Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Memories of an early Parkour experience

Just a few years ago, Parkour was no more than a little underground training method shared by a handful of friends. During the last few years it has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon at an uncontrollable speed, attracting all types of people with all types of motives. Parkour is all over the internet, in ads on TV and in magazines, even on the big screen in cinemas. Some brands are already using it to sell their “Parkour adapted” products. It’s only a matter of time before Parkour finds its way between the fitness and the skateboarding department in your local sports-shop.

With no doubt, things have changed.

I feel lucky to have discovered Parkour before the big bang, at a time where a new training video was an event, and when all traceurs knew each other. My first contact with Parkour was a television report: “Stade 2”, soon followed by the Yamakasi film. At this time, there was only one website about Parkour, Tim’s (Tim from the Pisteurs team).

Only a very little amount of information was available (sometimes true, and sometimes not), making Parkour appear as some kind of lost art. We (the few guys aware of Parkour but not living in Lisses) didn’t really know who these incredible athletes were nor what they were really capable of... Parkour was wrapped in a fascinating aura of secret and mystery.

My deepest dream, of course, was to find these guys and learn from them. I knew they lived in Lisses, but that wasn’t enough information. After a few months, I managed to get in contact with Mike and Johann (Stéphane Vigroux’s brother). I remember chatting on Msn with Johann and getting into some argument because of a crazy misunderstanding: he thought I wanted to defy the traceurs of Lisses !
I was in the process of explaining that my intentions were at the opposite of this, that I just wanted to come and learn, in the most humble and respectful manner (my admiration for these guys had no limit ! ) when Stéphane took hold of the keyboard and said “If you want to come to learn, you’re very welcome.”

I was 17, and at this age, traveling alone to another city to spend a few days with some strangers (especially strangers for whom you have the highest respect) was a stressful idea. I bought a train ticket, booked a hotel for three nights, and around September, I was on my way to Lisses ! I was, I think, the first guy to come from another town to train with them, so I didn’t really know what to expect...
Most of all, I was hoping to meet David, probably because I hadn’t realized how good the other guys also were. After making Johann drive from train station to train station in Evry to pick me up (I hadn’t stopped at the correct one), I finally had the honor of shaking some real traceurs’ hands. We were off to Lisses, along with Mike in Johann’s tiny cheap car, it was around 10:30AM, the music was roaring out of the speakers, I was alone in the back seat getting tossed from one side to the other (the memory of Johann’s driving skills makes me shiver even to this day) while empty water bottles rolled at my feet... One of the three best training days of my life was just starting !

My mind was full of dreams of crazy intense training, and I was really hoping to find this in Lisses. Once on location, we met with Seb Goudot and all four of us trained all day together. Strangely, I do not recall precisely what we did, but I do remember how impressed I was with their skills. They were only slightly older than me, and they had been training for no more than two years, but their level was already very high. Parkour’s reputation was definitely not only made on David Belle.
So many times they showed me a jump that appeared to me as completely impossible, and each time they proved me wrong by making the jump before my wide-open amazed eyes, each time they broke a barrier in my mind, thus teaching me one of the key lessons of my life : forget about “impossible”, it doesn’t exist ! Nothing is ever impossible. If you trust yourself and if you work hard, you can achieve anything ! Nowadays, even in front of seemingly inhuman obstacles, I force myself to keep an open mind, “what if ...?”.

During these three days in Lisses, even though I met with some of the other traceurs from Lisses, I trained mostly with Johann, Seb and Mike. They gave me their time and energy without asking for anything in return. At this period of my life, my self esteem was very low and I was desperately trying to find some confidence. I think about it now and I realize that I didn’t need much: just someone to tell me “it’s ok, it doesn’t matter if you miss, if you’re scared or if you don’t do it, there’s no shame, take your time there’s no hurry, etc...”, I just needed to see in the eyes of someone that I was capable of achieving something, that I wasn’t a hopeless piece of shit. I was like a little child, I wanted someone to hold my hand and to encourage me, and that’s exactly what these three guys did. They gave me their time and energy, and it changed so many things for me.

It’s incredible sometimes how a little something for someone can represent a big everything for someone else... I know that i owe so much to them in regards to my present state of mind, they were the trigger that i needed to activate a long thinking process in my mind, leading me to do or to plan things today that appeared as unquestionably impossible a few years ago. For this, they have my eternal respect and gratitude.

They had found the perfect way to communicate with me : sometimes speaking nicely and kindly, and sometimes being strict assholes, yelling on me to push me further. They had some technique that they used often when I didn’t feel like making the jump: they just asked me in a very kind way if I wanted to give up. I felt shameful because I knew their opinion about giving up, so very often, I took the bait and got back in action.

After the first day, my whole body was already exhausted... Johann once took me to the school in Lisses to do some physical training. Stéphane was already there along with several other guys, repeating some techniques. I was asked to hang onto the edge of the school’s roof and to go across the wall, it was no more than 15 meters long, but given my state of exhaustion, it became one of the most intense exercises I’ve ever done. Before even starting, my hands were in very bad shape, already covered with bleeding wounds while my arm muscles were making involuntary intense contractions. After about 1 meter, I wanted to stop, so I climbed to a “resting” position, with only my legs hanging over the edge. Johann was there on the roof, pushing me to continue, and all the other guys were there looking and probably making their opinion about me, so I felt I had to continue, and centimeter by centimeter I went across the damn wall, often climbing back into my resting position for extended periods of rest.

All of these guys had been through some much more intense training than me, and there was in Lisses a taste for very hard work. They were all very good at finding a sneaky way to make every exercise, every jump even harder. They did it as a game, creating little “fun” challenges all the time. The emulation in the group was the best I’ve ever seen. If you didn’t train your ass off, you were called lazy ! If one of them made a jump, the others had to do it also. This, combined with the rule of three (Once is never, you must make a jump three times before you can call it a success) quickly turned them into very good traceurs.
A good, positive emulation is the key to great progress when you train in a group.

They spoke to me about their training under the rain or snow (that I would soon experience), they took me on a 4AM training in Evry (Mike and Johann had done this 3 or 4 times a week during the whole summer). They taught me about never being satisfied and always pushing myself a little more.

I know that all the training I do or have done is nothing compared to what the first guys went through, especially David. His deeds are told like legends, since very few of his achievements were caught on film or photo : the 1000 jumps from the top of the “hammer” of the Dame du lac, his traversing across a whole portion of the old stone aqueduct every morning, etc. I heard a million stories like this about him. At the time I met him, he was starting to come out of his crazy training period but my respect for him was beyond all boundaries nonetheless (at the Damier, under the big tree -destroyed recently-, one night, we were all stretching and chatting when David offered me some cookies : ”Finish the box if you want” he said. I ate one and kept the rest in the box... It stayed at least one year on a shelf in my room, like a cherished relic).

I met him a few times during these three days. He was, along with Stéphane, Kazuma, Seb Foucan and others forming the very unofficial “big guys’ group”, in regards to their advanced level compared to Mike, Jonann and Seb. But I would have to wait a while before doing some real training with him, since I was mainly training with the “little guys’ group”, and because of my extreme shyness to ask him for some training. I think I also wanted to deserve to train with him and the others, I didn’t want to push things, it would happen at the right time.

I came back to my hometown of Tours, 220km from Lisses and started training alone, staying as close as possible to the Lisses method. I followed some training programs that the guys gave me, and often, I came back to Lisses to learn some new things.

But little by little, things changed in Lisses. A series of stupid arguments divided the group and the great atmosphere changed into a bitter climate of conflict. Maybe this is one of the reasons that are motivating me to take some distance, to seek some challenges in other areas. I miss this lost ambience... There was no bullshit, no fake attitudes, no dodgy money schemes... just a bunch of friends with holes in their clothes and dirt on their hands, training their asses off together with the best spirit. Several people in Lisses still have this, but things are definitely different.

I feel very far from all that’s happening nowadays: the freerun stuff, the competitions, the businesses... This is so far from what Parkour used to be... But once in a while, I’m delighted to meet some guys who share this great spirit even though they’ve only been into Parkour for a few years or less.
Maybe I was wrong at the beginning of this post, maybe after all, Parkour is still this little underground thing that it was some time ago, maybe Parkour is no more than a genuine state of mind shared by a few people, and all the rest is just bullshit built around it.
Don’t get me wrong, i’m not against anyone. If some people want to take Parkour to competitions, if they want to do crazy skateboarding moves, or if they want to sell Parkour gadgets then so be it and good luck to them, i wish success to everyone, but i just don’t feel like taking part in it.
My motives are of a different kind : not better, not worse, but simply mine and close to this spirit that i found in Lisses several years ago.

As a conclusion, here’s an excerpt from an old interview that Stéphane and David did. I think it’s directly related with what I’ve been speaking about. The journalist asked them if there were any similar points between Parkour and martial arts. Here’s what they answered :

Stéphane: No, in the sense that martial arts, in France, are practiced in clubs that encourage performance, while the spirit and philosophy stop at the door of the dojo. When you’re outside, in the cold or under the rain, you must be 100% concentrated to make a jump... It’s in those moments that you learn humility, you forget your pride and your belts...

David: There is some similarity with martial arts, but not here, not in a club where you pay 1000 bucks a year. But concerning the philosophy and the way of life, there are some common points.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your parkour story!

See you,

Callum said...

Thomas, it is great to hear your story. I also find it such a shame that there was arguing and conflict between members of the Lisses group.
It's great that you want to do Parkour only for yourself and your own personal journey (that was the impression I got when reading this) and not to 'sell-out' and make clothing or anything for Parkour.
The scene in the UK is ridiculous, with so much arguing over Free-run and Parkour and such. I'm getting fed-up of people limiting themselves my giving their movement such a strict definition and fighting with other people about it. I don't see why people can't just have fun, stay true and work on improving oneself.
Now back onto you, your story fascinates me and I find it almost inspiring that when Parkour was at such a young age, you stuck with it even when the people you looked upto were arguing over it.
I hope to see you in the UK this summer as I really enjoyed meeting and learning from you back in February.
If you have time, leave a comment on my blog just to let me know how you are doing and about your possible UK trip.
Good luck with your training and adventures, Thomas.


Anonymous said...

This was such a great story... hope to meet you this summer in lisses. Will you be there in the summer(around end of august - beginning of september) ?

Boštjan said...

Dear Thomas,

I'm reading your blog with utmost curiosity and I must I'm greatly inspired by this last post.

I can't really describe my feelings really but all I can say is thank you!

I hope to meet you one day.

Good luck!

Lorenz said...

thank you very much for sharing these great experiences.


yves said...

Oh i forgot to mention in my mail: your Blog is great.


Joe said...

Hi Thomas! Great read and great blog, I've enjoyed reading from it. Thanks again, from the Leicester guys, for training with us so often and sharing your time and knowledge with us.

Joe :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Thomas for sharing your expirience with us who started just recently. I wish you the very best on your journeys....


Julian said...

Really great read, thanks for that insightful information and personal perspective on what parkour was/is.
Sometimes gems like this pop up on the internet that have some real value,

The Saiyans said...

This post really comes from the heart, and it shows that you really know who you are!
I remember when we first started parkour, we we're young and thought we knew it all. I remember having arguments with you, Tim and Romain on the forums thinking you guys were just against us because we were English, but looking back I realise we came across very arrogant and given the current state of affairs I can understand why you guys were protective of the art. I remember after Freeflow was founded you came to one of the early Parkour days. It was weird to finally see the guy we'd been arguing with in the flesh and we werent entirely sure how to approach you. But once everyone started moving the awkwardness was gone and everyone just enjoyed the parkour.

Two years later the guy who we thought was our mortal enemy in parkour became the guy who introduced us to some of the world's greatest traceurs. I'm so glad that we were able to put the earlier disputes way behind us because it would have been a very different experience going to Lisses and not knowing anyone! Even just things like telling us which train station to get off at, lol. But even with you there when we first met David we were so intimidated we were still asking you to speak to him for us. lol.
But once we got to know everyone we saw that everyone held the true passion for parkour.
Whatever happens true parkour will never die but I don't want to see it smothered by imitations and freestyle free running fad chasers who want to take it to the market.

anyway I'm rambling here.
This post was really moving dude!
Thank you. I just got seriously rained on while practising and it demoralised me. But after reading this (and writing this long response) I'm heading back out to push myself a little harder!
take care dude

Thomas said...

Again, thanks everyone for your very warm comments !
Blake, my friend, i remember very well this arguing time on ! But i remember even better when i came to the uk for the first time to train with you all, it was a great time and i was delighted to share my short experience with all of you.
You in particular, Blake, you've been of great help and i now know you're a very reliable person (remember when i lost my wallet just before i had to take my plane ?!).
I'll see you and the others soon when i come to London !

The Saiyans said...

That was some seriously bad luck, wallet, money passport!! It was all because of that fried chicken! lol
Looking forward to practising with you again!!

Soilwork said...

i'm really bad in telling what i feel, but i could say this post got me really deep.

thank you

Tiago said...

Thank you Thomas.
Really inspirer.

Bruno Rachacuca said...

like Tiago and Beto said,
really inspirer.
Lots of respect.

Hope to see in Brazil again,
so i got a chance to barely train with you (or even see you trainning).

thank you for the post.


Selecta said...

Awesome story.

I really enjoyed it and once again it showed me the true spirit of parkour, the hard training, the "never give up" and the strength, control and technique gained over many years of continious training. i hope things don't move more and more into the other direction.


Rupert said...

Thanks for that it was really inspiring and informative.

Just read that you'll be in london this sunday, hopefully i will meet you at the seminar :)

Sims said...



Poulet said...

Salut Tom,

Sympa ce "petit" texte, il me rappel à moi aussi des bons souvenirs (Te souvient tu qui à pris la premiere photo de ton article?... :D). Il est vrai qu'à cette époque on avait le sentiment d'être privilégié, d'avoir la chance de recevoir un enseignement des "mecs de Lisses". Je sent que je vais passer en phase nostalgique la, ca y es ^^.
Merci à Mike Seb et Yohann pour tout. Merci à toi Tom d'être ce que tu es.

See you later ;)

Thomas said...

Once more, thank you all for your very nice comments !

Poulet, Je me souviens très bien lorsqu'on s'est entrainés ensemble, et je me rappelle aussi que t'avais pris d'autres photos que j'aime bien (je crois que j'avais raté les tiennes, non ?).

I'm going to the UK tomorrow for 2 weeks, i'll be happy to train with some of you there !

Poulet said...

lol ouais, elles étaient un peu loupées ^^ Mais c'est pas grave, les plus belles images sont dans la tête ;)

tim said...

Ca m'a fait trop chaud au coeur de lire ça, j'te jure cette époque me manque trop, j'ai pas connu les lissois autant que toi, mais l'ambiance générale était tellement mieux quelques années auparavant ... J'suis trop nostalgique, ça me rend triste même, mais bon ... faut avancer, comme on nous l'a "apprit". Certaines valeurs se perdent avec le temps, se dégradent, mais dans mon coeur le parkour est et sera toujours une histoire d'amour.
Merci pour ce texte :)

harsh said...

well Thomas, thank you for your post i learnt so much from it. I hope some day we`ll meet.

Greetings from Bulgaria.

Steven said...

Thomas ton article m'a touché vraiment beaucoup. Ton histoire, tes peurs, ton respect, etc. est tellement pareille comme mes debuts dans le parkour que je n aurai pas pu ecrir mon histore plus precisement.
Bizarre, comme des experiences similaires nous ont formé chaqu un differament et nous on reunis de nouveau sur babylon.
J'espere te rencontrer et de bouger dans exactement cet esprit que tu decris bcp de fois dans le future, car j'ai un grand respect en vers toi.
Je te souhaite tout le bons pour ton chemin.

Tu es devenu un personage comme ceux que tu regardées avec grand respect et humilité il y a long temps: continue dans ta voie!

Anja said...

Thomas, thank you for writing this very special piece of history down. Although im still very new to Parkour, your story touched me deep inside and made me very sentimental. Thank you for keeping up the spirit an sharing this with us!

Take care -

P.S. I would love to translate this into German and post it on our site - please let me know if you would appreciate this.

Thomas said...

I cannot say thank you enough to everyone for your comments, i'm really happy to see that we all share similar experiences or ideas...

I made this blog to share things with everyone so my posts of course are free to use, as long as it's not for commercial reasons.

I'm in London with the Saiyans at the moment until the end of the month so i won't be writing anything new for the moment.

Again, thanks to all for your warm support, it really feels good ! And good luck with wahtever goals you have !

Brad said...

"At this period of my life, my self esteem was very low and I was desperately trying to find some confidence."

I can completly relate to you on this, a fantastic account of your path through Parkour. Thank you for shring it for us to read.

Blane said...

That was a great post and a very enlightening read. Regardless of what Parkour becomes, the past cannot be changed or rewritten and people can always choose to practice 'the original way'.

As long as there are people like you around Thomas, I'm sure the original spirit of Parkour will never die, no matter how few follow that path. Like you say, sometimes there is a feeling that Parkour is still a very underground practice with few people practicing in the way it was originally intended.

It was great to see you again at the weekend my friend and hopefully I'll see you again this coming weekend if everything works out.

Enjoy your stay in the UK.


Anonymous said...

Hey tomtom :)
Sa a l air touchant ton histoire domage que je ne comprenne que 1phrase sur 3.. pense aussi a ceux qui n'ont pas eu la chance d être serieux en cour d'anglais :) A bientot
PS : pense aux animaux ;)

The Saiyans said...

the most i have ever seen on a pk blog. Thanks for your story of how it all started for you, i wish i was there at that time,at the start of Le-parkour..
hope to read more soon mate.

Satan said...

i can feel the love from it! ..great indeed..

Spence said...

Hi Thomas, i share the same feelings as everyone else for your post. Its one of the most interesting posts i have probably read on a parkour blog, i cant help but feel a little bit of sorrow though whilst reading, and feel amazed as once again I'm enlightened to how hard the lisses traceurs trained before (your quote) "The Big Bang". Really inspiring read Thomas i hope to meet and train with you one day.

M2 said...

Just the other day I was listening to Era "Mother" for inspiration :) You've always inspired me, my trip to meet you in tours was like your trip to meet others!

Dazzed said...

Ça m'a presque fait pleurer ! J'espere que tu viendras nous visiter içi au Canada !

loki said...

Great post, as things grow here in Toronto and all across Canada I love to read posts like this because we try so hard to spread this kind of spirit throughout our community. I would love to get a chance to train and speak with you in person.


Gabriel said...

Thomas, very nice experience you had there... It seems like you've learned alot about Parkour on that travel. You have a very good point of view of Parkour, and you had the amazing oportunity of knowing those guys before conflict came upon them.
I apreciate you sharing it with the rest of us... And keep up the good work.


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TraceurZeno said...

"Parkour is no more than a genuine state of mind shared by a few people, and all the rest is just fake crap built around it."

That is a very true comment!

Thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts Thomas.

I can relate to a lot what you have said here.

Zeno said...

hey thomas i respect you so much for doing what you are doing.
i have been reading alot about this kind of thing and doing little adventures for my self, for example living on the streets in london and doing cycle missions.

i have a book that you must read. its a true story about a guy who gave all his money to oxfam after he finished university and started traveing around america hunting his own food.
the book is called "in to the wild" by jon krakauer

i have this quote from the book you may like to hear for motivation or watever on your travels:
"so many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initative to chnge there situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of wich may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirity within a man than a secure future, the very basic core of a mans living spirit is his passion for adventure. the joy in life comes from our encounters with new experiences and there is no greater joy than to have an ever changing horizon and for each day to have a new and different sun. in short get out of salton city and hit the road." - alex supertramp (a letter to a friend of his)

any way i hope your having a great time and that i will see you in london or on an adventure some time soon
peace out

pako from málaga! said...


Hahaha only to tell you that you are in the worst winter on 50 years where you are!

Be strong my friend, is in the worst conditions when we grow up ;)

Good luck in your travel ^^

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brakke said...

Hey, I just read you're post and think it's the most inspiring i've ever read.
I just started with parkour, and I'm looking for traceurs in or around my town, but I don't seem to find the guys :(
I'm 16 and I really hope that I can go to france someday, to where it all started.
you got my deepest respect, and you are also a great example for parkour.
I think that wroting this to you is giving me te feeling that you must have had when you went to Lisses.
I'd like to share and tell expiriences about parkour and the training of a little novice.
you're the person that actually is putting me trew all the laughter.
you have become like you're Idols (also mine when I'm onest) a treu example that gives us the young ones of the merchandised generation the power to stand up and get back to the basics of parkour.
to get back to the real thing as like it used to be years ago. (If you could please for the sake of the belgian traceurs and myself :p contact me)

brakke said...

I'm sorry but when I read it again I figured that idols isn't the right word for it, srry also srry for the bad spelling ^^