The Way of the Pathfinder
I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible; to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise. I choose to risk my significance, to live so that which came to me as seed goes to the next as blossom, and that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.
– Dawna Markova
What we now know as parkour or freerunning began with a quest: a quest for strength; a quest for the next challenge; a quest for that intangible ‘something’ in our lives for which we all search and few ever find. This thing, I think, is buried at the heart of parkour, as it is buried inside all true disciplines and transformative practices; something that has been there in rough form from the very start, practised instinctively by many of the pioneers perhaps due to the highly exploratory nature of what they were doing.
Even in the formative years it was only ever vague and ill-formed, difficult to grasp or hold for long. Something that couldn’t easily be verbalised, only experienced. As the Old Master pointed out, ‘the true way is the way which cannot be spoken of’ – which perhaps makes a mockery of this piece – but for once I’m going to ignore the wisdom of Lao-Tzu and forge on.
It’s always easier to follow paths that have been trodden than to find our own. Cutting your own trail through untamed landscapes requires effort, determination, great courage and the ability to ignore ‘conventional wisdom’ which invariably will do its best to dissuade us from even trying.
Yet that’s precisely what the early generations of practitioners did: they found a new path and from that daily quest was born a concept and an idea that caught fire and burned until it quite literally reached every corner of the world. That’s an astounding thing and something that doesn’t happen very often.
However, it wasn’t the particular techniques or movements of parkour that took hold in the imagination of that growing group of early practitioners. After all, humans had been jumping further than the pioneers of parkour for decades in existing sporting contests, lifting more weight, climbing higher and better, performing far more difficult acrobatics.
So what, exactly, made parkour so special?
For me, it’s that buried thing – that treasure we find when we undertake our own quest and find our own path, when we face ourselves honestly, ask the big questions and don’t shy away from the answers.
It’s self-knowledge; something beyond the limited ambitions of ego and pride and the insecurity behind the struggle for acclaim and validation from others. Those things simply aren’t worth anything. Deceptions, all.
It’s personal responsibility; realising that you and you alone are responsible for your actions, your thoughts, your choices, and not being burdened by that realisation but strengthened by it.
It’s self-reliance; learning to let go of the crutch of external authority and walk through life on your own two feet, no matter how hard that may seem at times.
It’s understanding the value and significance of the journey itself. That the treasure at the end of the path is, simply, more path.
Find Your Path
The pioneers, arguably, had it easier to find these things. Back then, before YouTube, before the likes of MTV and Red Bull decided to take a piece, before the scrabble to be in front of a camera, that quest was all there was – there were fewer distractions, less noise and mis-information. Yes, there was less accessibility and less evolution too, but the essence of parkour – the real value of the thing – was probably easier to identify as a result.
For me, parkour – as with all things we do – should be an extension of our way of living, of our philosophies, of the way we work and play and fight and love. It should reflect every choice we make, and be reflected in how we go about our daily lives when not training. It should be part of a whole. That’s what it means to be an individual – an ‘un-divided’ person. Parkour training can remind us of the quintessence of life, the value of challenge and risk, the mindfulness of daily endeavour, the quality we should put into every action, task or movement.
One of the beauties of parkour is that it forces us to be fully present in the moment, which creates an alignment – however uncomfortable that is for us – of body and mind rarely experienced in modern living. It also happens in fighting. It’s being in a situation that you cannot resolve through mental acuity or physicality alone – both are required, working hand in hand, to bring you through to the other side.
It’s realising that we are in a lifelong process, and that each new step we take along it is the most important we will ever take. And in that process, that path-finding, we learn something that simply cannot be put into words.
To start your journey into parkour visit Parkour Generations and come to a class, workshop or community event.