Last week I spent four days with Chau Belle and Yann Hnautra (two of the original Yamakasi group, and founders of the ADD Academy), and Stephane Mounmounne (ADD coach). I was a participant in a series of Art Du Deplacement workshops, and it was an amazing experience. I was pushed both physically and mentally, left feeling sore and bruised, but also full of gratitude and motivation. I was amazed at the renewed confidence and trust that I felt within my body over just four short days with Yann, Chau and Stephane. Not to mention the fighting spirit that I was able to summon when I needed it, because of the strong and inspiring community of people who joined me.
I first learned about the Yamakasi when I read Breaking the Jump, by Julie Angel. Julie’s book completely drew me in to the exciting world of the Yamakasi – the founders of Art Du Deplacement (ADD) the root discipline of Parkour and Freerunning. This group of passionate and determined young men from the suburbs of Paris, intrigued and excited me. They lived with such conviction when it came to their movement practice, they were unrelenting, and their wisdom towards life and its challenges was refreshing and inspiring. Upon finishing the book, my love and appreciation for Parkour and Art du Deplacement grew and flourished. I was compelled to work harder in cultivating and nurturing this wonderful movement discipline with others already doing so within my community.
So when I heard that two of the Yamakasi were coming to Australia to run workshops, I was so excited. I signed up for both workshops, booked my flights and organised for my three young children to be cared for while I was gone. I was eagerly anticipating meeting Yann and Chau after reading about them in Angel’s book. I was looking forward to spending hours at a time training and moving with like-minded people (which, as a Mum to three young children, seems like such a treat to me – I am lucky to get 20 minutes to myself to train!)
I got so much out of the four days I spent with them, but there were four main messages that stood out for me that I wanted to share.
The message to be mindful and remain in the present moment is shared often in our society, but is difficult to accomplish when we have so much going on. We are more often than not moving through our day quite mindlessly; thinking about what is coming next, rather than what we are actually doing! However, it became essential to remain present and mindful during Yann and Chau’s workshops.
Each workshop started with a 90 minute ‘warm up’ (aka strength and conditioning). It was tough, exhausting, and unrelenting, yet there was much to be gained from this part of the workshop. There was the obvious physical gains of movement and strength, but also the gift of mindfulness and presence. I found it indispensable to stay in the ‘now’. At times my mind would wander to thoughts of wishing for it to be over, or dreading the next part that was inevitably coming. How could I possibly keep going when I was so damn tired and sore? And when this happened it took me away from the movement, I lost my focus, and as a result became more vulnerable. I was not as strong as I could be; my body less efficient.
So I tried to bring my attention to exactly what was. I came back to my body, to each movement, each breath, each step, kick, jump. I re-focused, and I stopped when I needed to. I kept my focus on how I was moving – how can I improve on it? How can I remain strong? Yes it hurts, but it is going to hurt either way. I am better off focusing on my body and what it is doing.
There is growth there – in the hard parts.
And when I made it through each exercise, I stood tall, sucked the air in to my lungs and felt it fill my whole body. Being ‘in the moment’ allowed me to feel the strength, the spirit and the gratitude within my body, and it felt good!
Keep moving….with intention
One of the many things I loved about the workshops was the fact that we were always moving. There was very little time to contemplate as we were encouraged to try new challenges and movements. Yann, Chau and Stephane were always there to offer support, advice and encouragement, but once we had committed to the movement, they advised against too much deliberation or consideration of it. They encouraged us to ‘just move’, ‘don’t think’ and to always do it with high energy, positivity and strong conviction.
This constant movement was never reckless; it was intentional movement. It kept the energy levels high. It didn’t allow for too much doubt or fear or overthinking to creep in and take over. And it allowed my body to stay in that place of flow and high energy, both mentally and physically. I tried so many new movements in the workshops, and I was repeatedly surprised by what I attempted and sometimes achieved when I trusted my body, moved with intention, and didn’t think too much! Don’t get me wrong, there were many movements that I did not master – not even close – but I didn’t have a chance to question whether I could pull them off or not. I just kept the energy up and gave it a go. And it felt really good!
There were also times where I needed to slow down, to re-calibrate. And this was never discouraged -it was encouraged to check in with my body and make adjustments where necessary, and then start moving again when I was ready. When I moved, I tried to make it count!
Be conscious of your energy
Yann and Chau referred to the energy that we give, receive and utilise a number of times over the course of the workshops.
It was important, they explained, to be aware of our energy levels both as instructors and as practitioners. As instructors it is our job to keep the energy levels high. To remain positive and offer encouragement; to be passionate and compassionate. To be supportive. Life can be hard sometimes, we can get worn down, but as instructors it is our responsibility to try to maintain a high and positive energy level among our group.
I remember during our gruelling warm ups, Yann seemed to pop up (seemingly out of nowhere) with a big grin on his face, and an infectious laugh that would resonate through the group. And Chau and Stephane were always close by offering words of encouragement or advice, helping those of us who were struggling to keep moving. These simple acts of joy, kindness, inspiration and reassurance were invaluable as they reverberated through the group. They really helped me to keep going and remain positive.
There were many times where Yann and Chau were able to help us be conscious of our energy and how it was affecting us. I can recall three specific occasions that I found particularly helpful.
At one point on our last day we were all feeling pretty worn out, our bodies were a little slow and our energy was a little subdued. Yann picked up on this, so he got us all to stop what we were doing – to sit or stand and relax, take some deep breathes, and take a moment to realign our thoughts and our energy. This short and simple exercise was enough for us to refocus and continue to the next exercise with renewed energy.
On another rather exhausting occasion, Chau asked us all to bring our energy back in to our body. We stood tall, took many deep breathes, and used our arms to literally bring our energy back towards us. I really liked this exercise and found the visualisation of bringing my energy back to my body very effective.
Lastly, I recall at one point as we trailed Yann around, up and over numerous obstacles, we stopped for a challenge to do a high box jump. During this challenge there was an injury- someone shinned themselves! We all winced in sympathy for our friend (who was fine after a short breather). Yann took this opportunity to talk to us about the importance of checking in with any of our classmates when they are hurt or injured. It is a good opportunity to talk about what may have led to the injury. Yann talked about the responsibility we have to ourselves in listening in to our body, to our energy, and to our heart. Are we tired mentally? Is our body too exhausted? Is our heart weary? Do we have the energy to complete the movement we want to? There is no shame in resting, in acknowledging that we need to rest. At the same time, can our companions share their energy with us, and lift our spirits. I really love the idea and belief system that our energy and spirit can be shared to help those around us. It speaks of the energetic connection we all share.
“We start together, we finish together!” This phrase was repeated many times over the course of the workshops. And I love it. To me it means that no matter who we, how we move, or what our differences – we are equal. There is no hierarchy; there is mutual respect, and support, and a strong sense of community.
I remember after a particularly gruelling backwards quadrupedal stair climb, as we were doubled over, gasping for air, Chau called out to us “Stand up. Don’t close your eyes. Look at each other. Come together”. He was encouraging us to feel it, to be in the moment, with each other. Embrace the connection. We start together, we finish together. We are stronger together – during the good times, and especially during the hard times!
Chau and Yann talked about the importance of acknowledging others in our community; of giving recognition when you learn something new or gain a new insight. It is important to bring positive energy in to our community, and to each other. So I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and recognise my community.
To the Australian Parkour Association and Amy Han for this wonderful opportunity. To Perth Parkour for supporting me to get to the other side of the country and train with some legends! To the Australian Parkour community – thank you for the encouragement, support and hugs! I loved training with you all and felt so welcome and supported despite being a relative ‘newbie’.
And to Chau, Yann and Stephane, thank you for the passion, energy, wisdom, intention and conviction you share as you bring Art Du Deplacement to your community around the world. It is inspiring and very much appreciated. Your open hearts and humility is something for us to aspire to.
I was stretched in all the good ways during the workshops, and the lessons I learned will stay with me as I navigate all of life’s challenges and adventures.
Paula started training Parkour in December 2016, (a little later in life compared to most) at the age of 35. She decided to give it a go after watching her children participate in classes for about 8 months. She found herself itching to try it as she witnessed her kids jump and climb and leap. The movements were reminiscent of her childhood and she felt a yearning to move that way again. After her first class, she was hooked, and hasn’t looked back. She is enjoying the new relationship she is developing with her own body and its capabilities. She has never felt so strong both physically and mentally! Paula trains when she can – mostly at playgrounds with her three children, whom she homeschools. Their endless energy and enthusiasm inspire her every day, and they never fail to set her the most inventive and fun challenges! Before having children, Paula worked in community development and health promotion, and has always been passionate about building community and bringing people together. She has also volunteered on a number of community led committees, and worked for a short time as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. A little over 6 months after training Paula became involved in the local Perth community, reigniting the Girls of Perth Parkour group, joining the committee, applying for funding, and becoming a trainee instructor. She has completely fallen in love with the culture and philosophy of the Parkour community, and is excited and grateful to be able to share this with others within WA and throughout Australia.