Quality and Efficiency

Written by Daniel Hines
Published on Saturday, 19 September 2009

“So what I’m saying, actually, you see, it’s a combination of both. I mean here is natural instinct and here is control. You are to combine the two in harmony. If you have one to the extreme, you’ll be very unscientific. If you have another to the extreme, you become, all of a sudden, a mechanical man, no longer a human being. So it is a successful combination of both, so therefore, it’s not pure naturalness or unnaturalness. The ideal is unnatural naturalness, or natural unnaturalness.” – Bruce Lee

How can I move quickly and efficiently? This is the question that makes up a traceurs training. Humans are especially designed for some movements, such as running. Running is the fastest and most efficient means of movement, so one might say that moving quickly and efficiently is limited to running, but we are capable of so much more. No single movement pattern ensured our survival as a species. Rather, it is our ability to adapt to our environment that allowed us to succeed. Thus, we have the ability to do an almost infinite variety of movements, including walking, climbing, swimming, jumping, even dancing. Even though we weren’t designed to do any of those movements, we can still do them with grace and efficiency (quality of movement). Even more amazing is our ability to improvise movements to meet a situation, allowing full adaptation to any situation. This brings us to the quote from the beginning. As a traceur, you could have “pure naturalness”, and run like hell away from something, doing whatever your instincts told you. Or you could have pure “unnaturalness,” doing only techniques you’ve practiced a thousand times, in the exact way you’ve practiced them. As usual in life, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The ultimate goal is integrate your instincts and your intellect, so when you want to do a movement, even if you’ve never done it before, nothing holds you back.

The realization of the integration of instincts and intellect (since when did I become so fluent in gibberish?) results in quality of movement and efficiency. Quality of movement is very different from efficiency, but I believe the two are intrinsically linked. Quality of movement is an unquantifiable effect of bringing greater knowledge to one’s movement. The result is beautiful, though quality of movement is more than looking pretty. Efficiency, on the other hand, is very quantifiable. I’ll even be so bold as to say that efficiency can be expressed in an equation: Speed/energy used. Simply put, A movement is more efficient if it increases your speed while maintaining your energy usage, or decreases your energy usage while maintaining your speed. Applying the principles of movement will, however, make your movements faster and use less energy, and thus, improving your quality of movement will make you more efficient, and vice versa.

Efficiency and quality of movement branch into every part of parkour. David Belle and I could do the same vault, over the same obstacle, and I guarantee his will faster use less energy, and be far more beautiful. Why is that? From a physiological perspective, I think it comes down to two specific adaptations: changes in the muscles and joints, but more importantly, localization. Perhaps you remember from my previous post, but localization (which is basically a synonym for coordination) is when the right neurons fire at the right time. Localization means that there’s no excess muscle tension, he only uses enough power to just barely make it over the obstacle, and the timing is perfect. Because less neurons are firing and less muscles are contracting, less energy is used, and, naturally, without all the excess tension, Belle can move faster. Localization is a huge factor in quality of movement, but it is not the only one (some speculate there are an infinite number of factors). Quality of movement is much more subtle, but I think in the end is a much more worthy goal than pure speed or endurance.

How does one improve their quality of movement/efficiency? This is a very difficult question, as the answer will be very different for different people, but I believe the key is observation and attention. Observing one’s own movement and the movement of others, as well just being aware of yourself and the world around you is essential. This is almost crossing the border into philosophy, but I have noticed that generally, focusing on the movements themselves will bring greater results than focusing solely on the goal. For example, I could make the observation that keeping your center of gravity closer to the ground improves efficiency. This kind of observation focuses on the external (which is very typical of the western world. However, I could also make the broader, more internal observation that one should never try to resist force, and from this, we could infer that one should not resist gravity any more than they have to (by keeping their center low), but there are also many other implications, such as the proper way to land is not to resist the force of impact but to let it flow through you.

As talked about in a thread on the forum, the principles of movement are universal, and, thus, if you learn something in one discipline, you can probably apply it to parkour. Physics, biomechanics, physiology, psychology, economics, etc. all can teach us something about ourselves and our movement. We can learn from each of these fields, and our parkour will be that much better because of it.

This just scratches the surface, but I hope it gets you thinking about you can improve your movement. If your interested in quality of movement, I recommend reading this thread (http://forum.idoportal.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=36).

Good training guys, and never forget to be aware.

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