Thursday, 3 October 2013

Alex's Parkour Video

Parkour Video Blog Post

Hey guys, Alex here. I made a parkour video - see - and this blog post is to go with it. I've been doing parkour for a bit over three years, I think, though never training particularly intensely for it it's been the sort of training I've been doing. I also started up a group in Oxford, which I coached for a year.


1. “This is not a typical show-off video”. Lots of parkour videos are people showing how skilful they are and how impressive what they can do is. I don't have anything against those videos as such (although they can often corrupt the training and make people train to make videos and show off, this isn't always the case), but that isn't what I'm trying to do here. I'm not trying to show off and showcase what I can do as such - I train for myself – rather, I want to use the video with this post as a commentary to explain what parkour is. I actually got the idea from talking to my grandparents and other relatives and parkour is often hard to explain, but I also want to use it to try to help friends (and anybody else who sees this, if it gets shared) understand what parkour is, as parkour properly isn't about “jumping off buildings and doing flips”. If you watch it and think, “that doesn't look too hard”, then maybe that'll encourage you to give it a go. I want to show stuff that I actually practise in training, as show-off videos often just show a small part of it (the more impressive stuff).

Along this theme, I also tried to make everything as realistic as possible and not do lots of reshoots and show it perfectly for the camera. Most of the clips shown are the first or second attempt at that time, unless something went wrong with the filming, as I wanted to show what is actually me instead of a polished version I put forward (it was quite hard to resist that corruption). There isn't much in it that is particularly new, but that's the point of having done training in the past: so that when you come to doing something for the first time that time, it's better than otherwise would have been.

2. I think it's best to read the blog and the video at the same time, as the post will be a commentary on the video, explaining what I am doing and why. I don't know how easy this will actually be, but I'll put in time references so you can do that.

3. This is the first video I've ever made, so the editing isn't great. A lot of this is me, though sometimes the software did something wrong (like mashing a fade or speeding up footage). I also didn't manage to edit the sound out a bit. It was filmed over three days while I was in Oxford to coach parkour, and many of the ideas and filming came from Brendan Riley (coach with EMP Parkour in the West Midlands).

4. I'm not going to try and give a definition of parkour as such, and a coherent one is quite hard to find. Some describe it as efficient movement (which is only a part of it), but it's more like a discipline of training or exercise, the idea as a whole of improving your own capabilities and movement, including the mental side of it. This video talks more about the different physical movements which are a part of this. The physical training is all about movement: instead of going to a gym and lifting weights to get muscle and look big, it's about moving round the environment to train yourself to be strong and useful (able to do things, instead of just lift weight). It's good all-round training, working pretty much all of the body and in different ways (strength and stamina), lots of variety in the movement, and because there's lots of moving it's good for flexibility and mobility too. As well as this, it's great mentally to for challenging yourself, fighting fears, gaining discipline, etc.

The Video

Introduction (0:00 – 0:31). I had two ideas for an introduction, the backflip with backdrop and me running into shot. For the backflip, I originally wanted with the Radcliff Camera in the background, as that's the typical Oxford picture, but it was covered in scaffolding, so All Souls college (I think) is the backdrop. The actual flip I put in too much power and staggered backwards, but I like the shot with the backdrop.

People argue that a backflip isn't strictly parkour, but I don't want to get into that here. Parkour is movement training with a certain philosophy, and I think a backflip can fit into that as being useful for training. It means a lot to me as learning to backflip helped massively with confidence and dealing with fear, and it took me a long time to learn it (initially, even trying with two people to help me round I was completely scared of doing it to me, and it's a massive leap that I'm able to do them almost without thinking now).

The second shot was just a nice entrance in nice scenery, the point was just to get the Oxford Parkour logo in there. It's a group for parkour in Oxford (!) which I started last year, and it's been great to bring together a small community to train together.

With the text sequence, in editing I managed to mix up the order a bit (as you can obviously see). That's my fault, I left it to the last minute to finish the video (late at night when I was flying to Venice the following morning) and didn't check it through and didn't have time to redo it.

0:31-0:41. This was just a little movement sequence in New College cloisters to go in and out of the arches. A vault through an arch, a spin on the wall, then a bigger vault out to clear the table.

0:45-1:05. These just show different possible combinations of vaults going at different angles. This is just to show a range of movements to get over something, and the point is to move from one point to another through the obstacle in as easy a way as possible. When practising this sort of movement, it's important to practice all manner of approaches and combinations and repeating them so it becomes instinctive. There's not really a limit to the number of different 'moves' to use to get over something, just depends on the situation and the person which work.

1:06-1:13. Again just a short movement sequence to show moving through something. Took awhile to film as we had to wait for a gap in pavement-traffic.

1:14-1:16. This is called a cat-pass-precision: the cat-pass is the vault going over the first wall, the precision means landing on a particular thing (the little step). It just shows a vault being used to continue moving forward. I find it quite a weird movement to do, as you have to gauge how much power to put into the vault to get the landing right, and I hadn't done much of this combination until relatively recently (Easter or so).

1:17-1.28. Another cat-pass-precision, this one going upwards. I think this is the best (fastest/most efficient) of getting between the obstacles if I removed the pause at the top. This was my second attempt at this, and I didn't have enough skill to 'stick' the jump to the mill-stone ('stick' meaning land and stay on the spot instead of shuffling or falling forwards).

1.35-1.39. The parkour roll is probably one of the most famous parkour moves, the obvious purpose being to take a height drop without damaging the body. It's necessary when there is downwards and directional movement as the legs alone are only really useful for landing directly downwards (the knees don't like having to stop you fall forwards/sideways), though there are other ways such as landing like a monkey and using your hands to help too. This was the first time I had actually jumped from the top of the monument, having only done it from the penultimate step before. It's great to have steps so that you can practise different heights and work your way up – beginners, start at the bottom! It's surprisingly effective at dissipating the momentum from the drop, but you have to learn the technique pretty well to do it safely; mine isn't good enough that I can do it onto concrete without it hurting, though I could do it fine if I needed to.

1:40-1:54. The clips are in reverse chronological order, but I changed it because I like the way that the guy in white points at what I'm going to do. I did the jump as filmed earlier, and he was explaining to his friends what I had done. I later had a chat with them about it and a couple of them tried a few jumps themselves. This jump I've practised lots of times, it's a bread-and-butter sort of movement.

This spot (the area between St Giles cemetery and war memorial) with the two walls and the monument is probably the standard Oxford parkour location, and is often the meeting point. I've spent many hours jumping around these walls, which aren't much, and a couple of the other places in the video are just round the corner from it.

1.55-2:10. A classic standing jump, called a 'precision' because it's onto a 'precise' point. The important part is to land with balls of the feet on the corner of the object at whatever angle you're coming in at – your feet must be on the line between your centre of mass and the part of the object, otherwise you slip forwards or backwards or cannot stop yourself from moving forwards. The jump down is trickier for the angle of it, to land on the corner correctly, and in this one I'm a little bit too far forward (you can see me tip a bit).

2:11-2:19. This shows me jumping into a wall and bouncing off it, obviously. The point is so that you can jump into a flat surface and bounce off it – sometimes it's a useful way to get somewhere, for example if you want to drop down into an alleyway or as a way to slow you down, but it's also useful for practice incase you're trying to grab the top of a wall and miss.

2:20-2:30. These are just a couple of routes around the rails, just being about fluid movement. The Bruce Lee quote “flow like water” is what we're aiming for. This isn't about finding the most direct way through the obstacle, being instead a way of practising foot placement, co-ordination and a connecting different movements fluidly.

2:35-3:18. This is just balance training with a couple of jumps. Jumping onto a rail ('rail-precisions') is obviously harder than jumping onto a wall and there is less margin for error, plus the mental challenge, but that's why it's useful to practice. When filming this, I made both the jumps the first and second time, though previously I had stuck it less than a third of the time I attempted it (the others with overshoot or undershoot I would just bounce off).

3:19-3:35. Running up a wall is another parkour fundamental: getting over something. You can probably see that reaching the top of this wall isn't too tricky for me, I think the highest I can do is around 13ft – typical walls can't stop us! It's all about practice, power and foot placement. The shimmy along is a method of moving and one that should be trained by repetition, as sometimes it might be necessary to do it at height! It toughens the hands as well as strengthening. I finish with a “climb-up” onto the wall, though if I was trying to go over the wall to begin with I'd do this with the wall-run to get on top.

3:40-3:50. This just shows a couple of precision-jumps from one thing to another. Thinking about how many of these I've done in my three years of parkour, it would probably be a few thousand, as in one session you can do hundreds if that's what you're practising. As I said before, it's about landing on the corner of the object (or if it's rounded, the bit you land on has to be a straight line from your centre of mass to the centre of the curve), otherwise you slip forwards or backwards. It's important to start small and get good technique, as well as practising getting it wrong on purpose – what happens if you put in too much or not enough power or a foot slips – so that if something does go wrong you know how to react to it. Especially if you're doing a jump with a drop on one side, you don't want that to happen!

3:50-4:01. Just showing some different ways of moving in these obstacles.

4:03-4:08. Another cat-pass-precision, going over the first trunk and landing on the second. I think this is where I did my first ever cat-pass-precision.

4:08-4:27. I'm attempting another cat-pass-precision but further along the tree, so the bit I'm landing on is higher (meaning I have to have more height on the jump to make it). I think this was the third occasion I'd done this on, I find them quite scary! I've included some of the mental preparation in the clip to show how that works, as that's often pretty significant. If a jump is mentally challenging, we call it 'breaking the jump' – beating your fear and doing it. This is only done when you know that you can attempt the jump safely, but for some reason you're uncomfortable with it and get a mental block or some fear; if you aren't sure you can do it, it's daredevil stupidity, which is not what parkour is about!

I think it took me two or three minutes to actually do the jump once I decided I was going to do it – sometimes it's about actually checking things like the slippyness of the shoes, others things are just mental tics to go over to get yourself into the right frame of mind to make the jump. I also visualise the jump and run through it in my head – what I will see when I'm in the air, for example – to help me concentrate on it. Sometimes this is useful and necessary, but it's often just a waste of time and one should just get one with it and let instinct deal with it (definitely something I can improve).

4:27-5:22. This clip shows me doing some balancing with a bit of height. You can almost never train balance well enough – when you can run or walk briskly backwards at height with a blindfold, maybe you're there. At height you have to deal with the stress and fear of height too (which actually makes balance worse and impairs you) which is quite useful as mental training too. I do a couple of squats facing forwards, which are good for balance as well as strength (and as Forrest point out to me, good practice for landing rail-precisions), as well as single-leg (pistol) squats, which are better for working strength and also the stabilising muscles around the knee and ankle with the balance. This clip was my first time up on the bar this day (though I've done balance at height a fair amount previously) and I was up there for a few minutes. The kid beneath me was watching and I spoke to him afterwards – I'm sure some people will say that it was dangerous for me to jump and I could have hit him, but I knew that he was far enough away that it was fine, and if I thought there was a chance I would hit him when I fell than I would've grabbed the bar instead of landing on the ground and rolling towards him (falling from lack of balance is usually pretty controlled, and you'll only slip and wipe out if you aren't concentrating or you're trying to run or something).

5:18-5:30. Unfortunately there aren't many overhead bars in Oxford so I don't get to practice swinging on them much, but here's a couple of fun things on them.

5:30-5:40. This shows some movement which is more directly applicable to getting from one place to another. Yay for jumps!

5:40-5:45. This precision was a big deal for me. The clip was the second occasion I've done it, and the first time I did it it took me twenty minutes to 'break' as I was really scared. Physically it was pretty easy, just about technically getting the right angle, but because there was a 1m drop on the other side it gave me loads of fear.

5:45-5:50. Backflip in Christ Church college. I went there to show Brendan as it's in Harry Potter (the first one, the entrance to the great hall, where McGonnagal tells them all to go into the hall to be sorted), but I also wanted to get a clip there. We got up a bit earlier than usual to make sure we were the first tourists there. I just think it's a nice clip for the surroundings!

5:50-5:54. These were a bit scary, but that was the challenge! We thoroughly checked all of the logs beforehand to see if they were stable and slippy – as I do with everything I do, every wall I jump to, I test out the grip and stability. It looks a bit odd when I walk up to a wall and stroke it, but it's useful to do so th

at you don't slip unexpectedly and know how to treat the surface.

5:54-6:08. This is the same cat-pass-precision as earlier, except this time I 'stick' it. This was the first time I'd ever 'stuck' it, and up until this I had made about thirty attempts. To get the right angle and land on the corner you have to reduce the power of the jump a bit to actually get the corner, and mid-air it can be quite scary as you might not think you can make it.

The guy in red at the end is Brendan. Big thanks to him for filming lots of this for me (also thanks Vicky for filming other parts of it!)! He's done parkour for eight years or so and is a coach and performer around the West Midlands area – I owe a lot of my parkour-doing to him, as attending classes he runs was how I started parkour and he teaches me a lot.

I hope you've enjoyed watching this and have a better understanding of what parkour training is. If you think it looks fun (it is!) then maybe you should try it out! It's a great way to keep fit for reasons I said earlier, and is also much much less dangerous than everyone assumes it is (silly prejudices and misunderstandings). If you have any questions, feel free to ask, or just to let me know what you thought =)

A snap from Vienna

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