029. Emily Tung: Breaking, puppetry, and unsolicited advice

029. Emily Tung: Breaking, puppetry, and unsolicited advice

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Episode Summary

Emily Tung shares her journey and goals in both breaking and parkour, as well as the differences between those two practices and communities. She also discusses her diverse movement practices, from stunt work, contortion, to pole dancing, as well as her lesser known skills in puppetry. Emily finishes by unpacking her thoughts on coaching, unsolicited advice, and speaking up for yourself. 

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Extraordinary Movement

When we move through the world we can move in an ordinary or an extraordinary way. Ordinary movement is easy; it follows established paths; and it is boring. Extraordinary movement requires excellence, knowledge, and independence. When I talk about movement, I am talking about extraordinary movement because it is much more interesting. Movement—whether that is Parkour, ADD, Freerunning—is a celebration of freedom in the context of an unforgiving reality that cannot be ignored. The philosopher Ayn Rand warned, “We can ignore reality but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” John Locke observed, “The only defense against the world is a thorough knowledge of it.” And Aristotle explained, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.

These ideas form the foundation of movement: pay attention to reality, learn as much as you can and practice. With parkour as with just about everything in this world, the true beauty of the practice can be appreciated fully only by taking a deeper dive into it. This means we have to understand not just the physical aspects of movement but the mental and philosophical basis for movement.

As a mastery discipline—something that can be practiced for a lifetime with continued improvement—movement focuses more on the journey than the destination. Understanding the values, interests, and challenges in the minds of the best practitioners is the best way of showing the path of movement in a meaningful and accessible way. Our podcast, with its audio format and transcripts, naturally emphasizes the mental and psychological aspects of movement

The podcast brings out the more intellectual elements of movement. My goal is to emphasize the value that movement and movers create and develop through their practice. In pushing the limits of human potential, movers demonstrate objectively that such achievements are possible. Since the physical aspects of practice can be directly observed through images and videos, the visible part is already well covered. But I believe the mental aspect is where the real magic happens, and it is less well covered because it is not spectacular. A flashy video will grab your attention, excite you and even get you to try some new things, but to get really good at movement you need a deeper understanding.

When you listen to the podcasts, I hope you will notice a distinct difference in our approach. Our goal is always to show the guest in the best possible light. We aim to illuminate and showcase their values, ideas, and principles in a way that makes them accessible and relevant to the listener while showing the proper respect for their achievements. Each interview is a collaborative effort with the guest. Our shared goal is to clearly communicate ideas that will be useful to each listener in the context of their personal journey of exploration.

Yogi, martial artists and chess masters often describe how much they learned about life from in-depth practice and mastery in their disciplines. We hear similar sentiments from musicians, sculptors, painters, hunters, and chefs. Movement as a mastery discipline is no different. A big part of its value comes from the lessons it teaches us about life and reality. Knowing your own strengths and limitations is critical. Reality is unforgiving. Physics always works and is important. You cannot fake competence. Courage is required to overcome self-imposed limitations. The list of lessons is limited only by our ability to think and to understand movement.

I am passionate about creating and promoting rational discussion. Describing and illuminating the ideas behind extraordinary movement and human exceptionalism can help us all to improve our experience and appreciate the richness and beauty of life. So, in that spirit, I invite your questions and comments.

(This was a presentation I gave at Gerlev International Gathering in 2018.)

What are you doing?

(This question is part of the “What are you doing?” project.)

I’m training, practicing. I’m looking for movement challenges. I’m usually looking for something that I haven’t done before, seeing how I can practice it, and become comfortable enough with it that it feels like second nature. I’m looking for things that I haven’t seen before, I’m looking to interact with architectural moments that I haven’t noticed before, I’m looking to create something here, right now, in this moment. And I think that, by doing that, and by committing to that practice and by sharing that practice, we can really explore the potential in ourselves and in the spaces we go to.

What are you doing?

(This question is part of the “What are you doing?” project.)

Well, I think I’m playing around. A lot of people call it Parkour. And I don’t know if I feel really comfortable calling what we’re doing Parkour, because people use Parkour in an exclusive sense. When I say an exclusive sense, I mean a sense that excludes certain practices. Some practices are acceptable to characterize under the label Parkour, and some aren’t. I’m not really interested in what I’m doing, as much as how it feels to do it. I think that I’m doing a lot of what other people call Parkour, and that’s great. I love that that label helps me find other people who like doing things that I also really like doing.

But I really feel like I’m playing, and exploring space. I feel like I’m trying to do things that are new, and challenging for me, so that I get more comfortable with all sorts of body movements. Sometimes I want to emphasize certain body movements, and sometimes others. Sometimes I want to imitate a challenge that I’ve seen someone else do. But if I’m not having fun, I’m going to stop doing it. So I think the most important thing for me is to enjoy what it is I’m doing. I think that, if I had to characterize it, I’d call it playing, rather than Parkour.

If, to answer, I guess, a little more rigorously your initial question, if I were to define Parkour, rather than what it is that I’m doing, I would say that we should open the definition of Parkour to be as inclusive as possible. We shouldn’t say, “That’s not Parkour.” We should allow people to use it in any context. I know that some people think that’s politically very dangerous, but I think that it’s more dangerous to run the risk of marginalizing certain people in communities by keeping Parkour an exclusive term.

What are you doing?

(This question is part of the “What are you doing?” project.)

I’m exercising right now. It’s called parkour, but, it’s a form of exercise where you can use your environment instead of going to a gym. …and everything you can do at a gym, you can do with this. It incorporates so many different exercises! You can do body weight things, you can run and you can do lots of jumping. It’s a full-body work out.