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BRUCE LEE AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF PARKOUR
By Rob Green


Bruce Lee realised that although steeped in thousands of years of tradition, that's exactly what martial arts were - traditions.

There were too many rules, too many set moves. There was no freedom of movement, and so, no freedom of thought. He believed that sparring required an individuality in order to be useful, not just mindless, imitative repetition. By doing so, you never learn to truely understand the movement which you are undertaking. Instead, you become like a robot.

The very same thing applies to parkour. People walk from a to b oblivious to the fact that they're even 'moving.' They think about what's on tv later or what they ate for breakfast. They are completely unaware that they are being 'traditional.' Everyone moves like that because everyone else does, and always has. Bruce learned that tradition in such a context was actually wrong. By only following set rules, we immediately lose our freedom. He wanted to develop a martial art that would allow instinctive movement. He believed that the most effective martial art would have an absence of thought as it's doctrine, not a rigid pre-set frame of thought.

In essence the aim was not to concentrate on working out a situation, but instead to somehow 'be in thought yet devoid of thought.' This is difficult because we are associative, sentient beings. All our perceptions at any one time are based on all those that have gone before. Therefore by 'assessing' a situation we immediatley relate it to others we have experienced and the whole process can lead to self doubt and negativity. Bruce said of his martial art, 'Jeet kune Do,' "can you look at a situation without naming it? Naming it, making it a word, causes fear."

The concept of trying not to think of the situation you are in, but merely trying to 'feel' your way through it, is as fundamental to parkour as it was to Bruce. There is a saying that links the two perfectly, "hesitation causes fear." Obviously, the moment when you are hesitating, you are thinking unneccessarily. You are assessing the situation, comparing and relating it to previous situations. This is the last thing you should do in parkour. In Bruce's martial arts, it may mean you get hit, in parkour, it could mean death. Many practitioners of parkour who 'feel' this philosophy, even though they may not know it, do indeed practice this method of 'being in thought, yet without thought.' It is the concept of 'freeing the mind.'

The idea that just before a jump, the absolute last thing you should be thinking of really is actually the jump itself. You should in fact be seeing yourself on the other side. You should be feeling the movement that is about to happen, not thinking about what will happen if the movement isn't executed properly. A Zen belief which inspired Bruce at this point, was the following regarding human movement itself:

"I'm moving and not moving at all. It is not, "I am doing this," but rather, an inner realization that "this is happening though me," or "it is doing this for me. The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action."

It is this very understanding that directly links Jeet Kune Do with parkour. The whole point of parkour is to travel from one point to another in the smoothest, most efficient way possible. And in order to this, one must achieve 'fluidity.' Any time spent wondering whether or not one can achieve what needs to be done is time where the mind is busy calculating negativity. The second you think, 'I have to get this jump right or I'm dead,' you immediately hinder your abilities by causing fear. This in itself may cause the very failure it was intended to seek out. If you can achieve a belief within yourself that you are 'flowing' through your course, you will simply wash over the obstacles in your path. You will encounter them and move freely past them. You must be able to reach a oneness between your body and your environment. Bruce learned that in order to execute this effectively, it was not the mastery of manouvres that was important, but instead the mastery of will. In order to achieve a simplicity of consiousness as oppposed to constant thought, it is necessary to forget about the outcome and the situation.

Forget about winning and losing, forget about pride and pain. On this matter he states:

"Jeet Kune Do does not beat around the bush. It does not take winding detours. It follows a straight line to the objective. Simplicity is the shortest distance between two points. The art of Jeet kune Do is simply to simplify."

He could have been talking about parkour with that very statement. The very point of parkour is, well, imagine being chased by a lion. The aim is to get away as efficiently as possible or you get chomped on. In order to do this effectively, we must simplify things as much as possible. With Bruce the end point was a clean, effective strike, with parkour it is reaching another point in space. That is why such things as flips and somersaults, if used at times when more simplistic solutions are available, are not parkour. If they are performed in this manner, then they are more art than efficiency and hence are not parkour.

The world is seen differently through every pair of eyes, and to follow the right path for you you must view the world through your own. We just accept that someone has decided that a group of walls and railings will determine our route from point a to point b. And, like sheep, we follow. Mindlessly. No longer do we enjoy the freedom of personal expression in finding our own path, and although there are many out there who are happy in this mindset, there are also many who aren't.

There may be many routes from a to b, and who you are will detemine which path you choose and how you follow it. It is this expression of your inner self through the freedom of true, instinctive movement that shows the artistic element of parkour. Not unneccessary moves like 'palmspins.' Through parkour we find a more natural, instinctive art. JKD, although martial, is an art all the same due to Bruce's firm belief in this artistic form of addressing motion. He made the observation that:

"An artist's expression is his soul made apparent, his schooling, as well as his "cool" being exhibited. Behind every motion, the music of his soul is made visible. Otherwise, his motion is empty and empty motion is like an empty word - no meaning. Art is never decoration, embellishment; instead, it is the work of enlightenment. Art, in other words, is a technique for acquiring liberty."

Note - 'art is never decoration, embellishment.' Here he also mentions 'schooling.' This is because before you can talk, you must learn language. Although parkour speaks of passing obstacles smoothly and efficiently without allowing the process of thought, this is in essence the ultimate aim. The never ending pursuit of this 'oneness' is what drives parkour as a discipline. It is now that it becomes clear why it is indeed a discipline like JKD. It is not just an art form, but in fact a fully rigorous physical and psychological pursuit. In order to achieve the main aim you must be confident of your ability. But you cannot become confident if you do not train long and hard. Parkour is considered by most to be a sport - but it is not. You will not let anyone else down if you do not perform. There are no rules or time limits you must follow in order to achieve greatness. You will never need to 'score' to achieve. As the shaolin say:

"It does not matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop."

There are many ways in which the body can naturally move, and it takes a long time and a lot of dedication to find what your own body is capable of. There are certain ways of clearing obstacles that feel comfortable to some and uncomfortable to others, again - another form in which self expression of the soul becomes apparent. You should let the energy of motion 'move through you,' instead of predeciding how it will flow. When you reach an obstacle, you want your body to already know the way in which it will move. This takes time, effort, discipline, dedication and practice to learn. Bruce trained like this with JKD. He did not want to try to guess before a move which one would be best suited, so he would try to 'feel' them out by not predetermining any movement. He described the process as

"Movements with a point. The point is the doing of them rather than the accomplishments. There is no actor but the action; there is no experiencer, but the experience..... Art calls for complete mastery of techniques, developed by reflection in the soul."

And so we come to the inevitable conclusion regarding the comparison of Bruce Lee's philosophies behind Jeet Kune Do and the fundamental philosophies that drive parkour as a discipline and a way of life. We must become free of set ways and traditions brought down on us by those who came before and we must find ourselves. Within is where we must look in order to truely see the without.

Remember, it is our eyes we were meant to see through, not someone elses. Do not follow those who choose to take you over like sheep. Do not accept that which is drummed into you, ask instead why they would want to to control your thoughts, to take away your freedom. Why do others try to hold us back anyway, hold us down? Do not be gripped by them. Do not move like robots for it cages you inner being. Be instead free and formless.

Like water. Certain people believe parkour can be roughly translated into english as 'freerunning.' This, contrary to popular belief, does not describe the notion of running around freely, but instead the idea of water running freely, the idea that you should be like water and flow freely - like the water of a river. When it encounters obstacles, it does not hesitate nor flounder, it simply follows it's path freely around, over, under or through. If said water is flowing down a stream, it may crash into a rock with power, or it may flow smoothly past it, for it has no predetermined form and so flows freely. Therefore, as Bruce said:

"Be like water making it's way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend."

And so in my belief, Bruce Lee did indeed have the exact same philisophical beliefs evident at the hard core of parkour thinking.
Bruce Lee quotes from 'tao of Jeet Kune Do,' shaolin qoutes from, well, years of training - can't remember, look 'em up yourself...





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