by Niall Doherty

There’s an important concept in Parkour called “breaking the jump.” It works like this:

  1. You find a jump that scares you. Say a five-foot leap from a bench onto a concrete bollard.
  2. You assess the jump and recognize that you’re physically capable of making it…
  3. …but you also recognize the fear welling up inside you. You know you can do it, but will you allow yourself to?
  4. You decide to go for it. Usually this involves several attempts where you fall short, not committing fully to the jump and pulling out mid-flight.
  5. Eventually you let yourself go and commit fully, both feet forward. And then you nail it. Jump broken.

The terminology comes from the idea that the fear you experience is like a wall, and you have to break through it to complete the jump.

Breaking jumps is my favorite thing about Parkour. It’s the practice of handling fear. Most of the time the fear isn’t real; it’s all in your head. I gave the bench-to-bollard example, which is an actual jump I broke a few weeks back. To assess that jump, I practiced leaping the same distance along the ground, from alongside the bench to alongside the bollard. No problem. Then I stepped up on the bench. The distance remained the same, but now fear reared its ugly head. It took me several practice leaps and seeing other guys land the same jump before I fully committed to it and landed it myself.

Breaking a jump is a great feeling. It’s winning that internal battle, beating that inner resistance, hushing your lizard brain. It’s letting go, embracing flow, and fulfilling your potential.

I’m sure you can see how this concept goes far beyond Parkour. You’ve probably experienced similar resistance when you had occasion to give a public speech, or stand up to a mean boss, or strike up a conversation with the cutie at the coffee shop. You know you’re physically capable of doing such things, but something gives you doubt and pause.

Rational vs. irrational fears

Of course, sometimes that something should be respected. Not all jumps can be broken. Sometimes you need to recognize that a jump is beyond your capabilities and let it be, at least for now.

There’s a great article on breaking jumps over at the Parkour Generations Asia site (same guys I train with), and I love the analogy presented there of treating fear as a cowardly friend: “sometimes his advice might be good and worth listening to, but you wouldn’t want him running your life!”

How do you know when his advice is worth listening to, as opposed to those times when he’s just being a coward and trying to drag you down with him? As per the aforementioned article:

The only real answer to this is experience. With time, training and improved self-knowledge you will be able to discern between the two and thus know whether it is a fear you should push through or one you should listen to.

I believe training to be the most important aspect there. Proper training pushes you up against your edge frequently, and you learn fast which jumps you’re capable of and which are still beyond you.

Both feet forward

The last thing I want to mention here is the importance of commitment in Parkour. It’s scary as hell to launch yourself off both feet and thrust them out in front of you, but that’s actually the most effective way to jump. Jumping one foot first, with the other trailing behind, doesn’t allow you to cover as much distance. It seems less risky, but it’s actually more so.

I’ve noticed the same principle applies when giving a speech. If you don’t fully commit to it and let yourself go, you’re going to come across nervous and your words will fall flat. Same deal with that cutie at the coffee shop. Try being all cool and nonchalant (i.e. noncommittal) and you’re unlikely to hit it off. You’re much better off thrusting both feet forward. Seems more risky, but it’s actually less so.

I wrote a bit about this a few years back after winning a humorous speech contest:

I’ve found that you often have to give yourself permission to be awesome. There’s this strange resistance we encounter when we set out to do something remarkable. I encountered it in the first three rounds of the contest. My speech was good enough to get me through those rounds, but I was holding back each time. I was fine practicing the speech alone in my bedroom, but when it came to delivering it in front of an audience, everything was dialed down a few notches.

It made no sense. I knew that my speech would be better received if I went all out, exaggerated my gestures, raised my voice, kept my energy high. Yet there I was, reluctant to let loose. It was as if I was afraid to succeed.

In the hours leading up to the final performance, I kept telling myself that I had permission to go all out. I even stood in front of the mirror in the restroom for a few minutes, giving myself permission to be awesome.

And hey, it worked!

Even if I had lost the competition, I would have come away satisfied because I really gave it my all up there, held nothing back. It felt great.

Next time you’re trying to achieve something, make sure you give yourself permission to really get after it. It’s okay to suck for a while, but don’t hold yourself back.

In the comments…

Tell me, what jump are you trying to break?