Parkour is the art of movement; it is a training system; it is a method of achieving an aim, not the aim itself. People often assume that parkour is the physical act of efficient movement but they forget that that is not the ultimate goal. It is perfectly possible for someone to move efficiently without practicing the art of parkour, as track athletes do it all the time. They do not, necessarily, have the ability to move efficiently in all environments, or overcome all obstacles in their life or any of the other skills that parkour teaches us.
To me the most basic objective of parkour is to learn to move efficiently. On its own this does not describe all of the methods and skills that I attach to parkour but I find it is a useful starting point to which all of the skills within parkour relate and provide benefit.
I find that when I think of efficient movement I usually think in terms of separate skills that combine to form it. These areas are physical capability, knowing efficient movement techniques, deciding which technique to use, judging which route to take and being able to overcome any unforeseen obstacles. Of these only the first two are even partly physical in nature, the rest are all done by the mind. This might give some idea of the importance that the mind has in parkour. Even though they are connected these aspects all develop separately from each other.
My physical capability ultimately governs how I move. It determines which techniques I can use, how large an obstacle I can overcome with a particular technique and how fast I am able to move in any given situation. To increase my physical capability I need to exercise, as often as I can and as effectively as I can. I cannot rely on advice from others as sometimes I need to exercise on my own and anyway, nobody can judge how my body is feeling more precisely than I can. This means I have to learn the principles of exercise so I can adjust my exercise routine to suit my own needs. I need to learn about everything that affects my physical development, from nutrition to stretching. My body needs to be as healthy as possible and to accomplish this my mind needs to be informed and trained to identify when the body has a problem.
Efficient movement techniques are obvious essential to efficient movement. If you don’t know how to move efficiently then any efficient movement can only happen by accident. Knowing techniques by themselves are not enough though. I will never be able to learn a technique to cope with every physical obstacle because there is endless variety in the world. In order to deal with this I need to learn the principles and ideas behind the techniques in order to be able to improvise when I come across new situations. I need to know the theory and then train my mind to put it into practice. My subconscious mind must naturally see movement as purely functional in order to quickly make all of the tiny decisions that would take my conscious mind an age to think through each time.
Making correct decisions on what movement to use is the difference between getting over a wall and running straight into it. To make these decisions correctly I need to know what will work in any given situation. To get to this point, I either need to have experienced every situation (which is impossible) or again I need to understand the principles so I can work out the appropriate movement when I get to a situation. The same applies when judging which route to take. I need to understand the principles that govern what is a good route and what is a bad route to understand the differences between routes. I also need to constantly re-evaluate my route as new information becomes available in case the best path changes. To do this I need to keep my destination in mind so that I am always focussed on the route to there from where I am.
Overcoming unforeseen obstacles is a combination of the skills mentioned above and the ability to stay focussed. If my thoughts when seeing an obstacle are, “wow that’s going to be really hard, I’m not sure I can overcome that obstacle. Ok, how can I overcome it?” then it takes longer to overcome that obstacle than if I go straight to, “How do I overcome it?” because the first parts don’t help. If I spend too long thinking about the difficulty then I may not even get to the part about overcoming it because I may decide it’s impossible before I’ve thought about it. To stay focussed I therefore need to stay positive and to stay positive I need to train myself not to get disheartened when things are worse than I first thought or when things don’t go in my favour.
In all these areas I’ve come to realise that if I want to be capable I need to train my mind to understand the principles without having to think consciously, just like my body needs to be able to perform the physical techniques without thinking. My mind affects every area of training and if I neglect it I will never improve as I would like.
I’ve been trying to train my mind for years but it has really only been in the last few months when I’ve realised exactly where training my mind in the skills necessary for parkour was taking me. I have known all along that the ability to overcome obstacles could be applied outside of movement as I listened to David Belle talk about “the philosophy is of always going forwards…when I have a problem, in life, belief or physical obstacles.” I find I am more relaxed and less affected by difficulties and am quicker to focus on finding a solution than I used to be, in all situations. I’ve not reached the point of being relaxed and positive at all times, but I can see that I’m on the road towards that destination. Until recently, though, I never considered how the other aspects of training were shaping the rest of my life.
My physical development has led me to develop a deeper understanding of exercise theory and recognise its importance. Through changing my eating and exercise habits I have discovered what a difference it makes to how I feel and my ability to cope with physical demands of all kinds, and it has given me more energy to devote to all areas of my life. Also, recognising the need to understand exercise theory has shown me the need for research and understanding in all areas of life in order to make correct decisions. I consider my physical training to have had the least impact, however.
Learning efficient movement techniques and training my mind to see movement in purely utilitarian terms has had a much greater effect on me. In training my mind to focus on just the functional parts of movement and then spending so much of my time concentrating on movement, my mind has come to focus on the functional aspects of life in general and recognise the benefits of cutting out all of the things that don’t help me achieve my goals. My mind is so used to evaluating every situation, every piece of information it comes to and sifting out the points that are important that it does it automatically. I have less desire to do things that only provide enjoyment, preferring instead those things that I can enjoy while being beneficial. I’m not perfectly utilitarian and I am still tempted by things that serve no useful purpose but to a much lesser degree than I used to be and I am now convinced that they are by no means essential.
In improving my ability to take the most appropriate route I have become more focussed on my ultimate goal, rather than all of the small journeys I must make to get there. I have begun to recognise that everything I do should be done with that purpose in mind so when choosing my course of action in any circumstance I need to consider which choice will ultimately leave me closer to where I want to be. This now affects every decision I make and some choices I now make differently because I have realised that although they may seem to help reach an immediate goal they do not help me towards my higher goal.
I have come to realise that every aspect of parkour can be related to life in general and I am starting to see the benefits to my own life of doing so.
When learning to control the body we need to learn to control the mind as well and the two processes compliment each other. Mental control is necessary in order to be in complete control of the body and since controlling the body is such an important function of the mind, bodily control is necessary for a disciplined mind. To me this means that, as each one is necessary in order to progress further in the other, they should be learned together.
When accepting that the ability to make decisions and evaluate information is central to parkour I have also realised that the biggest influence in many decisions is my emotional state. When I am happy I am more confident and more likely to choose the path involving positive action. When I am sad I am less confident and tend to view everything negatively. In this last week I realised that this affects all of my skills developed through parkour and if I want to reach the highest levels I need to find a way to combat the negatives and keep the positives. I needed to make sure I was able to stay calm and positive as often as possible.
While thinking about my current training I was reminded about other training that I have undertaken previously in my life. I practiced Taekwon-Do for a few years before I came across parkour and in those training sessions a lot of time was spent learning how to relax as it was only when you were relaxed that you could achieve total control of your movements. When I first came to parkour I was only moderately successful in relaxing but as I have been training I’ve been working on these relaxation skills all the time, trying to prepare myself before a complex technique. I have been thinking about the mental skills I have acquired through parkour I realise now that, in order to allow me to evaluate situations and stay focussed, parkour has given me the mental discipline that I was lacking and that I need in order to be able to stay relaxed.
By practicing to gain the physical control I have developed the means to control my mind and in developing the mental discipline I have developed the means to begin to control my emotions. All three are essential to gain mastery over any one, but through parkour I am learning all three together.
Once again I am reminded of my ultimate goal, which like most people is to be happy. When I am relaxed I am never unhappy, but I am happy often. If you can eliminate the negative emotions all you are left with are the positive ones. If you can remain in the state you are in while practicing parkour then you can remain free of negative emotions and be truly happy. The better I become at parkour the more practiced I become at retaining this control of my emotions and the happier I am. Being happier and having fewer negative emotions also has side effects. I have lost the fixation on trivial things but I haven’t lost the ability to feel compassion. I feel fewer reasons not to help someone if I can now than I did before. Without directly seeking to help others I find I have become more helpful simply through my parkour training.
For me this takes me back to the desire to improve oneself. Until recently I thought this was more like a pre-requisite to studying parkour and that the only way parkour helped achieve this goal was by acquiring a certain skill. With these realisations however I see that I am much closer to being the person I want to be as a result of parkour. I am better able to move, attach more importance to understanding, more concentrated on the things that matter, better able to cope with setbacks, more able to stay calm and focussed, more helpful to others and most importantly, happy. I may not a complete person but as improvements go it’s not a bad start.