“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?
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.