Wednesday, 3 October 2012
‘Can you move this tree?’
‘Can you walk on all fours for miles?’
‘Can we run to Paris and back?’
‘Can you do the KongPre at Southbank?’
‘Can you film this for me?’
‘Did you get my t-shirt in the shot?’
‘Are you sponsored?’
Parkour/Freerunning/FootSkating/whatever. It’s all about the movement right?
I welcome the evolution of our discipline. I think so many people are pushing it in so many directions and it’s amazing to watch. The Russians with their crazy rolls and flips, the Storror boys who just do EVERYTHING huge, Livewire with his Parkour Handbalancing. I love it all. But my question is this.
Who is pushing the boundaries of the principals Parkour was started on?
Parkour in its infancy was about 9 guys challenging each other physically. It was about questioning the nature of strength and overcoming their perception of human endurance. It was about setting a target and reaching it no matter what. There’s been a few. Running from John ‘o’ Groats to Paris. 1000 muscle-ups. Quadrupedie on a busy street for ten hours. A marathon on stilts.
In my opinion the people who do these sort of challenges keep another aspect of the discipline evolving which is so important. They may get remarks like ‘whats the point’ or ‘that won’t give you a bigger jump’. Not all strength exercises need to be goal led. I totally understand that not everyone wants to do loads of conditioning, and I’m not going to tell people how to train.
Sometimes we should just do something to see if we can. That is after all, where our discipline started and I believe as traceurs we have a responsibility to keep that alive.
Friday, 13 January 2012
I like travelling and I like practising parkour. Combining these two things is a brilliant way of getting to explore a new city together with like-minded people.
In recent years, whenever I went travelling I packed a pair of trainers and trackies to be able to practise some parkour whilst away from Glasgow. Last year, however, on each of my travels I also got in touch with the local parkour community. In Munich, I met the local traceurs at one of their favourite spots and was subsequently invited to join them when they moved to other spots, whereas in Washington and Brisbane I had the pleasure of arranging a meeting with a “(parkour-) stranger” at a random spot in town following some research on the internet and a few emails. Both these meetings were slightly comical in the way that one stands at a prearranged spot in a completely foreign town and the only thing one knows about the other person is that they are on their way to go out jumping too, so you are on a lookout for other people dressed in trackies and trainers. Luckily, both in Washington and Brisbane the general public does not tend to endorse this kind of attire so it was easy to spot my “hosts”, however in other cities I can imaging this kind of procedure as being slightly more problematic. Anyway, after a very hesitant “are you…., I am Angie” we then proceeded to head to the first spot and after a few minutes of jumping all awkwardness is forgotten. The beauty of the parkour-community is that you don’t really need to be able to (or have to) communicate as a common interest and passion already is established. Thus one can directly proceed to the fun bit, i.e. the exploring of spots. I am very grateful to my hosts for willingly introducing me to their favourite haunts either by describing to me how to get there or accompanying me there themselves. In addition to providing you with some amazing training possibilities this is also a brilliant way to see a city in a completely different way. Munich, for example is my home town (however, I had not started practising parkour when I left it), so when I explored it with the help of the local traceurs I went to places I had never been (or seen) before. The same applied for Brisbane, one of my favourite holiday and work experience destinations and which I had visited a number of times. Alone in a week, I saw a lot more of the different parts of the city this time when out training compared to all my other visits combined. Washington I had never visited before, so my Parkour-trip added a new and interesting view to the obligatory White House- (no, I did not ring the door bell) and Capitol-visit.
In addition to the cultural/sightseeing aspect, the opportunity of meeting foreign (or at least so far unknown) traceurs gives you an insight into how other people train. Usually, one is (or at least I am) so immersed in one’s local community and its certain ways of warming up and conditioning that it is very interesting to be presented with new points of focus or aspects of training. Additionally, being put on the spot in a completely new surrounding, makes you realize your own strengths and weaknesses and gives you a pretty good idea on what you need to work on. On the other side, for those traceurs showing strangers around, it can also be very stimulating to see how a traceur new to “their” spot will approach a spot so familiar to you. This might provide you with new challenges and solutions due to their “fresh” view of this space.
Finally, the last but definitely not the least advantage of meeting up with fellow traceurs in a foreign city is that you immediately have acquired a set of acquaintances with whom you share not only a interest in certain form of exercise, but usually also a lot more. Since parkour for most of us is not limited to a simple pastime but also spills over in many aspects of life such as our general mindset and nutrition (just to name of few), meeting people who do not bat an eyelid when you attempt a rather punishing conditioning-set or decide it will be more fun to scale a set of walls instead of taking the stairs can be of an advantage not to mention the fact that they most probably will join in and share the fun (and pain) with you. Most traceurs I have met have a very open view of the world, like to explore movement and new places and enjoy a good laugh. Meeting such people will most certainly make your stay in a foreign environment a very enjoyable one.
So, have fun and get travelling!
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
It’s an average Wednesday evening and myself and Scott are driving back from a class. I’d spotted a potential car park/ rooftop training spot on the train one day and we were close by, so I suggest we check it out. Scott drives to the top of the car park and we jump out and peer over the edge onto the back of a shopping centre which has a big flat roof with some nice level changes. The space and height from the car park varies but it is very very close, with only a 6ft lane between the two buildings. The shopping centre roof is about 12-15ft high. The shops are closed and we figure we won’t bother anyone by checking it out.
We discuss some potential movement opportunities on the roof top, and Scott pops up on the car park wall and jumps across comfortably. I look from the stairwell I am standing in where the roof is literally 2ft away. I peer at the roof edge which is solid, give the rail a shake for stability and vault over to the roof. On my landing my foot just hits thin air. I miss the edge of the roof and fall into the lane, landing on my feet in stairwell and falling onto my back. It happens in a complete blur, like the opposite of when you finally break a big jump and everything slows down. I think I stuck my arms out and caught the edge of the roof for a brief moment which slowed my fall significantly, but I’m not really sure.
I sit up immediately and start checking my body for injury as I don’t feel any pain, my heart is pounding and I’m convinced something in my legs must be broken as I fell about 13/14ft. Short of a few deep gashes on my leg from the step, and some grazes on my arms from the roof/wall edge everything seems to be intact and I pick myself up. By this point Scott has leaned over to check I’m alive (!) and has climbed down to help me up. We return to the car with a bit of a nervous laugh and I’m in a bit of a daze.
In the days after this accident I felt extremely disappointed in myself for making such a stupid mistake and thought a lot about why this had happened, along with thinking how lucky I was to escape with a few scratches from a pretty big fall. I was grateful that something instinctive in my body kicked in and saved my fall and I know that’s from years of training and conditioning to protect myself from such falls.
But something else in my training had been missed.
I will openly admit it was completely my own disregard for where I was that caused that accident. I wasn’t focused in the way that I should have been, and just didn’t ‘see’ the height in the way that I should have. I won’t be making that mistake again. That’s not to say I’m going to suddenly stop testing my fear, just that I will let myself be a little more aware of it.
Fear is there for a reason and while we strive as traceurs to tame and suppress those feelings of fear, I think it’s important that we never lose respect for fear or forget that the body has inbuilt reactions such as fear for a reason, even if they aren’t as strong as they were when we started practicing.
As experienced Parkour practitioners we put ourselves in situations that have an inherent danger. Yes, we have trained extensively to eliminate a huge amount of the risk, but that risk still exists and should never be taken lightly. If you do train at height, it’s important to remember it’s not the big jump that you spend 20 minutes prepping for and focusing on that will make you fall. It’s the moment that you are not focused on and you make a silly mistake that would be hilarious at ground level, but not so much when you pop over a rail with a 12ft drop underneath.
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
A lot of us do it, a lot of us finding ourselves wanting to do it. Humans imitate behavior and actions we see. Whether it is down to survival, fun, learning techniques, imitating movements, actions, skills, behaviors, gestures, mimics, vocalizations, sounds, speech or general necessity we will all do it hundreds of times in our lives. It’s central to our learning and development as people. As Traceurs we do this consciously when imitating or being taught a technique, we also do this subconsciously.
We have this capacity because of Mirror Neurons (1). Originally discovered using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which is similar to an MRI scan, these are found primarily in the frontal cortex and inferior parietal cortex. It’s widely believed that our human ability to imitate is so advanced compared to other species that it’s one of the fundamental reasons behind our evolution. However it’s been found that the part of our brain that allows us to do this isn’t far removed from that of the Macaque Monkey. The Macaque monkey lives in small groups of 15 to 30 monkeys (2). These groups are hierarchical with the head of the group being a female monkey that determines the hierarchy. The head monkey determines the roles of the group and the offspring of each monkey tend to replicate the job of their mother or carer (the monkeys within the tribe tend to mate freely, it’s often hard to establish the father of each monkey) – unless of course they leave the group to mate. The monkeys use their frontal cortex and inferior parietal cortex to learn the behaviors of the group and the role they are expected to take. By observing another species with similar behaviors to our own we are able to think critically and then apply the findings to ourselves. Monkey or human, how much of our behavior is learnt, influenced or the result of nurture and how much of it is performative? How is this relevant to and how does it affect our training?
First off to understand and identify what ‘performative’ action is, we must first develop our understanding of ‘performance’, it’s meaning and boundaries. Richard Schechner claims, “In business, sports and sex, “to perform” is to do something up to a standard – to succeed, to excel. In the arts, “to perform” is to put on a show, a play, a dance, a concert. In everyday life, “to perform is to show off, to go to extremes, to underline an action for those who are watching.” (3) I would expand on Schechners definition and claim that to perform in everyday life is to ‘show to’ as well as show off. What I mean by this is to behave in an irregular fashion to suit social situations. This performative state is often achieved on a subconscious level. There was an interesting study conducted at Yale that backs this theory.
In 1999, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology was published. In this journal there was a test that had collage students at Yale engage in a practical test (4). The participants were asked to describe to an interviewer 5 photos’ they were given. This test was done to 2 groups. The first group was interviewed normally and the interviewer imitated the second group. What I mean by this is, if the student leaned back so would the interviewer. This extended to a number of behaviors. None of the students noticed there behavior being imitated yet the group that was imitated had more positive feedback on how they got on with the interviewer and how they felt it went than the group that received a neutral interview.
This test was even repeated 5 years later by a Dutch team who found that 84% of imitated participants would help the researcher pick up there “accidently” dropped pen compared to 48% in the other group. This was even extended to trialing it on waiters who found they received higher levels of tips when imitating costumers. If this was the result of imitating behavior subconsciously, then what happens when we consciously imitate? What happens when we act in response, emotional and/or physically, rather than just simple imitation?
“Of course as children, we all, in all cultures and societies, learn behavior from observation, imitation, and encouragement of various kinds. So by the suggestion made, we all 'pretend' most of the time” – Mason Cooley. (5)
Have you ever walked out of a film, perhaps when you were younger or perhaps just the other day, when you found yourself imagining you were a particular character or in the world that exists within the film. Whether that’s you climbing about pretending to be ‘Spiderman’, trying to wallflip like Neo in ‘The Matrix or (a common one for Traceurs) you seen Jump London/Britain and wanted to be like the people in the video. These examples extend beyond film and it’s impossible for me to provide examples relevant to all. Film is the blunt example but it extends to many things. Whether you wanted to dress and act like the older kids when you were at school, or imitated your friends on a team. We as humans have a habit of imitating behavior whether it’s for our own personal needs or a desire to fit in. Monkey see monkey do.
I’ve been to lots of theatre where I sit quietly and spectate, many mixed martial arts events where I scream and shout, many football games where I chant songs, many clubs where I’ve decided to dance, I’ve been through schools being disciplined into how to behave, walked down corridors where I walk on the left hand side, stood in lifts with strangers quietly, waited in a queue, waited for the lights when I thought I could cross and so on. However, when in these venues/situations I know to do this. It’s safe, everyone’s doing it. I can never really know if that behavior is my natural reaction.
I remember my first Parkour jam and how that felt. I had really no idea what to expect, I googled Aberdeen Parkour and found myself on Craig ‘Flan’ Flanagan’s Bebo page (oh dear, remember Bebo?) and arranged to meet him and a few local Traceurs. When I went to the meet the vibe was friendly, within 5 minutes of meeting Flan and some of the others people were offering to teach me some things. Normally this would have felt uncomfortable, like I was a burden to everyone who was training but it never felt like that. Despite me being taught others around me were teaching each other all the time. I loved it and I wanted it to become part of my life, however my technical ability was nowhere near these people I had just met. I remember being very conscious at the fact that I was wearing jeans and skateboarding shoes despite everyone around me wearing XL Primark joggers, vests, and running shoes. I remember most of them eating reasonably healthy food and feeling underprepared with my fast food. A combination of this and my initial desire to simply be a part of what was happening because at the time I wouldn’t believe I could ever train at there level dictated my next few steps. Before the next meet up I had acquired my XL Primark joggers, running shoes, vest and backpack (complete with water, bananas and sandwiches). After a little while passed I my initial nerves about turning up to a jam had faded and I was as comfortable as sitting in the cinema quietly with popcorn and a juice because I understood the situation. I joined in with the trends; worked on the movements everyone else was working on and felt part of something.
The question I have now is how beneficial was this? I was subconsciously performing a situation and it might have not been ideal. Yes I was eating well and learning things, however the people I was training at the time (in fairness the community was still in its nascent stage) weren’t warming up, they weren’t conditioning and for me I only ate healthy when I was training. It could have been a lot worse but it could have also been a lot better. I was performing to my environment without realizing it. This was better than nothing so I appreciated it; it was also better than anything I had ever done before so I was definitely sticking with it.
The interesting thing about it was how I evolved from there and how I see others evolve from this situation. I began to plateau, it wasn’t good enough to eat healthy when I was training, I found out post and pre workout nutrition was also incredibly important. My precision wasn’t getting any bigger so I began to do more conditioning. I also integrated martial arts, dropped tricking a bit and began working with my original goal to be a Superhero. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t met the Traceur community and I see the same happening for others.
Yes I could have progressed to the point where I had found my way quicker if there was more of a variety.
Yes I would have progressed technically and physically faster if the training was better.
Yes I would have eaten healthier if I had been more informed.
Parkour has taught me many things outside movement, it has taught me to be free and useful in my environment. The more I train the less conventions dictate my behavior. The happier I am. The closer I am to my goals. The more friends I meet. However with the new friends that come along training if I know them or not, I am responsible for being as much help as I can. I am responsible to help them train safely, achieve there potential and allow them to find there way no matter how it contrasts from mine. As the parkour community grows we as practitioners are becoming more responsible for each other and our communities progression. As the community grows we also have less excuses not to give new practitioners opportunities to learn because of the wealth of knowledge within our communities, both in the flesh and online.
The human ability to relate on a purely physical level engages me. It moves me and in turn I find myself wanting to move.
(1) Rizzolatti G., Craighero L., The mirror-neuron system, Annual
Review of Neuroscience. 2004;27:169-9
(3) Richard Schechner, Performance Studies – Second Edition, 2002. Page 28.
(4) 1999, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, volume 77
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
I started Parkour after seeing it on the TV (when I use to watch TV). I was impressed by the fluid movement, strength and power being executed. It reminded me also of when I was a kid, jumping wall gaps and climbing walls and trees, but on a more serious and higher level. So I browsed the internet looking for Parkour group in my area, and was happy to find Glasgow Parkour where I met up with local Traceurs and my journey began...
I knew it would take a long time and hard work to achieve a descent level of Parkour. And that I would have to be patient too, in letting my mind and body develop together.
The reasons I do Parkour are:
* Improve myself
* Positive inspiration
* Survival skill (help, chase and escape)
* Beat Stress
* To learn and to teach
A Traceur’s/Traceues’ journey is an infinite ascending and path. On this difficult path are many rewards (body, mind & spirit) with true greatness as well as hard times, much like life really.
It is good to move or reflect on your environment knowing you are competent of your abilities. And should you have a weakness, challenge it!!! Improve on it. I feel if you are strong in body and mind then you will be strong in spirit. Positive things happen to positive people.
I take inspiration from my Traceurs and Traceuses I train with. I take inspiration from Traceurs and Traceuses I have met, chatted to and watched videos of from all over the world. In return I like to give back that positive energy back, and keep a balance.
Parkour in its essence is a survival skill on whether to help, chase or escape. And therefore a Traceur/Traceuse should be always training, even when not training. What do I mean by that? Well I train most days of the week - I am out either practicing technical moves or body conditioning. However my Parkour training does not stop when I get home or go about other duties in life. I am always thinking about my movement and my surrounding environment. I could be in a restaurant or on a form of transport; I will be thinking and running over in my mind routes of escape or arrival.
It is always important to be always thinking about your movement (before, during and after), and when you become strong, skilled and useful you will no longer need to think, you will just know. On various occasions I have spent time teaching an individual the importance of landing quietly and correctly, only to watch them perform another move such as a cat leap, so happy they made the leap; they forget and land all loud and sloppy. Parkour should always be a state of mind so be aware of it and yourself at all times.
When I am in work, I will walk past the lift/elevator and take the stairs, and ascend or descend smooth and quiet, thinking of ways to take less steps or how I turn. Even when I am sitting down or resting, I will mentally go over a move, and see it in my mind, overcoming the obstacle. And when I mentally visualise I will incorporate my senses to make it all the more vivid, such as how the texture of obstacle would feel or the rhythm of my movement, what sound my hands and feet would make when in contact with my obstacle, and any smells such as foliage, sea air and certain obstacles just have a unique odour, which most of us do not even think about but we should. We should connect our senses to our movement and obstacles to increase our alertness and better our chances at survival.
One of the beautiful aspects of Parkour is the ability to switch off your mind from everyday external problems, and just focus all your attention to the moment of your Parkour. Yes exercise in itself is a fantastic physical stress reliever but it is good to mentally escape too. It is magical to have fun and always be a kid at heart regardless of age, and strike the balance also in taking the discipline of Parkour seriously too. When your movement is of the highest purity and is just natural instinct, then you do not even have to think, you just know and move freely. That is the path of enlightenment.
Many Traceurs and Traceuses will agree that there is a strong connection between over coming obstacles in Parkour and obstacles in life. Parkour allows you to see your obstacle, analyse it, and provide the solution with the end product overcoming the obstacle. In obstacles in life you become more positive at handing stress and problems around you - you provide a solution and take that path.
The only frustrating aspect in Parkour is not conquering the obstacle; however there is an easy answer. You are not ready for it. You go back to your training, you mentally run over it in your mind. You practice, practice and more practice until you are both mentally and physically capable. You make that move and you over come that physical obstacle and that mental obstacle in your mind; you feel amazing, you feel proud and you grow from that experience. And if you have great training partners, then they are proud of you too. Likewise when I watch my fellow Traceurs over come an obstacle significant to them, I am happy and proud of them. Only then do you really begin to feel what proper training and pushing your abilities can do wonders for the body and mind.
To learn and to teach
There is always something to learn and master in Parkour. Your vision, environment and you as a practitioner evolve. It is important to put what you have learned into practice, in different environments and circumstances. Let’s say someone was chasing you. Yes you could do a turn vault, drop down, roll and run onto a cat leap, but what if one of your arms where broken or fractured? Can you vault or roll left and right side? Can you perform your movement using just one hand for example?
I enjoy teaching and even more learning. I am going to Rendezvous 2 next week in London to train with Dan, Forrest, Stephane and Johann Vigroux, The Yamakasi plus more of the best Traceurs and Traceuses there is. I am not going there to show off what I can do or just execute what I am comfortable with. I am going there to learn, train hard, absorb the positive energy and chat with like minded friends. And I know I will return grateful and continue my journey.
I feel it is important not to have a big ego, and think you know it all. It is important to remember that there is always something to learn, regardless of how good you think you are. It is equally important to teach well too, as one time you were a beginner and how grateful you were to have someone to teach and guide you, regardless of age, race or gender.
All that I have written above is why I am so passionate about, why it is a state of mind and a way of life for me.
Friday, 18 June 2010
This is an expression you will hear a lot from experienced traceurs it has a million different applications and facets which help traceurs to remain positive in times when they are struggling, maybe with weather, not being able to find spots, being short of time, or injury.
I want to talk a little about injury and a couple of other 'negative' aspects of our discipline and how we can turn these into contributions towards training and progress.
Failure, wether it be getting injured or just simply not performing a technique perfectly can be used to empower you and enhance your training. Every mistake or injury helps not only to highlight weaknesses in your training, but can also give you a new outlook and new perspective on how to approach training.
I think there's two sides to this -
1)Using your mistakes to look more thoroughly at techniques and their incremental stages.
2)Using your mistakes to divert attention to other areas of training.
Let's take two examples here -
Practicing rail precisions
When most people start Parkour at some point they will simply jump to a rail and see what happens. Chances are you will land middle of your feet at best and fall off, or miss your feet and get hurt. Hopefully you have been sensible enough to try the movement somewhere at ground level.
This mistake should help you to look at how to improve your technique and break it down.
For a rail precision you need to practice, the balance for the landing, the jump technique for accuracy, the jump distance, strength to take the impact and core strength to keep your balance.
This simple little mistake allows you to look at every aspect of the movement, and now you have a big list of things to train. Many positives come out of this one failure, instead of simply being annoyed at not being able to do something.
So when you are finally ready to get practicing these precisions, clearly you are not going to land perfectly every time, so how do you turn those imbalanced landings into something positive? Use these mistakes as a way to work on other aspects of your training.
Every time you dont land perfect, give yourself a conditioning forfeit, say 10 pushups. If you are practicing rail precisions and you find yourself coming off a lot and not having a good day with with it, at least you will come away having worked on your strength at the same time, again bringing a positive from your mistakes.
2nd example - recovering from injury.
Let's say you have an arm injury. Clearly there's not much upper body work or cat leap/vaulting movements you can work on. But is there anything wrong with your feet? or your legs?
For a lot of people injury is seen as a hinderance, but again you can use it as an excuse to divert to other aspects of training. Of course you cant work on anything dangerous which might involve you using your arm in a fall, but low level balance, small jumps and leg conditioning can become the main focus of your training. I think when you are ready to start fully training again after an injury your weaknesses should only be related to the injury. No excuse to have lost leg strength from an arm injury, in fact if you keep with this 'empowerment through failure' idea you should have stronger legs by the time your arm heals.
So, the other aspect of this is is your recovery goes on and you start to move again. It's important to remember that there are always endless solutions to any obstacle. You will have to start finding ways to get round using your arm, opening up many new techniques and forcing you to break down and rebuild techniques around the way that you now move as a result of your injury. Again, finding something positive from a previous failure.
Hopefully this gives you something to think about, what im trying to say overall is that you must use every 'negative' experience to progress - find a lesson in every failure and dont forget - there is always something to train!
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Recently I've had a lot of time to think - about life, Parkour, martial arts, philosophy . . . Everything that makes up a part of me.
I wrote down some of these things I've come to understand, so that I could better get my head around them, and I figure I might as well post them up here - hopefully it'll spark some good discussion or debate. Oh, and before we get too far down the line? This is long. Very long. And very varied – there will not always be a connecting thread between sections, except that these are my thoughts. And I’ll be updating it over the next few days if it emerges that I’ve missed anything.
The gist? If you simply learn, repeat and adapt the movements you see in videos online, without developing any deeper thought or understanding, or grasping what Parkour is, you’ll only ever be playing at “Traceurs”; don’t let this be the case –constantly think, evaluate and re-evaluate. “Adopt, Adapt, Improve” as Conan Doyle wrote.
Obviously there will be people out there to whom these thoughts are basic and familiar. However, on the other hand, there are those to whom this might incite some meditation on their own thoughts.
Also, at every mention of “Traceur”, “Traceuse” may be substituted in.
On Parkour And Its Component Aspects:
The base level description of Parkour generally runs along the lines of: “A physical and mental discipline, the ultimate goal of which is to overcome all and any obstacles placed before the traceur in the most fluid and efficient way possible. This goal is implemented to cater to two main ideals – Escape and Reach, and the traceur should be entirely versatile to these ends.”
However, as the traceur blossoms, Parkour becomes more than just a discipline in which they participate – it becomes their life, bleeding into everything they think and everything they do; it affects every decision, every action, even every relationship. As such, to my mind each traceur should apply the ideals of Escape and Reach in their physical training, their mentality and their day to day life; in social situations and in every action.
To this end, the traceur must think outside of the metaphorical box formed around our mind by the media’s representation of Parkour, and by the more obvious aspects of our training. If you simply learn, repeat and adapt the movements you see in videos online, without developing any deeper thought or understanding, or grasping what Parkour is, you’ll only ever be playing at “Traceurs”.
So, overlooked aspects of our training? Off the top of my head, running – sure, you can perform a technically wonderful saut du chat, and the climb-up which follows it is flawless, but can you traverse the distance between these obstacles effectively? Or are you left breathless after the shortest of jogs? Everything stems from this ability – a traceur lacking in the ability to run is a tattoo artist unable to draw, is an author unable to formulate a coherent sentence.
How about swimming? Traceurs must be versatile and able to adapt to all situations and environments – why should this change simply because your environment had an expanse of water? If that water stands between you and your goal, you should be able to cross it in the most efficient way possible, which will often include swimming. Also, as far as Escape is concerned, I believe there are few pursuers willing to dive into freezing water to follow a seasoned traceur.
Escape. Now there’s a skill within itself. I’m going to use a reference to fiction to help establish my point, but it’ll be clear even if the reference is out with the scope of your knowledge (I’m comfortable with this reference because seeing as I’ve already mentioned classic works of fiction you’re not allowed to say I only watch trashy movies all day ). Vin Diesel’s Riddick character (go see Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick) is an escape artist – it’s what he’s infamous for. How do you think his escapes would have been possible without his ability to fight for example? Or his stealth? (I’d also like to point out that he runs. A lot. See above )
On this combat ability – Often it is other humans who stand in your way. Be it with ignorance, or an confrontational attitude, I fully believe that traceurs should be able to overcome these people like any other obstacle. To this end, the repertoire of a traceur should include combat techniques for self-defence, combat de-escalation techniques (i.e. Talking someone down) and the virtue of patience – if for no other reason, to educate the ignorant. All three can be major components of escape.
On stealth – the importance of stealth in escape should be blatantly obvious – remaining hidden and undetected is a huge advantage to a would be escapist, and therefore to a traceur.
These are of course only examples, and I hope they spur you on to further thought as to what is part of “true” Parkour – if it does, please post up what you think. This is to give birth to discussion and hopefully progression, not to die as a simple statement.
Escape. Stealth. Combat. Patience. Swimming. Running. Survivalism.
It goes on. . . . . .
Just so you know, this is the philosophical section (shocking, what with the title) - enter if you dare I like to think I earn my little title over there under my name. . .
If anyone wants some clarification on any of the points, give me a shout – to be honest I’m not used to describing this sort of ideology to anyone outside of a Zen (Chan) or martial arts background, but I’ll give it a try and attempt to display it’s applicability to Le Parkour.
Philosophy and mentality are crucial to the success of the traceur or traceuse in their art. This mental development must go hand-in-hand with the physical development of the traceur; just as a martial artist cannot conclusively say which is better, their fist or their foot, nor can any person make such a decision about their arm or their leg, so too must we coordinate these outlets of our art to produce a satisfactory result. Harmony between body and mind is crucial – a traceur cannot say which is more important, as both are amalgamated within his art.
One must remember:
Body is nothing without mind.
Mind is ineffectual without body.
Nature of Movement
The philosophy of movement in its-self has many layers, all of which obviously cannot be explored via the internet, and what with my limited ability to communicate philosophical concepts in an understandable way. However, I will attempt to convey that which I have come to comprehend.
Classical movement, restricted as it is by both society and one’s consciousness, lives and expresses in fragmented form. The traceur should always be mindful of this, and receptive to it’s occurrence in order to understand the nature of true movement. Once such understanding has been attained, it becomes clear that one must be totally sensitive to arrive at “Total Movement” – movement in it’s purest form; unbound by any constraint and present in the “now”, without conscious thought to guide it.
(The following has been paraphrased from memory – Watch “Enter The Dragon” if it’s not accurate enough for you )
The student attempts to obey his martial brother, snapping out a side-kick
“What was that? An exhibition? We need emotional content!”
The student obeys again, this time more forcefully
“I said emotional content! Not anger!”
The student pauses a second in contemplation, and repeats the kick, calmly and instinctively
“Good. How did that feel?”
The instructor slaps his charge upside the head
“Don't think. FEEL. It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
The above was the first I heard of emotional content, as opposed to simple emotional action, some 8 years ago – obviously long before it started to make sense.
There must be emotional content in the execution of your technique. Emotional expression should on occaision also be present, however the traceur should exercise great care in this matter.
This also plays a part in true Parkour, and its personalisation by the traceur. Each movement within Parkour should come from within the traceur – creative and efficient, not copied and drilled from various videos because this is the current popular depiction of the art form. Learning from videos with a closed mind to other possibilities of movement destroys creativity, one of the life-bloods of Parkour, and ties the traceur into a deadened system, or form, of movement. This is just the same as repeating the same forms over and over in the martial arts, confining and restraining the artist.
When real emotion occurs, of the type required for true instinctual movement without consciousness of self, can this reside in, or be expressed by, movements which are not from the traceur’s own spirit, or of another traceur’s design?
Obviously one can learn and adapt movements from others, but these must be absorbed into the traceur’s self, such that they become his own, called upon instinctually and in a guise of his own interpretation.
This is known within Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do as the use of “No Form As Form”.
Are you a flowing entity, as is the goal of each traceur, such as water, able to flow with external circumstances and environments whilst instinctively adapting without effort, or are you resisting your very own progression, resisting the flow of your person by use of your own set form of movement? Be open-minded to the possibilities of movement. Just like any answer, can any movement which comes from inside be incorrect in you Parkour, so long as it aids your progression?
One can function totally and freely if he is “beyond system”. The man who is really serious, with the urge to discover the truth of movement and fulfill his potential in that field, has no style at all. He lives only in “What Is” – the immediacy of his mental and physical harmony to produce a path between Here and his Destination, brought forth from creative instinct, not from imitation of others.
Holding to a style or form of movement is close-minded and in opposition to progression within Parkour, as is rote imitation of the movements of another.
Zen teachings, the Tao Te Ching of Lau-Tzu and the writings of Bruce Lee and Chuang-Tzu have great applicability to Parkour, and have formed the basis of part of my current contemplation – the ideas of Wu-Hsin (No-Mindedness) and the water principles in particular (which will follow).
Wu-Hsin, No-Mindedness is not a blank mind, or a mind that is devoid of all thought or emotion. Nor is it simply a quietness or solitude of mind. These are aspects present in the Zazen Meditation of several schools, however I do not feel such policies are wholly applicable to a mind which must be ready to react in a split instant, or act in a preventative manner, as in Parkour or a martial art. As such, it is the reflective mind of Wu-Hsin which is required.
In the state of Wu-Hsin, the mind is a mirror - it grasps nothing and refuses nothing; it receives but does not keep, allowing the mind to grasp each new obstacle clearly and perceive everything before it in an unbiased manner (again preventing one slipping into a rote system of movement, as all possibilities are ideally grasped and considered to be of equal importance).
One must “let the mind think what it likes without interference by the separate thinker or ego within oneself. So long as it thinks what it wants, there is absolutely no effort in letting it go; and the disappearance of the effort to let go is precisely the disappearance of the separate thinker”.
The eyes of a mind in Wu-Hsin are, as Chaung-Tzu wrote, “The eyes of a baby” – unbiased, focused on nothing in particular but entirely accepting of all before them. He merges himself with the surroundings and moves along with it, opposing nothing and accepting all, bending what he must to his will.
“He merges himself with the surroundings and moves along with it, opposing nothing and accepting all, bending what he must to his will.” This is essentially the definition of a traceur to my mind, enforcing the importance of Wu-Hsin in Parkour to me.
On Water; It’s Nature And The Principles
Water has often been used as an analogy for the ideal movement of a traceur, and none exemplified this better than the man known as Lóng – Bruce Jun Fan Lee:
“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can either flow, or it can crash! Be like water, my friend.”
Regardless of obstacles, water can flow on, unperturbed, forever. It can be subtle and silent, leaving no trace, or powerful and effectual.
Water flows over small pebbles and around great rocks, never ceasing its flow or standing still. However, during this time, the water laps at the great rock, until eventually the rock is surmountable by the flow of the water. Water is resilient and unbearable, waiting and continually applying effort to those obstacles which are currently beyond it, until eventually it is no obstacle at all.
The traceur who moves as water, unbound to any system of movement or rote imitation of others, who is primal and instinctive in their actions, and is contemplative of all aspects of their art (and trains appropriately) is a true traceur in my view.