What does one do with a liberal arts education? How about hop around the globe studying people who jump off and around buildings? That is what Blake Evitt, a former Davidson French major decided to do directly after graduation in 2010.
If you listen to Pod’Cats, you may remember Blake. Blake is a practitioner of Parkour, and is spending this year studying the French martial art with funding from the Watson Fellowship. Commonly known as “free-running”, and recently featured in a James Bond flick, Parkour started as “l’art du déplacement.” Literally translated, it means the “art of displacement” or the “art of movement.” The goal of the art is to provide the basis for moving from one point to another regardless of any obstacles in the way. As it has evolved, Parkour has become less of an athletic pursuit and more of a life philosophy. In fact, the concept of overcoming obstacles is what initially drew Blake to Parkour.
After some years of experimenting with freerunning, Blake decided to apply for the Watson Fellowship to study Parkour around the globe. You may remember the Watson from Kate’s post “What do you do with a BA in English?” The Watson Fellowship is, “a one year grant for independent study and travel outside the United States awarded to graduating college seniors nominated by participating institutions.” Davidson is one of the 40 liberal arts colleges that takes part in this incredible opportunity. In 2010, Blake received the fellowship to “to go beyond the high-flying moves of parkour to search for the philosophy that unites practitioners around the globe.”"
He has been keeping a blog since the beginning of the project. “Making the Jump” chronicles Blake’s explorations of Parkour in the UK, Singapore, Australia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Italy, Germany, and Denmark. Blake wrote the following post at the end of his visit to Argentina, before heading out to Chile. Included in the post are some photos from his travels. Blake also mentions two videos he shot in Buenos Aires. To view them on YouTube, click here. We hope you enjoy!
“During my first few days in Chile I had the chance to think about my time in Buenos Aires and the parkour scene that I had witnessed there. The lasting impression that I got was of a divide between two opposing groups of thought that still managed to get along well and train together. The first group was one that I spent the majority of time with, not by a direct choice, but because I didn’t know about the second one until a few days before I left. This group is the one that has been featured in the last two videos, a group of very talented and very energetic young guys that have formed a sort of “family” and seem to share similar goals and values. These guys seem to train all the time, and while I was there they seemed pretty into the flashier flips and tricks that some might call “freerunning”. At the same time, they have by no means neglected to work on the efficient movement aspect, a fact that one soon notices after spending time watching them move. As one guy explained to me, “doing flips is training too, not only does it work a lot of the important muscle groups, but if you don’t do them over and over again you’re never going to do them well”. While there are distinct divisions to the group (older and more experienced members seem to train in their own group, while some of the younger ones seem to have formed another sub-group) they seem to be pretty harmonious and get along with each other and other practitioners pretty well.
The second group keeps a much lower profile and I suspect that it probably goes under the radar a lot (as it did with me the first week). This group is “led” by Walter Bongard, one of the first traceurs in Argentina, who acts as the “mentor” of the group. While Walter is physically unable to join in the training, he is very involved in the sessions and seems to be very generous in passing on his expertise to the younger guys. Walter’s philosophy seems to keep very close to the original idea of parkour as “efficient movement between point A and point B” as espoused by David Belle. After talking with Walter for a while, I started to understand his personal motivations for doing parkour and for passing on his experience to the next generations and I wasn’t too surprised to find that a lot of his ideas on parkour and the “parkour way of life” parallel those that I’ve heard around the world from veteran traceurs (i.e.: training parkour as a sustainable lifestyle so as not to burn out after a few years of tricking and acrobatics).
While Walter’s group seems to be a smaller group and one might even say marginalized, it did have the only female that I saw (or heard of) practicing in the Buenos Aires region. While I suspect that the lack of other females at the training sessions had a lot to do with the fact that everyone at the Saturday training session was between 14 and 23 (the effect was pretty amusing when I brought a few friends, including girls, over from the hostel to check things out); I didn’t see the Saturday sessions as a very “nurturing” environment. If guys wanted to learn, there were one or two guys from Walter’s group that were willing to give a crash course in movements, but on the large part, most of the guys seemed to stay within their own friend groups/crews and train whatever they wanted. I think that again this can be chalked up to a general lack in experience and leadership, something that seems to only exist with groups that have “older” members (by older I’m referring to older than 22/23ish).
The lack of any real organization was also a bit of an adjustment for me after spending the previous six months with the very organized and structure environments of Parkour Generations and the Australian Parkour Association. The Saturday ‘jams’ felt exactly like jams do if no one is trying to organize them, and the energy seemed to ebb and flow like the tides a lot of the time. They can be great for some people, and often the more acrobatic guys have a great time, but there is also a lot of standing around and watching going on. Maybe this is just personal preference playing bias here, but my thinking is usually that if I’m there to train, I want to be training or learning, not standing around watching others most of the time. That being said, I did enjoy the watching that I did, as the guys in Buenos Aires are a lot of fun and brought a sort of playfulness to their movement that I think is important to foster in all traceurs as I think it helps to relieve a lot of the tension that people can build up within themselves during training.”
If you are interested in learning more about Blake’s journeys abroad, check out “Making the Jump.”
During his travels, Blake became a foreign correspondent with Parkour Generations. For more information on this British freerunning group, click here!
To listen to Blake on Pod’Cats, Click Here!