Thursday, March 24, 2011

Parkour working for Positive Social Change in the Middle East

THIS article recently came to my attention by some friends at Parkour Generations and I thought that it would be appropriate to spread it to a wider audience considering that it fits into my project perfectly- too bad I don’t have the time or money to fly to the Middle East.

The article, along with THIS video of parkour in Gaza that was featured on the New York Times video site a few months ago and received a lot of attention around the world, is just part of the increased media interest that parkour is getting in this region of the world.

While nothing concrete or especially groundbreaking has come out of it yet, it does pierce a depressingly dark and cloudy sky with a few small rays of hope.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kindergarten Parkour

My second day with Carlos and the Parkour School in Viña del Mar saw one of the highlights of my time in Chile. Kindergarten Parkour.

For those of you that might have just gotten a terrifying mental image of your 4-year old taking their bed-bouncing and shelf-climbing skills to terrifying levels, I’d like to clarify that Carlos is not teaching kindergarteners how to jump between buildings or vault over railings. His primary goal is to get the kids comfortable moving and running around, and teaching them to explore their environment in a safe way. The results are pretty impressive, and as I watched the kids chase Carlos through an “obstacle course” in the yard I realized how much he was actually teaching them. Watching 4-year-olds stand on the edge of the terrace and consider the drop beneath them (not much to adults, but to them, it was almost chin-height), I bit my lip as I anticipated the jarring, straight-legged and flatfooted jump that most children do at that age (and many adults still do years later). Instead, I was surprised to see them bend their knees as they hit the ground and absorb the shock with their entire bodies. While this wasn’t pre-meditated on their part, and I’m sure that they had no idea why they were doing it, it was clear that it was the direct result of weeks of games and gentle instruction by Carlos.

Since getting a group of kindergarteners to do drills and strengthening drills is nigh impossible, Carlos’s “lesson plans” turn these movements into games and fun activities. Colored paper has much the same effect on small children that “good” playground equipment or scaffolding has on traceurs, and it immediately made anything Carlos did infinitely more interesting to the kids. While most traceurs will grimace inwardly at the thought of a quadrupedal workout, the kids loved “playing animals” and really got into the “cat walk”, the “monkey walk”, and even the “elephant walk”. Watching the kids doing the movements made me think about how we naturally do most of these quadrupedal movements for years before we “grow up” and subsequently forget them.

Games like follow-the-leader encouraged the kids to explore their playground and to see it from different perspectives, and “I spy” games that differentiated between wood, plastic, and metal objects throughout the playground taught them about the different materials that made up their environment. It was fun to watch the lesson unfold, as each activity that Carlos did with the kids could be tied directly to a parkour training drill or exercise, although in retrospect I’m not sure whether this is a reflection of the training mentality of traceurs or of the basic instincts that we all have.

Here's a brief look at the class:

Unlike at the end of many of the parkour training sessions I’ve done, the kids had plenty of energy to climb on us and run around afterwards, but I realized that the important part was not the strength or conditioning that traceurs often seek. Instead, what counted was what the kids took away on a subconscious level. As a former camp counselor for 8 years, I know first-hand that many kids in today’s world have no idea how to jump, climb, or explore their environment in a safe manner. While it comes naturally to some kids eventually, these skills never develop in others, often leaving them afraid to explore or engage in activities that might involve these things. By having them start out with “baby steps” Carlos’s classes ensure that the kids learn the basics in a safe environment while also becoming more comfortable in their movements.

While this Kindergarten Parkour class is only being run in one school at the moment, there have been a number of other schools in the area that have expressed interest in the program so Carlos is hoping that he’ll be able to expand his list of clientele soon.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Parkour School in Chile

My introduction to parkour in Chile was with the “Parkour School” in Vina del Mar/Valparaiso/Villa Alemana. I had been invited by Carlos Hidalgo, the instructor for the class and founder of the Parkour School.

A bit of background about Carlos and the Parkour School before I talk more about the class. Carlos started doing parkour more than 6 years ago with a group of friends that named themselves “Gorilla Attack”.  Following in the footsteps of David Belle, who he's been in email contact with for a number of years, Carlos and his friends were some of the first traceurs in Chile.  After finishing high school he entered the university and graduated in 2010 with a degree in physical education in which he did an extensive thesis project that developed a working methodology to teaching sports and fitness to children. This method, called E.V.A.U.T.I.L.E., which stands for “Educación Valórica Para el buen Uso del Tiempo Libre, (loosly translated as “Educational Program for the Productive Use of Free Time”); was created with parkour but can be used with any number of “urban” activities such as breakdancing, skateboarding, juggling, graffiti, and deejaying. Carlos will actually be publishing a book detailing his research later this spring and I’ll be sure to post details on the final product when it’s ready.

The Parkour School is a program that Carlos has been running for the past few years for the youth in the Villa Alemana/Valparaiso/Viña del Mar region. The school runs for 1-3 hours everyday after school during the week and also includes a longer training session on Saturday mornings. Participation in the program is open to all the kids in the area and is totally free (no payments, no forms to sign, no red tape). Carlos is the primary instructor but he has also been helped for a while by a fellow student at the Universidad de Playa Ancha.  The program started off with just a few kids from the area but the first class I went to had more than 30 students from all over the area.

My first visit to the “school” was at a training spot called “La Fabrica del Sol”. Walking up to the factory I had to pinch myself and check the road signs to make sure that I wasn't dreaming or hadn't taken the wrong bus to one of those crazy eastern European parkour environments that one sees on Youtube but can’t quite believe actually exists in real life. Well, being there in real life is definitely more impressive than seeing it on YouTube. The factory is the perfect training spot, a fact that is supported by the “parkour”, “freerunning”, and “pk school” tags that cover the walls alongside the work of the area's local graffiti artists. The bursts of color from the graffiti made a great backdrop for the class, and I tried to capture a bit of both in the videos that I took. Since my legs were still pretty sore from a solo training session that I had done before leaving Santiago I decided to take the day off and film the whole class. Here is a look at a class with Parkour School:

The class itself was very well run and it was clear that not only had Carlos been doing this for a while, but that there was a definite method to the apparent madness of a parkour class that was not only free but also didn’t involve waivers, insurance, or over-concerned parents. Talking to Carlos after the class, I learned that the classes are planned in 6-month blocks that are aimed at bringing all the students to the next level in a manner that ensures that everyone is constantly challenged while allowing for newcomers and less physically capable members of the group.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the class for me was how closely it paralleled many of the classes that I had attended in London and Melbourne despite the fact Carlos has never been to either of those places or had contact with any of the instructors there. While the warm-up exercises were different, there were a lot of similarities in the way that he approached developing the “touch” of the students, as well as an awareness for their surroundings (the exercise in which everyone seems to be jumping into each other is designed to forces students to stay aware of what is happening around their training environment). I was also struck by how much the students seemed to enjoy the class. While it was evident that there was a huge range of skill levels present at the class (ages ranged from 12 to 28, with both boys AND GIRLS present), Carlos managed to keep everyone engaged the entire time. While some of the more experienced guys couldn’t help throwing in the odd flip off the dismount every now and again, everyone, of all skill levels, seemed to get a kick out the class. 

For more information on Carlos’s work with the EVAUTILE program and the Parkour School take a look at his blog HERE.

(It’s in Spanish but Google does a pretty good job at translating it for those that don’t read Spanish)