Parkour: The Catalyst for ‘Purposeful Exploration’?

What is it that compels you?

There’s a known concept; one that highlights what happens outside of your comfort zone. There’s the argument that a very small percentage of the population actually seeks, or are in the realm, outside of their comfort zone.

What I’ll share is not necessarily about this debate, but rather evoke some questions. I am talking about something that has taken me outside of what I knew, and possibly changed my mindset for good. The questions I’ve been toiling with relate to the possibility of it being the reason, or the catalyst, for me travelling and exploring as much as I can. I’m talking about Parkour.

“You can’t judge Parkour with your eyes…you have to judge it with your body. Once you learn Parkour’s basic moves, the world around you changes. You don’t see THINGS anymore; you see movement.” -Christopher McDougall

These words in the book Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall are accurate and profound -one view that I certainly would like to express and share.

I’m relatively new to the ‘specific’ training in Parkour-just over three years now. Briefly defining Parkour (aka Freerunning) is tricky, and deserves whole other writings, but to attempt conciseness, it is the art/discipline/training method where a practitioner navigates and interacts with the physical environment using only their body to do so. The general primary focus of the training is traversal, challenge, expression and strengthening of mind and body, but has a much broader, holistic scope than that. There are great descriptions and elaborations to be found-the best of which come from the practitioners, known as ‘traceurs’, themselves.

The more I train, the more I am aware of the subtle-and not so subtle- changes and developments in my physical and mental state. I actually feel like the way I see my environment has changed; I no longer just see steps, walls and handrails- I see endless training opportunities. I don’t see spaces with basic structures- I see the potential for bettering myself. I don’t see objects and buildings- I see the call for discovery; to experiment. There are very few environments that don’t call for the chance to play and have fun, or work on skills.

I can differentiate textures of surfaces by sight and touch, almost able to tell the level of traction and stability, whether or not it is traversable. Paths of movement are illuminated in my mind’s eye, or if appropriate, the need to break down a potential movement using a segmented or more linear approach. From practice, for many setups, I know instinctively whether I can safely perform a movement task or whether it’s beyond my current capabilities.

This is a constantly evolving occurrence-everyday, all the time. My mind is more alert, always studying. And best of all, this is not some draining stress. On the contrary, it fuels me. It fuels my curiosity, fuels my calculating brain, and instils a positive attitude-a sort of understanding of things. I often, to this day, picture that scene in The Matrix when Neo becomes ‘the one’ and sees the code, unlocking his potential.

After some time, I began to notice how much more cognisant and curious I was becoming, leading me to just…go! See what’s down this road, wonder what’s around that corner, investigate that architecture; look up, down, through and around anything I could see. I began to explore more, and consequently, discover more.

As much as I would like to believe it just happened, I have to delve into it more. Although exploration and play are human, natural traits-particularly in children-a substantial amount of practice and adaptation has lead me to this view of my surroundings and cultivated a change of perception. And yet I still find myself asking, is this all a coincidence?

I’d always been an astute, disciplined person if I felt an interest in something. I’d always been active growing up. As I developed, I appreciated codes of honour and ethics, and the value of education and constant improvement. I found those things in the various martial arts and sports I’d done in my life. I found this in school and studies, and certainly in my professional working life. But why does it seem to have ignited over the past few years?

An argumentative theory for me, again, is the coincidence of it all; I’m older, with more experience and responsibility. I’m more in control of the paths I choose in life than ever. I’ve always been interested in the physical. I could think back to the monkeying around as a youngster, doing odd challenges with my friends, climbing anything I could, or jumping on only specific coloured tiles in a shopping mall. Perhaps I have been a traceur for much longer than I know.

One thing’s for sure, and it’s why I have a strong belief in the training, is that nothing seems to have pushed me in so many ways in such an integrated manner; given me actual practice of these deeper elements of what it is to move and progress in some way-every time I train.

I feel the most challenged, the most frustrated, the most content, the most inspired, the most dynamic that I have ever felt. Whenever I’m working on a particular movement task, or inspecting an area, or meeting fellow traceurs, or perfecting that line of traversal, I go through these mental processes. They happen frequently and on differing levels.

Some days are just hard. I’m tired, or I’m struggling with a certain jump, getting into ‘the zone’ is tough, or I seemingly have a lack of balance or strength. But there are days I feel light and powerful-capable of grace and efficiency, as if I’ve forgotten any burdening thoughts. I continue to find this when I return to the places I’ve been, or when studying a new environment or obstacle.

Honestly, there are times where it feels like I am just ambling around with no success; spending time on my feet, expending energy with no obvious gain, nothing to show for it. The whole process can be tiring at times. But then that is comparable to (anything in) life-not being certain, not knowing everything, or even what’s coming your way. Something I’ve learned though is that often just moving, going forward and staying the path can give you much to reflect on and learn from in the future. There will even be times you will be proud of what your past self did. Knowing the outcome of every step or decision you make is extremely rare, and many lessons are learnt only after the experience. Very little is actually wasted.

The last couple years for me have had more visits to foreign places, new circumstances, self-driven decisions and adapting that I’ve experienced, with no signs of ceasing. I’ve forgone the expense of the latest gaming console (much unlike my younger self), rental of property, new things, dispelled the ‘What are you doing with your life?’ doubts and instead have focused my energy and financial efforts on furthering my movement coaching and teaching education, and travelling to where I might find the things that quench my thirst for this constant improvement and discovery.

I am now somewhere I never could have guessed I’d be, and I certainly cannot say where I will be in a year from now. But I am boundlessly excited to be focussing on this direction in my life. I know that by the time I get there, wherever that may be, I’ll have learnt a lot more.

The practice I have done thus far, the incredible traceurs I have met, and the places I have seen have made an immeasurable impact on me, and have proven to be more and more catalytic to this journey. Was Parkour the catalyst?  I don’t know if it was THE catalyst, but I cannot deny the power and influence it has had on my life, and the hope it brings me for the future. This question, like the practice itself, is much too complex to answer simply. There is more to it than meets the eye. Try it for yourself, little by little, and perhaps you may feel some of this.


Author: Justin Bergmann

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