Monday, December 19, 2011

Visit to France - Training with the Yamakasi

After a few weeks in London I headed to Paris for a few days to go back to where I had first been exposed to parkour and to catch up with a number of old friends there. 

My plane arrived in Paris late at night so I crashed at a friend’s house and took the RER to Evry the next morning.  My visit just happened to overlap with Laurent being in town as well so I joined him at the cathedral for a “handstand block” followed by a light 45-min jog around Evry/Lisses.  The run ended up being an unofficial tour of parkour’s early days and he “unconsciously” managed to take us by most of the buildings that are seen in the earliest parkour videos.
My visit also happened to overlap with Jun Sato’s visit before he headed back to Japan, and we were both generously hosted by Philippe.  We were also joined by Valentin, Philippe’s best friend, who had recently come over to Europe as parkour of a Réunionese exodus of parkour talent to Europe (more about his countrymen Axel and Kevin later).  This made for a very entertaining train rides in the mornings as we made the long journey from Philippe’s house to civilization every morning.

Jun found a good way to pass the time on the long rides to and from Philippe's house.

The next day we headed back to Evry to check out the new training facility that the ADD Academy had recently completed.  While not yet open to the public due to some bureaucratic nonsense about the maximum number of people allowed in the space at one time, the facility is pretty good and offers a lot of potential for winter and bad-weather training as well as providing a good location to work on flips and acrobatics. 

The entrance, which is located in the middle of the mall in Evry.

The interior.

Lots of space, lots of mats...
 After hanging around at the gym, where we were joined by some of the other ADD Academy guys that had come by to train for a bit, we headed to Paris to join in the ADD Academy class that night.  The class was much bigger than I expected (40+ people) and it was really great to see that the academy was growing strong.  The class itself was well-run and featured instruction by Chau and Ben (who I hadn't met before, but who definitely fits in with the Yamak spirit).  I was also surprised to find that, like the Parkour Generations classes in London, the vast majority of the participants at the class were working professionals who were using it as an alternative to going to a “normal gym”.  The class felt significantly easier than the last time I had been to one of the ADD Academy Parisian classes (during a research trip in 2009), although I suspect that this was because my training has come a long way since then.  I guess that Chau noticed that I wasn't feeling too tired by the end as he invited me to the “team training” the next morning at Bercy.

We were up at the crack of dawn the next morning to get to Bercy and we arrived to find the guys ready and raring to go.  In typical Yamak fashion we spent the first hour and a half running, crawling, and jumping up the stairs of the Bercy stadium.  After absolutely shattering our legs Chau brought us to the next part of the training, which turned out to be plyometric strides and jumps along the bollards by the fountain.  By the two-hour mark our legs were starting to cramp and give out so Chau decided that enough was enough and it was time to move on to the second half of the training- arms.  He picked what seemed like a small and non-descript white guard railing by the skate park but an hour later I knew every intimate inch of that railing.  The arm workout turned out to be even more brutal than the leg portion and by the end of it almost all of us had forearms that felt as if they had swollen to the size of our quads.

Once we had “gotten to know” the railing we moved over to one of the ping-pong tables in the park.  Normally a very non-aggressive and demure object, by the end of the exercises going over, under, up, and down the rough concrete edges of the table we had all left significant quantities of blood and sweat behind.

After the training we all headed over to a local Vietnamese restaurant for a delicious lunch “en famille”.  Basking in that feeling that comes after an extended punishing workout I realized that this was perhaps one of the things that I missed most about the Yamak style of training- spending a few hours pushing the limits of strength and endurance, with few breaks or time spent fooling around, and then taking time to hang out with new and old friends that were forged with the blood sweat and tears from the workout- preferably in a venue with copious quantities of good food.  While I had pushed myself to my limits on the other two occasions that I had spent time with the guys in Paris (2009, 2010), this was the first time that I was able to properly to join in the training and I finally felt like I had earned my place at the table, both as a friend and now as a traceur.  While it was great to see the progress that I have made over the past year and a half, training with the guys that day also reminded me of how much I have yet to learn, and not just in terms of techniques and movements, but also in life.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Watson: Year 2 – the return to London and Rendezvous 2011

So after a few weeks at home I returned to London for two months.  While this was done under the general premise of continuing my research into parkour, I also wanted to attend some key events, get a lot more instructing experience with Parkour Generations, and to learn more about how a “parkour company” is run and organized.  I returned to London on the day before Rendezvous and arrived in the city just in time to catch the tail end of the instructor’s meeting at Elephant and Castle.

Photo courtesy of Jun Sato.

Group conditioning with the other instructors.  Photo courtesy of Jun Sato.

Taking over a local restaurant for dinner (and lots of press-ups).
While it was great to see a lot of familiar faces from my travels, it was also slightly disconcerting to see many of them standing side by side and interacting with each other.  This feeling was compounded the next day with the official start of Rendezvous VI, which featured a very diverse group of participants, among them people that I had last seen in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, or Italy.  While it took me a little while to get used to, I left the event with the distinct feeling of being part of the “community fabric” of the sport, which was a pretty cool feeling, especially when looking back to Rendezvous a year ago when I knew almost as many of the French guys as I did anyone else at the event.  It was also really good to see how far my “generation” (no pun intended) has progressed over the past year.  While I’m sure that the steady improvement is pretty standard in the sport, I do get the feeling that the group of people that I started training with in London has made a particularly concerted effort to get better and “make something” of their parkour.

In my initial plan to come back to London for Rendezvous, one of the reasons for this had been that the event was also supposed to coincide with the opening of the L.E.A.P. parkour park and training facility at the Westminster Sports Academy.  However, due to a combination of problems with the builders and municipal bureaucracy, this was not to be.

Checking out the park.  Photo courtesy of Ludo. 

So nice, yet so unfinished...  Photo courtesy of Ludo.

To be re-visited.  Photo courtesy of Ludo.
Despite the absence of the “headliner”, the event was still a big success and included nearly 200 traceurs from around the world. During the two-day event participants were given the opportunity to partake in a number of different workshops that were led by a variety of specialists from around the world.  Some were parkour training specific such as strength training and body-weight training with Chris Keighley and Blane, while others dealt with issues such as proper stretching routines, nutrition, and even some presentations by Julie Angel and Andy “Kiel” Day, the renowned film-making and photography duo that are probably some of the most knowledgeable people about the history and development of parkour today.

A stretching session led by Awsa.  Photo by Philippe Gaya.
The rest of Rendezvous was filled with two long days of the hard training that has come to be synonymous with the event, which was only exasperated by the presence of Williams Belle.  While it was later confirmed that he did everything at the event with two broken shins bones, he still managed to move around with a grace and fluidity that was inspiring to witness and which left pretty much everyone, including a lot of the more experienced guys, struggling awkwardly to master the new movements.  This was the first time that I managed to successfully cross paths with Williams in my travels and I was glad to finally be able to meet and train with him.

For me, this year was an interesting contrast with my participation in last year's event, mostly because I was wearing a white "Instructor" shirt this year.  While the absence of Chau and Laurent, who seem to have an innate ability to make people do quantities of exercises that they would not normally perform voluntarily, was definitely felt, the mantles of "hard-ass" were quickly taken up by some of the Parkour Generations instructors who seem to have perfected the art of self-inflicted physical misery as well.  Needless to say, I’m sure that that there were a lot of people that woke up very sore the following Monday and Tuesday.  All in all it was another great event and was a testament to the ever-increasing popularity of parkour around Europe.
Trust falls.  Photo by Philippe Gaya. 

Forrest leading the stretching at the end of the second day.  Photo by Philippe Gaya.

Brian getting some extra exercise.  Photo by Oliver Thorpe.

Training in the skate park next door.  Photo by Oliver Thorpe. 

Photo by Jun Sato.

The instructors of RDV 6.  Photo by Jun Sato.