Thursday, October 4, 2007

Parkour - file

Taking the Metro from Forum Les Halles to La Défense in the early 90’s was like watching a moving montage of urban culture. Around the Centre Pompidou and all over the mazey Les Halles were outbreaks of skateboarding jinx and breakdancing cliques, youth in bandana’s and baggy BDU’s pushing the limits of their street style for themselves and for their scally peers.

The street battles for proto-hoodie kudos to organic urban rhythms had natural pauses for surliness and shiftiness in the face of anyone, especially the stocky security guards and traditionally heavy-handed and violent policiere with their sticks and dogs. At this time even the Champs D’Elysee was patrolled by CRS with Uzis.

Slipping back down underground to the relative calm of the Metro, heading North West and out to les banlieues, La Défense sits at the end of the line like a huge, stamped full stop. The end of civilized language, beyond this point the local patois takes hip buzz words from the ghettoes of the world and then speaks them backwards with a French accent. It’s a street lingo called Verlan and the built-in ‘fuck-you’ grittiness echoes around the canyons of the high-rise estates that seem to extend for infinity out from the besieged romantic heart of Paris.

Being born is like coming out of the station at La Défense; the inexorable upward slide to a gash of bright light, the open esplanade that greets you and the immense full-stop that blocks your way.

I remember being struck by the scale of the shining arch up close, feeling very small by comparison. Looking around I could see the tips of the disrepaired housing blocks that form the horizon there, they too seemed struck by the scale of the thing, as if they too felt very small by comparison. What of their, even smaller, inhabitants; the immigrants, the poor, the disenfranchised and the disenchanted, living in the shadow of such a state-sponsored gleaming colossal end?

Over on the banked edges of the space around the Metro exit and La Défense itself there were some doods flying around the street furniture on their boards, or so I thought. As I approached for a nosey I realized they didn’t have any boards…

A group of about 12 ragged guys, looking like break dancers on dress-down Friday, were sprinting up a wall and somersaulting over backwards, some were cart wheeling down the concrete slopes, I saw one guy hop up a lamppost and on to a wall, starjumping off it and landing in a roll.

I was really impressed at the time thinking that the wonderful French art of subverting anything and baptizing it with Style and Art had come to gymnastic tumbling. It seemed to echo the completely sensational departure of Cirque du Soleil and the reinvention of the circus for a modern world or Savate, the peculiarly French interpretation of kick-boxing.

What I saw was ghetto ballet, set firmly in and on the concrete and steel environment that had previously only conspired in the crushing socialization of those unable to escape. Like Verlan had broken out of the languages of les banlieues, Parkour had emerged from the very walls of this economic prison.

That was years ago and while I’d always intended to find out more about what I’d seen, I didn’t. Only a chance clip of Luc Besson’s astonishing movie Yamakusi brought it back to mind, oh, I thought, this has really caught on.

I didn’t find out its name until last week; Parkour.

Back in the day (1902) there was a guy, un mec (fr.) un keum (Verlan), called Georges Hébert, a place; St. Pierre in Martinique, and a volcano; big, fiery, explosive. Hébert saved the day (and 700 people) and went on to form an exercise program that developed specifically useful skills for situations just like that.

Méthode Naturelle became the standard torture for French soldiers and sailors as well as those in the emergency services. With a ‘learn today, use today’ approach everyone had to go through the hells they would likely face, in the places they would likely face them. Later in Vietnam, for example, the squaddies would be forced to run, jump, climb and verily swing through the jungles at break-neck speed in readiness for active service.

Then David Belle got a hold of the cat by the tail and brought it scratching and squealing into the ghetto. Inspired by his father’s heroics as a military firefighter, Belle, who had always been a serious climber, martial artist and gymnast, was well equipped to carry resistant moggies and acclimatize them.

No vines or branches or soft muddy landings in the hood. Belle would set a route from one apartment block to another and then he’d get there as quick as possible, by whatever means. Skipping up sheer walls on to mezzanine floors, scaling balconies and drainpipes, running up the outside of stair wells and flying from one roof top to the next.

The cat brought superpowers to the youth. The practicality of these skills was immediately grokked by every down-with-it and dodgy street rat punker gangsta who might, one day, have occasion to vanish sharpish.

Like Hébert had done, Belle ended up formalizing his practice. What had been called Parcours du Combatant in Vietnam was dubbed Parkours (wiv a K) by the new kids on the block (literally – On the block) and eventually PK by the buzzers. Belle formed Yamakasi the first PK gang and they danced all over Paris, then London and the World.

As PK got bigger and the movies came and the stunt jobs, it started to look more like PR. Sébastien Foucan, an original member of the Yamakasi tribe, ended up bugging out and going his own way, quickly, into Free Running which is PK with clean, combed hair, slicked back and parted down the middle. Parkours split into two; the gritty utility and the dance for the masses who like all the frilly bits and forward rolls and wouldn’t dream of running from the police.

It’s easy to tell when it’s going down the pan. In the Guardian last week there was a video report which made me realize just how far PK has come from its humble beginnings. Watching a middle-aged, middle class man in a soft pink Lacoste shirt boasting of his adventures in penis enlargement and jumping off a 2 foot high vault on to a soft springy mattress in a tidy gymnasium, shouting “Oo” in excitement, I despaired.

In a globalized world that shuffles culture like playing cards, that saw French kids annex the skateboard and the hip-hop just like the Italians or the English did, it’s still a little sad to watch PK cleaned up for the petit-bourgeoisie.

I wasn’t in Harlem to watch the WASPS try to steal Jazz after its renaissance or at the Armory Show where the US Govt. claimed modern art as its own and I didn’t personally witness the Pans People doing Punk but it doesn’t matter. The gentrification of truly subversive social movements can surely only end in their eventual sanitization and conformity, like crack cocaine cut with baby powder. Not a crack fan but I fear for the future of PK.

Governments don’t want to own this one though; more like disown it, but that it’s now being practiced by the fashion conscious of Kensington and Hampstead in evening classes is an ugly symptom of its social evolution.

The truth is that PK is dangerous, anti-establishment to its very core attacking even the inalienable traditional rights of property and enclosure. Super human powers for the sub-human classes, no wonder it’s being subverted itself. It gives escape routes for hoodie vandals from the not-quite-long-enough arm-of-the-law.

I’ll not support the Egits or the kids-wi-guns but PK does offer a glimmer of equilibrium in a black unbalanced world of terror-reaction and increased powers of search and arrest, all the craze among the big boys these days. Also, a bit like the martial arts and David Belle himself, those that can give what it takes to do it well are most unlikely those who will turn to the dark side, that said, watch the videos up at Pscenes, there can be no better training for the wannabe urban warrior.

86 comments:

Zephirine said...

Fascinating subject, and some terrific writing here Filo.

The one thing in that little GU video that interested me was the concept of Parkour Vision: the way you can learn to see the urban landscape completely differently, in the same way as a climber sees a rockface or mountain-side.

sideoff said...

"grokked" Yes! If you're going to borrow, borrow from the best. And it fits, too. We're all strangers in a strange land when we get to La Défense.

Must get some rest now, but I enjoyed the nightcap. Cimer, lefi.

tony said...

I came to this after Scenes. After finishing I thought "Fuck, that's interesting, think I'll get googling." Now I don't need to, so thanks. Loved the intro and the descriptions of the action. About gentrification of popular culture... I'm not sure it's only to do with annexing by the middle classes - the original participants have aspirations too.

I found a couple of warts for you... there are a couple of greengrocer's apostrophes in the first paragraph. I'll hunt for more later.

nesta said...

F'acking Brilliant. I loved it. Honest, earnest and true. The work of a rebel. Shall we have a poll to see if anyone agrees, File?

file said...

Parkour Vision, yes Zeph, when you look at the vids of Parkour it's easy to think it's spontaneous because it's so fluid but they plan their routes and practice incessantly, obviously nothing should be left to chance in such a dangerous activity

like rock climbers when they map out their moves and sequences down to the tiniest detail before even touching the rock face

spotters badge for SideOff

Tony, thanks for the warts, think there are a few spelling mistakes too, re annexing by the middle classes - you're absolutely right but it'll eat the heart right out of the living traceur, punk or skateboarder, inevitable perhaps, but still a shame

glad you liked it Nesta and happy to see you here, you can say anything you like on my threads (or even off them :~))

guitougoal said...

A great read File, truly blinding.
Mind over matter:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWdaA3CrH2o
The parkours philosophy is a product of hostile environment , the traceurs challenge to overcome obstacles originated in the ghetto as a call for attention, it became an art.
Thanks also for the free Paris Tour.

file said...

thanks Guitou, cool clip from Morocco, check out this awesome Russian dude too

mimi said...

Unlike Tony, I came here first and read with fascination (and a few memories flooding back of the RER ride from Les Halles to La Defense). Having this background really brought the Pscenes stuff alive, I thank you.

Some years back I watched "Jump London" and was quite transfixed. How much better a programme that would have been if enriched by even a fraction of the research and information you've brought us with these 2 pieces.

Zephirine said...

Quite agree Mimi, I didn't know anything about 'free running' and its origins at all, I vaguely thought it came out of the skateboarding culture. Great to have the history and see it in context.

guitougoal said...

mimi and Zeph,
I think you girls should try. On a windy day you may land on the Ireland east coast or on a "chlow" boat to china:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKYicOXz-y4

mimi said...

I'd take a trans-atlantic raft trip with Thor Heyerdahl before going ANYWHERE with Dean Martin, thank you very much!

Can't speak for Zeph though.

tony said...

Maybe so, mimi, bit could you resist this

mimi said...

Aah, Tony - a girl's head could really be turned by a big band, sultry swing and the promise of exotic beach holidays!

dinosorry said...

just took another crushing blow.

DoctorShoot said...

absolutely great piece file...
my server will not let me onto other stuff or pocketfull... so glad you posted this mad max meets mission impossible here...

touch of hey ho orienteering gone twister...

Zephirine said...

Doc, very sorry to hear you can't get onto Other Stuff, we miss you.

Wouldn't personally have gone anywhere with either Frank or Dean myself:) but I wouldn't diss Dino, smarter man than he seemed, I believe.

file said...

thanks shooter, that's a mighty strange server problem you've got there, why one blogger site and not another?

orienteering, Yes! They should set up a PK/Orienteering challenge, the first to get from one side of Mexico City to the other

bluedaddy said...

Pah, no mention of Mods. They were into parkours years ago.

A very fine read File.

It sort of hurts watching parkour at my age.

I used to go what we called roof stomping before I had kids (but when I was old enough to know better), which usually involved alcohol and some pretty stupid climbing stunts. Yet there is something mighty satisfying about being on a city rooftop at night. Great place to smoke a tab.

Watching PK's close cousin Free Running in the latest James Bond film shows just how commercially integrated the originators of these urban cultures have become. But there was still an undeniable thrill and beauty too, and a rawness that fully CGI-ed stunts lack.

mimi said...

And the sadness of Mods is right here. As much as I have memories of riding the RER from Les Halles to La Defense, 10 years later I took the train from Victoria to Brighton and - fucking hell - a truck load of memories came back there too.
Prettier girls digging prettier women. The Who
5.15. Nowhere is home. Where have I been.
This is a great clip.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dYVKB1MRIE&mode=related&search=

guitougoal said...

Bdd,
in case you didn't notice they closed Marina's thread, after we posted the last two comments. Do we have something to do with it? probably not but Cellar39 must be one of roman's entourage .

mimi said...

gui: probably all your fault

guitougoal said...

I know mimi, even when I do nothing I am wrong.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqCOXH-nMM8

mimi said...

So wrong!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90ivvM7VH7U

marcela said...

there's so much interesting stuff going on here, file.

the 'ghetto ballet' itself is fascinating, and pretty much new to me :) but i think the various levels of image and film are so exciting.

having been to la defense, your words take me back there, but also to all sorts of films about banlieu discomfort, such as la heine.

and of course you speak of films, and the further images you posted...

very clever.

mimi said...

And totally off topic, but it's late on a friday night.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6se90rFN1qI

I'm a tramp

file said...

BigBlueDaddy, I know what you mean, watching PK hurts me too these days, but to me it's like seeing folk enact my dreams, strange

thanks Marcela too, looking forward to pushing the new media and seeing what other folk can come up with...submissions welcome from all!!

file said...

GWAN U ENGLES!!!!

sorry Aussie friends, but WHAT a result!

offsideintahiti said...

A KAMATE KAMATE KAORA!!!!!!!!!

A KAMATE KAMATE KAORA!!!!!!!!!

Allez les petits!!!!!!


!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

mimi said...

Engerland and les bleus through to the semis at the expense of Aus and NZ. Not a bad day in the office for the northern hemisphere.

Go Scotland!!!

guitougoal said...

England-France for the semis!
let's expect more off topic comments on the next week-end thread.

ervamp said...

There's a very good action film - Banlieue 13, that is full of parkour sequences. Great fun. I saw La Defense when I was 8, had no idea what it was.

offsideintahiti said...

Hé, Guitou, quel pied!!!

exvp, if it doesn't distract you from your studies too much, I would love you to contribute a little something to this site. I'm sure you won't struggle to find a subject matter ;-)

guitougoal said...

hello offside, quel pied! size 49!
Australia and New Zeland out of the rugby world cup final, incredible.Jamais vu.

ervanp said...

offside...studies? What studies? It's my Senior year...I haven't done any of the work I'm supposed to do in THREE DAYS.

I'll definitely work on something...but having read all the pieces published here mine would be like a Simon Hatterstone article compared to one of Harry Pearson's!

Actually, on Tuesday my school has a senior class v. staff 11-a-side game. I'm playing the "Pirlo" in a defensive midfield pair. I'm sure there will be some material there.

Also, the same school's sawker team is going through the regular season, with the State Cup coming up. Being the honorary bench warmer/headless chicken/water boy, I have had lots of opportunities to watch them, and it's uncanny how much there is in common with the Barca's, Real's Arsenal's etc of professional football and our group of 18 year olds! So maybe that...

offsideintahiti said...

Well, there you go... I thought you'd be going for something red, something white, something Arsène and something Cesc, but a personal piece is even better. Looking forward to it.

Good luck with the games, and the writing!

Guitou, I still can't quite believe it. Pinch me, please.

file said...

congratulations Les Blues!!

today we are united in our (surprised) glory, next week ... the gloves are off

yes Guitou, OZ and the all grays out, what a year, go Sporrens, go Fiji!!

it's amazing isn't it? Neither the Engles nor the Froggles can run with the ball to save their lives, there are gonna be some TITANIC scrums/rucks (just hope they don't go down as easily)

Ervanp,

looked at B13 but loved the opening scene of Yama, I still don't know what La D is!! Offie, Guitou, what have you built?

looking forward to your piece, don't think we've ever had a sawker piece ...

guitougoal said...

file.
tomorow, (today for you) Lewis Hamilton is going to
add some icing on the cake.
La fraise sur le gateau.
Please have a " gloves are off" piece ready for friday night, no need to mention Trafalgar.

file said...

blimey Guitou haven't you got over Trafalger yet? Have a brandy mate!!

Hamilton ... Senna

ok, I'll do a rugger piece but I'll need reaction from the other camp, so I'll send you a list of questions to probe your misery

btw - 'A feast of words is a famine of wisdom' - brilliant!! They cut the Bland post a bit quick didn't they?

file said...

btw2, is there any truth to the rumour that the French chose a very dark shade of blue for their shirts this year just to prohibit the Kiwi's from wearing all black?

an edge is an edge eh?

offsideintahiti said...

Yep, and the rumours about the Jonny Wilkinson voodoo dolls are true too.

guitougoal said...

keep it up guys, we're just starting-Keep also in mind wether it's bad or good it won't last long.

Zephirine said...

For once in my life I wish I knew more about rugby... so, Underdogs v Giantkillers next eh?

Let me be the first to post this memorable pair of blue satin trousers...

file said...

YES ZEPH!!!

offsideintahiti said...

Zeph,

I know there were problems with jerseys and kits during this world cup, but are England really going to play the semi-final in blue satin trousers? Whatever next, pink lurex tights? (a suggestion that got greengrassOfHome banned from GU, if I remember correctly).

Zephirine said...

Following France's success in getting rid of that nasty all-black kit, sartorial warfare is now part of any successful team strategy - the Engles are going to wear blue satin trousers so truly horrible that the Froggles will reel back in dismay for just that vital second or two, and the initiative will be lost...

I know cricket makes you yawn, Offie, but you should visit this GU page: http://sport.guardian.co.uk/cricket/overbyover/story/0,,2185632,00.html where bloggers are seeking help with their friendly interaction with French fans (scroll down a bit and you'll find it).

Zephirine said...

The pink lurex tights would be for the final, of course, if.

guitougoal said...

Zeph,
Waterloo morne plaine! That was with Corsica not France, Bonaparte the dwarf as the manager.
History can't repeat itself in this case you can't win.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh0I9U_9gcc

Zephirine said...

Nice video, Guitou. D'you think Bonaparte bit his nails and that's why he used to hide his hand in his coat like that?

guitougoal said...

oops! last report, the dwarf Sarko has replaced Napo.
He is mining the field and closing the borders , it wouldn't be any surprise if he calls for a curfew.

guitougoal said...

Zeph,
Bonaparte bit his nails because Josephine was never home hence his hand always in his coat.He said once to his generals, "the best gift we will ever receive in this life is ourself"

cecilia said...

J'adore "les memoires de Josephine, I could never be satisfied with a little."

gg said...

Nice one, File!

Those buggers do things I would never ever even dream of doing - not even when I was as a fit yoof.

I sat in an English pub in Malaga yeaterday afternoon, supping Guinness and wolfing a full English breakfast, watching the Red Devils doing a post-modernist deconstruction of the Piemen on one screen and Enger-lund ravaging the Roos on the other.

As the final whistle went, I prayed to Dog we'd see a miracle and get to play Les Frogs in the semi.

Now we're up for it. My research students tell me that a diet of pig's trotters will be supplemented by ever-increasing doses of garlic, so that
Les Frogs can't stink us out of the scrums.

IF they try any funny business in the mauls, we'll bring on Andy Fartell - that should take the wind out of their unshaven Gallic sails.

Dear Froggy friends: in anticipation of a thrilling encounter, I propose a toast to pink lurex tights - and may the best side lose!

guilefrog said...

gg,
don't bother praying the Dog, he left the building a longtime ago devastated by the behavior of one of his creature in Stockholm-Apparently it has something to do with a predator wondering around the local churches.

file said...

guitou,

gg's prayers to the one true dog seem to be paying off;

"sat in an English pub in Malaga yeaterday afternoon, supping Guinness and wolfing a full English breakfast, watching the Red Devils doing a post-modernist deconstruction of the Piemen on one screen and Enger-lund ravaging the Roos on the other" ... is one description of the celestial plain

gg, thanks, "may the best side lose" indeed

offsideintahiti said...

Matter of taste, really, watching Rooney in motion while eating an English breakfast, celestial?

The Guinness is alright, though.

guitougoal said...

Filou my boy,
I found guilefrog's comments distasteful, offensive and disrespectful. I'll have a word with him. I think magnanimus professor nimbus will forgive him-
However as far as celestially english breakfast I am
inclined to share offie's opinion for having myself to
consume the local pub's morning dish every saturday at game time-
One thing for sure, if it doesn't kill you you live for ever.

file said...

thanks for "watching Rooney in motion" Offie on behalf of all those checking the blog over their morning bacon

..I did say ONE definition of celestial, maybe not yours or mine, but then neither of us (as far as I know) have built a double-barrelled shithouse in the forests of Sveden

but then of course we are all special in our own way

file said...

morning G,

if it doesn't kill you you'll live longer with English breakfasts is like saying it's better to burn out than to fade away, eh?

have you started strategizing for the French scrum then?

...there can only be one

guitougoal said...

I am for England. allez les blancs!GSTQ.

file said...

oh dear, has the 'wind been taken out of your unshaven Gallic sails' already?

or is it a Napoleon thing?

guitougoal said...

I just think French have a better chance if i am not on their side.

file said...

))))))))))))))!

c'est pas vrais, c'est pas vrais, they need all the help they can get!

we should offer our felicitations to the Argentine contingent in case they stop by and commiserations to the Sporrens who may console themselves (strangely) with footie

have a feeling that whoever it is will get stomped under the brutal boots of the Sifricaaans anyway

guitougoal said...

file,
rugby it's just a game,the prediction is a more dangerous game.
Just remember the pundits prediction about Arsenal last june: "the end of an era"-personally I like France and Argentina chances, but what do I know?

file said...

Prof. Tougoal, in your last 3 posts you've expressed support for 3 of the 4 semi-finalists, prediction may be, as you say, the dodgiest of sciences (ala Rowling) but I think I'm gonna put 20 baht on the Sifricaaans

offsideintahiti said...

traître vénal.

guitougoal said...

file,
3 of the 4 ? great I still can change my mind one more time.

mimi said...

I'm a bit sad for the Scots - they came close. But am reliably informed (by an 8 year old) that the results of the Q/Fs this time (ie Aussies and ABs out) make for a far better draw and set of pool matches in 4 years.

Let's hope we're around to enjoy, eh?

byebyebadman said...

I think the eight quarter-finalists get seeded mimi, which is bad news for Wales and Ireland who could conceivably end up in a group with New Zealand and France, or Australia and South Africa.

mimi said...

Well I did say it was an 8 year old who said it was good for Scotland!

Would anyone object to a hugely off-topic comment soon?

I'll wait for a bit.

byebyebadman said...

Oh it is good for Scotland. And Fiji, and Argentina...

Think we are off-topic already mimi. Help yourself!

offsideintahiti said...

Did somebody say off-topic? Is there any left? I thought gg had drunk the last barrel...

mimi said...

If off-topic is OK - just a last reminder to any within reach of le capital d'angleterre - Londres. Clare Alison Davies is in Town this coming weekend. A rare trip out of Castle Grampian.
Flying south Friday to meet chums at the Prince of Wales, Cleaver Square SE1 from (given no delays in flying) 10pm.
Sat is the big night (well, there'll be at least 10 of us there) at the Prince Regent, 71 Marylebone Road from about 7.30pm. Hopefully celebrating an England win in the final ODI.

All welcome, naturally. Details are all on FB - including maps!!

Bear in mind that my next trip out of Castle Grampian is to Melbourne, Australia in Feb - should anyone wish to join me there!!

offsideintahiti said...

Mimi,

I'd love to! Unfortunately, I'm stuck on my wee island at the moment. I will, of course, raise a wee dram to your good health on the day.

Have fun!

mimi said...

Offy so kind. We know you'll be with us in spirit. No doubt JT will raise a special glass to the spirit of Offy.

I may be absent from the threads for a few days round about then, understandably!

munni said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oulQwIP9VQQ
(a friend just sent me that. personally I found it a little disturbing).

P.S. I'd never heard of parkour before, but that's stunning. Makes me want to take (graceful, post-apocalyptic) flying leaps off of tall buildings!

gg said...

mimi -
sorry, I can't make it for your birthday. I shall be glued to a Guinness and a screen, no doubt cursing the unshaven gladiators.

I would have loved to come, though your choice of alehouses does not please a rabid anti-monarchist...

To all the members of COTA (The Campaign for Off Topic Ale) I am happy to announce that a new vintage has emerged, thanks to a bunch of Belgian Trappists with bad habits under the tuition of the Defrocked One. Ingrid, however, has not emerged from the struck-dumb scrum.

Your sauces will be available from the usual sources.

P.S. The England front rowers are rumoured to be devouring live cocks for fun - which would probably choke Ingid if she had emerged.

mimi said...

Gosh, gg: hadn't realised how royalist our choices are! Still due to the sad demise of the Australians and the storming progress of England to the semis, plans for Friday have changed, and Sat is now the only get-together. So only one Royal honoured by our motley crew. Don't worry, we'll do our best to be loudly republican.

byebyebadman said...

I take it you won't be singing along to GSTQ (I can't even bear to type it out) then mimi? :)

The good thing about playing France is at least you get to hear a decent and inspiring national anthem. I think our boys should join in.

mimi said...

thank dog the world of cricket is still immune to these songs. We just do sledging and abuse!

gg said...

I shall certainly not sing GSTQ - though I might sing Dog Shave...

And I shall mumble that Froggy tune at the top of my voice - it's almost as good as the old Soviet anthem!

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