We spoke with Matt Lapidus, a long-time Whitby WECCP instructor about the Parkour Ninja Warrior class he will be teaching during this year's summer camp program.
Joshua Aromin: First and foremost, can you just tell me more about the Parkour Ninja Warrior class?
Matt Lapidus: Well, our Parkour Ninja Warrior class is all about obstacles, and based on movement around objects. I set up courses with gymnastic equipment, pads, and have the kids climb on them, jump off them, land, roll. It's a really fun class because it's basically playtime for them, but they're learning something and doing movement as well.
JA: What are some of the skills that they're learning while in your class?
ML: Well, in Parkour we cover a range of movements, from climbing to jumping to hanging, and teaching the kids how to use proper grip strength. They're going to work on skills of timing, of where they're going to land, and precision. Learning how to roll and fall properly.
Also, the biggest thing is, when they see the obstacles that are challenging, they complete them by the end of the semester. If it's something that they weren't able to do in the beginning, by the end of the class or the end of the session, they have it down, they have a good way to get around it, they have their own style. Each kid is a little different in the way they approach the obstacles.
JA: How does achieving something physically like that affect a child mentally?
ML: Well, I think that being presented with challenges, especially in movement, where we have to decide what we want to do and allow our body to do it, it's a natural thing. So the kids have to first just say, "I can do this," in their head. And then however their body accomplishes it, is the result.
Some kids might be able to jump over it without their feet, using their hands and just vault right over it, some kids might have to run and climb with their feet, but each one accomplished that task. So I think it's just showing them that whatever they try their best at, they're going to succeed.
JA: How does the Parkour aspect differ from the Ninja Warrior portion?
ML: Well, the Parkour is a lot about obstacles and movement, and for Ninja Warrior I try to put together a course. For Parkour we might be working on stations of different skills. The Ninja Warrior part is putting it all together and linking it. So they're taking all the skills that we worked on — hanging, jumping, climbing, running — and putting it together in a course just like we see on the TV show American Ninja Warrior.
JA: From your experience in the past, and then also just your experience with other classes, how do you see kids evolving throughout different summer camps that you've taught?
ML: Well, I've noticed one thing: a lot of the kids that have trained in some of my Parkour classes are venturing out and doing Parkour outside of Whitby, which is really good because their skill level is increasing. They can flip, they can do things that they weren't doing last year.
But it also translates into other sports. Dribbling a basketball seems pretty easy when you're jumping over obstacles and swinging on ropes. So it helps them in their other sports as well, soccer, tennis, and more. They're understanding hand-eye coordination, things like that.
JA: Why is it so important to you that kids build confidence in your classes?
ML: It's the one thing that they're going to take into their outside life. There might not be a course for them to run or jump over, but they're going to have to make decisions in life, and when we practice confidence, we respond with confidence.
So I just try to get them to be confident in their movement, also showing them if they don't get the result they want, we go to our martial arts breathing, and we relax our body. We don't get upset about it, and we approach it again until we get it.
JA: Can you tell me about the martial arts breathing?
ML: Well in our martial arts class, I start off all the kids with breathing exercises, in through the nose and out through the mouth. And just letting them be aware that when they move, they should be consistently breathing.
And this helps because we do forget to breathe in our every day lives, we sometimes think and we stop breathing for a second while we're thinking. Or we go to do an intense move and we have to hold our breath. This is something that holds us back, so I'm teaching the kids to think about that when they're holding their breath and to relax, let it go.
JA: Is the martial arts breathing also used in your other classes?
ML: Yes, absolutely. I take that into all of my classes because it's a fundamental exercise. We breathe every single day, and it's important in anything we do. Even in taking a test, a math test, you want to breathe and relax.
JA: Can you just walk me through what an average Parkour Ninja Warrior class would be like? What do you start with, what do you do in the middle, how do you end it?
ML: I start each class with about seven different stations. Each station has a different skill, like we said, jumping, diving, rolling. And they're practicing those stations to get better at each of those techniques.
Some kids are really advanced and they're doing more advanced styles to that technique. So if it's a roll, they're doing a dive roll. If it's jumping over something with your feet, they're jumping over it with their hands. So they're making it a little bit more skilled for their level of fitness.
Then we go into putting all those obstacles together into one obstacle. We're taking all those stations and we're linking them, and the kids have to find a way to get from the beginning to the end with their own style of what they practiced in the stations.
JA: Is there anything else about the Parkour Ninja Warrior class that you think is worth noting?
ML: I think that it's a good bridge between the martial arts and the way I teach movement, because some kids are a little timid in martial arts but Parkour Ninja Warrior is really fun for them. Then it gets them interested in the martial arts.
JA: Why do you think that is, that they're a little more timid for the martial arts?
ML: Well, sometimes people have experiences in martial arts of yelling loud, being barefoot, different things that they've seen in martial arts schools, and the way I teach martial arts is just fun. We show up in our school clothes, we keep our shoes on, we don't scream, and we have fun.
So they're learning the same movements but with a little less strict format. I'm keeping it very fun and educational for the kids and making sure that they can use this stuff outside of here.