Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Parkour in Brasilia

After arriving in Brasilia early in the morning I waited outside the station to meet my contact.  Having heard stories about Alberto from all of the guys that I had stayed with on the trip thus far, I was expecting to feel the earth shaking when he came and to able to see the Hulk-sized, Jackie Chan-looking guy approaching from pretty far away.  I actually did a double-take when a guy came up to me dressed in a polo shirt and jeans and looking surprisingly “human”.  After a quick introduction, we drove back to his house so that he could get me set up before going back to work (yet another example of the extent of Brazilian hospitality, Alberto had left work to come get me and was going back to work for another 8 hours).  After grabbing a quick bite to eat he headed back to the office while I hung out at the house and explored his neighborhood.

When Alberto got back from work in the evening we took the bus into the city to check out some of the spots.  Brasilia is a pretty interesting architecturally because it was built for the sole purpose of being the capital city.  Since it was planned in the middle of an essentially “deserted wasteland”, there was plenty of space to work with, a fact that is readily apparent in its layout and architecture.  While this often resulted in what I would call a “grandiose” feeling on the street and a distinct lack of spirit or character for the buildings, the architects seemed to have parkour in mind because they made every boulevard underpassage, bus stop, and housing complex into perfect training spots.  Alberto took me to one that is particularly well known and featured in a number of Brazilian Youtube videos and that managed to keep us entertained for the evening.  Despite, his “semi-retirement” status from parkour at the moment, the guys hadn’t exaggerated about Alberto’s strength and it was obvious that he’s been training for a while.  Towards the end of the session, we ran into some of the other guys from Brasilia and hung out for a bit with them before heading back to the house for a late dinner.

For those that might be curious Alberto's blog Decimadomuro is a great resource for Brazilian parkour and the sport in general and Google Chrome does a pretty good job translating it.

My second day in Brasilia I took the bus into the city center to check out the government buildings and to do a bit of the typical tourist stuff (I figured I should do it since it was the capital and all).  Not the most interesting of tourist destinations since the hugeness of the city seemed to swallow up all the vibrancy and color that existed in the other Brazilian cities I visited, Brasilia did have a number of cool buildings that made the afternoon worth it, and ranks it much higher than the last “planned capital” that I had visited (Canberra, Australia).

The Brazilian National Museum and Library.

Brazilian Congress, my fro, and me.

I also found that the people of Brasilia (except for the traceurs) seemed a lot more like Europeans or Americans than the other Brazilians I had met.  There was something colder and more “rat-race-like” about the way that they interacted, and I found myself feeling much less at home than I had in other parts of Brazil.

Since Alberto seemed to be able to function well on very little sleep, we spent a lot of time during my time in Brasilia just hanging out after dinner working on the computer or watching TV.  As one of the first traceurs in Brazil, Alberto has been around to see the whole Brazilian parkour scene develop and has plenty of great stories about it.  An avid geek like many of the Brazilian traceurs that I’ve met, Alberto has also done a lot of research into parkour and general fitness.  A lot of the time that we were talking I felt like I should be taking notes in order to not forget all the useful information I was learning.  I should also note that Alberto’s English is near-flawless, a feat which is made even more impressive by the fact that he learned it all from online video gaming.  If that wasn’t enough, he also learned Finnish that way.

Since Alberto had work and martial arts classes nearly every day, he put me in contact with Felipe and some of the other guys that were active in the Brasilia parkour scene.  Although Felipe didn’t speak English, we managed to communicate pretty well in a mix of Spanish, Portuguese, and English (my Portuguese got a lot better over the course of the week).  Felipe wasn’t able to train since he had undergone knee surgery a few days before I arrived but the first thing he did once he got the ok from the doctor was to drive over to Alberto’s to pick me up and show me around.  For the rest of the week he acted as my official chauffeur and tour guide, bringing me to local classes, spots, and even to get my daily acai fix.  Also one of the more experienced guys in Brasilia, he was a great source of information on the parkour there.

While there a number of really great moments in Brasilia, there are a few in particular that stand out as being particularly noteworthy.  One of these highlights didn’t actually involve parkour and was at a place called Integral Bambú, which Felipe took me to on Saturday morning.  When we first arrived at the spot, I had no idea what was going on and wasn’t quite prepared for the giant circus tent that had been set up alongside a very “hippie-looking” house on a back-country road on the edge of the city.  After brief overview from Felipe about what the place was, Felipe, Ademias Jr., and I started playing around on the weird, giant triangular bamboo structures that were arranged around the room.  While it took a little while to figure out how to move on the structures,  we started to get the hang of it after an hour or so, at which point more people started to arrive.  As more and more people came into the tent and started monkeying around on the structures, I realized that there was a class that was about to take place.  We stayed for the class, which turned out to be a mix between aerobics, climbing, yoga, parkour, and dance, and I found myself immediately at home with both the movement style and the mood of the training.  There was something about training with bamboo that felt so natural and “connected” on a inner level that after the class I felt almost as if I was waking up from some sort of dream-like state. 

The interior of the tent.

A close-up of the bindings, apparently made with used bicycle inner tubes.

People starting to arrive.
After the class I got a chance to talk to Marcelo Rio Branco, the founder of Integral Bambú, a bit more about what he had created and the ideas behind it.  It was certainly interesting to hear his story and philosophy on exercise and general health, and to learn about rapidly growing network of bamboo-related companies in Brazil.  While I had gone to the class expecting it to have a fairly “crunchy” atmosphere (“crunchy” as in granola-eating, an American term for describing something that is more environmentally friendly or “tree-hugging”) I was surprised to find that it had a vibe that had more in common with other parkour classes that I had been to than anything else.

For more info on Integral Bambú, check out their site here or watch the video below:

The two other highlights of the trip for me both dealt with the construction of new training areas for the traceurs in Brasilia.  The first place for a group called Movimente (link to their site here), located outside the city center on one of the family’s farm of one of the traceurs, was in the middle of the construction/development phase when I arrived.  After a quick tour of the area (essentially an old pasture area with a big shelter at one end) we set to work building a series of prescision jumps with pieces of curb that the guys had gotten from a local concrete factory.  This was one of the coolest parts of the project for me, the fact that nearly everything that had been done had been done with very little money and a lot of resourcefulness.  The guys not only showed a lot of organizational talent, but their drive and intitiative was pretty impressive.  Lacking the money or materials to build a concrete structure, they had secured two truckloads of concrete curbstones from a local factory.  After piling a number of them into tower-like structures to practice precisions, they half buried the rest of them in part of the pasture area to make a “precision field”, capable of catering to all different skill levels.  While the work was pretty hard (we had basic tools at best) it was interspersed with rain squalls and subsequently mud fights and lots of joking.  Since my Portuguese was finally starting to become something recognizable as language, I was able to participate a bit in these antics as a distraction from hauling concrete blocks.

Covered training area and future location of bamboo structures.

The possibilities are limitless...
A couple hundreds concrete blocks + some industrious traceurs + a few afternoons = new training spot!

Talking with the guys about their visions for the “parkour park” was great and I was impressed by the ambitiousness of some of their plans (a covered bamboo structure training facility, a dormitory/living quarters for visitors, scaffolding…)  After a day of working side-by-side with them though, I don’t doubt that these plans will come to fruition, and I’ve already got my name on the list for when they’ve renovated the living quarters.

The second “homemade” spot that I got a chance to see was farther out from the city center, which was actually the primary reason for its construction.  The lack of good training spots in their town meant that they had to take the bus into the center of Brasilia to train, a journey that ended up costing a lot of time and money to sustain a regular training program.  To solve this problem a group of a few of the local youths decided to build their own spot.  They chose an unused bit of grass located near some pull-up bars outside the town football pitch where they often went to train muscle ups and pull-ups.  They collected used tires from along the nearby highway and dump and pooled their money to buy concrete.  After digging holes for foundations and piling the tires, they filled them with dirt and capped them with concrete, making towers off all different sizes to precision between.  The end result, although not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing of spots, is very functional and a great place to train.  Talking to the guys about their project afterwards I was really impressed by their effort especially since all of them were pretty young.

With the 3 builder/creators.

O Pico do Cachorro.
Check out the video the guys made a few months ago of the "opening" to see them in action on their new home turf:

After getting the tour of the spots in Brasilia, plus some flip practice on the local beach volleyball courts in the few hours before I left, I headed for the bus station to take the 18-hour bus ride to Salvador....

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