terça-feira, 28 de outubro de 2008

The point of return

“There is no return beyond a certain point. That is the point one must reach.” - Franz Kafka.

A question

“Why do I do Parkour?” should be the capital question of any traceur. This question marked the end of the last “Rendezvous”, which included members of the Yamakasi, people who dedicated all their lives to Parkour. That itself proves its pertinence, for to formulate that question is to search the meaning of training for Parkour in one’s life.

Behind this question resides another, more general and comprehensive,: “Why do anything at all?”. It may sound absurd at first a question like this and, without the proper preparation, it is absurd, because its true formulation, beyond its mere phonetic dimension, requires an exercise of abstraction that shifts and relativizes everything one apprehends as “facts” in one’s life: the family it was born into, the place where it lives, the profession it has, what one studies, what one does in it’s free time, what one trains to become. This exercise is successful when we feel a certain convulsion in the stomach, a shiver down the spine, something that feels like nausea. That’s when we look at those “facts” from above and, like a map, flatten them to the second dimension. Only then can be understood where the map ends.

A philosophical exercise such as this is difficult to go through and more difficult to maintain. However, doing it for the first time takes us to a point of no return. Wherever we go, the remembrance remains alive and ready to take us back to that point. This happens because the act of relativizing the “facts” shifts our usual referential, which some might not even be aware of, and places it in between the two most important events of any life: birth and death. The moment which marks the beginning of Time, the countdown, when world Is, and the ultimate end, the black wall where everything falls in oblivion.

When I ask “Why do I do Parkour?” it’s under these terms that I do it. That’s constantly evident in my thought. Under this light, as comprehensive as possible, the word “Parkour” loses its meaning and gains the power of the chameleon. It metamorphoses freely and takes the place of anything one wishes: “Why do anything at all?”.

Before this viewpoint, there is an attitude, the most applicant, the most comforting and, in a way, one which we are programmed from birth to maintain: to erase the undertaken exercise, forget it, grab on to something else that fulfils life with meaning. With this attitude, however, “Parkour” maintains its chameleonic power, because anything – everything - is worth when it comes to keep one alienated from that sharp evidence: that death cleans it all. Any pastime (it the strong meaning of the word) is usable, and Parkour is as good as any other before the lack of meaning with which, apparently, life presents us with. Actually, it is that lack of meaning that gives all the more meaning to one’s attitude. Even if we acknowledge that there is nothing we can do before the inevitability of oblivion and death, why insist on it? Why waste time dwelling on that dead end? Life doesn’t cease to be, and one doesn’t stop being able to do things just because there is no reason to all this.

I won’t allow this to become a quarrel and will accept this position on the matter. Not only this, but the way in which I want to think of Parkour involves the making of that choice towards life. Thus, I accept that it is worth doing things in life and not stopping in the aporia it presents us with. However, I won’t allow the referential to shift again, simply because I can’t do it. If I grant myself a reason to evaluate things in what is considered a “normal” or “common” viewpoint, I know that in the next day, or the day after, that strong, visceral, painful remembrance will take me to that absolute referential (the only one) and all the meaning will mix again, and the volume with which our emotions fill the “facts” with will shrink to a paper sheet thinness.

With this, the question “Why do I do Parkour?” can be again formulated under a new light. With the meaning I lend it now, I want to keep it from metamorphosing. I want to know why must I place “Parkour” in the question and not something else. I have accepted that something – anything - must be placed there. But why “Parkour”?

In the way I’ve formulated the question, all the motives which are shared among the community lose their value: “I do Parkour because it’s fun, because I want to be fit, because I want to be prepared for a possible emergency, because I want to be famous, because it’s aesthetically pleasant, because I admire who does it, because it gives me a sense of freedom, because I have too much free time, because I want to be able to help others, because I like to film and watch myself doing things few can, because it allows me to meet other people and make friendships, because I want to do action movies, etc”.

None of these reasons is exclusive of Parkour. Some of these don’t even resemble the spirit which the community likes to see involving Parkour. More important than that, none of them implies that the word we place in the question should be “Parkour”. If I practiced climbing, if I were a musician, if I were a scientist, if I enjoyed collecting stamps, the reasons I’d give to do that would be as non-valid as any a traceur might give to practice Parkour. Its relevance would be equivalent, all flat. Because the value of a reason is derived from the power it has over our choices, and the strength with which it makes us do a particular activity - , there is no such value in a reason as long as it doesn’t provide an answer to the question in the terms I’ve stated it. It will only have power over me when its value is unconditional, when its value holds itself beyond that influence it may have over my particular, contingent, choices. Otherwise I will have as many different reasons to do something else as I will have to do Parkour.

An argument, more obvious and probably supported by most of the people, is that one doesn’t need any reasons to do Parkour. You simply do it and keep on doing it. However it may threaten to resolve the matter and lead us to abandon the discussion, this argument has the same importance as all the other reasons mentioned above. It doesn’t tell us why one should do Parkour instead of anything else, and it goes against our very need to question ourselves about this. And, if I feel the urge to question myself, I should do it and look for an answer that calms this urge, instead of running away from it, cover it with a white, immaculate cloth, a white sheet void of thoughts.

Not only this, but if we think about the usefulness of the debate in what concerns awaking other consciences for the phenomenon of Parkour, to avoid finding a clear, positive reason to practice Parkour means leaving the matter of the increase and decrease of our community to chance, and it means not knowing what to answer when someone asks us to describe the importance of Parkour, and it means not knowing how to communicate to others why we do Parkour. And the first and ultimate support of a community is communication. On the other hand, if we manage to answer the question, we will find a way of showing to anyone why we do Parkour and why should anyone do Parkour also.

It intrigues me the reasons people give when a debate like this arises within the community. Everyone, except perhaps the first generation of traceurs, was a person prior to being a traceur. There was a personal context in which Parkour was inserted from the outside; there was an adaptation of our lives, our routines, our schedule, to the implications of the practice of Parkour. That which was absorbed by each one depended on the circumstances in which it took Parkour to its own life, in which it came to know Parkour, and the objectives it set to itself when it started to practice.

I believe that, like everything else we decide to do with our lives, there are multiple layers or levels of involvement with Parkour that represent the intensity with which we accept it in our lives. With each layer comes different responsibilities, compromises, different beliefs at different degrees, and it is the level of involvement a traceur finds himself in that will determine the training it will endure, and the traceur it will become. That level will itself depend on its short or long term plans of its life and how much one is willing to sacrifice to achieve them. At the same time, the necessary discipline and the personal changes one must go through will depend on the physical and mental distance which separates one from those achievements. All is very much concatenated, and it makes sense for a traceur to ask himself at one point in his route “How involved am I?”, and proceed to an analysis of the answer it comes up with.

More important than this, the level of involvement will determine our open-mindedness to do anything else. However it may be true that our spending of time and resources will contribute to a more perfect and more important result of what we do, it is certain we will not be able to spend that same time and resources again to do something else. You can’t eat a cake and keep it.
To be able to answer the question “Why do I do Parkour?” would lead one to the deepest level of involvement possible, where Parkour becomes all one lives to do. With Yamakasi, and all that first generation, their lives was Parkour prior to them being able to formulate the question and, perhaps due to that, they might have an answer of their own.

An answer

For the two and a half years of my path in Parkour I have kept alive a constant doubt on my level of involvement with it, on the choices I must make on what I will build. I should say that ever since I believed all that Parkour can be in my life, beyond its pastime activity, that much of my training exercise has been to understand its correct dimension and its adequacy to what my life was before I started practicing. Based on that dimension, I tried to answer the question “What importance has Parkour in my life?”. Its not that everyone has this kind of doubts, not that there isn’t people who never have tried to reach an insight on their own idea of what Parkour is (which doesn’t mean they won’t have an idea of some sort), nor that there isn’t people who despise this sort of analysis. For me however, who tried to look from day one to the future I wanted for myself, the path of traceur ran along that future “I” who I want to become. “Ran along” and not “overlapped”. And this despite my understanding of what future might that be exactly. The important is that choices that were presented to me throughout my training, that had to be made, were never taken lightly.

I have always put everything at stake, even though, some of the times, I would only feel a slight bite of discomfort while I chose to go train instead of doing something else, sometimes almost as if I should be doing something else. I’ve always looked to be as aware as possible of the implications a serious dedication to such a demanding activity as Parkour brings with it, of the way I would then face all other possibilities, of everything I had to renounce, all the non-choices I made with every choice done for Parkour. In a word, I faced Parkour with responsibility. To me, that means placing the question “Why do I do Parkour?” in the terms stated above, even when not explicitly, simply sensing the presence more or less constant in each training of what I aspire one day to become, before Parkour, and all those choices prior to my training it.
Because of this, my path wasn’t continuous but dashed. During my first and a half year of training a lot of times I would pause and place questions, trying to convince myself it was Parkour I wanted to do at that exact time and for the rest of my life. There were frequent fluctuations of my confidence, as I progressed and committed myself to the activity of Parkour but trying to keep a returning point if I should want to go back and do something else with my life. I’m not referring to a quantitative commitment, as if I would only do Parkour with every hour I had, but to a qualitative commitment, so intense it would change forever the way I contemplated my future.

Of course there was always the possibility of facing everything in a lighter mood, just like simply having fun. But I knew that my responsible commitment meant facing things with definitive importance. Even if there was any time left to do a lot of other things, I knew that if I didn’t impose this to myself, I would end up neglecting some parts of training, lose discipline and risk ending up with an injury. In short, I would be wasting time trying to practice Parkour in the least efficient way possible.

Part of my strategy to deal with this obstacle, the most important in all, was to convince myself that, because Parkour was in its embryo stage, its concept was still open and could be taken not only as a physical activity but also as an attitude of learning and confidence when facing the desire to do anything – everything - as long as I was truly dedicated to it. I would face Parkour as a kind of revelation that would awaken whoever was willing to listen to it, announcing the possibility of expansion and emancipation of ideas and feelings. I found myself believing that if I saw Parkour as the true chameleonic activity, so complete that included the possibility to do everything, I would no more have the necessity to fit it in my life’s schedule, it would no more occupy the space reserved for all other things in my life because it would become that same space where all things happen. With this in mind, Bruno Campos and I decided to create a blog [www.percurso-parkour.blogspot.com] that expressed that precise feeling towards Parkour, where we could stretch to its limits the definition of Parkour and include all those things we would like to do that the usual conception of it wouldn’t allow.

As time passed, with progression and empirical learning of what in Parkour cannot change, I began to think of these ideas as inadequate and somewhat romantic. It occurred to me that all these doubts and thoughts could be signs of discomfort, as if I should be doing something else other than Parkour. It wasn’t de definition of Parkour that had to be stretched but my hopes and aspirations that had to shrink in order to fit with reality. I found that from my initial point of view, with all the dreams and expectations, I started forming some chimerical and naïve ideas of what could Parkour become. I defied reality in believing that being a traceur was more than what it really is, in believing that it meant being in a privileged position when compared to being anything else. I know now that those were ideas of someone that had never practiced Parkour in its truer sense.

Everyone, even unconsciously, has its own personal conception of what Parkour is. However personal we might admit that conception to be, what Parkour is will never become clear and true without a long, empirical (not theoretical), experience of its training. We arrive at that conception through the knowledge given to us by sacrifice and hard work of an everyday training programme. Because changes occurred in a traceur are more than physiological and psychological, they affect his beliefs and desires, his hopes and personality as much as his activity is affected by these. If a traceur builds himself an idea of Parkour in the beginning of his training he should be able to make it permeable to the suggestions his experiences influence him with and should manage to reshape it and polish it with the passage of time. It took some time before I understood this and until then my training was somewhat mined by these preconceptions.

Up to a certain point of my evolution as a traceur I managed to keep myself from answering the question stated above. I couldn’t know the answer nor needed I to know it. I would debate myself in search of it but, even though I wouldn’t find it just by thinking about it, that never kept me from training, it was never a real physical impediment to my progression and that itself proved the empirical character of Parkour that I had forgotten. Thus I reached a stage in my physical evolution where an answer, or something I could place for an answer, came up to me clear and powerful: The conviction that no answer could be given to the question.
There is not one absolute valid reason why someone that doesn’t practice Parkour should start doing Parkour. The importance Parkour may have to a non-traceur isn’t dependent on a definition of it; it’s simply dependent on the particularities of each life upon its first contact with Parkour, and only if such a contact does happen. It might seem somewhat naïve of me to believe it necessary to say this, but I say it and if it is naïve then I am naïve.

This enlightened new way of thinking about Parkour was attained when I felt reaching a point of no return in my training, that is, a point beyond which the sacrifice and deliverance were such that I would nevermore be able to give away what I had already accomplished, for anything. For me to continue to progress efficiently and completely in Parkour, it would have to become the priority in my life. I realized that and was thus forced to make a choice. I decided to never train Parkour again.

I could indeed simply give away my aspirations of becoming the best I could in Parkour, the best traceur it is possible for me to become. I could, truth be said, learn from all this that, instead of training to be the best I could, I should content myself with becoming the best my time and the space in my life permitted.

I still chose not to for two reasons:
I learned a lot about myself and my personality in the two years and a half of my experience. Throughout my training the method of Parkour pushed my adapting capabilities to its limits because of its exigency of certain traces of character as perseverance, resistance or confidence. That was only possible because, when facing obstacles, I stopped myself from deserting and forced myself to find solutions to them. And I did it because I insisted on that chimerical idea of Parkour I stated above. Without it I don’t believe I would ever have the strength to surpass some of the difficulties presented. As I said, that idea evolved to become what I believe to be more realistic and I know that I won’t be capable of surpassing such difficulties with its new version. Some demands that Parkour brings with it are too much for me and I don’t feel I want to fulfil them unless I make it the priority in my life, something I am not willing to do.

The second reason (somewhat more positive than the first) has to do with what it means to dedicate myself to something. I discovered through Parkour what it means true dedication. It was not until I reached that point of no return that things became really serious to me and only then I found out what the word serious means. And that I owe to Parkour. I know now I want to go beyond the point of no return of something and I know what that means. I just don’t know yet what it will be though I know it is not Parkour.

Much is said about what Parkour is. There are frequent debates on the community on what drives someone to training Parkour. It was an answer I searched for when I first realized the dimension Parkour can have in one’s life. I did find an answer though it is personal and truly not shareable. It is not universal.
The only thing universal and that should be faced with the utmost responsibility by all traceurs alike is the question: “Why do I do Parkour?”.