European Art of Retreat 2019 Part 1: Friday and Saturday

A meeting of minds, ideas, topics of debate and a variety of personalities, the Art of Retreat has run for five years in the US, but this year they wanted to bring it across the pond and connect with a whole new network of Parkour leaders and practitioners from around the world. On Friday 26th April 2019, 75 members of the international Parkour community made their way across Scotland to a small island between the west coast and the Isle of Arran. As we all gradually arrived at the Millport Field Centre on the Isle of Cumbrae, people gradually started to get settled in and make their introductions.

Friday evening at the field centre was an opportunity for us to start to get to know each other. After an introductory talk and run down of how the weekend would play out people began to mingle and chat, finding out where everyone was from, what they did, learning their names, immediately forgetting their names again (remembering 75 brand new names is really hard, who knew) and in some cases getting straight into talking about topics that people wanted to discuss over the course of the weekend. After dinner, we were presented with a night mission challenge.

We assembled into groups and were shown a map with 9 locations on it. At each location, there would be a person who would have a challenge for us. Each challenge would earn us different numbers of tokens depending on the nature of the challenge. Some challenges awarded tokens for the number of group members that completed it, some were simply one task with a limited number of attempts or a time limit, and some tasks were more down to chance. After obtaining tokens we had the option to take our tokens back to the main building to bank them before continuing, or keep them and go on to find the next challenge. During the night mission, we had to be careful not to fall prey to the ‘ghost’ (otherwise known as Chris Keighly) who would be lurking around corners or in the shadows ready to leap out and catch us, thus claiming any tokens the group might have on them. We were told the group with the most tokens would win. After running around in the dark for an hour we came back together into the main building and had our tokens counted up. It was then revealed that we had in fact been working together and our total number of tokens (138) would relate to Saturday night’s night mission challenge. How painful the number 138 would turn out to be would remain a mystery until then.

On Saturday morning an intrepid group of us met up outside the main building at 7am and jogged towards Millport for an early morning cold water dip at the beach. This was a new experience for me so I was keen to go along and see how well I coped with the freezing cold Scottish sea. While I managed a couple of quick forays into the water, which was enough for me, about four people went further out and seemed completely at ease swimming around. After being shocked into wakefulness by the dawn waters we headed back to join the greater host for breakfast.

Prior to arriving at The Art of Retreat, we had been sent a program of the talks that would be occurring over the course of the weekend and were asked to sign up for the talks and workshops we wanted to go to, with four talks or workshops planned in each time-slot covering different topics so people could choose a curriculum that fitted in with what each person wanted to learn and discuss over the two days. Each day started off with a movement workshop or skill session after breakfast, two ‘Spark’ sessions over the course of the rest of the morning, then one ‘Deep Dive’ talk after the lunch break.

I kicked off my Saturday with a Qigong session led by Alice Popejoy, who is a Postdoctoral Scholar at Stanford University in California and has had a place in the US parkour community for years. She took us through a sequence of Qigong movements that lasted for around 40 minutes. I had never tried Qigong before so it was a useful learning experience and felt wonderful to try. A valuable tool for calming the mind and getting in touch with the energy balances within the body, as well as being unexpectedly challenging. At the end of the session, everyone in the room seemed extremely calm and relaxed, ready to go into the first talk of the day with open minds.

The first Spark session I’d selected was led by two gentlemen from Parkour Academie in Berlin. Marty Miller and Dominik ‘Dodo’ Arend whom utilised their 45 minutes on the floor to talk to us about Self-Determinism and Parkour Coaching in the context of Berlin as a city. Their coaching methodology adopts a Tacit approach, focusing on intuition and experience led learning. Alongside this, they talked to us about how this approach has been born out of living in a city like Berlin, which has been affected by the reunification of the city after the fall of the Berlin wall. In Berlin approaches to how children should be raised are very open and child-friendly spaces and spaces designed specifically for movement are extremely common, which has led to a vast scope of opportunity for coaching experimentation in different spaces.

Marty and Dodo talked about how they work together as a team with their different backgrounds coming together, developing professional respect, balance and trust. They’ve developed a way of approaching risk, culture and safety, building a culture of acceptable risk and encouraging participants space to judge risks and challenge by choice as well as balancing the verbal and visual sides of coaching by encouraging active subjects, not passive recipients.

They have cultivated a non-formal approach to coaching, utilising a more guided approach that focuses on building movement experience and the concept that there is no right or wrong way to move, but there are safe and unsafe ways to move. It was an extremely interesting coaching approach to hear about and they did state that they are at an extreme end of the spectrum due to their environment and how it impacts their interactions with the space they have available. It was clear that it’s not an approach suitable for everyone, but there were certainly plenty of positive ideas to take away and think about.

The second Spark talk on my schedule was led by the excellent chaps from The Ukemi Project. Probably best known for their card game, Ukemi, David Banks and Tim Pearce brought us an in-depth discussion into the concept of Limen, which is a threshold below which a stimulus is not perceived or is not distinguished from another. Their talk, Limen – The Space Between parkour and Everything Else presented us with a talk on the ways in which The Ukemi Project attempts to link Parkour into the wider world. The initial challenges they set themselves included putting on an event and making their card game. They talked to us about the process they had gone through to put on the youth urban games in Glasgow, attempting to create a non-competitive spectator event and the challenges attached to realising that concept. They covered how their card game came into being, based off a movement game that used a deck of cards to randomise movement challenges.

After going through some of their initial goals in working towards covering the perceived gaps between parkour and everything else they showed us some of the work they’ve been doing on the architectural side of things. One ongoing project they’ve begun is the process of digitising amazing parkour spots so that their dimensions and appearance are still available to use as ideas in the event of a spot being destroyed as well as being available should anyone wish to incorporate aspects of a spot into a facility or movement space. They have also been given the task of redesigning the seating spaces along the Glasgow canal, which will enable them to enact their ideas of designing public spaces that are ordinarily mundane and see how they can encourage different movement types. A really valuable talk that delved into Parkour as a dilution of ideas that can be adapted to different needs.

After lunch, I went along to a Deep Dive talk led by Natalia Boltukhova and Jonathan Littauer on Inter-Gender Communication in Parkour and Climbing. It was a vast topic that the pair struggled to get through in the 90-minute talk slot due to the sheer volume of information the topic presents for discussion. They delved into gender theories and how the social construction of gender affects how we interact with each other and with society itself. In relation to Parkour and Climbing, they looked into how these imposed concepts of gender affect participation in the two disciplines and where some of these issues might stem from.

Natalia and Jonathan intended to break the talk into three sections. They opened with an initial exercise that got us thinking about how we feel about gender and how we each perceive it before running through a brief overview of the history of social change, gender terminology and how the unevenness of gender in a multitude of sports compares to Parkour and Climbing. This enabled us to have a good base understanding of the other topics they wanted to cover in their talk and understand the angles they were tackling these issues from. This was followed by going into some of their personal psychological work, looking into what affects our behaviours, including the way we were brought up and its impacts on how we perceive the world. This led on to a discussion of emotional literacy and how it can be used to create safe spaces for ourselves and others.

In the third segment of their talk, they didn’t manage to cover everything they wanted to. Natalia started to present survey data that led to discussions on trends and patterns of gender in Parkour and climbing communities. Natalia managed to start discussing the implications this data represented but unfortunately ran out of time. Over the course of the weekend, she managed to continue the discourse with some of us and get through some of the content she had not managed to fit into the time slot for the talk.

After a bit of free time and some dinner, we had another lovely night mission to contend with. Our 138 token total became a goal we had to reach. The task was for each of us to crawl, roll and stumble through a dark field to find buckets to put our tokens in. Each token would give the group a certain number of points depending on which bucket we got our token into and each bucket was slightly further away from the start, with the furthest being worth the most. To add to the challenge we had more ‘ghosts’ patrolling the field each pointing a torch at the ground. If they heard us moving they’d point the torch in the direction of the noise and catch us. If anyone was able to sneak up on one of the ghosts and tag them they were awarded double the points of the furthest bucket. The group completed the challenge and everyone gradually drifted off to bed after various late night debates.

Check back in a few days for the second instalment of our European Art of Retreat write up!

Feature image: From Europe art of retreat Facebook event page.

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