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See Dog Run

By daqron in Culture
Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: parkour (all tags)

Behavioral observations on the introduction of autonomous motility to a digitally-entrenched corporate whore.

Cross-Borders Jam #2

OK, here we go: Freeway Park, Seattle, circa summer 2006. Jump up on a dirty gray pillar, sandpaper concrete scuffing still-tender hands. (I've only done this a few times now.) Crouch down into a fists-at-feet gorilla-style perch and watch for stragglers crossing toward the fountain. Emerging from the city jungle, the ones who know me call me by name: Hey Raindog! It's July's final Sunday but still plenty of summer left - always something to cherish in a town so drenched we don't even bother with carrying umbrellas anymore. Behind me, amid the concrete maze all draped in lush green tentacles, is the usual cross-section of local color: Convention Center sales suits tote briefcases in purposeful stride, sun reflecting off of shiny black shoes, while Mad Dog-soaked knapsackers shrouded in 7-month-beards look on from the benches, sitting this one out. Freeway Park: a community of circumstance dead-center in a city founded on making the best of poor planning. A place to work, live and play, held inexplicably together inside a bigass floating geometry lesson with a highway spilling out underneath. This is where the fun begins.

I'm up here in my new 5.10s for the biggest Parkour event in the history of the Northwest. A gathering of traceurs from Oregon to BC, here to learn, teach and show-off. We congregate at the foot of the concrete fountain walls - slices of upended highway - and exchange a mix of names and handles. And then off we go, flowing through the park and the streets of downtown Seattle like a big blurry protracted organism, disparate appendages weaving over and through man's cubist urban constructions. A multi-threaded and loosely attenuated collective consciousness composed of nodes acting simultaneously as parts and wholes; each leading and following the others. Point B ahead; don't stop.

This is Parkour. "The essence of Parkour can be stated simply: it is the art of overcoming obstacles as swiftly and efficiently as possible using only your body. The fundamentals include running, jumping, and climbing and we build on these fundamentals to improve our ability to pass over, under, around and through obstacles with more complex movements. We are a community of traceurs (Parkour practitioners) who connect online and in person to train, discuss and share knowledge about the world of Parkour. We practice in the urban and natural environments and encourage creativity, safety, self-discipline, and respect for the community in the practice of Parkour. We welcome anyone regardless of experience." Those are the words I put on the front page of washingtonparkour.com when I appointed myself Code Monkey and redesigned it early in 2007. By then it had become more a part of my life than I had ever expected on that day in July. It was a catalyst, if not a driving force, for a fundamental change in my perspective and lifestyle. This is my humble attempt to explain how it happened.

New Tricks

So how did a not-particularly-coordinated, near-thirtysomething, traveling corporate whore, replete with all the trappings of modern techno-yuppie life and enough frequent-flyer miles for a round-trip vacation to Alpha Centauri, become interested in the world's newest extreme sport? It was a strange match, to be sure. After all, most of the kids in this scene had either extensive martial arts experience or were just well-suited to communities spawned on the Internet: they traded Oblivion secrets and quoted Napoleon Dynamite; things that weren't so much uninteresting to me as they were completely alien. At twenty-eight, after being in the Parkour community for all of a week, I became an unofficial founding member of Team Hip Replacement because I'd had a driver's license for more than 12 hours, not to mention a mortgage and a retirement account. Retirement account? Holy crap, I am old.

The attraction to Parkour is different, I think, for the variety of generations it attracts. For me, it was the rediscovery of the tactile world and what I perceived as my last chance to make an attempt at youth. In a world where WAN-enabled battery-powered exocorteces pretty much ruled my life, Parkour so quintessentially embodied my desire for unfiltered interaction with the world that it only took reading an article in Utne magazine about Toronto traceurs while on the toilet one day to know that it was exactly what I needed. A flux capacitor-style revelation (only I wouldn't actually hit my head until a few months later). It might be similar for the younger traceurs, the principal constituency of this community, but I'd be remiss to attempt to speak for them. They seem to live in a different world most of the time and yet I am constantly humbled and impressed at their endless energy and capacity for invention. My well-traveled, worldly business acumen means nothing here, for this is pure animal response; reactions in fast-forward, ideally suited to the modern rapid-fire and hyper-creative mind. I can only be sure of one commonality: we are exploring the world around us amidst the millions who would simply accept it for what it is. We invent, as we go along, a sort of urban frontierism.

I actually rather liked my perma-connected life. Interacting with computers is wonderful; bits of elegantly assembled logic are rewarded, while failures of reasoning are met with runtime errors. A system of classical conditioning, bring your own propeller beanie. Life was comfortable and consistent, with corporate perks and a fancy title. But somewhere inside I had an unrealized need to go out and play without adult supervision. My love of exercise had been shelved by sterile gym workouts and the predictable boredom (and shin splints) of increasingly longer-distance running. Mostly, Parkour looked like FUN. I didn't harbor any delusions of leaping from rooftop to rooftop or doing front flips out of third-story windows like the dudes on YouTube, but the basic movements - running, jumping, rolling on the ground - I could do that. And sometime in January last year I gave it a try, after being graciously reassured by a thriving online community called Washington Parkour that I wasn't too old to learn something new. Well, I learned a lot, including that there were muscles in my body that may have never been used before. It was exhilarating. Parkour is hands down the most comprehensive, most rewarding workout I've ever done. And that's just the physical part.

Back to the Earth

My introduction to Parkour coincided, we'll say coincidentally for now, with my learning a new skill called flint knapping, the forming of primitive tools and weapons (obsidian arrowheads for example) using rocks and very simple tools. If you're keeping a tally of important steps in human evolution, that was a big one right there. I've been told that at one point in human history, not very long ago, there was a single solitary person remaining on earth who carried the knowledge of flint knapping techniques. Fortunately he managed to pass it on to a few other dudes who in turn recirculated the knowledge into society, keeping it alive so that I could have the opportunity to whack some rocks and metal together at the proper angles and wind up with something vaguely resembling a blade. And what if he hadn't? What sort of fantastic feats of human engineering have been gained and lost along the way before there was an Internet to record everything?

Anyway, these two pastimes, Parkour and flint knapping, seem to have given me permission to follow a path that I'd only admired from a distance before; a kind of evolutionary renaissance that sparked aspirations of self-sufficiency and man-of-the-worldness. The ability to interact directly with the world using only my body or some simple tools that I created myself has afforded me some perspective on modern life. Not in a Unabomber sort of way, but by simply making me aware of how many steps removed from nature are things like laptop computers, internal combustion engines, and imported fruit. And the fact that I can choose, to some extent, how much of that processed life I buy into. I try to focus on the positive results that come out of this understanding: removing barriers between me and my food by buying local and organic, simplifying my transportation by biking whenever possible. These concepts are not new to a tree-hugging liberal like myself, but they're somehow more tangible to me now that I know what the earth feels like again. And even if I never completely shake the grid, it's still a lot of fun running down the up-escalator of technological evolution, at least in-between work hours.

The Kids Are Alright

I have been in the Northwest for seven years now. An East-coast transplant who divides most of his time between the home office and airplanes, I've been, with only a few exceptions, almost entirely unsuccessful at building meaningful friendships. Ironically, it was these ideas of direct interaction with the world that finally led me into a community overflowing with creativity and enthusiastic openness like I had never before seen. The social aspect of the Northwest Parkour scene is in fact so accessible and dynamic that it sometimes overshadows the focus of our Parkour jams, changing them from smoothly flowing full-body group workouts into slowly meandering herds of friends chattering about everything from Internet memes to martial arts, and occasionally leaping up on walls or vaulting railings. (This phenomenon, in fact, has led some of us to organize smaller non-public jams with as few as two people, to draw the focus back on the fundamentals of Parkour and continue to push our physical limitations). But I'm not worried. I believe this evolution is just an outcropping of a community that is experiencing some healthy growth a bit faster than it knows how to handle. After all, too many friends in one place is a great problem to have, and even the most laid-back social jams are still, with their multi-generational constituency of obstacle-oriented, open-minded people, a pretty kickass way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Of all the surprising by-products of my foray into Parkour, this inclusiveness and camaraderie was the least expected, and the most welcome. The competitive, hero-worshiping, and intellectually vacuous culture of most sports has always been of keen disinterest to me; sports were activities I dismissed as politics for idiots. Parkour is exactly the opposite: a community of people who, in between helping each other run up brick walls, like to meet up for lunch and discuss performance art or quantum physics, and who have even formed a non-profit association to organize community service events and promote the philosophy, education and benefits of Parkour. A sport for nerds, where conscientious, independent thinkers aren't booed off the field? A sport without conformity, without uniforms, where every kid starts and the game is only over when we're too tired to play tag on all-fours? Stranger things have happened I guess. But the real prize here was the rapidity with which I formed some very strong friendships, and the opportunity to keep forming new ones each time I go outside to play.

Cross Borders Jam #2: One Year Later

As the citizens of Seattle begin, once again, to wonder about that strange yellow ball of light in the sky, I am thinking back on a year that has transformed my life. Since my first major Parkour jam at Freeway Park in summer 2006, I've accumulated more physical strength, more awareness of the world around me, and more friends than I can remember doing at any other point in my life; certainly in the seven years since moving to Seattle. Was it all thanks to Parkour? I don't know. As I finish up my third decade on this planet, I have an unmistakable desire to make up for all the time I spent trying to grow up. And perhaps that would have inevitably led to something else new and exciting had the timing of that Parkour article not been so fortuitous. Perhaps I'd be writing instead a lengthy endorsement of the life-affirming qualities of cave exploration, skydiving, or extreme underwater quilting. But Parkour was there, and it was exactly what I needed.


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See Dog Run | 62 comments (45 topical, 17 editorial, 5 hidden)
by some nerd on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 09:07:39 AM EST


Home Sweet Home

obvs. nt. (none / 1) (#26)
by spooked on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 01:04:03 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Tell you what (none / 0) (#10)
by bloody vagina uncle on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 02:29:20 PM EST

Them boys are like a coupla little spider monkeys

+1FP -nt (none / 0) (#11)
by Repost To Diary If It Gets Dumped on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 03:04:03 PM EST

my dash renderer just crashed (3.00 / 5) (#13)
by Jobst of Moravia on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 05:33:20 PM EST


-1, didn't even read

   .,-;-;-,. /'_\ ---Did this Negro say "Street Moor"?
 _/_/_/_|_\_\) /
  ""     ""    ""

Incredibly, that was helpful feedback. (none / 0) (#15)
by daqron on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 06:37:37 PM EST

What I entered in HTML as em-dashes were rendered as double hyphens so I'll fix that. Thanks!

as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion

[ Parent ]
BeBop jazz (2.66 / 3) (#16)
by ClaimJumper on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 08:00:03 PM EST

shares the same intuitive, spontaneous philosophy as this.  It was invented by Charlie Parkour.

s/Parkour/Parker/g (none / 1) (#17)
by achievingfluidity on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 08:17:34 PM EST


[ Parent ]

You could follow it up (2.25 / 4) (#18)
by localroger on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 09:15:41 PM EST

...by making your own clothing out of leather. Maybe build yourself a cabin, and learn to tattoo yourself the traditional way -- oh wait, I was just reading some of my old stuff.

SRSLY back when only rock stars could afford them I made my own pair of leather pants by taking apart a pair of pants that fit but were so horribly printed my then-new girlfriend wouldn't let me wear them, and copying all the joinery. Fly front with a zipper and all. When I wore them into the Tandy Leather store that had sold me the pig hide the proprietor was blown away. The project was *extremely* satisfying and I wore them for about five years, which is how long it took to wear a hole completely through one knee.

I've also built quite a bit of the furniture in my house, and not all of it by stacking up milk crates. I'm particularly fond of my bed, which is a tall four-poster made of exceptionally high quality 2x4's and 2x6's which I salvaged from pallets back when I had no money. My then-girlfriend painted it in a "primitive" style which was popular in the day. It's extremely solid and strong, unlike most of the commercially made beds (some costing over $1000) that we looked at before I built it. You can actually lean on my bed, or even do chinups on the upper horizontal beams. You spend about a third of your life in bed, and as with the leather pants it's extremely satisfying to make something you use so much your own.

Parkour sounds interesting but I don't think it would catch on down here in southern Louisiana, where there pretty much aren't any obstacles you can't walk past and a gradual rise to 25 feet above sea level is considered the high ground. But there are many ways to achieve that connection to the living world. Thanks for letting me know about one that's new to me.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer

zomfg, et tu localroger?! (none / 0) (#21)
by nostalgiphile on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 11:31:04 PM EST

leather pants??

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler
[ Parent ]
WHAT! (none / 1) (#50)
by localroger on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 08:56:21 PM EST

It's not like they were assless or thongy or anything. Very tasteful black leather dress pants. In fact, about a year after I made them a local shop showed me a dress jacket that perfectly matched them, which someone had special ordered and never picked up. I bought it and made myself a black leather tie. I was teh fucking dapper, d00d. In an early 80's kind of way.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
I thought you were joking (none / 1) (#23)
by daqron on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 11:47:33 PM EST

But you're serious. That's really cool. The guy who is teaching me flint knapping makes his own leather clothing, Native American style, as well as anything else that's too expensive to buy. We're considering a kayak-from-scratch project someday maybe soon (I hope). Thanks so much for the comments.

as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion

[ Parent ]
I have a flinknapped obsidian knife (1.50 / 2) (#49)
by localroger on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 08:40:35 PM EST

The knapper who sold it to me said he deliberately dulls most of his blades so people won't hurt themselves. Mine is of obsidian, and as sharp as he could make it -- which is, when you put it against things like meat and cord, noticeably sharper than regular steel knives.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
It gets down to one millimeter thin on the edges (none / 1) (#51)
by daqron on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 09:44:14 PM EST

Obsidian is amazing. It's what I'm learning on now because it breaks fairly predictably and isn't as tough as flint. Definitely sharp - I've sliced through skin quite a few times, and because the glass and the edges are so sharp, the shards can make completely clean cuts with no tearing, which means it takes forever to stop bleeding. Don't know if you've ever read Snowcrash but that's the sort of knife that Raven carries. Good stuff :)

as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion

[ Parent ]
Oh, I read Snowcrash a LONG time ago (none / 1) (#52)
by localroger on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 09:48:53 PM EST

Yeah, obsidian is just about as perfect as it gets for a cutting edge. I had mine made because such a knife is featured in MOPI, though not for a use I'd ever put mine to.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds -- J. Robert Oppenheimer
[ Parent ]
Fantastic submission.... /nt (none / 1) (#19)
by mybostinks on Wed Jun 13, 2007 at 10:08:00 PM EST

so (1.50 / 2) (#27)
by the77x42 on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 02:53:04 AM EST

what's the difference between what you are doing and free running?

"We're not here to educate. We're here to point and laugh." - creature
"You have some pretty stupid ideas." - indubitable ‮

They're very similar (2.00 / 3) (#29)
by some nerd on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 06:02:31 AM EST

Parkour is the original practical form focused on overcoming obstacles and reaching difficult to reach places quickly and efficiently. Free running has come to mean an artistic harmonious form with more concern for aesthetics. Probably only practitioners can tell (or care about) the difference though.

Home Sweet Home

[ Parent ]
That's exactly right ... (1.50 / 2) (#40)
by daqron on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 01:08:45 PM EST

There's a lot of crossover between communities as well but you're right on with the way you've differentiated them. Parkour is about efficiency; it's a philosophy of movement. Free running utilizes many of the same motions such as vaults, wall passes and cat leaps, but generally the objective is more shifted toward the visually appealing. Back flips, for example, would almost never have a practical application in Parkour, but are commonplace in free running.

as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion

[ Parent ]
Jack Kerouac called, he wants his typewriter back (none / 0) (#28)
by Wen Jian on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 03:40:23 AM EST

It was an experiment in lulz. - Rusty
+1 fp parkour is teh awesome (1.50 / 2) (#35)
by circletimessquare on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 09:35:55 AM EST

watch teh videos, type parkour in youtube


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

by 5.10s do you mean you do it in rock boots? (none / 1) (#43)
by Wen Jian on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 02:22:30 PM EST

It was an experiment in lulz. - Rusty
5.10 is a brand ... (none / 1) (#44)
by daqron on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 03:11:20 PM EST

They make rock climbing shoes as well as an approach shoe that has become very popular in the Parkour community called the Insight. It's the latter that I was referring to. There are now several Parkour/Freerunning shoes available in 5.10's product line (fiveten.com) including the Savant which gets good reviews from traceurs I've spoken to.

as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion

[ Parent ]
I only knew them for the rock boots. (none / 1) (#45)
by Wen Jian on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 04:02:18 PM EST

They were one of the early adopters of Stealth rubber, which was better than Fusion2 by a country mile. As Fusion 1 or 2 gets older it loses the best layer, but Stealth actually got better as it wore. I don't know much about more recent rubbers, but last thing I knew, the best in the world came from a little shop in Sheffield that didn't actually make their own boots, they just resoled your old boots with this crazy ninja rubber that they developed.

Not that you need great grip to climb gritstone, which is what you find immediately around Sheffield.
It was an experiment in lulz. - Rusty
[ Parent ]

Stealth rubber FTW (none / 1) (#46)
by daqron on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 04:14:49 PM EST

Stealth rubber makes a world of difference in Parkour, particularly for beginners. For the life of me I couldn't get wall passes when I started doing it (a wall pass is when you run at a wall, then foot plant on it to launch yourself upwards and grab onto the top - a fundamental Parkour movement) until I tried on the Insights. I hate to allow anything to be a crutch for me, but that extra stickiness is hard to live without.

as if we were villains by necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion

[ Parent ]
Parkour... (none / 1) (#47)
by fyngyrz on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 06:09:05 PM EST

...essentially is martial arts... the landscape is your stoic, perfectly conditioned opponent, the obstacles are its moves, your moves are your counters and ventures, repeated runs against known paths are your patterns (forms, hyung, poomse, kata...) focus is key, the opponent is extremely dangerous, not to mention consistent, yet endlessly able to surprise. The process transitions from the intellectual and physically inept to the internalized and physically instinctive by virtue of unique combinations of practice, natural aptitude, mental run-throughs, the slow development of an almost inhuman ability to concentrate without thinking, that is, to obtain the state of no-mind, no-fear, no-presumption — regardless of pressure. On the right path/way of the art, the more experienced you are, the more you perceive your own faults. Take one of the many wrong paths, and the longer you stay on it, the more overconfident you become. I am using path here in the sense of dao/tao "way", not in the sense Parkour practitioner or a martial artist sees a series of moves to undertake.

As for uniforms, and belts, these have always been incidental to serious martial artists, though sometimes that is difficult to see in our achievement-addled society.

And.. fun? Look at these leaping fools. One of them is me, others are my students, others simply brothers in spirit. :-)

Blog, Photos.

freeway park (none / 1) (#48)
by trane on Thu Jun 14, 2007 at 08:22:15 PM EST

i been there. both as a corporate whore taking a SAS class in an adjoining skyscraper, and as a crack smoker. never cared for it much.

Ask yourself: (none / 1) (#54)
by daveybaby on Fri Jun 15, 2007 at 05:36:10 AM EST

'Just what is it that i am running from?'

Only the French... (1.50 / 2) (#56)
by dissonant on Fri Jun 15, 2007 at 07:46:32 PM EST

...could make a martial art out of running away.

I dunno (1.50 / 2) (#59)
by Wen Jian on Sun Jun 17, 2007 at 09:35:30 AM EST

Hastings, Joan of Arc, 'American' war of independence, Napoleonic wars...
It was an experiment in lulz. - Rusty
[ Parent ]
French bashing (1.50 / 2) (#60)
by tetsuwan on Sun Jun 17, 2007 at 01:06:42 PM EST

is exactly as cool as Bush bashing. We know that you Americans have gripes with liking the French, but please shut up already.

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance
[ Parent ]

Stephenson-esque... kneel 4 Neal (none / 1) (#57)
by grant7 on Sat Jun 16, 2007 at 02:04:59 PM EST

intro is good, technical & moving a la Neal Stephenson, of self-same NW arena

seems like nothing in common with Kero-wack, that part is an active pros-thetic!

remainder is nostalgic, I prefer the in-time narration style

bringing cemented city centers alive with dynamic fluidity as well as any natural earthen environ has displayed consciousness, thank you

Gahh (1.50 / 2) (#58)
by wji on Sat Jun 16, 2007 at 08:04:37 PM EST

Your self-consciously hip writing style makes me want to jab things into my eyeballs. I read the intro and then drifted down to the last paragraph ("strange yellow ball of light in the sky") and exploded in paroxysms of laughter.

Have you by any chance ever written about a hard-boiled private detective?

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.

See Dog Run | 62 comments (45 topical, 17 editorial, 5 hidden)
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