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Craig: Welcome to the Movers Mindset Podcast where I interview movement enthusiasts to find out who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Today, Rafe Kelley dives deep into his thoughts about the hero’s journey and its relevance to parkour. He shares his own journey and research into parkour and movement, finding meaning in practicing, and why he trains in nature. Rafe discusses parkour’s power as a transformative practice, the spirit behind it, and what makes it unique.
Craig: But first, if you’re interested in discussing your favorite podcast episode, or you want to learn more about the guests and other athletes, consider joining the Movers Mindset community. Go to https://forum.moversmindset.comand click on start here to learn more.
Craig: Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.
Rafe: And I’m Rafe Kelley.
Craig: Rafe Kelley is a coach, mover, researcher and podcaster. He has studied many movement practices including various forms of martial arts, parkour, and gymnastics, as well as a deep and abiding interest in human nature and evolution, all of which eventually led to Rafe founding Evolve Move Play. Rafe helps students harness the power of movement practice for self transformation through intensive workshops, two-day seminars, local classes, and podcasts. Welcome, Rafe.
Rafe: Glad to be here. I’m curious to talk about the things that brought you into interest to speak with me. What is it that you’re interested in about my work that makes you want to have a conversation with me?
Craig: So, I think that you, and perhaps it’s probably because you’re older than, say, the average person who’s really into parkour, but I think you have a unique viewpoint because you have taken the time to, I’m going to say, unplug. Taken the time to unplug from practicing in the culture, and then gone off and continued your physical practice.
Craig: And also, in addition to all that, you’ve also done a bunch of digging into the research. So, there aren’t many people who have gone out and looked up Benedict’s stuff or looked at what are the parasympathetic research that goes … So, there aren’t many people who’ve done that. So, I’m interested in … Does that answer your question or do you want more?
Rafe: Sure, yeah. Who’s Benedict?
Craig: I thought Benedict was the guy who did the neuropsychology research.
Craig: Bernstein, sorry. I have not read Benedict or Bernstein.
Craig: Bernidict. I have not read that.
Craig: But I think when I’ve listened … So, I’ve been listening to your podcast in audio. I haven’t watched the videos. And I find that your lines of questioning with your guests … So, I’m a podcaster.
Rafe: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: And when I listen to podcasts and I hear people ask questions, and I go, “Don’t ask him that question.” You seem to be asking the questions that I’m like, “Yeah, that’s a good question. I would like to know the answer to that.” That happens over and over and over, and then I go, “Need to go talk to that person.”
Craig: I haven’t, for example, haven’t been to any of your workshops or classes because we’re on opposite coasts. But I’ve found that your … I don’t know about your trains of thought, but the lines of questioning that you’re pursuing I’m finding really interesting. So, I thought it would be a great opportunity to go straight to the source, no pun intended.
Rafe: Return to the source.
Craig: Return to the source. So, does that answer your question? I don’t want to [crosstalk 00:03:23].
Rafe: Sure. No, that’s great. Yeah, yeah.
Craig: Do you have other questions? Because you said you wanted to ask me a couple questions.
Rafe: What was the other question? I think that was the main one, yeah.
Craig: Okay. Because it’s always tricky to get started in interviews, as you know. So, I was going to ask about you. You mentioned about people’s heroic journey, and I think that’s really critical that … I’m going to be ageist and say people of a certain age need to first realize that they are, in fact, on a journey, and that they are, in fact, the potential hero. They could wind up … it could go badly and they don’t make it on the journey. But once people discover that they’re on that journey, what do you think it is about parkour? Let’s just start here. What do you think it is about parkour that tends to make people wind up being the hero? It seems to me that it works really well at getting people on the correct hero path.
Rafe: Yeah. I think that fundamentally what parkour does is it provides a mini hero’s journey that can be approached over and over again in your training sessions. Right? I’m sure you’re probably familiar with the idea of breaking the jump. Right? So, if we think about the structure of breaking the jump, this is taught to me by Stephane Vigroux.
Rafe: So, first we feel the call of the jump. Right? Second, we assess the jump. Right? And then we feel the fear. Right? So, third is experiencing fear. If it’s a real jump for you, you’re going to experience fear. Fourth, we have to find a way to overcome the fear. We have to apply some set of tools that allows us to get past that fear. Then we going to make a decision. And then, we commit and we jump. Right?
Rafe: And we can actually view that as it’s basically like a mini version of the hero’s journey, because the call of the jump is the call to adventure. Right? YOu’re in your mundane life and then something happens and arises and says, “You have to confront something.” Right? And then, what do you do then? You orient to it. You’re like, “What is going on? What is this new challenge that’s occurring in my life?” And then if it’s a real challenge, it’s going to come with negative emotions.
Craig: Sacrifice, right?
Rafe: It’s going to come with sacrifice. So, in the terminology of the hero’s journey, that’s the descent into the underworld. And then when you are in the underworld, you have to find your tools, find your resources that allow you to step forward and confront what needs to be confronted. Confront the dragon that you have to confront to become the person that you want to become, to get back to the world that you want to live in.
Rafe: And what we’re doing in parkour, and it’s not just parkour, but we’re doing in any of these sports where we can look at a challenge and feel the call and go through this process is we’re practicing that. We’re practicing those skillsets. And we are stepping out of mundane life in a very targeted way to cultivate ourselves.
Rafe: And we can think of that cultivation as just a cultivation of physical skills, and for some of us it is, or at least mostly it is, maybe. But I think that for everyone there’s always a psychoemotional element to practice. It’s impossible to get around. So, then the question is, well, why continue doing this stuff?
Rafe: What is it for? What is it for? That’s the real question, I think.
Rafe: And so, I think that the hero’s journey is a nice way of looking at that.
Craig: And so, I would agree with you. The physicality part of it, I don’t want to say unimportant, but it’s usually the first piece and it’s really not the main nut. Main nut is the psychological part of it, even the social part of it. And I’m just thinking, I personally don’t think that parkour is absolutely perfect because it’s missing … well, it doesn’t necessarily bring any social aspect to it.
Craig: A lot of people tend to wind up having a community of all people that, “We all love parkour, so yeah, let’s go to the movies” or whatever your social preference is. But parkour, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to be an ensemble. And I think that’s one mark against it. And I think the way that you talk about roughhousing and play in like a martial type of play. We’re not killing each other, but you’re going to get whacked on the ground. It’s going to take you a second to catch your breath.
Craig: That type of play I think is an important piece of it, and there are people in parkour who do that. But I’m just wondering if you see any way for … Can parkour as it exists now, can it really be the solution to everybody’s hero’s journey, or are there going to be people who are going to have to … you need to take a time out and do martial arts, you’re going to need to go and do a retreat in the woods? Do you think parkour is complete is what I’m asking.
Rafe: I don’t think parkour as it’s currently practiced is complete.
Craig: Most commonly.
Rafe: That’s what EMP is, is it’s an attempt to take what I thought was extraordinary insight and power of parkour as a kind of like base code and expand it to something that I felt was, I don’t want to use the word complete, exactly, but sufficient, let’s say. Because the scope of practices that could be transformative for people is infinite. Right? So, no one method is ever going to cover all of them.
Craig: And that’s probably a good thing.
Rafe: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: So, often with many guests, we’re talking at length before we start recording. And you had brought up a really good example of chess, which is enormously huge problem space. And that’s why people like to play chess, because you know that it’s an enormous space, but the human across the table isn’t going to programmatically solve. You’re forced to interact with it. And it feels like what you’ve been doing with … And you said EMP. Everyone who’s listening, Evolve Move Play.
Rafe: Right, Evolve Move Play. Yeah.
Craig: No, no, no. You can call it EMP. I’m just saying it’s Evolve Move Play in case you don’t know what acronym we just dropped. What you’ve added or that piece that you’ve brought is, I think, to blow open the space. So, parkour has vaults. And if you’re doing it in trees, it’s like, “Okay, this just went from learning vaults to going crazy in those spaces.” So, I cut you off. But I don’t see many people. I’m always hesitant to be, “I don’t see anyone else.” But I don’t think I could think of anyone else that has done that type of addition to parkour and tried to say, “No, I really think that it needs this other piece.”
Craig: Where did you get that? What prompted you to do that? Because I know some of the story, but to unpack the story, what prompted you to create events where you’re combining parkour with the open spaces and the roughhousing?
Rafe: Yeah. So, it’s hard to say in some ways because I feel like it’s emergent from my life and my character and what I’ve experienced. I just happened to have grown up on the end of a dirt road in a hippie community. I had some really formative experiences around rough and tumble play and how that helped me overcome learning disabilities. I started martial arts very young. And I had this really deep interest in human nature that started at a very young age.
Rafe: So, part of overcoming my learning disabilities when I was eight years old was falling in love with epic literature, starting with The Lord of the Rings, and then The Iliad and The Odyssey, and then the Norse mythology, and then lots of other fantasy novels. And that actually led me to starting an interesting in first history, I read the lives of all the caesars and all that stuff, and then anthropology.
Rafe: And so, by the time I was 13 years old, I had read every anthropology book in my local library. And then I found a mentor who was a professional anthropologist who worked in local government who lent me his library. And I read something like 30 ethnographic monographs before I went into community college at 16 years old.
Rafe: So, I had this really deep interest in being a hero, that was part of it, and also in understanding what was at the base of human nature. Right? And when I saw parkour, well I’d been doing gymnastics for a long time. And gymnastics was really inspirational to me and it was really fun to practice. But parkour felt like it was the thing underneath gymnastics.
Craig: More true, maybe?
Rafe: Yeah, it was the … it resonated on a frequency closer to the origin of human movement. And all that anthropological literature that I was reading, there were stories in there about kids climbing trees and bending them over and being thrown off of them and swinging around on vines and doing flips off of them.
Rafe: One of my favorite stories I always tell on this podcast is … I believe it’s the Tiwi tribe in Northern Australia. They live in an extremely arid environment. And they’ll be walking through these deserts where there’s just nothing. It’s just flat ground for miles and miles and miles. And they’ll see a big rock in the desert or a big dead fallen tree or something. And the children will just run ahead of the group as soon as they see it and just climbing up it and flipping off of it.
Rafe: So, there’s this fundamental drive in human beings and parkour seemed to reflect that. But it was a partial reflection of the kind of most fundamental, primal forms of human play. It was one aspect, not the whole thing. And so, I was curious about the idea of what would it be to train a human being to be the best version of a human being. Right?
Rafe: So, if we look at an evolutionary and cross cultural lens, what are the movements that are most nourishing and most meaningful beings? And the other lens that I took into that was all that heroic literature. Right? If you read the Irish mythology, the heroes are represented not only as being great at fighting, but they also have to be able to run and jump and climb.
Rafe: So, there’s a mythological cycle in the Irish mythology called the Fenian Cycle, and it’s about this group of warriors called the Fianna. In order to enter the Fianna, you had to be able to run through the woods barefoot, and pass under a log as low as your knee and over a log as high as your chin, and pluck a thorn from your foot without breaking stride and without a hair coming out of your braids. Right?
Rafe: And so, that was parkour. Right? And then of course they also had warrior stuff, like they had to be buried to their waist and with just a wand of hazel defend themselves from seven men casting spears at them. And then the Irish heroes will have these stories of the feats. They do feats. Right? So, there’s a story where Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, who’s one of the Fianna, he’s run away with Gráinne, the fiance of the King of the Fianna, Fionn. And so, now Fionn has sent all these armies to catch him.
Rafe: So, he dresses himself up as somebody else and he goes out to see this army of people. And the army’s like, “Have you seen Diarmuid Ua Duibhne?” And he’s like, “I just saw him yesterday. That dude’s like the greatest warrior ever. You don’t want to mess with that guy. He did this feat. You just couldn’t believe this feat.” And they’re like, “What did he do? We can do anything this guy did.” So, he was like, “He ran up a spear and stood on top of it. And so, he runs up the spear and stands on top of the spear.” And then 50,000 of their soldiers run up a spear and impale themselves.
Rafe: Right? And then the next day he comes back and they’re like, “Have you seen Diarmuid?” He’s like, “Yeah, I just saw him. He rode a barrel down a rocky cliff.” And then everyone tries to follow.
Craig: Follow suit.
Rafe: Right. Or he had two swords on two people’s shoulders and he jumped up and landed in between them. And everyone just kills themselves like that. So, he kills almost their entire army by having them try to do parkour tricks with them, and then he kills the rest of them.
Rafe: And so, the Irish mythology, it’s like Marvel movies. It’s ridiculous. Right? But then you can read Norse mythology and particularly like the Norse sagas. It’s very realistic. It’s like the one guy, he waited behind him … he waited for the guy behind his shed. When he came out, he hit him on the top of the head with the sword and he fell down dead.
Rafe: Yeah. It’s that level of realistic. But there are these moments also where in the Njáls saga, which is one of the best sagas in my opinion, one of my favorites. There’s a scene where the character Skarphedin jumps over a creek and lands on a patch of ice and slides across the ice and hacks the top of somebody’s head off with an ax while he’s doing so. This is this great feat, like it makes him a legendary warrior. So, the idea that we needed this balance of skills, right, that we needed all these things was also really in this heroic literature. So, that was all interesting to me.
Rafe: And I really actually started practicing incorporating these elements into my practice. I was doing gymnastics still, and then I started training some CrossFit, I was training martial arts, and I was training parkour back in 2006. And then I was exposed to the ideas of Methode Naturelle and Georges Hebert and started practicing elements along that and structuring like that and trained primarily in nature. So, I’d only been doing parkour for like a year when I started to put this stuff together. And it’s always been really interesting to me the idea of putting them all together.
Rafe: You see normal parkour and I guess I wanted to highlight the idea that what we do in Evolve Move Play is in many ways, I feel like it’s an articulation or a more sophisticated iteration on the original ideas of parkour. That the parkour that is popular on YouTube is like a … it’s a very small stream from the origin of what this thing was. And it’s become extremely popular widely, but it’s very deluded. And so, you say, “What bought you to combine rough and tumble play with parkour?” But that was in the beginning.
Rafe: Right? If you watch videos, you can find videos of Stephane Vigroux and David Belle practicing Wing Chun sticking hands drills and then jumping around in the woods together. Right? If you’ve read Julie Angel’s book, which I know you have, they were punching each other in the stomach and seeing who could handle it. Right? That was part of it.
Rafe: One of the stories, right, if we’re on the subject of narratives, that had a huge impact on me was Fight Club. I think that in many ways … When I was 19 I watched Fight Club and it was like this describes what I’m feeling, right, what I’m feeling about the meaninglessness of life. Right? When they sit across the table in that bar, and Tyler Durden says, “We work in jobs that we hate to buy things that we don’t need to impress people we don’t like.” That was the description of the modern condition.
Rafe: And I had been doing martial arts my whole life, and I was like, “Yeah, this makes sense.” And then I started training parkour and I came back to Fight Club a few years later, and it was like parkour’s like a positive answer to the negative answer. Right? The same question that Fight Club had, but in the end, Fight Club descended into this totalitarian thing that didn’t really serve the promise that it had had.
Rafe: But if we look at the origins of parkour, at least the story that was passed on to Julie Angel, it’s like David and Yann almost had a fight in a thing the first day. Right? And then what they did as friends was to be like, “Can you do this?” “I don’t know. Can you do that?” Let’s challenge each other. And if we go back to the idea of what is the hero’s journey, the hero’s journey is the place where you confront challenge. And the things that makes a person a hero in some sense is the choice to voluntarily confront things to undergo the process of transforming themselves.
Craig: I’m wondering. I have neighbors. And I don’t want to pigeonhole Millennials, but I’m just wondering about there are a lot of people, yourself and Yamak and David and people who are on the right path, who are working on their heroic journey. But I’m not convinced that the majority of people are ever going to find that they’re on a journey.
Craig: It seems to me, I don’t want to be negative, because maybe I’m old enough to be negative, that too many people have gotten it wrong. And I’ve traveled, and I don’t think it’s terrifically better in other places, either. Western civilization, especially in America, we’re like the darling child of how not to do your journey.
Craig: But I’m just wondering if you’ve … One man can’t fix it. So, you can have as many retreats as you want, [inaudible 00:20:36] as you want, but it’s not going to fix it. And I’m wondering, is there something that the Western culture has lost? Was there a teaching? So, your leaning journey, it was unique, I think relatively unique, but the people who are 20 years younger than you and me aren’t doing that now. So, how do we get them back to …
Rafe: The people who are the same age as us, 99% of them didn’t do it, either. Right?
Craig: Have a good point.
Rafe: I don’t think we should pigeonhole Millennials on this. Millennials or Z-Generation or whatever it is, they may be suffering from this worse, but this is a perennial problem. Right? One of my big influences right now is John Vervaeke. John Vervaeke’s a cognitive scientist and psychologist from the University of Toronto who I’m lucky enough to count as a friend now. He’s been putting out a series of lectures called Awakening from the Meaning Crisis.
Rafe: So, you touched on earlier the idea of the chess game, the combinatorial explosion. So, that’s at the center of the problem that we always face. So, what Vervaeke’s argument is, is that there perennial problems that we have in operating as human beings. And part of what a culture offers is a set of psychotechnologies that allow you to overcome those perennial problems, and that’s where wisdom develops. And what appears to be the problem is that for all our success in, say, cultivating intelligence, as a culture we’ve lost the psychotechologies that give us wisdom.
Rafe: So, I wanted to touch base on that idea of combinatorial explosion because it’s very important in understanding the perennial problem and how we have failed to address that now. We tend to think about problems as things that maybe have a very specific solution, or we’re really excited about … We talk about algorithms. Right? Algorithms are everywhere right now.
Rafe: Theoretically, an algorithm is anything that allows you to derive a perfect solution to a problem. Right? But there’s actually two classes of problems. One is what you could call a well defined problem, which is one where you can search the entire problem space. You can look at every possible solution and find one that is correct. And then there’s ill defined problems that have problem spaces that are too large.
Rafe: So chess, you have 30 potential moves on average per turn that are legal, and you have 60 turns on average per game. Which means that the pathways that are available in a chess game are 30 to the 60, which is comparable to the number of atoms in the universe. That’s not a search space that you can functionally search. It would take infinity for you to figure out all of the possible permutations of chess.
Rafe: So, in those, we have to operate with heuristics. Right? So, a heuristic could be like control the center of the board. Right? Get your queen out early. Castle your king. Those are heuristics. Okay, so the problem with heuristics is that the same thing as a heuristics is a bias.
Rafe: Right? Stereotypes are heuristics. As movement teachers, we face the problem that motor control is completely heuristic. There’s no algorithmic solution to any physical problem that a human has because a human has a combinatorial explosive set of physical capacities.
Craig: Yeah. In one of your episodes maybe like four months ago, you were talking about how people traditionally thought of the human body as a machine.
Craig: And that you can mechanistically combine these systems to produce perfect movement.
Craig: And when one says that, it’s pretty clear. It’s like, yeah, humans are not machines. And that seems to fit into this on the physiological side of this problem. That’s why more holistic training methods produce better results, because you’re not trying to teach them, “This is exactly how you do this. This is how you move in these environments.” So, if that’s the case, if we’re missing those tools in the more psychological aspect of it, I don’t know whether to ask what have we deleted or what tools are we missing or maybe what tools should we add in [crosstalk 00:24:42].
Rafe: Yeah. Yeah, I want to expand on that and just lay out Vervaeke’s argument. But while we’re on the subject of the body as a machine, I think it’s a really powerful example of how we fall into these heuristic biases and how they can mislead us.
Rafe: We are inherently symbolic thinkers. Right? We think within metaphors. If you start drilling down into language, the vast majority of the things that we say are in some way metaphorical. So, when we say that we understand something, we’re standing under it. Right? Do you have an optimal grip on that, right? Do you catch what I’m saying?
Craig: Right. Right.
Rafe: All of those are physical metaphors. Right? So, we live within metaphors. And one thing that happens is we tend to utilize the metaphors of the most advanced technology that we have at one time. So, when we were really getting good at making clocks, we started to imagine the workings of the universe as a clock. Right? And this was the origin of a determinist approach to metaphysics.
Craig: Four years out the wazoo.
Rafe: Now we live in a world where we have had extraordinary power and success through machines and computers. And so, we conceive of ourself as a machine that carries a computer around. And we’re not the machine, we’re the computer. Right? And that metaphor actually systematically misleads us. Movement practice is an extraordinarily powerful place to see that it misleads us. People who move like machines move poorly. Teachers who teach in a mechanical, linear, program-oriented manner achieve poor results. We are not machines and our brains are not computers. So, that’s an example of this problem that we have.
Rafe: So, what Vervaeke says is we’re always fighting this battle between the heuristics that inform us, the very things that allow us to become adaptive in our environment. The only way that you and I can communicate is through having access to metaphor.
Rafe: And yet, the metaphors that we use consistently lead us to bias and the potential for bullshitting ourselves and engaging in self deception. So, what historically has happened is that cultures have built sets of what you might call psychotechnologies, this is a term that Vervaeke uses, as ways to intentionally cultivate wisdom. Right? And so, Vipassana meditation, Metta meditation, these are psychotechnologies. Right? Lectio Divina is a psychotechnology of reading in a specific way. Church, like any religion, is a set of psychotechnologies. And these were where we went to achieve wisdom.
Rafe: This is another thing that came out with my conversation with Vervaeke, but it’s something that I really like, which is people are very … we have a big taboo around the subject of intelligence. Because so much of our culture is dependent on intelligence. It’s so relevant to how well you succeed in life that it’s very hard for anyone to be like, “Yeah, that guy’s just clearly smarter.” Right? That’s a scary thing to say. Nobody worries about saying that you’re taller.
Rafe: Right? But maybe if we were all NBA players, it would become taboo. The only way to win in life was to be a basketball player, maybe it’d be taboo to talk about somebody’s height.
Craig: Yeah. You had to be six foot two to win. Right.
Rafe: But if we think honestly about intelligence, you can see some people think faster. Some people provide solutions to problems faster than other people. But you can also recognize that the people who think faster often are not more moral, and they’re not wiser. Right? You can have an extraordinarily articulate, fast, problem solving system that consistently outputs problems that don’t work at all.
Craig: Right. Solutions that don’t work.
Rafe: And we all know that this is a thing. Right? I don’t want to get super political on this, but I think that the whole postmodern philosophical thing, there’s some truth in it. But a lot of what it is, is it’s a set of symbols that you can juggle around to make yourself sound really smart. And you can engage in extreme cogitation and showcase your brilliance, but you end up with outputs. Right?
Rafe: And to use another analogy, math. You can invent a species of math that have nothing to do with reality, and you can find internal consistents in them and write equation after equation that are beautiful. You can exercise your intelligence and you’re achieving nothing that has reality. All of string theory might be this. I don’t know for sure. I’m definitely not smart enough to understand physics.
Craig: Neither am I at that level.
Rafe: Right? But that is a potential thing. All of string theory might be playing with math that has no relationship to reality. So, intelligence is important. Right?
Rafe: Jordan Peterson, who’s another one of my big influences, he says something I really like. He said we’re smart enough. We know enough about particle physics that we can build atomic weapons. But you could also say that we are so dumb about particle physics that we would build atomic weapons. Right. And so, that’s the opposite of that.
Rafe: And so, one thing that Vervaeke said that I really liked is that rationality is the recursive of intelligence. It’s intelligence applied to itself. And then wisdom is rationality applied to itself. So, you need to have systems that allow you to engage in some sort of metacognition where you look at, okay, I’m deriving problems, but I’m I solving the right problems and are my problems actually solutions? Right? Or am I using my intelligence in a way? You could be running a motor and filling …
Craig: You’re accomplishing nothing. Right.
Rafe: Exactly. You could be winning the Daytona 500, or you could be filling your garage with noxious fumes that’ll kill you.
Rafe: The motor doesn’t know the difference. So, we need these set of things. And traditionally, we’ve tended … I think that to get this a little bit back towards what might be relevant to the movers is …
Craig: I think it’s all relevant.
Rafe: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: I think this is all relevant to the movers. I started interviewing people with movement specific questions and history specific questions, and these interviews where we’re I call it off in the weeds, which is where the roses grow, off in the weeds are way more interesting.
Craig: But I’m sorry, keep going.
Rafe: Yeah, so one thing that’s happened in Western culture in particular has been a division of the mind and the body. Right? This is Descartes, cogito ergo sum. And I don’t want to hit the dead horse of Descartes because he’s brilliant in lots of ways and there’s … He’s much more than just that one idea, but that on idea, and it precedes him in some ways, is that what matters about a human being is what sits in their head. And so, we have disembodied our cognition.
Rafe: And so, when we think about how we cultivate wisdom, we remove that from the body. But traditionally in other cultures, there’s a recognition that wisdom traditions are often associated with physical traditions. So, Daoist practices include Tàijíquán. Right? So, you may have Vervaeke practicing Vipassana, which is a form of meditation. Right? It’s a concentration meditation. Metta, which is a loving kindness contemplation, and Tàijíquán, which is a martial art. That’s what you might call an ecology of practices. Right? And all of these things fill themselves in, or they work together.
Rafe: One of the really key insights of modern cognitive sciences that cognition is embodied. Right? There’s something called 4E cognitive science, and I’m going to sound less educated than I like, but I could only remember three of them. So, cognition is embodied, it’s embedded. So, it’s in your body and it’s embedded in the environment. Right? And it’s enacted. It’s through actions that we engage in commission. Without those things, our whole cognitive system can’t actually operate.
Rafe: I give this analogy in the talk that I give. The only reason that a cup is a category that is meaningful to a human being is because it affords things that are relevant to us and to our action capabilities. So, when we try to train a computer to recognize cups, it’s incredibly hard because cups are actually extraordinarily diverse objects. The essential aspects of a cup only exist.
Craig: No holes.
Rafe: Yeah. It only exists in relevance to [crosstalk 00:33:32].
Craig: Except that one has one hole in it. Right? Because there’s a hole in the handle. So, who do you tell the … What I’m getting at is how would you write the algorithm? You say, “Okay, it doesn’t have any holes. No. Oh wait.” Most cups, especially ones for hot liquids, have a hole in the handle, and then the computer gets lost in topology. But a human being has no problem distinguishing the water glass from the coffee mug.
Rafe: Yeah. Because we have a motivational system. We have an emotion or a motivation, which is thirst. And then we have a physical capacity, which is grasping. Right, so this affords us grasping, it affords us filling with liquid and then drinking out of it. And that’s what makes it a category that’s meaningful to us.
Rafe: So, almost all of our categories, and again, our whole way of thinking, it’s actually built into a relationship with the body. So, we can’t cultivate the mind, we can’t cultivate the emotions, we can’t optimize ourselves in these ways without embodying them.
Rafe: And then on the flip side, the body also is not sufficient. Right? It’s like you can have a wonderful body and a wonderful set of physical practices. And if you don’t have a means to translate those qualities into the other areas of your life, that can be completely self destructive. Right?
Rafe: One of the conversations that’s had a huge impact on me was a conversation I had with a powerlifter, AJ Roberts. AJ Roberts set the world record in the squat twice. And he was speaking at Paleo f(x). This was actually spoke, but I was talking to him. And he said, “As I prepared to break the world record in the squat, I hurt every day. I was angry every day. Right? I had to drag myself out of bed feeling horrible and get angry enough to motivate myself to go abuse myself in the gym. I think I was five foot nine.”
Rafe: When he set the world record in the squat, he weighed 360 pounds. Right? He had to eat so much that he had to poop all the time, and it was painful every time. Right? He was theoretically one of the fittest athletes in the world, but he got winded going up stairs. It was torture for his girlfriend to be around him as he was going through this process.
Rafe: And so, he breaks the world record, and he doesn’t feel anything. It was completely meaningless to him. And so, he decided that he had to break the world record again. It was the only thing that he could think of was that clearly if the first time didn’t mean anything, I just need to do it again. He invested so much of his identity and ego into that, that he couldn’t see outside the trap that he created for himself.
Rafe: So, he did it again, and again it didn’t mean anything to him. And then he decided that that wasn’t the path. And that turns out to be something that happens to many elite athletes. They reach the pinnacle of their sport, they win the gold medal, and they find that all of that effort didn’t result in a feeling that was deeply meaningful to them.
Rafe: So, what are we after? Are we after gold medals, are we after world records, or are we after a process that derives something meaningful to us. So, that was my realization at some point was I had fell in love with the practice of parkour, but I had felt like it needed something to be oriented towards, it needed to be going somewhere. And the only model that I had for it going somewhere was to treat it like a professional athlete.
Rafe: So, I helped create the competitive circuit that now exists in parkour. I created some of the first parkour competitions here in Seattle. And I ran them and competed in them at the same time, which is extraordinarily stressful. I had a panic attack the first time I tried to do it. Tore my achilles tendon, and then I competed in Ninja Warrior nine months later, and just missed qualifying to go to Japan.
Rafe: And then I competed at the Apex International that year. I competed at our competition. And I did all right. I think I was 11th at Apex. I was sixth at our competition. And I felt like, okay, well I just came back from achilles tendon tear. I can do this. So, I’m going to train myself to compete.
Rafe: And then I ran into this problem, which was that we were the only people who were trying to produce competitions that happened outdoors. So, if I wanted to win any of the other competitions, I had to train indoors. But I hated being indoors. Part of the attraction of parkour was that it united my love of physical practice with my love of being outside. And more than that, I loved being in nature. I didn’t love being in the city. I loved being in trees and in rocks and around water.
Rafe: And I had discovered Volunteer Park, which is this incredible place with these beautiful trees. And it was like I can go and train to compete to win and I’ll have to go train in the gym, or I can go to this place that derives this extraordinary feeling of meaning for me, that I feel so happy. And that was what I ended up doing was going to that.
Rafe: And then I came back and I was really trying to compete at NAPC in 2013. And Justin Sweeney who was one of my students who became a really successful competitive athlete, he had been just kind of right behind me skill wise before I tore my achilles tendon, then he just surpassed me while I was injured. And so, I was training really hard. And we were training together in the gym, and I was starting to feel like I was catching up. I was starting to feel like I was right there with him.
Rafe: And then two weeks before NAPC, right at the end of a training session, I was really fatigued. And I had this one route that I wasn’t satisfied with, and it ended with a wall run. And I ran up the wall and my foot slipped out a little bit. And I reached up and grabbed the top of the wall, and my shoulder subluxated. I reinjured an old rotator cuff injury.
Rafe: So then I went to NAPC to compete anyways. I got taped up by a chiropractor. And there were two ways that you could finish one of the courses. One was to do this very tricky run along a couple of small blocks attached to a wall, to a bar.
Rafe: And a huge percent of the athletes just couldn’t do this. It just wasn’t going to happen for them. And then the other one was to do a 16-foot cat leap, which was like the long … Right. The longest jump I’d ever done was like 14 feet. I knew that the 16-foot cat leap was possible. I’d been training for it in the gym and I was getting close to it. But when I was looking at it, I really felt like if I landed, my shoulder would pop out.
Rafe: So, I ran the qualification. I finished third in qualification. And then I drilled the little run around the wall over and over and over again, and I just couldn’t get it. And I was like, “Well, it’s not going to happen.” So, I ended up bowing out of the competition. I just didn’t feel safe to do things that I needed to do to succeed. And I looked at the mirror, and I was like … I think this was 2013. I would’ve been … How old am I now?
Craig: I’m glad to see I’m not the only person with that problem.
Rafe: I think I’m 30. I was 30, 31, something like that, 30. Yeah, I was 31 because I was born in 1982. And I was like I could keep trying to compete and keep trying to compete and keep pushing myself. And there’s going to be a competition coming up, a competition coming up. And I’m going to burn out of this sport in three years, and I’m going to have injuries that I’m maybe going to suffering from for the rest of my life.
Rafe: That’s the likelihood of that path. Or I can try to take care of myself and follow what’s really meaningful to me, and I can rebuild my body and become healthy. And then maybe I can get something out of this sport for the rest of my life. So, that’s what I did.
Rafe: I don’t remember when I ran into this, but I heard years ago some say that in mountaineering they say it’s not what the man does to the mountain. It’s what the mountain does to the man. And that was the key idea that started really generating around my practice. If parkour isn’t about me jumping further or isn’t about me winning a competition, it’s about how it transforms me. Well, how do I make that work as well as possible?
Craig: What’s the optimum version of that practice, right? What does that look like?
Rafe: What does that look like?
Craig: I think part of the advantage of hearing you talk about things in like one, I don’t want to say one long string. So, when we record these interviews with guests, part of what I’m doing, a big part of what we’re doing, is creating a space where you can be seen in your best light. So, you can figuratively run and play with your topics and it’s clear. I’ve listened to enough of your material that I know that you have a large overarching concept for what you’re talking about. So, you’re clearing pulling out individual pieces and you’re presenting them here to me in an order that’s intentional.
Craig: And I understand how some guests feel that they’re, “Oh my God, I’ve been just like talking and talking and talking, and it doesn’t feel like I’m interview.” And my point is that, no, having you unpack that with passion is like really critical, because it gets people to understand who you are and where you’re coming from and what your ideas mean to you, not just what your ideas are. The short answer is if you want to know what Rafe has to say, you should go read every anthropology book in the library and then go play. The journey is the point.
Craig: But I think people need to see the result of the journey, and then to actually hear a person tell some or all of their story for you to really understand why the journey was necessary. And I can’t remember if we touched on this in recording or in the previous discussion, but I think we were talking about the necessity of the journey.
Craig: That there isn’t maybe like a shortcut. Maybe if I go through the woods in a really rambling wrong thing at the end, I can go, “Stay to the left.” That’s a useful thing. And that’s a very common theme in martial arts. Find a good teacher and they’ll show you the way, but they’re not going to actually do the work for you. So, I’m thinking. I wanted to know because I love to find takeaways, but I’d love to know if there’s anything that you think people can do to help build those missing, and I forget the exact term, but the …
Craig: Psychotechnologies. And I’m wondering if there’s anything that you can say to people like, okay, if what you’re hearing makes you think, “I might be missing something,” where do you go? I read a great story about how do you tear a barn down, and there’s two ways to do it. One way is to get a sledgehammer and just go whacking and you’ll quickly get exhausted. Another way to do is to get a crowbar and start peeling boards off one by one, and you can go and go and go. But the problem is, you need to figure out where to put the crowbar to peel off the first board. Once you get the first one off, then you really get into it. And I’m just wondering about that kind of thing. Where do people put a crowbar to peel into the first piece of those technologies?
Rafe: Yeah, yeah. So, maybe I’ll answer that one later.
Craig: And as I said before, go wherever you want. [Crosstalk 00:44:16]
Rafe: So, what I wanted to say is this … I guess where I wanted to go next was once you make the realization that your movement practice exists to transform you as a human being, it’s kind of a big challenge, because now you have to look at it very, very differently.
Rafe: Right? Now you’re not asking, “How do I get better at this jump?” You’re asking, “Does this jump make me a better human?”
Rafe: “Can I get better at how that jump makes me a better human? Is jumping even the best tool for me at this stage of my life?”
Rafe: And so, what we’ve tried to do is, again, taking that evolutionary frame that we have. Look at the scope of practices that people could take on. And as I mentioned at the beginning, there’s an infinite set of practices. And I’m not claiming that the practices that we lay out are definitive or the only way to take this path to the mountain. But from an evolutionary perspective, I think that there is something really vital about developing an embodied relationship with your environment. Right? Become embedded in the environment. And parkour is a process that does that.
Rafe: And I think there’s something that has to happen with interacting with other human bodies. You need to have confidence in moving with a human being. You need to have confidence in that. You need to be able to manipulate things and move things around with your hands. And then, you need to be able to take care of your body and make it healthy.
Rafe: And then the last piece that’s kind of the one that we’ve installed last, and the one that’s been the hardest for me, is mindfulness. Right? I’ve been doing parkour for 14 years, I guess, and I think I’ve been meditating for almost as long. I do parkour usually at least nine hours a week. Right? That’s probably my average is nine to 12 hours a week over the last 14 years. And I can measure my progress, like boom, I got better at it. It was good. And it’s very enjoyable. Right? It was enjoyable from the beginning. But meditation was like I have no idea if this is helping me. It’s really hard to do.
Rafe: I’ll do it for a few months and then stop for prolonged periods of time. And it was only very recently that it started to feel like very specific dividends. Right? I have IBS, and I did a meditation where … Irritable bowel syndrome. So, I did a meditation where I meditated on slowing down the peristalsis in my gut, and it actually worked. Right? I was able to vastly decrease my symptoms of IBS just from meditation.
Rafe: And I see it starting to show up in who I am with my wife and who I am with my kids and who I am with the people around me. It’s like my ability to be less reactive, to be more present, to be in a positive-sum space with people. Particularly right now I’ve been doing a lot of Metta meditation, which is loving kindness meditation. So, the mantra that I’ve been given, that I learned from my friend Mark Walsh, is may I be well, may I be at peace, may I love and be loved. And so, you could just say that, but you have to actually try to embody it.
Rafe: Right? So, when I think about being well, I ask what would it mean to me to be well.
Craig: Today, right.
Rafe: Right? So like right now, it’s like may I be full of energy. Right? Can I get over some of the fatigue that I’m experiencing.
Craig: By the way, when you started you were like, “I don’t know how loud I’m going to be.” Not only did you change your entire body posture, you moved in real loud. That’s always what happens with guests.
Rafe: So yeah. And then it’s like what does it mean to be at peace for me? When I think about love, can I be loving? It’s like what are examples that are real in my life? I have a two-year-old daughter right now, almost two-year-old. So, it’s like that moment where she comes to say hi to me when she hasn’t seen me in a while and she’s just beaming. It’s like can I embody more of that for the people around me? Can I give them that sense of being deeply seen and deeply cared for? And you just see the impact that that has on people, and you see that that’s meaningful. So, we do that.
Rafe: And so, I’ve come to identify within Evolve Move Play what I think of as three axes of practice that optimally allow you to use these sets of psychotechnologies to engage in positive self transformation. And one axes is picking a set of practices, a scope of practices. Right? So, I kind of laid that out already, but there’s a mindfulness practice of body, health, and integrity practice, a body to environment practice. Right? Parkour in nature for me. Body and object practices. So, I juggle and play ball games and I swing a stick [crosstalk 00:48:59].
Craig: Do you play any instruments?
Rafe: I don’t, but I’d like to. And that’s a perfectly good example of that.
Craig: The reason I ask is I have this fetish to try and learn to play the guitar.
Craig: And I keep saying, “I need to make time, I need to make time.” I have a guitar and dabble with it, but it takes dedication. I think it’s something that really would … that type of interaction with the physical thing really helps.
Rafe: Yeah. Then there’s body to body practices. Right? And so, we use basically my sort of derivation of concepts from contact improvisation, which is about learning to be creative and additive in relationship to somebody else. So, how do we co-create something interesting? It’s like a conversation physically. How do we explore the space of how two bodies move together?
Rafe: And then that moves into the martial arts. How do I confront what it’s like to deal with conflict physically? How do I play with that? And how do I give myself a skillset that would allow me to deal with that when I need to. So, that’s kind of the main scope of practices that we look at.
Rafe: You could also look at practices of … well, we do, actually. But you could look at the same scope and say something like you could have communication practices and even community practices. Right? So, getting together and singing songs. Right? That’s a community practice. And that can be a very powerful, incredibly powerful state of self transcendence, and altered mindsets come out of that. So then you could look at this as the scope of the practices.
Rafe: And then the next layer I look at is like, okay, well if getting better at jumping makes me better as a human being, how do I do that better? And that’s where we dig a lot into the research on motor learning. And we’re really big fans of the ecological dynamics approach to motor learning. And so, we’re really trying to refine our model of how a human being learns, and help people, facilitate people learning in a way that is most optimally in tune with human nature.
Rafe: And then the last axes is how do … So, there’s the jump and how much we get better at that. And that has some correlation with how we change as a human being. But we want to make the correlation between our practice and our growth as human being as tight as possible. And so, we need to ask the question, how do I extract more self growth out of my physical practices? And that’s a question that’s been kind of an open question for me.
Rafe: We’ve had some implicit, I think, things that are starting to really generate and have a positive impact, but I couldn’t articulate it the same way where I could say like, “Here’s why natural parkour works well.” And I couldn’t say that here’s why we use less extrinsic feedback and try to attune people to intrinsic feedback and the [inaudible 00:51:38] stuff.
Rafe: But I recently got to work with my friend Mark Walsh who does something called Embodied Yoga Principles. And he has a very good heuristic system for how you do this. It essentially is practice mindfulness within your movement. So, it’s like, okay, you do the jump. Can you have mindfulness of what it was meaningful? Before, what’s going on with you? Afterwards, what happened with you. And then even maybe during, can you be more present to what’s happening?
Rafe: One thing that happens a lot when people are beginning to learn parkour is that they’ll actually go deep into a fight or flight state when they’re trying things that are at the edge of their ability. And they’ll actually lose that. Right? So, you’ll do the jump and you don’t remember. The jump didn’t happen, like it didn’t even register. And so, we want to learn how to set our self in a state that we can actually get the experience. So, mindfulness within movement.
Rafe: Next, we have familiarity. Right? As emotions come up, as we experience the physical state of our body in our practice, is it familiar to us? If it’s familiar to us or it’s not familiar to us, we can ask, “Where’s that showing up in my life? That’s life linking.” Right?
Rafe: So, I worked with one of my students recently and we were working on a wall flip. And I could just see that he was in this deep state of anxiety. Right? He was really afraid to do the wall flip. His posture is closed. He’s got a little blush in his face. His eyes are in a certain shape. So, I asked him, “What’s going on in your body?” He said, “I feel really anxious.” “Is there somewhere in your life that this shows up?” It’s like, “When I want to talk to a girl.” Right? I was like, “Okay. So, what I want you to do now is … “
Craig: New practice.
Rafe: Right? “What I want you to do now is remember the last time you asked a girl out and she said yes? Right? How did you feel as you walked away?” And you could just see his body completely relax. Shoulders get broad.
Rafe: And he’s got this little satisfied smile on his face. It’s like, “Hold on to that emotion. Now try the flip. Right? Go when you know that you can hold that level of confidence through the flip.” And the next flip he flew right out of our hands. It was like two feet higher. So, that psychoemotional component is incredibly powerful.
Rafe: So, we have life linking, and then you have dialogue. Right? So, then I had to have a meet up with one of those students and just talk. What was your insight though that process? And then, that’s what I got from Mark. And then there’s an element to this of storytelling as well, I believe, that we exist within narratives. And when we learn to craft and think about our narratives and lay them out and use them, we have a more powerful way. And when we learn to connect them into our bodies, we have a more powerful means to create the self transformation.
Rafe: So, those are the three systems or ways that we’re looking at self transformation, the psychotechnologies sets that we’re working on to try to engage the self transformation. And then there’s lots of stuff that’s out there that people could use that could also be powerful, like I said.
Craig: I’m not trying to say, “Don’t give me that.” But there’s a bunch of really useful hints that I think that are obvious that you laid out in there about ways to find the unknown, ways to find things that you’re weak at. But if you haven’t lost your train of thought, keep going.
Rafe: No, no. Yeah, that’s fine. I was just saying. Psychedelics absolutely can have this kind of power. It’s not something I work with. It’s not something I’ve done. Right? Some people are highly motivated like big group experiences like Burning Man. Right? That can be powerful for people. I also think it could be a trap. I think all these things could be a trap. I think you have to set up your systems so that there’s these ecologies where they can interplay with each other, because they prevent you from falling into traps.
Rafe: If parkour is your only means of self transcendence, the problem that you might have, and I see this with a lot of guys. Right? They come into parkour. A lot of guys who do parkour are kind of geeky, kind of the nerdier kids. They’re often physically smaller. So, maybe they were very athletic, but they never got recognized for athleticism because they weren’t big enough to succeed in teem sports.
Rafe: So, all of a sudden they can realize that their body is strong and capable and that all this physical talent can be expressed somewhere. And it’s revelatory for them. They feel so good. And they think, “Man, this is changing me.” They feel really changed, but they actually … it isn’t showing up. If you’re working with 15-year-old to 20-year-old men, very often the most challenging thing for them is how to relate to women. Right? And very often you see these guys, they spend all their time with other boys. Right?
Craig: Wonder why. Right?
Rafe: They still have no idea how to do it. It’s like they’ve cultivated something, but they haven’t figured out a way to translate it. And then what can happen is, okay, so parkour, you’re good at that, but talking to girls you’re terrible at. Or maybe your family life is really messed up and you have no ability to deal with what’s going on over there, or maybe your work life is messed up. And parkour, rather than being a tool that you use to help build a capacity that you translate into those other places, it becomes the safety place that you go so that you don’t have to confront the stuff that really needs to happen.
Rafe: Meditation is the same thing. People think of meditation as a panacea, but meditation can absolutely be a trap. Right? It doesn’t matter what it is. All of these things, when you make yourself of service to them instead of making them of service to you, and when you allow yourself to be honed into one path without giving access to lots of tools, the likelihood that you’re going to start bullshitting yourself and deceiving yourself as you walk down that path becomes much higher, in my opinion.
Craig: One opportunity here is I’ve heard … I’ve five behind, but I’ve listened to all your podcasts. And there are lots of places where … Well, first of all, sometimes it gets a little repetitive because in order for you to complete a train of thought, you have to run the whole train of thought. And I can see you start on a train of thought, and then you realize it’s like, “Wait, now this is Rafe talking instead of the guest talking.” And I’m like, “No, finish the train of thought.”
Craig: Intentionally, one of the things I wanted to do here was to give you an opportunity to finish your train of thought. So, if you talk for 20 minutes, I’m not waiting for you to shut up. I’m like, “Yes. Here’s your chance to open it up.” So, now that I’ve interrupted you.
Rafe: Sure. I’m going to tell you a story. I don’t know if this goes cutting room floor. Anyways, it’s a funny thing.
Craig: No, I love stories.
Rafe: It’s a funny thing that came up in something you said, which was this idea that when you’re listening to somebody, you want to hear the depth of their thinking. And this is something that Jordan Peterson said. If you want something, you need to find five reasons at least to clarify why it’s important that that’s going to happen. And you should do that if you’re making an argument with somebody, because most people just don’t have five counterarguments. But also, if you’re trying to convince yourself to do something.
Rafe: And so, recently my daughter has been complaining all the time about Donald Trump. She’s seven-years-old. It’s like I’m not trying to defend Donald Trump, but I’m like, “You shouldn’t be caring about Donald Trump. You’re seven-years-old.” It’s like, “Tell me a policy of Donald Trump’s that you think is bad, and tell me why you think it’s bad.”
Rafe: And I’m like challenging her. It’s like, “You can have an opinion about things as soon as you can do that. Right? You can tell me how Donald Trump is the worst president ever as soon as you can tell me what his policies are and why they’re bad and what the comparison is.” Right? If you’re just going to reflect the animus that is held by the people around you about somebody. Right? Maybe in this case it’s deserved, but that’s how witch hunts start.
Rafe: And so, I’m challenging her. I’m saying, “I don’t want you to go down this road of letting your emotions be run by other people’s perception of something that you haven’t studied yourself.” So, that was the story that popped into my head.
Craig: That’s a great story. I didn’t even have to say … And I love to tell people, “Please share stories,” but that’s great. So, I just want to be mindful of your time today. The very last thing that I want to ask people. And since we’re doing this as a big open question, which I think we’ll just leave this in, I always explain … usually intended for the cutting room floor … I usually explain that I ask at the end for three words to describe your practice. And in your case, unpacking practice, that won’t make you stumble at all. You’re like, “I know exactly what I be thinking about.”
Craig: But I tell people that the three words can be anything you want, and it’s intentionally a little challenging to find three. Although I think I know what three you’re going to use. And then you can either just drop the words and then we’ll be done, or we can unpack them a little bit. So, that’s one of the things I want to end with. So, when we’re ready to go out the door, I’ll ask that question.
Craig: Let’s flip this around. I often say to guests, “Is there anything else that I may not have asked you that you want to bring up?” But we’ve been doing that. I don’t mean that negatively. So, is there anything else that you would want to ask me that we haven’t gotten to?
Rafe: I was really interested in the conversation we were having beforehand, but I can’t quite remember what it was about.
Craig: So, there’s like this thing. Sometimes I do that, and I always regret sitting down on a sofa and starting, because I’m like, “You know what’s going to happen,” because it’s hard to recapture. And I agree with you 100%, but I refuse, I will not route the guest to the execution [crosstalk 01:01:07] with the mic because it’s just weird. But we’re on the same country. We can always continue.
Rafe: Yeah. One of the things I guess that I’m … I think I’ve touched on it before. But I’m curious to hear your perspective about this. Because I know that you’ve had an opportunity to talk with a lot of the people who I have less connection to. Right? The people at the origin of parkour. But what it feels like to me is the more that I’ve dived deeply into EMP is that it is kind of like a reclamation of the original spirit of parkour, but I would hope with a more sophisticated, more articulated reasoning behind it and set of tools to continue it forward.
Craig: [crosstalk 01:01:46] explicitly articulated, maybe?
Rafe: Because it seems to me that there is this … I talk about parkour as like sensu stricto and sensu lato. Right? The wide sense of parkour or the narrow sense of parkour. And then we could talk about parkour and ADD. Right? Art Du Deplacement. Right? There’s maybe David’s parkour and whatever he’s defining it as, and then there’s the parkour that’s widely practiced, and then there’s whatever the emergent thing was where ADD and parkour began and then as it slowly emerged into something. And I’ve had a conversation with Stephane Vigroux about this. I’ve spoken with Thomas Couetdic about it.
Craig: That was a great interview, by the way.
Rafe: Yeah, thank you. Yeah. And I’ve asked him. It seems like it has something to do with this heroic journey thing. They’ve both told me this. It really wasn’t about the jumps in the beginning. It wasn’t about a specific set of techniques. It was really about these young men who came from pretty difficult situations. Right? And they could’ve easily gone down pretty negative roads and gangs and crime. And they found some way to give themselves a challenge that was positive that started that journey of self transcendence. And what became popular was the fact that they did it through jumping and that hadn’t really been explored.
Craig: The visual part is why it blew up. It exploded in France. Yeah, they’re actually still famous there and it’s like a thing. The movie comes on TV occasionally and everybody watches it again.
Craig: The first movie is really popular.
Rafe: By the movie, you mean the first Yamakasi movie?
Craig: Yeah, the first Yamakasi movie. The one that kind of exploded the Yamak on to visibility. But even David’s early stunt … Even Speed Air Man, the very first one that he put out, even that, it makes David very famous. And I’m not sure I know where my train of thought was going. I think that even they don’t realize what they did. In some sense, to Yann for example, he understands what he’s accomplished, but he doesn’t really, in my opinion … he never really said this to me … but he doesn’t really realize the power that he wields, I think.
Craig: That I feel that if they got together that they could really explain … So, here’s what I’m thinking. Why are we talking about what they were doing in Lisse and Évry? They should be talking about that. They should be able to … They should be the teachers like in the sense of like, “Here’s what we did. And either they did intentionally or didn’t do it intentionally, but here was our journey, and this is why that journey was valuable.” I’m not 100% sure, but I think that they do do that if you train with them.
Craig: So, Chau once said specifically that we’re aware that this was before there was actually, and now there is, an ADD coaching thing that they run themselves, the Yamak run. But at the time that it was being discussed why isn’t there, they were saying because it’s meant to be a peer-to-peer direct conveyance. And they didn’t want to try and create a system and then have it pass along. And I don’t know if that was a reticence of like, “Well, that doesn’t seem to work so well for most martial arts.”
Craig: And then the other side of me wants to do like the anthropology thing of don’t touch them. They’re still alive. You can get on a plane and you can get to Évry in like 20 hours. And all you got to do is wait around about 15 minutes and Yann will go running by. He’s still there. I’ve chased him around for days on end. And we go running through the streets and people like, “Hey, Yann” as he goes by.
Craig: So, I woke up in his apartment and the first day I’m thinking, “I wonder what we’re going to train today when we go out and play.” First of all, oh my God, I’m in Yann’s apartment. Right? But the second thing was what’s he going to do? And he just lives. It’s just Yann’s life. He got up, he grabbed his guitar, he got in his car, he went to the mall, parked.
Craig: We cut through the fast food restaurant who knew him, and we took water out of the back of the soda machine, and we went out the side door emergency exit and you’re in Évry. You go past Laurent’s grandmother’s house. And you manpower’s off to the left, then you go to the cathedral, and we just jump on shit for four hours.
Craig: There’s nothing to it. It’s just the way they lived. And how the heck do you … How would, if we say to these guys, wrap that up and explain it to us? How would they even do that? It’s like you need to go and train with them.
Craig: That’s why I think you’re on the right … You’re let’s just go in the woods and train. I know there’s a lot of structure and organization. But the basic principle of like, “Okay, we have this space. Let’s go over here and train and do that.” So, I actually don’t have the answers. I know you’re not asking for some of the answers. I don’t know that even my perspective is unique. I’m just like the crazy guy who travels around and points mics at people.
Craig: Maybe in a few more years. I would hope that maybe in a few more years I’ll have enough to be able to pull it all back together. But at this current point in my life, I’m just crazy busy with work and recording. There’s so many things going on that as soon as I feel … particularly this time last year. I was like, “Okay, winter. I’ll get a chance to really dig into all this stuff.” And it like flew by.
Rafe: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: So, I hope I’m not letting you down, but I don’t know.
Rafe: No, no.
Craig: You’re welcome to keep asking me pointy questions and I’ll try to give …
Rafe: Yeah. It was just interesting. The conversation we had off, off, off.
Craig: Yeah, before. Before, right.
Rafe: Mic. Off mic.
Rafe: Yeah, yeah, was kind of around that. It’s just an interesting topic for me. One of the ways that I’ve conceptualized it that touches on the ideas that we’ve been jumping around on is … notice the analogy.
Craig: We both like [crosstalk 01:07:16].
Rafe: Yeah, yeah. So, is the idea that you can conceptualize parkour as a do or a jitsu. Right? And this is terminology from Japanese martial arts. And this is something that I wanted to touch base on because you’ve talked about your experience with aikido. And I think that there’s …
Craig: Which comes from aiki-jūjitsu is where [crosstalk 01:07:41].
Rafe: Yes. Aiki-jūjitsu, right? So, for those in the audience who aren’t familiar, jitsu basically means technique, and do means way. It’s the same word at tao in Tao Te Ching. So, a jitsu is basically like you could have a jitsu of being a fireman. Right? For a fireman doing a planche isn’t necessarily a tool of self transformation. Right? By planche actually I mean a muscle-up is what we would call it here. Right?
Craig: But for the fireman, they literally … So, let’s unpack that, because that’s actually not everybody knows it. You have a board, a plank, which in French is planche, P-L-A-N-C-H-E, I think. And the fireman actually need to hang from the plank by your fingers like a dead hang for climb-up, and then climb-up onto the plank. So, the way the Yamak teach a climb-up, like Chau specifically teaches this, and people in the states go, “What are you doing?” They’ll be on a brick wall with a upper top. And he will teach you how to put your forearms on the wall to roll your forearms forward. I’m not saying this is pleasant.
Craig: Roll your forearms forward so you can get your chest up on top. And it’s like this twisting motion that is actually doable.
Craig: And you look at it and you go, “Why don’t you just put your feet on the wall and do what we all do a climb-up in Western hemisphere?” And the answer is, because it’s a planche. There’s a plank. There’s nothing for your legs. You have to roll onto that board.
Rafe: Yeah. Funny thing about that. Just getting off on a tangent. We’ll come back to the tao thing. But the climb-up is a huge skill in parkour. Right? It’s so archetypal and such a point of focus. When I went into training in nature, I realized that it almost never occurs because it’s a skill that only exists when you have …
Craig: An artificial wall with a top. [crosstalk 01:09:35]
Rafe: Exactly. You have a 90-degree wall with a 90-degree ledge. If you look at rock climbers, they have mantles. Mantling is when you go over the top of a rock. But a mantle might look just like a climb-up in some circumstances. But a lot of the times it’s like throw your elbow up, throw a hand up in a weird [inaudible 01:09:58]. And it’s the same thing when we climb trees. We do a variety of different climb-ups. It’s like most of the climb-ups are either much easier than a climb-up or much harder.
Craig: Like mantling. Because I’ve done a little rock climbing, and mantling is often like, “This is really hard.”
Rafe: Yeah. And so, in the parkour community, a lot of times you’ll hear you never use your elbows. Right? Never use your elbows. So, I’ll be running up a tree and I’ll have a tree limb off the trunk. And if I can grab the tree limb and it’s a nice grip for my hands, then it’s like a really easy climb-up, but it’s just weird and asymmetrical.
Rafe: Or it’ll be in a really weird position and I won’t be able to get good power with my legs, and I’ll have to throw an elbow up and [inaudible 01:10:45] and struggle up in some interesting ways. That Yamak original idea of being able to use the elbow section is very functional. All the rock climbers do it. So, that an interesting thing about how we’ve lost some information.
Rafe: And another thing about that is that the Yamakasi actually trained in nature a lot in the beginning. It’s something that’s forgotten. People think of parkour. I’ve heard people hundreds of times say parkour is urban obstacle course.
Craig: Yeah, or even they say it started in the urban environment.
Craig: I’ve been to Lecce. I’ve been to where these guys live.
Rafe: Sarcelles, Fontainebleau.
Craig: And then Williams was leading. He’s like, “Okay, we’re going to train today.” And we ran out into the woods out in Lisse. There’s parks. All I could do to keep the guy in sight, let alone do anything that he did. But they still train outdoors in a … It’s not rural like … You’re in the suburbs of Paris. If you run far enough, you run out of housing in town. But it is organic. It’s trees. It’s grass. By organic, I meant found. I didn’t mean necessarily plant-based.
Rafe: Sure. Yeah, yeah. So, I’ve trained in the woods in Sarcelles.
Craig: I haven’t been to Sarcelles. But on one hand I’m like, “I want to go.” The other hand, I’m like, “It’s just the woods.”
Craig: There’s woods and there’s trees outside the window. I don’t know if the neighbor would like that.
Rafe: Fontainebleau is very worth visiting. Right? It’s funny. I don’t think they … I’m not sure how much they trained in Fontainebleau until pretty late in the game, but all the videos that show them doing it in nature, a lot of the videos that show the [crosstalk 01:12:08] Fontainebleau because Fontainebleau’s fantastic. It’s where bouldering was born, which is like 20 minutes from where parkour was born, which is a funny little point of history.
Craig: We’re going to go back to tao versus jitsu.
Rafe: Yeah, tao versus jitsu, right? So, you could look at any of the skills in parkour and you could … well, not any of them. Right? But many of the basic fundamental skills of parkour anyways could be something that you train a soldier. Right? Could be something that you train a fireman. And for them, it’s just a thing that they need to do their job.
Rafe: And all the martial arts started like that. Right? For the most part, the Japanese martial arts started as things that you train samurai so that they can kill people on the battlefield.
Rafe: And the idea that they were self transformational wasn’t really there.
Craig: Yeah. I always love the one, jiu-jitsu, which is J-I-U in front of jitsu, is empty hand. So, that’s like when you’ve dropped your sword which is a really bad thing. But when you don’t have a sword, now what do you do? Well, you fight with the empty hand technique. And so, it’s just jitsu to them.
Rafe: Yep. So then, historically basically, there was a point at which all these samurai skills became functionally irrelevant, and then people wanted to maintain them. And what they discovered was that there was a sense of self transformation that came through the practices of them. And so, we have this change from jiu-jitsu to judo. We had aikido aiki-jūjutsu to …
Craig: Aikido, right?
Rafe: Aikido. Though there’s a big difference because aikido is much more focused on the do, where as judo has become a sport. But you can also look at the same thing in the Chinese martial arts and tai chi. The internal martial arts are basically very aligned with Taoism. They’re part of a set of psychotechnologies of self transformation. So, I think that when we receive parkour in some sense outside of France, what we perceived was a set of techniques.
Rafe: I remember them being basically written out on Urban Freeflow. It’s like you need to learn how to do a speed vault, a Kong. Speed vault, monkey vault, King Kong vault, dash vault, reverse vault, palm spin, et cetera, et cetera. And I remember in my training when I had learned all of them, I was like, “Well, what’s next?”
Craig: What’s next? Yes.
Rafe: Right? What’s next?
Craig: I have this vision. Yann tends to just say, “Pass.” So, when he’s teaching a class, he’ll find an obstacle or a part of a route, and he’ll just be like, “Pass, pass, pass,” with in French means like go over or go beyond. And so, he’s just basically telling you pass. But people will run up to the object and they’d be like, “Well, do you want like a step vault or a [crosstalk 01:14:50]. Because he has very good English, but he’s not going to give you an answer. [inaudible 01:14:52]. He’s like, “Pass. Go over the thing. Pass, pass, pass.”
Craig: And that’s why I think that for them it’s clearly a way. It’s a do. But when you take a picture of it, or when you download the video from your modem, or when you want to type it up on a message board, that’s a lot of typing to explain do.
Rafe: Yeah, exactly. Especially when you have a language gap. And the guys who originated it were not highly educated.
Rafe: Right? So, this thing that it was for them. And then I think a lot of people … There was the idea of parkour philosophy. I remember all these arguments of parkour philosophy on the early days.
Craig: Yeah, there were arguments of them. By the way, I wasn’t around for the early days. But my understanding is like all it was was discussions. I don’t know that anybody was like, “Guys, you’re all missing … ” Here’s the philosophy that I got when I trained with him. It was like them trying to reverse engineer the philosophy out of it, which is a good point. Let me see you reverse engineer the philosophy out of tai chi by learning the physical movements.
Rafe: Yeah. Imagine like this. So, usually the guys who are discussing this were mostly English speakers or Russian speaking English or something. Right? There wasn’t a lot of the guys who were French. There were some of them. [inaudible 01:16:01] spoke in these forums occasionally. But for the most part, imagine going to China, having a Chinese guy who speaks few words of English teach you a few sessions of tai chi without any explicit instruction, and then going back to England and trying to explain what the philosophy of tai chi was.
Rafe: That’s what was happening on these forums. So, I think fundamentally, a lot of it comes down to that idea of this positive confrontation with challenge and how that can transform your character. And I think that that’s what interesting to me is how do we make parkour a do again in a really … and make it as profound and powerful as possible?
Craig: Maybe, I kind of want to say how do I … Not that I want to correct you, but I want to say how do I make my parkour into a do, to remind myself that the problem is actually what I’m doing. Not that there’s necessarily … I’m not implying something’s wrong with parkour. I’m saying I’m beginning to realize that what I think of as parkour may not be the whole pie. So, how do I make my parkour be a do?
Rafe: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s totally fine. I’m not advocating that everyone has to treat it this way. Right? I’ve played around a lot with defining parkour. Right? When I was the head coach of Parkour Visions, I felt like we had to have a clear working definition of parkour in order to know what we were trying to teach people.
Rafe: And so, I originally defined it as the discipline of developing the self. Not the self. The discipline of developing the ability to overcome obstacles effectively. Right? That was the best understanding that I could glean from what David had said though [inaudible 01:17:44] or whatever. And then over time I added in this secondary clause, which was in of developing the self through overcoming obstacles. And then when I spoke to Stephane, I was like, “I got that backwards, didn’t I?” It was the discipline of developing the self through overcoming obstacles.
Rafe: Right? And everything else was secondary. So, I think of that as maybe close. I guess you could say there’s different definitions. Maybe David’s definition is more like the first. I don’t know. Maybe the Yamak vision was more like what I was talking about there. And then I think that if you think about parkour in the sense of what describes the practice that is universal to everyone who now ascribes to the name, right, or almost everyone. Right?
Rafe: And fundamentally it’s just like people who interact, it’s a practice of interacting creatively with physical obstacles.
Craig: Environment, right.
Rafe: Yeah, with complex environments.
Rafe: That’s what it’s come to mean. It’s interesting to me, though. Because it seems like that practice, just that first hint of go out and play around on some obstacles, even in the loosest sense, it seems like it invites something. And this is what I wanted to get into because we’re talking a bit about this. It’s like is there something special about parkour? Right? I think you talk to most people who practice most things, and they’re going to be like, “Oh yeah. No, this is the best at delivering this.” So, I think we have to be really skeptical of our claims in this regard.
Rafe: I read a book called The Rise of Superman, which is about flow states and how athletes in snowboarding, skiing, surfing, et cetera, are experiencing this profound transformations and able to attain skills, and what that says about flow state and why flow state’s important for self transformation. And I was like, “Man, parkour needs to be in this.” And I recognize that there’s a real commonality. If you can conceptualize confronting a vault or a jump as the hero’s journey, and same thing’s true for confronting a wave or a run through a terrain park or mountain biking down a hill.
Rafe: And I distinguished this from martial arts. Because the flow sports, there’s no handicapping. Right? The terrain exists as it is, and you have to know for real whether you are capable of it. And if you take it to a high level, if you lie to yourself, you will get badly hurt. Right? In martial arts, you never get to train the real thing. Right? There’s crazy people, Steve Morris, Erik Paulson, who have been like, “Well, okay. I’m going to put my stuff to real. I’m going to go put myself in situations where street fights are likely to happen.”
Rafe: And you can argue that that’s not an ethical thing to do. That’s why I wouldn’t personally choose to do it. Maybe I’m a scaredy-cat. But mostly I think it’s just because I don’t feel like hurting people to test whether my theories are true is a worthy cost-benefit analysis. Right? But most people, almost everyone who trains martial arts, the closest that they get to reality is competing in …
Craig: The tournament.
Rafe: In tournament, in sport. And sport is not the full reality. Another thing about that that’s interesting is that when you do parkour or when you do skiing or when you do snowboarding, if you can tap into flow. The environment’s not fighting you to tap you out of flow. Right? You can get the perfect linking and stay in that flow state and get that accelerated learning, that incredible growth of skill, through that flow state through the whole experience. But in martial arts, my job is to prevent you from getting into the flow state, and your job is to prevent me from getting into the flow state.
Rafe: Which has its own lessons that are really valuable. And I think you want to be playing in both of these fields if you want the optimal growth. Right? It’s like I want to go to the place where I can get into my flow and stay in my flow. I don’t want to get in the place where someone’s going to challenge my flow and I’m going to have to rearticulate it over and over and over again. But it seems like there is something different between those two and the lessons that you get out of them.
Rafe: Now, is there something unique about parkour relative to skiing? Right? If we’re going to argue for parkour as this potentially amazing thing for self transformation, what makes it unique from the rest of the flow sports? And for me, it does seem like it is somewhat unique. I think you can derive a lot of the benefits that we would argue from parkour from any of those sports. But my argument for why there’s something unique about it is that it’s the set of movements that human bodies were built for.
Rafe: Right? And it moves at a slightly different pace. Right? It’s slower. On skis you can go 70 miles an hour. In parkour, if you hit 20, you’re really, really good.
Craig: Yeah, I would say in this analysis we’re doing here, I would disqualify any sport that requires equipment. So, all of track and field is pretty much out except for the running competitions. And then those I think are out, disqualified, because they have a very limited range. The motion is very limited. So, there aren’t many things that are as freeform.
Rafe: They don’t have the environmental information. Right? So, if we look at … They talk about the triggers of flow in The Rise of Superman. Things that force you to deep embodiment where you have rich environmental constraints, where you have high consequences. Right? Those are the individual triggers.
Craig: I haven’t read the book in a while.
Rafe: It requires focus, right? And those things obviously are present in surfing, snowboarding, parkour, and everything like it. And this is why I train in nature, because it’s a richer environment as far as I’m concerned. Right? If there’s richer environments than running around in the trees, it’s like whitewater kayaking or something. Right? That’s the only place where you could go where something that’s more stuff, more stuff that you have to process, and those things are very attractive to me.
Rafe: But I think there’s something really profound about that and that idea of if our cognition is inherently embodied and embedded and enacted, where are the places we go that allow us to deepen our connection and our awareness and our mapping of the body that allow us to improve our embedding within the environment and then allow us to act out the things that we need to act out to grow as human beings? That’s where I think that parkour in particular, parkour in nature for me, has this profound power that is not entirely unique and that is shared by many other things. But that I think is maybe the most powerful instance of this, because it aligns on the most …
Craig: Features, yeah.
Rafe: Features that can deliver this. That’s my argument for why I think there’s something somewhat unique about it. And I think that … Well, one thing that’s interesting to me about this is going back to the jitsu versus do thing. It seems to me that when you talk to a surfer and you ask why do you surf, they’ll never tell you, “I just need to hit a bigger wave.” Right?
Rafe: Right? If you talk to a jiu jitero, they’re not going to be like, “Okay, give me … Well duh, like 52 chokes is just way cooler than 51 chokes.” Right? That’s not how they talk. Right? It’s always because it transforms your character.
Craig: They’re after the transcendence.
Rafe: Because they’re after transcendence. But here’s where it gets weird, because some arts approach transcendence indirectly. They approach transcendence indirectly through just the practice. But then there’s always the potential that it’s a trap, or the potential that you’re just not getting the correlation. Right? And you fall in love, you always fall in love with your practices.
Rafe: And so, it’s hard to be like, “Man, yoga’s probably delivering the benefits I want in my life better than surfing right now, but I just like surfing so screw yoga.” Right?
Craig: Yeah, I’m all in on surfing and all this stuff. I’ve been doing it so long and I’m good at it.
Craig: There’s also something to be said for being good at it.
Rafe: Oh yeah. We have ego traps.
Rafe: So, you have the indirect route. And then you have the direct route. You have the people who’ve said, “Okay, well really the reason we do martial arts is to approach self transcendence,” and that’s aikido and that’s Tàijíquán.
Craig: Ditch martial arts and head for the Buddhist meditation.
Rafe: Yeah, exactly. But what I’ve noticed is that a lot of the arts that have directly said we’re actually about character formation, they end up being full of bullshit. Right? Because they neglect the ground substance. Right? There are great Tàijíquán teachers, but there’s a lot of teachers who will tell you that you’re learning something that’s relevant to self defense, and you’re learning the farthest from that. Right? And the same thing for aikido. Right? Fights don’t start from 10 feet away with someone swinging their arm like a stick at your head.
Rafe: It’s just not how it happens. So, I see parkour as this potential place in which, or Evolve Move Play, as this potential place in which we start to bring those two things together. Parkour as a medium, it gives you a fundamental real challenge that you can’t lie to yourself about. You can go in and teach your students to fall down for you, and you can lie to yourself every day about how nobody could touch you.
Rafe: You can’t like to yourself that you can jump 30 feet.
Craig: Yeah. You either can or can’t balance on this rail.
Rafe: You get to test yourself against reality. This is a really interesting insight to me is flow states. Actually, one of the triggers of flow states that we didn’t mention is clear coupling of feedback to action. The faster that you get relevant feedback from an action that you make, the more tightly you go into flow state. Right? That’s also what optimizes business function.
Rafe: Nassim Taleb in his work talks about the idea that you have to set yourself up to the potential for lots of small failures to prevent large failures. Businesses grow when they can see where they make errors. And then Philip Tetlock talks about the same thing in his book Superforecasting. Right? The people who are best at forecasting the future are the ones who make clear predictions that can be disconfirmed, look for disconfirmatory evidence, and update their predictions as often as possible. So again, it’s that clarity of feedback.
Rafe: So, in martial arts, you can go to a place where there’s no clarity of feedback. And even if you’re in the real martial arts.
Craig: It can still happen.
Rafe: Man, it’s still hard.
Craig: It’s because you have another mind involved, so it’s not entirely possible for me to know for sure what the other person is really thinking and how they’ve been mentally … I was going to say trained, like mentally trained.
Rafe: When I’m sparring with somebody …
Craig: I think that’s why people who are into martial arts wind up being interested in mixed martial arts and taking martial arts to competition. People look at that and they go, “Oh my God, it’s like brutal.” They see it as a really bad thing. I’ve never done any of that. But I think it has to be at least some of the people who are drawn to that, like drawn to actually go MMA fight, I think those people maybe doing the I’m on the path of the do, and this is where I need to go to find out whether what I was doing is true.
Rafe: Yeah. Yeah. So, it’s that feedback that you need to prevent yourself from falling into the heuristic bias that leads to bullshitting yourself. And so, it’s very interesting to me that the arts that have chosen to focus on self transcendence have gotten into this parasitic processing and bullshitting themselves.
Rafe: And then the arts that have this indirect thing, they offer their own value, but they haven’t been able to capture the whole value.
Craig: Intentionalize, yeah.
Rafe: And so, it seems to me that using the body and environment practice as the center of the practice has a potential to unify those two things, to get the reality that you get in MMA with the self cultivation you get in tai chi. Right? We could find both without having to sacrifice one of the principles, and that’s very exciting to me. Take it with a grain of salt, but that, I think, is why it continue to be at the center of what we do. Right?
Rafe: I train martial arts. I train kickboxing and grappling skills with my students all the time. We do stick stuff, and we do ball stuff, and we do chi gung sets to deal with that, and we meditate. But we spend more of our time jumping and vaulting and climbing because there’s something about it that seems to have this particular power that’s interesting to me. Maybe it’s just because I like it best.
Craig: I think, again, being mindful of your time, I think that’s a good place to wrap up there. Maybe we’ll think of this more of as a first conversation. Whether on mic or not, I’m sure I will see you again at some point.
Craig: So, I think I will just ask the final question, which would be three words to describe your practice.
Rafe: Well, the obvious ones would be evolve. Right? So yeah, move and play. Right?
Craig: Terrific, Rafe. It was a pleasure to finally get a chance to sit down and talk to you, and I look forward to talking to you again.
Rafe: Sounds good.
Craig: This was episode 66. For more information, go to MoversMindset.com/66. There’s more to the Movers Mindset project than just this podcast. Visit our website for more free content, to join our email list, or to read about how you can support this project. And I’ll leave you with a final thought from the Dalai Lama. “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Thanks for listening.
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