The Fianna

Rafe:
eah. So, it’s hard to say in some ways because I feel like it’s emergent from my life and my character and what I’ve experienced. I just happened to have grown up on the end of a dirt road in a hippie community. I had some really formative experiences around rough and tumble play and how that helped me overcome learning disabilities. I started martial arts very young. And I had this really deep interest in human nature that started at a very young age.

Rafe:
So, part of overcoming my learning disabilities when I was eight years old was falling in love with epic literature, starting with The Lord of the Rings, and then The Iliad and The Odyssey, and then the Norse mythology, and then lots of other fantasy novels. And that actually led me to starting an interesting in first history, I read the lives of all the caesars and all that stuff, and then anthropology.

Rafe:
And so, by the time I was 13 years old, I had read every anthropology book in my local library. And then I found a mentor who was a professional anthropologist who worked in local government who lent me his library. And I read something like 30 ethnographic monographs before I went into community college at 16 years old.

Rafe:
So, I had this really deep interest in being a hero, that was part of it, and also in understanding what was at the base of human nature. Right? And when I saw parkour, well I’d been doing gymnastics for a long time. And gymnastics was really inspirational to me and it was really fun to practice. But parkour felt like it was the thing underneath gymnastics.

Craig:
More true, maybe?

Rafe:
Yeah, it was the … it resonated on a frequency closer to the origin of human movement. And all that anthropological literature that I was reading, there were stories in there about kids climbing trees and bending them over and being thrown off of them and swinging around on vines and doing flips off of them.

Rafe:
One of my favorite stories I always tell on this podcast is … I believe it’s the Tiwi tribe in Northern Australia. They live in an extremely arid environment. And they’ll be walking through these deserts where there’s just nothing. It’s just flat ground for miles and miles and miles. And they’ll see a big rock in the desert or a big dead fallen tree or something. And the children will just run ahead of the group as soon as they see it and just climbing up it and flipping off of it.

Rafe:
So, there’s this fundamental drive in human beings and parkour seemed to reflect that. But it was a partial reflection of the kind of most fundamental, primal forms of human play. It was one aspect, not the whole thing. And so, I was curious about the idea of what would it be to train a human being to be the best version of a human being. Right?

Rafe:
So, if we look at an evolutionary and cross cultural lens, what are the movements that are most nourishing and most meaningful beings? And the other lens that I took into that was all that heroic literature. Right? If you read the Irish mythology, the heroes are represented not only as being great at fighting, but they also have to be able to run and jump and climb.

Rafe:
So, there’s a mythological cycle in the Irish mythology called the Fenian Cycle, and it’s about this group of warriors called the Fianna. In order to enter the Fianna, you had to be able to run through the woods barefoot, and pass under a log as low as your knee and over a log as high as your chin, and pluck a thorn from your foot without breaking stride and without a hair coming out of your braids. Right?

Rafe:
And so, that was parkour. Right? And then of course they also had warrior stuff, like they had to be buried to their waist and with just a wand of hazel defend themselves from seven men casting spears at them. And then the Irish heroes will have these stories of the feats. They do feats. Right? So, there’s a story where Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, who’s one of the Fianna, he’s run away with Gráinne, the fiance of the King of the Fianna, Fionn. And so, now Fionn has sent all these armies to catch him.

Rafe:
So, he dresses himself up as somebody else and he goes out to see this army of people. And the army’s like, “Have you seen Diarmuid Ua Duibhne?” And he’s like, “I just saw him yesterday. That dude’s like the greatest warrior ever. You don’t want to mess with that guy. He did this feat. You just couldn’t believe this feat.” And they’re like, “What did he do? We can do anything this guy did.” So, he was like, “He ran up a spear and stood on top of it. And so, he runs up the spear and stands on top of the spear.” And then 50,000 of their soldiers run up a spear and impale themselves.

Craig:
Right.

Rafe:
Right? And then the next day he comes back and they’re like, “Have you seen Diarmuid?” He’s like, “Yeah, I just saw him. He rode a barrel down a rocky cliff.” And then everyone tries to follow.

Craig:
Follow suit.

Rafe:
Right. Or he had two swords on two people’s shoulders and he jumped up and landed in betwee