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Rafe Kelley Teaches Parkour

A while ago, we brought you the highlights of a Reddit AMA with Rilla Hops. Today, we are continuing that article series with another AMA, this time with with Rafe Kelley done around the same time. Keep in mind these are not direct quotes and are edited for readability.  

Kelley is a 10-year veteran of Parkour and carries an extensive background in martial arts and gymnastics. He co-founded Parkour Visions, the first Parkour gym on the West Coast. A true pioneer of the sport, Kelley started his own style of movement called Evolve Move Play after he concluded that Parkour was incomplete.

Kelley was a contestant on American Ninja Warrior, a TV show challenging contestants to overcome obstacle courses. He also judged Jump City Seattle, a G4 television series featuring top Parkour teams from the United States.

To make things simple, Kelley is one awesome dude. He has trained with some of the best and taught some of the best. This week, we are synthesizing his AMA for your enjoyment. Buckle up, as he is about to drop some serious knowledge.

Why do you feel that Parkour is an incomplete practice?

Rafe Kelley: I was attracted to Parkour for two reasons. First, it brought me back to the feeling I had when I played as a child. Second, I felt that I was developing a useful skill set that could be used in a practical way.

These feelings made me want to get back into martial arts right away. Roughhousing was a big part of play for me as a child, and I felt that martial arts would also be a good utility skill in the real world.

I now believe that movement is divided into three parts: 1) locomotive abilities, 2) manipulative abilities, and 3) interactive abilities. I believe you must be proficient in all three areas if you are going to master the art of movement. That is why I moved on from Parkour Visions and started Evolve Move Play.

Did you study human movement in college, or have you learned everything from practice?

RK: My formal education was in cultural anthropology, but I took a lot of biology and bio-anthropology courses as well. I have no formal sports science or kinesiology training. I am just a compulsive researcher, and I spend hours on websites like PubMed and other blogs that cover my interests.

“Play” is in the name of your new movement method, but how does it factor into your training? Training and play don’t usually go together.

RK: I think training and play do go together. I think it is a very weird modern concept to think of exercise as unenjoyable labour. Look at all the elite athletes and trainers, they started in their sports because they loved doing them – but they still have to train to reach the highest level.

Play is the best motivator for movement and physical development. Training hard and regularly is what unlocks our ability to play with greater freedom, and therefore, have more fun.

I think the urge to play drives all human beings, and that is why I started Evolve Move Play. I’m always looking for ways for people to express flow, creativity, and fun while still training hard.

Can you talk a bit about the difference between gymnastics and Parkour? Both as a business and from the perspective of an athlete.

RK: I was a gymnastics coach when I started Parkour. I taught my first Parkour classes out of my gymnastics facility. I believe there is a lot the Parkour community can learn from gymnastics, and that is why I continue to study the sport to this day.

I have seen a number of gymnastics gyms do well with Parkour classes. From a business point of view, it seems like a good way to get younger kids into their gyms. I think both sports are going to continue influencing each other, which will be good for both of them.

However, I think that a reliance on indoor training is not a good thing for Parkour athletes in general. You need the majority of your training experience to be outdoors.

Is there one movement or trick that is your favourite?

RK: I get this question a lot. I don’t have a single favourite. I do like movements better depending on how they respond to my environment. If I had to pick a family of techniques as my favourite, it would be swinging skills.

Where is your favourite place to train in the world?

RK: Volunteer Park in Seattle, and Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham – the trees and the creek. Those places are very special to me. There are plenty of other good spots, but I have a special relationship with those two.

If your joints don’t hurt, does that mean you’re not causing them damage? How do you know how much impact your joints can take?

RK: Just because you can’t feel pain doesn’t mean your joints are fine. Kelly Starrett has a lot to say about this. He claims that we need to see the problem before it starts hurting, and I agree with him. You will be able to prevent a lot of joint problems by identifying mechanical faults early on in your training.

I think it is important to pay attention to your connective tissue and joints. Andreo Spina has been my biggest inspiration on that topic recently.

What is your advice to people who are terrified of heights?

RK: There are a few solid ways to deal with a fear of heights. All of them involve visualization and practice. You need to expose yourself to your fear.

The first way to do this is to put yourself into the situation you are scared of, and try to stay there a little longer while breathing and trying to remain calm. This will teach your nervous system to calm down the next time you are in the same situation.

The second method involves visualizing yourself high above the ground during training. If your visualization is good enough, your nervous system will respond in the same way, and you get the exposure.

You do not need to expose yourself to all of it at once. A lot of people do this and fail because they get too scared. You can practice this far away from a ledge and it will still work. Eventually working your way closer and closer to the edge.

Where do you see Parkour going in five years?

RK: I think we are going to see more penetration worldwide, more gyms, more competitions, perhaps an evolution to national unity for things like tournaments and teams. So, pretty much the same as it is going right now.

Are there any other athletes (from any sport) that inspire you right now?

RK: There are always lots. In terms of non-Parkour, I love Tom Weksler, Andrea Catozzi, Lewie West, and Ido Portal.

In the Parkour world, I love to train with, and watch, Dylan Baker, Mich Todorovic, Joey Adrian, Tyson Cecka, Brandee Laird, Justin Sweeney, Yoann Leroux, Frosti Zernow, Brian Orosco, Jereme Sanders, Stephane Vigroux, Kazuma Rognoni (shown in AminoSports ad), and Chris Rowat.

That’s it, folks. There was too much in the AMA for us to include everything here. If you want to read the full text, visit the AMA page over on Reddit.


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