Take a look at the set-up in the photo. What do you see? Please, take a minute to consider what you could do here – if you “do parkour”, make a list of all the different things you could train here (and I mean all the ideas you have); if not, think about it anyway. Compare it to any experience in any sport you have, or even to what someone might do in a fitness studio/gym to get stronger. What different ways might you (or another) be able to move here? [The metal frame and trees behind it don’t count, too overgrown, but the wall going along the side away from the stairwell does].
This staircase is nothing special – I’m sure there are many just like it all over the place – but this one one was found in a park in either Padova/Mestre (Italy, right by Venice), where I had gone as part of an interrail trip to an event with a 10km-zombie-chase-game the previous night and a parkour jam on the Sunday (blog posts to be found here and here). The park was huge, with a number of different full-size spots throughout (one with lines of rails and some steps, another a concrete built garden thing, a third with a disabled access ramp with rails/walls and a roof spot, etc), but a number of hours in we had moved to a big patch of grass against the plant structure you see in the picture above (but on the side of it), doing some tricks (I had ended up, somehow, being better at tricking than most of the people and was teaching butterfly kicks, twists and possibly a flip of some sort too) and sitting around. This then turned into movements with the flat wall (on a different side of the square plant structure, but the same wall that the steps in the photo are built into) before we came round the corner 15m to this stairwell.
I would guess that we spent ninety minutes on the wall surface and these stairs, mostly just four of us (two of the Italians involved with the event, and Finn from Cologne who had gone along too). We shared moves, both weird movements and well-known ones, that some of us could do and others not, learning and trying new things, and came up with various challenges, routes, things to play with on the stairwell. It was probably one of the best sessions I’ve ever had (though it’s hard to pick looking back, as it’s all an incremental development and there were others that led up to this point and that have continued from it), as it seemed that at this point my eyes and mind were open to the possibilites that existed in such a simple spot. On the flat wall we did at least ten different things, some of which I don’t know the name of, and at least the same number of challenges and routes around the steps – but I’m certain there are many, many more that we didn’t get to. Can you tac off the wall to get to the top? On both sides? Can you do this set of strides? This particular jump? Spin around like this? Do it with your eyes closed? How high can you jump up the steps? Can we all make this jump perfectly first time? And this? That? Heard of that move? etc. And the environment was great – because of the way this “training” was taking place, it was not a hierarchy of who was better like might happen at some spots which have lots of obvious standard movements and much more a melting pot of ideas of the four of us working together. Each of us had different things we could and couldn’t do better, different eyes from previous experiences, etc, and so on.
The moral of the story for parkour people – or better, the slight insight I’m trying to impart – is along the lines of “play around with small spots lots”. Maybe confine yourself in a session (or more) to a very small location and see what you can make of it – there’s certainly something to be said for creativity happening when you set yourself limits to work inside of. And what is a “spot” anywhere – if parkour is about adapting to the environment, the concept of a spot doesn’t make any sense.
As for non-parkour people (if any of you actually read this to here), this really makes me question the way we treat exercise/movement with gyms (with a very specific set of movements, little variability for the body, less mental exercise with playfulness/creativity/fun) or childrens’ playgrounds.
Inspirations I’ve had towards this style are Steve Moss (when he was in London with PKGen), capoeira that I dabbled in a bit last semester, and videos from the people like Scott Houston, Naim L’1consable (“Spots are Everywhere”), and some random German and Finnish people, I’ve played with it more recently. Thanks to them, though most of them don’t know I exist, and check them out if you’re interested in it too.
PS Some of the words I’ve used are in “these”, because the word “training” or “spot” or “parkour” is a bit of an odd word, which I might not agree entirely with the way it’s used but is understood for what I’m trying to get across.