Friday, July 15, 2011

The Kalenji Success lives on.... well kind of

For those of you who mourned the passing of the Kalenji Success a few years ago this might be of interest.  Decathlon UK will be releasing a new version of the shoe this fall (featuring slight improvements after input from experienced traceurs).  Hopefully the shoe will be the first item in a line of apparel and footwear designed with traceurs in mind.  While I was in London two weeks ago I got a chance to actually hold the only model of these currently in existence.  While the final product will be a bit different, you can get the idea from the video below.

The design for the final model is below (courtesy of Parkour UK):

Also, check out the message from Decathlon UK that came out recently (courtesy of PKUK and the PkGen website):

Hello Traceurs,
Decathlon UK in partnership with Parkour UK will be selling a new version of the shoe for the Parkour community. This product will be a first price shoe that will retail at approx £16.99. We have developed this shoe with the Success grip in mind but have improved the quality and durability the upper and to give traceurs more support when training. This product is an exclusive for Decathlon UK stores. We are hoping that this first product will be available for late 2011. The name of the product has not yet been confirmed as we are currently working on prototypes with Parkour UK.

We are working closely with Parkour UK, as the NGB, to bring a brand that will hopefully have products in the future specifically for Parkour. Decathlon UK values Parkour as a sport and we would like to invest in this in the future if this first project is successful. We have been overwhelmed by the response to the shoe and we ask for your patience as we want to be sure that the product, name and launch is a success.

The product will be available on the internet for the UK. We are also looking for a solution for international requests. If you have any queries please contact Decathlon UK or Parkour UK.

We will keep you fully informed as we progress towards the launch in late 2011.

Thank you

Decathlon UK

For more information on Parkour UK and the work that they are tirelessly doing on behalf of traceurs throughout the UK and around the world, (which often goes unnoticed), check them out here:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tourist in Milan

I actually did a bit of tourism while I was in Milan when I wasn't training with Laurent.  Milan isn't exactly a touristic city, or even a very pretty one, but it has a few things worth checking out.

Like most of the Italian cities that I visited, Milan is full of churches.

Thought this was pretty interesting- Luis Vuitton across from McDonalds in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

I couldn't go to Milan not visit the Duomo Milano.

Probably the coolest part of Milan, the Castello Sforzesco is also next to a great park in the middle of the city. 

Milan with Laurent Piemontesi

After my brief stopover in London I headed to Milan in the next segment of the Watson adventure.  I had put Italy on my itinerary initially because I’d heard from Laurent Piemontesi that he was starting an academy there.  Laurent has been pretty influential in my involvement with parkour.  Back on my first research trip to Paris in the summer of 2009, I did my very first training session with Laurent shortly after making my first contact with the members of Majestic Force after I naively accepted to meet him the next morning to train.  After four hours of quadrepedie conditioning, two hours of “movement”, an hour of exercises around a park bench, and a number of kilometers run through Evry and Lisses, I realized that I had finally found my calling.  I was dirty, exhausted, and dreading the protests my muscles that would give me the next morning.  But I was hooked.

One year later I was warming up for a Parkour Generations class the Thursday before Rendezvous 5 and Laurent appeared out of nowhere.  After the usual exchange of nonsense (those of you who have tried to have a serious conversation with Laurent will understand) he invited me to join him for some “light quadrepedie” with him the next morning (the day before Rendezvous- I know, a bad decision).  The next morning, after 2 hours of quadrepedie in a light rain (actually a lot of fun), we called it a day and headed home to grab breakfast since he “didn’t want me to be too sore for the weekend’s training”.  Needless to say, training with Laurent is a unique experience.

The only time you get a serious picture with Laurent is when he's not paying attention (the hats were his idea).
I met Laurent at his new academy, Formainarte, which is run in conjunction with a dance studio in the south of Milan.  The facility, which opened its doors in October, is located in a beautifully renovated warehouse that has been outfitted so as to be able to accommodate multiple dance or parkour classes.  While it has the typical big mirrors, wooden flooring, and ballet bars of a dance studio, it also has a number of “unconventional” elements to it, including bars sticking out horizontally from the walls 9 ft in the air, platforms that are attached to the walls in the perfect setup for precisions and double taps, and vault boxes waiting expectantly in the shadows.

The classes at Formainarte were an interesting blend of styles and skill sets, and included students from a wide range of backgrounds.  There were the typical adolescent classes for kids (mostly boys) from 10-18 that seem to exist all over the world.  There were also classes offered for adults, which is something that I haven’t seen much on my trip outside London, as it seems to require a special environment and instructional staff to have them.  I don’t know whether this is because most adults don’t want to go jump around like a kid for two hours after a long day at work, or something about the pressures of society, but the classes at Formainarte were not only full, but after only a few months of training the adult students had developed a pretty high level of parkour, especially given that nearly all of the training was done indoors.  While I’m sure that this has a lot to do with Laurent’s teaching, I also found that the atmosphere that existed within the group was pretty unique, and it often felt like a family group than a class.

Since Formainarte also functions as a dance studio, Laurent runs a parkour class specifically tailored to the dancers.  While I’d seen parkour classes for dancers in Brazil, the dynamic here was a bit different as the dancers in question were teenage girls and not professional dancers.  It was really interesting to see how they trained in the classes and tackled the challenges that Laurent set for them, and yet again I was struck by how fast dancers seem to pick up new movements, and have a natural flow that comes almost effortlessly.  Laurent also seems to have realized the potential of the “dance + parkour” pairing, as he’s working on some projects with them, and I saw subtle influences in his style since the last time we trained together, although I think that most of them are from recent visits by Williams (who I have still never met).
A rather nondescript exterior hides what's inside.

In addition to the classes, I also got the opportunity to do a lot of additional training with Laurent.  Training with him is always a unique experience, and each time that I do I’m reminded of the extreme mental toughness that the founders of parkour had.  Throughout my travels I have yet to meet anyone that trains as hard as he does, which is made even more incredible by the fact that he does it day after day, for years.  I found that a typical day for him would include 3-4 hours of training in the morning, some sort of exercises at his house as we prepared lunch, a big lunch, then some time to stretch and relax before running the 8-9km to Formainarte to train a bit before the two classes that he led (for those that know Laurent, they know that he always participates in the classes that he teaches).  Running home after the classes was optional.  Then repeat the next day.  And the next…

This schedule, while great at first, soon began to get at me.  I’ve always needed variety in my training, something that I needed while training for track/athletics as well.  I hated to run the same route two days in a row, and was always trying to spice up the runs, so much actually that some of my teammates would complain about the fact that my quest for new routes often led us into areas that others might call “unrunnable”, but which I liked because they were different.  I feel the same way about parkour.  I don’t like to train in the same place all the time, I don’t like to drill the same movements for days on end, and I certainly don’t like doing the same conditioning exercises every day.  However, my time with Laurent made me realize that there are times when this is beneficial, not only physically, but also mentally.  Talking with him, I learned that there are times when he’ll do his “quadrepedie 101 block” every day for a month to build this toughness.  While I realize that this type of training isn’t for everyone, I do think that it’s something that people should experiment with in their training.

Our three to four hour dose of training in the morning- a great way to work on my tan among other things...
One of the best parts about my visit to Milan was the fact that it also happened to coincide with visits by Matija (from Croatia, living in Denmark), Patrick (Majestic Force), and Michel (Majestic Force), and Renata (Mexico).  I’d crossed paths with Patrick and Michel the two times that I visited Evry, and although I only met Matija and Renata in Milan, there was something about the shared experience of enduring Laurent’s training that creates an instant bond.  We also had a lot of time to hang out since after some hostel complications the first week, Laurent and Paula graciously offered to let me sleep on their couch for a while (since the beds were taken by the 3 other traceurs staying there).  Lots of fun resulted from this international living situation, although fun is almost guaranteed when hanging out with Laurent as you learn never to leave your food unguarded if he’s nearby, make sure he’s not near the hot water switch when you’re about to take a shower, and god forbid if you ever try to get him to pass you a cell phone…

After two weeks in Milan that seemed to fly by it was time to head to my next destination in Italy…

Thursday, July 7, 2011

London Flyby in April

After the quick stop in Saõ Paulo to check out Jean’s gym, I headed to the airport for the long flight back to London.  My first act upon arriving at the airport in London was to go to the M&S just outside of baggage claim and buy a flapjack (for those of you who aren’t British- a flapjack is not a pancake, it’s a sort of cereal bar), a chocolate milk, and a yogurt with granola.  I guess I can say that I was glad to be back in London, although I after 24 hours with açai I definitely felt myself going through withdrawal.  After a brief Tube ride (it felt really good to be in an efficient, clean, and well-organized public transport network again) I arrived at the first of many lodgings for my brief stay in London.  After a not-so-quick nap and a normal meal I felt recovered enough from the jet lag to head to the normal Parkour Generations Thursday night training at Moberley.

It felt great to be back in a Parkour Generations class again, and while it wasn’t quite as painful as I remembered, it was a nice dose of conditioning after the past few months of relatively little conditioning.  Getting to reconnect with all of the people that I had left behind in November was great too and as always, the atmosphere in the class was really good.  After the past few months of traveling and instructing, I had a new appreciation for the instructors of PkGen, who no longer seemed quite so superhuman as when I left, but whose really understand the nuances of teaching parkour.  It was a nice shock to see so many women in the classes, and while I am still not quite able to understand why PKGen classes have so many more women in them than classes in other countries, I can certainly appreciate the diversity.  For those of you that have never had the good fortune to attend a PkGen class, or who are curious about them in general, check out the video that Bruno Peixoto made from this winter:

Since I still hadn’t completed my ADAPT supervised instructor hours, I spent a lot of my time in London assisting at PkGen classes in an effort to get as many hours logged as possible before heading out again.  The classes were a lot of fun and it was good to be able to finally really apply a lot of the instructing experience that I’ve been picking up since taking the course last November.

Friday morning I was woken up by the sound of trumpets and cheers.  After briefly wondering why the queen would be visiting Wembley Central on a Friday morning I realized that all of the pomp and circumstance was for the royal wedding, which was in full swing by then.  While I had decided not to attend the wedding due to the huge crowds and the fact that watching two people I didn’t know get marry wasn’t exactly my idea of a great time, I did watch the affair from the comfort of my friend’s couch as I ate a leisurely breakfast.  After watching the nuptials for a while, I soon got bored and decided to head down to Vauxhall for a spot of training before class.  The mini-training session went well and it felt good to be back in a place full of good memories (and also some painful ones).  Going back to do the jump that took a bite out of my shin (see August 2010 post) felt really good as well, especially as I realized that the ease with which I did it now was partly due to the fact that my jump in actually starting to improve (slowly, but nonetheless).  I also got a chance to talk with the ever-elusive Thomas Couetdic, who was passing through briefly. 

On Saturday morning James and I met up with a few friends to roadtrip over to Rugby to check out a “parkour park” that we had heard rumors about.  While we were all pretty apprehensive from the descriptions that we had been given and the grainy photos that we had seen, I have to admit that I was pretty happy with what we found.  While it wasn’t a huge spot, and didn’t have a ton of stuff to work with, the scaffolding on the edge of the park was pretty intricate and big enough to keep me occupied for a while.  While we were training, we were joined by a group of neighborhood kids that often trained in the park, who, after a few small challenges and some warming up, initiated an epic game of tag that left everyone pretty tuckered out. 

Despite the fact that my visit did not fall on the last Sunday of the month, fate and Easter the weekend before conspired to my advantage and Sunday turned out to be the date for May’s “Off the Wall” event.  This jam is organized each month by Parkour Generations and is designed to bring the traceurs and freerunners of the London area together in a very open jam session.  While the location changes each month, it usually overlaps with the Sunday Morning Wake-up class, which worked great for my scheduling and meant that I could essentially spend the whole day training.  The class and the jam were a lot of fun, and gave me a chance to catch up with people that I hadn’t seen in a while.

Thanks to Brian for the "official" Off the Wall pic (Photographer: Brian Appiah Obeng).
Monday morning I headed over to Forrest’s house for some training and to pick up the new shoes that I had ordered from home (despite the fact that I had to ship them overseas, it was still cheaper for me to buy shoes in the US than in the UK).  Of course spending any amount of time with Forrest usually ensures that your muscles will regret it the next day, so I made sure to take plenty of notes for future conditioning sessions on my own. 

The rest of Monday and Tuesday I tried to take advantage of my quick stopover in London to train as much as possible with people and to “absorb” as much as I could from the instructors of Parkour Generations before heading out on the next portion of my trip.  While it was great to be training so much, by the time Wednesday rolled around and I headed to the airport for the next round of adventures I was more than ready for a day off and some time spent just sitting and relaxing in the (very comfortable) lounges at Heathrow airport as I waited for my flight to Milan.

While sitting there, I had some time to reflect on why it felt so good to be back in London, and also what I still missed most about Brazil (I was still undergoing açai withdrawal):

Things I miss about Brazil:
-Training with all the great traceurs and traceuses that I met there
-Pay-by the kilo buffets
-Making “fruit juice” by taking a large chunk of fruit and popping it in the blender
-The beautiful weather
-The beautiful women (don’t get me wrong, London has plenty too, but Brazil….)
-The fact that bikinis in Brazil don’t include bottoms, more like thongs
-A super-strong sun that reminds you not to forget your sunscreen when you walk out the door
-The variety of fruits that I never knew even existed (pinas, 8 types of bananas, amazing mangos….)
-Midday meal (rice, beans, farofa (a floury powder you put on everything)
-Inviting grandmothers/mothers
-Eggcheeseburger – sounds weird, but a fried egg on top of a cheeseburger is genius (and really good)
-Training in shorts (not having to fit in with the “sweatpants parkour” culture of Europe)
-Bug-zapper racquets

Why it’s so good to be back in London
-Parkour Generations atmosphere and people (positive, productive, open)
-Good prepared food and salads in supermarkets
-Decent chocolate milk
-Efficient and clean public transportation network
-Efficency in general
-More equal gender representation in classes

PS - Big shoutouts to Leon, James, Annty, and Forrest for welcoming in a vagabond Yank