Traveling by Touch: Experiencing São Paulo in Samparkour

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February 12, 2015 by katmcdaniel

Most of us navigate the world principally by our sense of sight. What if we expanded our sense of touch?

This remarkable video, directed by Wiland Pinsdorf, is an exploration of the Brazilian city of São Paulo, a concrete jungle teeming with people. We see the tall buildings sandwiched together, the cars threading their way between them, people in the maze of public transportation and walking the busy streets. We see the marks of urbanization, graffiti that challenges the status quo and cars mired in traffic. Our eyes tell us that life is cold and hard here and that people are trapped into the rat race of what is expected of them and what they can expect. A blind man walks alone down the street with his stick, picking his way calmly and safely through this metropolis.

Soon we meet our hero, Zico Corrêa, as he takes in the city around him and responds in a way that defies the vision of São Paulo as a maze or a rat trap. He begins to avoid the everyday path and careens off of lamp posts, walls and buildings to get where he is going. Corrêa practices parkour. Parkour is a training discipline that teaches how to get from point A to point B efficiently and quickly, using the body and the surrounding landmarks and structures to move the practitioner across the landscape. Developed from military training on obstacle courses, it seeks to maintain momentum while making intelligent and safe choices. The practitioner must understand his environment and his own body, never underestimating or overtaxing either to the point that he injures himself, which can happen very easily at any time should his concentration or execution waver. He must see and understand what awaits him at every bend, every jump, every alteration in course.

Corrêa must use not only his eyes, which may daunt and deceive him–look at the misleading reflections caused by water and glass and imagine the fear most of us feel when faced with a wall or exposed on heights–but his sense of touch. Like the blind man, he must be sensitive to surfaces and subtle changes that will determine his stride, his grip, and what type of motion he will employ. When negotiating a climb or descent he must break it down into small, manageable steps. He must know how to slow himself down or take advantage of his momentum by tumbling. Failure could easily result in death. Parkour isn’t something to be done on a whim, but requires strength and flexibility that require training as well as a great deal of planning.

Most of us won’t be practicing parkour any time soon, but we can appreciate it and the metaphors it gives us for life. It reminds me not to trust my eyes completely, but to test and feel my world through touch and experience. We are all cowed by the obstacles around us from time to time and can always use the reminder that there is more than one way to do something and that the path of another may not be suited to our combination of strength and flexibility. This journey of life is unique for each one of us and we must each negotiate our own ascents and descents.

Safe travels and happy tumbling!

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