Quote Response by Caitlin Pontrella

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Parkour NYC

Two Traceurs Having A Conversation

I. Language of Movement

Language is one of the most important components of civilization.  It allows us to express our thoughts, to explore our ideas, and to overcome our problems.  And, even though there are thousands of languages, it is hard to find one that is truly universal, one without a huge learning curve, one that speaks across any juncture of age, place, and intelligence.

But it exists.

Movement is that universal language and is, above all, the most accessible form of communication.  Each and every person can both observe and participate in the dialogue with little to no training.   We can express emotion, reflect thought, and expose the complex characteristics that make us each uniquely ourselves.

And though there are many dialects of this Movement language, such as dance, gymnastics, and martial arts, the dialect that stands out, above them all, is Parkour.

II. Dialect of Parkour

Parkour is a unique physical discipline in that practitioners, known as Traceurs, have complete control over their practice.  They choose their environments, they set their own challenges, they make their own rules.  The purpose of practice is left to the individual to define.  Thus you can step back and really examine–Are their rules non-negotiable or loose guidelines?  Do they train in the heart of the public or in the quiet alley behind their home?  Are their challenges primarily of the physical nature or the mental?  Complex or simple?  Inspired or out-of-the-pack?

And with these choices, Traceurs weave their amazing stories–stories of who they are, what they believe, and what they want.  With every movement, they clearly reflect their values, personality, and temperament.

II. A single jump.

In a single jump, for example, you can read about the characteristics and personality of the Traceur.  There will be practitioners who jump with cold, calculating certainty.  Their jumps speak a story of maturity, of discipline and self-knowing.  Some jump with violence, revealing a story from their depths–a buried rage to give them a final push.  Others jump with fear, unsure of the end result, unsure of their own selves.

Clumsy jumps, creative jumps, passive jumps, the list can go on, each one uniquely reflecting the jumper, each uniquely telling a story.  Some jumps reveal hesitation and self-consciousness whereas some reveal overwhelming pride and ego, some speak to the degree of creativity and others to a meticulous planning nature.

Don’t understand?  Well then, I ask–go find a jump, whether it is two curbs or two cliffs, and observe how you feel.  Did you pick a jump that scares you or did you play it safe? Is your heart pounding in your chest?  Is the jump a strange one–requiring you to duck when you land so as not to bump your head or relatively simple?  Are you safely out of sight, so no one will see you if you fail or are you in public, hoping everyone will stop to watch?  The more jumps you take, the clearer the pattern emerges.

III. A Half Hour of Play

So, you can only imagine then, if a single jump can say all that, what can it say in an half hour of play? Well, look around, look at the people you choose to train with:

What challenges do they choose for themselves?  How do they prepare to confront them? Do they seek critique and collaboration or are they isolated in their practice? Are they first to volunteer an activity or do they follow along?  Are they passive observers or active participants?  How do they deal with failure?  Success?

A few years back I attended a Parkour gathering in San Antonio Texas.  We had 75+ practitioners, Some as young as 10 and those well in to their 50s, some with years of play under their belt and some new to the experience.  And this group, flush with variety, took a trip to a wonderful wooden playground in the suburbs to train.

The group dispersed, each individual finding challenges unique to their interests or skillsets.  When walking around, the personalities of each Traceur slowly came out.  One group immediately sought out the largest jumps in the park–ambitious, courageous, reckless, all these personalities followed.  Another group went to the fence line, carefully hopped up on to the rail, and attempted to balance without fail, reflecting different degrees of discipline and patience.  And yet another group stood around watching the others move, nervous to join in, unsure of their skills, curiously observing.

And the variations go on.  I watched people tremble before jumps, psych themselves up, cool themselves off.  Some only worked on challenges found by others, whereas there were those who were only interested in the challenges they could set for themselves.  A few played games while others designed obstacle courses.  Some were arrogantly playing to the passerby public, and others were cautiously staying out of sight.

The permutations of personality present there that day were infinite.

IV. Who Are You?

In a half hour of play one can speak volumes, reflecting varying degrees of virtue.  Through a half hour, you can reflect on personal creativity, respect, efficiency, temperance, ambition, curiosity, courage, patience, perseverance, honesty, and so on.  And it is this kind of conversation I value the most, for movement is the language of honesty.  Your actions do not lie.

So, next time you step out and seek a challenge, next time you set a jump, ask yourself who you are. 

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