Motion 2.0

Where movement meets the mind.


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Hollywood Parkour or: Why I Didn’t Like Chaps on Tour USA

The title says it all, but put plainly…I didn’t like Storror’s latest video release, Chaps on Tour USA. I know, f*** me right?

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“How could I not love Chaps on Tour USA?,” you may ask. After all, it had slick editing, pumped-up songs, insanely beautiful locations, fantastic movement, and an epic, sweeping atmosphere with a Jack Kerouac-esque message of ‘live life to the fullest’. How could I, as a self-respecting parkour/freerunning practitioner with a personal love of road trips and exploration not be singing the praises of Storror from every rooftop in the country? Well, give me a few minutes and I’ll try to explain.

For those that don’t know, Chaps on Tour USA (or CTU as I’ll call it for shorthand from here on out), is the latest release from Storror, a parkour/freerunning group based out of the UK that is arguably one of the most well-known and talented teams in the scene today, at least when you ask parkour practitioners themselves. CTU, as of the writing of this post, was released almost two weeks ago and currently has 84,500+ views, with almost universally positive reviews. It’s a sort-of sequel to Storror’s hugely successful first installment in the series, Chaps on Tour, which has just shy of a quarter million views right now. Needless to say, CTU was going to be a big deal when it came out, no matter what.

Now first, don’t get me wrong: as a piece of filmmaking, I thought CTU was incredible. It was on par with any of the top-level sports/adventure videos that have come out on Youtube the past few years, ones that are essentially short films that could give Hollywood a run for its money. But therein lies my issue. CTU was an incredible piece of filmmaking, but I don’t think it’s an incredible parkour video. I don’t think it’s a parkour video at all.

Before I go further, let me explain where I’m coming from as a viewer. The first parkour video I ever saw, the one that lit the fire in my gut and helped set me on the road I’m on now, was Motion 1.0 from Urban Freeflow, way back in 2005-2006. If you watch it, you’ll be smacked in the face by how archaic it is, from the music to the movements to the video quality and editing. Obviously things have evolved since then and videos these days are much more ‘enjoyable’ to watch. There was actually a recent two-part Audiojump podcast about this evolution of PK videos and if you haven’t listened to it, do yourself a favor, go get it now, it’s very cool and very insightful.

One of the things that they mention in the podcast was how videos have started to use better quality cameras and incorporated more B-roll footage of the everyday lives and adventures of the featured people or teams. The ‘best’ parkour videos are no longer training videos, they’re lifestyle videos.

Let’s show some examples. Below is a video from Blane, another UK practitioner who has been around for over a decade now. He had the advantage of becoming very popular in the early days of parkour and his videos now have hundreds of thousands of views.

What is clear from the beginning is that this is a very different type of video from CTU. There are few shots with a moving camera, there are no voices to be heard; everything is focused on the movement and documenting the action. It’s shorter, it’s tighter, this is a training video, pure and simple.

Now, let’s take a look at a video that straddles the line between CTU and Blane, Out of Time from Oleg Vorslav, which came out in 2010.

You’ll see a lot of elements that CTU will use four years later: lots of B-roll, slick editing, camera angles used for effect and not just documentation. But here’s the crazy thing…I love Out of Time. It’s one of my favorite parkour/freerunning videos of all time, and I’ve watched A LOT of videos. I still pull up Oleg today to show to newer practitioners who may have missed it the first time around. I can hear the raving now: “You love Oleg’s weird, nonsensical crap but not Chaps?! What’s wrong with you, they’re practically the same thing!”

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So why am I so enamored with Out of Time and so ‘meh’ about CTU? Well, it’s hard to put my finger on, but as I alluded to up above, to me, CTU (and several other recent big films) crossed the line from parkour-training video to adventure-lifestyle video. When I watch parkour videos I go into them hoping to be awestruck by the movement presented. Whether it’s the size of the moves, the creativity, the pinpoint technique, even just seeing progression, I want to see MOVEMENT. Say what you want about Oleg’s weird scene changes and face slapping, but his movement quality at the time of the video’s release (hell, even today) is top tier. And you can SEE the moves; the camera may swing, the color is saturated and contrasted, but you rarely lose sight of what Oleg’s actually doing.

When the UK and other communities started injecting B-roll and daily life into their early videos it felt like it was to enhance the movement on display. I watched Danny Ilabaca and company because they were fun to watch AND their movement quality was great. The B-roll stuff fleshed things out but at the end of the day I wanted to see parkour, and they delivered.

Nowadays, Storror, Farang, Storm, any of the big names or teams, are still pushing the limits and filming insane movement sequences. But more and more, the videos they release aren’t of their training, the videos are of their lives. The shenanigans they get into, the places they explore, etc, and the film style is following suit. Just as my title suggests, the videos just kind of look…Hollywood. The camera flies around or films from odd angles, the cuts are super fast. Maybe I’m just a cranky old man, but I can’t keep track of things half the time. People fly through the frame and I don’t know where they started from or where they ended or even who was who.

The best example I can think of is a fight scene from a Jackie Chan movie versus a Jason Bourne movie. The Jackie Chan fight will be fast and lively but the camera doesn’t move much. The action occurs in longer sequences and and you can follow the hits and counters relatively easily. The Jason Bourne fight will be just as lively but the camera will shake and fly in extra-close, snap away, bodies will whiz past, and you might not even know who’s winning an exchange. Compare the Jackie Chan fight below…

With this one from the Bourne Supremacy

Do you notice the differences? If you do, that’s how I feel about CTU. The action is still amazing but I don’t get the feeling of raw power and technique that I did from Blane or Oleg, even Storror’s earlier videos. Instead I’m left thinking, “All right, enough shots of fires and vans driving, I want to see more sick flip precisions like I did at minute 3:43! That was a side flip right? Wait, how far was that jump, I couldn’t judge it, it went by so fast!”

It also felt like so many shots, non-parkour shots, were staged and filmed specifically for this video. They weren’t natural B-roll or something setup on the spot, they were filmed with entertainment in mind. I went into this expecting amazing parkour (and wasn’t entirely disappointed when it was on screen), but instead I watched a film that felt like it should have been at Sundance in the documentary category.

I went back and timed how much of the CTU video was what I think could be called ‘parkour training’. If I don’t include the cliff jumping, I clocked roughly 3:45 of ‘parkour’. Only 3 minutes and 45 seconds of a nearly 17-minute video from a parkour team was ‘parkour’.


Again, don’t get me wrong, CTU was awesome. It was fun, it was goofy, it made me want to travel and train with good friends. But I didn’t get what I expected. Maybe that’s my personal problem, my expectations were different than the product was actually meant to deliver. I wanted an ‘old-school’ parkour training video and I got a road trip-music video instead. Maybe I’m just a victim of nostalgia and should shut up and understand that CTU wasn’t meant to be a training video. Maybe I should just enjoy it for what it is.

But if the Chaps series (and it’s style of editing and documenting the action) is the new popular modus operandi, and it seems to be gaining ground when you look at other groups like GUP or Farang, then I’m still leery. It feels like parkour stops being about the movement and starts being about a particular lifestyle. Or, I should say, the presentation and LOOK of the lifestyle. I don’t want new practitioners to view these videos and think they HAVE to live and act the way their idols do or they’ll never be good at parkour or, even worse, doing parkour at all.

It’s a tired comparison, but an argument could be made that this happened with skateboarding. A new group of ‘poseurs’ who adopt the trappings of parkour (as seen in lifestyle heavy videos) because it looks cool. Doesn’t matter whether they train hard and try to progress; as long as they’re climbing bridges, jumping in fountains, wearing the big teams’ T-shirts, and filming every second of it, they’re still doing parkour. When the most popular videos of well-known groups show only 25% parkour and 75% B-roll, can someone from outside the scene distinguish anymore?

Image“Of course I train MMA, bro! Don’t you see my gear?!”

I’m likely just catastrophizing. I know that CTU and the videos like it are the minority in the vast sea of parkour videos released on the internet on a daily basis. The so-called “spirit” of parkour will not die, no matter how marginalized it may appear to ‘veterans’ like me. I just know that what people see in videos will be copied. After all, that’s how 99% of people got started with parkour in the first place, copying moves. So if the most shared, most viewed videos are like Chaps, what happens next?


 

In the end, this post will probably change no one’s minds and make no difference. Honestly, I just wanted to express how I felt after I finished watching CTU, because I have rarely been left with such a mixed, unsure feeling after watching a ‘parkour’ video before. But hopefully, whether you agree with me or not, I’ve made you think about the past, present, and future of parkour films and what they may mean for the parkour world as a whole.

If you have your own opinion or thoughts on this topic, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below.


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What Do You Value?

On Youtube, there is a famous speech by speaker Eric Thomas that is attached to countless motivational videos and songs. The focal point of the speech is the idea, “how bad do you want it?” Thomas puts it very succinctly by saying that until you want something as bad as you want to breathe, you’ll never be successful. He says that you need to dedicate yourself mind, body, and soul to your goal to have true success.

While I agree that kind of determination is often needed, I believe there is something equally important to keep in mind, an idea to maintain…

Value.

How much do you value what it is you’re trying to do? How much are you willing to devote – to invest – to the journey? There are many different types of investment to show value. You can invest with money, or time, or energy, or dozens of other ways and combinations of ways. Are you willing to seek out the best trainers, get up an hour earlier, pay for the best gear and places to train?

For example, let’s say I want to run a mile in under six minutes when I currently run it in seven minutes. I really want to reach this milestone and I claim that I’m willing to do anything to get it. But if I truly value this goal as much as I say, I need to put in the proper investment. I might need to get better shoes or seek out the knowledge of a running coach. I may need to get up early to run more or stay out late to get in an extra workout. I may need to eat a more specialized diet or take extra steps to ensure proper recovery. In short, it takes more than desire to make a dream into reality. It takes planning and investment; attaching the proper value to what I want to do.

Love or hate his politics, Malcolm X understood the power of value.

Too often we don’t place the proper value on the things we crave. The New Year is coming and a perfect example of this is the resolutions normally made around this time. Millions of people resolve themselves to improve in the New Year, usually by exercising more and eating better. They’ll join a gym, buy a bunch of “healthy” foods, and go for it.

But what happens next? For the vast majority of people, nothing happens. The membership is never used and the healthy food is avoided and goes to waste. Why? The desire was there but the value was not. If you’re a couch potato and haven’t exercised regularly in several years than simply getting a gym membership usually won’t be enough. You need to set yourself up in an environment that leads you to success. This might mean investing in a personal trainer or partner classes, parking farther away and walking to work, cooking food ahead of time and leaving nothing in the house to eat otherwise but good stuff.

The same goes for parkour and freerunning. The same goes for anything. If you place the proper value on what you want to do you will take the steps necessary to make it happen. If you’re dedicated to getting better at flipping you should be willing to seek out and pay an instructor, or at least set aside the time to practice on your own and be prepared for the longer process that it will take. It’s a give-and-take. The more you invest in what you value, the more you get in return. The more you value it, the more investment you’re willing to make.

Should’ve invested in that ground fighting coach, huh?

I have my own resolution that I will be placing extra value on in 2014. Several years ago I wrote a novella-length story about parkour called RISE. Ever since I finished it I kept telling myself that one day I’d clean it up, expand it a little, and try to get it published, even if I had to publish it myself. Up until this point I had wanted to reach that goal but never truly valued it. I wasn’t prepared to search for publishers, get it edited, all the things I glossed over while thinking only of the end product. Now, I will.

So, with this brand new year of 2014 upon us, I put a challenge forward to you. Find a goal, a dream, and put some real value to it. Plan out the investment, prepare to work towards it. Because if you truly value something, nothing should stop you. Not time, not money, not effort, nothing. You want it as much as you can breathe? Good. Now value it as much as you value life itself. Invest in life itself. And become a true success.

The New Year is Coming.


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On Not Being “The Best”

Here’s an open secret about myself: I’m not the best at parkour. I can jump far but I’ll never touch the guys doing 12-foot standing precisions. I can lache big gaps but I’ll never hold a world record for distance. I can do passable front flips but I’ll never be throwing dive tucks over the Manpower Gap.

Simply put, I’m good, but not great. I’m better than most, but not “the best.” I know, deep inside where I can’t lie, that it’s very likely I’ll never be “the best.”

And that’s okay.

Now, I can imagine some readers exclaiming, “Well obviously you’ll never be the best with that attitude!” Hear me out first. Yes, if I dedicated myself heart and soul to achieving “best” status in a particular area I might be able to make it. But is that my ultimate goal with training?

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get jealous and annoyed sometimes when others beat me. I’ve been training for over seven years, the inner hate screams, how can this punk kid be better than me? He practices once a week and has been doing this for only six months! It’s frustrating and disheartening to see a move I’ve been trying to get all week get smashed in three tries by someone else. It sucks to know that there are so many categories in which I fall behind the lead, where I’ll be good but never talked about in hushed whispers and awed emotion.

And that’s okay.

I realized this at my very first jam. Up until that point I had practiced only by myself, working small moves here and there, practicing part-time. I’d watch videos of masters at work but not have a full concept of how much more skilled they were because of the disconnection film creates. Then I went to my first jam, meeting my first group of fellow practitioners. Out of the group of 5-6 of us, I was probably last or second to last in terms of overall skill and strength levels.

I went home after that amazed but slightly saddened. Would I ever be that good? What was the point of trying if I was also playing catch-up, always two steps behind? I could progress all I wanted but they’d be progressing too, keeping me just out of reach of being “the best.”

Insert 3 Doors Down lyrics here.

And that’s okay.

It took a long time back then and it’s been a constant fight to maintain the idea, but I told myself, “And that’s okay.” It’s cliché, but that’s at the very heart of parkour. It’s striving to be “the best” YOU, not “the best” IN THE WORLD. If I look back at where I came from seven years ago I’ll see that I’m miles ahead. I’m taking the long view of my training, of what I want from it and from life in general.

Because I am not as naturally gifted towards parkour as some others the amount of focus and energy I’d need to gain “best” status would mean having to set aside other aspects of my life. I like having relationships and friends, I like learning history and writing, I like working on my professional career and coaching. I like having a clear mind and calm at the end of the day. Some of these things would likely have to suffer if I went for “best” status and I’m not willing to lose those aspects of who I am.

To me, it’s okay to not be “the best,” but it’s not okay to be “the best” at any cost.

Some people feel differently. They feel that sacrifice makes the goal worthwhile. They receive joy and fulfillment from the pursuit of “best.” And that’s fine. That’s their particular leaning; it’s just not mine.

Some professors go the laser point style, while others…

The mere practice of parkour fills a part of my heart and soul that no other discipline has touched. Doesn’t matter if I’m doing a precision I’ve hit a thousand times or fighting for a cat leap that dozens of others have already nailed. I draw more strength and happiness from simply DOING parkour than from EXCELLING at parkour.

So while I’ll still get disheartened, flustered, or envious sometimes seeing how above-average-but-not-best I am, I just have to remind myself, “That’s okay.” I can still chase perfection and progress, just at my own rate, my own style. I am beholden to no one but myself.


How do you feel about your journey in parkour, or about anything in general? Are you following your own path to greatness (as defined by you), doing for the love of doing…or a path set forth by someone else?


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Be Strong to be Useful, In Everything

“Etre fort pour être utile” – “Be strong to be useful.”

Attributed to the early 20th century physical educator Georges Hébert, this was his personal motto and a driving ideal for his system of physical and mental development known as Méthode Naturelle. Drawing from sources and influences as diverse as ancient Greece and African tribesmen, Hébert sought to help build people not only into strong physical specimens but also capable, well-rounded individuals; people put the needs of others first and were prepared to help no matter what the situation. (For a more in-depth story of Méthode Naturelle read this article by Erwan Le Corre, the founder of MovNat and a kind of spiritual successor to Hébert.)

The framework and especially the motto were and still are often used when describing Parkour. This isn’t surprising given the influence of Hébert on French military training and by extension Raymond Belle and his son David, the originators of Parkour. But take special note that the goal of the original system was not only physical development but spiritual and mental development as well. It puts the ideals of “strength” and “usefulness” in a new context doesn’t it?

Take a look at a typical traceur training regimen: skill work, technique refinement, conditioning with weights and gymnastics exercises, all to help build smoother movement and bigger jumps. It’s a very physical, body-intensive routine, one which hundreds of coaches and practitioners have dedicated countless hours to honing and perfecting. But where is the mental training, the spiritual development? Sometimes you might see some mental training such as meditation or visualization, though that seems to be the exception instead of the rule. But if we want to be “useful”, truly “strong”…don’t we need more than ripped abs and half-second climb-ups?

“Wai qiang zhong gan” Literally, “Outwardly strong but inwardly weak”

Granted, not everyone prescribes to the “Be Strong to Be Useful” ethos. Some practitioners are primarily concerned with physical development and, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve ever used the “Be Strong” phrase to describe your training or some of the philosophy behind what you do, then I think you owe it to yourself to explore what “strength” and “usefulness” really means in your every day life.

You can leap small buildings, but can you lift a heavy object, swim across a river, read a public transportation map, or cook your own food? Have you developed a calm mind that can adapt and handle the hardships of living? Can you not only save your friends and family from a flood but also comfort them in their times of need? Are you confident in your motives and actions, prepared to defend your beliefs and choices with a clear head and a steady hand?

If you truly believe in an ideal of strength for usefulness don’t confine your definitions of strength to physical ability or usefulness to how fast you can run. Explore the hidden aspects, the weak links of your body, mind, and spirit. We don’t have to be supermen-monks, able to survive in the woods for a year alone while reciting the meaning of the universe. But, every now and then, it’s good to know you can perform more than feats of physical strength. It’s good to know you can plan, adapt, improvise, and make the best of any situation, cause you’ve built a body, mind, and spirit capable of anything.

Time to go to work.


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The Iron Never Lies…Neither Does Cement

Several years back an article appeared about weight training and the “iron game.” Unlike the hundreds of other articles written about the same topic it was not advice for bigger guns or a smear campaign against Zumba. Instead it was a personal anecdote, a kind of love-letter to a style of training that had brought comfort and confidence to a fragile young man. More interesting still, the article was written by infamous punk rocker and activist Henry Rollins. The last paragraph was arguably the best part of the whole thing. It reads…

“The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”
The Iron by Henry Rollins

In a sense, Parkour offers the same kind of unwavering checkpoint. A 10-foot precision is always a 10-foot precision. Cement doesn’t become softer over time; you either accept it for what it is or end up a crumbled heap on the sidewalk. But this unyielding nature can be a comfort if taken in the right perspective.

When I step out my door and head to my favorite training spot I know what’s in store for me. I understand how the asphalt will react when I land, how the slick metal of the railing will slide in the palm of my hand. When the world around me is stifling, or on a whirlwind of change I can’t control, I know that the cat leap from the bench to the windowsill won’t change. It doesn’t care if I had a crappy day or the best morning ever. Either I’m paying attention and making the leap or I’m slamming into the brick.

That kind of certainty is a rarity nowadays. It’s comforting to me to spend an hour balancing, vaulting, and rolling. Parkour is a reset button to put things in perspective, just as weight training is for Rollins. I think this may be why I often get more enjoyment from staying in one location for an entire training session rather than bounce from one thing to another. I can and have spent hours at a single rail and wall, looking for all the possibilities…searching for comfort in hard lines and cinder block hugs.

Parkour, no matter where or how its practiced, never lies. The environment embraces those willing to accept its harsh truth. How well do you accept it?

The cement never lies to you.


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Old -vs- New: Are We Slower Than Ever?

While watching a new training video this morning I realized something: Parkour and Freerunning are slower. Literally, practitioners are moving slower.

For reference, here is the video I watched, the newest one from Storror Blog.

Maybe it’s just me but I was struck by how…lazy the movements seemed. Lazy might be a strong term as the movements were still well-controlled and of decent size and amplitude, but it all looked nonchalant, almost kind of sluggish. The run-ups didn’t have much speed, the set-ups and finishes were flowing yet slow.

Compare that to this mid-1990’s video of the Lisses practitioners training for the camera.

The movements are definitely rough (some of the rolls made me look away and cringe) but they all have an edge of urgency. They look like they want to get somewhere, get over the obstacle as fast as possible and just keep moving. Sometimes it comes across as almost jerky and stilted but you can sense the aggression in each step.

Over the years the idea of flow and fluidity – the aesthetic look of the movement – has taken greater hold in practitioners’ minds. It’s gotten to the point, I would argue, that the flow is not a by-product of controlled, FAST movement, but instead the desired goal from the beginning, necessitating a slowdown of all movements in order to accomplish the visual look.

In short, many of us (me included) have lost our sense of URGENCY, of moving fast and reacting on instinct. In wanting to look effortless we’ve toned down the speed and increased the size of singular or short combination runs. Honestly, how many practitioners do you see nowadays that legitimately sprint between obstacles? Mostly I see that weird, half-speed, long stride with straight, swinging arms, which is good for a rapid series of walls or rails but over any length of flat ground looks like a Minecraft character running.

Prepare to Kong!

This shift is not a bad thing, just different. The emphasis has changed. I think it’d be worthwhile though to take note of your training style next time you’re out. Do you train in a relaxed, “cool” way, or in a rapid, “urgent” way?


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“The Ultimate Ideal”

King of Qin: I have just come to a realization! This scroll by Broken Sword contains no secrets of his swordsmanship. What this reveals is his highest ideal. In the first state, man and sword become one and each other. Here, even a blade of grass can be used as a lethal weapon. In the next stage, the sword resides not in the hand but in the heart. Even without a weapon, the warrior can slay his enemy from a hundred paces. But the ultimate ideal is when the sword disappears altogether. The warrior embraces all around him. The desire to kill no longer exists. Only peace remains.

What is the ultimate goal or ideal of Parkour? We often speak in catch phrases and mottoes such as, “Be strong to be useful” and “To be and to last.” But really, what do they mean, what is the point of all the running and jumping, conditioning and mental stress? Why do we bother with such a seemingly odd thing as purposely seeking out hard obstacles? Though I think the idea will morph slightly from person to person, I think the ultimate ideal is something like the quote from the King…to find peace.

Think of it this way, using the three stages of a swordsman as an example. In the first stage, the practitioner learns the physical elements of the discipline. He becomes skilled in precision jumps, climb-ups, and all the other technical skills of movement. Even with a single box or rail he can create endless challenges and express his abilities. The mind is a whirlwind of activity and training is constant and highly varied.

In the second stage the discipline moves inward. He can imagine lines of movement without even seeing the obstacles, visualize the outcomes and test the variables. With barely a thought he can overcome fear. His mind thinks feverishly in terms of abstractions such as what true practicing is or the difference between one style and another. Movement possibilities are found in an empty room and training is structured, hard set.

The final stage is when the movements become automatic. Individual names of techniques no longer apply as everything becomes seamless. Explanations of why or how he does what he does become difficult and vague. Training becomes sporadic, without true rhyme. The link between what the mind imagines and the body can create is complete. Only peace remains.

If all this sounds like the book/movie “Peaceful Warrior”, that’s because the idea is as old as time and practically universal.

This is what I strive for in my own training, though I know that actively seeking it makes it all the harder to find. It’s something that you simply realize one day, an epiphany or enlightenment moment. I’ve had flashes of the third stage, though it didn’t last long, where it felt like everything was good and all was at peace. It’s different from the idea of “flow” in PK/FR which I think better describes mind/body connection while actively moving or training. The state of peace I’m imagining would apply even when you’re standing still – a comfortable knowing that you could act at a moment’s notice in whatever way you wanted.

What do you think, is this “ultimate ideal” something true of Parkour, the same as a martial artist or swordsman? If so, how would you describe the ultimate ideal?