Movement and Conversation; From Capoeira to Parkour

Craig: One of the things that I see, when I’ve seen Capoeira is, it’s clearly a conversation. You can see that it could be combative and antagonistic, but there’s a conversation happening there. A lot of times in parkour, there are certain people I have in mind, that conversation is happening when you train with them, and in other situations that’s missing. So I’m just wondering [00:09:00] what your thoughts are, from an original Capoeira point of view, coming into parkour.

Paul: Sure. Capoeira is … One of the most common books on it is called The Origins of the Dance Fight Game. We can’t even manage to get a name right on it, because it’s more than each of those things.

Craig: What? A sport that doesn’t know what to call itself?

Paul: Strong parallels right. There’s a big part of that is, how you respond to external things beyond your control, and then how you master then. That’s the part [00:09:30] that makes it completely organic. Why do they never hit each other? Well they are trying to-

Craig: They are trying to-

Paul: But you see it coming, and you get out of the way. Now in the same way, and this is actually, I’m a wordsmith, I’m a poet, I love words and that’s the analogy I’ve always preferred for Capoeira, you learn a vocabulary of movements. You can think of those as a language. Then the grammar and the structure, if I were to say to you, “Hey how’s it going?” That might be doing a gentle movement near you, and occupying your space, interacting with your environment, making you respond physically. You can choose a response like, [00:10:00] “Oh, I’m interesting. How are you?” Or you can say, “Get away from me.”

Craig: I’m feeling injured and vulnerable-

Paul: Right, and so that is exactly the same way, informed a little bit by music, but also you choose. If someone comes in really hot and heavy from the beginning, you’re like, “Quit yelling at me.” It’s almost the same level of interaction, but also, from the very beginning in Capoeira, no matter what level you are, you can play the game with anyone. My first summer in Capoeira, with no experience, feeling like [00:10:30] a gawky, barely out of his teens kid who knew nothing about what he was doing, surrounded by these Adonis examples of human beings … Was that everyone was in every show, and we did shows at every public library in San Antonio, which is like 20-plus separate performances. In public, without a shirt, with just white skinny pants on. It was very difficult for me at that point in my life, but I learned that was part of it.

You can play with anyone. They’re not playing down to you. Is like having a conversation with someone, where [00:11:00] your language is their second language. You don’t think there are any less intelligent, or any less capable of carrying on the conversation-

Craig: In fact, you try harder. If I know that is not your first language, then I’m trying to be more particular about the things that I ask of you.

Paul: Exactly, you’re controlling … Your word choice must be more careful, so that you don’t send the wrong message, and your awareness for their space, and that is how it is to play Capoeira with someone, and we do call it playing Capoeira, that is all it is ever called, with someone who is not yet as versed as you are maybe. [00:11:30] That mindset around coaching Capoeira, you learn from beginners as well. You start teaching very early on.

Craig: What was the phrase-

Paul: “I am a master who learns. I am a student who teaches.” It was the first quote I read when I opened Nestor Capoeira‘s, The Little Capoeira Book, which was my first Capoeira teacher. Later I un-learned a lot of the things I taught myself wrong, but in that-

Craig: Ah, the human existence right?

Paul: Yes. Well, until I had other people. The social aspect is how we learn.

Craig: Oh, that’s a good-

Paul: …and that ties [00:12:00] in directly to, how does this now all apply to parkour? Well, in parkour, we are moving, and we’re still having that conversation, but rather than having it in this pure philosophical realm where it’s just two people talking across a table, and I say that to say that the roda is just a circle on the ground.

Craig: Right, there’s two people talking across the proverbial table in a circle.

Paul: There’s nothing else in that space. Now you start adding obstacles, obstacles to understanding, obstacles to reaching what may or may not be your goal … [00:12:30] Or, and then when you talk about people who do this, contact improvisation comes to mind and there’s specific movers, but when you play with your environment, and I use the term play from an educational sense, not a trivial sense. That’s always a conversation. From a Capoeira sense, playing with your environment is engaging with your environment, responding to your environment. When you do a thing, find out what the environments doing, come back. It’s almost like stationary Capoeira is like, imagine this wall is just a person, in [00:13:00] a set scheme-

Craig: In a set position-

Paul: Like in a block. Now what can I do around that? That gets a little further into what I did once I got with the two together, but I think that conversation piece comes from taking the landscape of the conversation that you’re having with someone, or with movement, and then how do these things fit into this conversation of movement. So is not always imposing my will. I want to do this line, this way. That can be one mindset that you see people have, versus this place … [00:13:30] I want to play with the idea of how I would vault over this to that.

Craig: Right, what opportunities are here.

Paul: Right, and those are very different mindsets that both exist. I know a lot of people might approach their training both ways, different days. For me, I usually need some sort of that engagement piece, or it doesn’t seem as fun to me. Just doing that same line over and over, it can be like optimizing, there’s different things there, but that is what really came to me.

Craig: Everybody [00:14:00] who has been to the situations where someone, or a small group of people, are working on a particular challenge in a line, and then you develop the bystander group, and suddenly it’s a group of people watching other people do parkour. The question I always have is, where does that actually come from? Does that stem from the people who are doing — let’s call that a line — the people who are doing that line, that challenge, or is it somehow coming from the people that are watching what’s going on? Is there an ego at play there somewhere?

Paul: Sure, I think that it can really depend on the type of challenge. [00:14:30] So there’s something to be said for fun. You’re with people who are pushed through the same type of challenge you’re doing. That’s one thing that we want to foment at jams. Where you get those people together to challenge each other and do something really hard, and there might be a question of accessibility. Other people will start watching that, and that can be super discouraging. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be done, at all. On the contrary, it’s a really important part of it, but I feel like there is a … very often a, “I could never do that,” syndrome-

Craig: Sure-

Paul: Which we hear constantly from bystanders-

Craig: Which I totally associate with!

Paul: …and I feel like that, [00:15:00] it’s … I mean I don’t want to call it “ego”, because that makes people think of the … Of being too proud-

Craig: “Id” might be a better word.

Paul: Id might be. Yeah so, that the internal feeling, the sense of shame that you’re not good enough to do that challenge, or that you might never be able to, or you thought you were doing pretty good but look at these guys. These are all things that make people unwilling to continue moving in that moment.

Craig: They disengage from that conversation that we’ve been describing-

Paul: They’d rather just watch, because there is safety in spectating. When I think about communication, let’s tie this back- [00:15:30] it’s about a place where you can have people … You can choose what communicating you are doing as a group, and if it becomes clear that two or three people’s challenge is disengaging a huge number of people at that jam, being able to create a group of challenges, or similar challenges, or whatever it is to give other people something they can find manageable and engaging, and know that’s okay. That’s kind of about creating safe spaces, but I think it’s very much about being aware [00:16:00] of what’s being communicated to whom, and who or what they’re communicating back through their movement or lack of movement. In Capoeira, if the person doesn’t play with you, they don’t say anything to you, they don’t do anything, you wouldn’t just kick them.

Craig: Well you might; I wouldn’t!

Paul: I mean if you didn’t have a reason, no. If there’s in the roda, they showed up to the place where the conversation happens, and they don’t say anything, that instantly is a concern. You can’t have a conversation with only one side. [00:16:30] That would require a stop right there. That game is over. Someone else would call the game, and have the two people step out, or one person else step in. So in my mind, if you’re at the place where everyone has come to play, to move, to train hard … If “game” isn’t what works for your mind for that, to get that training and with other people, and to share that experience. People who feel disengaged from that, they’re communicating something too. I think it’s [00:17:00] super dependent on who is there, the situation, and being able to play with those energies, which is something I also picked up in Capoeira. The understanding, why might this motivation be happening. What is someone feeling, or not feeling in this moment.

I think my happiest times are engagement with others. That isn’t necessarily the truth for everyone, but … If you’re never engaged by training with other people, then jams aren’t probably something you’re attending anyway.