Parkour & Communication

I’ve been recently preoccupied by thoughts surrounding the idea of parkour, or more specifically “free-running” (a clunky term if there ever were one). My experience with parkour is somewhat limited–until recently it was merely a discipline that I occasionally took classes in at the local gym because they were fun. They were also a marked departure from my normal approach to physical training: I had no specific long-term goals, I just enjoyed running around and jumping over & onto things for an hour or two. It felt like an easy way to get into my body without much thought; it was a way to access the flow state but it felt different than, for example, the flow state of a prolonged engagement with yoga. It felt less integrated, less inherently inside, more social and physical. I don’t bring up this contrast to impose a value judgement on either, but rather to insist upon the difference.

As the pandemic lingered on and my online content consumption shifted through various distractions, I eventually became aware, thanks to the ever-prescient Instagram algorithm, of an account called flipeveryday. The account features an individual who, as the title suggests, flips every day, on camera. What I found was that Egg, who runs the account, wasn’t just doing flips, they were doing a lot of flips in ways I had never considered — and beyond that, there was apparent a desire to not just do flips, but to use “flips” as a way to communicate through movement. Eventually I discovered that Egg was part of a parkour group called The Beans. The first long-form Beans video, “Garbonzo,” had just come out, and as I watched it I realized that this was a group of movers doing something extremely fucking interesting.

What I saw was not parkour in the way I had formerly thought of parkour. The movement that was done by The Beans was sometimes shockingly difficult, sometimes blissfully simple, but always exploratory, joyous and expressive. It’s not just The Beans that are moving in this way, as there seems to be an entire subcurrent of free-runners that approach movement in this more expressive/creative way rather than the way the “sport” has traditionally functioned. (Another specific highlight for me is Sai Ryunoshin, who beyond developing a highly idiosyncratic and exciting movement style is also clearly very inspired by video art and experimental film in how he puts together his videos, and has recently even branched out to more experimental work not always related to movement.) Due to the open & community oriented nature of the folks who practice parkour in this fashion, I’ve been able to have many helpful interactions with group members, and what I’ve learned from watching The Beans has had a decisive influence on my own movement.

As a brief aside — in my mind the ideal way to encounter The Beans is to watch their feature length video, The Bean Movie. It’s free to view on Vimeo, and is a great way to get a really solid chunk of each of the ten Beans’ individual movement style.

One of the most rewarding outcomes of my engagement with The Beans and related free-runners has less to do with specific movement patterns and more to do with a paradigm shift — before finding The Beans I always thought of parkour in a more traditional sense, i.e. the act of quickly & freely moving through your environment. For the crop of free-runners I am speaking to here, parkour is more about moving freely & expressively within your environment — the environment is not filled with obstacles, rather the environment itself becomes something like a partner. Walls are not merely for vaulting over or as steps to higher spaces — the wall becomes the Other you are dancing with. Within this paradigm of inhabiting a space with movement, one can spend an hour interacting with a park bench. This sort of experience, for me, is the height of embodied movement; something a step beyond even the much lauded “flow state.” A few months ago I spoke of the fact that I can now spend an hour with nothing other than my body and an empty patch of grass and experience a range of emotions as expansive as that available through reading a novel. To be able to express yourself and experience such a range of emotions through movement, with or without an object present, is the capacity to learn a new language: to find a new form of communication between your own body and the space around you.

A great example of this kind of communication is The Beans’ video “The Warp Zone,” which finds Egg & Spencer interacting with construction detritus with such intense jouissance you can’t help but smile.

When I go out for solo training sessions lately I try to take this attitude with me, this idea that I don’t need to be perfecting a new move or building a studied sequence — all I need to do is open up a dialogue between my body and outside of my body in a way that refuses expectations or assumptions. This corporeal echo of human interaction has served me well, and I’m discovering a whole new way to experience my body.

Yesterday, as a warm-up for an acrobatics session, I tasked myself with spending at least 10 minutes interacting with a strange sloping mound on a children’s playground next to a large, fake Whale. The video below shows a couple minutes of this interaction. It’s not flashy, there’s no performative intent, but the experience itself was just what I needed.