Sometimes A Jump is Just A Jump

Yesterday I dragged Macky out to a little jump trail at Glorieta with the hopes that he would “teach me to not suck at jumping.” We have done about a million sessions like this over the past few years, and they invariably end in frustration. Why? Well, the simplest explanation is that, on some biochemical neurological whatever level, I don’t really want to jump my bike. I don’t particularly enjoy it, and even when I am having fun, there is still some part of my lizard brain that only allows me to get the minimum amount of air required to land safely. Fine for racing, pretty terrible for trying to hit bigger features or, ya know, looking cool. And to make matters worse, as soon as I start focusing on a jump, this tendency gets worse. The more I try to will myself to go higher into the air, the more my tires seem to be suctioned back to earth.

In other words, the more I think, the worse I get. As a pretty thinky, intellectual person, this is difficult for me to deal with. I’m definitely one of those people who’s like “Oh I want to learn [x], I’ll go buy a book on that” even when it would be better all-round to just do the thing. And so, yes, I realize that thousands of reps on dirt jumps would probably help me out a lot, but the reality is that I have trouble just “doing the reps.” I’m also hyper-analyzing, trying to make each rep better than the last, obsessing and stressing, etc. But as I realized for the umpteenth time yesterday, that strategy can only take you so far.

Fun fact of the day — my first sport was Tae Kwon Do. I started when I was eight and got my black belt when I was sixteen. I don’t talk about my martial arts experience that much because honestly I’m a little sad I gave it up — and a little embarrassed at how quickly and completely those skills vanished once I stopped practicing. But one thing I remember vividly is how, for each belt test, we got to break a board. This was, by a huge margin, the coolest thing EVER, and we loved it. I mean, how many ten year olds get to say they can break boards with their hands?

There are two things that make it possible for tiny children to smash wooden boards with their hands and feet:

1. Relatively soft pine wood cut across the grain and
2. Punching/striking/kicking through the board (as opposed to punching the board)

The key to breaking boards (or the cement block I had to break with a palm strike for my black belt test) has, it turns out, nothing to do with the board. Aim for a spot on the other side, forget the board is there and even a teeny six-year-old can splinter a pine board to smithereens. In other words, the hardness of the board has everything to do with whether or not you believe the board is hard. We didn’t have to break boards for our tests to demonstrate strength (again, pine boards are not actually hard to break) but rather to show commitment.

I watched this play out over and over again. Full grown adults, indoctrinated by a lifetime of believing that boards are hard, immutable objects that will hurt your hands, often faltered at this portion of the test. They were thinking about the board and therefore they were hitting the board. Their punches and kicks stopped at the board, instead of going through. Small kids, on the other hand, armed with instructions to “punch through the board” and no prior knowledge about what board are for, had no problem at all.

I was reminded of this yesterday when, after about forty attempts on a stupid little 10 foot double (and forty times casing the stupid thing), I had a big realization. I was stopping at the jump. Or rather, right after it, but the jump was my entire focus and then I was screeching to a halt right afterward to walk up and do it again. It was like those adults trying and failing to break the board. They weren’t looking past the board and so they couldn’t go through it. I wasn’t looking (or thinking) past the jump. I was so focused on it as a singular feature, that I couldn’t see it as a piece of the trail.

What if, I told myself, you just focused on hitting the next corner as well as possible and forgot about the jump? You’d sort of have to hit the jump properly to get the next corner, but that doesn’t mean you have to be thinking about it.

I tried this, and GUESS WHAT – I stopped casing the jump. Like, immediately. I had thought I needed more speed, or more pop, or an entirely different brain, but in the end, I didn’t need any of those things. Just like that person who doesn’t need any more strength to break a flimsy pine board, I just needed to move my focus a little farther down the trail. I just needed to go through it.

So often in life we get wrapped up on our obstacles, and on what we need to overcome them. And that’s great and all. I’m all for overcoming obstacles. But if our perspective is too narrow, we run the risk of creating obstacles where there are none. We start focusing on failure (this board is going to hurt my hand, I’m going to case this jump, I didn’t do [insert thing] correctly), and lose sight of the “why.” You’re punching the board to go through it, not for the pleasure of mashing your knuckles into a piece of wood. And why was I out there hitting this damn jump on repeat in the first place? Not for the pleasure of walking back up the trail 1,000 times. No, I was hitting it to get to the other side. Sometimes a jump is (despite all the emotional baggage we assign to it) just a jump.

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

I write about bikes and life and trying to get better at both.

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7 thoughts on “Sometimes A Jump is Just A Jump

  1. Wow!! That makes SO much sense!! You have a way with words that’s for sure :) Great read. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Brilliant as always! I did American style Karate (purple belt) until about age 14 and then capoiera in college+. I think I’m going to return to capoeira in Spokane.
    And I’m totally taking your coaching tip on this one, pal!

    See you in a few days,


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