Wenxin Yang – Bridging The Gap

For those that don’t know me, I had a serious parkour-related accident five years ago where I broke both of my feet, was stuck in a wheelchair for three months, and was unable to push my training in any meaningful way for three years after. You know how when you break a bone, there are just a few pieces to mend together? The structure within my feet literally exploded into pieces. It was bad and I seriously questioned whether I’d be able to train again (my doctors definitely didn’t think I should), and if so, to what degree. While I was still in my wheelchair, I resolved to “keep training”, and make the most out of my situation. During that time, I wrote down some of my thoughts for an American Parkour blog post (link) and continued on my path to recovery.

How did you process your time away from parkour when you were injured? What went through your mind?

Then something interesting happened. The recovery took longer than I anticipated and I got left behind by the Parkour community. From mid 2014-2018, the entire Parkour scene exponentially leveled up. I felt like I was watching from a bizarre outsider perspective  because I couldn’t actively participate within it due to my injury. Mind you, this is the time period when Dylan Baker first pioneered descents, flip precisions were unlocked, two feature length Storror films saw success, and Parkour moved from mainly Youtube to Instagram.

I started training during the early days of Parkour in the U.S. back in 2007 and became sponsored by American Parkour in 2010. For years I watched Parkour grow from its infant stages right at the epicenter of the community. I watched with absolute astonishment at what was being accomplished during my injury hiatus and sadness that I was being left behind. I felt lost towards my place within the Parkour conversation.

Once I got back to a point where I could push my limits again, I thought about how I could stand out in this new playing field of high level talent. I thought critically about my purpose for still training despite going through a career-ending injury, why being an active member of the Parkour community is still important to me, and how I could give back.

How did you develop your idea for Bridging The Gap?

I love giving credit where it’s due because I want everyone to realize new ideas never come from thin air. Bridging The Gap came from a synthesis of three things:

  • Chad Zwadlo’s amazing teachings during American Parkour’s certification program
  • Teaching beginners at my local university parkour club.
  • The Motus Project’s Behind The Jump series.

I once attended a two-day aPK certification seminar, and I was consistently floored by Chad Zwadlo’s breakdown of every single conceivable move (this is not a plug, but is also a plug). He showed that any movement can be broken down into increasingly rudimentary progression steps. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your skill level is, if you dive deep enough, there exists some kind of progression that you can do that’ll help you achieve a new skill.

I applied this philosophy and some learned methodology to the beginners I would regularly teach at Parkour club I ran at my local university. I could show a different progression move for each person attending that day and everyone could work towards learning the same move at one spot, but at their own pace. Over time, people told me this tutelage was much more inspirational for continuing training than seeing a big impressive move being accomplished.

The Behind The Jump series was a groundbreaking video series and I don’t know why Giles hasn’t created a Youtube playlist of just those videos. While the feats captured in this series were flashbulb moments for the Parkour community, I couldn’t help but think about what the guys in my Parkour club told me. Maybe these videos weren’t inspiring for the average traceur because they’re just at a caliber too high for the day-to-day training sessions.

What if I did something similar to Behind The Jump, but for moves that for some people will seem easy and others not? I can explain my progression process for people that don’t have this mental framework for continually breaking down challenges into easier and easier steps. Obviously everyone does progressions, but I had a hunch that at a certain point it becomes rather unintuitive and more nuanced.

I called it Bridging The Gap not only because I’m showing steps for overcoming the common mental gaps, but also because I want to bridge the world between the average traceur and the high level athlete, and show that the insane moves you see on Instagram is achievable through practical progressions.

How do you choose which challenges wind up on the show and what’s your content creation process?

I’ve filmed seven episodes so far. Rarely I pre-plan to film a specific challenge. My camera gear always comes with me to every training session, and I simply film the whatever I’m working on a given day if I have enough time and I know the challenge isn’t something I’ll get without due diligence.

My content creation process is very vlog style. I try to articulate every little consideration that goes through my head to the camera and cut down on extraneous dialogue on post for flow and clarity. By talking through every little thought that comes into my head, small quirky things that others may leave out in a tutorial video end up making the final cut. A good example is me giving myself a visual cue of where to step by using a rock to mark on the wall in Ep. 1 (link).

I only use a one camera setup because I don’t want to mess around with gear too much, otherwise it takes me too much out of my own mental progression process. I’ve found that Go Pro’s voice control feature to be amazing, because once I really get into the groove and don’t want to break concentration, I can just set the camera down on one spot and keep telling it to start/stop recording without touching it.

How does challenge setting fit into your overall training regiment?

I came from the generation of traceurs in the U.S. that were self taught and self motivated (god I sound old). We started our career training solo since we were often the only person that even knew what Parkour was in our county. Challenge setting often was part of my DNA as an athlete. However, after my injury, I only trained very comfortable movements. This made sense since I was scared of pushing my limits before my body was fully healed. But even after getting back to form, I still rarely pushed myself. The long recovery process caused me to get stuck doing the easy stuff.

Filming the Bridging The Gap series got me to start setting difficult challenges again. It’s taught me that many challenges that seem well-beyond my skill level are often doable upon closer inspection, and even achievable without too much effort if you do some preliminary progression steps.

Nowadays, I try to think big when out training. And instead of quickly dismissing absurd challenges, which I think is a knee-jerk reaction for many, I try to hold onto it, let that idea swish around in my head, and start doing progressions. Progressions is still training after all, so I can feel good knowing I’m being productive entertaining my wild fantasies.

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