In part one of this two-part series, we introduced Natalia Ivanova, educator and founder of the Hal X parkour training center in Copenhagen; as a passionate traceuse, or parkour practitioner, she has long incorporated physical education into her work with children. Here is a more detailed outline of her method.
Getting the kids involved and excited about a new project is normally never an issue—they are more than happy to get out of their routines and try something new. Seeing as this is the case with most projects, the challenge is to make the project become a part of the everyday culture, to ensure that the students continue to practice after the official project is over and Natalia and her crew leave the school. Unfortunately, she has yet to come up with an answer... so No, no formula to be found here. At least not yet.
(When working with co-creative processes at various schools, my colleague Heidi and I encountered the exactly same problem. No matter what approach we tried, we never really managed to implement the way of thinking and working we used when collaborating with the students and teachers in such a way that it became a part of their everyday culture.)
Breaking Down Borders
No matter how much we try to ignore it and think or act otherwise, the fact remains that we live in a system where the gaps between the various social classes are visible to the naked eye. Just as with other sports, parkour is a means of breaking down these imagined barriers and connecting people from various cultures and social groups
Parkour transcends these social borders by creating a common ground—wall, ledge or bench—for participants.
The Best Version of Yourself
Some call it mindfulness, others meditation, parkour practitioners just seem to call it preparation. Cleaning the soles of your shoes, moving your neck from side to side, stepping inside of yourself while warming up your joints, jumping up and down, visualizing the site and its various possibilities.
While the general public may have the impression that people who do parkour are just mad, jumping between building and doing double backflips, many people don't realize that traceurs practice year-round. No matter how dangerous a technique might look, they have no intention of pushing themselves so far that they get hurt. Injuries are inevitable in any sport, but with practice and incremental improvement, traceurs can keep the risk to a minimum. Another thing that doesn't mesh with their way of living is a large consumption of alcohol and other nefarious substances. The potential harm to their only required tool—their body—is far too great to justify. The point is movement, after all.
One of the things Ivanova has pointed out many times throughout the interview is that "there is always something you can do." If you can't jump 1m, then jump 50cm, if you can't do that then jump 30cm and if you can't jump at all, then train your upper body.
Moreover, the mental strength that one builds through parkour may have a positive impact on other parts of his or her life. Benefits may include: the propensity to look at situations from different angles to find a way to get from A to B; the practice of challenging yourself and pushing your limits when you feel the time is right; the habit of seeing possibilities where other see nothing; and the method of supporting and encouraging peers through struggle and in victory.
As an outsider looking in, it's impossible not to notice—and envy—the camaraderie between people practicing parkour. The smiles, the pat on shoulder, the shouts of encouragement and kudos, the curiosity when someone does a maneuvre that others have yet have to master, and how everyone gladly supports and teaches one another. There is no talk about gender, country, culture, age, education, background, language or social layers. And if you, like myself, am curious about what they are up to, they are more then happy to show you some techniques and just or just sit down and give you an insight to what they are up to and what it's all about.
The Next Generation
Outsiders look at parkour and assume that the sport is driven by a distinct lack of mental stability. Looking at some of the appalling videos you can find on YouTube, I don't blame them. Some of the jumps and maneuvers you will see can make you hold your breath and make your heart skip a beat... or five. Yet the movements continue to evolve and some of the techniques that were earth-shattering a few years back are now seen as standard inventory.
The trend of filming more and more courageous and dangerous routes is cause for concern among some of the more experienced traceurs. They are worried that the new generation will forget the principles behind the sport, that which holds the community together and drives its progress. Principles such as 'practice makes perfect,' 'warming up', 'mental awareness,' 'taking things at your own pace' and 'supporting one another through thick and thin.'
In an effort to prevent this you can now find videos showcasing the small things that make a big difference, such as simple, progressive warm-ups and mindful training.
Now that you have a sense of what parkour is about, we're curious to hear what you think...
- What sort of social problems do you you encounter in your surrounding?
- Do you think parkour could be a way to solve these problems? If so: How?
- How do you create lasting change when a project is over?
- How do you suggest we create a stronger connection and bigger understanding between parkour practitioners and the general public?