The importance of travel within the parkour experience
Fri, 2012-12-14 00:09
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain
As some of you might guess from the previous articles that I’ve written or the blog that I’ve kept- I travel a lot. My family claims that I must be running from something, although if I am, I haven’t figured out what it is. I prefer to chalk it up to a general yearn to train, travel and explore. I recently marked my 2.5 year anniversary of parkour-related travel and while thinking back on my adventures I tried to figure out what I’ve gotten from all this bouncing around- beside a lot of airline mileage and learning how to fall asleep anywhere?
Of course there are the normal perks associated with travel- a widening of horizons, being introduced to new cultures, visiting beautiful places, visiting not-so-beautiful places, learning the naughty bits of lots of new languages and the more practical bits of others, meeting great people and making new friends, encountering not-so-great people that make you appreciate your friends, and the list goes on…
But what is the benefit of parkour-related traveling?
For one, the immediate side effects of being exposed to new styles of movement are huge. One doesn’t necessarily have to travel farther than across town for this to happen if your city has multiple training groups. Going farther afoot will often lead to greater differences in style and training, although one doesn’t have to change country or continent to do this. Coatbridge and Glasgow (Scotland) have dramatically different styles from each other, as do groups in Rio de Janiero and Salvador (Brasil), and in Sydney and Melbourne (Australia), just to cite a few examples.
For those of you that spend a lot of (too much?) time watching parkour videos, watch for the subtle changes and improvements to flow, style, and confidence that many traceurs exhibit after traveling to other countries. Most elite traceurs are great examples of this, Europeans in particular as they regularly take full advantage of the relatively cheap travel and short distances between drastically different countries. Not only does this help to create a much tighter and more diverse global parkour community, but it also spreads new ideas and techniques that don’t necessarily transfer via the online mediums.
One of the biggest perks of parkour-traveling for me has been the fact that I now have a network of close friends all across the globe. Parkour is pretty unique due to the underground network that it creates between people around the world. The people that join your training at the Cathedral d’Evry may just turn into the people you stay with when you go to Italy, which is where you meet those people from Brasil that you stayed with for a week, who introduced you to… Plato once said that “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation” and I’ve found that this is especially true in parkour training, where close friendships can be forged in an afternoon of training, and those friends have a habit of turning up all around the world.
Warning: the flipside of this is that my close friends are spread across the globe, making it kind of hard to meet up for an afternoon of training on a regular basis.
Another distinctive thing that I’ve noticed about parkour-related travel is that no matter where you go, the training somewhere else is always slightly different, and it forces one to adapt one’s movement. For a practice that is about adapting to the environment, navigating a variety of physical and mental obstacles, and constantly challenging and pushing oneself, there are very few things that are as beneficial to one’s training as finding and exploring new training environments. Changes in climate, elevation, building materials, and geography can have a big effect on the way one moves. Also, training in the same environment day after day risks getting “stale” and one may struggle to find new approaches to old and well-explored surroundings. Getting away from everything for a little while can help one to come back home with “fresh eyes” and often one will see challenges or routes that didn’t seem to exist before.
Last June I traveled to Paris for a week with the Street Movement parkour class at Gerlev (Denmark) (full article here). Having lived and trained on the Gerlev parkour structure for the previous three months I thought that I knew every nook and cranny and had pushed myself to the limit of what was possible for me at my current physical and mental level. Coming back to Gerlev a week later felt like returning “home” in many ways, but I found myself seeing the structure from an entirely new angle. Jumps that had seemed just a bit out of my range prior to Paris now looked and felt like I should have done them ages ago. Things that I had never even considered now looked within reach. I also noticed this change in my fellow students, and later learned that the Street Movement guys refer to it as the “Paris effect”- a reorienting of one’s view of the world that occurs after training in a new place, especially one as parkour-rich as Paris, and then returning home to find that one’s perspective has changed.
So as the new year approaches and you begin to start thinking about what you want to do and experience in the year ahead, start thinking about where you want to travel to. As I mentioned before, it doesn’t have to be far, and learning how to travel on a tight budget is a great skill to have. The important thing is to “just go”. That being said, you run the risk of becoming addicted once you realize how much fun it is. Just don’t say that I didn’t warn you.