A visit to Denmark and "parkour paradise"
Mon, 2011-11-14 10:12
After spending a month training with various groups in Italy, I headed to Denmark where I spent another month with the guys from Streetmovement training in downtown Copenhagen and the amazing place that is the Gerlev Sports Academy.
My introduction to the Danish parkour scene started with a quick tour of the city and some of the parkour parks that had been built by Streetmovement over the years (pics here). While the city does have a few good places to train, there are not nearly as many as cities like London or Paris, so it seems that the Danish parkour community’s solution has been to build their own specialized training areas. While there are a lot more factors involved that just this, these projects benefit hugely from a government that seems to be much less burdened with bureaucracy and unreasonable fears of liability issues than British or American ones. While I only got the chance to visit the parks that Streetmovement had been involved in, both Ji-yo and Copenhagen Parkour also have “custom-built” training facilities as well.
After a day or two in downtown Copenhagen, I headed to Gerlev to spend some “quality time” there and to see what was so special about this near-mythical location that had been described to me as a parkour paradise with delicious food, beautiful people, and amazing training facilities. Over the nearly 3 weeks that I spent living amongst the students there I got a great look at how things work there as well as the chance to get a glimpse of what life is like in Denmark.
Food is at the center of life at Gerlev, something which becomes pretty obvious after a few hours there because any visit will probably overlap with at least one meal time (there are 6 of them each day-breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner, evening snack). At any of these meals I was struck by how the food is considered “normal” at Gerlev, but in many other circles, especially in the UK and US, it would definitely be considered “super-healthy”. Almost all of the food is locally sourced, all breads are baked in the kitchen each day, jams are made on-site, fruits and vegetables come from the surrounding farms, and everything is prepared with a care to presentation that makes one hesitate to disturb the arrangement by taking the first serving. Everything is served buffet style from large wooden tables in the middle of the dining hall, which makes mealtimes into an even more effective bonding instrument for students and staff. Mealtimes offer a chance for the Gerlev community to take a break from their respective studies and tasks to converge on a single location.
The first few days that I spent at Gerlev happened to overlap with Streetcamp 7, a 4-day camp for kids (ages 12-18) in which they live on campus and spend 4 days training and interacting with the Streetmovement instructors. Over the 4 days of Streetcamp I was repeatedly impressed by the training that the kids did, often completing training sessions that would have left many of the adults that I’ve trained with over the past year retching and crying by the halfway point. While a few of the kids were new initiates to the wonderful world of parkour many of them had been to Streetcamp before and seemed to know the training routine and mentality very well. The four days seemed to pass in a blur of training, games, and lots of laughs, all underneath a picturesque sunny and cloudless Danish sky.
After Streetcamp I spent a week and a half shadowing the parkour classes taught by Streetmovement at Gerlev. While I didn’t attend the non-parkour classes with the students (I found Danish much harder to pick up than Italian or Portuguese) I did go to all of the Streetmovment classes and found them to be a very similar to the Yamakasi’s “strong mind, strong body” training methodology but tempered with the advances of modern sports science. The students in the classes has a huge range in experience, with some having just started parkour a few months prior and others that had been training at a high level for a few years. The instructors did a good job of making sure that everyone was challenged and pushed and there was a very close-knit spirit of camaraderie and teamwork that pervaded all of the group dynamics (I was visiting right at the end of semester). After 2 weeks of training in this environment I also began to feel huge progress in my own training. While I will credit some of that to the constant training that I was doing, I also think that a large part of it had to do with the influences of the Streetmovement guys, and the fact that I was able to stay in one place for a relatively long (more than 7 days) period of time- and tackling the same training environment day after day (that being said, the Gerlev structure is a pretty sweet training environment).
During the 3 weeks that I spent hanging out with Streetmovement I noticed a lot of similarities between their training style and the ones that I had witnessed with Parkour Generations and the Yamakasi. While they weren’t exactly the same, it was obvious that there was a constant exchange of ideas and exercises between the groups and that this had helped each of the groups to keep evolving and progressing with their movement. Perhaps because it was nearing the end of my 12-month wanderjhar, or perhaps it was just that more elements of “the big picture” things were finally beginning to click for me, but my time in Denmark really emphasized the importance of the “parkour community” to me and the benefits that arose from the constant communication and exchange that seems to characterize the Western-European parkour community in particular.
More pictures and information can be found on my blog.