Roof Culture Asia: Lessons on Fear

By Paul van Kaldenkerken

Roof Culture Asia is the second feature length film of the Storror Parkour team. The movie is intense, cinematic and viscerally exiting. There is so much to unpack from this film, especially regarding the roof culture “Brand” and the spectacularization and commercialisation of Parkour (the work of Theo Kindynis comes to mind).

 

 

For a change I won’t focus on the political aspects. What I will try to distil from this film is what we can learn about fear from these two action packed hours. Fear is at the heart of this movie and it tackles questions on how to deal with it and how it can stand in the way of freedom and expression. The movie really helped me to reflect and connect some disparate pieces I collected myself over the years.

Fear is your friend

The first and maybe most important insight is that these boys are not fearless. What makes them different is that they are not consumed by their fear. They use fear to inform them but it doesn’t take control of them. You see them in multiple scenes working through their fears rather then suppress or ignore them. I don’t see a bunch of reckless daredevils but a group of boys very well acquainted with their fears. The goal of dealing with fear is not to suppress it entirely. You just can’t allow it to paralyzes you and deny you access to the skills and resources you have.

Train the mind (and the body and the craft)

To get to that point, they didn’t just go up on these roofs. Just like the body or a craft the mind can be trained. Training the mind works similar to other kinds of training through progressive overload. Step by step they took on more demanding challenges. They got to know their fear in years of training, which now makes them able to deal with it in these extreme situations.

They all are also incredibly skilled craftsmen. They also invested their time into training their bodies and their craft to a point where for them, there is no risk. They know themselves and these kinds of movement so well that they can anticipate a wide range of variables. If there is even a little bit of a doubt they don’t do the jump. As seen in the Tokyo section and as every experienced Parkour practitioner will tell you 99% of the training takes place on ground level. They trained their bodies and their craft enough on ground level so that they can push the mental side of things.

Know your why

Here it gets a bit tricky in interpreting this movie from the outside. While Storror certainly had extrinsic motivations to do these jumps (making a movie, selling clothes, promoting their brand) I still get the sense that their main drive comes from enjoying the process of breaking jumps. They all are motivated by the process of challenging and testing themselves. Before doing any jump that has severe consequences you should ask yourself why you are doing this. Is it only for your peers or for your social media or is it because you are interested in the process, in the challenge and in the lessons you can learn about yourself?

Prepping a jump

The most fascinating moments of the movie are when you get to watch them right before the jump. They call it prepping the jump, and there are a lot of factors to it and again I might be interpreting things that are not there.

A common tool in mental training is visualization. What Roof culture shows is that a visual process alone is not enough. You can see the athletes running up to a jump multiple times, not only to test the run up and the surfaces but to feel the jump. A better word for visualization might be imagery (as proposed by sport psychologist Michael Gervais). Prepping a jump and really feeling it beforehand gives a sense of competence, which can reduce anxiety of a jump.

Group culture

The dynamic of this group is fascinating. Around half an hour in you see Sasha Powell struggle with watching his brother Callum prepare for a jump that seems impossible for the rest of the team. There is an immense amount of trust between all of the members. They know that the others won’t act reckless or put their life on the line if there was even a slight amount of doubt. The job of the rest is therefor to “just let them be” as Sasha says.

Emotions are contagious. Doubt, fear and anxiety can spread throughout the group. They don’t project their own anxiety on the person that commits to a jump. And apart from some bursts of adrenaline they also don’t celebrate successful jumps excessively. Dylan Baker mentions a similar lack of peer pressure. When facing fear one has to try to stay composed in order to be able to execute the movement with precision and control. A group that cheers each other on before the jump creates an atmosphere of adrenaline and throwing yourself at jumps you might not be ready for. In Storror you see a level headed and supportive approach to group culture. They expect each other to be capable. To fail is not an option and success therefor is expected and not surprising.

Fight the inner dialogue

There is a scene where Benj Cave says that breaking these jumps is a struggle against the voices inside your head. I’ve met a lot of people that think this inner dialogue is somehow unique to them. Truth is that we all talk to ourselves all the time. But the way we do is crucial in overcoming fear. The movie does not go into the exact strategies the athletes employ and they usually vary greatly from person to person. I guess they defeat the inner doubt with their sense of competence. By putting in hours and hours of training the body, the mind and their craft they can draw from this wealth of experience and tell themselves that they are fully capable to face the challenge.

Be here now!

As they jump over the deadly abyss there is a serene calm to all of them. The inner voices quiet down and they are in the moment. They checked every variable, every scenario, felt the jump, and feel the support of the group. Now it is time to put years of training to the test. They are not in the past or in the future, but right here, in that moment, in every step and in the jump. To be in the moment and let your body take over quiets the mind like nothing else.

 

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