Parkour in Brazil
Fri, 2011-07-08 10:10
After the adventures in Chile that I mentioned in the last post, I flew from Santiago to Rio de Janiero, Brazil to start my two month exploration of that amazing country. The trip started with a few days in Rio to adjust to the new culture, new language (I’d been speaking various forms of Spanish for the previous 2 months), REALLY hot weather, and to finalize my itinerary for the trip, which ended up including 1-week stays in Rio de Janiero, Florianopolis, Balneário Camboriú, Curitiba, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Salvador, and Aracaju.
The goal of this setup was to ensure that I would not only hit most of the major parkour spots in the country, but that I would also get a better impression of the country as a whole than if I were to only visit one or two cities. Since trying to condense my two months in Brazil into an epically and obnoxiously long blog article would be a disservice to the subject I’ll only be presenting a few of my final thoughts and observations from my time there in this post. For more details (20+ pages of them) on my travels through Brazil you can check out my blog at: http://making-the-jump.blogspot.com/
My had initially included Brazil in the itinerary for this trip due to the strong culture of natural movement and because I’d heard rumors and seen a few videos of Brazilian traceurs. I also met Bruno Peixoto while I was in London, who convinced me that the initial month that I had planned to spend wasn’t enough and I should really spend 2 months. Good choice.
After a few days in Rio adjusting to the new culture I headed south to visit Florianopolis, Balneário Camboriú, and Curitiba. I should preface the next few paragraphs with the information that I learned only after having lived and traveled around Brasil for a few weeks. Brazil is a HUGE country. Coming from the US, I know this should not have been a surprise for me, but the regional differences were just as strong, if not stronger, than they are in the US. These differences aren’t just limited to the cuisine and accents, even the parkour is very different in the different regions. While I hesitate to paint large groups of traceurs with sweeping generalizations, the overall impression that I got of the parkour in the south of Brazil was that it is powerful and technical. It probably helped that I stayed with some of the more veteran guys during my time there, who had been training for years and really appreciated the benefits of a solid conditioning program. I was also very surprised to find that unlike many of its South American neighbors, Brazil has been developing its parkour scene for almost a decade, with some of the earliest Brazilian traceurs getting their inspiration and instruction from the earliest videos that appeared on the internet.
This leads me to an interesting fact about Brazilian parkour- the overwhelming presence of what one might call “nerds” in the traceur community there. While the fact that nearly all of my hosts had a background or affinity for computer science was a fun fact at first, I soon learned that this attachment to the virtual world was how parkour started in Brazil in the first place. Like almost all places where parkour has become popular, the sport was spread at first via online videos- which in a country that is “third world” weren’t available to a large audience a few years ago. The first guys to see the sport and start training were the ones that had access to internet… This has changed in the last few years due to decreasing costs and improvements in technology, but evidence can be seen among the more veteran traceurs.
After the south, I headed up to Rio de Janiero, Sao Paulo, and Belo Horizonte. These cities had a very different feel to them, not only because the first two are two of the largest cities in the world, let alone Brazil, but it could also be seen in the style of parkour. Each of these cities have been the sites of much debate about “free parkour” and whether or not it is ethical or violating the spirit of the sport to be charging people money for parkour classes and workshops. While different groups have had come up with different responses to this question, I did find that there was definitely something more “polished” and performance-like about a lot of the movement that I saw there too. Due to the fact that parkour has existed in these cities for a number of years, each city had different groups that were (usually) in some sort of conflict or rivalry with the others.
Throughout the trip I tried to act as neutral as possible in what I soon discovered was the very developed, and very passionate, national parkour scene in Brazil. Since at the time of my visit there wasn’t an official national governing body for parkour, the national debate is split into a myriad of alliances, regional rivalries, interpersonal friendships and grudges, and trans-regional organizations. This tangled web was always changing, although by the end of the trip I was pleased to see that major progress had been made toward the creation and adoption of the ABPK (Associação Brasileira de Parkour). Needless to say, this was all also very entertaining to witness, especially since each story seemed to have at two, if not more, sides to it.
The next stop was Brasilia, which deserves special mention for a number of reasons. For one, it was the only city that I visited in Brazil that has a distinct style of parkour that can be directly attributed to the architecture of the city. Designed as a “planned capital” in the late 1950s the city’s large avenues, interactive artwork, and “big architecture”, it seems custom made for “big parkour” and the guys seem to have a special affinity for large precision jumps and cat leaps. I also got to witness some of the most industrious Brazilian traceurs of the trip, and the construction of training sites outside of the city left me both inspired and impressed by their drive and determination.
My stay in Brasilia gave a chance to pick the brain of one of the first traceurs in Brazil, who doesn’t train a lot for parkour at the moment, but is still fairly active in the national scene, meaning that he’s had a good vantage point throughout the evolution of parkour in Brazil. From what I learned from him, and from conversations with others, parkour in Brazil seems to have followed a similar path to the one it followed in the UK and other nations. The first generations, after an initial exposure to the sport via the internet videos, started off emulating the huge jumps, big drops, and death-defying acrobatics that many of the first videos featured and which makes the sport so appealing to many newcomers. The first traceurs looked online for answers if they couldn’t figure things out themselves, and learned most things by trial and error. Of that first generation, there are only a small handful that still train at all, and even fewer that one could say train with regularity. With each successive generation of traceurs the sport has become more accessible and more widespread, and the influx of foreign traceurs within the last few years (Kazuma and Thomas Couetdic a few years ago, Yohann Vigroux after that, Dan, Steph, and Blane last summer) has also had a huge effect on both the style and the training of many traceurs.
My last stops in Brazil were in the cities of Salvador and Aracaju. Considered to be the “northeast” of Brazil, the culture here is very different from that of the southern cities or the metropolises, and seems to fit much closer to the classical Brazilian stereotype that I certainly thought of when I first pictured Brazil (football, capoeira, samba, beaches, bikinis…) The parkour also differed greatly from what I had seen farther south, and the training sessions seemed to have a much more relaxed and “Bahian” rhythm to them. One of the most popular training exercises seemed to be a form of “follow-the-leader” in which one person would spontaneously break the calm pace of the training session to go flying over and around a series of obstacles. The others would drop what they were doing to join in and soon there would be a small line of traceurs flowing over the obstacles. The weird thing was that the game would end as suddenly as it began, with no starting or ending points discernable to my gringo eyes. I also had the good fortune to attend the 4th Annual Northeast Jam, held in Aracaju at the end of my trip. This event was probably the most intense parkour experience of the trip to date and in addition to being really fun, gave me a great impression of parkour in the northeast.
One thing that didn’t change throughout my travels in Brazil was the amazing hospitality that I was offered everywhere. In each city, my contacts (whom I had never met before) greeted me at the bus station and for the rest of the week I was treated like a member of the extended family. This hospitality wasn’t limited to the guys that I was staying with either, and each of the parkour communities that I encountered welcomed me with open arms, so much in fact that at the end of each week it felt like I was saying goodbye to another group of brothers (and sisters).