Movement in Urban Semi-Nature

Just because you’re stuck in the city doesn’t mean your natural movement practice has to suffer.

Amazing lush foliage, giant trees with an intricate and unusual weave of branches through which to navigate and swing, stones aplenty to hoist and heave, and a cool stream are beautiful images for a natural movement aficionado.

When I can get to these places, I love every second and go home feeling recharged. But I live in a pretty big city, and I don’t often get out into nature.

Playing in Urban Semi-Nature

Most cities have some form of green space to play in. These spaces are a weird gray area – a sort of urban semi-nature. They may be construction sites in the process of mowing down a forest to build waterfront business (as is the case in my video below), places behind office buildings or warehouses, or forgotten areas in old neighborhoods.

Survey Your Surroundings

Sometimes in these areas you are operating in less than perfect conditions. Being aware of natural issues like dead tree branches, thorns, sharp rocks, bugs, debris, and animal presence applies, but there is also the concern for sharp objects like glass or old metal, splinters of wood, and other things not often found in more natural settings. I’m not talking about anything too extreme, but stuff you need to keep an eye out for.

Here is a possible scenario for the movement nerd: You’re waiting in the loading area of a local hardware store with your father-in-law to pick up lumber for a project. It’s taking forever to fill his order, and in between awkward conversation you spot a sweet-looking tree perfect for practicing MovNat techniques like pop ups.

There are Jersey barriers to climb over before you can get to the tree, and you notice broken beer bottles littering the area. Surprisingly, your father-in-law encourages you to climb the tree and you wonder if this is his way of showing acceptance of your odd lifestyle or confirmation of your long-held suspicion that he doesn’t like you and would like to be rid of you? Either way, the tree has some solid looking branches, just ripe for climbing.

If you live in a city and practice MovNat, Parkour, or other movement arts, chances are you will find yourself goofing around in these “in between places” from time to time. I’ve spent most of my life exploring areas like these in both suburban and urban environments and these spaces pose a unique set of challenges and potential dangers. There are three points I want to mention so you are less likely to run into trouble if you decide to poke around.

1. Attitude

Don’t goof around in areas known to have high crime rates. You don’t want to get into a fight or a dangerous situation. It’s fine to be wary when you come across other people, but don’t be a smartass. You might come across security guards who want to make sure you aren’t stealing or breaking things or police officers who are just doing their job. In between takes on my video, I came across teenagers who were going fishing, a guy walking a dog who liked to pee a lot (the dog, not the guy), and a bunch of twenty-something’s who were heading to the woods to do graffiti and drink beer.

Being respectful of other people and of the environment you are in goes a long way towards avoiding trouble. Although, having an idea of the best route to run away if trouble strikes is useful from a self-defense perspective.

Explore these areas with friends and make sure you all have cell phones. If you’re solo, play around in an area that’s close enough to major streets or businesses that are open to get help if you need it. Don’t go with friends who are going to encourage you to do stupid things, and definitely don’t take silly risks trying to impress them. The point of your practice is to improve your skills and have fun without pushing into the zone of unnecessary risk.

With a careful eye, you can find opportunities to practice natural movement skills anywhere.

2. Attire

The right clothes are garments that allow you to move well, feel what you need to feel (e.g., sharp objects on your leg or slippery surfaces with your foot), and have some kind of protection against various objects.

Wear shoes. I know – ancestors, barefoot, etc. – but where there is potential for broken glass, you wear shoes. Be conscious of your foot placement and keep an eye out for screws, nails, and glass that can puncture the soles of minimalist footwear. I like to wear jeans that let me move but aren’t too baggy. They allow me to go on unplanned excursions without having to change, they are thick enough to be semi-protective, and they don’t get snagged when climbing. I wear well-fitting shirts for the same reasons, though they are usually easy to rip and offer little protection.

3. Awareness

The last and most important safety tip is awareness. Practicing extreme awareness in the surfaces you are treading on and in your surroundings both near and far is absolutely crucial to playing in these places. Mindfulness in your own movement is a big part of natural movement training.

Use Your Six Senses

If you practice your MovNat skills in these transitional areas, make sure you take precautions. No matter where your environment falls on the urban spectrum, always scout the area first. Test every tree or rock you want to climb, and move slowly and deliberately through the environment until you are sure it is safe enough to move faster. Picture what could go wrong and move accordingly. Happy playing!

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Photo courtesy of Eneas De Troya via Wikimedia Commons.