For a someone who grew up in a city-state like the Netherlands China’s dimensions are just mind-blowing. One of those expat glossies that cater to my ilk regularly has a well-written cover article (although the bulk is food, fashion and partying – which probably tells you something about my kind). The April edition of That’s Shanghai delves into three urban sports, skateboarding, BMX and parkour, and the article about parkour is highly recommendable.
Parkour is admittedly a still a niche sport anywhere in the world. It entered China in 2007, and mushroomed: Today, traceurs around China number around 200,000, with some 200 clubs. Mind you, that is still very much niche.
Anyway, what struck me even more in the article was its description of parkour:
In its most basic form, parkour is the act of moving from point A to B using obstacles in interesting ways. In practice, it is a high-adrenaline combination of gymnastics and martial arts, played out in the middle of the world’s biggest cities…the discipline has grown into a type of urban gymnastics with philosophical underpinnings, a martial art featuring a metaphysical component that focuses on the feeling and aesthetic expression of freedom and the ideas of adeptness and utilitarianism…Parkour, like kung fu and other Chinese traditions, is as much about the philosophical as the physical – and that may be one major reason to be optimistic about its chances in China. “Parkour feels like flying,” says Chen. “To me, it represents freedom.”
I’ve written about parkour within the context of my exploration of the pedestrian ‘space’, but hadn’t picked up on this narrative yet. In hindsight, yes, much of what I’ve seen before does confirm this take on how practitioners talk about it. The sport is akin to martial arts in emphasizing ‘its’ philosophical underpinning. I’m pretty sure that as soon as one would go into it, practitioners stories would be all over the place, different mistresses and masters focusing on very different things, etc., but all under the umbrella of a fuzzy kinda shared perspective.
What made this realization ring a bell with me is that my conceptual wringing with (trail)running the role of narrative has been a consistent theme. And the parkour description evoked the image of some parts of the pedestrian space being way more successful in zooming in on a shared imagined narrative frame than others. Given my obsession with the subject, I seem eager to figure out a narrative frame that satisfies me. But I regularly end up celebrating the openness and creativity of the existing diversity of narratives and approaches. So where it’s at?
I dunno, so watch Clark’s version of a human universal, by way of compensation for the lack of an answer: