Saturday, May 14, 2011

Parkour in Belo Horizonte

 After delaying my bus 12 hours so that I could try to sleep off my sickness, I finally took the bus to Belo Horizonte on Monday afternoon.  I met Bruno at the station, and he gave me a ride to the hostel where I’d be staying for the week (since he’s now living in London he couldn’t host me because he doesn’t have a house in BH).  After dropping my stuff off we headed off for a quick tour of the city followed by a light dinner and açai (I was maintaining my average of about 1 açai/day).

The next day was pretty chill and I spent it hanging around the hostel and going for a walk around the city.  The huge hills that are all over the city (a lot of BH’s streets are as steep as the ones that I encountered in Sao Paulo) made the “light walk” into more of a workout, but it was good to see the city from the ground.

Not my most picturesque face but I´ll sacrifice my spotless internet image for a good shot of the city.
Bruno's group, PkMax, is the primary parkour group in BH (check out their website HERE, it's really well done)  so we went to a training session later in the week so could I meet a number of the other BH traceurs.  While it wasn’t the largest training session that I had been to in Brasil with only a few people, it was clear that Bruno had been sending home some of the stuff that he learned in London, since the session resembled a PKGen session in numerous ways.  While the few training sessions that I did in BH were really good (a trip over to the University with Bruno and Arthur went really well), the recent stomach bug and general lack of rest seemed to be catching up with me and I spent a lot of the week resting at the hostel and trying to get caught up on the big decisions that I’ve been able to avoid for the past 9 months (grad school, life plans…)

As weird as it was to be staying in a hostel again after more than a month of staying with traceurs, it felt kind of good to be back in such a social environment again.  While having to sleep in a room with 11 other people wasn’t so great, the hostel was a pretty quiet one which made the stay pretty enjoyable.  Bruno and his wife Rafaela were also really great about bringing me along to stuff, like a big family dinner, which made my time in BH even more enjoyable.

One of the highlights of the week was definitely spending a day with Bruno, Rafaela, and her sister and her husband at a really beautiful cachoiera (waterfall) about 30 minutes outside the city.  Bruno and I spent the afternoon exploring the river and climbing around on the rocks, which was a nice change from the concrete jungle that I’ve been playing in for a while.  There was a family-run restaurant nearby which served a really big meal of traditional Brazilian food (rice, beans, meat, lots of fruit- all very good). 

Just a day at the cachoiera.... aka paradise. (Photo courtesy of Rafa)

The longer the trip goes on, the stronger the Mowgli/Tarzan resemblance seems  to get. (Photo courtesy of Rafa)

Once we determined we wouldn't brain ourselves on any rocks, this made the perfect jumping spot. (Photo courtesy of Rafa)

One of the best parts about being in BH with Bruno was that he was able to explain a lot of the things that I had questions about but didn’t have the language skills or opportunity to ask my previous hosts.  The topics of these questions ranged from how the favelas worked to various ins and outs of Brazilian parkour politics, but the result was that I came away from BH with a much firmer understanding of life in Brazil.  And of course it was great to hear the latest gossip from London…

After a week that seemed to fly by with Bruno in BH, I took (yet another) all-night bus ride to Brasilia…

Parkour in Rio: Part II

My second visit to Rio gave me the chance to really get to know the parkour scene in the city.  Since I was staying with PC, one of the local traceurs, I was able to get a much better perspective on parkour in Rio than during my first visit when I was living in a hostel.

PC, my host for my time in Rio.
During my first few days in Rio I spent a lot of time training and exploring the city’s “spots” with “Raxaman” and JC (younger brother of JJ).  Raxaman was the “first traceur” in Rio and early in his training he was joined by JJ and JC.   Since neither JC or Raxaman were working at the time they were free to show me around some of Rio’s many great places to train, some of them man-made, others for which the credit goes to Mother Nature.

A man-made parkour paradise.

Rio architects seemed to have parkour in mind at times.

Mother Nature seems to be pretty good at making spots in this city too.  I found that Brazilian trees seem to be a lot better suited for parkour than  in other countries (stronger, better grip, not as much moss... HUGE)

Since PC is friends with a number of the guys from the Voltz Parkour team in Rio, I was also able to meet up with a number of them at a nighttime training session in Botafogo, where I also made the acquaintance of Baconman, one of the better known traceurs in Brazil.  The training session was both a lot of fun and gave me the chance to do some hard training with the guys, which was good.  I also met Gian Pomposelli, the manager of Voltz, who invited me to one of their training sessions later than week.

Voltz Parkour
The training session with Gian was a lot of fun, and the Voltz approach to parkour was pretty interesting.  While there is a lot of resistance in Rio at the moment among certain groups to the idea of “paying for parkour lessons”, for me this was pretty standard practice and I liked the way that the Voltz program is set up to allow the “athletes” the options to build skills within other disciplines in addition to parkour (acrobatics, aerial silk (the curtain thing), climbing….).  Gian and I got the Voltz training area pretty much to ourselves for the training session, which was really nice since I was able to take my time to learn some new techniques from Gian.

One of the things that impressed me the most about my meeting with Voltz is how "commercialized" they are.  Perhaps this appeals to the "American" side of me (for better or for worse) but I liked how well-run and professional the company seemed at first glance.  While I obviously didn't have time to really get to know the group or the way they worked, my first impression was pretty positive.  Checking out thier blog HERE, it also seems like they're doing a lot of good work with the younger generations in the Rio area.  When I visited, they were all still pretty fired up about their debut in Rio's Carnival (a huge deal, especially since they won an award).  You can see part of the video below:

Omnis Parkour
While in Rio I spent a lot of time with the guys of Omnis Parkour (Raxaman, JC, JJ, and PC are all part of this group).  This is partly because JJ was my first contact in Rio, and also because I really connected with his style of training (One of the "older practicioners" in Brazil, he has realized the importance of a solid base of conditioning in the "long-term parkour plan".  Throughout my time in Brazil I interacted with a lot of groups and I have to say that the Omnis methodology is probably the "purest" that I saw.  Not only do they fight to keep classes and events free so that everyone can participate, but they seek to include all skill levels in their training events, and they really make an effort to draw the shyer or less-confident practicioners into the session.  Here's a clip to get an idea:

Saturday I met with the guys for a really great session in the community of Santa Cruz, a short train ride outside of Rio.  A number of traceurs came from around the region to join in, making for a really great atmosphere.  Unfortunately I was feeling pretty out of it after almost 2 weeks of almost non-stop training and a late night on Friday exploring the Lapa (the party area of Rio) nightlife with PC and his roommates.  The queasy stomach and lack of strength got worse during the day and by the end of the day I was feeling pretty miserable.  Despite that I rallied a few times throughout the day and managed to get some good interviews with some of the guys before we headed home.

I tried to rally again on Sunday for the last training session, held in the Lagoa Rodrigo de Frietas area, which turned out to be the perfect place for parkour.  However, by the time we got there it was clear that I wasn’t in a state to be doing anything so I lay down on the nearest bench and napped for most of the afternoon.  The guys were really great about the “sick gringo”, bringing me coconut water to help keep hydrated, and keeping my spirits up.  Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the spot, which was pretty unique, and in my mind was the best parkour spot in the city, simply because of the huge variety of things to train there (think of a movement or technique and there was a place to train it in all levels here).

A big shout out to PC, JJ, JC, and Raxaman for helping me through one of the lower points of my trip!

Parkour on the Brazilian equivalent of David Letterman

While not speaking Portuguese makes this clip slightly less interesting, the concept is pretty easy to follow.  I thought that it would be cool to show my good friend (and Sao Paulo parkour guide) Danilo’s appearance on the Brazilian equivalent of David Letterman (Jo Soares) shortly after I left Sao Paulo.

For part 2 of 2 click here.

Parkour in Sao Paulo

My first contact with parkour in Sao Paulo was with Diogo Granato, who I had briefly met in London this past summer.  After arriving at the rodoviaria (bus station) around 6am on Monday morning I found that I was unable to get into the Metro trains due to the huge crowds of people surging to get on (if you think London or Boston subways are tough to get into during rush hour, Sao Paulo brings new meaning to the expression “packed in like sardines”).  After waiting for 20 minutes to squeeze myself and my large backpack and duffel bag through the crowd waiting on the platform, I realized that I had only made about 2 feet of headway so I gave up, took a train going the opposite direction for 3 stops, and then got on my desired train very easily, even getting a seat.  Three stops later I was able to watch in amusement as the crowd descended on the train like a crowd of traceurs on the “free food” table in the supermarket.

I met Diogo outside a metro stop and he gave me a ride up to his house in the car.  Although I thought that this was a bit unnecessary at first having seen the route on Google maps earlier, I was grateful once we got there because Google Maps does not show that Sao Paulo is probably one of the hilliest cities that I have ever seen (and yes, I have visited San Francisco).  After a quick breakfast and a bit of coffee to get me going, I accompanied Diogo to his dance studio where he was teaching a parkour class.  When I walked into the class I was immediately struck by fact that the only students were women, a phenomenon that I only seen at the PkGen “Women’s Only” classes.  The class was a lot of fun, perhaps even more so since I spent most of it working with Diogo to learn some of his movement style.  For those of you that know Diogo, you know what I’m talking about; for those that don’t take a peek at one of his most recent videos (it’s definitely worth it) and you’ll understand:

After the class, we headed back to the house, where we had lunch and rested for a bit before heading back to the studio for Diogo’s dance group’s practice.  The practice involved an hour’s worth of parkour, and then another hour of "dance-theater improvisation" dancing, for which I sat and watched.  While I had been slightly apprehensive when Diogo first mentioned the practice, not really knowing what to expect, I was really impressed by the dancing; even more so when I learned from Diogo that none of the movements that I had seen had been choreographed.  Instead, the dancers were merely following different sets of rules that seemed to be constantly changing throughout the piece.  If you’re interested in more of the dance stuff that he does, here are some good videos to check out:

Due to some personal conflicts, Diogo left me to fend for myself much of Tuesday and Wednesday, which was fine by me as it gave me some time to sleep and get caught up on the blog a bit.  I also met up with Danilo, who, along with Diogo, served as my unofficial host and training partner in Sao Paulo.  Danilo gave me the tour of the good spots in near Diogo’s house (the most famous of which is right outside his doorstep- literally).  Danilo and I spent a lot of time talking about parkour and life in general (an impressive accomplishment since he didn’t speak English or Spanish and I didn’t speak more than a few words of Portuguese at the time) and he also helped to further my Brazilian cultural education by showing me the second “Tropa de Elite” movie (even better than the first).

Diogo’s group, Le Parkour Brasil, is arguably the “first parkour group” in Brasil, although that is a title that is surrounded by a lot of controversy and details depending on who you ask.  Although Diogo wasn’t one of the very first members of the group, he and Geronimo (now one of the dancers in Diogo’s group) are two of the only “surviving” (in parkour terms, not literally) members of the group that now includes Danilo and some others of the “new generation”.  While there is a distinct difference between the two generations of movement, there are also a lot of similarities and it’s clear that they train a lot together.  Seeing them train as a group was interesting, since each city here in Brazil seems to train differently, and each city also seems to have a particular style.

While in Sao Paulo I also had the opportunity to meet Jean Wainer, who along with Bruno Peixoto, has been pretty instrumental in helping me to plan my trip in Brazil.  He and I spent a lot of time talking about parkour in Brazil and his involvement in it and I also got a sneak peek at the construction on the gym that will be opening up at the end of my stay in Brazil (an article to come).  While it was all white walls and cement at the time, there is a lot of potential for the space, and I’m looking hoping that it will be managed in a manner similar to the Trace Facility in Melbourne, which does a great job of being open and accessible to traceurs of all levels.

The rest of the week passed in a blur of hanging out and exploring with Diogo and Danilo, who were certainly an entertaining pair.  Danilo brought me along to one of his breakdancing classes on Thursday which was a lot of fun and brought back a bunch of memories from my first two years at Davidson.  Friday night I went with Diogo to a local club called Taco Bell (nothing to do with the American restaurant chain) for a night out in Sao Paulo.  This club is apparently pretty well known in the “Paulista”, (meaning “from Sao Paulo”), nightlife, as much for the specific mix of jazz, soul, and funk music that plays there as for the fact that the dance floor is covered in a white powder (not the really expensive type) which makes a pretty unique dance surface.

Training with Akira
Saturday morning I went to one of the training sessions of "Parkour Brazil", ( very different from “Le Parkour Brasil”) which was led by Akira.  I was initially approached by this group after one of their members saw an article on the Brazilian traceur site “Pulo do Gato” about my upcoming visit to Sao Paulo (original article here).  After a bit of background research I found that it is one of the more controversial groups in Brazilian parkour, and a hot topic of debate in many circles, so I decided to check them out. 

I showed up to the training session and was immediately struck by the fact that 1) it was entirely guys except for one woman (no surprise), 2) almost all of the people had on matching t-shirts (most training groups have a sort of dress code (i.e. sweatpants/tracky bums), but I hadn’t seen “uniforms” yet).  The actual practice was ok, and there seemed to be a few fairly skilled traceurs in the group, although there were a few things that struck me as “odd” in a parkour training session.  For one, there was an unusually long period of time spent (wasted) talking or joking around between exercises, and even though Akira seemed to have the group’s respect he was essentially leading from behind (meaning that he wasn’t really doing the exercises with us), something that I haven’t seen much in parkour.  I was also struck by how much the group dynamic seemed to be of a group of teenage boys, even given the wide range in ages (16-30+), complete with “Spartan” shouts and group call-and-response.

Post practice with the guys.

The guys were all very friendly and willing to talk to me and I had a good time hanging out and grabbing some lunch with the group, despite the fact that I was functioning on 3 hours sleep and wasn’t too up for jumping or doing much hard conditioning.  Talking to them I was struck by how much of a “bubble” many of the guys were training in, not having much, if any, contact with the Brazilian parkour world outside of Akira’s sessions.  I wasn’t able to tell whether this was voluntary or conditioned, but I was encouraged to see some of them show up the next day to train with the guys at the citywide jam held outside Diogo’s house.

Sunday Jam
Sunday’s jam was the perfect opportunity for me to meet many of the city’s traceurs that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  Since it was right outside the house, all I had to do was roll out of bed and walk out the door to be in the thick of things.*  The turnout for the event was really good and the guys (and a number of girls) were really open and welcoming to the gringo that had suddenly appeared in their midst. 

Diogo attempting the cat-to-slanted-rail-precision outside his house during the jam (Photo courtesy of Murillo Cobucci).
Me going for a cat leap (made it) at the jam (Photo courtesy of Murillo Cobucci).

 The jam went from pretty much morning till dusk, and afterwards Danilo and I headed back to Diogo’s to grab pizza (Sao Paulo pizza is pretty good) and hang out for a while.  Diogo and I were both taking video at the event so he made a brief video with our combined footage (also gives you a good idea of some of the spots since I was too distracted to take many pictures):

*I should note that during my time in Sao Paulo I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay at Diogo's house.  Not only was it the perfect location, being right outside one of the best spots in Brazil (in my mind it's one of the best spots that I've visited so far), but it also came with two great hosts (Diogo and Paula), good food, and the closest thing to my own apartment since I left Davidson.

One of the things that I was most impressed about during my visit to Sao Paulo was the number of women that were participating in the training.  Diogo’s studio is different from most parkour classes in many ways, but perhaps most by the type of clientele that it attracts.  Although he says that the class’s representation of 100% female is not accurate of all of his classes (the second one I went to was also all women + me), it does illustrate one possible way to attract more women to the sport.  While I’m not saying that all parkour classes should be combined with dance classes (although personally I think that this makes a really cool combination), I think that hosting parkour classes in venues like dance studios and women-only fitness clubs might help to bring more women into the sport.

The female participation was not limited to the indoor classes either, and Sunday's jam included a number of traceuses that had evidently been practicing for a while.  So not only were the women of Sao Paulo more active in the parkour scene than in other places I've visited, but they are probably the most skilled traceuses that I've seen since leaving London.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Parkour in Curitiba

The drive to Curitiba was a great opportunity for me to ask Lucas a bunch of questions about his experience with parkour and the scene that had developed in Curitiba.  I also got my first glimpse of the complicated and impassioned world of “Brazilian Parkour Politics”, a subject that I would become more and more familiar with as my journey continued.  While Bruno had hinted to me in London that Brazilian parkour was developed, I hadn’t realized that, like any large national organization (I’ve been told that there are an estimated 15,000+ traceurs in Brazil), lots of drama has also developed between the various factions as well (both regional and personal).

I stayed with Lucas and his family during my stay in Curitiba, and I was impressed yet again by how open and inviting the Brazilian people are.  I was immediately accepted into the family routine, which was a weird (but good) feeling since I haven’t lived in that type of environment since I left the States in June.  As Lucas only had class at night, it left of the day open for us to explore Curitiba.   Curitiba had a number of really great spots to train and I found that the level of parkour that had developed over the years was pretty impressive.

Lucas also made sure to try to introduce me to as much Brasilian culture as possible during my stay.  We watched the very popular Brazilian film “Tropa de Elite”, a film based on events that had occurred in the prelude to the recent favela conflict in Rio de Janiero that had international new stations spreading images of war and devastation (as usual, the insiders take is very different than what international news agencies show).  The film shows the depth of corruption that was/is rampant in the police system in Rio, and just how independent the favelas really are.  Since Brazil doesn’t have a very developed film industry, (most movies here come from Hollywood or the Latin American equivalent) many Brazilians herald this film as “the best Brazilian” film in recent years.

My first exposure to Brazilian cinema during the trip.  A great start.

In addition to Brazilian cinema, I went to class with Lucas to see what college (aka “uni” for the Brits and Aussies reading) is like in Brazil.  From what I understand, the whole Brazilian college experience is very different from the one that I had back in the States.  For starters, most people go to school in the city that they are from, and there isn’t a huge amount of interstate travel for school, especially since many students live at home for the duration of their studies.  Since public universities are free in Brazil, it means that the opportunity is technically available to all students, although the difficult final examinations at the end of high school still serve to keep less-affluent students from attending as they often aren’t as well prepared as wealthier students.

One of the major differences that I found here, as well as in other countries is that students do not live together in dormitories.  While some may live in apartment complexes or neighborhoods with high concentrations of students (like Kalebe), the majority live at home, meaning that much of the “college life” that Americans experience doesn’t exist here (be honest, we’re in school or working for a max of 8-10 hours, the other 14-16 are spent with peers).  While I’ve tried to convince people here that American college life isn’t exactly as Hollywood depicts it, it’s hard to find a point of reference between their lives at school and the one depicted in American movies…

The training that I saw in Curitiba was pretty varied and Lucas and I spent most of the first few days checking out different training spots around the city.  One of the more interesting ones was a major church in the area.  While I would never have imagined that this trip would have me doing parkour in a church, I guess I should be used to the unexpected by now.  Apparently the “church parkour movement” is very popular in Brazil, with a reported 5,000 traceurs throughout the country (while I’m not sure that I believe this number, that’s what I was told (in the church).)  It’s also unclear as to whether these traceurs only practice with church groups, or if they are traceurs that happen to go to church training sessions.  The church itself turned out to be a great training spot since it had lots of level changes, obstacles, and was absolutely enormous (the inside looked more like an athletic stadium than church, minus the popcorn and peanut vendors of course).

Poor photo quality, but this is just about 1/10th of the "stage area" that we had available to stretch in, let alone the rest of the nave to train in.

Since Lucas wanted to make sure that I got a full exposure to Brazilian nightlife, Friday night we hosted a “churrasco” at his father’s house with a bunch of the parkour guys.  True to traceur form the event included the usual parkour antics like fingergrip-pullups on door frames and other feats of physical prowess as well as large quantities of meat in all forms (it wasn’t quite a sausage-fest, but the ratio of guys to girls was pretty close).  I had a lot of fun hanging out with the guys and meeting some of the traceurs that hadn’t been able to make it to the training sessions earlier that week like Tiago and Cassio Jr.  After a lot of meat (I was introduced to chicken hearts- which are actually pretty good) and Brazilian beer*, we crashed in various parts of the house to get some sleep before training the next day.

*Note about Brazilian beer:  The Brazilians claim that traditional Brazilian practice of drinking beer only when its ice cold is because it’s so hot here.  However, I’m convinced that this is really because Brazilian beer tastes so bad that it can only be drunk at sub-zero temperatures that numb the taste buds.  I know my gringo-ness probably explains this but I’m pretty sure that Brazilian beer is about the only food or drink that I haven’t enjoyed in the country.  I’ll take a caipirinha over a beer any day.

Saturday morning saw a pretty groggy group of guys head to the local university to meet Luiz, one of the first traceurs in Curitiba, for some gym training at the local university.  This was pretty much an “open-gym” pass for Lucas, Tiago, Cassio, Luiz and I to use the trampolines and other gymnastic materials to our hearts content for a few hours.  Being back on a trampoline was great, and I was able to work a bit more on back and front tucks under the supervision of people that knew what they were doing (Tiago works at a circus school).  After training in the gym we grabbed a quick bite to eat at Subway (it seems to be the default lunch stop among Brazilian traceurs) and then met up in the middle of the city for some outdoor training with more of the guys.  While this is a compilation made by the guys a while before I came, I think that the title and the images sum up the parkour scene in Curitiba pretty well.

Since Saturday night was my last night in Curitiba, Lucas decided that my visit wouldn’t be complete without a night out on the town.  We met up with a “semi-retired” traceur, Rafa, for a pretty epic night in one of Curitiba’s nightclubs involving lots of socializing, some caiparinhas, and a pretty impressive multinational mix.

Big shout out to these two "cuzãos" (Lucas and Rafa) and the rest of the traceurs in Curitiba for an awesome time.

Sunday was spent recovering from the late bedtime the previous night and hanging out with Lucas and his family before I headed to the bus station to take the overnight bus to Sao Paulo.

I think that one of the best parts of this week in Curitiba was that I got to see parkour at all stages of its development.  I met with the guys that first brought parkour to Curitiba, saw what they do now, and also saw what the fruits of their labor have created.  While I can’t say that Curitiba had the most developed or organized scene at the time of my visit (which coincided with the very beginning of the “reorganization” of the parkour community here), I can say that they are fast on their way to getting there.  Talking to guys like Tiago, who has taken his parkour skills to instruct at a nearby circus school (an awesome program- check out the website here) made me realize the potential that parkour has in a variety of arenas.  I also got a lot of time to talk to Lucas about his hopes for CTT (Curitiba Traceur Team) and got a sneak peak at the GAP Parkour Classes that in weeks since I left has made huge strides in making parkour available to a much wider audience in the area.  Both the setup and the instructing for the classes looked well-planned so I’m excited to see the result of this program.  I’m also glad that the guys here are starting to come around to the idea of “paid parkour class” since based on my experience, I think that it’s one of the few ways to really develop a community (Chile seems to be a bit unique). 

A recent GAP workshop.  (Photo courtesy of GAP event photo gallery.)