It’s dusk and 25-30+ bodies are randomly standing around limbering up. Shaking hands. Making friends. Waiting in anticipation.

Waiting for whom?

The arrival of Chau Bell, Laurent Piemontesi and Stephanne. Two of these men are original members of the Yamakasi and all are practitioners of Art Du Déplacement from the ADD Academy. ADD? Art Du Déplacement?

The art of movement.

FROM ADD Academy Website:

The practice of Art Du Déplacement aims at the (re-)appropriation of one’s environment, via moving one’s body in respect of the environment, of nature, of other people and one’s surroundings.

More than mere athletes, the founding Yamakasi have developed a state of mind in order to no longer be subjected to one’s environment, but rather (re-)learn to act and interact with it. This relationship with one’s environment being constant, the Yamakasi have developed a new way to move, closer to our primal functions reviving their instincts, practically wild.

In this way Art Du Déplacement lays emphasis on the training and constitution of the human being. Indeed, the “modern” human body (and mind) no longer being adapted to a natural environment, it has been important for the Yamakasi founders to re-learn to use all the physical and functional capacities of their bodies.

For many of us involved in parkour, people like Chau and Laurent are an integral part of parkour mythology. These men were part of a group that was central to the creation, development and  popularisation of what is now an international phenomenon: parkour.

The life they have lived. The things they have experienced. Are beyond most, if not all, of us.

I mean, who among us can say that we created a movement? That we created a way of life and a way of being that was so enticing that it captured the minds of millions and will go on to effect the lives of generations to come?

Not me.

I’m a follower and a devotee. And that’s why I’m here. To learn from. Show respect to. Say THANK YOU! Pay homage. To run, sweat, jump, crawl, vault and strain with some of the people who made what I  enjoy, parkour, a THING!

It’s a sweeping realisation for me. And one that sinks-in later during the training session. But at some point in the night when my knees were popping and my hammies tightening, while Chau helps me to lunge with better form, I realised that my teacher was a co-creator of my entire parkour world!

From the names of skills I use and know well. To the kind of parkour I practice and the ‘high’ I feel when training goes well. All of that. ALL OF IT. These guys made it possible.

When they arrive they are dressed in ADD Academy Tees. They’re light framed, medium height, muscular. They’re quietly spoken. Polite. And walk the room introducing themselves with, “Hello”. Or ‘Bonjour’. To every person who came.

There is no hubris or sense of self-importance. There are no flowery speeches about who they are, what they are capable of, how they made history or why they’re so dam important. It’s just three men in charge if their own bodies and quietly going about the art of sharing their knowledge with others.

“Thank you for coming. We’re are here now! Sorry for being a little late. Let’s get started.” Chau Belle

And we begin, YAMAK style.

[Below is a video of a young Chau in action! Stunning]

I’ll admit I could not keep up! I’m not fit enough and the meniscus tears in my knees are an issue. I did what I could do and what I could do … HURT! And still hurts this morning.

Row after row of rolling through squat, creative lunging turns, leg swings in all directions, sprints and for the dancers in the room, a tour jete!

Yeah, I didn’t see that one coming. Tour jete! But hey why not? If the framework within which we are moving is ART. Then everything is licit, right?

One hour later. The warm-up was done!

This wholehearted dedication to conditioning and preparation prior to doing what we think is parkour or  art du déplacement, is what the Yamakasi group is famous for. And it’s clear to me that ADD is a physical discipline in the fullest sense of that word.

It’s hard to imagine that a group of teens in the 1980s spontaneously took it upon themselves to not only develop a physical practice (parkour) but to also ensure that the practice itself was infused with a single minded focus on physical preparation and conditioning!

Any yet that, it seems, is precisely what happened.

The night progressed to focus on the obstacles of this training space. The ‘environment we’re to (re-) appropriate and (re-)learn how to act within and interact with’.

And we do: passement, passe muraille, saut de precision.

We’re asked to move, first in the French and quickly translated into English to ensure that we actually do something! The importance of describing the moves in French is not lost on us. Chau stops to say that the moves, described in French, can mean something very different in English. Something, it appears, that can be lost in translation and of vital importance to the performance and understanding of the move itself.

Our guides guide carefully. Pointing out opportunities for betterment. Encouraging us to ‘lose the mind’ and jump with confidence.

There is no yelling. No motivational or rousing shout-outs. Just a calm, quiet delivery of description, performance, evaluation and repeat.

We were tested and we’re grateful.

At the end of the session it’s dark and we’re huddled together in squat. Gathered under the shadow of dim orange-yellow lights. Curled up with my knees to my chest I instantly feel my body heat and it makes me sweat some more. I notice that my shin, back and hands have all lost a little bit skin to this place. I gave it some of my blood too! Not that I noticed at the time.

We’re tired. Fatigued. Done. There is a sense that we all did this together and that feels important.

As we huddle there is laughter, joviality and jubilation. And while the noise is welcome, Chau brings the focus back to the activity. It’s time to stretch.

And NOW we’re done. And that’s training!

I try to imagine the kind of human I would become if the last three hours of YAMAK-style training, their standard operating practice, was my every day parkour routine! What we all might look like, feel like and behave.

Whatever the outcome, it would certainly be something extraordinary. As were (ARE) the Yamakasi.

As the night ended and we all made our way towards wherever it was we were going, I recalled a short movie, made by Julie Angel (I think), that seemed to perfectly capture what I just experienced. It was made during the early days of the Yamakasi before any contract deal, movie appearance. Before anyone was famous or well known. Before parkour was parkour!

It’s a ‘day’s training with Parkour Generations, the Yamakasi founders and Majestic Force in the forrest at Sarcelles, one of the lesser known locations that were pivotal in the history of parkour and art du deplacement.’

It shows an adult group, enthusiastically training in nature. Sharing knowledge, skill, challenge and fun. Pushing physical boundaries and personal limits. There’s camaraderie and spontaneity. Training is laid back AND demanding. It feels pure, in the purest sense of the idea of parkour. 

In my own small way. I got to feel that sense of authenticity of movement this evening with Chau Bell, Laurent Piemontesi and Stephanne.

I drove home with the window open and the stereo off. Lost in thought as the cool night breeze wrapped around the car, chilling my sweat. After a cold shower I  collapsed into bed in a happy heap.

What a night.

Damien Norris is the founder and senior whole-body movement and lifestyle coach at The Wilding Project (LINK), Perth Western Australia.

Recently featured in TEDxPerth (LINK), Damien teaches children, young people, adults and seniors how to move and live a full life!

Olympic Fun & Fitness and The Wilding Project like Rewilding is dedicated to a movement rich life. Programs like Gymnastics, GymFIT, FootyEDGE, Parkour, Workplace Athletes, ActiveAgers and more all follow a simple philosophy, “Learn to move well and then never stop.”

Damien Norris