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Warum bist du barfuß?

By Kel Glaister

From the Melbourne in Motion blog

Why are you barefoot? 

I was asked this question while balancing barefoot along an abandoned tram track in a park in Leipzig, by an adorable five-year-old, asking the way children do, with a genuine curiosity rather than the I-already-think-you’re-an-idiot tone that adults can take. But speaking German, I scrambled for translations I didn’t know for words I needed, and in the end managed nothing but a kein-Deutsch apology and a smile. It got me thinking, though. It’s the same question I’ve been asked a million times in English, and one I’ve come to answer on auto-pilot in my Muttersprache. Those answers, though, they’re not the whole story.

I walk around barefoot a lot, and people ask me why I’m not wearing shoes a lot. When answering, I tend to rattle through a stock list of reasons. It’s better for you. It strengthens stabilising muscles in the lower leg, which are under-used by shoe wearers. It improves balance and landing, as any small mistakes and sloppy techniques won’t be covered up by a wedge of foam, but will be communicated instantly in the form of discomfort or pain, meaning you stop doing that pretty quick-smart. It increases the input of information, about surface, conditions, force, and so increases precision. Shoes change the way a human walks, encouraging longer steps and heel-striking with each step, which causes shock to travel up the straight leg and into the knee and hip, rather than being absorbed by a forefoot-striking leg, bent to take shock like a spring. Blah blah blah.

These are reasons why I should go barefoot, but not really reasons why I do. Similarly, I can list a bazillion reasons why I should eat a lot of fruit and veg. That’s all fine, sure, but I eat a lot of fruit and veg because it’s delicious and I like it. People are unlikely to continue doing something they should do simply because it’s the right thing to do; there are usually other reasons, tangible reasons. On some level, it’s gotta make you feel good.

So, why am I barefoot?

My question is, why is this question always framed as though naked feet are wrong, weird, or silly? Barefeet shouldn’t be weird, and looking at it globally and across the history of the species, shoe-wearing is the weird activity. It is true that shoe-wearing leads to atrophy of the muscles in the lower leg – you can feel them growing and flexing as you walk. Bare feet make you stronger.

It’s a real shame more people don’t go barefoot, at least once in a while, because there are things you’ll never know unless you do. The way wet grass tickles the sides of your feet on a cold morning. The way certain materials they use to repair roads can turn spongy-soft in the hot sun. The way your toes grip around the irregularities of a rock with surprising intuition. The tiny moment of chaos with each step on rain-slick cement, that miraculously turns into balance and control. Barefoot, you’ll get to know the upper and lower limits of what your body can handle, temperature wise, and I promise, it’s more than you think. You’ll figure out how to distribute weight evenly across the soles of your feet, so you can skip across gravel and rocks that you previously wouldn’t even look at without lacing up. I feel like I learn something about the world, about the peculiar material qualities of the world, every time I forego shoes. Bare feet increase knowledge.

One of the reasons that people think walking barefoot is inappropriate seems to be a form of Mean World Syndrome. This is a belief that the world is an inherently dangerous place that’s out to get them, and it’s the same thing you face when you’re out training and someone yells at you to get-the-hell-down-off-that-rail-you’re-going-to-hurt-yourself. People can overestimate risk. In this particular case, shoe-wearing sufferers of the syndrome tend to think that the world is composed almost entirely of dog shit, used syringes and broken glass, and that walking barefoot is an almost-suicidal undertaking. There are risks involved in walking barefoot, and there are certainly places where I wouldn’t do it. But the risks are small, the consequences largely reversible and they are far outweighed by the benefits. Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat – broken glass is not really a problem. Pieces large enough to be a real menace, you’ll spot instantly and avoid. Smaller shards will get into your feet, I’m not denying that, but they pop out as easily as they go in and rarely get infected. Furthermore, feet toughen up fast. Barefeet can seem scary at first, just like parkour training, but sticking with it will give you a much better idea of what actually poses a risk, and what you can take in your stride.  

Shoes seem to offer protection and insulation from the world. And, as someone who’s spent more time than I’d like with the black dog, I know the temptations of shutting everything out. It can feel like sanctuary to stomp around oblivious, collar turned up and headphones in, a way to disengage from the world. And true, that’s exactly what it is, but it doesn’t help. This just shuts you up inside your own head, with your problems and fears bouncing about inside there, getting louder and louder. Going barefoot can help you to feel centered and grounded – every step returns your mind to physical experience of the world, and any mental attempts to shut yourself in get that much more difficult. An integrated part of the world, not an interruption into it. The Cartesian conceit of a mind located in but distinct from the body is almost impossible to maintain when you’re not wearing kicks. It’s easier to notice the sun on your face when you can feel the ground under your feet.

It takes a little bravery to lower the defenses, and you do it every time you go training. Then you see the world isn’t big and scary and out to get you, but actually (if you’ll forgive me a moment of unrelenting optimism) a place full of wonders. And that you, your body, isn’t under threat from all sides and in constant need of protection, but actually strong and capable of more than you thought.

Why am I barefoot? Truthfully, because it’s harder to be unhappy that way.

 

Photos by Grant Webster

Fear Training

by Paula Flinn

Originally posted on her blog, Embracing Us.

I recently participated in a fear training workshop while at WamJam 2018 – the Australian Women’s Parkour gathering – in Adelaide this year. Our challenge was to walk along a wall, about 30cm wide, turn around when we reached the end, and walk back. Sounds simple, right? The catch was that the wall was high (by my standards at least)! It was bounded by a roof on one side, which was only about a half meter drop, while the other side fell away to a concrete carpark over 5 metres below.

Before we attempted the challenge, we walked along a section of curb which was considerably narrower than the ‘challenge wall’, but obviously a lot lower, at ground level. We were encouraged to observe what we noticed about balancing; what we could see, sense, feel, experience, within our bodies and around us. Whilst doing this, my body didn’t feel much different to how it felt when walking on flat ground. My heart rate wasn’t elevated, I felt relaxed within my body, and confident to balance along the curb without falling. And I wasn’t bothered by external noises around me – car horns, people chatting, general city sounds. There was no fear present. I told myself to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other – that that was the only thing I needed to focus on once I attempted the challenge.

After this activity, it was time to make our way up to the wall. We climbed a wire fence and pulled ourselves up on to a flat tin roof. At this point I could already feel the changes taking place in my body. My heart rate was increasing, and I could feel the butterflies starting to flutter.

Soon it was my turn to attempt the challenge. As I made my way out along the wall, my legs began to shake with each step I took. I was surprised that I was shaking so much – it wasn’t something I had any control over. My heart rate was elevated, and my breath was very shallow – that is, when I even remembered to take a breath! Fraz, who was running the workshop, called out to me to “slow down”. (I hadn’t realised I was rushing, but it makes sense that I was trying to ‘get it over with’, as that meant less time having to deal with these feelings within my body.)

So I took a deep breath and I slowed down. I tried to remember to just focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  But it was much more difficult to focus now, unlike a few moments earlier down at ground level.  Up here, on the wall, my senses felt heightened and chaotic all at the same time. The sounds of the city seemed to jump out at me, and my body’s movements seemed magnified. A car horn jolted me, and a tiny wobble of my leg felt like an almost fatal mistake!

“Relax your shoulders, relax your arms!” Fraz shouted out to me. My body was instinctively tight and somewhat frozen. I was trying to remain in the moment, but I just kept thinking about it being over – about getting to the end, and not feeling uncomfortable anymore. And after only a few minutes, I had made it. I was back in safe territory, and my whole body relaxed.

And then…we did it again.

There was a part of me that really didn’t want to do it again. I mean, I can’t say that I enjoyed it. But it stretched me, and there was a part of me that wanted to experience it again. To see if I could feel more comfortable, to witness and acknowledge those feelings of fear, and to keep moving, mindfully, despite them.

And the second time was different. My legs weren’t shaking, I was able to consciously focus on my breathing – to take deep breathes – and relax my body a little more. I felt more in control, and able to move my body a little more freely.

It was interesting to experience the changes between the first and second time I attempted the challenge. It felt to me like I had removed a small layer of fear. I know there would be many more layers; there always are. But it was encouraging to experience that shift. And even if I hadn’t completed the challenge, even if I had stood at the top of the wall, without moving, and just witnessed my fear, I still would have removed a layer.

I know I am always going to experience fear at different times in my life (especially if I keep training Parkour!) Fear is there for a reason – it can keep me safe.

But I think we can so often be tempted to run from the things that scare us. To brush them off, to avoid them, ignore them, rush past them, to move in the opposite direction from them. To do whatever we can not to feel the fear. When what we really need to do is to lean in, and to witness it. To acknowledge it, to feel it, and to move alongside it, despite the discomfort.  That is what stretches us, and that is when we grow. And that will look different for all of us.

Sometimes we may be able to move right through our fear and come out the other side. And other times all we may be able to do is just acknowledge it, to witness it and to sit with it, in all its discomfort! And that’s ok. That is often the most important part of the process.

 

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.

 

Parkour: the spectacle, the practical, the philosophical, and where competition fits in

By Amy Han – originally posted on her blog, Falling leaves and a bird

 

Parkour as a spectacle is easy to define. It looks beautiful, impressive, terrifying, exciting. It’s often fast, it often flows, it can look animalistic and superhuman. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular on YouTube, why shows like Ninja Warrior have so many viewers. Parkour as it is widely understood – an extreme sport for super-fit adrenaline junkies and/or ‘crazy’ teenage boys  —  is so far from most people’s everyday lives that it fits perfectly into our constant hunger for a vicarious experience of danger, excitement, fear, pain and satisfaction from the safety of our couches.

Parkour as most practitioners understand it is quite different from this. Parkour is big jumps and small jumps. It’s rhythm, flow, balance, teamwork, strength and discipline. It requires self-checking and courage, an embracing of fear and challenges in order to be better. It’s on rooftops, it’s on the ground, it’s in cities and in nature. It’s quiet, serious, creative and playful. It’s personal and universal. It’s asking questions. It’s endless possibilities. It’s an extension of everyday life, a way of making sense of the madness. It’s experimentation, repetition, refinement, and precision. It’s damn hard at times. It hurts. But it also makes you stronger, literally building a thicker skin. Parkour is a means of getting from A to B, working with your environment rather than against it, or being complacent within it. Parkour is taking your power back. It’s a pathway to freedom in a world in which it’s easy to forget how much you have, how much you’re capable of, and what you have to contribute.

Parkour is not a competition. There is no winning in parkour, just as there is no winning in life. There is only constantly striving to do the best you can with what you have. Your ‘parkour career’ doesn’t end when you get injured, or you establish yourself as the best in the world (whatever that means).

You can’t measure who will be most useful in an emergency, or who trains the most sensibly to last longest, or who has grown the most on a physical, emotional, spiritual level since they started. There are too many variables. Those concepts don’t fit neatly into an event; they don’t make for very sexy TV.

But parkour movements fit easily into competition culture. You can compete to see who has the biggest jump, the fastest time, see how many techniques you can demonstrate over certain obstacles. I can see how this can be motivating, driving practitioners to become faster, stronger, more technically proficient. Obviously it can be fun, and bring people together as they cheer each other on.

I’m not against having any competitions which measure some aspect of parkour skill at all. I’m not against a reality TV series showcasing the incredible athletic ability of people I already know are amazing to the masses. I have huge respect for people who have competed in Ninja Warrior – to me they are admirably brave and strong for not only tackling the course, but for not having my fear of epically failing in public! I have found it particularly empowering to see women competing on the same course as men, for the same prize.

My concern is that you can only compete with parkour movements. It can look like parkour, but the intention is different. And viewers will always, unless we work really hard to make it otherwise, assume a parkour movement competition isparkour.

Personally, since I was very young, I’ve lost interest in most activities the moment they turn competitive. I grew up around some pretty competitive people. Roaring, cocky, throwing racquets and clubs, slamming doors competitive. Play hard to win, even if it means getting injured, competitive. I know it wasn’t their intention – I was always encouraged to join in – but I never felt their passion for competitive sport. I was never very ‘good’ although I enjoyed playing, and this made me decide that I wasn’t sporty. So I retreated to my quiet activities of reading, writing and crafting things.

Maybe it was growing up in a competitive culture, a society in which things are validated by levels and awards. But as I got older and more passionate about writing, I craved something more than personal satisfaction, wanted to share my work with more than my teachers and parents. The only apparent option was to try and become a published writer by entering writing competitions for kids. One prize meant so much to me I cried when mum couldn’t find the awards ceremony venue, even though missing it wouldn’t change the fact that I had won a prize. On another occasion, I won a national short story competition. I still remember how I hung up the phone after receiving the news and danced around the house. When an extract of my story was read out to a full banquet hall, I heard someone behind me whisper to their neighbour, “Wow, that was actually really good!” (not knowing I was in front of them) and that’s still the greatest compliment I’ve ever received, one I never would have received had the competition not existed. So I think I understood then how much winning and recognition meant to others in sport.

The existence of writing competitions gave me a structure to work with – goals, deadlines, themes, and incentives. Not everyone would need it, but it helped me. As writing is such a solitary activity, and with no friends or mentors who loved to write like I did, it provided a way of comparing what I wrote to others my own age, and gaining feedback from professionals. I was awarded and published a few times, rejected many more, and the whole experience made me a stronger, more confident and more determined writer. It gave me perspective and kept me grounded. Not once did I think that just because my work wasn’t chosen, that I had ‘failed’. It just meant that that story wasn’t right for that competition, it wasn’t ready, or I needed to practise more. Again, I know not everyone would respond in this way, but it worked for me.

Amongst creative writers, there is a strong mutual understanding that success is based on chance as much as skill and hard work, and that lack of recognition isn’t necessarily a measure of the quality of your writing. JK Rowling is a popular example – Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before a publisher finally saw some potential in it. Dedicated writers are persistent, consistent, and passionate; they write because they must, because it brings them joy, because it challenges and satisfies them. If you are writing for money or fame, you shouldn’t be writing, despite the fact that competitions and many avenues for recognition exist.

But back to parkour. Personally, I fell in love with it for many reasons, but it was it’s non-competitive aspect that kept me training. It reminded me that I can and do love moving. I love playing, exploring, being outdoors, challenging myself without worrying about tests, levels, shows or races. I can play and be challenged in my own way, developing practical skills and having fun, and that is not only ok but the norm.

I’ve been trying to work out why I reacted in one way to competitions in sport, and another way to competitions in writing. And I think the answer is that in writing, I was motivated by the confidence that I could be noticed – if I tried hard enough, if I learnt as much as I could, if I stumbled upon the right opportunity. And no matter what happened, because I never told anyone I entered anything unless my work was selected, I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s expectations.

In sport, I was de-motivated by the acceptance that I had no chance of winning, or even helping a team to win. I didn’t want to get in the way. And no one seemed to be playing just for fun.

The question is, do we want parkour to be a thing that is a casual part of more people’s lifestyles, like walking a dog or riding a bike? Or do we want it to be a pursuit only the able and passionate need bother even try?

Honestly, I just want people to move more and play more, no matter their age, gender, background or ability. I would love to see more value placed on movement for movement’s sake, in the same way I have tried to build Creative Write-it up as a space for kids to be creative for creativity’s sake – don’t worry about grades or if what you do seems silly or doesn’t work. It’s the trying, the process, where the lessons lie. And I truly believe parkour has a lot to offer mainstream modern society, whether the ‘moves’ are part of your everyday life or not. How to face challenges and measure fear. A culture of effort, self-improvement, longevity, and sticking together. An awareness of environment, a connection to it. I’m not saying parkour is the only way to find these things, but it is definitely a way. Parkour provides an antidote to disconnection from the environment, ourselves, and each other, during a time in which disconnection from all of these is one of the biggest, most dangerous problems we face.

If parkour competitions had existed when I started, I’m certain I would have stopped very early on. It would have been like every other competitive sport I’ve tried and lost interest in because I was never going to win, and didn’t even want to. And I worry that now that competitions do exist, and they are likely to continue to, that many people like me will never experience the multitude of positives parkour has to offer. I worry about a shift in culture, from an inclusive, welcoming community, to one in which more people are driven by money, fame, and ego. In which more people are driven to win, no matter the cost. At its worst, I fear parkour becoming another sport which links competition and depression in both the ‘winners’ and the ‘losers’.

If there is a way for parkour competitions to exist without losing our integrity or hurting the inclusive culture we’re all working so hard to cultivate, I’m doubtful. But, based on my experience as a writer who has found value in writing competitions, I’m also hopeful.

Competition culture isn’t going away. The media isn’t going to lose interest in an activity that seems ‘extreme’. But it makes the role of parkour coaches imperative, in the same way we (at Creative Write-it) are constantly reminding kids that the ‘creative writing’ component in their upcoming scholarship exam is only tapping into a tiny element of what it really means to write creatively, in reminding trainees that only so much can be taught. Training for competitions is a very specific skill-set that does not nearly encapsulate the whole of parkour training, in fact the competition element itself is not parkour at all. And training without any interest or intention in competing is just as valid.

Keep teaching, training, sharing, talking. As Julie Angel’s See & Do project suggests, the more people see, the more they will do.

It’s a tricky balance, but not an impossible one.

Amy Han is a traceuse and instructor with Melbourne Parkour. She is also the author of YA novel Breaking Jumpswww.amyhan.com.au

Further reading:
Federico ‘Gato’ Mazzoleni, Parkour in the Entertainment Language, 2016
Giorgio Ferre, Defined in Practice, 2016
Alex Pavlotski, Parkour and the link between Competition and Depression, 2016
Julie Angel, See & Do, 2013 – present

 

Parkour before profits – our reaffirmation for community driven progress

Originally posted in our News section, 19 June, 2017

A REAFFIRMATION OF OUR COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY

We are the pre-eminent national parkour organisation in Australia. Since 2006, we have mobilised volunteers across Australia and internationally to grow Parkour productively, and to empower communities to teach and develop parkour practitioners. We have taught Parkour in hundreds of schools and organisations and to thousands of people around the country. We have played an active role in the development of Parkour internationally, and our members have been a part of its many successes and many challenges.

As a young discipline, Parkour is finding its place and becoming known in the world. As with all young disciplines, there are those who wish to influence and shape parkour into something that strips it of its unique value – and instead transform it into something that only offers commercial value without regard for the community.

Today we face the encroachment and misappropriation of Parkour from many fronts – including the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique, corporate interests, and organisations operating within the parkour community but contrary to local interests. We stand firmly against those actors and resist their influence.

We believe in a future for parkour that:

Puts the community before profits
Celebrates and promotes what is the unique about parkour, rather than search for ways to make it conform
Promotes non-competitive practice
Is consistent with the underpinning philosophy of parkour – altruism, useful strength, longevity, self-improvement and self-understanding
Respects the geographic and cultural sovereignty of other national communities
The Australian Parkour Association does, and always will, act with the community as its primary interest. We reaffirm our commitment to our goals and statement of purpose.

We invite and encourage all other like-minded parkour organisations to get in touch, collaborate, and share with us and our members.

Our fight against the FIG

In May this year, the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) announced that they had given its approval in principle to begin the development of ‘an obstacle course sprint’ event, which was later revealed to be parkour, as a discipline of the FIG. The implications of this are far reaching and threaten to take parkour out of the hands of practitioners and into the hands of gymnastics instructors who are unqualified and unfamiliar with parkour and its rich philosophy. If FIG is successful in gaining recognition as the international governing body of parkour it would provide its national members, such as Gymnastics Australia, a range of mechanisms of control over parkour. This could include: what is and is not recognised as a parkour teaching qualification, who gets funding and for what, and the public image of parkour.

It is not just the Parkour community that is outraged at this, many from within the gymnastics community are standing up against the FIG for ignoring the development of disciplines they already govern such as acrobatics. We are also not the only new discipline or sport to be threatened in this way – emerging adventure sports have a long history of being appropriated by unrelated international bodies, leading to significant issues for their members and practitioners – as New Zealand Parkour Association CEO, Damien Puddles, has written about in depth here.

Gymnastics and Parkour may use similar movements, but they are distinctly unique in their practice and the value they provide. The FIG do not represent parkour communities internationally, just as Gymnastics Australia do not represent parkour communities here.

We have joined forces with communities around the world who are standing against the encroachment and misappropriation of Parkour.

If you want to help in the fight to keep parkour in the hands of the community, you can do so by signing the petition and calling your local FIG representative (for us in Australia, you can call on 03 8698 9700).