“Why? Why do you practise parkour?” This was the question Laurent of the Yamakasi put to everyone at the close of the end-of-year gathering, Rendezvous II, on Saturday December 8th.
His aim was to get the assembled traceurs – practitioners from all over the country and the world – to think deeply about their motivation for training, to try to understand why they are willing to work so hard to master their movement in this way. And like all good questions, it is one we should ask regularly of ourselves to see how our answer changes and evolves.
Laurent had come over from Paris with the other Yamakasi – Chau, Williams and Yann – to join the rest of the Parkour Generations team, inlcluding Seb Goudot and Thomas recently arrived from France, in leading the second large-scale London seminar of the year which turned out to be perhaps the largest gathering of highly experienced traceurs there has ever been. And without a doubt this was bigger and better than the first in every way: a bigger hall, provided by the Academy Sports Centre in Westminster, more equipment including two scaffolding towers, and more experienced teachers on hand to share knowledge and training ideas with those in attendance. The only thing that remained the same as at Rendezvous I was the commitment and enthusiasm of the many traceurs who gathered in the centre of London on another cold and wet English day.
So, how did the event pan out..?
Well, it started with the Yamakasi running out of the room! Not in an attempt to escape though, but as part of a gruelling warm-up, particularly working cardio fitness and the thighs and calves, pushing everyone to their limits with sprints, partner carries, quadrupedal exercises and jumping drills. Unable to restrain himself from dishing out some pain, Forrest also leapt in just to make sure no one walked away from the warm-up too easily. In fact, many couldn’t walk at all! And the Yamakasi had started as they meant to go on…
After this friendly introduction the training proper began, with the participants working in groups rotating around different stations, led by two instructors on each one. As the groups rotated the instructors also moved around, to ensure that everyone present got some time with as many of the teachers as possible. And as the sports centre is situated right next to the well-known Royal Oak skatepark hotspot, there was always one group outside working on the concrete and metal. For logistical reasons, big gatherings like this usually have to be held indoors but it is vital to remind people that these skills are being practised in order for use outside. That is where parkour lives and breathes, and to become too comfortable indoors can turn a traceur into a gymnast – which is not the aim at all.
The training went on like this for some two and a half hours, non-stop other than for individual breaks to take on water, with some great skills on display from many of the best traceurs in the country. Back for more from Rendezvous I were Danny Ilabaca, Blane, the Saiyans, Team Traceur, and many more veteran figures from the UK scene. Indeed the practise during the whole event had a level of maturity and diligence that was very impressive, and this results directly from the commitment and dedication to the art that these more experienced leading figures bring with them. There can be no mistaking their passion and love for the art of movement: put 100 of these guys in a room and that inner fire becomes an inferno.
To top off the training, Chau led everyone on a combined course over all the obstacles in the room, while Stephane made it clear that the aim here was to move fluidly, not to rush or attempt to outdo the next guy, and to maintain focus and concentration throughout. To their credit, everyone seemed to take this on board and the course was completed with no falls or mishaps. Very good to witness.
With all assembled having worked so hard, the Yamakasi then led the class through a thorough stretching routine and ended with some excellent relaxation techniques to enable people to calm their bodies and minds and find their centre once more. With the room effectively sedated in this way, we then set aside half an hour for questions put to the instructors – and this, I think, was perhaps the most useful and insightful part of the event. Various questions were put out there, with the Yamakasi sharing their decades of knowledge and experience in their quiet but compelling manner. For once the training has stopped and the body is through, it is the mind that needs satisfaction – and for anyone who has trained as long as the majority of people in that hall that Saturday, the realisation comes that parkour is a challenge of the mind and of the spirit, much more than of the body.
Inevitably, the question of labels for the discipline was raised, and the Yamakasi gave perhaps the best answer there has yet been: “Parkour, l’art du deplacement, freerunning, the art of movement… they are all the same thing. They are all movement and they all came from the same place, the same nine guys originally. The only thing that differs is each individual’s way of moving.” Don’t try to separate them or waste energy debating whether this is this or that is that – that leads only to separation within yourself. You must find out why YOU practise, that is all. After that you will find your way. Labels count for nothing. Just move.
And so came Laurent’s question to the group: “Why? Why train?” A profound silence settled over the proceedings – though hopefully one born of people being shy rather than of not having any answers! In time people did speak up, cautiously sharing their motivation with the others. And it is motivation that is all. For only if one’s motivation is sincere and, in a sense, pure will one find the willpower to continue training as long as these Yamakasi have. Otherwise, the fire dwindles as months and years pass and the gains are harder to make and eventually one day you simply stop turning up for training. What we were trying to get across is that every one of us must look deeply into why we do this if we are to gain anything from it beyond mere physical strength and prowess. After all, this will fade in time – no matter how good you are now. But the spirit and the mind need never fade, and so it is this we should look to develop the most.
Of course, the Yamakasi and the other instructors at Rendezvous II had their own answers that have kept them going all this time. What were they? I think it is better not to go into that here: no-one else’s answers matter – only your own. So think hard, look closely, and we hope you find what you need to keep training until the end of your days. As Laurent said, wouldn’t it be amazing to see a 70-year-old pulling off a demi-tour!
Parkour Generations would like to thank everyone who made the event possible: Academy Sports for the hall, Andy for the music, Westminster Sports Unit for the equipment, Tracey for the scaff towers, Chris for the driving, Julie and Kiell for covering the day, and all the team for helping set-up, clean up and enforcing respect for the line! And of course huge thanks to the Yamakasi and to Seb and Thomas for coming all the way to be involved.