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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Cycling Freak and the Parkour kids

This morning, about 7 am I guess it must have been, I was on a bicycle, as it went down the gentle slope from the house I grew up in towards the dairy.
   I was balancing on one hand – the left of course – on the bicycle seat, it must have been, extending my legs up in the air with good form and adjusting to keep my centre of gravity over my hand, my balance helped greatly by the compensatory movement of the bike.
   It was easy - much easier than the two-armed handstands I used to do as a National Fitness instructor when I was 17. I found that centre of gravity and enjoyed the ride.
   Freud THAT, my shamans!

I suspect some of this dream actually came from watching the DVD on Parkour that Christian got for his birthday two days ago.
   OK, I don’t blame you if you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. A couple of months ago, I would have reacted the same way, with a blank stare.
   You can look it up on google (it’s worth it!) but let’s just go with the good ole Wikipedia explanation for the moment.
Parkour (sometimes abbreviated to PK), l'art du d├ęplacement (English: the art of displacement) or sometimes freerunning, is the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one's path by adapting one's movements to the environment. It is a non-competitive, physical discipline of French origin in which participants run along a route, attempting to negotiate obstacles in the most efficient way possible, using only their bodies. Skills such as jumping, climbing, vaulting, rolling and swinging are employed. Parkour can be practiced anywhere, but areas dense with obstacles are preferable, and it is most commonly practiced in urban areas.
The term freerunning is sometimes used interchangeably with parkour. While parkour aims to enable the practitioner to be able to move quickly and efficiently past obstacles, freerunning has a greater emphasis on self-expression within the environment. Freerunning includes tricking moves such as aerial rotations and spins, while the purist definition of parkour founder David Belle would not consider these part of parkour because the moves are merely for show, not efficient, and do not help the participant to get from place to place. Although S├ębastien Foucan is considered a co-founder of parkour, his philosophy differed and grew to become known as freerunning .
I must admit I smiled a little when watching the video, as the young practitioners of the art were explaining their craft as if they had discovered some brand-new philosophy of life, when they were unknowingly applying the principles of Taoism (Daoism) to life in an urban environment. ‘...overcome any obstacle within one's path by adapting one's movements to the environment‘ as the description of Parkour says. A perfect beginning point for an explanation of Daoism to first year university students, I was thinking.
   Of course, quite a few of the PK devotees would have said, indignantly, that it’s much more than that; that it’s a training for life; a discipline for tackling life’s challenges.... it’s the vibe (to steal the classic line from The Castle).... but that’s OK. Daoism itself teaches the value of letting people think they have discovered things for themselves without any outside help!
   My point is that Parkour can make quite a difference to people’s lives. If you had seen Christian not all that long ago, you would have seen a kid developing the classic shape of one who sits too long at a computer or video game controller.
   Now when you look at him, having just had his 18th birthday, the difference resulting from practising the first stages of PK are remarkable. He is much fitter and stronger and more confident. His friends have got interested in it as well and they go down to the park as a group to train and share what they are doing. It’s not competitive in the conventional sense and everything is tried at their own rate.
   I can see some big misunderstandings resulting from others’ lack of awareness of what they are doing, though. Some will look at them in the park and think they are up to no good. If they are jumping over benches or railings, they can be looked upon as hooligans, even though their own PK training is to be aware of and respect other people’s right to share the space, and not to get angry or cheeky if they are misunderstood. As they often are. 
   Even the police sometimes force Parkour practitioners to move on at times, thinking they might be vandals, yet these are the same young blokes who give up their time every week to train as SES volunteers, and who risk their lives in emergencies to save others.
   They’re not perfect. Their new-found skills could be put to evil uses, just as a gymnast’s skills would help a cat burglar. We don’t look down on gymnastics for that reason. We don't want to ban the PCYC for training kids how to box or press weights at the Police Youth Club gyms.
   You’ll often see the PK artists these days in movies, leaping across skylines and doing incredibly dangerous things - though these are really just the show-ponies of the discipline, and few reach that degree of skill or want to tackle that level of danger.
   But their intentions are honourable and good, and would you prefer them actually to be getting up to mischief? I wouldn’t. They deserve encouragement.  A Parkour park set up with the right sort of obstacles would be nice!
Parkour 'hooligan?'


  1. I have seen some pretty amazing video footage of these guys....must admit they scare the pants off me! Would hate to see inexperienced, younger kids copying, though. Congrats to Christian. Young Mike was taking a similar path until he became interested in a Japanese form or martial arts - is hoping to be off to Japan next year to meet the 'Grand Master'...And I admit to being resistant to the idea of him joining - especially as this school does both traditional and modern techniques (street fighting in a sense or at least how to handle yourself in these sorts of situations - dark, smoke filled rooms with attackers carrying knives (of sorts) etc etc. You can understand a mothers hesitation). But I have to say it is great to see him training - very controlled. Very focused. We will see where it all ends.

  2. Some of them have reached amazing levels of body and mind control - but I see gymnastics training like pommel horse, tumbling, rock climbing - you name it! going into the discipline - and why not? The fluidity of movement of some of them - girls as well as boys - is beautiful. Oh to have again that strength and mobilty and determination to dare!
    Yes, there are injuries, as in anything so physical. Deaths too no doubt - again, as in any sport you care to name. Some always pay the price - but what is hammered home in the training is to build slowly to achieve an object - not to be competitive with others - not to fall into the trap of getting over-confident or proceeding too fast.
    As to other disciplines, no doubt different ones appeal to different kids for unexplainable reasons, but I think you have to let them try to trust their own judgment. Easy for an 'outsider' to say, I know - but some things must run their course.
    The popularity of knives these days worries me a lot. Young men especially are at risk of lack of fully developed judgment, which is why so many of them have to be scraped off trees they've wrapped their cars around, or imagine life's not all that different from a computer simulation. If only they could experience the pain and debilitation of a genuine stab wound, even a comparatively minor one, the glamour might go off it. Some must feel the urge to carry a knife to protect themselves - but the danger of going down that road is immense. Maybe some of these disciplines train in self-defence against knives. I rather hope that Parkour type training would allow a kid to escape and outrun someone waving a knife than have to try to defend themselves.
    The Chinese and Japanese martial arts have strong self-discipline as their base along with Taoist and Zen principles, so I have some faith in them. Sadly, they like other disciplines can be abused as much as any other, especially when ego gets in the way.

  3. If kids are doing PK, skateboarding, or rap dancing on the pavement, they can't be drunk or or drugs. It's wonderful!!!

    As for your 7:00am bike ride, which hand were you balancing on, Denis? They say that even imagining you are doing such things creates the same pattern in the brain that the real activity creates.

    Last night we had a naughty-food/drink New Year's party. People didn't leave until 2:30, so they must have had a good time. At 2:00 I was deep in an intense conversation with Julie about meditation and Hindu/Buddhist philosophy. In the course of the conversation, I was rubbing an empty champagne bottle against the sugar jar, trying to create a universe. Something about the friction between opposites. I'd just had two small glasses of a Tasmanian liqueur that has the effect of making one more stoned than drunk. It's that liqueur that does that to the mind. This is not the first time it has happened. The mind becomes incredibly clear, though possibly not rational, the conversation gets very odd and intense, and I find myself saying things I've never even thought before. It's very weird, but so much fun. Must buy more of that stuff.

    Wish you could have been here, Denis.

    Have a happy New Year's day, and both Julie and I look forward to your promise to SEE us early in the New Year.

  4. Thank you for mentioning us in your blog, Denis.

  5. My pleasure, Christian. And may I say that seeing your friends together today I couldn't help thinking what a great group you are.

    I agree with your first comment, Joan. It was the left hand - and I had seen that comment before about imagining the movement or mirroring the good side. It's very encouraging. I do what I can.

    I heard from Julie about you pair redefining the universe. Not bad on a bottle of plonk! :) Maybe you better record the conversation next time and see how it sounds in the cold light of day....!!

    I'm very serious about the trip out - will contact you later in the morning.

  6. Hmm...well, as usual my new year resolution is to undertake one physical challenge and one intellectual challenge for the year. Maybe Parkour could be it! Would make a change to move swiftly and efficiently past objects instead of bumping into them all the time! I WAS thinking of training as a ninja this year and becoming a mistress of stealth (it's actually the all-black look that attracts me but maybe Parkour would be more useful. There's not a lot of call for geriatric ninjas! Seriously, I think Parkour sounds excellent and wonder if it has an age limit?

  7. Welcome to 2011, Julie L. No, I don't believe for one moment you are a Parkour girl! (That probably will make you determined to be one!) I do think it's for young bones and muscles and urban kids who don't mind knocking their shins or bruising their shoulders rolling on concrete while learning,
    But the more I say these things the more you will want to prove me wrong! I do think you should do the ninja thing though.... that's really more you! And better for the places you like to wander. If you and Bob had chosen to live in an inner city unit instead of a rainforest, I might have thought Parkour was for you! Tap dancing? :)
    I am fascinated by the idea of one [new] physical and intellectual challenge for the year. I'd have to think about that for myself.....


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