One of the key aspects of parkour is the idea of become a strong individual; a strong body, a strong mind and a strong soul. Strong is an almost indefinable quality though, because no matter how strong you become you can always get stronger. There is no point you can reach where you can say, “Ok, now I’m strong.”
As a result of this, practitioners need to keep reminding themselves to continue to improve. However, within this lies a danger, because there are differences between making yourself better, and making yourself the best you can.
Striving simply to make yourself better shifts your attention onto the short term goals of training. In accepting that you cannot reach the ultimate goal of being strong, you concentrate on simply going in the right direction from where you are. You climb up the tree by starting at the bottom and going up.
The desire to make yourself as good and as strong as possible is the desire to be able to cope with every situation, overcome every challenge. In this you are not simply trying to overcome challenges of a particular nature, you are trying to overcome all challenges no matter what their source or what difficulties they involve (for me, this encapsulates the spirit of parkour more accurately).
Both of these goals involve a desire to improve and neither one of them can ever be entirely completed, both therefore providing impetus to continue improving indefinitely, so it may seem that there is not much to choose between the two. However there are two subtle, but important, differences.
Firstly, making yourself better might simply mean improving in one area. Advancing in any one area makes you better overall, which brings you closer to the idea of being strong, and since even if you concentrate on one area you can continue to improve forever this is a challenge that can provide a purpose for your actions for your whole life, if you so wish. However, despite the fact that you will always be improving, you almost certainly won’t be improving all of the fundamental skills that enable you to cope in all situations. Your skills will be unbalanced, maybe almost perfect in some situations but lacking in others.
The action of making yourself as good as you can be necessitates the improvement in all areas, not just one. This line of reasoning follows intrinsically from the desire to get as good as you can in any one area, simply because every activity involves nearly all of the fundamental abilities, in all areas. To become as good as you can be at jumping, for instance, you need to be physically strong, but also in control of your fears, your emotions; mentally and spiritually strong.
If some areas are neglected then these areas become weaknesses and begin to be the areas that limit your actions. If order to be without limits one must be without weaknesses; one must be complete.
Although it can simply be a misguided extension of the desire to improve, the focus on improving in just a few areas is also a symptom of an ego-fuelled desire for achievements, so we need to be extra careful. Concentrating on just a few skills leads to greater improvement in those areas and in the modern world where appearances are important, excelling at something while appearing unconcerned with achievement commands great respect from those still obsessed with the achievements of others.
The second difference is one of perspective. The obvious flaw with the short term focus is that trees, like life, contain many different paths, and although they may all continue upwards at the point where they branch off, only one path leads to the very top of the tree. If the branches are twisted (as they usually are in life) then the branch that seems more direct at the fork may finish lower and be overtaken by other branches, forcing you to retrace your steps back to the fork in order to reach higher.
In parkour, for example, using tricks to distract your mind from your fears and convince yourself to perform a given movement comes under the category of short term gain. It lets you do new things almost immediately but doesn’t solve the deeper problem. In learning those tricks you bypass the route of developing rational control of your fears enabling action while maintaining full understanding and control, so when you find situations where you can’t rely on the tricks you have to go back and re-train yourself.
To keep improving, then, the solution to this problem is to keep your focus on the goal and planning your route forwards as far in advance as you can, taking care to keep checking that you are on course. As with any goal, if you don’t know the route you need to take to get there you likely won’t reach it.
For parkour then, you learn to recognise all of the things you need to concentrate on in order to reach the goal of being strong, recognise all of the components of parkour, not just a few. You keep an overall perspective of your training through constant evaluation and comparison with your goal, and when you recognise that you are lacking in a particular area you make sure that you add exercises for this area to your training. The physical strengths are the most easily observed and trained, since evidence can be collected by impartial, external measurements. The mental and spiritual strengths the hardest, because they are both the measurement and the only way of measuring it, and most of us are adept at lying to ourselves to protect our egos.