Friday, December 31, 2010

Beyond Basics Classes – “Reach, Escape”

The outdoor classes are split into 3 different groups, “First Timers”, “Basics”, and “Beyond Basics”. I can only speak for my experience in the “Beyond Basics” group, but I was pretty impressed with the classes. Usually taught by Chippa, the current president of the APA and one of the longest practicing traceurs in Australia, these classes are very different from anything that I’ve ever experienced. While the warm-up usually consisted of a run to a certain destination, nothing was impossible after that. I found this out the hard way on the first day as our run diverted after a few hundred meters to include a climb up a wall that wouldn’t have been my first choice of climbs had I been on my own. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I had my laptop in my backpack, but despite that, I made it. One of Chippa’s main goals with the Beyond Basics class, and with the APA in general is to encourage people to practice “useful parkour”. This is evident in all aspects of APA classes, especially the Beyond Basics ones, which essentially teach to the motto of the APA, “Reach, Escape”.

My second Beyond Basics class was probably one of my favorite classes ever. After a warm-up run that included climbing over various buildings and attempting some basic movements like “kong-to-cat”, aka “cat leap to arm jump”, we headed up to the huge park that borders the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. There we talked for a bit about the “useful” aspects of parkour before Chippa introduced us to the main activity of the day. The “escape scenario”. The rules were simple: one person is the pursuer, the other person is the pursued. The goal of the pursued is to keep away from the pursuer, by whatever means possible, until the pursuer is too exhausted to continue. The pursuer on the other hand has the task of catching, and subduing (not usually gently) the pursued. While it may sound a bit Spartan and brutal, this exercise does a great job of imitating a real-world situation of being chased.

The first round I was the pursuer and knowing that my “victim” probably didn’t have the same endurance as I did I decided to play to my strengths and use the wolf technique of tiring him out before striking. This was decision was reached partly because I knew my endurance was pretty good, and partly because the guy that I would be chasing looked like he would definitely have kicked my butt if it came to wrestling. My technique paid off and his initial burst of energy out of the blocks soon gave way to dodging and zig-zags that I was able to follow at an easy lope, cutting corners and staying about 10 meters behind the whole time. After about a minute of running full steam and zigzagging all over the place he was sufficiently tired out for me to take him down in a diving tackle (I was pretty pleased with this, especially given my lack of rugby/American football experience).

For the next round we switched roles and again I decided to defer to my strengths. After a surge out of the blocks to get some distance I ran the guy around the park for about 5 minutes, using just enough energy to stay 20 meters ahead, which let me dictate which way we ran. Since we’d initially come up to the park by a hill, I led the guy up and down the hill before I put in a surge that pretty much broke the pursuit. The next two rounds went pretty much the same as the first two, and by then the other guy was absolutely exhausted.

The last round really put things in perspective for me because I was chasing Chippa. He’d been watching my technique and right at the start he jetted off with me right behind. I thought that I would be able to use the technique on him that I’d used before, but about 50 meters into the exercise he vaulted over a low wall and dropped out of view into the botanical gardens. After a moment of hesitation I followed him, much more slowly and cautiously, and emerged from the gardens to find him across a hill about 200 meters away, catching his breath and looking warily across the hill. Using the cover of the trees I was able to sneak up close enough to catch him by surprise. After a brief flight I managed to run him down on the open ground. The exercise did a great job of showing me my strengths and weakness. It was obvious that on open ground my distance running experience gave me a distinct advantage, but the moment it came to unknown territory and foreign obstacles I lost this advantage. I’ve often wondered what a real chase scenario would be like for me, since I know that I would almost undoubtedly revert to my instinctual running technique. But what if there isn’t any space to run? Definitely something that made me think and really shows the more “useful” aspects of parkour.

The whole “Reach, Escape” philosophy is one that really appeals to me. For a while now I’ve been struggling to explain to others, and myself, the usefulness of this sport that I’m practicing. The vague explanations of personal fitness, connecting with my inner child, and being “useful” usually fall short, and I end up feeling like I’ve done an inadequate job explaining. The “Reach, Escape” philosophy gives a specific reason for the training, to be able to use the skills that we train in order to escape a dangerous situation, or to reach a certain destination, whether it’s to help someone in need, or to get back into the house when your friend has locked themselves out. The “Reach, Escape” philosophy comes primarily from the philosophy of David Belle, who had a very strong desire “d’être fort pour être utile” (be strong to be useful), an ideal inspired and taught by his father, Raymond Belle. Short and sweet, I feel that “Reach, Escape” can be interpreted in a variety of different ways, and is one of the simplest, yet most encompassing explanations that I’ve encountered so far.


  1. Loving the insight. If you've got time to pop over to New Zealand we'll be happy to show you around.

  2. Hi Blake,

    I see you are coming to Brazil on February and March. I didnt find your email, so if you'd like to get in touch, drop me a message at

    see ya!

  3. Thanks Damien, I'm out of funds (and time) at the moment so NZ will have to wait for the next trip!