Motion 2.0

Where movement meets the mind.

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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.


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?