Have you experienced similar set-backs, or had the epiphany moment of “better start fresh on that one!”? If so let us know how you got on in the comments below!