Author Topic: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."  (Read 3334 times)

Offline Andy Animus Tran

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A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« on: July 11, 2007, 04:55:47 PM »
I want to start this by saying that these are only my opinions, and nothing more.  It is not authorative.  At best, it's a theory.  Second, extreme nerdiness will ensue and those who prescribe to the "shut up and train" mentality will find no enjoyment or insight in this post...  Since I've already addressed this, I hope not to hear it.  ;)

Now, lately, I've been annoyed when reading some threads or some blurbs on what Parkour philosophy is.  In a discussion on this forum, philosophy was brought up, and the response (and description) of philosophy was applying it to other aspects of life (and the oh-so-dreaded "girlfriend" example).  While this is very possible and a great thing to do, I don't know if that's really Parkour "philosophy."  At the same time, a few months ago, there was a good thread that I had started which I referred to as philosophy, and Mark had responded, "Well, I really don't think this is philosophical."  On APK's "Parkour Philosophy" page, however short it is, it again talks about applying the idea of "traversing obstacles" to every day life...  And I'm not meaning to pick on APK, it's just that these are the best examples off the top of my head right now.  I see it on every forum I visit.

It's in my belief that people, particularly Westerners, see the word "philosophy" and automatically associate it with "way of life."  Quite in fact, anyone I've run into (who has not explicitly studied philosophy) agrees that this is what that word means!  And it does!  But only in some contexts.  I believe that when we speak of a philosophy to Parkour, we are speaking of a philosophy that is inherent to the discipline itself, not something that requires us to apply the thoughts of the discipline to other parts of our life.  (And, btw, I'm not trying to say that Parkour is NOT a way of life.)

I think we can break down Parkour philosophy into two aspects, and this may give some of you some insight as to what I mean when I've talked about "philosophy" in Parkour...

First, theory of application.

Second, theory of practice.

I differentiate between "application" and "practice" for a good reason... and you'll see why in a second.  But first, I want to address that when I say that there is a philosophy inherent to Parkour, I mean that it is inherent and insinuated in the statement, "Parkour is a discipline of moving efficiently."  i.e. that one sentence is the philosophy of Parkour.

Onward!

I can break "theory of application" down further.  What I mean by "application" is the reason or intention of the practice.  Rather than how it is physically applied (practice), I mean how it is mentally applied.  The breakdown I see is as follows:

Utility
Urban Reclamation
Human Reclamation

Lately, we have focused so much on the "utility" aspect, and it is, indeed, a very important part of the philosophy of application.  Quite in fact, it might be the most important, because it includes within it the age-old example of reach and escape.  This is quite possibly the easiest aspect of the theory of application to understand, because we all see it and feel it...  It is why we train, each of us to a different degree of how "useful" we want to be, or how training Parkour will make us useful human beings.  The theoretical question at hand, in the regard of utility, is how far we take it and this is maybe the only aspect I see that truly seeds into EVERY aspect of a person's life and mentality, should that person want to take it that far.  If you truly want to be a useful human being, then Parkour will mean to you training for any possible obstacle.. whether land, sea, battle, etc.  So the question is whether or not you view Parkour the way Blane does or view it as simply a means of moving efficiently, where the degree of utility is significantly lessened.

The second and the third examples are a little bit more difficult to understand, and they are somewhat derived from David Belle's explanations of Parkour earlier on, when he focused on describing how Parkour is a new (or old, depending on how you look at it) way of moving.  "Urban reclamation" is simply the idea that by creating an urban landscape around us, society has robbed us of something dear to us.  In the vein of the Situationalists in France (or psycho-geographers), graffiti artists, skateboarders, and the like, Parkour is a movement of reclaiming the urban landscape.  As such, it is a cultural movement to break the monotony of the urban lifestyle.  If there has ever been any truth to the "skateboarding without a skateboard" analogy we all hate so much, it is in the fact that both skateboarding and Parkour started as a means of urban reclamation.  We reimagine the concrete and architecture as we see fit... and are no longer bound by the rules of "stairs" and "barriers" and "fences."  We reclaim all land to what is was meant for: movement.

"Human reclamation" ties into the same idea.  If you want some degree of background on what I will be talking about...  Jean Baudrillard wrote a book called "Simulcra and the Simulation."  A simulacrum is a copy without an original, or a copy of a copy, or a copy where knowledge of the copy precedes the original.  I would say that the modern, urban lifestyle is a simulacrum... a copy of a "way of being" which never previously existed.  We move in ways, mimicking the ways that others move around us, without understanding that this way of moving was never naturally-intended.  We try to climb social ladders, aspiring to be this "perfect capitalist" so that we can live happily, but everything around us is fake.  It is as if, quite literally, we have built walls around us and ignored the natural world...  We have tried to duplicate the natural world into a "perfect vision" (air conditioning, heating, insulation, carpeting) of that world... and we copy this vision we have imagined.

In a lot of ways, Parkour is a means of reclaiming what it means to be a human being.  It teaches us to move using the natural methods that we should have learned from infancy.  It teaches us to touch the world and interact with it, instead of being sheltered by it.  THis is why I would say something like "Parkour armour" defeats the purpose of Parkour... because we want to feel the concrete on our fingertips, the harshness of the ground on our backs as we roll...  To quote Danno on his CTV interview, "You want to feel alive again."  I think this is what Mark has been getting at with the naming of "The Tribe" and "Primal Fitness."  This is reclamation of the human being... We were not meant to be sedentary.  We were not meant to sit around and eat potato chips.  Human beings were meant to move, were meant to interact with the environment, and move with the environment, not against it and not be confined by it.

And there you have my brief brush-over as to what I view as the theory of application in Parkour.  It is the intention and why of Parkour, that people may either accept or reject, but I firmly believe these are fundamental points of the philosophy of Parkour.

The second key aspect of Parkour philosophy that I see is theory of practice.

Theory of practice may be a bit easier to understand.  Instead of asking "why Parkour?" as the theory of application does, it only asks the "how."  Here, you have aspects such as (but not limited to):

What is efficiency?
Is Parkour an art/sport/discipline?
What are the natural movements of the human body?
What is a traceur?
etc. etc.

I know it's not many examples, but.. meh.  In the regard of what efficiency is, I do think people misconceive it as purely "speed" whereas I have stated in other threads that I believe that "efficiency" for a traceur must include "speed, conservation of energy, and safety" to be determined as situations arise.  I won't address the rest of the questions posed because it's not really the point of this thread.

In any case, this is my view of Parkour philosophy, or rather, this is my view of what Parkour philosophy is contrary to the idea that you have to find a way to get over your girlfriend breaking up with you.  These are philosophical dilemmas and theories that are inherent to the discipline itself... and I think to be aware of, and to adopt, these philosophical positions heightens the experience of being a traceur.

You may accept or reject this as you will.  These are simply my thoughts on the matter.
Andy Tran, C.S.C.S.
Lead Parkour Instructor
Urban Evolution
Parkour Virginia

Offline Paul Leon Mederos

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2007, 05:53:28 PM »
"Be strong to be useful"
Physical training is a must. We have to prepare our bodies physically to be ready for life threatening situations. Agreeing on your 'Human Reclamation', I believe parkour trains our instincts. If you've ever been moving then clipped yourself but remained graceful and continued moving, you know what I'm talking about and have a good sense of your instinct. The reason I love the name Primal Fitness is because the gym's workouts take us back to these physical, instinctive roots.

"That is the strength of it [Parkour], we find our liberty in it!"
Again, agreeing with you on the 'Urban Reclamation' point I believe that parkour frees us from the constraints of modern society's urban structures. They were designed and constructed to confine us and keep us organized, to shape the way we think, but through parkour we are allowed to be free, to choose our own direction.

"Stop talking and move"

Gearsighted's interpretation of this David quote is 'STFU and RUN!" It tells me to go with the flow. Once I am immersed in a movement, I can continue on without thinking. This happens on rare occasions but it's one of the best feelings out there. When I train alone I find myself in this state and everything just goes away. Although I don't have any major issues in life, there are always small things that bother me - but when I go out and run, I forget everything. I'm happy and feel alive.It's wonderful how parkour frees you from mental bonds.

"How do you get up there?   --Well it's a secret, a mystery. If I told you everyone would do it."
Parkour is also about finding your own way. You have to discipline yourself, train yourself. Sure it's fun to train with others but you must also focus on self-improvement. You shouldn't look at another traceur and say 'Hey, Why can't I do that?' instead you should be asking yourself 'What can I do to improve myself in this and that?' Everybody is different so naturally we all have different paths, different styles, different opinions. I think this is a MAJOR point in today's community because a lot of people get stuck here. You have to form your own opinion based on things you've learned and experienced. As you declare your own opinion you will also look at others and use them to help you continue forming your opinion. Don't stop, always move. I think that everyone who fights argues and debates should take this to heart - know that everyone is different and respect that, take it into account, and form a suitable opinion of any situation whether it's how to get on top of that structure over there, or how to settle competition debates. The key is this - I have a problem, how do I solve it? Oh I see, there are MANY different ways thank goodness I'll pick one that suits me! 

"--What I know is that I'm going to get up there."

Keep positive. Set your goal and see it, work towards it, and then exceed it.



These are all philosophical points that a traceur should embrace if he wants to get the most out of his parkour.
When we move, we move as one.

Act; for the universe will never forget your movement, nor will it ever forgive your stillness.

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2007, 06:14:40 PM »
Animus, I love it. I think you summed up a couple of good points, and I too tend to hate when somebody speaks of Parkour teaching them how to deal with bad grades or relationship problems...it's a bit cliche, I'm sure I said it myself in the beginning, but I think it comes off as somebody finding some other aspect of their life to base their decisions on rather than their own sense of self, and that's never a good thing.

I think for myself both human and urban reclamation are two of the most-valuable aspects of the art. I believe that, despite the negative situations it tends to create, our modern urban environment offers many benefits, perhaps the greatest of which is a grander scale upon which to juxtapose the human condition and our ability to improve it exponentially through aligning ourselves with natural movement and thought. It's a contrast that can be quite beautiful at times.

Oh yeah, and shut up and train ;)
« Last Edit: July 11, 2007, 06:17:07 PM by gearsighted »

Offline Alissa J. Bratz

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2007, 08:51:07 PM »
Lovely reflections, Animus.

Your post is timely; I just got into a debate lastnight with a friend about how parkour was different from, say, any other kind of workout schema out there. My first inclination was to point out that parkour has a philosophy. My friend countered (with evidence) that Tae Bo has a philosophy. However we both agreed that Tae Bo is not anywhere near the same category as parkour. Your distinction between “philosophy” and “way of life,” as well as your distinctions between theories of practice and of application helped shed some light on that difference, so thank you.

When I first encountered parkour, watching Banlieue 13, I knew there had to be some sort of philosophy behind it; that it had to be a physical discipline or art, and not just “a workout.” I sensed that there was something to the applying of it to other areas of one’s life (à la the girlfriend example), but in reality, this can be said about any sort of activity in which one engages oneself with an intention of building skills through discipline, so stopping at that interpretation doesn’t really make parkour “philosophy” terribly unique or special. Your post helped clarify that as well.

I will say that, for a while, I've been trying to figure out what it is about parkour that's drawn me so strongly. As a lifelong ballet dancer, parkour is kind of a departure. Granted, I've dabbled in other types of movement and enjoyed them: Shaolin, yoga, tai chi... but nothing has grabbed me like parkour has. I think your post helped clarify a lot of it; especially the Human and Urban Reclamation bits.

As a public school teacher (especially one starting her career in the shadow of NCLB legislation), I find this piece to be critical. There are fewer and fewer opportunities in society for people to think outside the box, to try something new, to innovate the mundane. Part of why I’m so keen to introduce my students to parkour is certainly for the “learning to overcome personal challenges” aspect (and for me this is more along the lines of what Leonn pointed out with his “—What I know is I’m going to get there,” quote rather than the girlfriend thing), but also to give them an opportunity to exercise/practice that part of the brain that sees things differently; that generates the “positive what-ifs” that lead to innovation. Humans were not meant to work in cube farms and drive mini-vans, and that’s it. Parkour gives us an opportunity to live in the world of Possibility, and there is immense power in that.

There was also something about the idea of freedom of movement that tugged at me—as a ballet dancer (even in a neoclassical company), the idea of moving so freely through an environment was very alluring for me, as ballet is quite rigid (especially when compared to something like parkour). Looking at structures and using them a different way, the “you see an obstacle, I see a doorway,” idea, is a powerful, powerful thing on a deep level, particularly in modern society. It is a reminder that we can (and should) always be thinking outside the box. It’s not so much a “Fight The Man!” kind of idea so much as it is a “Why not?” kind of idea; at least for me: I’m going to vault over this railing and cut through the courtyard, not because I want to “stick it to The Man,” but because, well, why not? Who says railings have to only be used to help you walk up the stairs?

I could not agree more with the idea that “humans were meant to move.” I feel my best when I am moving, whether it’s ballet or tai chi or yoga or weightlifting or anything (okay, running, not so much… yet) :) I teach a beginner-level ballet class for adults, and it’s surprising to me how many people have no idea how to move, have no sense of their body in space. More profound is the joy I see them get out of learning to move, and the improvements I see. Even rank beginners in their 50s, they keep coming back to ballet class.

If I may, however, I'd like to potentially synthesize your ideas a bit, to shed light perhaps on the roots of some of our disagreements as a community. (Hooray for nerdiness! I'm all over it!)

For so long there has been a separation between movement and what society considers “real life”: for most people, when they move, it is in this compact, separate space away from other parts of their life. They go to work (where they are often sitting), then they go to a gym for an hour to move, and then they go home. Or for young people: they sit in a desk, and then they go to recess (which is being cut back more and more to make room for preparation for high-stakes testing, but that is another rant) or to gym class to move for 45 minutes, and then they go back to sitting. It is to the point where movement/activity is seen as a negative in society; “wiggly” children are seen as “behavior problems,” people in physical professions are often not taken seriously/not seen as having “real” jobs.

It is in our nature and our design as humans to move, to engage our environment. How many more of our senses do we need to use to climb a wall as opposed to wait for an elevator? Experience is our greatest teacher: what has gotten us to this point as a species is interaction, in a very real and personal way, with our environment. Parkour is a statement about removing that separation between ourselves, movement, and the environment. In a way it’s a piercing of the veil, a taking of space.

As to the theory of practice, I think this is the area where parkour’s newness is at its most painfully evident. The example questions you brought up are the ones that the parkour community—and I mean the global community that includes everyone who considers him/herself a traceur, regardless of skill or experience level, who cares about the discipline—is really wrestling with right now. It has to be done, and I’m glad it’s being done. In many ways, one’s answers to the “theory of practice” questions are informed by his/her positions on the theories of application. Practice and application are interdependent, after all.

I think we can all agree that the reclamation bits are critical aspects to parkour philosophy. However, for some, reclamation may mean adopting a “fight The Man!” approach, and therefore something like the idea of parkour becoming something other than an “underground” movement might not be appealing, and might look like “selling out.” Hard to “fight The Man” with parkour when your mom does parkour with her friends while your younger brother is at soccer practice. For others, the best way to encourage reclamation is to get as many people reclaiming movement and interaction with the environment as possible, therefore moving parkour away from an “underground” activity and into the mainstream best serves this aspect of application.

I think the best part of your post, Animus, is that it has given us a model, a framework, within which to sensibly position ourselves and understand one anothers' points of view. This can only help us navigate those questions of practice, and refine our perspectives on application.

Bravo.

:)
She followed slowly, taking a long time,
as though there were some obstacle in the way;
and yet: as though, once it was overcome,
she would be beyond all walking, and would fly.
--excerpt from Going Blind, Rainer Maria Rilke

www.madisonparkour.com

Offline Andy Animus Tran

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2007, 01:44:00 PM »
Thank you for that response, Muse!  You've given me much more to consider.  And yes, I've had frustrations with the modern lifestyle, as well...  The idea of "gym time" and how fitness is treated in today's society.  Everything is so boxed in, so confined...  And you might consider me a "fight the man" type of person, but I consider Parkour to be a counter-culture.  It need not be expressively anti-establishment, but the very idea of urban/human reclamation suggests that it is counter to the modern, sedentary lifestyle.

As for the NCLB legislation... and hell, the Reaganization of the public school system long before my time... that whole stuff is what made me decide not to be a public school teacher.  It's still an ambition of mine... but maybe further into the future.

Now, time to consider much more...

You're completely right about the "theory of practice" being the source of the current frustrations in Parkour.  I think most people can agree for my outline on the theory of application, but the theory of practice seems so much more personal and catered to each individual that it is difficult to find common ground.
Andy Tran, C.S.C.S.
Lead Parkour Instructor
Urban Evolution
Parkour Virginia

Offline FNG

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2007, 01:56:27 PM »
These are beautiful posts, and quite the eye-opener to a newbie like me.

Thank you!

Offline CyanideSoda

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2007, 09:54:26 PM »
Animus, i love you man. But shut up and train.  ;D


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Offline like_a_child

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2007, 03:18:40 PM »
I would say that the modern, urban lifestyle is a simulacrum... a copy of a "way of being" which never previously existed.  We move in ways, mimicking the ways that others move around us, without understanding that this way of moving was never naturally-intended.  We try to climb social ladders, aspiring to be this "perfect capitalist" so that we can live happily, but everything around us is fake.

I understand the "perfect capitalist" connection as well as I understood the "altruism" connection. Which is to say, not at all :P

In the regard of what efficiency is, I do think people misconceive it as purely "speed" whereas I have stated in other threads that I believe that "efficiency" for a traceur must include "speed, conservation of energy, and safety" to be determined as situations arise.

Safety can be defined in terms of speed for anything except the long run; unless it's something (like good technique) that doesn't affect your performance in the current situation, but will have detrimental effects later on, it's going to affect how quickly you reach the destination. Dying, of course, stops rather than slows you, and should be seen as the ultimate unspeed :D
I give you this:
I will never view my fellow traceurs as a springboard.

Offline Hermes_Messenger

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #8 on: July 27, 2007, 09:15:49 PM »
Parkour (for me) is never letting barriers get in your way, through out your life. When you think Parkour you see yourself doing a kong or a roll, but the way I see it you are doing Parkour if you don’t let barriers stop you in a metaphorical sense as well. Things like stairs, walls, social standards, rules, and many other things were built to help us, but they hinder us. When people say you can’t do that (like our grade school teachers or moms) they usually are telling you that to help you and make it so you are not hurt.  But when you do, when you jump off the swing or throw that snow ball, you have the time of your life and you feel like you were supposed to have done it, you feel free from the restrictions placed upon you. Society as a whole has placed restrictions or rules if you will, like you must following the grid of the city but to go “around” the rail or other thing blocking you you’re breaking them. So we break these rules by jumping over the barriers. So why can’t we do this in “life” to? “Life” in this context, means - when not doing Parkour.

People always tell us what we can’t and can do. So how about we stick it to them and just do it. Be fat, wear black and pretend to cut yourself, sing while you’re walking down the road, ride the grocery cart like a “what-ever you call it”, kong over that wall! Just do it and live a little. And when I do this I connect it to Parkour because it is the same principle.

Parkour has given a name to a concept that has been brewing for a very long time. Parkour just as the thing I have been trying to get you to understand here connects us to the way we are supposed to live. Free. Freedom is everything.

Also:

I’m not condoning breaking laws or anything major like that. That to me is like falling 1000 feet and expecting to live. Sorry to tell you it’s not going to happen. So restrictions have to be in place because that’s the way the world works.

Offline Chicken Pot Pie

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2007, 01:43:59 PM »
Animus:


Quote
I believe that when we speak of a philosophy to Parkour, we are speaking of a philosophy that is inherent to the discipline itself, not something that requires us to apply the thoughts of the discipline to other parts of our life.

That’s impossible. You even proved that by actually putting your opinions down, as evidenced you cannot engage the body or the mind in any kind of discipline with out it having repercussions on every facet of your life.

IMO, ;D Parkour is simply what it is. Parkour: the art of movement. Now of course by saying parkour I am including all that would be classified in the physical techniques of this discipline. Yet is parkour limited to the movements of what we typically call parkour, cats, tic-tacs, kongs.......in fact I see children practicing parkour all the time. I dont see them doing the "moves", but I see them embrace the actions of the human body in good spirits. IMO, that is Parkour. The techniques we practice are merely stepping stones to become artists of movement. In the same way beginning artist, lets say painters, practice techniques of the masters before them. Not so they can become that artist but rather to provid tools for the painter to be a master of his "own" canvas. While cats, tic-tacs, kongs and monkey vaults might make me one hell of an adversary to catch, reach and escape is not the pinnacle of parkour, just merely another path created by our experiences through the practice and mastery of movement called Parkour.


Quote
The second and the third examples are a little bit more difficult to understand, and they are somewhat derived from David Belle's explanations of Parkour earlier on, when he focused on describing how Parkour is a new (or old, depending on how you look at it) way of moving.  "Urban reclamation" is simply the idea that by creating an urban landscape around us, society has robbed us of something dear to us.  In the vein of the Situationalists in France (or psycho-geographers), graffiti artists, skateboarders, and the like, Parkour is a movement of reclaiming the urban landscape.  As such, it is a cultural movement to break the monotony of the urban lifestyle.  If there has ever been any truth to the "skateboarding without a skateboard" analogy we all hate so much, it is in the fact that both skateboarding and Parkour started as a means of urban reclamation.  We reimagine the concrete and architecture as we see fit... and are no longer bound by the rules of "stairs" and "barriers" and "fences."  We reclaim all land to what is was meant for: movement.

It just sounds silly to me when people describe things like "rules of stairs....." I would seriously like some one to elaborate on this a bit.

Quote
We reclaim all land to what is was meant for: movement

 IMO, some places are best experienced in complete stillness.


Quote
"Human reclamation" ties into the same idea.  If you want some degree of background on what I will be talking about...  Jean Baudrillard wrote a book called "Simulcra and the Simulation."  A simulacrum is a copy without an original, or a copy of a copy, or a copy where knowledge of the copy precedes the original.  I would say that the modern, urban lifestyle is a simulacrum... a copy of a "way of being" which never previously existed.  We move in ways, mimicking the ways that others move around us, without understanding that this way of moving was never naturally-intended.  We try to climb social ladders, aspiring to be this "perfect capitalist" so that we can live happily, but everything around us is fake.  It is as if, quite literally, we have built walls around us and ignored the natural world...  We have tried to duplicate the natural world into a "perfect vision" (air conditioning, heating, insulation, carpeting) of that world... and we copy this vision we have imagined.

You're box switching. Using your own boxed understanding of what "you" consider natural to use with what you have boxed up as the "urban" existence. I mean typical parkour isn't natural by your definition as its generally practiced on obstacles that by your own argument should never have existed because humans are not "naturally" intended to live in urban environments. I mean how are we naturally “intended” to move?
 
Bruce Lee said the there are no limitations in life, only plateaus. Basically that were are to "move" from plateau to plateau with the passion of progression at the fore front of our hearts, move foreword even if it kills you. However IMO we must be careful about how we interject on other people’s path or journey through life. Not everyone is ready for the path of parkour.

Offline like_a_child

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #10 on: August 01, 2007, 06:47:34 PM »
We reimagine the concrete and architecture as we see fit... and are no longer bound by the rules of "stairs" and "barriers" and "fences."

It just sounds silly to me when people describe things like "rules of stairs....." I would seriously like some one to elaborate on this a bit.

Raise foot. Slide foot forward until it is over next step. Lower foot. Shift weight and proceed.

A commonly accepted variation is taking more than one step at a time, but the basic pattern of movement is still unchanged.
I give you this:
I will never view my fellow traceurs as a springboard.

Offline Aperion89

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Re: A rant on Parkour "philosophy."
« Reply #11 on: August 17, 2007, 10:52:50 PM »
my parkour philosophy is simply this... shut the hell up and have fun.
"Please stand by"