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.

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