David Belle once said something along the lines of “A good traceur trains until he/she gets it right. An excellent traceur trains until he/she cannot get it wrong.”
-excerpt from Urban dictionary
Modern society, with all its comforts, has made natural movement obsolete, and thus our bodies are falling into disuse. The symptoms are clear: health problems among both young and old have skyrocketed. And so fitness has become big business, with diets, pills and training programs generating huge profits every year, while advertising makes people more unhappy with their bodies. Seeing as health has become a commodity, something to pay for, the small discipline Parkour can represent something else.
What’s so special with Parkour, you ask. It’s an “underground” physical discipline, that basically has no rules. The only rules are that the landscapes of your surroundings is your playground, and that your goal is to navigate these landscapes as efficiently as possible, using only your body. Your body is a blank slate, and you must yourself decide how to train to acheive your goals.
My first encounter with the term parkour was in fall 2006, as my brother got back from California. He had “something wild” he wanted to show me. A youtube-video of a Russian boy running through industrial landscapes, scaling old communist blocks and making insane drops. He moved in a such a beautiful way, I didn’t even know it was possible to move like that. For a sixteen year-old boy who had given up regular sports a couple of years before, it was to discover the first steps of how to really move.
The first steps were perhaps the hardest. How does one learn an art, a craft, without a teacher, and no active milieu in my hometown for parkour? My brother provided me with hints and tips, as well as being my first parkour partner. Struggling to find good spots to practice (Norwegian suburbs are really boring), we found ourselves travelling to schools and kindergartens in order to find suitable terrain. The first years also involved a lot of conditioning, probably quite a lot compared to many other practitioners. Conditioning for parkour has since been a major part of my training.
Parkour has always been about self-improvement. To get better you have to work hard on your own. The aid of friends and fellow traceurs can only get you so far. In the end, the improvement you experience, the sense of mastering, is due to your own toil. A private project, of which the rewards are many. A functional body, a clear mind, and a calm spirit.
The attributes of an experienced traceur are different than those of most athletes. For one thing, a professional athlete is usually specialized in a few things. The runner has really good cardio, whereas the weight-lifter has specialized in “explosive” strength. An experienced traceur is specialized in being diverse. Fit for both running distances, jumping gaps with high precision, as well as scaling walls.
For the next, regular sports are subject to high competitiveness, with rivalry, drug use and overtraining as some of the side effects of the high pressure. More than once have I met youth who simply “weren’t good enough” to be included on their teams, and were cast out from their old sport. My hope is that parkour can be something different, that it can get people to enjoy physical activity without having to compete. When people compete, someone has to lose.
All this understates my impression of parkour as a project for the self. The discipline should be free from that clammy hand of competition which brings out the best in some, but also the worst in many. Parkour has the ability to make people look at their surroundings with new eyes, it connects them to the concrete-and-steel environment of our time, but also to the savanna of the ancient runners. It is a natural way to experience one’s surroundings.