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.