Motion 2.0

Where movement meets the mind.


4 Comments

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?

Image

“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!”

Image

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.

Advertisements


6 Comments

The Importance of Training Solo

Let me set the scene for you. It’s the summer of 2007. The place is Cape May County, on the southern-most tip of New Jersey. I’m 18-years-old, having just finished high school. I discovered Parkour about two years prior and have been gradually increasing my training time since then. My training time has been spent totally alone, isolated from contact with other practitioners. None of my friends understand or have even heard about Parkour. The online community is scattered at best. Youtube is only just starting to hit the big-time. And I am still at least six months away from going to my first jam and meeting fellow practitioners for the first time.

It was like Cast Away with cat leaps, only fewer bloody volleyballs and more bloody calluses.

All told, the first two and a half years of my training was solo. I know for almost certain fact that if I had had a community to train with, who hosted jams, put out videos, and practiced regularly, that I’d be much more skilled than I am now. But looking back, I still wouldn’t have traded my Robinson Crusoe existence for anything. Here’s why…

Image

You know Crusoe totally did Parkour on that island…

1) It taught me to respect fear ImageWhen you train alone, there’s no one and nothing to save you. No crash mats, no spotters, no quick escapes. No one to pump you up and no false machismo. Either you make the jump or you don’t. That kind of reality, of facing danger and the fear that comes with it, cannot be replicated. Gaining that comfort – and respect – for fear has proven irreplaceable in my training.

2) Discovering my inner motivation ImageMost of my best training spots during my solo years were near or at the beach. And anyone who’s been around a Jersey beach in February can tell you, it’s miserable. The wind is freezing, incessant, and cuts through you like a knife. Metal feels like ice and every rough wall makes your fingers burn. It takes a LOT of love for the movement to head outside on a day like that. I quickly learned to appreciate the movement as something more than exercise or a fun pass-time. It was an outlet, an experience of mind and body, and I bring that mentality to every session now.

3) I couldn’t film myself ImageThis wasn’t entirely out of my control, since I could have brought a camera at any time, but setting up and filming shots by yourself can be a real pain. So I never did; and it was great. No outside distraction, no worry about what I looked like moving, only what it felt like moving. To this day I have to force myself to film anything because I became so accustomed to just doing, and doing is what we ultimately want right?

4) Defining my style ImageBruce Lee said we should transcend style and I agree. But even though we all have two arms and two legs, we still have our own quirks and special ways of moving. With no one in person to compare myself to, and online videos being much less copious than they are now, I learned how my body reacts and moves in a much more personal manner. I still tried to copy some cool things I saw from Belle or Blaine, but for the most part I was left to my own devices.

5) What social pressures? ImageTraining in public can cause a stir, especially if you’re a shirtless guy practicing rail balance on the Wildwood boardwalk in July. I got used to stares, cat-calls, ridicule, and having to deal with police and security on my own. Self-consciousness was not an option if I wanted to enjoy my training. Being able to block out insults or have a light-hearted, self-deprecating humor about the things I did has made it possible for me to practice, teach, and demonstrate even in front of the largest crowds.

These are just some of the bigger lessons solo training has taught me. There were many others, such as finding hot spots alone, dealing with injuries in isolated places, and remembering to pack all your supplies ahead of time. (You’ll never forget water again after driving through an hour of tourist traffic to get to your favorite playground and realizing you left it on the kitchen table.) Nowadays, with the community having exploded in size and my role as a coach, I spend almost every session in the company of at least one other person. But I still make time every now and then to get out and move solo. To remember what attracted me to this art and discipline in the first place. To find myself though movement.

Image

So I put this challenge to those reading: train alone. Take a month, a week, or even just a single day, and train totally solo. Find a fun spot, leave your camera at home, and just move. I promise you’ll learn at least one thing about yourself or Parkour. It may not be profound or earth-shaking, but it’ll be something.

If you have your own stories or lessons from training solo, share in the comments! I’d love to hear what everyone thinks!


Leave a comment

Back in the Saddle Again

Credit to Benjamin Jellis

It’s been almost two three years since I last updated this blog or posted anything. I think that’s a long enough time away. I don’t know how quickly I’ll get things up and running again, or how frequent content will be. But this will happen, in one form or another.

Expect a slightly more philosophical tone to future posts with some news commentary, fitness science, and other random bits thrown in for equal measure. For now, keep your feet light and your eyes on the horizon…something good this way comes.


2 Comments

HotSpot Philly – Find Your Way

Philadelphia – the birthplace of America. Filled with history, culture…and hotspots. Though not as saturated with opportunity like New York City or Los Angeles, “The City of Brotherly Love” can be still be called a major training ground for any serious PK/FR practitioner. From the Rocky Steps to Temple University to the incredible Penn’s Landing and the infamous Hamster Wheel, Philly offers something for everybody. And here, as promised, is a map to help guide you to these playgrounds.

If you have any suggestions for other spots, feel free to leave them in the comments section. I’ll add them as soon as possible. And since this will hopefully be an evolving, expanding map as I find more areas, check back for new updates.


Leave a comment

Temple University Jam Updates

Next weekend is going to be the second monthly Temple University Jam, hosted by David Jones in Philadelphia, PA. The jam starts at 11am on the Temple Campus and any and all practitioners are welcome. However, it has come to our attention that a nearby recreation center on the campus has Open Gym sessions between 11am-1pm for only $10. This would make an excellent start to the jam as everyone can work on different movements in the safety of a gymnastics gym (complete with springfloor and pads) before venturing out onto the streets.

Information about the new start of the jam can be found here.

Also, today the 19th, the Rowan University Parkour Club made the front page news of APK. We’re moving up in the world!

And finally, here’s a video of the Temple Jam’s host, David Jones.


5 Comments

The Parkour & Freerunning Handbook: A Review

The Parkour and Freerunning Handbook

The Parkour and Freerunning Handbook

A few weeks ago I finally got my hands on The Parkour and Freerunning Handbook, one of the first books dedicated entirely to the discipline. Many people wondered if such a book could be written, let alone written well, given the fact that Parkour is such a hands-on kind of subject. And after taking some time to put it through its paces I can say that I am satisfied with the result, but not exactly blown away. (Which is, oddly, a good thing.)

Overview…
The book was first published by Virgin Books on June 4, 2009. It was written by Dan Edwardes, one of the earliest full-time English practitioners, and a co-founder of the world’s largest parkour association, Parkour Generations. Having trained extensively with many of the original French founders he was definitely qualified to write the material. The book itself can be described as a “primer” for parkour, designed to introduce new and beginner practitioners to the history, philosophy, training, and application of the discipline. (Please excuse the glare in the photos, glossy pages after all)

Is It Bigger Than A Breadbox?

Is It Bigger Than A Breadbox?

The Book Itself…
Physically speaking, the book is designed with the rigors of parkour training in mind. It is flexible paperback, constructed of heavy-weight, glossy paper that feels very strong to the touch. At 144 pages long and about the height of a bottle of water, the book is not very bulky making it perfect for day to day carrying. You could stuff it in a bag, roll it like a newspaper, or throw it over a wall and you’d barely hurt it. This is a book built for function, not coffee tables.

The Good? Clear Wording and Big, Colorful Pictures

The Good? Clear Wording and Big, Colorful Pictures

Layout…
Another place where this book shines. All of the sections, from Introduction to Conditioning to Movement and Tutorials is clearly labeled and arranged. There are numerous, full color photos that go along with the text, many of them full page spreads. It’s designed similar to a magazine in that you can read it piece by piece and not lose the overall message.

Beginning of Tutorials Section

Beginning of Tutorials Section

Content…
What everyone really wants to know: what’s in the book? Well, nearly everything a beginning practitioner needs. There is a brief history of the discipline followed by a few sections on parkour essentials and the purpose of the discipline. Before movements are even introduced there are many pages dedicated to strengthening and conditioning the body, something that will make older practitioners happy because Edwardes makes it clear from the outset that you NEED to be well conditioned to start. He does not explain exactly how to condition or warm up, which I think is a bit of an oversight but I can understand why. There are so many different exercises and routines that it would take an entire second book to even attempt to list them all, although even a few basic workouts would have been a welcome addition.

Roll Tutorial. Note the Step-by-Step Drawn Style

Roll Tutorial. Note the Step-by-Step Drawn Style

The first half of the book is designed as a detailed explanation of the basics, covering most of the essential ideas and movements such as Safety, Landing, Jumping, Balancing, and Vaulting. Edwardes does a fair job here of explaining to the reader not only how to approach new movements but also why they are needed and why they are performed a certain way. The second half of the book is a dedicated Tutorials section, with step-by-step animation guides and text that follows the drawn pictures. The bread and butter movements are all there, like Kong Vaults, Cranes, Cat Leaps, and Precisions. It’s nothing special but gets the job done with clarity and brevity in mind. You can tell that Edwardes doesn’t expect you to learn the movement entirely from the book: he expects you to go out and practice it.

The last few pages are dedicated to expanding on the philosophical components of the discipline and driving home the point that this is only the beginning of training. Real world experience is needed to truly understand what he’s talking about. An interesting, and in some respects controversial, section is the second to final page that says essentially “Acrobatics are not Parkour or Freerunning.” Edwardes does not say it outright, but he does assert that simply performing flips, spins, and tricks outdoors does not constitute freerunning: there must a continuation of movement, an interaction with the surroundings. From what I could gather, Edwardes encourages acrobatics if the practitioner wants to train them, and believes they can serve a place within training and be applied to parkour. But, the goal of training should not be about looks or aesthetics, the main purpose of flips. Instead, “The discipline is one of self-improvement at the deepest level.” Essentially, flip if you want, but realize the flip alone is not parkour or freerunning. It’s just a piece of the puzzle.

Join The Movement? Don't Mind If I Do...

Join The Movement? Don't Mind If I Do...

Closing Words…
So you’ve read my rambling and want to hear the verdict. Here it is: this book is both a must read and complete fluff. Here’s why.

For new people, this book consolidates years of talk, training, and philosophical discussion that has been happening online since 2001. It’s fantastic for them because they no longer have to search the Internet looking for the answers to their basic questions. Everything is answered right here. For the experienced practitioner, however, there is nothing new to read. I’ve been following the community for four years and training for two and I learned maybe a single new fact in the entire book. But in my mind that’s a good thing. The spirit of the discipline is one that can only truly be grasped by physical contact with it. If you could distill the entirety of parkour/freerunning into a single book, you wouldn’t need to train and it would only prove that the discipline doesn’t deserve the years of effort people put into it.

So honestly, this book is a toss up. It’s cheap at $10-14 plus SH on amazon.com. If you’re new and want questions answered fast, read this book ASAP. It’s clear, concise, and a great introduction. If you’re experienced, you could use it as a teaching tool for new people, but otherwise take it or leave it. Truly dedicated practitioners might want it just to add it to their collection, but as a training tool, there’s little point.

Final Score…
7.5/10


3 Comments

Join The Movement!

Hello and welcome to Motion 2.0, my blog on all things related to Parkour and Freerunning! Please stay tuned as material will be added as quickly as possible. If you’re new to Parkour/Freerunning, expect my general definition (complete with its own page) in the coming days. In the mean time, check out these fantastic sites and videos to get an idea of what will be in store…

http://americanparkour.com/
http://parkourgenerations.com/
http://wfpf.com/