Friday, September 21, 2012

Streetmovement in Paris

One of the highlights of the spring semester at Gerlev is the trip that each speciality takes at the end of May.  While the dancers go to NYC, and the cross-fitters go to LA, the students in the parkour speciality go to the birthplace of the sport, Paris.  More specifically, Evry and Lisses.  This is a tradition that is partially inspired by the 2007 trip to Evry that Martin and Mikkel took along with some of other founders of Streetmovement.  During this trip they had the opportunity to meet and train with a number of the Yamakasi, especially Laurent, and the training and ideas that they were exposed to during their visit dramatically changed their entire approach to the sport and many of the ideas that they had about their training. The documentary below explains a lot about the Danish roots in parkour as well as their philosophy today.

City Surfers [ENG version] from Street Movement on Vimeo.

Martin and Mikkel have been taking groups of Gerlev students to Paris since 2009, and the trip is considered to be one of the highlights of the semester for many students.  Since I’ve spent a fair amount of time in that particular part of the world over the past few years the trip was somewhat of a surreal experience for me, especially since in the past I'd been traveling solo, stayed with various friends throughout the area, and immersed myself in the French language and culture.  This time I was part of the “foreign legion” of the invading army of Danes (feel free to conjure up images of Vikings and longboats) so it was a totally different experience- and a lot of fun.

Waiting to catch the bus to the airport in Denmark.  Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Due to the size of the group (23 students, 4 instructors, and 3-tagalongs) and the fact that we had a budget that was significantly more generous than my typical "globetrotting parkour bum" amount, we stayed at the Hotel Ibis (a 3-minute walk from the Dame du Lac).  This seemed like the lap of luxury compared to most of the hostels that I've stayed in over the last two years, especially since it included an unlimited buffet breakfast that we decimated each morning.  Given my familiarity with Paris/Evry/Lisses and my linguistic expertise, I also became the unofficial tour guide and translator of the trip, which turned out to be a fun way of introducing the Danes to the finer elements of French culture.

Our home for the week in Evry.  Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

The adventure itself started the moment we left campus because, as anyone that has traveled with traceurs knows, things get interesting the moment you get more than 3 of them together, especially when they are bored/waiting while confined in small spaces like airports, planes, or trains.

Ville, one of the official photographers for the trip.   Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Unlike some of the other Gerlev speciality trips, almost our entire trip was spent training, eating, sleeping, or traveling to training spots.  After flying into Paris, taking the RER to Evry, and dropping off our bags at the hotel we headed out for the first "light" training session by the lake.  Most traceurs will recognize the lake as the one that the Dame du Lac is named for, but there is also a set of stairs and railings that the Yamak have been using for years on the other side of the lake.  While the training was really just to wake up our bodies after spending the day sitting on planes and trains, it also managed to get everyone pretty excited about being in the "Mecca" of parkour.  For me it also felt really good to be training back in France again, in the settings where I had first been introduced to parkour training 3 years before by Laurent.  The group hadn't been by the lake for more than a few minutes before we ran into Ahmed, who I had met during my first visit to Evry, and who has met and trained with Martin and Mikkel regularly since they started bringing the classes here.  Ahmed is one of the best examples of the long-term benefits of parkour training that I have met; he started many years ago after encountering Laurent and the Yamak in one of their early training sessions and he is now over 60 years old.

A chance encounter with Ahmed reminded me of how long it has been since my introduction to parkour.  Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

After the training we headed to the nearby shopping mall to grab snack material for the week and to have dinner at Flunch.  Having come from Gerlev, most of our meals in France were slightly disappointing, although that was primarily due to the fact that our budget, although better than what I was used to, didn’t really allow for anything special and Evry isn't exactly known for its fabulous culinary offerings.  Flunch, while not an example of fine French cuisine, did offer an interesting perspective on the “typical French meal”, and more importantly, it offered large amounts of food that we could afford.

Andreas was pretty excited about Flunch.  Photo by Ville Leppænen.

The next day we met Laurent at "la Terrasse" behind the shopping center for a morning training session.  The last time I had trained in this spot was for the ADD Experience in 2010 so coming back with 2 years of experience under my belt was a good feeling and I felt like I was looking at it with fresh eyes.  Laurent was accompanied by Francois, one of the "next generation" who is now teaching at the Yamakasi's ADD Academy and is one of the faces of the future of Majestic Force/ADD Academy.  After spending the morning exploring the spot we broke for a quick lunch and then met up at the "clos du cathedral" for the second training session of the day in one of Laurent's favorite spots.

As Lisses and Evry are considered to be the "birthplace" of parkour, one can be almost guaranteed that if you spend any length of time in them you are bound to run into other traceurs, usually from any number of foreign countries.  During the session, Yann dropped by to train, say hi, and share some wisdom with the Danish students.

While it is impossible to recap all of the events from the week in one article I'll give some of the highlights from the week:

Parkour Walking Tour
Since parkour has been banned by the City of Lisses, and Laurent had specifically asked us not to train there to avoid hindering the efforts and negotiations by the Yamakasi and the ADD Academy to reconcile the sport with the city, Martin and Mikkel decided that it was best to do a “walking tour” of the area so that we could see the spots while also honoring Laurent's request.  We managed to hit most of the spots that are well-known around the world from the "old-school" videos, and even managed to see a few that are off the typical “parkour pilgrimage” track.  The tour ended at one of the most iconic locations in parkour lore, the Dame du Lac, which, although we didn't have the opportunity to train on, is still pretty impressive..

The Dame du Lac.  Photo by Ville Leppænen.

Training at Bercy
We took the RER into central Paris early Saturday morning, and despite spending the entire day there, we didn't participate in any of the typical "tourist in Paris" activities   Laurent met us at the Bercy Stadium where he led us through one of the classic Yamak workouts on the stairs and surrounding park.  In all of my visits I have never actually been inside the stadium, but the exterior of the building and the surrounding parks are one of the favorite training spots for the Yamak and the location for some of their most grueling workouts (I’ve been lucky enough to participate in a number of them).  As per tradition, the session lasted much longer than most people would consider reasonable and by the end of it we were all pretty shattered.

The stairs.  Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Arriving at the stadium.   Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Martin tackling a large cat leap with Laurent and Mikkel spotting.  Photo by Ville Leppænen.

Andreas weighing a jump.  Photo by Ville Leppænen.

Josephine practicing vaults on the railings.  Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen..

After re-hydrating and grabbing some food we headed into the city to take full advantage of the one-day unlimited travel cards that we had purchased to get to Bercy to see some of the rest of Paris.  There were two things in particular that most of the group wanted to visit during the course of the afternoon, neither of which included the Louvre, Eiffel Tour, Sacre Couer, or Notre Dame de Paris.  Instead we headed straight for the 2WS (WorldWild Souls) shop where a number of the students took advantage of the opportunity to check out and purchase some of the clothing from the shop started by the Yamakasi.

After hanging out at the store for a bit we headed to the next stop of the tour, Decathlon.  While most traceurs know of Decathlon and it’s abundance of cheap shoes and training gear, only a few (16) countries around the world are blessed by having the stores nearby.  So for most Danish traceurs, new or veteran, any opportunity to travel to the store is a treat, as evidenced by the mountain of shoes, clothing, and gear that the group purchased.  After Decathlon I introduced the group to the delicious crepes and galettes of my favorite creperie near Place Monge, and then headed down to the Seine to chill out for a bit and recover from the day with a case of (French) beers (Note: beer is actually a great recovery drink- minus the alcohol).


Another morning we met Laurent and Francois at Noisy-le-Grande and spent the morning training with them at a spot located just outside the train station.  Similar to many of the best spots around the world, the spot there is tough to explain and many of the architectural elements leave the visitor with the distinct feeling that the architect was under the influence of something unusual when designing it (or they had a lot of concrete that needed to be used up in the construction of the seemingly random walls, staircases and "art" forms that were all over).  After a few hours of training and exploring the spot we had a late lunch and then a few of us headed into the city to explore some spots and to do a brief bit of tourism that we hadn't had an opportunity to do on our previous expedition into the center of Paris.

Warming up.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

Mikkel leading "follow the leader".  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

Laurent taking one of the groups.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

Handstand work.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

To the left is a 3+story drop and a busy street.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe .

Peter working on cat passes/kongs.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

Ida "getting aquainted" with Noisy-le-Grand. Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was the day that we spent at Fontainebleau, a short train ride from Evry.  After arriving at the station we jogged 8km to meet Martin and Mikkel (and the car loaded with food and water) at the spot in the forest that would be our homebase for the day.  After a brief water break and dropping our bags off we divided into groups for a 2 hour training session in the forest.  For those that have never trained in a “natural environment” I would highly recommend it, as it offers a wide variety of obstacles that are hard to find or mimic in an urban setting and there is something very different about jumping and moving on natural surfaces.  Fontainebleau itself is like a giant natural parkour playground and the hill where we were was covered in large boulders, trees, and rock faces that offer endless possibilities for movement.  The session passed in a flash and we reconvened for a lesisurely lunch before heading out again.  After a second training session, we were given free reign to explore the park, and we ended up staying there until the early evening.  We decided as a group to walk the 8km back to the station since most of our legs were pretty dead by then and we wanted to be able to break jumps the next day, which would be our last full day in Evry.

The "campsite".   Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Fontainebleau.  Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Mikkel working some bouldering challenges.  Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Training in nature.  Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Martin.  Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

The ever-pertinent question of "who has a bigger log"?   Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Relaxing after lunch.   Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Rose resting up for the long walk back.  Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

Cathedrale d'Évry
Our last full day in Evry was mostly spent at the CathedralE where Martin and Mikkel gave us the option to divide up for the last sessions based on energy level, since many people were beginning to fade after the long days of training and limited sleep.  Those of us with higher energy levels were given a route to run that incorporated a number of techniques and then told that we should complete said route a certain amount of times (reflective of energy level/ambition).  The route itself included a few challenging bits that became much more challenging when combined with increasing lactic acid levels and lower energy reserves.

Claus.  Photo by Johan Vang Hansen.. 

Going for the max.  Photo by Johan Vang Hansen.

Things are starting to get tougher.  Photo by Johan Vang Hansen.

Photo by Johan Vang Hansen.

Finishing the route.  Photo by Johan Vang Hansen.

Feeling "the pump".  Photo by Johan Vang Hansen.
The Final Challenge
The last day of the trip we woke up early for one last training sessions before we went home.  This was a time-honored tradition that each class of students had done at the end of their trip and included a ~1000m quadrepedie section (without standing up or getting off of all fours) followed by a number lamppost climbs on very tired arms.  While it was tough, it wasn’t as bad as many of us had feared and yet again, I think that is more a testament to how high our fitness levels were as opposed to how much the difficulty rating wasn’t as high as we feared.

The start.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

Halfway there.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

Right after the finish.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

Done.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

Part 2 of the challenge.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

Tired but done.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

A tired by happy group after completing the final challenge.  Photo by Martin Kallesøe.

Reflections on the trip
For me it was really interesting to see the way that many of the students reacted to the training with the Yamakasi.  Many of the students had been introduced to parkour at Gerlev and there were only about 5 or 6 of the group of 23 students that had been training previous to starting at Gerlev.  During my travels over the past 2 years I have been repeatedly been surprised to find that while almost all traceurs know the name David Belle, and are usually familiar with Sebastien Foucan, many have never heard of the Yamakasi.  While I have a special attachment to them due to my beginnings I am often shocked by how little known they are in many parkour communities around the world.  Over the course of the semester at Gerlev, Martin and Mikkel often make references to the Yamak style of training and the history of the sport, so by the time we had gotten to Paris most of the students had a basic background on the guys and could recognize them from YouTube videos or the “Yamakasi” films.

Laurent.   Photo courtesy of Andreas Lorentzen.

To say that everyone grew during the trip would be an understatement.  The difference that one trip could have in someones training is huge, and as I have effectively been traveling my entire parkour "career" I have found that I often take this for granted.  The change was immediately apparent as soon as we all arrived back at Gerlev at the end of the week and found that the structure seemed to have shrunk in many ways in our absence and people seemed to have a new determination and motivation in their training.

Souvenirs from a successful invasion.  Photo courtesy of Ville Leppænen. 
The video of the trip that Ville put together: 

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