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
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
"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
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
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
Bruce Lee quotes from 'tao of Jeet Kune Do,' shaolin qoutes
from, well, years of training - can't remember, look 'em up
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