Parkour and the Development of Human Potential
Parkour and the Development
of Human Potential
For as long as records have existed, people have found ways to improve their movement abilities. Indeed, the human drive for physical self-exceeding is so great that it has at times become a religious passion. Native American runners, Tibetan yogis, Taoist monks, and Eastern martial artists have all developed control of movement to an extraordinary level, and in so doing have often surpassed the apparent limits of physical capacity. Modern athletes do just the same, though usually without the same level of spiritual zeal! The inexorable advance of athletic records provides dramatic evidence that the human body has enormous potential for many different kinds of development
The common denominator is that these are all transformative practices, loosely defined as the regular practice of particular physical movements with the intent to improve them and, concurrently, to improve the self as well.
In this truly global and historical effort humans have discovered new agility, strength, and coordination that they often attribute to forces beyond mere physical capability. The Chinese Taoists speak in terms of the universal breath or Chi, Japanese swordsmen of the past told of Original Mind moving through their bodies and directing their movements, the Native Americans have said that gods or animal spirits helped them run far beyond normal abilities, and Indians for millennia have taught ancient practices of yoga to transform ordinary movement into something superhuman.
But the truth is that nothing we do is ever ‘superhuman’: all of these feats are very much within our ‘human’ potential. It’s just that we rarely explore that potential fully, the reason being that most modern methods of realising our capabilities often require specific locations, travel, time, special equipment, training, and money. Such activates are open only to a small proportion of any community, thus vast reservoirs of talent continue to go untapped
But the truth is that nothing we do is ever ‘superhuman’: all of these feats are very much within our ‘human’ potential
Parkour aims to change that
And already, within its very brief life-span to date, practitioners have opened up whole new realms of possibility for human potential. From the seemingly impossible feats of Yann Hnautra and David Belle to the dynamic grace and power of Stephane Vigroux and Danny Ilabaca, to the new generations of traceurs who are building upon the achievements of these groundbreaking individuals, the progress is clear to see.
Movements and techniques that took the pioneers weeks and months to grasp are now picked up in a day or two by newcomers, due to the guidance of these trail-blazers as they now pass on their hard-earned knowledge through teaching. Jumps and obstacles that only a year or two ago were considered very difficult are now taken in stride. And the complexity of the movements has increased dramatically: Cat Leaps have become 180 Cats, 270 Cats, 360 Cats; vault variations are legion; precision jumps are persistently being surpassed in length and difficulty, and the fitness and durability of practitioners soar ever skyward.
Of course, it is not that practitioners of Parkour are particularly original in being able to accomplish incredible physical feats – for example one could reference the Lung-Gom-Pa, the ‘Trance Walkers’ of Tibet, who, oblivious of all obstacles and fatigue, move on toward their contemplated aim, hardly touching the ground. This could just as well be a description of an adept practitioner of parkour as he moves across his urban territory.
So how can parkour offer a new level of human development above and beyond the disciplines that have gone before?
The answer is in accessibility.
Here we have a genuine transformative practise open to all, not limited to specific locations – in fact it revels in the exploration of new and varied terrain – requiring no special equipment beyond a good pair of shoes and no particular training environment. It is an art geared toward the individual, wherein one develops at one’s own pace and in one’s own unique manner.
In fact, parkour can be picked up at any time, in any place, by anybody. And it is precisely this level of access to a progressive and holistic method of practise that provides a whole new arena for human development on a mass scale. It is an art that encapsulates all the requisite aspects of the ancient transformative practices, providing both a physical and philosophical paradigm for practitioners to utilise – much in the same manner as the Do, or ‘Ways’, of Japan. Indeed, parkour offers a path by which all can aspire to that ancient but perennially relevant Greek ideal of mens sana in corpore sano– a sound mind in a sound body.
The famous Tibetan ‘Trance Walker’ Lama Govinda once summarized the methods of all true transformative practices as being in essence a ‘concentration of the dynamic vital principle’ and there is no reason that Parkour should not be viewed in the same light. The only difference is that Lung-Gom-Pa are few and far between, the result of Tibetan yoga being a relatively hidden and unknown method, whereas parkour suffers from no such inhibitions.
Of course, the real progress is there to be made by each practitioner, every single day – the transformation of the individual: for this no records need be broken, no one has to be the fastest or the strongest, or jump the furthest. Only aim to develop your own attributes constantly and thoroughly, and progress is already working in your favour.
Let this progress take you to the peak of your abilities and you may discover that rare but undeniable sense that all humans harbour vast capacities for extraordinary living.