To Learn, To Grow by Ryan Ford

On September 20, 2007, I had the opportunity to travel to France for a documentary segment on parkour for ESPN. Thanks to the cooperation of Parkour Generations, I would spend the next three days training with some of the most knowledgeable and experienced traceurs in the world. I learned an incredible amount and wanted to document this valuable information, not only for myself, but so others could learn something from my experiences as well.


To view photos from my trip:

Part One
Part Two

The end result is this paper and I hope that you learn something from it regardless of your age, location, gender, skill level, or interest in parkour.

In particular, I wrote this paper for the parkour community in the USA, which is young and largely independent from the more advanced traceurs and ideas in Europe. Most people over here have been self-taught and now find themselves in the position to teach others. While we have a lot to teach the new people getting into parkour, there is still much that we have to learn ourselves. It is in our best interest to learn as much as we can from those who have more experience and knowledge.

In parkour, we are on a constant path to improve ourselves and our abilities, so always be sure to jump at the chance to learn something new. We are all students, and we must constantly exceed our level.

Day One – Conditioning With Laurent and Chau of the Yamakasi

The Yamakasi is a group consisting of Williams Belle, Yann Hnautra, Laurent Piemontesi, and Chau Belle-Dinh. For the past two decades, the Yamakasi have been perfecting l'art du deplacement, or "Motion Art".

 

When asked what they practice, the Yamakasi will tell you "l'art du deplacement", not parkour. While parkour is typically thought of as movement that serves a useful purpose for overcoming an obstacle efficiently, l'art du deplacement focuses on those same movements and more. However, both methods of movement are essentially the same thing. The same physical and mental training is required for both and the most skilled practitioners of movement excel in both.

 

But when it comes right down to it, the movement is not what defines the Yamakasi. Instead, I would define them by their state of mind. The meaning of Yamakasi is "Strong Body, Strong Spirit", and it is perfectly fitting. For the Yamakasi, l'art du deplacement is much more than movement; it is a way of life that emphasizes work ethic, determination, and most importantly, pushing past the physical and mental limits that confine the typical person. These ideas are paramount not only when training l'art du deplacement, but also in everyday life. All similar forms and labels for movement including freerunning, parkour, l’art du deplacement, 3run, and more, are all essentially the same thing. The movement is merely a means by which you can train yourself to build the spirit within yourself. This is the one common and true benefit you gain by training all these methods of movement, the spirit you gain through training is what is really functional and useful in every day life.

After my twelve hour flight from Denver to Paris and not sleeping for nearly 24 hours, I met Laurent and Chau on a brisk Evry morning. They explained to me the day's agenda; that we would go through one of their typical, four hour long, Gauntlet-like training sessions. Laurent told me he trains this way five days a week at 6:45 AM! He switches between several routines that focus on different skills and muscles. Today, we would be focusing on plyometric jumping combos and chest/triceps exercises.

In my head, I was thankful for all the sprints I ran in the two weeks before my trip and for the six months of Gauntlet training at home in Colorado. Without these, I would have been utterly unprepared for this experience with the Yamakasi. However, I would later find out that it is not how long you can run, how many muscle ups you can do, or what your broad jump length is. Instead, all that matters is that you are pushing your limits to the edge and beyond your current capabilities. It is a relative thing. How much, how long, and how far does not matter if you give up and do not push yourself.

 

The session began with a warm up of jogging and basic movements. Before we began the real training, Laurent explained to me a rule the Yamakasi follow in their conditioning.

 

For most of the exercises, circuits, or movements, the Yamakasi will do three sets of eleven reps. This is significant because in reality, it is three sets of ten reps, plus one more. The extra rep at the end is one they do for training partners, friends, family, or others who cannot participate due to injury, travel, or something else. The Yamakasi believe that those who are present should do one extra rep to honor them and make up for the fact that they cannot be there to take part. This is one of many tools the Yamakasi utilize to further push their limits.

It was also near the beginning of training when John, from the film production crew, asked Laurent if he would wear a microphone during training. Laurent told him, "No. It is a rule that during our training, we do not talk at all."

Because of the unique circumstances, Laurent and Chau made an exception to the rule and did end up speaking a lot to me during training. But it was striking to me that generally, they do not speak at all during training. They can be more focused and productive this way. There is a place for fun and socializing during training, but if you never have sessions that are serious, you will not fully unlock your potential.

After finishing the warm up, we began to do eleven rounds of several jumping circuits. The circuits consisted of 5-12 different jumps, utilizing different heights and distances, and one and two footed takeoffs and landings.

In these drills, recovery was emphasized. These are maximum effort drills and must be done with full speed and power. It was also very important to preserve momentum to make the jumps more efficient. This was something I have worked on very little, and the Yamakasi could tell. Other tips they had for me included staying tucked in the air longer, not reaching my legs to the landing too soon, and staying more relaxed in the air. I tried my best to put these tips into effect and felt improvements when I did so successfully.

One tricky circuit was running, stepping up and jumping off one leg from a bench, landing one legged on another bench, and immediately jumping off the landing leg to a higher wall. This was scary for me at first since I had never tried to stride over gaps that wide.

I asked if I could take a practice jump and the Yamakasi were more than happy to allow this. Laurent told me, "That is a very good thing to do. This shows me you are careful and not someone who jumps just to jump. You only jump when you are sure." I believe this is one of the most important things for new people to learn. Always think of ways to practice and prepare for a jump that scares you. Only when you are fully confident and prepared should you make the real jump.

After the jumping circuits here, we moved to another location for more of the same. One jump was near my maximum broad jump distance and I had trouble going straight into it. I found myself doing a familiar thing I had come to think little of; stopping all my momentum, swinging my arms back and forth in anticipation, and finally jumping.

Chau told me that I should train all jumps, even the scary ones, without any useless habits or hesitations. It is ideal to go into all jumps without having to stop and prepare by doing nervous arm or foot motions, abnormally short breaths, or something else. From here on out, I have been breaking my habits and noticing that the jumps come more naturally when you can go into them without doing anything differently.

The last jumping circuit ended with an eight foot drop and roll onto concrete. I had to do this eleven times, and halfway through, my rolls started to hurt. I was fatigued and my roll technique suffered.

While I can roll well most of the time, there is always room for improvement, so that I can roll perfectly with any given circumstances. As always, the phrase, "back to basics" applies.

This ended the leg intensive part of training. Next, we would be focusing on arms and full body exercises. We started with three sets of eleven reps of several push up variations; some utilized short walls and stairs. Several of these exercises brought me to complete muscular failure, but I was determined to take a brief rest and complete every rep and set even if it took me longer than Chau and Laurent. Two exercises I was particularly impressed with and had not ever done were triceps presses on stairs and plyometric push ups where the hands exploded from the ground to the top of a wall. I could not go down as far as Laurent and Chau on the triceps presses on stairs. More impressive was that they could do plyometric push ups onto walls over three feet tall, while my limit was about two feet.

I was starting to realize that I was not as strong and did not train as hard as I thought. I am now embarrassed to think that I considered myself as someone who is strong and trains hard. There is always someone out there who is better, stronger, and harder working than you. That is ok, but it goes to show how much harder you can push yourself. It does not matter that somebody else is better than you, but it is inspiring to see such physically and mentally strong men as Laurent and Chau.

After the push up session from hell, we moved on to a couple traversals around a circular column about eight feet in diameter. Here, we moved around the pillar three times each in two ways. One was in a handstand; the other was in a crab walk position, but with the feet against the wall. This exercise was particularly cruel and extremely challenging.

It is unique movements and challenges like this that are great for improving strength, endurance, and skills, but most importantly, creativity. When you are able to come up with a challenge as unique and difficult as the crab walk around the column, you are thinking outside of the box, which is a great training skill to have.

The last part of training consisted of five types of quadrupedal movement (all done forward and backwards) over a distance of about 200 feet. During these last exercises, my muscles would fail often and I had to rest several times in order to complete the distances. Chau and Laurent were capable of doing all the QM without any stops, but they waited for me and helped push me through everything.

One of the most important things to the Yamakasi is that you never give up and always try to push yourself that little bit extra. You should always strive to be better than you were the day before. When you train, push your limits past those set in your mind. Most of the time, the mind will quit long before the body will fail. Laurent repeatedly told me that, "When it starts to become hard is when it has just begun." This is the most important part of training and it is what will define you in your training and your life.

Because of my fatigue, I started to cheat on some of the QM by turning my knees or wrists outward to relieve the burn.

Here, a couple weaknesses of mine became obvious. I need to work on my wrist strength and the ability to keep my arms locked. By doing this, I will be able to perform some movements with more power, strength, and efficiency.

The last couple QM variations were unlike any I have done before. They were reliant on flexibility and difficult for me to do. This gave me another reason to work on my flexibility when I got home. After finishing QM, Laurent and I went for a slow, ten minute jog and talked about a lot of training ideas and l'art du deplacement philosophy.

During the training session, I fought muscle fatigue, sleep deprivation, and my mental toughness was tested. But the whole time, I kept going, kept trying, and kept repeating until I finished every exercise. I wanted to prove to the Yamakasi that I was capable of hanging with them. I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of pushing through some of the hardest training I have ever done. In the end, I was completely worn out, but it was a great experience and I learned a lot about training and about myself.

We ended with stretching and Laurent told me about the importance of being flexible in what we do. Like me, he used to be very inflexible, but this was just another obstacle he had overcome. Flexibility makes some movements easier, prevents injury, and ensures we are able to practice for a long time.

After interviewing Laurent and Chau, the production team asked them to perform on camera. Laurent and Chau were tired and hesitant, but they were good sports and cooperated. They started moving around these huge red handicap ramps seen in many videos from the area. It was evident that Chau and Laurent had spent much time here practicing as they performed graceful vaults, spins, jumps, and combinations through, over, and between the ramp walls. I dug down deep and got the energy to do some movement through the ramps as well. After twenty minutes, we called it a wrap for the day.

It is interesting to note that while we trained in this one particular spot, other practitioners would casually arrive and join in the exercises or start their own training. Even Yann Hnautra of the Yamakasi randomly showed up and then disappeared. He later came back with a guitar around his neck and chatting with his brother. It was amazing to see so many people who knew each other randomly come, train, and go as they pleased. Me being relatively new and completely unheard of to them, they all still greeted me with a smile and a handshake and continued on with their business or training. I can liken it to me going out into a basketball court on the streets of New York City and having LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Carmelo Anthony all randomly show up, shoot a few hoops with me, and then casually stroll off. Awesome!

Laurent invited us back to Evry the next morning for more of the same training, followed by an open gym session with him and some Yamakasi students. We agreed that I would be better off getting some much needed sleep rather than doing the same training routine again in the morning. So we agreed to come to the open gym session and do some outdoors training afterwards. All I wanted at the time was to sleep and I knew I would be in a painful world of soreness the next morning.

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Day Two – Training with Laurent and Other Evry Practitioners

I awoke the next morning just as I predicted; extremely sore everywhere. My thighs, triceps, and chest were particularly thrashed. But I was here to train and learn everything I could; I had to push through the pain.

We made the drive from our hotel in Paris to the gym in Evry. Here we met up with Laurent and about eight other Yamakasi students. They were all students, yet they had all been practicing for longer than I had. It was a very different and refreshing experience to be the "newbie" of the group. One student who had been training the same amount of time that I have was Corentin, an eight year old boy who was capable of amazing things for his age and size!

We began the open gym session with a short warm up followed by some basic vaults and spins over a mat. We began to drill palm spins and I took my turn after Laurent and another student. After that, they both did it back the other way and exposed my ineptitude of ambidexterity.

Laurent insisted that I be able to do even these showy tricks in both directions. Too often we make excuses in our heads for why we do not need to learn or do something. I had always figured that since a palm spin served no useful purpose, I only needed to be able to do it in one direction. Excuses are not tolerated by the Yamakasi and I ended up drilling the palm spin both ways over and over. Even if it does not serve a useful purpose, it is still a way to challenge the body and mind. In addition, you will gain new skills and body awareness. Ambidexterity is a great thing to master for every movement.

After drilling the palm spins and variations for a while, we broke apart and did whatever we felt like. Laurent said that these open gym sessions were more about fun and doing what you want. I drilled some flips until Laurent and Dani captured my attention with some bar tricks. They were drilling some releases, catches, and backwards swinging dismounts that I had seen very few people do. They showed me a clever way that utilizes parallel bars to learn the backwards swinging suicide drop hanging onto the bar with only your legs. I overcame the fear and had it nailed after a few tries. Next, they had me do an even scarier movement. For this movement, you swing from the high bar, release, catch the low bar with your legs and hands, and then dismount by swinging backwards. Laurent and Dani spotted me on either side until I got the courage to go for it. After two successes, Laurent told me I now must do it by myself, which I did.

It was here that I began to realize the prominence of spotting by the Yamakasi as a safety measure. The day before, Laurent had spotted me many times on jumps. While I never needed it, he could have saved me from injury if I messed up. When you are out training with a group, and especially if you are trying something new or teaching, spotting should always be done. There is no reason to not take this safety precaution. It increases safety and builds confidence for people to do a movement on their own. Safety is the number one concern when the Yamakasi are teaching.

After I learned a couple new tricks from Dani and Laurent, I taught them a bar trick of my own. I ran at the bar about head height, grabbed with my left hand, swung my legs up above the bar, grabbed with my right hand, and then went over backwards and landed on my feet. The few guys who were around were receptive to me teaching something and all easily learned the movement.

My experiences on the bars highlighted a couple of impressive things to me. First of all, it was great to train with experienced people who had new skills and things that they were more than happy to help me learn. Like I said before, it was refreshing to essentially go from being the teacher in Colorado to being the student in France.

Another thing I would like to note is some words I exchanged with Laurent when I first met him the day before. I told him I was here to learn everything that I could from those who were more experienced than me. He said thank you and then explained to me that we can all still learn something from everyone. If I had anything to teach him, he would love to learn it as well. The mindset that we are all students is a great one to have. When we think we are the best or that we have learned enough, our progress becomes stagnant and we fail to keep growing.

Soon after the fun on bars, the gym session was over and we put the mats and equipment away. Unlike most American gyms, gyms in Europe tend to be very mix and match; the equipment and mats are moveable and can be set up any way you want. Upon leaving the gym, some of the students left, and the rest of us went to an outdoors hotspot in Evry.

At this spot, there were many close walls, poles, and height changes that were good for continuous movement. I did some vaults and precisions but nothing high impact as I was incredibly sore. Laurent and the others did some choreographed shots for the cameras that included vault to precisions, handstands, flips, drops, flag poles, and more. It was impressive to see what they were capable of outside. One student stood out as he strung together a long run consisting of several vaults, flips, big drops, and an intimidating cat leap. After the cameras got some good shots, we went to eat a quick lunch.

Next, Laurent took us to a spot that he described as being great for agility training. On the way, we walked underneath the Manpower Gap and I got chills through my body knowing that people have made the spectacular leap of faith. We ended nearby in a covered parking garage structure with a three foot tall change of level and a single rail on top. This rail lent itself very well to all different kinds of combinations and possibilities for vaults, underbars, spins, and more. With all my underbar training at Red Rocks Amphitheater, I was excited to train here because it is something I thought I excelled at. Once again, I thought I was good at something only to realize and see much room for improvement!

We formed a line and took turns performing several movements with the rails. Laurent would start it off with a particular movement and finish with a string of several other movements that flowed together. Everyone followed by copying the first movement. After the first movement, people were free to do whatever few additional movements they wanted. When you were done, you went to the end of the line. We would go through the line at least five times before Laurent would introduce a new movement. All in all, we went through the line about 20 or 30 times. While the Yamakasi interact with the rail most of the time, they also combine break dancing, capoeira, and other movements that do not utilize anything but the ground. They meld these movements into a unique style that I have not seen anyone else pursue to the level of grace and choreography that they have. Much of it was new to me and I found myself messing up frequently while trying to imitate their styles. After a while, I started to get a hang of it and was putting together some nice combos of new things that I had just learned.

I particularly enjoyed the training we did with this rail. It was a new concept to me to form a line and take turns stringing together movements with a single obstacle. However, I think it is a great way to practice because it allows you to experiment with new movements, collaborate with others to create new ones, and feed off the energy and creativity of everyone in the group. I thought I had been creative with rails in the past, but these guys had taken it to an even higher and more unique level. It was energizing to see that I still had so many new things to try and to master.

After we finished the agility training with the rail, we transitioned into a game of tag. Playing tag with everyone brought to life a whole new aspect of training to me. Not only is it good for endurance, but if you choose the right environment, you end up utilizing parkour movements in the purest context of the discipline, to evade or reach.

The day before, I asked Laurent about games that they used for training. He said that they sometimes play tag for reasons I stated above. In addition, they play follow the leader. The group follows one leader in a line through whatever path the leader chooses. The followers must take roughly the same path as the leader, but they do not need to perform the same movements. Everyone moves differently and takes different paths, but it is good training to be forced to take paths that you normally would not. These games are also good for lightening the mood after hard training and building camaraderie within the group.

When we were done playing tag, some of the people went home. Only Laurent and a few of the students remained. From here, we drove to the lake in Lisses where Laurent would coach the eight year old boy, Corentin, through an hour long practice. Finally I could rest, sit back, and observe the training. Corentin’s parents and four year old sister Albane showed up. Albane’s mother whispered something into her ear and then Albane came over to me, said, “Bonjour!”, and kissed me on the cheek, thereby completing the cutest ten seconds I have seen in a long time.

Corentin warmed up with a few circuits of hill running and basic movements. After that, he and Laurent went over to a line of boulders that stretched for about one hundred feet. Corentin had to move back and forth along the rocks eleven times. When he was done here, they moved to a nearby playground where Corentin had to finish his training with two different rail to rail precisions that were more than six feet wide and had a one foot height change. He nailed each jump five times as Laurent spotted and steadied him upon landing. It was impressive to see such a small, young boy do such big jumps! He is going to be a great practitioner of the future.

After Corentin finished his training, we stretched and cooled down for the day. Then I said my goodbyes to everyone for the last time and thanked them all for letting me train with and learn from them.

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Day Three – Training in Lisses with Stephane Vigroux, Seb Goudot, and Thomas Couetdic

My third and final day of training in France began by meeting Seb Goudot and Stephane Vigroux at the Evry train station. From here, I rode in Stephane’s car over to Lisses. In, the car, I got the chance to talk with him. One of the first things Stephane asked about my parkour was if I trained alone or in a group. Strangely, this was a question that Seb, Thomas, and the Yamakasi all asked me very early in our initial conversations.

I think they all asked me this because the types of training are so different and can define who you are as a traceur. Training alone is harder to do but often times more productive and more meditative. I asked Stephane if he trains with David Belle anymore and Stephane said no, David almost always trains alone. I think that training alone matched with the proper mindset is what will really set your progression free and bring it to the next level. However, training with a group is also important because you can learn from one another.

 

Stephane told me an interesting benefit of training with others that I had never thought about. He said “Sometimes you need someone there to tell you not to do the jump. But you also sometimes need someone there to tell you that you must do the jump. That you are ready and the time is now.” The benefit of having a training partner who knows you well can keep you from doing stupid things you are not ready for. In addition, that partner can also know your abilities and help push you to achieve things that you are capable of but may be holding back for some reason.

Another notable thing Stephane told me in the car is how he is currently coming back from his second knee injury. He said he still has a couple more months of rehab until he is full strength. Because of this, he said he would not be doing anything big or crazy today. To my surprise, he still did amazing things that day. It just goes to show that while he was holding back, he is at such a high level that he can still do incredible things even at this point in his recovery process. Stephane said that there was no big rush to get back into full swing. There was no use in coming back too fast or doing something you are not ready for if it sets you back even longer.

Everyone I met on my trip described to me how there is no rush to get crazy. They all said that they want to be doing parkour when they are seventy years old. In order to do this, they must train hard, careful, and incremental. Too many new people are in such a rush to do big things. In the long run, this will severely shorten your parkour career. If you want to do parkour for a long time, take the experts’ advice and remember that there is no rush.

When we got to Lisses, we started at the famous covered handicap ramp area. Stephane led a warm up in which we moved all of our joints around to lubricate them for training we would be doing. Next, we traversed around the edges and walls of the area. There were no set movements and it was not for speed; rather the goal was to continue warming up and to not touch the ground. We continued the same thing, but then added more challenging jumps into the mix. The next drill was to do some simple precision jump circuits. We went in each direction five times. Interestingly, Stephane made me stick the jumps as opposed to continuing my momentum whereas the Yamakasi did not have a preference.

Route training was a very common training method in Lisses. We trained some individual movements for repetition, but the majority of the training was moving through routes that consisted of 5-10 different movements. If you train doing a route one way, be sure to train it going back the other way as well. This ensures that you train a wider variety of movements and it eliminates conscious or subconscious tendencies to favor certain movements.

After we finished the routes through the covered area, Stephane and Seb demonstrated some advanced movements in the area. They had many creative jumps and combos and did several huge cat leaps, vault to precisions, and vault to cat leaps. Stephane pushed me to get one tricky, stepping up cat leap to the stair case wall. I kept taking practice runs and thinking about every aspect of the jump until Stephane told me to stop being silly, that I was obviously capable, and that this time I must do the jump. And so I did. Thanks Stephane! Stephane then explained to me a rule they had.

If you do a particularly scary or difficult jump once, you must do it two more times before you can move on to something else. This is important because it helps build confidence and muscle memory. In addition, if you know you have to do it three times, you may be less likely to do something crazy or unnecessary. In training, you should never do jumps just to do them once. Anything you do should be something that you can repeat.

Suddenly, Thomas Couetdic appeared and greeted everyone. Once again, another great traceur randomly showed up. How lucky! With the addition of Thomas to our group, we left the covered area and headed toward some other spots by way of traversing along a wall with a narrow lip to place our feet on. We soon came to another spot I instantly recognized. Here, we did some big precisions and then of course, figured out a way to jump back in the other direction. Moving on, we did a large cat leap and Stephane and Seb did the same jump but to a square column instead of a wall, very impressive! They then did a scary precision with a big height change and a large drop on the other side of the landing. I managed to nail the same jump dimensions on my first try, but to a different wall with a more forgiving drop if you do not stick it. I was not quite confident enough to do it to the wall with the big drop. I need to do the safer one about fifty more times first! After this jump, we continued over to another building where once again, I recognized a circuit of jumps featured in Stephane’s U$F Volume 3 documentary.

I began to realize how close all the famous spots are in Lisses. I literally recognized spots around every corner. When you travel to Lisses and see how close and condensed the architecture is, it is no surprise that something like parkour was developed here.

At this spot, I watched the guys do some impressive, technical jumps that all seemed to have something uniquely tricky about them. Awkward angles, the inability to swing your arms all the way back, a pole used to catapult around to a precise landing, a fingertips cat leap. One jump Stephane pushed me to get was a running jump off a curb to a precise landing up against a window. After two practice jumps, Stephane once again said that was enough and now I must land it this time. I landed it and Stephane made me do it two more times perfectly before we could move on. Doing it three times as opposed to once definitely helps eliminate fear from your mind.

The next place we walked to was the famous red staircase at the gym in Lisses. Stephane joked that this is where Seb lives, and I could see why he said that, Seb is amazing on it. Stephane and Thomas were not too shabby here either. Here we did several routes going from the ground up to the top of the stairs, then down to the middle part of the stairs, across to the roof, and then back. We did one route at least five times and by the end, I was having a difficult time. Normally, I think I have very good climb ups, but after doing the routes over and over, and traversing in a hang shimmy along the slippery building wall, I could not do a proper climb up. I felt like a newbie all over again! After we were done moving here, Thomas, Seb, and Stephane did a group interview. Thomas talked about how he lived in Virginia for five years as a kid (as a result, he speaks great English and has almost no accent at all). Seb and Stephane talked about what was so special about the staircase.

The staircase is not particularly a great spot compared to other places I have been. The reason it is so famous is because so many great traceurs have adapted their skills in every way possible to interact with it. By itself, it is nothing special, but it has become something famous and recognizable because of the special people who made it that way. We can all do this anywhere. If you spend enough time practicing in one spot, no matter how bland or simple it seems, you can still come up with amazing movements and build all your skills. Making something into nothing is one of the great byproducts of practicing parkour. 

After the staircase, we did forward and backward QM for about fifty meters to the next spot. We stopped at a very tall tree where the three French traceurs demonstrated their excellent climbing skills by quickly scaling the trunk and branches until they were about twenty feet up in the air. We then walked around some bushes to a wall with a pipe sticking out a few feet below the top. This was perfect for doing a wall run, pulling up with the pipe, and then grabbing the top of the roof. We then went to the corner of the roof and did a turn vault to drop back down. We did this route several times. I had never done a wall run like this and was much slower than everyone to start with. After about five times, I started to get a hang of it. The other guys did it flawless and without any break of movement from the ground to the top. It was very awesome to watch and highlights the importance of repetition. We walked a little bit farther and came to a roof gap that was about eleven feet wide. According to Stephane, this same level cat leap was the first big jump done by the Yamakasi a long time ago. Stephane and Seb did it twice and then Seb did it again with the helmet camera/backpack apparatus, props!

From here, we walked for about five minutes over to the Dame du Lac. Before going on it, we made a stop behind it where Seb, Stephane, and Thomas did some tree jumps and precisions. Seb had found these new jumps recently and Stephane had never done them. It was impressive how quickly and easily Stephane was able to do such scary and technical jumps twelve feet above the ground from tree to tree.

This reminds me of a talk I had with Stephane earlier in the training. I told him that I feel capable of much more than I can get myself to do in a new area for the first time. I may have done very similar things back at home, but feel slightly intimidated or scared when in a new area for the first time. He said this is very normal and something that will only go away with time and much repetition. Stephane said he used to be the same way, but nowadays, he can go to any environment and not have any fear of the new or unknown. He knows exactly what he is capable of and will be able to do everything that he knows he can do.

After the trees, we walked over to the gate of the Dame du Lac. Stephane said that the local residents and police have been cracking down on those who go on the Dame du Lac. Nowadays, the police sometimes fine people for going on it and have instructed the nearby residencies to report anyone who goes on it. Because of this, Stephane said we must go quickly and efficiently, otherwise we might get in trouble. Ultimately, we had no problems and spent as much time as we wanted on the Dame du Lac. Stephane said we got lucky because it was Sunday and the residents were busy doing other things.

We started off by doing some short routes and then longer ones from one side of the structure to the other. Just by going from one side to another, we did precision jumps, tic tacs, climbing, cat leaps, and more. There were some tricky parts that the guys helped me with. Their familiarity and confidence on the Dame du Lac was impressive and allowed them to do amazing movements and move much faster than I could. 

Next, Stephane told me we would be climbing to the top of the Dame du Lac along the edge on the left. This is the easiest (but still very scary!) out of the four possible routes to the top. I was a little nervous at the idea but I knew I was capable and had to take advantage of the opportunity while I was here. On the way up, I half jokingly said to Stephane, “I bet it is much scarier going down than up!” He laughed and completely agreed. He told me the first time he climbed to the top, he got stuck up there for several hours because he was too scared to climb down. After a couple minutes of steady progress, I surmounted the platform at the top of the structure. It is amazing how, out of self-preservation and extra caution, a little fear of heights will make every muscle strain much harder than it needs to! Once at the top, I felt relieved and pleased that I made it. It was a surreal experience standing on top of the iconic wall in the presence of some of the world’s best practitioners. I imagined everything I had heard about this place; a teenage David Belle sleeping on it at night, the Yamakasi hanging each other over the edge by the ankles in order to build trust, and then self-described second generation traceurs like Stephane, Thomas, and Seb conquering the monolith in their own unique ways. It was an unbelievable experience to be at the top of something that had become so iconic and contributed so much to the discipline that I love. While I was up there, Thomas told me “You will always remember the first time you climbed the Dame.” After ten minutes at the top, Seb and Thomas demonstrated how to climb down. They started by hooking their middle finger at the top, hanging their legs over the edge while on their belly, and blindly feeling around with their foot to find the six-inch thick wall. They then got a good hold with their foot, brought the other hand to the edge of the top, and then reached down to grab the wall. I think that there is literally a brief instant where your life is hanging by one finger! From there, it looked much easier as they descended one hold at a time. Seeing this made me very nervous to climb down! But once again, I knew I was capable and that there was no choice anyway. So I did my best to mimic what Seb and Thomas showed me and I eventually made my way safely down to the bottom. It was definitely one of those times where the heart started to pound a little extra!

After everyone descended the Dame, the film crew asked the guys to demonstrate their proficiency on the structure. They happily agreed to show some stuff and took turns taking impressive routes throughout the Dame. At some points, they resembled tiny human pin balls on a colossal, vertical labyrinth. Upon completing one ambitious route, an out of breath Stephane disappointedly said that it was done much too slow for him. Just like any great traceur, Stephane was critical of his performance and knew there was room for improvement.

Soon, we finished at the Dame and left its gated premises. We walked around the lake where the crew once again interviewed the three French traceurs. Once they were done, we walked back to the cars. Sadly, my training in France had now come to an end. I said my goodbyes and thanks and assured them that I would be back for more sometime relatively soon.

As we drove back to Paris, I reflected on the past three days and the huge amount that I had learned from everyone. In my mind, I had built up my pilgrimage to Lisses as traveling to the birthplace of parkour to see and practice at the famous areas I had seen in videos. After my trip, however, I realized that it was not about the place, it was about the people I met. The presence, knowledge, experience, and creativity that they shared with me was most profound.

 

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.” - Marcel Proust, French novelist

 

I would spend the next week thinking about and organizing all my thoughts to best summarize my experiences in France. The end result is this paper and I hope that you learned something from it regardless of your age, location, gender, skill level, or interest in parkour.

 

In particular, I wrote this paper for the parkour community in the USA, which is young and largely independent from the more advanced traceurs and ideas in Europe. Most people over here have been self-taught and now find themselves in the position to teach others. While we have a lot to teach the new people getting into parkour, there is still much that we have to learn ourselves. It is in our best interest to learn as much as we can from those who have more experience and knowledge.

 

In parkour, we are on a constant path to improve ourselves and our abilities, so always be sure to jump at the chance to learn something new. We are all students, and we must constantly exceed our level.

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Written by Demon   
Monday, 01 October 2007 16:03
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 22:06