Parkour with Julie Angel (LBP 058)

Julie Angel received her doctorate researching Parkour, and she has a new book out, Breaking the Jump, which chronicles the birth of this movement. The book, and our conversation, wind up tackling the larger issues that have emerged out of Parkour- like how the origin and effects of this movement is about something so much bigger than athletics or physical training; Really how it was an is a way to evolve as a human. We also get into our cultural biases to, on the one hand, abuse ourselves with physical training, and on the other hand to be so obsessively careful and terrified of movement or of leaning into the edges of one's capabilities that we wind up without much middle ground. We also discuss Julie's personal journey from a sedentary academic to someone who also does Parkour and how that has changed her and how she sees the world.




Conversation highlights

  • What it means to have a doctorate in Parkour and how Julie ended up studying it.
  • How Julie came at Parkour as a filmmaker and academic- how she was always expecting to be on the other side of the lens.
  • She had been sedentary for 20 years when she started filming and studying Parkour
  • What people were getting from Parkour was more than being amazing athletes.
  • People are usually introduced to it through the visual spectacle of it which is amazing. We’re drawn to that yet at the same time it’s so much more about the relationship of mind body than anything purely physical. It’s not about jumping.
  • The reality of facing something hard- like concrete, or balancing on a rail. These are personal experiences, no one can move for you. You can’t hide or fake it, and every jump is a new jump. It’s very humbling to go out and train.
  • Julie noticed a huge difference with stress in performance. There was no progress- she couldn’t engage on a deeper level.
  • Some of the key things in the “soup” of these founding men’s young lives: They were looking to find their own identity, and these were the tools they were using. It was an extremely multicultural group, all first generation immigrants. The oldest of them is only 42 now- at the time the youngest was 9 years old and the oldest was 14.
  • For 10 years they went through some really unique experiences and the environments they were living in shaped that a lot. There was a lot of discrimination, violence, racism, and not a lot of opportunity.
  • They were also in new towns, suburbs of Paris, that were these daring architectural experiments.
  • Architecturally there was a bizarre landscape- the Dame du lac is the world’s only modernist climbing structure. On the other side was the forest so there was the natural environment as well.
  • Williams Belle his insight at only age 9 that this was about improving oneself outside and inside. Williams started teaching and training the local kids at age 14, and they all described Williams with the word “wise”. He describes Parkour as a question and answer experience every time he moves; that what’s behind the jump is far more fascinating.
  • The group of people who created it are really artists. There was no YouTube, no social media- there aren’t even photos of them training. It was an authentic experience that had to be lived. It was a very mindful practice.
  • There is a real difference between those training for 1 or 2 years and those training for 7 years and beyond.
  • I talk about today's cultural bias to self-abuse with over training. With them, it didn’t go this route because of their relationship to it. Everything was trial and error and high repetitions. People think it would be damaging or a destructive culture- but they had been training for years to get there. They spent a decade exploring what they could do and gradually increasing that. For anyone to imitate that they are going to break their body.
  • They weren’t training for a competition or a TV show- it was only to see what they were capable of. There were competitive elements among them but nothing external. It was like a secret society.
  • They would fall down onto concrete and people would think “what about their knees!?” they’ve been training for 25 years and their knees are fine. It defies the logic we’re told, but they were moving every day in very gradual progressions.
  • A day off would be maybe just 3 or 4 hours of training and a 10 mile run.
  • Their training was the thing that gave meaning to their lives.
  • How has Parkour changed Julie? "It taught me to be brave again. When I was confronted with an obstacle or a challenge I realized I never thought I would be the person who couldn’t do that. This growth mindset in Parkour- that you’ll never be the best, so you’re just trying to improve."
  • "I would envision these really tragic injuries. I realized how disconnected I had become from my environment. I can see now a beauty and an opportunity for places and for movement. You realize that things aren’t fixed- nothing is one thing.
  • "I see a lot more beauty and opportunity in the world. By having all these fears revealed to me I can address them and overcome them. It’s a process.
  • One end of the spectrum is this desire to overtrain and abuse ourselves and the other end is our super careful, bubble wrapped way of being in the world. Parkour is an opportunity to find the middle road.
  • There’s been some great work introducing Parkour to school children as an alternative to PE. If we’re not teaching people who to deal with risk when they are young, how will they deal with it as adults?  This idea of comfort and convenience is very unhealthy. The more you engage with challenge the better facilitated you are mentally and emotionally.
  • A lot of people are quite lonely and isolated in their urban lives and this is a way to reconnect.


Breaking the Jump (the book)

Julie Angel's primary website (which includes her gorgeous Parkour and MovNat films!)

Julie's See and Do project

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