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(en) US, Parkour For Commies: A RAAN Guide to Urban Freerunning

Date Wed, 28 Sep 2005 17:41:28 +0300


Most of what’s been written here has appeared before; people
have been struggling to explain Parkour for as long as the art has
been around. What makes this pamphlet special is that we’re
interested primarily in bringing radical anti-capitalists into the PK
community, and therefore our explanations have been tailored towards
demonstrating the relevancy of the sport to those groups in particular.
Introduction -- Most of what’s been written here has appeared before; people
have been struggling to explain Parkour for as long as the art has
been around. What makes this pamphlet special is that we’re
interested primarily in bringing radical anti-capitalists into the PK
community, and therefore our explanations have been tailored
towards demonstrating the relevancy of the sport to those groups in
particular.

Towards this end, we have also tried to provide a functional overview
of PK so as to facilitate the introduction of those who have never
encountered it before. Ideally, this text will be able to stand on its
own as a reference guide to the basics of urban freerunning.

What is Parkour?

Although we seek to promote a comprehensive understanding of Le
Parkour, for the benefit of the uninitiated it will be useful to begin
with a short definition, as found in the Wikipedia Encyclopedia,

Parkour (also known as PK, freerunning, and Le Parkour) is:

“… A quasi-sport in which participants attempt to clear all
obstacles in their path in the most fluid manner possible. A traceur is
a participant of Parkour. The term free-runner has been commonly
adopted by the media (…) free-running has been widely used by
journalists to describe Parkour-like activity, but which commonly
features more emphasis on 'showy' moves than are a feature of
genuine Parkour.”

The ultimate goal in Parkour is to ‘flow’ along one’s
path, for the entire journey to be as one fluid movement with no
pauses or breaks. A principal rule of Parkour is to never go
backwards. Traceurs believe that there is a path to every obstacle
which is achieved through forward movement.”

In short time we will explore what this means in practice, and in
particular how that practice can aid in the growth of healthy
anarchist communities, but first let’s take a look at how this
definition came about.

History of Parkour

"Their bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skilful, enduring,
resistant and yet they had no other tutor in Gymnastics but their
lives in Nature." - G. Hébert

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the origins of Parkour can be found in the
French armed forces. It was in the early 1900’s that a young
sailor by the name of George Hébert would begin combining his
personal beliefs on altruism, courage, and physical health into an
effective mantra, "Etre fort pour être utile" - "Be strong to be
useful." In his travels throughout Africa, Hérbert marveled at the
near-universal fitness of the indigenous people he encountered,
something which he struggled to explain given the total lack of
modern gymnastic training programs, even within the warrior
classes.

Hérbert finally came to the conclusion that this apparently
“natural” strength had in fact come out of a prolonged
interaction with ones physical environment, and that basic activities
such as running, climbing, jumping, crouching, and swimming had
combined over time to create a comprehensive training regimen
capable of toning the human ability to perfection in regards to these
very same activities.

Excited by the possibilities of this development, Hérbert set about
articulating his theory of a “Natural Method” in which
prolonged runs in outdoor environments, coupled with the adaptive
techniques needed for “parcours du combatant”
(obstacle-coursing) in purpose-built arenas, would replace the rigid
Swedish gymnastic systems used for conditioning by most armed
forces at the time.

For the early XX century these philosophies were incredibly
innovative, and Hérbert used them as a base to build an entire
system of thought related to human fitness. Today, many things we
take for granted such as “adventure” playground sets for
children and obstacle course trainings in the military were originally
designed by Hérbert as a way to create a more well-rounded,
strong, and adaptable body. Although he saw this physical
development as inseparable from the cultivation of a healthy
emotional state, it would be decades before this connection was once
again brought to the fore.

As the “natural method” grew in popularity throughout the
world, it was instituted as a primary training program for various
armed forces, particularly in France. Raymond Belle - a soldier who
was introduced to this concept while serving in Vietnam - passed it
off to his son David who, along with childhood friend Sebastien
Foucan, would be among the first traceurs in the Parisian suburb of
Lisses.

As the two tell it, the whole thing began in their early teens as they
and their friends played at being ninjas on the school’s rooftops,
running and jumping off or over anything they could reach. The
addition of Hérbert’s methodology only gave a more serious
justification for these recreations, and as Foucan describes it, the
“vision of Parkour” remains “to look… to think, like
children”.

Parkour therefore has deep philosophical roots, perhaps even dating
back centuries as its modern practitioners have had more success in
combining its concepts and movement with widely-recognized
martial arts. From its modern implementation by French youths in
the 80s, it has grown internationally though a series of films,
documentaries, commercials, and soon perhaps even video games.
As it has not yet become entirely mainstream, however, there is
currently a lively debate in the PK community regarding the
possibility that its impending acceptance as a sport will lead to an
undesirable commercialization that can only erode the original spirit
of the art, much like what has happened to skateboarding over the
past two decades.

Philosophy of Parkour

“Free running has always existed, free running has always been
there, the thing is that no one gave it a name, we didn’t put it in
a box.” - David Belle

“Understanding the philosophy of Parkour is to look further than
just the simple movement or the performance of the movement.”
- Sebastien Foucan

Nowadays, the primary divisions in the PK community are between
the “purists” who see in it an art of movement capable of
opening up a broader life consciousness, and those who practice
“freestyle Parkour”, in which flips and other such
flamboyant moves are incorporated into the flow so as to maximize a
stylistic impressiveness. Since our primary concern here is the
usefulness of Parkour to the anti-capitalist culture, we will not be
dealing with its “freestyle” variation as it necessarily
decreases the utility of the art and has as a general rule been
accessible only to those with prior acrobatic experience.
Nevertheless it is extremely important to note that for both these
tendencies, the primary aim of Parkour remains abundantly clear
– total freedom of movement.

This concept springs from many different sources, but some have
had the perception to connect it directly with the Situationist
traditions in exploring modern architecture as oppressive to the
individual and societal consciousness. Indeed, to the traceur most
characteristics of the urban environment - stairs, walls, railings, even
buildings, are seen primarily as obstacles to the freedom of
movement. Thus it is easy to understand how the philosophy of
Parkour can be incorporated into a broader analysis of oppressive
structures, and the immediate practice be used as a metaphor for a
more general liberation.

The modern success of Parkour in gaining broad acceptance is to a
large degree as a result of its development into a well-rounded art
with several identifiable movements, most practiced out of an
efficiency recognized through study of preexisting martial arts. That
these basic laws of movement, evolved over the entire history of
human activity, could be applied to such a fluid practice as Le
Parkour is no surprise. Much more difficult to impart through text
are the psychological benefits of any physical activity, and Parkour in
particular.

On a purely biological level, physical exertion releases endorphins, a
naturally-occurring hormone that acts as a mild opiate, thus
explaining such phenomenon as the “runner’s high”.
Sustained exercise also promotes feelings of accomplishment and
confidence, particularly in areas where continued experience brings
rapid improvement. Because Parkour is not a competitive sport, but
lends itself very well to a group experience, it also fosters the kind of
relationships that we as anarchists feel to be the most beneficial to
our life's development.

Practical Application

To anyone who has witnessed a Parkour “jam” before
having the activity explained to them, it often looks like a bunch of
people “running around and jumping off things”. To a
certain extent, they’re absolutely right. The genius of Parkour is
that anyone can immediately begin practicing it on a zero budget
simply by running outside and beginning to interact with their
environment. This isn’t to say that PK is still exactly the same
as pretending to be a ninja, but it is useful to keep this origin in mind
when going out for your first time. A healthy attitude about what
your goals are will also help keep you from feeling embarrassed at
the beginning, especially since it might take some time to develop
your skills into something that even looks “correct”.
Involving your friends for mutual support is of course an excellent
idea.

As one might expect, Parkour is immensely tiring. In the most literal
application, which of course should not be attempted by first-timers,
a traceur seeks to run in a straight line through a given environment
(a city or neighborhood, for instance) and find a way over every
single element in their path, including climbing buildings when
necessary. How this actually plays out is often hard to imagine
without seeing it firsthand, but it involves a constant series of leaps,
jumps, and - especially - vaults, which are all performed in such a
way as to facilitate a fluid transition into the next movement, usually
back into running. As part of this technique, one can adopt several
tried-and-true movements, such as “breakfalling” into a
shoulder-roll, to minimize impact and enable the immediate
continuation of the run. Most of these are based on the sound
experience of various martial arts such as Ju/Tai/Ninjutsu and can
only be safely executed after extensive drilling. It is of course
necessary to accept that as fun as Parkour is, it also has the
capability to be incredibly dangerous and therefore we must stress
that all traceurs should begin as one begins any new hobby –
slowly, cautiously, and with attention to detail. The media has of
course chosen to portray Parkour as a daredevil-esque series of
suicidal leaps across rooftops and down several stories, when in fact
these feats are practiced only by the most experienced traceurs and
constitute an incredibly miniscule portion of the overall art, most of
which is an unglamorous, but creative and rapid, series of vaults
over everyday objects.

As a network of revolutionary anarchists and communists,
what’s important in our analysis of Parkour is not the way it
looks but the benefits we receive as individuals and groups from its
practice. Returning to the “natural method”, it is self-evident
that Parkour conditions our bodies and is capable of providing one of
the most complete workouts any of us will ever experience. Because
one can become a traceur with virtually no equipment or
professional training, it also benefits our wider vision of making
fitness accessible to all layers of society. And perhaps most
importantly, PK encourages us to familiarize ourselves with urban
design and our own mobility within it, which, when coupled with the
increase in our physical strength and flexibility, is an invaluable tool
in the face of confrontations with police, private security, or other
hostile elements.

Getting Started

Although there is no particular “uniform” or protective gear
needed for PK, it is recommended that you have a decent pair of
running or skate shoes (to absorb shock) and - at least in the
beginning - a long sleeve shirt. Once you’re ready to head out,
you’ll need to find a good spot for your first run.

Finding a Location

The first thing you and your friends will want to do is find a suitable
location in which to begin training. Although eventually you should
be able to adapt your movements to any type of architecture, in the
beginning it will be useful to practice some basic techniques in a
relatively enclosed space where you can repeat your basic moves
without having to run great distances between obstacles. If
you’re just getting started, don’t worry too much about the
long-distance aspect of Parkour, and look around your community
for “hotspots” with lots of low walls, fences, railings,
wheelchair ramps, gaps, and anything else you think might be
interesting to work around. Some likely places include subway
stations, schools or universities, and parks.

But remember also that running is an important part of PK, and like
Parkour itself is often best practiced in groups. Running frequently
will train your legs and cardiovascular endurance, and best of all can
be done in virtually any setting, regardless of which obstacles are
present.

Warming Up and Stretching

It is absolutely vital that you take your physical activities seriously,
and prepare for the stress on your body by stretching thoroughly
before and after all sessions. Not only will this minimize your chance
of injury, but in time will also ensure that your overall flexibility
improves. Try going for short “warm-up” runs before
launching directly into a jam, as you’ll want your body to be
prepared for the exertion.

Everyone has their favorite stretches, but a good general rule is that
each position should be held for a minimum of 20 seconds in order
to be effective. As you might expect, concentrating on the legs is
very important; make sure to adequately target your quads and
hamstrings, calves, and knees. For your upper body, loosen up your
shoulders, back, sides, arms, and hands. See the section on
Additional Resources for good references on preparatory stretches.

Although there are many specific workouts that can be used to
enhance the strength needed for certain PK techniques, few are as
effective as simply repeating the techniques themselves. That said,
anything that strengthens your lower abs will definitely come in
handy – leg lifts in particular are recommended by most traceurs.
Push-ups are universally advantageous even if you’re not
involved in Parkour, but expect to get a lot of arm and pectoral work
out of your vaults, anyway.

Drills for Beginners

A “drill” is a basic movement or technique that can and must
be repeated hundreds of times in order for some sort of proficiency to
take hold. It’s important to note that no one, no matter how
experienced, is above drilling the basics, as this is the foundation for
any development in ability. Many of the drills you’ll need to
master can be approached as the individual pieces that make up a
run: try vaulting the same wall several times from side to side, or
walk along railings to improve your sense of balance. Many of the
most important drills are actually just common sense, and the fact
that most beginners can’t take up a sustained run will ensure
that they’re practicing the same basic moves over and over,
especially if they’ve decided to train in a specific location.

There is however one vital drill which we will cover at length here -
breakfalling.

Breakfalling

Over the course of any run, your legs and particularly your knees are
going to be absorbing huge amounts of shock from all the types of
dismounts you engage in. This could just be the repetitive wear of
hopping over railings, or it could be a fall of as much as a storey
(which of course should only be attempted once breakfalling has
been mastered). No matter what the situation, however, there are
tried and true techniques that can help you redirect the energy of
impact so as to successfully continue your run.

The most basic rule to breakfalling is to bend your knees as you
land, as this is the body’s first and foremost method of shock
absorption. As you bend down into a squat, you can smack the
ground with both hands, thereby transferring the force of your
impact back into the earth. This may sound silly, but it’s
absolutely vital if you’re going to be continuously landing hard
over the course of the day.

There are of course those drops that are far too high to be
comfortably dealt with simply by bending the knees and slapping the
ground, and in these cases traceurs have employed a versatile
shoulder-roll to help them flow through and continue the run. These
rolls are taken directly from established martial arts, and can be used
in any number of situations to minimize the damage done by a throw
or fall, or simply as a method of escaping quickly. In the context of
Parkour, one lands first on the balls of the feet, bending the knees
while rolling forward onto their toes, and then springing forward into
the roll and finally coming back up to a run. This transfers the
energy of impact to the front rather than up into the body, and when
done correctly can be used to avoid hurting yourself when falling
great distances.

IMPORTANT: Never assume that you can just “roll out of”
a fall. You will seriously hurt your legs, back, and ass, possibly even
your neck. Yes you will. Learning how to do a competent shoulder
roll takes hundreds and hundreds of practice attempts, and correctly
implementing it to a breakfall takes thousands more.

When learning a shoulder roll, ALWAYS start on grass and always
start from a crouching position, on all fours. To execute the roll you
should lift your left leg and then shoot your right arm through the
space it had been occupying, behind you at a 45-degree angle. Do
this very slowly at first, concentrating on the way your shoulder
impacts with the ground. Your line of vision will shift behind you,
and you’ll end up going in the direction opposite your view,
along the same plane. This is important, since if you look too much
to the side you’re going to end up rolling diagonally.

The move itself is characterized as a “shoulder to hip”
approach, meaning that you roll along the side of your back, and
your spine never touches the ground. Your body should be bent in
such a way that at the end of the technique you are back on your
feet, rather than flat on your back. This type of roll can be practiced
backwards from a sitting position, and it is recommended that one
try doing it slowly 75 times a day, on each side, before ever trying it
on a hard surface, much less off of a jump. It’s important for you
to train your body to internalize and unconsciously “fall into”
this type of roll before ever trying it in the middle of an actual run.

Additional information on the various techniques used in Parkour, as
well as the proper way to drill them, can be found through the
Additional Resources section at the end of this text.

Parkour as a Organizing Technique

Those involved in communist and anarchist street culture have
sought to organize healthy, accessible activities that build
cooperation and camaraderie in their neighborhoods for at least as
long as they’ve been organizing anything at all. The
incorporation of Capoeira Angola into Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy
of the Oppressed is just one of the better precedents in recognizing
the importance of physical activity for cementing community bonds
and a personal sense of wellbeing.

As participants in the Red & Anarchist Action Network, we see in
PK an amazing cultural development that has as much to teach us
about the human experience as graffiti, hip hop, punk, or DIY.
Particularly in the context of our network’s critiques against the
hierarchies of music and fashion cultures, Parkour presents itself as
a developing situation in which we can still see incredible potential
for a widespread shifting of consciousness and the promotion of
bodily/mental health within our communities.

It is our hope that this text will be only the first in a continuing series
of reports relating to the intersections of Le Parkour and the
evolution of our revolutionary associations.

Additional Resources

There is no existing “handbook” for PK. As the culture
develops we will undoubtedly be able to document any number of
new developments in its scope and application, but the real
experience remains undefinable to those who have never engaged in
it. Our purpose here has been primarily to promote interest in the art,
since only then can we immerse ourselves in the actual process of
building it. More obviously than most aspects of revolutionary life,
Parkour must be acted upon rather than spoken about, and it is for
this last reason that we see it as invaluable to our culture.
Unfortunately there does not yet exist a developed tendency of
anti-authoritarianism within Le Parkour, nor of Le Parkour within
anti-authoritarianism. In authoring this text we have sought only to
capitalize upon the immediate accessibility of the art in trying to
build a more effective communist tendency, not to monopolize its
spirit (which we nevertheless believe should remain free from
corporate influence, regardless). With this in mind we are suggesting
by way of conclusion only some of the most prominent Parkour
websites, with a concentration on their practical relevance rather
than radical ideology, which for the most part is at this time either
nonexistent or perhaps hidden within a complex “life
philosophy” of movement and self-confidence.

+ Stretching & Flexibility (stretching.bradapp.net) –
Comprehensive list of resources
+ Parkour.com (parkour.com) – Personal site of Sebastien
Foucan
+ Parkour.net (parkour.net) – “Powered by traceurs, for
traceurs”
+ Le Parkour (le-parkour.com) – The Art of Movement
+ Urban Free Flow (urbanfreeflow.com) – An excellent resource
for “freestyle” PK
+ Parkour South Africa (highlanders.co.za/parkour) – Parkour in
South Africa

----------------------------------------------------

The Red & Anarchist Action Network is a loose organization of
autonomous individuals and collectives who subscribe to
revolutionary anarchist and libertarian (that is, anti-state,
anti-Leninist) communist ideals. The network was born out of a
desire to bridge the artificial gaps between segments of what might
be described as the “anti-political” left, and dismantle the
elitist “sceneism” that has governed portions of the
revolutionary movement for far too long. It is our hope that a strong
association based on shared revolutionary beliefs and a variety of
tactics, driven by a serious practice of mutual aid, will be able to
make a serious and lasting contribution to both our world and the
people who are working to better it.

Parkour is the art of movement as developed by European youths
throughout the 1980’s and is now being practiced throughout
the world as an exciting sport in which “traceurs” seek
radical new ways of interacting with their urban environments.
There are incredible physical and psychological benefits to be gained
from practicing Parkour, and RAAN is committed to seeing the
growth of such traditions within the communist movement.

WWW.REDANARCHIST.ORG

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