Saturday, July 9, 2011

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…

1 comment:

  1. Hi Blake,

    I enjoy reading about your adventures - you are good at writing in an interesting and of course it helps that we share the same passion.

    Peace - Martin.