GW: I’m here today with Dan Edwardes, who is a Parkour coach and teacher of teachers. He’s a founding member and executive director of Parkour Generations, an international organisation of Parkour Instructors with schools all over the world. And he’s also the author of The Parkour and Free Running Handbook. And he has something of a sword background. You can find Dan at danedwardes.com and at parkourgenerations.com. So, without further ado, Dan, welcome to the show.
DE: Thank you for inviting me on. It’s a pleasure to be here.
GW: Whereabouts in the world are you?
DE: I’m in London at the moment, in Wimbledon where I live. Happily. I normally do travel a lot. Pre-pandemic, obviously. But yeah, since the pandemic, I’ve done no international travel for the longest period of my life staying in one place. It’s been quite nice.
GW: Yeah, I had the same experience, two years without leaving the country was just weird. I managed to get to Finland in November and I dressed it up as a work trip like I had a seminar and everything. But that wasn’t why when I went, I went just to see my friends, really? I mean, really.
DE: That’s good. That sort of thing is important, if you travel a lot. Yeah, you do miss it.
GW: Yeah, actually the worst of it is missing my friends who live in other countries.
DE: It’s been super tough for so many people on that front and really unnatural. Yeah, it’s just breaking up the connectivity of the world in that way. Physically, yeah, it has been really unnatural, I think. I’m very glad it’s ending now and we can get back to that stuff.
GW: Yeah, fingers crossed. Omicron can just fuck off.
DE: Definitely. I’m pretty hopeful this time. But like you, like you say, you never know. Actually, curveballs can come, it seems.
GW: Yeah. OK, so according to your bio, and we’ve met before and we’ve talked about this a little bit. But my listeners weren’t listening then. So let’s re-hash it for their benefit. You came across Parkour while you were in Japan and you went to Japan for the best of all possible reasons. Would you care to elaborate?
DE: I did discover Parkour while I was in Japan. Not that anyone else was training in Japan, but I saw it on a cinema in Japan, the original movie Yamakasi, which featured the founder guys. So I saw it while I was living out there and therefore started training. But the reason I was in Japan in the first place was to study swordsmanship. Swordsmanship and other martial arts. But I went there primarily to train in the Katori Shinto-ryu, which is a school you can only train in in Japan. There’s only one school. And it’s the oldest extant Japanese martial art, so it’s kind of the origin of all their sword arts came from the Shinto ryu. I’d known about that since I was a kid and studying in the martial arts, so I’d always wanted to train that. So that’s why I went to Japan and I lived there for five years, training that and training in aikido and fighting and various other things. Tameshigiri as well. So I was there for the martial arts. But while there, I encountered parkour and started training in that too.
GW: All right, so just for the listeners, Tameshigiri, is the cutting of prepared mats with sharp swords. We call it test cutting and we do a lot of it with our swords, but it is more of its own separate thing over there, isn’t it?
DE: Yeah, it’s a bit of a strange thing in a way in. So I was lucky in that I was admitted into the Shinto-ryu and start training there, and there were very few westerners that trained in the school. Back then it was it was really rare. So I was lucky in that I started learning that. But at the same time and separately, I found a sword teacher called Wakinaga-san who was this old Japanese guy who taught Tameshigiri and he really didn’t have any sort of respect or any interest in the ryu-ha in the actual Japanese sword schools. He didn’t really give them much the time of day. He was just into how swords work and how do you cut stuff and does it work and the techniques around that. So, what actually works. He was, I guess, he was the equivalent of like a combatives instructor in swordsmanship. He was like, I’m only interested in what works. Not in any of the faff, any of the tradition, any of the ritual. So I had both sides. It’s quite rare for that from a Japanese person. So I came across both sides and it was always a bit strange to me that
very few of the ryu-ha in Japan, and certainly very few, even fewer of the Iaido schools actually train cutting, they don’t actually cut anything solid for years, they can train their whole lives without ever cutting anything solid. So for me, that’s a bit like a boxer never hitting a bag. So, you should do that if you’re training with it with a weapon, you should learn what does it actually feel like to hit something with this thing. And you find out a lot when you do that. When I was out there, I encountered instructors who had been training 30 / 40 years and Wakinaga, who was a bit kind of cheeky and a bit playful in his old age. He would invite them to have a go at cutting stuff and they would jump at it because they never done it. But then they couldn’t cut anything.
GW: Really? I’m appalled.
DE: Yeah, it was weird. And I also remember thinking, wait, you guys have been training Iaido for 30, 40 years, some of these old guys, and they literally couldn’t cut through a tatami. They would hit it and knock it over and stuff. I had been doing Tameshigiri for a year at that stage and was slicing through stuff left, right and centre.
GW: I have students who’ve been training for a couple of months who cut stuff. You have to know what the blade actually does.
DE: Yeah, you’d think so. But no, there’s a there’s a lot of schools, the majority of schools and a majority of sword practitioners in the Japanese style, and I don’t know about many others, who never actually cut anything, which I thought was weird. So I was lucky to be exposed to both, and I found both. And it made both better.
GW: Sure. OK. We should maybe say that the hitting somebody in the head with a steel bar is going to have an effect, whether you cut them or not. So, for actual combative stuff, I’m not 100 percent sure that the cutting is as essential as it might appear, although I’m a huge fan of it. And also the way a tatami behaves, sat on its stand, waiting for you to cut it is quite different to the way a person behaves with holding a sword. And so my issue with test cutting when it’s separated from the actual practical things is you’ll do things that work really well for cutting inanimate objects, but we’ll get you killed in a fight. For instance, I have seen Tameshigiri competitions where people will step up to the stand, prepare themselves, and then strike. Do that to a human being who’s trying to murder you and you get a sword through your head as you step forward.
DE: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Which is why a combination of two is good. You’ve got to learn how to fight with the sword and you’ve also got to learn what it feels like when you hit something.
GW: Exactly. Because at either extreme, you lose something.
DE: Yes, exactly. And one of the most important reasons, I guess, to learn the art of cutting, and in terms of combative reasoning, I suppose, is that if you cut well with the sword, certainly with the Katana or Japanese blade, it doesn’t damage the sword at all. They’re actually quite fragile. So if you cut badly, you can bend the sword, and that’s going to ruin the rest of your fight. So if you’re in a battle or whatever, you’ve got lots of people around you, that sword’s got to last. One of the best reasons to train in that is that you preserve the sword. So, yeah, there’s lots of good reasons to do it. But yeah, without the fighting art, without actually learning the concepts of combat as well. It’s kind of it’s useless just as much as learning the concepts, but without learning to hit. So yeah, both are good, I think.
GW: Yeah. And then to your point about wearing out the sword, we do quite a lot of stuff sharp-on-sharp. The beginner students use blunt swords, obviously, and then we use sharp swords for test cutting, even if beginners can do that. But at a more advanced level, we do all the drills and what have you with sharp swords. And the way they behave against each other is different to the way below swords behave, because they kind of bite, but also they wear out. I’ve had swords that started out maybe two and a half inches wide, and by the time they were retired, they’d lost an inch in width by being re-ground.
DE: And this is the primary reason in the ryu-ha, the Koryu, the old schools of Japan, the primary reason they use bokuto, wooden weapons, is not to protect. A lot of people are saying, oh, you have wooden weapons to keep people safe. It’s not that. The reason that they switch to wooden weapons is to protect the weapons. Swords were expensive. They were rare, good ones, and you didn’t want to damage them.
GW: Whereas making more people is free.
DE: Yeah, exactly. So, yeah, you don’t do damage your sword. So you use wooden swords. So, yeah, that’s a that’s a very good point.
GW: So you went to Japan to study swordsmanship. Was that actually your first martial arts stuff or did you start marital arts in the UK?
DE: I grew up fanatical about martial arts, so I started studying when I was like, probably well, I started fighting when I was about eight and then started training in a proper art about sort of 10.
And all through my teenage years I was fanatically serious about training and the philosophy of the Asian arts of East Asia as well and everything that comes with it. So I was heavily, heavily immersed in a training childhood with lots of my friends as well and one of my brothers. And so
it was just part of the culture I grew up in in a way that we created and then. And then when I finished university, that’s when I went to live in Japan, and that’s when I sought out the Shinto-ryu. It was the first traditional sword art that I’d started at great depth. I trained with lots of different weapons, lots of different other arts, lots of knife systems, stick, staff, all different types of weapons. But never really a traditional sword art. So it was the first time I’d studied that and it was quite eye opening for that reason.
GW: Yeah, and I can just imagine there are probably many people listening at the moment who are just like, oh God, I want to go to Japan and do kata Shinto-ryu because it just sounds amazingly cool. So, OK, for their sake, when you go to Japan, I assume you need to find a job, you need to have an income, whatever, you need to show up at the dojo and say, please, will you train me? And they’re probably going to say, no, go away. You have to come back a few times. And what was that actually like?
DE: On the career side, I got a job as a lecturer at the university. I spoke Japanese because I studied Japanese at university.
GW: That’s very handy. I’m glad you mentioned that.
DE: Yeah, my degrees are in Japanese history, so I was able to get a job out there at a university. So I was a lecturer and Japanese universities, not to put them down, they certainly weren’t, when I was there, they weren’t as rigorous, let’s say, as Western universities. So being a lecturer, that was quite an easy lifestyle. You had a lot of time to yourself. Wasn’t very hard work at all, you know, good holidays. And so I had plenty of time to train and that’s why I was there. So I spent a lot of time training it and very early on I went to the school, to this Shinto-ryu and managed to, you know, there’s always this myth of the old Asian schools, you have to sit outside their door for three months until they let you in. But yeah, there are elements of that. There were elements of that. There aren’t any more, I think in the Shinto-ryu is much more open now than when I joined, but there was a period of yes, you have to show your interest, enthusiasm, for a period of time before you’re allowed to join. So you have to be committed. You have to keep sort of enquiring, keep showing up until eventually they say, Yeah, OK, you can join. You have to show you’re serious. But it’s interesting in that it’s within the laws of the school, the code that you that that you follow and you sign up to. It still has the blood oath, a Keppan. It’s the only school that still does the blood oath. And in that it specifically says the Shinto-ryu is not a secret. It’s not an art that’s designed only for a certain class. Right from its start it was open to anyone, peasants and samurai and whatever alike. That was quite rare. It’s the oldest school still alive, still going. But it had that in his code. Its philosophy is if you are serious, we will teach you. It doesn’t matter where you are from, whatever, which is why westerners like me join. So but yeah, there was an element of that, and I had to sort of show that I was there seriously and I was there to learn. I was training in other arts and I spoke Japanese, which really, really helped, there’s no doubt about that because they were then OK, he’s interested in Japanese culture. He’s taking the time to learn our language. All right. So that made a huge difference. And yeah, and now I was admitted in and started to train. Yeah, which was pretty cool. I’m sure you’ve seen the old Way of the Warrior series on BBC, which was a 1980 documentary.
GW: I haven’t seen it.
DE: Oh my God, go back and watch that. So there was a documentary series called Way of the Warrior by BBC Two in 1980, and each episode is on a different martial art, and one episode was on the Shinto-ryu at the school and it shows Otake Sensei and the school.
GW: In my defence, I was seven years old and we were living in Argentina at the time.
DE: I was five, so I didn’t watch it in 1980, but I watched it about like 1983 or 4 or something. And I remember watching it thinking, that’s mythical stuff, this this old Japanese school. Wow. And then, you know, you put it to the back of your head and you go off and you train in all the arts I did, karate and kung fu and various combative stuff in Thai boxing and boxing and whatever. So when the opportunity came to actually be autonomous and I can go anywhere I want and do anything I want. It was sort of why not learn that school, why not go there and learn that thing that is this mythical school in Japan? So there was a moment, I suppose, when I started training, when I did the blood oath. I thought, this is crazy in that I’m actually here, I’m actually training with these guys.
GW: I don’t know how much you’re allowed to tell us about these things, but tell us about the blood oath. What actually is it, what you do?
DE: So the blood oath, again, there’s not massive secrets around the blood oath itself. There are certain things at the Shinto-ryu you can’t do and show, I suppose, to non-members of the school. But now the blood oath is effectively you have a chat with the with the head teacher who was Otake Sensei at the time, who died earlier this year, sadly, and he was the head teacher for however long, 60, 70 years or whatever. So you sit down with him, you have you chat with him, he explains about the school a little bit and asks you a few questions. And he then writes a document that basically admits you to the school on a certain date with your name. And then he gives you a knife and you have to cut your hand and put your thumb in the blood and put the blood to the certificate. So that’s the blood oath, you’re signing in your blood. So it’s pretty simple, really. And for them, it’s very matter of fact because they’d be doing it for hundreds of years. But yeah, when you’re doing it for the first time, you kind of like, wow, this is pretty rare. There’s not many places in the world to do would expect you to sign in your blood, any more. But for me, obviously, I loved it. I was like, this is excellent. This is good. This is serious.
GW: You’re the only person I know who has actually sworn a blood oath in real life. At least, as far as I’m aware. The way it’s always shown in movies is you take a sharp knife and you hold it in your hand really tight and you pull it through, thus slicing through all the muscles and tendons and everything and ruining your hand forever. Because, that’s what would happen. What is the actual technique for actually cutting your hand properly? You cut your finger?
DE: Yeah. No, you don’t. And it’s exactly why you would never cut your hand because the last thing a swordsman wants to do is disable them. That’s right. Exactly. You cut the back of your finger. The knife is very sharp and you cut the back of your finger with it, and it wells up and then you take the blood. It doesn’t matter what you do that it’s not going to affect anything you do because it’s just the back of the finger. It’s not the tendons or anything. You don’t cut the hand and the knife is so sharp, you barely feel it really. You feel it after, but you barely feel it when you’re doing it.
GW: OK. And where you actually instructed in how to do it properly before you have to do it?
DE: A little bit? It’s super quick. Otake Sensei essentially just gives you the knife, and he points to that and demonstrates the movement it says, just do that. And then you’re like, OK, put it on the table – whack. And basically all I was thinking was, don’t chop a finger off. Because yeah, when you’re in front of Otake Sensei, you don’t want to mess it up. You don’t want to not cut it because you’re here to do this. I must do this. But therefore you’ve got, not adrenaline, but you’re quite, you know, you’re in the moment. And I remember just thinking, don’t cut too hard because I don’t want to lose that finger.
GW: Yeah, and you’re not a yakuza who’s just been naughty and is apologising to his boss.
DE: Exactly, exactly. I was like, Oh my God, that’s what happens. Don’t do that. So, yeah, it’s not that bad. But yeah, then it wells up, you bandage it and you start training. That’s it.
GW: Cool. OK, so that’s quite a significant sort of initiation ritual into membership of the school. But as far as I’m aware, you’re not still training there. So what was it like leaving the school?
DE: I did continue training when I came back to the UK. When I came back to the UK, there was there were basically two practitioners in the UK, one of which was Mike Jay, who was one of the first Westerners ever to join the school. And he’s kind of quite famous in himself in those circles. He was in it a documentary because he was married into a samurai family anyway. He’s sort of following in the footsteps of William Adams in being an Englishman who became samurai in a way, not that you can these days. But so I trained with Mike and he was a teacher in the school. So he lived in Japan for a long time, 30 years, and he was living in London. So I met him. Carried on trading with him. And one of the guys, Alan Gill, who joined after me. And then he came back to the UK. So there was a small group of us and we trained for many, many years. I haven’t trained for the last couple of years just because my focus has gone into other training elements, I guess, and obviously the pandemic, everything shut down. So it’s been sort of two or three years, I guess, since I trained in Shinto-ryu. But yeah, I trained it from 1999 in Japan through to about 2017 in the UK, something like that.
GW: So while you’re doing all the parkour stuff, which we are definitely going to be going into in some detail, but you actually kept up your kata Shinto-ryu training?
DE: Oh yeah, yeah. And I study now. I just don’t train with the group so much. So I still train the ai-jitsu and some of those solo skills. At the moment this small group that still trains, I can’t really access them regularly. So because of my travel before the pandemic, I was travelling so much that it kind of got very tough to maintain it. But yeah, I still do now. I still train the ai-jitsu and that stuff. So you kind of keep that going
GW: So in Shinto-ryu do they have sparring and that sort of thing?
DE: The main chunk of the practise is based on what are called kata, which are basically two people going at each other in these kata, these very complex, very fast, very dynamic kata between sword and sword, sword and spear, sword and naginata, sword and bow, sword and two swords. And they’re very dynamic. They’re very fast, but they are kata. They are patterns that you use. So there’s no pure sparring in it, which is again interesting when you come to look at which schools do spar and which don’t. But there are in-depth reasons as to why they moved away from that hundreds of years ago and moved into like, actually, these is probably going to be a better way for us to train the swordsmen. So it’s quite interesting. And I love the sparring, and when I was growing up, obviously I did tons of that and obviously in the unarmed arts, I did a lot of that and then I did a lot of sword sparring as well myself before I started. As I say, it was the first traditional sword I learnt, but with my group of friends we got, we engaged with a lot of swordplay ourselves and against other swordsman like Kendoka and that sort of stuff. We would seek them out and fight them. And so I kind of knew what it was like to fight with the weapon as well. But in the Shinto-ryu there is no pure sparring there.
GW: OK. And you said there were reasons for that. What are they?
DE: So the reasoning in the school, which you can go into great depth with Otake Sensei, or whoever is the head teacher. But the reasoning of the school mainly is that the reflexes that they are trying to build into people for swordfighting, because swordfighting is so dangerous. So one of the things that I noted very quickly about that sort of fighting and armed fighting rather than unarmed, is in unarmed fighting you can afford to make mistakes and make errors and get hit. But as soon as weapons are involved, you can’t really afford to make a mistake. So you have to be very, very precise and it has to work first time. So the reflexes they’re trying to build into you from all the movements they engage in, which is why you do it at such speed. And they’re very alive kata, you’re never allowed to go through them, just plodding through them like you are when you’re doing kata by yourself in martial arts. It’s very much responsive. So you know what the opponent is going to do. You don’t know exactly when they’re going to do it or how fast or anything like that and when they do it, your response has to be immediate. And there are hundreds of movements in each kata. So it’s very complex. And what it’s trying to do is take out your conscious thinking and replace it with a kind of limbic brain response to that attack coming in so that your body will react and do that in the time and will do exactly the right thing. Because you remember the kata are designed, mostly designed against armour, they are designed as if you’re fighting against someone in armour. So all the cuts are designed to find the weak points in their armour. So it wouldn’t be good enough just to smack him on the head because he’s got a helmet. So you’ve got to find the weak points. So every cut has to be super precise and it has to be so quick that you couldn’t consciously think about it. It’s interesting because it means the old arts had the understanding that the startle reflex and subconscious movement, limbic brain movement, is quicker than the prefrontal cortex movement, controlled movement. We understand that through parkour as well. Quicker and better and more effective. So if you can train that, if you can access that, if you can train the element of your brain that can access that in combat you will be more efficient rather than trying to work out in the moment the best thing to do, to respond or to act or whatever. So that’s one of the explanations behind it is to train those instant and perfect reflexes to something coming in at you, which is quite interesting.
GW: Yeah, and that’s pretty much how I approach things my school, my way of training, has a lot more of the kind of set pair drills than many of my colleagues do. I include sparring, freeplay. Whenever you’re doing a drill, it’s not exactly choreographed. You might adjust the timing and adjust the measure a little bit. You might mess around with it a little bit to make sure the person is responding to what they’re actually seeing, rather than what they think is coming. And when you make enough of those changes, you are effectively freeplaying. So, to my mind, it is a really great place to go to generate mistakes, which you can then use the less free training patterns to correct those mistakes. So you might notice in free play that you are vulnerable to a cut up under your arms because you just don’t see it that often. So that tells you, OK, right now, the exercises around cuts under the arms, that’s what I need to focus on for the next month.
DE: Yeah, I agree. And I think a combination of the two is best. You know that old phrase, all training is fake, but idea is to find the least fake shit out there. Because training is not fighting, but the closer you can make it to fighting, the more your body will be ready for it when it actually happens. So sparring or free play is a really good thing to do. And if you inform it with drills that are trying to teach you the right techniques and trying to drill them in as immediate reactions, then if you combine the two you probably produce like maybe the optimal outcome. So, it’s interesting that they don’t. But yeah, in a way, the Shinto-ryu forms in a way they’re so alive that they are kind of like sparring because you choose the timing, you choose the distance. I saw people get knocked out in the school doing kata, quite regularly, because if you aren’t quick enough and you got hit, or you did the wrong response or whatever you get hit or if you went too fast, if you’re training with one of the more experienced students. It’s very easy to see when someone is just going through the motions, so they’re predicting attacks and they’re not trying to hit the opponent. They’re turning slightly to the left or to the right. All that kind of crap. If the senior students saw that during training, they would make an example of it, they would either pre-empt your attack to show that they knew exactly where you’re going to do or they would just stand and let you miss and then hit you.
GW: I’ve done that many times.
DE: And it’s a good learning tool, right?
GW: If you’ve got a drill that goes over several steps and if you’re thinking about a step forward, then your step one and two are going to be a bit crap. So you’ve got to be focussed on the one that you’re doing when you’re doing it and let the ones that happen next happen next.
DE: So live in the drill, you’ve got you’ve got to stay in the moment. It’s a very complex thing to learn and to train. It takes a long time to learn the basic syllabus of all the weapons and the use of the weapons. What I really love about it is that it is as stripped down as possible. Compared to all the other Koryu that I experienced out there. Most of the other Koryu, a lot which have been recreated over time or they died out and then they were brought back hundreds of years later. So kind of reinvented in a way a lot of them were full of ritual and paraphernalia and huge sort of ritualistic, respectful forms before you actually train. And the Shinto-ryu has none of that. It is completely stripped down. You do a little bow before you enter the dojo. That’s it. You give a little bow to your partner and then you train and it’s just non-stop training. So for the whole two hours, three hours that you’re in a class or whatever training in the dojo, it’s non-stop. You don’t get any rest. There’s no faff around it. You know, there’s no extra sort of ritualistic flowery stuff that’s been added on because they’re really trying to keep it as original as it was, which was an art to train soldiers. You know, that’s what these schools were. They were arts to train soldiers to kill in battle so they didn’t have much paraphernalia and ritual and all that stuff. So it’s a very simplistic, practical school. And I love that. That aligns with my approach to fighting in the martial arts as well is like the more practical elements. So it’s quite intriguing in that it’s very old. It’s the oldest one, but it’s probably the one that has the most respect in Japan. It’s an intangible, natural, national cultural treasure and Otake Sensei, the head teacher of the of the school, the head teacher of the Shinto-ryu, he is the guy who, if you try to take his sword out of Japan, an old sword, a Shin Ken, out of Japan, through the airport, he is the guy, because he lives near Naruto. The school is about an hour from Naruto airport. That school, the head teacher is the guy, they ask to come to the airport to check the sword, to see if it’s allowed to leave the country. So it’s super important the school in Japan, and yet they have no interest in kind of ritual and all that sort of stuff. It’s just like now we just train the weapons really well and learn how to kill with the weapons. And that’s it.
GW: Yeah, I think Dave Lowry wrote something about this, like the more rituals there are around the drills, the newer the school.
DE: Yeah, that’s probably an inverse, proportionate relationship. Yeah, yeah.
GW: Yeah, I think it was in his book, The Brush and the Pen. You must be familiar with his work.
DE: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I’ve read it, but I can’t remember it that well.
GW: Yeah. Autumn Lightning, Persimmon Wind. Do you know, I really ought to get him on the show. I think he’d be a good guest. Yeah, because he sort of did the same sort of thing, but he started out in the States because they happened to be a pretty high level teacher in his hometown. And he did the thing where, you know, you knock on the door. No, sorry. No, not today. And then you come back the next day. No, sorry, not today. And you keep doing that for a few weeks. And then, oh okay. Fine, in you come. I like all of that stuff, but I don’t do any of it.
DE: I mean, it’s yeah, it’s not necessary these days, I suppose, but in some ways, I still see why you would do it as a teacher with a school, I can still see why you would check, because then you know you’ve got serious students, you’re not going to get people turn up and just drift in and out for a few months or whatever. It’s very clearly not a club. The school is a school. They don’t want you to join, turn out and bugger off after a couple of months. They’re very serious about this is a school. If you join, this is an art you will train for many years, if not your whole life. Therefore they’re quite serious about that. And the main thing that keeps that serious is that in order to do the Keppan and join the school, you have to go to Japan and you have to go to Chiba-ken, this little village in near Naruto and you have to spend time there and then you have to do the blood oath. And that’s the only way, certainly, when I joined, that was the only way you’d be taught the art. There’s no other way you can learn it unless you’ve done that. You’re not allowed to be taught it. Another part the oath is you’re not allowed to teach someone who is not at the school. So that keeps it very serious in a way. You can’t just, sign up and not be willing to travel there.
GW: Yeah, we have completely different, I guess “needs” is probably the right word. So for example, martial arts these days, our traditions died or they changed into completely other forms. Like a T-Rex is related to a chicken, but they don’t really look the same. And so we are less concerned with making sure only the serious people get it and more concerned with making sure lots and lots of people hear about it, so the people who might become serious will become attracted to it. Also, we don’t have the government of any country telling us that we are intangible national treasures and to be revered and respected, no it’s like, oh, a bunch of nutters with swords.
DE: But you’re right, it depends on what’s the goal of the art and what’s the goal of the people behind it. And obviously, as you say, most martial arts when they came to the West from the East, because obviously a lot of the western ones died out. But most of the most eastern ones that came over here, that were adopted over here, they pretty quickly became big business and therefore they were spread for other reasons. And as you say, the chicken and the Tyrannosaurus thing. They were no longer there were no longer fighting arts. They were no longer designed to train soldiers and killers. They were they were trained for social reasons, for personal development reasons, for health reasons, which is great. And those are what you do want to expand to thousands and millions of people because you want all those people to get the benefits. But yeah, an art that is designed primarily for killing is something that is like, you don’t want millions of people to learn that one. So yeah, it comes down to why do you want to learn and what’s the purpose of the school, what’s the goal of the school, I guess.
GW: One thing I have come across many times in historical martial arts in my circles is people who think the whole killing thing is cool and aspirational, and so they want the thing that they’re doing to be all about that, but they don’t want to sit down and have the ethical discussion of, well, OK, under what circumstances is actually alright to slam a sword through somebody’s face? Because it’s really not cool at all. It’s brutal and nasty and smelly. I’ve attended an autopsy. It’s not pleasant.
DE: And the negative effects on you being the one that does it are incalculable.
GW: Right, exactly. You see those sorts of problems in soldiers coming back from Afghanistan now, as they did from Vietnam and Korea, and you know, the second World War and that lot. It takes a toll. And one which I personally have no interest in paying. If I get to the end of my sword career without ever having killed anyone, I’ve won.
DE: So you don’t need to learn those elements anymore. However, when you train, there’s a different, I suppose, outcome when you are training with the mindset of this is a killing art kind of thing. And you really go into that, as you say, you really go, what does that mean to me? And you remember where it came from, what it was for and that. It kind of changes your relationship with techniques and with the movements and with the school itself. And I suppose there’s an air of more seriousness around it. I don’t want to use it for that, but that’s what this was for. And humanity learnt this and trained this. And it was common. And violence is still a common thing in the world. So it helps you have a relationship with violence, I suppose if you go deep into it, and most of the old samurai ways of training and the books and things like that and philosophies, a lot of them early on were very much about that. Like you must have a relationship with death. You must accept death and understand death. And therefore violence and killing and being killed. And in doing so, I think it doesn’t necessarily make you a violent person or a killer. It can actually make you profoundly pacifist because it probably has with you in that you end up becoming aware of the reaction you had, which is, I never want to do that because, you know, understand how bad it is.
GW: It’s not glamorous or sexy or cool. It’s just fucking nasty. But it’s that nastiness that adds the kind of moral depth to what we’re doing. Because if it’s just a sport where you tap your friends with swords and whoever gets the most taps, wins. Fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a useful aspect of training. But if you take if you take the killing side of it out entirely, then there is no moral depth to the art at all. It’s a superficial thing to do. You don’t actually have to sit and think about what are you willing to do? Where are your boundaries and what is reasonable, and you don’t have to engage in any of that, which many people don’t want to. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with these sports. I’m personally not into sports myself, but other people are and that’s fine. And you can get a lot of the benefits from just the sport. But I’m actually really interested in the in the moral aspect of what we’re doing.
DE: Yes. Yeah, me too. And I think that you learn, as you say, the majority of people are not really interested in that. They’re doing it for health reasons, for other reasons, which is really great and it should be that way. But yes, there are certain people who for whom it’s a different tool, it’s a different vehicle, it’s a training in those arts and fighting arts in that way is a vehicle by which to understand themselves and their own relationship with their own violence and their own anger and their own fear and the nastier sides of ourselves, maybe, the darker side that we don’t engage with very much. This sort of training allows you to engage with that in a way, but in a managed way, you know, and in a way that is that is rooted in a tradition from people that that did experience that and so they can pass this stuff on. So in some ways, it’s a really effective vehicle to learn about yourself, for self-knowledge, if you are that kind of person that is seeking that kind of self-knowledge. It’s not going to be for everyone.
GW: The fear thing is interesting, because when somebody is swinging a sharp sword at your unprotected face, even if you know that they have no intention to murder you, it’s quite scary. And you know that if you screw things up, they’re going to have a very bad day because they’ll feel really guilty and you’ll have a very bad day because it’s probably your last day. You’ve said somewhere, I forget where, I think maybe is one of your blog posts? The thing you want is “on the other side of fear.” And I remember when I was at home at your parkour school thing, a day seminar thing. The absolute best moment of the whole day for me was when this exercise we were doing, jumping from a little pad onto a low wall and you could take the distance you want or whatever. I went up to do it and my body literally froze and I kind of hung in the air off my joints because something in the back of my head had just said No. And it was like, oh, brilliant, okay. So when I went round to do it again, I knew that that was coming and I could get over it and I actually made the jump. And that was like, that was the thing, that was the best bit. So tell us about how jumping off buildings and stuff is good for you really. OK. And honestly, how the thing you want is on the other side of fear.
DE: I think you’re exactly right and you explained it pretty well there. And that’s exactly why I fell in love with parkour from day one, as well, is because the first jump I did was the same. It made me afraid, and I hadn’t been afraid in a long time. Not viscerally like that. I got so used to fighting and martial arts and rolling around with people and beating them up or whatever and getting beaten up. So that didn’t frighten me anymore. So when I first came to a jump in parkour, I remembered the same thing as you. I was like, Wow, this is really, really scary. I knew I could do it technically and physically, as you could do it technically and physically. But I was sort of like, I know I can do this, I should do this, but I’m scared of doing it. And that fear was, I engaged with that and went through the process to jump. And after that, I was like, this is my art now, because this is missing from my life. So, so parkour is in a way an embodied practise of fear, I suppose, parkour and it probably shouldn’t be because it’s just natural movement. So if humanity was still moving around well and healthily and naturally like we did in pre-industrial times, you probably wouldn’t be. But for the fact is, most people in the modern world now don’t engage with anything that kind of scares them on a physical level, very much, not in a real, visceral sense. So most people, especially adults, when they come to parkour, kids it’s a bit different. But when adults come to parkour most of them feel fear. Exactly like you did, straight away. And therefore it’s kind of an embodiment of fear, this discipline in that, yeah, this is what you’re going to engage with. And yes, you’re going to learn techniques. You’re going to get stronger. You’re going to get mobile, you’re going to get flexible. We’re going to teach you that, we can help you with that and that that’s almost automatic. You know, your body is an amazing system of systems. It’s going to respond to these stimuli really well, these stresses and it’s going to become awesome athletically. Don’t worry about it. But the thing you are really going to have to deal with is the psychology and your own mind and your own fear. That’s what will inhibit you, that will hold you back. And therefore, that’s what to decide how far you go with it. It’s not going to be the physical element, that is going to get better. But the psychology, that is much trickier to deal with. So. So it’s in a way, you know, I’ve always viewed parkour as the combatives of the movement world. So I mean, there’s as you say, there’s the tyrannosaur and the chicken, there’s martial arts, and then there’s the combative arts, right, which is like, what actually works in a fight. And that’s a very small subset of the martial arts. And parkour in a way, in the movement world, in the physical movement within the training world, the sports world, the fitness world. Let’s say all those things. Parkour is the equivalent of combatives. It’s the can you actually move? Can you actually do these things? Can you actually climb this building? Can you actually do this jump? Can you actually, not theoretically. Not can you simulate it in a soft environment? Not can you do it with pads on? But can you actually do it with all the risk and all the reality of concrete and whatever? Can you actually do it with your body? And that that is a very real stress test of what you can do physically and mentally, and that’s why I love parkour. That’s why I was like, this is amazing because I’d never been tested in that way. I got used to being tested that way in one environment.
GW: And when you get comfortable with a domain, that challenge goes away. It’s like getting over stage fright. You know, if you happen to have stage fright and you do sort of like exposure therapy, so you go up on the stage many times, and you kind of get control of that, whatever. Then it stops being that frightening. That’s just social fear. Whereas I think if you fail to make this jump, you’re going to die. I don’t think that fear goes away.
DE: No, the visceral fear always kind of remains. Yeah, you just learn to manage it. You just become very good friends with it. And you realise as you did, you realise like, OK, I know it’s coming now. So I just need to have a good relationship with it and work with it. And that never goes away. That’s constant, that’s always there no matter how long you train. So that’s really good in a way. And also the other reason parkour really attracted me a lot was in the martial arts and the fighting arts, I was looking for the for the least fake shit out there. With best will in the world unless you’re actually going to like, get involved in bare knuckle boxing or really ruthless fighting, unless you’re happy to go and actually fight people, most of the time it’s very hard to actually find out what you’ve got in that way. Does it work? Can I do this? Can I fight? So you can’t really test it, only in managed ways.
GW: Like in tournaments. Tournaments try to fill that gap. But to my mind, they really don’t. Because “Does it work in tournament?” is not the same thing.
DE: 100 percent. It still is a sport, still a managed environment. You still know you’re not really going to get hurt. You’ve still got pads or whatever. Whereas parkour is not that way. We don’t seek danger, anything like that, I don’t think it is dangerous. But it’s very real when you look down at the ground, even if you’re only three feet off the ground, when you look down a jump and you think, if I miss this, it could hurt. I could end up on my butt and bruise myself. And you don’t really want to do that. So that’s a very real thing. And then when, of course, if you go to higher jumps or more complicated things then the risk can increase, but your skill obviously increases commensurately. But yeah, it is a real test of your body and mind every single day, parkour. And for me, that reality was lacking and that revealed things about myself, to me, that I wasn’t discovering through things, even through martial art. So that’s why I fell in love with it.
GW: OK, now, according to the blurb of your book, Ultimate Parkour, and I copied this off t’internet and even that was wrong: “Combining the core elements of running, jumping and climbing with the discipline of the martial artist, free running or parkour is more than simply an elegant, non-competitive sport. It is an art form, a philosophy promoting fitness, imagination, community spirit and ethical, healthy living.” Now, OK, parkour is obviously dangerous.
DE: Is it?
GW: Well, there is always going to be dangerous jumping off a building? Let me finish my thought. OK. Flying planes is dangerous, right? It is obviously dangerous and therefore it is made extremely safe. I’m currently learning to fly planes and so I am getting an in-depth look at all of the all of the safety stuff that goes around this obviously dangerous activity. Commercial aviation is incredibly safe because it’s obviously dangerous. Because the danger is obvious. We take all sorts of reasonable precautions against it and therefore it becomes quite safe. Whereas driving a car feels safe and so people get killed all the time. Because they feel like they’re sitting in their living room, and they’ve even got cupholders with a cup of coffee or something, and they’re listening to a podcast. This podcast, perhaps. If you’re driving right now, pay attention to the fucking road and not to two sword geeks geeking out. And so bad things happen because it feels safe. So when I say parkour is obviously dangerous there are things you do where anybody can look at that and go, if you get that wrong, something very bad is going to happen to you. So the dangers are obvious, so how do you make it safe enough to be reasonable to practise? And I speak as a parent who cannot afford to have my children grow up fatherless?
DE: The reason why I take issue with the word, “danger”, is just semantics really. But it’s the difference between risk and danger. The consequences of failure in parkour, just as the consequences of failure in flying are more obvious to people. You’re right. But what decides whether something is dangerous or not is not the severity of the consequences. It’s the severity of the consequences multiplied by the likelihood of the occurrence. That is how you come to the risk rating of something. So parkour is obviously a risky pursuit. And some of the consequences of its failures are more obvious to people. But yeah, there’s no more danger in it than playing a game of rugby. It’s just the training required. It may be less obvious. But that’s just semantics. So how do you make parkour safe? The first thing to realise is that what is the point of parkour? What are we trying to do? The origin and the discipline of parkour is not about seeking high risk activities. So the point of parkour is to make yourself as physically and psychologically capable and effective in your environment as you can. So that’s the point. So you can train that without ever going high if you want. You never have to risk your life at heights in parkour if you don’t want to. The only reason height training was included was because it was seen that to be as completely effective as possible in my environment, I must also be able to deal with the incapacitating fear that could come about through going high for some human. Not every human has a fear of heights. So that was an element of to be completely practical, I must also be capable of height. So it’s not about thrill seeking in that way. It’s about that’s just part of my training, if you want it. and a lot of people in public now, they say they’re not interested in having that, that little element of it, of the practical part being practically competent height so that all their training is a ground level study. Fine because of course, the movements get it’s just about I mean, it’s basic in this movement. In physical terms, it’s just about learning how to move your body and how to master your body in any environment. So can I climb over here? Can I jump this? Can I run this? And it was as much about physical catch characteristic development as it was about technical skill. Technical skill actually came later in development. Initially, it was about strength, endurance, you know, agility, confidence. These things were far more important in the origin and then later the technical skills developed. So it’s actually just a very old way of training the body to do what it’s evolved to do, which is to move over terrain – that’s the function of the human body. So all we’re doing is training the evolutionary function, of the human body and making it better. So if you train that gradually and you progressively work with where someone is at and you develop them, it can be as safe as any athletic practise. I wouldn’t say it’s totally safe because it’s as safe or more safe than a lot of sports, for example, statistically, you are more likely to get injured playing rugby or football.
GW: Running itself has like a 70 percent annual injury rate. In other words 70 percent of people who run seriously get injured every year, which is incredibly high. And horse riding is fatal. It’s more dangerous than motorbikes.
DE: Yeah, many, many, many, many injuries.
GW: I go indoor climbing correctly because it’s local, it’s available. A couple of friends of mine do it, so we go for quite regularly and it’s great fun. And one of the things I get out of it is I am actually scared of heights. And so climbing up a wall, I can actually get into practically panic attack territory, when I’m only like maybe two metres above a padded surface. Which is great. I can get to that edge of terror and then have to kind of breathe through it and figure out and complete or not complete the route, make a sensible choice and then get down safely. And it’s really handy being scared of heights because you can you can generate that fear response quite easily. Which makes it easy to generate as easy to train against. So when that happens out of context, you have the experience of, OK, this feels like panic. Get rid of it. Get it under control. And so having the pads doesn’t actually make any difference in the back of your head. The height is real, the pads.
DE: And you can still hurt yourself.
GW: And that’s where I was going, because a little while ago, a woman came off the wall badly and got a complex fracture of her ankle, which shouldn’t have happened from where she was, it just one of those freak things. And there were medics coming in, the ambulance and all that sort of thing. Me and my friends who were climbing, for the rest of that day, we were super cautious. Let’s not try that route over there because we might fall off and they’ll need another ambulance.
DE: Yeah, that’s normal. But it’s very unusual, but it can happen.
GW: OK, so you fell in love with parkour, but there wasn’t much parkour happening in Japan at the time.
DE: There was no parkour in Japan. There was no parkour anywhere, really.
GW: So this was like 2001, right? So how did you actually start parkour?
DE: I saw stuff when I was in Japan, I saw the movie. And then pretty soon after, I think, 2001, BBC One, did an ident, a little BBC ad or whatever they call it, with David – another one of the founding guys – of a guy running across a load of roofs in London. And I kind of put the two together and like, this and thought, this is the same thing. And looked into it and did some research and found out who those guys were, the founders of France, the Yamakasi, who created it. And there were a handful of guys in the UK, three, four guys in the UK who were practising at the time, and I was living in Japan, so I managed to get in contact. There was a French speaking forum called parkour.net, which was the only way that people could communicate online back then. This is obviously before YouTube and all that sort of stuff. So go on to the forum, you know, met two people there. It was mainly in French, but my French is OK, so I’ve met some people there and then connected with the UK crowd through that. And so when I came back from Japan in the summer, I would come back to England. Because I was a university lecturer and summers in Japan are very hot. So I’d come back here. And when I came back to London in the summer, I was able to find the UK guys, start training with them and it was through them I managed to access the French guys in France, went over to France to start training with them. And then I would go back to Japan, train in Japan with two friends out there who were also into it at the same time as me. So we start training in Japan, we come back train in the UK in the summer holidays. I did that for the first two years, I guess, and then 2004, maybe the end of 2004, I came back to the UK permanently. And so I was able to train much more regularly with the French guys and all that back here. So it was it was a pretty haphazard intro and you got to remember back then there was no teaching. There was no classes, nothing like that existed. It was not an organised thing. There were maybe 50 people in the entire world that did it or knew about it.
GW: So how did you train?
DE: So most training back in the day in parkour, unless you could access the founders in person and train with them, which I was lucky enough to do very early on. But most of the training was a really organic, people would upload videos and you would have to sort of try and download them and watch them. And it would take ages because it was crap back then. You’d watch these grainy videos of guys in France training doing stuff, and then you’d basically mimic it. You’d go and model these movements and try and copy what they were doing and try and replicate them in your environment and just apply the concept. But it was very rough. There was no information, no teaching, nothing written down, no websites, no classes. So it was very, very organic and rough.
GW: So in what sense are these people the founders? What did they actually found? If they don’t have like a teaching method or a body of technique or anything like, what did they actually create?
DE: So they started training in the early 90s as a group of young friends sort of, you know, 14, 15, 16 year olds with other people around them, family and friends, these two families, the Hnautra family, the Belle family and other people around. And they started training. They were just using the environment. They were exploring the environment because they were young kids that were playing. They had influences from athletics, from gymnastics to martial arts, from the method naturelle, which is an old French method of movement. They had influences like that from their parents and their families and tribal cultures. Some of the Hnautra family are from New Caledonia, this sort of ethics from there, and it’s basically created a melting pot in the suburbs of Paris, whereby these kids who were sort of, the suburbs where they’re kind of seen as lower class. And, you know, the rest of Paris doesn’t have anything to do with them. They used their environment to explore their bodies of minds and it kind of just went from play to an actual discipline or practise. And actually, this idea of what can we do, how strong can we be, how effective and competent can we be? Can we do this, like a rites of passage type thing, you know, sort of testing themselves every day. And from that arose technique and from that arose concepts and principles and they were never written down. There were they were understood by them. So other people would therefore one by one would slowly come over and start and start wanting to learn. Not many stayed with them. And it was a very small thing. By the time I’d found it, it was, as I say, maybe 50 100 people in the world who knew about it. Couple of people in different countries, but most people in France and it was very organic. It was just a very much the only way you could learn was to go out, find one of those people, train with them, try and keep up with them. They wouldn’t really teach you. They would just say, just try and do what I do. So it was it was pretty rough and ready. So we were the ones that created the teaching around it. I was a university lecturer. I taught in martial arts. Forrest, one of the other founders with me, one of the French guys, he had a background. He was a military instructor, a high level athlete. So we were the ones that created the teaching structure around it, we ran the first classes, I guess, in that. So those happened in the UK, the first publicly accessible classes where you could actually just go and learn from a guy who would teach you actually teach you right. So the teaching came from that. But when I learnt there was none of that, so my learning in Japan, especially when I was in Japan. When I was in the UK, I was surrounded by other people who were doing it and who had been doing it about as long as I had or slightly longer. And I had access to the French guys so I could learn a lot very quickly. But when I was back in Japan, we didn’t really know what we were doing, so we would just go out and do our best. But and now I look back, I don’t train like that now, but at the time it was very simplistic training. It was literally find a location, create a line of movement through this location, sometimes maybe up to a kilometre long, and go just run and try and overcome over obstacle in your path on that way, whether they involved climbing, dropping, swinging, bolting, just go, try and do this. Do the circuit, come back and do it again, make it better. So it was super basic, but very effective way to get fit, strong and agile.
GW: So that’s not how you train now. So how do you train now?
DE: No. Now we I guess we’re much more sophisticated in it and we are much more scientific about it. But a lot of those older principles we keep within it. So we still try on the basic training, in a way it’s still similar that we take people, we expose them to an environment. We, first of all, ask them to deal with that environment to overcome it, like, here’s your task. It’s very much what we call task oriented training, which is rather than sort of just training arbitrary random movements, it’s a case of the task is get from here to here, get from here to up there, you know, get across this or whatever. Carry this over there. And then you see how they solve that. So first, we let people engage with the obstacles themselves with no middleman, just them and the obstacle, how they deal with it, how their body wants to deal with it, how their psychology wants to deal with it. And then the coaching element is then a question of, OK, how can we improve what you did? What was hard about that? What was easy about it? How can it be more efficient? How can it be quicker? How can it be safer for you? And then we will help them do that with all the knowledge of biomechanics and training and movement and kinetics and dynamics or whatever. But effectively we’re training to just help them become as good as they can be dealing with their environment. So it’s not necessarily about them learning copying techniques. This is not a good way to learn movement. It’s much better to have what’s called a constraints-led approach, which is where you give them constraints and parameters such as the task is this, the environment is this and the limitations are this – go, and let them solve the problem. That is a better way to create movement. That’s how human movement evolved before there was any such thing as training in our species, and those movers were probably way better than the way we are now in terms of practical, capable movement.
GW: Well, yeah, you don’t teach your baby to walk.
DE: Exactly, they get it through modelling, they get it through the constraints of, “I want to be able to stand up and walk.”
GW: Their environment. And between here and there, there’s nothing for me to hang on to. So I have to do it by balancing, not by holding onto things. And gravity will tell them when they get it wrong. When my daughters were learning to walk, I would tell them, Mr. Gravity is your best friend because he will never lie to you.
DE: That’s a core thing in parkour and in combative training and why sparring is so good in a way. Because you want honest feedback, you want honest, accurate, immediate feedback. The best way to learn something is immediate accurate feedback.
GW: And that’s why when somebody swings a sword at me in a drill and they’re not actually aiming to hit me, that’s why it pisses me off. Yeah, it’s useless. It’s not just bad training. It’s offensive because they’re lying to me because if my technique works against that, it will not necessarily work against somebody who’s actually trying to hit me. And so they are stealing my safety later on.
DE: It’s just a waste of your time.
GW: I’d much rather just get punted in the face.
DE: And it’ll happen once and then you won’t have it again.
GW: Exactly. You figure out, oh no, I need to get that sword out of my way. OK, so how did you go from like jumping off buildings and climbing trees and stuff to having an international organisation of instructors? There’s quite a path from one to the other.
DE: It’s a long story. Effectively I didn’t plan for this to happen. So I came back from Japan and as soon as I was back from Japan I was working in a strategy consultancy for a bit and editing a business magazine as well. So those things I was doing just to keep me alive in London when I came back, but I was mainly interested in training parkour. And some of the French guys moved to London at the same time, who I knew, so they moved over to train here and sort of just bring their lives here. And we ended up training all day, every day, pretty much. So parkour pretty rapidly took over my every day and then we were asked to start teaching, we started teaching one class. We started to teach, me and Forrest started teaching a class and that was very popular because we were in this state of mind where we were like, well, if this art is going to grow, if it’s going to survive, and people are going to study it. We need to make it accessible. Other people have to learn it. Otherwise, it will survive one generation or two generations and die out. So we’ve got to make it accessible and we have the skills to do that. So we started teaching a class. That class was super popular and pretty quickly, the UK government’s got involved, City of Westminster got involved and were like, wow, this looks awesome. There were some very forward thinking people that were sort of like, Can you teach this to schools? Could you teach this to kids in disadvantaged areas? And we said, Yeah, probably. So we adapted the class and the teaching to that and that it kind of grew from that. That’s the teaching wing. At the same time, we were also obviously because we were the early practitioners of parkour, the media jumped on it. In 1999 Nike did the first advert, so the media jumped on it as this spectacle thing, so we were already doing a lot of stuff in the media. We were already doing movies and stunt work and things like that, and being paid for that. So that was already becoming like a profession. Add that to the teaching, which was exceedingly cheap at the time to join the classes. But it was still making some money and we suddenly realised like one day literally just woke up and were like, you know what? This is our career. This is actually what we do for a living. We get paid to do it, and that’s it. So, yeah, so it was then it was a case of, well, in that case, you know, let’s try and do it properly and grow it. So we created the company and to house the vehicle for teaching and create the academy. And it went from there. Because we were the first ones teaching we were immediately dragged around the world to teach more people. And so we ended up spending our lives travelling and teaching. Then we created standards for coaches, coach education, teacher education, so that people could learn how to teach other people when they got experienced enough and it kind of just expanded from there. So it was a crest of a wave thing, I suppose, in that parkour was growing in popularity just about, you know, the media got hold of it. It was starting to appear in TV and movies and stunts and stuff.
GW: I remember in a Bond film.
DE: Casino Royale, 2005, 2006. So yeah, and we were just the ones who were training hard when that when that wave crested and because we had the skills to teach it and to explain it, I suppose, and to understand it in that way to a wider audience. A lot of the original French practitioners they were not interested in in teaching, they were not interested in spreading it to other people. A lot of them just did it for their own training, which is totally cool. They weren’t interested in spreading it. They didn’t like the media, the establishment in that way. They were quite reclusive and it just didn’t really go anywhere in France as a result. So it took off in the UK much bigger than it took off in France because it was just organised better here, probably. And the authorities were more open minded to it, which is really cool.
GW: That is kind of cool. I’m thinking of parallels to historical swordsmanship. The thing is, swords have been in movie since forever and they are always, always, always wrong. I mean, not always, but almost invariably it is just a horror show. I often shut my eyes during the sword fights because I just can’t bear to see it. But I guess because we’re using weapons, governments and whatnot are not the slightest bit interested in supporting historical martial arts in any way. Whereas you have a more, I guess, media friendly thing where you’re not hitting anybody, not hurting anybody except in some cases yourselves. I’ve trained with you. I know from experience that it is very safe, very sensible, very progressive approach to how you train. This is not a criticism of you at all, but YouTube is entirely filled with parkour epic fails where people hurt themselves in the most appalling ways, doing very stupid things.
DE: Yeah, sadly.
GW: So how do you reconcile that? I mean, are they not doing real parkour or are they just doing it badly? Or does everyone have those experiences? Just not everyone is dumb enough to video it and put it on YouTube?
DE: It’s a combination of all those things. Obviously, parkour spread very rapidly and it spread very quickly because of the internet beyond its capacity to teach a community, right? So people watch it on the internet and go out and copy it. And most of the original people that did it were very serious. But then as it spread and became like a spectacle thing, then you’ve got kids and adults just going, oh, I want to do that and just going out immediately trying to copy it without understanding the training. So yes, most of those people, the majority of them and those videos and things, you look at them and say, well, they’re not really training parkour. They don’t really know what they’re doing. They haven’t approached it progressively or gradually as it was done originally. They’re not strong enough to do this, et cetera, et cetera. So that would be the same as
blaming professional racing drivers for all car crashes, it’s like there are a lot of idiots who drive.
That doesn’t mean the professionals don’t do what they do really well and can’t teach you how to do what they do really well.
GW: Although professional racecar drivers do get killed quite often.
DE: They engage in a dangerous sport. But it’s about progressive training in that way. It’s very accessible. You can go out and start parkour anywhere, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t take it gradually and progressively, then you can make mistakes. But that’s the same in any athlete discipline, I suppose, skiing or whatever you can, so you can have loads of bails, loads of fails and the bails look worse because there’s no snow, but a lot of these bail videos, interestingly, there’s not a lot of serious injuries that come out of the most time you see the kid get up. Most of the time there’s no very serious injuries. Serious injuries in parkour are incredibly rare. And most of the time, it’s minor injury, sprains and strains and bruises that you get from any athletic discipline. It’s not that much of a problem there. So no, teaching wise, we’ve never had an issue with that. But it was a huge education piece in that the government was supportive here, but not everyone, not the schools. And it took us many years to convince the establishment and the education authorities and the fitness authorities that this is just a movement practice. It’s parkour’s fault in a way, because they’d seen all the movie stuff and the jumps and the spectacle that the movies like. So they’d go, where’s that?
GW: Is it really a good idea to train underprivileged kids how to climb up buildings and run along cranes? There is potential for mischief here.
DE: Yeah, those are the kind of questions we’d get. And you kind of have to go, well, you know, that’s a strange view. And the reality is that’s not how it works. When we ran sessions in Westminster in 2005 for disadvantaged kids, the Met Police said that crime went down in those groups by 69 percent. So clearly learning a discipline and a transformative practise like parkour, which takes skill and persistence and commitment. You’re not going to do that to become a thief. People don’t do that, that’s just not how thieves operate.
DE: People who study a discipline are going to go down a good path.
GW: Right. And people who practise swordsmanship are much less likely to murder somebody with a sword, I think, than people who don’t practise swordsmanship.
DE: Yeah, exactly. So. So it’s just a perception thing. So we had to retrain people’s perception around risk. We had to go through the whole risk danger discussion with a lot of them about the Health and Safety Executive. You know, the most senior professor of risk in the UK, David Ball, was a big advocate of ours early on and a really nice guy, and so all those people do support us and do engage us. They understand and they are educated enough to understand risk and danger and all this sort of stuff and look at the statistics and actually make rational statistical decisions rather than the irrational response. Most people’s fears are irrational, right? And most people’s fears are incorrect, in that things that most people are afraid about are incorrect.
GW: Well, that’s certainly true. I mean, people are frightened of things that are very unlikely. People are much more frightened of home invasions than they are of car crashes. Or of flying or they make lifestyle decisions that lead to them getting heart disease or cancer or whatever. But they weren’t frightened of heart disease or cancer. They were frightened of like dogs, or whatever. A lot of fear is irrational, but I don’t think it’s irrational to be afraid of heights because heights can kill you. If you fall off a high building, you could die.
DE: Falling can kill you. The fear of falling is one of the only two fears that you are born with that are hardwired into your brain.
GW: What’s the other one?
DE: The fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. So the startle reflex. So you’re born with those, you can’t get rid of them. They’re there for very good reason. The moro reflex is the fear of falling. Babies are born with that. If you take a baby out of the womb and hold it up and drop it, it will immediately spread its hands and feet.
GW: Don’t do that!
DE: They do test things like that, but don’t drop it on the floor. They just let go of it slightly, then catch it again and you see it automatically does this stuff. So it knows that falling is bad, so it’s hardwired to that already. Loud noises are the same. Every other fear you learn. So the fear of heights is a learned fear. It’s not something you’re born with, any learned fear you can unlearn, or you can override. But the fear of falling is hardwired, but the fear of falling is not the fear of heights. Because the fear of falling is what keeps you standing up. So fear of heights is different. And if you’re competent in your movement and you’re comfortable when you move, it’s just a different environment to move through. So there are different risks at height. The risks are different from moving through a street in a city, for example. Height training in parkour is only a very small subset of a parkour. Most parkour is not at height.
GW: Yeah, I’m not meaning to focus on that. It’s just there’s a thought experiment I do with my students sometimes where you get them to walk along a bench and it’s absolutely fine. Everyone can do it. We sometimes actually fence standing on these narrow gym benches, which are about 20 centimetres wide. And you could do fencing like that because it just it just changes the environment a bit and you have to think about where you’re putting your feet. And then no one has any trouble with it.. But if you were to suspend that exact same bench across a pit full of crocodiles, right? No one would do it. Although the actual risk of coming off the bench is the same. Because the consequences are so different, it doesn’t seem like it’s worth doing.
DE: That’s what is known as perception action coupling in movement, in that your actions are always driven by your perception of what that action will bring about and then once you do the action or an action, it then changes the perception further. So it’s a cycle of perception and action. All movement is governed by that.
GW: Yeah. OK. So when I mentioned I was going to be interviewing you, some of my students, and they know I’m a massive freak about joint care routines, I do forearm massages and knee massage, stretching, what have you? And they immediately wanted to know about your joint care routine because jumping on the concrete isn’t generally recommended for keeping your knees safe and healthy. So what do you do to keep your joints working properly?
DE: So Parkour, I guess a number of things it has shown that humans are incredibly good at dealing with and dispersing impacts through the body if they move well. So we’re much better at dealing with impact than we think, and impact is actually really healthy for the body in terms of bone density and stuff. But yeah, it’s got to be relative to your strength capacity, so your strength has to be able to absorb that impact and/or disperse it, or allow for dispersal. So the strength of your muscles and your connective tissue has to be well trained. That takes time to condition that. So the first step is you can’t rush in parkour and this sort of movement training. You must always progress within the capacity of your strength in a way and build the strength before you build the impact. So a lot of strength work, a lot of mobility and flexibility work, as you say, and a lot of technical training in terms of how best to absorb impact and training the nervous system to anticipate that and deal with it very well. Keeps your joints safe and healthy and strong and makes them stronger. So it’s a question of you are developing this, we sometimes call it bullet proofing the body and training the body to take forces in a non-linear fashion or multi-linear, multidirectional fashion, which is what the body is designed to do. Most fitness training as the last 20-30 years went down a very linear pattern of training, very sagittal plane dominant. So it’s very good at making you develop the force in one line, mainly because fitness training was tied to sports when they were running, or maybe jinking left and right, and that was it. So there’s not really any truly multidirectional movement going on. And that makes you more likely to be injured when the stress is applied to the joint in a way that it’s not ready for, or hasn’t trained for. So our training is about developing a multi-directional ability to deal with force, and that’s through lots of nonlinear mobility training tools. But the reality is the agility required to train in parkour and to move through your environment does all that for you. As long as you do a progressive scale, in a progressive way, you would build a multidirectional nonlinear resilience within the body that can then absorb impact from lots of different angles. And that is more like to protect your joints. So yeah, it’s about developing an intelligent body for movement and all the right capacities. The right strength or endurance, the right mobility, the right flexibility. It’s just the same as learning to fight. There’s a very complex art within that. But when you understand it, it goes back to just training. It’s like Bruce Lee said. A punch is just a punch when you begin and then when you get more into the art, a punch is no longer just a punch. And then when you’re a master, a punch is just a punch again. It’s kind of the same. It’s just training, it’s just practise. It should make your joints stronger and healthier if you’re training well.
GW: So just for the sake of people listening who may not be familiar with these things, what would be a good example of an exercise that generates non-linear strength?
DE: So the way you’ve got to think of the body is first of all, as a holistic system, as a system of systems. But secondly as what is known as a biotensegrity model. So ignore the fitness definition, the old fitness definition of the body being a mechanical structure of joints and levers. This is true in a very simplistic level, but the reality is the body is a biotensegrity model. Which mean, architecturally speaking, it’s held together by tension and compression. So it’s held together by the compression expressed in certain ways and tension expressed in certain ways by connective tissue and the bones, which are close to each other but don’t contact each other. They’re held in place by tension. That is the definition of a tensegrity model. The body is just a biotensegrity and all organic things are like this. So the biotensegrity model responds best to pressures from all sides and different angles a lot of the time, and it will always return to its normal shape. Once you’ve applied pressure, it will bounce back. So once you understand the body as that, then you understand that the best way to develop strength is to apply forces in non-linear ways, so to apply forces in holistic way. So, for example, torque and twisting motions, this is the best way to generate force, which is why punching is always a twisting motion and all that. These are the best ways to generate force and therefore are the way you should be receiving force in order to make that chain of movement stronger. So, for example, rather than just doing a basic squat pattern up and down, an air squat, that’s fine. But it’s very simple for the body. Why not do it as a spiral? So what we call spiral squats or nonlinear squats, irregular squats it’s sometimes called. So if you squat but spiraling at the same time and then come back to standing, you will realise that the force is going through your body in your knees and ankle and hips are very different. It’s much harder, but that’s more likely to happen in movement. Those are the positions of what the body is going to be in movement. So you need to prepare the body for that and strengthen it. So it’s kind of that simple. Find out what stresses is the body going to endure in movement and then apply force in those ways, you know, but in a gradual, progressive way?
GW: OK, so well, for my listeners, my readers who are familiar with my material. We’re talking about twisting squats. Let me just demonstrated for Dan so that we’re make sure we’re talking about the same thing. A twisting squat is where you go all the way down. So that sort of thing rather than simply straight up and down. So twisting squats for the win. That would be an example of a nonlinear motion as opposed to a regular squat, which is just straight up and down.
DE: Yes. And there’s hundreds of variations of that and they’re all really cool.
GW: Do you have any sort of like additional practises like ice baths or massage or anything like that that keeps the joints working properly?
DE: Not really. So tissue quality in terms of some sort of myofascial release and that sort of stuff, sometimes, after a really hard training session, maybe, or before a session, maybe. And some flexibility elements, I think stretching and flexibility is really healthy. But what my philosophy has always been, like animals, which don’t stretch and don’t have tissue sort of quality maintenance methods and yet they are healthy their whole lives and move well. If your training and your lifestyle is good, you shouldn’t need to have these things like regular massages and regular treatments and stuff because the body is a self-organising system. And if it’s treated well with the right stresses and given the right food, the right sleep, et cetera, it shouldn’t require those kind of external maintenance things because the body is designed not to need that. I’m not saying that those things are bad. You might need them if you’re putting the body through unnatural stresses, which a lot of humans do in the modern world and have evolved bad habits and bad patterns and bad postures, you might need them to correct that stuff. But if you are able to not develop those bad postures, bad habits and you keep moving all the time and you and you live fairly healthily, you shouldn’t require them. This is my philosophy. I don’t really require them. I don’t really need massage, doesn’t really do a lot for me. I do stretch and do flexibility work, but I don’t really need to do it unless I’ve had a really hard session and I’m trying to sort of in some way alleviate the DOMS or whatever, but I don’t know if you can do that, scientifically. Some tissue work in that here and there, but I don’t really need it, and I’m happy about that.
GW: Alleviate the DOMS? What’s that?
DE: DOMS are delayed onset muscle soreness. So basis is the fitness term for when you do exercise. And the next day you’re sore, that’s called DOMS. No one really knows biologically what causes it. And no one really knows if you can mitigate it. So it’s a bit weird.
GW: I would say that if people are working six eight hours a day with a computer and a mouse and stuff, they absolutely do need remedial training. And that’s basically what most of my wrist and forearm conditioning stuff is for is so that I can write books.
DE: That’s curative, as you say, that’s remedial. They’ve got a condition that is unnatural for the human body, and they therefore must take medicine, which is joint work and all that sort of stuff.
GW: I look at it differently. I look at it more like it’s an extreme sport. Like running ultramarathons. You’re basically getting your little forearm muscles to run ultramarathons all day. And as any anyone who takes anything to an extreme does, you need remedial work to kind of recover from that extreme. Also rapier lunges, they are totally natural. There’s nothing unnatural about them, but it’s not natural to do several hundreds of them on one side a day. So we’re doing the same limited motion over and over. So a lot of swordsmanship doesn’t have a complete range of motion because you don’t want to be doing certain motions when you’re fighting. So it’s a restricted range of the possible motions your body should be doing. So to my mind, because my core art has a restricted range of motion, my general training has to include all the other ranges of motion are missing in my art, so my body gets all of these things. So I mean, for example, that quadrupedal stuff we were doing at your seminar. I do that sort of stuff in my regular training because, that’s like hands or feet on the ground, moving sideways, moving forwards, playing around with it, all that sort sorts of stuff, because you absolutely never do that in a sword fight. But your body needs to move in all these different ways. So I include all of that sort of stuff, specifically because it’s missing from my core movement practise.
DE: Yeah, yeah. And that’s a really good way to look at it in terms of like the modern lifestyle, the modern urban lifestyle is an unusual and an unnatural stressor on the human body. And therefore you may have to provide balancing things like stretching, like, etcetera, etcetera, because people are having postural problems that they shouldn’t have. And if you go back to when we were more tribal cultures or Hunter-Gatherer or whatever, the pre-industrial, let’s say, and the blue zones in the world are still like this, those people don’t train, they don’t stretch, they don’t do tissue massage, they don’t go to the gym and do any of that stuff. But they move well and they’re fit and healthy their whole lives. And then they die. And that’s it. They don’t get sick or whatever. That’s what humans evolved to be. The modern industrial lifestyle that we live, the urban lifestyle that we live is not in tune with your evolutionary way of being. It is like, not a sickness, but it is a problem. It is an extreme stress, like you say, and that extreme stress must be mitigated if you’ve got to that stage. So my hope is and what we try and do with parkour, especially with young people, is that we try and get them before they’ve gone down that path and say, look, if you start moving now in this very organic, very natural or holistic way and keep moving like this your whole life, you will never need that stuff. And you will end up being fit and healthy for the whole of your life and you will live a long, long life. That’s the hope. In that in some way we can sort of battle against the decay of the human form that is happening through urbanisation.
GW: I have an example for you. When in 2015, I lived nearly three months in Italy with my wife and two, at that time, quite young children. I didn’t do any training at all. None. I was basically on holiday for three months, it was awesome. But every day we would go on walks and the children would find playgrounds and would go play and climb on the climbing frames and swing around and I would join them. And this is not common practise in Italy. I think in most cases I was the only adult on the climbing frame and I was just like doing all the stuff the kids were doing and it was absolutely exhausting. I think I may have done five push-ups the entire time I was away. Came back and led my first class and I was fitter than when I left.
DE: Yeah, that’s cool. That’s cool.
GW: Yeah, it was great. If you can keep up with the six year old on the climbing frame, I don’t think you need to worry too much about…
DE: Exactly right, and those six year olds, that’s where parkour came from. They’re doing the nascent version of parkour. So if they keep doing that they will stay fit and healthy and strong. The problem is most people don’t. We don’t keep doing that. We stop doing that.
GW: Because it’s not cool, my kids are teenagers now and they’re not going to go play on a climbing frame, that’s for children and their weird father. So how do you include play in your training?
DE: Parkour comes from play in a way anyway. So it’s so it’s built in, and the central concepts of parkour are exploration of your environment, discovery and looking for challenges and then overcoming those challenges and adapting to those challenges. That’s the process, really. So parkour is a very playful, explorative discipline in and of itself. And it’s fun for the human body to move in that way. That’s why kids like doing that. That’s why it’s so much of their play is locomotor play and physical play. And because it feeds the body. The brain and body like it, it feels good. The energy, the chemicals, the hormones, the endorphins that run through all that stuff feels good, so it feels fun to do it. So play is kind of built into parkour. It doesn’t mean we don’t also have a lot of hard work involved in parkour, or it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t involve lots of training and in terms of the discipline, the elements of skill acquisition. But the core of parkour is playfully exploring your environment and learning to create and overcome challenges. So in that way it has the creative elements as well. It’s tied in there and we always encourage people to keep that and that’s why people get into parkour and it’s why they like it at the start. So part of our training methodology and our education pieces are about keeping that. Don’t lose that because if you lose that, you kind of lose the point why you’re going to in the first place. So it must always be fun for you. It must always have an element of play.
GW: OK, now, OK. In historical martial arts community certification of instructors, is this massive, yeah, just don’t go that basically, because it requires a curriculum that people agree on and a method of teaching that people agree on. And because historical martial arts has kind of grown organically from a bunch of isolated weirdos like me who are studying specific historical texts and coming at that with various fencing or martial arts backgrounds or no background at all or whatever. So we have lots and lots of different interpretations of the same texts, and we have lots and lots of different ways of training. We have lots and lots of different kind of club cultures and school cultures and what have you. There is no generally accepted, “This is what historical martial arts really is, and this is how it should be done”. Which I think is actually a good thing. It’s a strength because you have this extreme diversity of approaches and so we can find out what works and what doesn’t. And eventually, maybe in 50 years’ time, there’ll be a more of a consensus as to how things should be done, but there’s no rush to get there. But it would be super useful to be able to certify instructors for insurance purposes and for just making sure that the students are being properly looked after by the instructor because they know how to run a safe class and they know how to look after their students’ best interests. And they’ve been explicitly trained to do that. That would be great. I do it in my school and it’s fine and it works. But because we don’t have a common curriculum, internationally speaking we don’t have a common curriculum, so we don’t have a way of certifying instructors. But you do.
DE: Well, we don’t have a common curriculum.
GW: Ah, OK, so you have instructor certification without a common curriculum. Tell me more.
DE: Because they are completely separate things, right? For us, the way we look at our coach education system and our global certifications they are about coach education. So they are about taking practitioners and teaching them how to teach. So it’s about learning how to become a coach, how to become a teacher, coaching science, which is a huge field of study in itself, psycholinguistics, social linguistics, all this stuff. Coaching is its own art. So what we’re doing is we’re taking our parkour practitioners and there is a generally, as there is in what you do and what you teach, there is a generally accepted like this is basically what you learn, you know? So these are the movements roughly you’re learning. Yes, there may be different ways of learning and different emphasis, different teachers, different whatever. But generally you’re learning to jump, you’re learning to vault, you’re learning to climb, you’re learning to swing, you’re learn to roll. Same as in swordfighting generally, you’re learning to cut, you’re learning to defend yourself, you’re learning to parry, you’re learning to whatever. So but the different nuances, we’re not teaching people the nuances. So when we do coach education, we’re saying, that’s your job to learn that as a student, your job is to go off and practise and become good at sword fighting or become good at parkour. Our job is to teach you how to teach those skills to somebody else. So it’s about learning the vehicle of delivering information, and that’s coach education, which is very different. But you can have curriculums and there’s nothing wrong with having curriculums, they can be useful, but in Adapt, the global parkour coach qualifications, we do not teach a curriculum in any stage in the process at any stage of the qualifications they are learning solely how to become an amazing coach. Elements of the course do involve biomechanics, strength training and all this sort of stuff, because there’s a lot of science around that. So we can say, look, this is how you develop strength, this is how you develop endurance. This is how you develop power. These are the biomechanics of this movement. We can go into the science of that because it’s hard to dispute those things, because it biomechanics and it’s biology and anatomy. So we can teach that stuff. And we do and we can teach technique in this stuff. If they want to learn technique, we will also say, yeah, there are courses where you can learn the technical stuff, too. So if you want to become a teacher or parkour and you want the technical training, then come to these courses and these will teach you some technical stuff as well. But in order to become a coach, you don’t need that. If you’ve already got your own 10 years of parkour background and you just want to now become a teacher all we’re going to do is teach you how to teach, which is coach education, which is you separate from technical training.
GW: OK, but for the teacher to have something to teach, they need to be teaching a thing. How to jump over a fence or whatever. And they need to have students to teach that to. And at the end of the class, the students should be better at the thing than they were at the beginning of the class. OK. So leaving aside the technical component of specifically how you jump over that fence, what do you do to teach the coaches how to be better at teaching the students?
DE: That’s a big question.
GW: I’m literally writing a book on how to teach right now. So I have a deep vested interest in this.
DE: That’s a big question. That’s a whole other podcast, probably to go into coaching science. But yeah, coaching, I mean is obviously what I do and what I’ve done for the last 20 years at great length and creating coach education systems. The first thing you’re doing is looking at understanding how humans learn. So firstly, we’re taking people and saying, do you understand how humans learn, how do humans learn things? What’s the science of learning? Because if you know the science of learning, if you know the science of expertise, of how do you become good at something, you can then learn the science of teaching someone to become good at something, and you can then be able to teach anyone to become good at anything, even if you don’t know how to do that thing.
GW: Yes. Teaching is a general skill, I absolutely agree.
DE: 100%. Yeah, that’s the first thing we tell people on the level 1 course. Coaching is separate from parkour. You parkour training is important and you must keep doing it. But coaching is a separate discipline and we’re now going to look at that discipline. So first it is science of learning, science of expertise. Then you get start getting into feedback loops and understanding that human feedback and teaching feedback loops, then you go into sources of feedback. Where do they get the feedback from? And then you go into if you’re managing and implementing, if you’re the one curating the feedback loops, then you have to know how to create them and therefore you know how to deliver them through language, psycholinguistics, neuro linguistics, cueing, all this sort of stuff. Modelling, those are the hard skills. And then you go into the softer skills, which is more about human relationships and emotional intelligence and why do people listen to you and how do you how do you use language to make people feel comfortable and safe so they’re in a learning space rather than a fear space or intimidation space where they’re not going to learn. And you could study that stuff for years, I mean, people do. These are massive studies of work. So it’s a question of getting people to understand that, first of all, understand these are things as a coach that if you want to be good, you’re going to have to start learning. And then like, how do we learn? How do we practise them? How do we practise those things? How do you know that you’re good at cueing, as you say, because how do you know you’re good at measuring someone’s progress so that you know they’re better at the vault than they were at the beginning? How do you know that? So it’s a huge process, and that’s why our education process is very rigorous and has lots of different levels of education in it.
GW: Is it actually necessary to know any parkour to do that?
DE: No. To become a good coach of something, you must know the thing,
GW: What I mean is I would be fascinated to take that. I am not going to spend 10 years studying parkour first.
DE: To attend a level one training course, which is a three day coach education course, you do not have to have any parkour experience at all.
GW: OK. When’s the next one?
DE: In the UK, the next one in London is in March.
GW: I will look it up.
DE: You’ll love it, man. You know, having some parkour experiences good and having some sort of movement training experience is going to be good. You’re going to find the course more useful, because you’re going to be able to input more to the other people in the course. We do get plenty of people to join the courses who’ve never done parkour. They’re fitness trainers, they’re sportspeople, they’re athletes. They come because they want to learn about parkour a bit, but they also want to learn about coaching and education. And then it’s up to them. If they want to go further to get level two, level three. To get level 2, which is supposed to be the equivalent of like a black belt in martial arts or whatever. We don’t really say it like that, but to get a level two in coaching in parkour, you must evidence. You must be able to demonstrate that you can do these movements because now we’re expecting you to demonstrate them to other people. So, yeah, you must have some parkour training to do the level two and pass level two, but to do the level one all you need to do is move and therefore be able to coach in a movement setting and be able to use and demonstrate that you can understand the coaching principles and manage the session and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, you’d be perfectly fine at level one.
GW: I would be fascinated, because one of the best things I ever did for myself as a teacher was I went on a sport fencing coaches course about 12 years ago now. My main takeaway from it really, it completely changed the way I teach everything, is that the coach’s job is to be the feedback mechanism when giving a fencing lesson. So if the student does the thing they’re supposed to do, they hit the coach and the coach does not hit them. If they do something wrong, they fail to hit the coach and the coach hits them. There’s a bit wiggle room there, but that’s basically it. And the feedback is done almost entirely through the sword itself. There’s absolutely no need to tell a person they’ve just got hit. And you don’t need to discuss why they got hit. So if you want somebody to do an action faster you simply make the window of time in which they can do it smaller. So if they’ve got to hit you before you parry, you make the parries smaller and faster and faster and faster, and they will hit you faster, faster, and faster because they want to beat the parry. And it’s that. That is what we are doing in one on one coaching.
DE: So in coaching that’s known as intrinsic feedback or task intrinsic feedback, which is a very powerful source of feedback.
GW: And then for a class it is a bit trickier. Basically, what you have to do is get these students to do that pair drill stuff to basically set up a whole set of individual lessons. So one student is coaching the other using these same ideas and the goal of the class is to create an environment in which that is the natural behaviour.
DE: Peer coaching, in coaching science. You, as the head coach, or as the coach of the class, are creating an environment in which people coach each other. So that’s using peer coaching and it’s super vital for human learning.
GW: Huh. Yeah, I will see if I can make those dates in March, because I think this will be fascinating.
DE: You should come along, you’ll enjoy it. I’ve got about five minutes left and I’ve got to go on to another meeting.
GW: Oh, right, OK. sorry, I should have checked the time.
DE: It’s unfortunate because we could talk for days.
GW: And we can always do this again. OK, so let me just skip straight to my last question, which is what is the best idea you’ve never acted on?
DE: Yeah. So the best idea I’ve never acted on, I think, and I’m still kind of regretting is something. So when I came back from university and was doing parkour and stuff then. But I was back from uni and I was super into sword training in swordsmanship, and I had this idea to travel the world and find all the sword schools, all the sort of traditional sword skills that still existed in every culture. And spend time with them, each one, learn from them and then fight them. So I wanted to go and spend some time with the school, like a month with the school. Train with them, respectfully and then say, can I duel in some way in whatever way you guys do it, can I duel one of your sportsmen to see if what I do works, as a pressure test. So that was my plan. And then a producer friend of mine was like, dude we should make a documentary about it. And I was like, OK. So we started talking to Tiger, which was a big production company at the time, about doing a documentary series. I think we were going to call it The Edge of the World. And the idea was they would follow me doing this. Each episode would be me going training with the school, learning about the culture of that sword school. I was very interested in why did swordsmanship survive in some cultures and not others. I was very interested in those kind of questions. And then at the end of the episode, there would be a fight to see if it works and what they do works.
GW: I have a friend called Arman Alizad in Finland who did exactly that, and it was a TV series called Kill Arman, and it was a bloody good thing to do. He got the shit kicked out of him and that’s why they called it, Kill Arman.
DE: I was planning to do that in 2002, and I really wanted to do it. We got quite far. I was talking to the production company. We started to map it out. We started to go through episodic structure. But then the parkour stuff started getting kind of busier and busier, and it was just like, I can’t take a year out to go and travel and do that when we’re doing this, so I had to let it go and start with the parkour stuff. And, you know, I don’t regret it because I love what I do, but I wish I could have done that same time.
GW: That’s a really good idea. And there’s still time.
DE: There is still time. I’ve got more time now so it is the sort of thing I could do, later. Yeah.
GW: OK, so if Dan shows up in your old school. People be nice to him for a while and beat the ever-living shit out of him afterwards.
DE: That’s what I would want. Maybe one day.
GW: Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Dan, it’s been great to see you again.
DE: You too, man. Let me know if you want to come to that workshop then drop me a line and I’ll extend the details, we’ll get you along.
GW: Brilliant. All right. Thanks Dan.
DE: Take care, Guy.