By Chris (Blane) Rowat
a) The process of making weaker or less concentrated
b) A dilute or weakened condition.
c) A diluted substance.
My mind has been busy for a while and it’s only now that I feel I want to share the outcome of my thoughts. This entry may offend you, it may seem like it’s directed at you and maybe it is.
I can live with being disliked for telling the truth, but I can not continue living with this opinion and not sharing it with the people I think it might help. I know I am not the only one who shares the following opinions and I feel it is worthwhile voicing them if it changes just one person’s mindset and helps them. This is primarily for a friend of mine who I haven’t trained with in a little while. A friend who seems to have become a little down with his training, a little distant, a little worried that he’s not as good as other people. This is for him and all of the other people who feel disheartened watching the people around them do things they cannot… and also for the newcomers to Parkour.
Yesterday was my 1300th day of practicing Parkour. I’m not a big believer in anniversaries but it was on this day that the thoughts of two weeks came together and fused to become solid in my head.
I started training 1301 days ago on September 10, 2003, the day after Jump London aired for the first time on Channel 4 and it’s amazing to think how much has happened and how much my life has changed since then.
I vividly remember the very first training session I had, 185 weeks and 6 days ago. It was with my good friend at the time, Tom, and we were both so excited from watching Jump London and wanted to jump right in and get started! I remember trying some vaults, small jumps through a gap in a moving swing and I remember the first real experience of fear in Parkour as I jumped off the roof of a local gymnastics club and rolled on the grass. It was terrifying at the time and I think it was around 12ft high. I did this because I thought this is what Parkour was, jumping off high things and living to tell the tale the next day. Oh how far we’ve all come since then… or have we?
Now as most people will tell you, the days after your first session are hellish. Who remembers that unspeakable sensation of pain just walking up a flight of stairs in the days following your first real hardcore session? I remember my quads feeling like they had been assaulted by a gang of angry thugs with baseball bats for 2 weeks.
These days there is a wealth of great information available for people starting out in the discipline that I did not have access to in the beginning of my training. It was mostly trial and error, with a large dose of the latter. But despite the benefits that learning from past experiences of veteran traceurs can bring, I can’t help but wonder if there are consequences to this.
I realise how difficult it must have been for David Belle and all of the other original traceurs of Lisses as they plunged forward in darkness over 15 years ago having no idea what they were doing or where it would lead. They slowly carved a path in a new direction and lit it up along the way for people to follow. It took many years for those guys to create the most basic movements and refine them to the extent that almost any obstacle could be overcome using just a handful of varying techniques and it is a truly remarkable accomplishment. An epic journey that a new traceur of today can bypass, almost, as they learn 10 new techniques in 2 months, that would have taken perhaps 5 years worth of training back in Lisses in the early 90’s to achieve.
So at the rate we are developing, progressing and learning, surely we will catch up to them carving in the distance and be able to help them light up the path, right?
No, I don’t think so.
I think we are travelling so quickly along that same path that we are going to run out of fuel before we reach them. They are looking behind them and see us in the distance and I think they are probably hoping we reach them to help the discipline grow, but I don’t think many people of future generations ever will.
To quote Stephane Vigroux, “I think for many people it has to be more personal… everybody’s moving… I’m really happy for them… but too quickly, too fast, too easy, too much show… too much.”
There are guys who have been training for less than a year that are doing bigger and further things than guys who have been training for four years and I believe this is mainly due to the library of knowledge available now. This may sound good in principle, that as the generations go on, we will have new guys able to sidestep the trial and error process and just stick to what has been proven to work, to get to a good level in Parkour. But I’m worried.
I think that the trial and error approach taught the original traceurs of Lisses a vast amount about themselves and injected them with a creativity and passion and courage that is being forgotten today and is being replaced with ‘by the book’ training. Not only do I believe that their mental and physical adeptness is far superior to my own, I believe this will be further diluted as the generations go by and the future traceurs begin their training. People now have lists of movements to learn and tick them off as they do them and quickly move on to something new, something bigger, something more impressive.
The best way to get respected in the Parkour community today seems to be doing the biggest and best things with the minimum amount of training to get there. As long as you do it, it doesn’t matter how sloppy it was, how slow the climb up was, how precise the landing was or how much damage it did to the person. Everybody spreads the word that “X” did “Y” so they must be better than “Z” since they have only been training for “W” months! This approach can quickly escalate and recently I feel it has been destroying the true nature of Parkour. People are doing things to be recognised by other people and it’s tough for the people working hard and progressing steadily to see this going on around them. They feel pressured in to attempting things beyond their level when they see it happening and that’s not their fault.
To me, Parkour is a long and worthwhile campaign – not one short, epic battle.
I’m not only worried about the mental progression and creativity of new practitioners being sacrificed, I’m equally concerned about the physical costs of such textbook progression.
Like myself, some of you may have memories of a granddad who was the only one in the family that could open the pickle jar at dinner time, despite his advanced years. This ‘granddad strength’ I speak of was no miracle – it was the product of 60 years of manual labour and a strength produced from many years of repetitive muscle use.
I’m concerned that the shortcuts available to today’s practitioners might rob them of the irreplaceable muscular development that the Lisses traceurs have, the deep rooted neurological pathways and the vast amount of muscle memory that no book, article or spoken word can give to them. The granddad strength.
We all know you can condition your body from the beginning of your training and this will help your technical ability but I still feel people are moving too quickly and progressing too fast. I regularly see things being done by newer traceurs that guys with years of experience haven’t done and sometimes the more experienced guys feel bad… often they find themselves questioning their training and wondering why they aren’t as good, wondering where they got left behind and wondering why everybody seems to be better than them.
People have come to me, literally depressed about their training and looking for advice and asking where they went wrong, wondering what the newer guys have that they don’t. The answer I’ve given to these people is simple. The new practitioners doing the massive jumps, the impressive techniques, the big, the hard, the long, the far etc. have ignited a fuse that will see them burn out years before they might want to, simply because their bodies are not ready for what they are doing. It’s not just a question of knees, what about the damage being done to the shoulders of new guys doing big drops from branch to branch? What about their elbows?
What will be the long-term effects of this?
What will be the long-term effects of doing 12ft level arm jumps when the shoulders haven’t experienced 10,000 smaller ones?
What will be the long-term effects of dropping 15ft to concrete when the legs haven’t experienced 10,000, 5ft drops?
Time will tell.
Look at the best traceurs in the world. Go to Lisses and see them, talk to them, train with them and learn from them. They are not the best because they are genetically gifted or were crazy to try all the new things when they were younger and they are not the best because they progressed quickly. They are the best and the strongest because the progressed steadily. They built layer upon layer of armour on their bodies over years and years, repeating things thousands of times and not rushing the process. They have deep rooted granddad strength and resilience and resistance to injury that comes from gradual progression.
Various interviews with David have all asked about injuries and David has shaken his head and said his knees are fine, his arms are fine, he has no pain. This is after 18 years of training. By contrast, today we have guys with one year of training behind them taking months out with knee problems, shoulder dislocations, tendonitis… surgery to repair the body before 20 years of age. Is this a coincidence? Or is this because we are pushing too hard, too fast, trying to be the best and compare to others?
Parkour is a personal journey and one that is hard work. There are no shortcuts and there are no quick fixes. If you want ‘to be and to last’ then I suggest you take a long hard look at your training and ask yourself if you are doing this for fun, for a few years until you can settle down and get a job, get married, have kids and retire. If so then do what you want, do the massive jumps, do everything you want to do and don’t look back. Just be aware that you are having an effect on the others who are in this for the long haul and working hard to get strong. Try to bear this in mind when you say “I did this, so why don’t you?” to them.
But if you want to truly discipline your body, become strong and last in Parkour then you must not compare yourself to anybody else. It can be too tempting to get talked in to doing something beyond your level when you see less experienced people doing it. Be the bigger man/woman and realise the damage they are doing to themselves and take pride in knowing you didn’t succumb to peer pressure. In 10 years when they’re walking with a cane, you will be able to do that jump a hundred times without generating a bead of sweat.
I’m not sure how we can help the future generations of traceurs and the future of Parkour. By providing them with our experience we can prepare them but it must not become a substitute for trial and error or we will all become clones of our teachers. There must remain an element of trial and error and an element of exploration. They must also be allowed to progress in their own time without feeling the pressure of people around them. I’m going to make it a personal goal of mine to help the people I see feeling pressured in to doing something they don’t want to, it would be great if some people reading this could take the time to join me.
To summarise the two points in the above article…
1) If you’re new to Parkour, research as much as possible and learn from the people who have walked the path before you, but do not lose your creativity and ability to think for yourself. Try new things, explore different methods and progress at your own pace. What you need to remember is that the people before you have more physical experience that has built what I refer to as ‘granddad strength’ and that cannot be taught or passed on. You can rush the theory but you cannot take shortcuts on the practical stage if you want to last in this discipline.
2) If you are more experienced in Parkour and feel like newer people are better than you, do not feel pressured in to pushing yourself too hard or doing things just because they are. Try to warn them of the dangers of trying things beyond their bodies’ conditioned state – even if they can do something, doesn’t mean they should. They are learning faster than you due to the wealth of information before them, due to your hard work.
If you care for the future of Parkour then it is your duty to help them to progress sensibly and remind them that they should slow down when you think they are going too fast. If we do not do this, Parkour will slowly die as its practitioners become weaker and weaker duplicates of past traceurs due to injury, overtraining and joint destruction.
Are you going to help to dilute Parkour and the new traceurs, or are you going help to concentrate it and strengthen them?
“Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” – William Butler Yeats