Dynamic Arts - Lessons Learned

Although these methods of moving have only become popular recently, we can take a look at other areas which may provide some insight into what will happen to us as a group.

Warming up

Warming up before training is essential. There are many warm up routines, but joint rotations and jogging to your practice site, then beginning with smaller, slower moves should be more than adequate. Failing to warm up can lead to tissue tears, missed jumps and grabs, and in extreme cases, serious health problems.

Overstretching

Sometimes in the need to increase flexibility, stretching will be done with too much gusto, too often, or without a suitable warm up. The best time for stretching is after some exercise. Indoors, it is best to stretch half way through an exercise routine to ensure everyone is warmed up.

Isometric stretching every day will cause injury as muscles will not have had time to recover, and stretching injured muscles will cause further injury. Two days per week is sufficient to increase flexibility. Four days per week is the safe upper limit providing no sore points develop.

Dynamic stretching can be done every day.

Static stretching for long periods every day will only cause injury if muscles and other tissues are pushed to their limits and not given sufficient time to recover. If sore areas develop, stop that particular stretch. If the sore areas do not ease within a few days, go and see your doctor.

Overtraining

Overtraining can lead to exhaustion and injury. Exhaustion is caused by training too long or too often, and injury occurs when bodily parts and functions are stretched beyond their elastic limits. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, some rock climbers were training by hanging from door frames and doing lots of pull ups. Static hanging led to problems where fluids drained or were forced from places which movement would have kept lubricated, and overdynamic exercises caused bone, tendon and muscle problems.

Some martial artists have persistent injury problems or reduced movement as the result of accidents or repeated strikes to an already weakened location. Other less direct injuries can occur from driving the body too hard or too often to the limit of strength or endurance. This tough it out, do or die, no pain no gain attitude produces many strong athletes, but at the expense of a high drop out rate, and injury to a minority.

Overtraining can be corrected with rest, but rest may mean a layoff of a year or more. Those who cannot layoff, find that surgery is the only solution. Recovering from surgery enforces a longer layoff than was originally required.

On a more positive note, following rest or surgery, people return to their sports without losing too much of their profound ability.

The good news is that the dynamic nature of any dynamic arts should keep joints lubricated, and tissues ready for dynamic stretching. Overtraining can be avoided simply by not drilling the same exercise too many times, and by varying the exercise slightly to use different movements.

Always recognize pain or discomfort as a sign to stop.

Overexpectation

The best Traceurs, tricksters, etc. have spent many years perfecting their art. Newcomers can see immediately what is achievable, but do not always appreciate the preparation, and the long years of allowing the body to adapt. Some immediate injuries have already occurred as a result of trying to emulate on-screen action. Hence the oft-repeated warning on television of Don’t try this at home.

Longer term injuries are usually due to the combined effects of jumping and landing on hard surfaces. Jumper’s knee (akin to Tennis elbow) is a form of tendinitis, or inflammation of the tendons around the knee. The problem with Tendinitis is that it takes a long time after the pain has gone away before the tendon truly heals. Further stress on an improperly healed tendon creates more damage and longer lasting pain. Many tendonitis ‘cures’ such as an ice pack or cortisone are not always the right cure.

If it really hurts, use anti-inflammatory cream or tablets and go to the doctor.

Following the leader It is a natural animal instinct to learn by mimicking others. The more we respect, the more we try. There is one huge danger that in trying to mimic others’ huge jumps across rooftops, someone will get seriously hurt. As the leader of a group, it is your responsibility to realise the limits of others’ skills and steer them away from high risk.

Skateboarding

Skateboarding was once an exclusively urban sport. Skateboarders gathered in number in city hotspots and disturbed the peace of those who weren’t skateboarders. They got in the way, effectively closing off pedestrian routes with the menacing promise of a catapulted skateboard in the shins. The immediate solution was the short arm of the law. Policemen and women moved them on. Today’s solution would be an ASBO. The long term solution was to build skateparks.

We urban roamers do not get in the way as much as skateboarders, but we are possibly inviting some reaction for we are disturbing the peace by not moving with the same rhythm and in the same way as passers by. Glaring at them until they get out of the way will reduce their tolerance. Being nice, or even entertaining, may reduce it less slowly.

Many city hotspots were once skateboarding hotspots, and bear the scars of signs declaring No Skateboarding. If we disturb others, they will soon say No Parkour, No Free-running, if, indeed, they can decide exactly what to put on their signs.

As Woodie Guthrie wrote in This Land is Your Land:

As I was walking, I saw a sign there
And that sign said no trespassing
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing
Now that side was made for you and me
 

Climbing

Rock climbing was once an exclusively outdoor activity. In the 1980s indoor climbing walls began to be built. They began as brick walls with steel and wood shelves, and later evolved into grit and epoxy mixtures moulded on fibreglass frames or plywood boards. Twenty years later, there are more people on the artificial walls that on the outdoor crags.

The skills of indoor trained climbers are higher than their aged counterparts because they can train all year round on extremely demanding moves in good environmental conditions. Before the walls, rock climbing was seasonal. Climbing on winter rock meant lichens, moulds and puddles. The rock was cold, wet and greasy, friction was low, and the likelihood of injury greatly increased.

An indoor wall, on the other hand, can be reached relatively quickly, and it is dry and warm all year round. The skill level can be maintained, and no adjustment to technique or the difficulty of the chosen route is required. There is also no slow beginning to the year while you get in condition again.

Urban activities do not suffer as much from location, as it is as easy to get to a hotspot at any time of the year. But it does suffer from wet conditions. Even a slight drizzle greatly reduces friction, increasing the risk of a slip or a fall from a jump or a balance. Maybe one day we will have indoor parks. Nice warm, dry ones, with sofas to sit around and read magazines and discuss techniques and say who’s good and who’s not, unlike at climbing walls.

Films

Parkour and free-running style moves can be seen in action movies from Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, via Douglas Fairbanks Jr, to today’s many martial arts and action stars. Some of these moves or stunts are very impressive, but you must bear in mind that they were done on sets designed for the specific skills and attributes of the actor or stuntman. In many cases they are also using wires.

Our urban environment is not always best suited to the length of our stride or jump, and we cannot overcome the laws of physics in the way that a wired or computer generated character can. Trying to mimic great film or videogame moves will probably make your movement more watchable, but remember that the moves may be a trick of industrial light and magic.

Choreography

There are lots of Parkour videos available on the web. Some of them are very good, and what separates the good ones from the less so, is the choreography – the effort of putting together the moves and sections into one seamless whole. Jackie Chan believes his movies succeed more because of his choreography talents than his martial arts skills.*

So, if you’re making a film, be prepared to impress as much with your choreography as with your raw talent.