Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rome – ECCE Parkour Event

After spending a great two weeks with Laurent and company in Milan I braved the Italian rail system and headed to Rome.  While I’d expected chaos, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the rail system in Italy, like in France, seems to run with a different mindset than the rest of the country.  The journey passed uneventfully and upon coming out of the train station I found myself in one of the coolest cities of the year.  While a lot of the other cities that I’ve visited have had fascinating buildings, great museums, and interesting monuments, Rome brings all of this to the next level.  There is something about the city that is immediately captivating, and I soon began relishing walking around corners, since I never knew what awaited me.

After figuring out how the Metro system worked (not the world’s best) I met up with the friend of my family that I’d be staying with during my time in Rome.  The reason that I was in Rome wasn’t just because I’ve dreamed of visiting the city since I was a wee lad dreaming of legions and gladiators, but my visit also conveniently coincided with a workshop hosted by ECCE parkour that would be importing some of the Parkour Generations instructors to lead it.  Having heard about it a few weeks earlier, I arranged my travel plans so as to be in town for the event, giving me a glimpse of Italian parkour and also getting the opportunity to finish up the last remaining ADAPT supervised instructional hours (I also added some days on to my stay after the event to do a bit of the tourist thing for once- more in the next post).

The next day I was up and battling the crowds of Romans that engage in a daily ritual that is startlingly reminiscent of the battles that raged in the streets of Rome about 2000 years ago.  Rome only has 2 subway lines, and their sole overlap point also happens to be the central terminal for all the regional trains coming into the city (all roads and trains lead to Rome).  This setup, combined with the passion that means that most voyages in the city will involve at least one episode of the hand-to-hand combat that is subway travel.  The roads aren’t much different, as I soon learned from the friend that I was staying with, who had one car for the hand-to-hand combat of city travel, and another for traveling outside the city limits.

Upon arriving at the location for the event, I was shocked to find that it was located less than 50m from the walls of the Vatican, and hill that the Vatican sits upon rose up behind us and formed a beautiful background.  After gaping at the setup, I headed over to reunite with Forrest, Chris, and Alli, who I had last seen in London a few weeks previously during my briefly stopover.  Since I still had a few hours to complete from my ADAPT certification, I volunteered to lend a hand throughout the weekend, which led to me getting way more hours than I needed.

Forrest atop some of the scaffolding set up for the event (the Vatican is in the background to the left).   (Photo courtesy of Sophia Jeque)

As we hung out and helped with the setup we watched the participants for the weekend start to filter in.  The crowd was pretty diverse in terms of experience and skill levels (over this year I’ve learned that these are not necessarily connected), and there were a number of guys that were at a pretty high level.  After delaying the start a bit to finish setting up and let the latecomers drop their stuff off, we set out for the warm-up.  After spending 2 months in Brasil, where a group warm-up is usually about as organized as most events got, if that, the ECCE event was a nice change.  The organizers had structured the event into a number of sessions each day, with breaks for lunch and snacks.  Each of the sessions was to feature instruction or conditioning led by the PkGen instructors, or free time in which the participants could train on the equipment as desired.

In addition to organizing a very well-run event, ECCE parkour had also done a great job in choosing a location to host the event.  Not only was the main location just outside the Vatican, but it was also within a short jog from Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter's Square) (where we attempted to do the first warm-up before being shooed out by the security), and also the San Angelo Castle, where we did warm-up and conditioning for the rest of the days.

The setting for the first warm-up. (Photo courtesy of Andrejs Surdjukovs)
The setting for the rest of our warm-ups. (Photo courtesy of Andrejs Surdjukovs) 

Each day we started off the day with the typical Parkour Generations warm-up.  For those that haven’t experienced it, the Parkour Generations warm-up (like the Yamakasi one that it’s based on) is designed to not only wake (and shock) the system into a high state of alertness, but also doubles as a mini conditioning session.  I also found that the “exported version is cleverly designed to gauge the fitness levels of the participants at various workshops and seminars, which determines many of the drills and exercises throughout the rest of the event.  Over the course of the event I had the opportunity to see how the Parkour Generations “workshop division” works from the inside and the huge amount of things that go on behind the scenes that most participants never notice.  I also had the opportunity to lead a few of the training sessions and found that the more I did, the more my confidence rose and the more I enjoyed the teaching.  By the end of the event I was definitely on a teaching high and realized that I was now not only in love with the sport, but also in teaching it.

Throughout the event I tried to mingle with the Italian traceurs as much as I could and try to get a grasp of their experiences with parkour.  This was facilitated by the fact that instead of going back to my friend’s place each night I went to the local accommodations that had been set up by ECCE to accommodate the large numbers of traceurs that needed lodgings.  While far from as comfortable (a sleeping bag on a mat on the cold stone floor of a church basement) or convenient (a 20min bus ride away, with showers available for a 1-hour window 15-minutes from the church) it was just as much fun and I found that it was a great chance to really get to know the guys.  It was pretty funny to see the different “parkour event” experience levels that attended since some the more veteran guys brought good but compact sleeping mats and bags, while the “greener” ones brought everything but the kitchen sink.  While my Italian wasn’t nearly good enough to allow for much conversation in the native tongue, I found that between their English and my Spanish we were able to communicate pretty well.

Our makeshift lounge while waiting for the showers. (Photo courtesy of Andrejs Surdjukovs)

I found that despite the fact that the traceurs at the event hailed from all over Italy there was a dominance by the northern states, where apparently parkour seems to have caught on faster.  I also found that like many European countries, parkour in Italy can probably best be described as in it’s “teenager” status, with pretty high skill levels and the basics of established teaching organizations, but still far from the standard being set in places like the UK (busy teaching schedules, full-time parkour instructors, international workshops, indoor/outdoor facilities…).  However, I also got an invitation to visit another parkour organization a few weeks later when I passed through Padova en route to the Venice airport.   Those adventures will be detailed in a future article…

A great group of guys...

By the third day of the event people were definitely starting to show signs of the hard training that they’d been put through over the weekend.  Despite this, everyone mustered their energy for a last technique session in the morning along with some light conditioning (we decided not to do a “beast” session after gauging energy levels).  They even managed to take full advantage of the “free-time” that they had between the last organized training session and taking down the scaffolding.  I left the event that night with a feeling that I had had a major breakthrough in my approach to parkour teaching and feeling very inspired about future plans.  While I hadn’t quite decided what I wanted those to be, the thought of “taking the unexplored route” upon completion of my Watson year instead of heading right to grad school was beginning to grow in my head.

However, after 4 solid days of training I was ready for a bit of a break and a chance to really explore the city…

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