Episode 7

Wilderness Parkour with Meiling “Meihem” Huang


Wilderness Parkour

Featuring Meiling “Meihem” Huang

Parkour does not necessarily line up with traditional survival logic. After all, in a survival situation, one must go out of their way not to risk unnecessary injury or expenditure of energy. With that in mind, one would not likely find themselves hurtling over logs and through jumps in a wilderness setting.

Yet there is an interesting correlation between the two, when one takes a closer look. What if, instead of finding oneself in a more traditional survival situation out in the wilderness, you were suddenly in a setting where your ability to move through varied terrain suddenly and effectively? An earthquake, or a volcanic eruption, where you had precious seconds to run to escape with your life?

It was this precise situation that motivated Georges Hebert to invent the obstacle course, and institute what he called the Natural Method of fitness, which was predicated upon the human ability to be a capable and rounded mover. After witnessing an eruption on the island of St. Martinique, Hebert found that those who were effective movers were able to overcome the obstacles ahead of them and escape successfully to the safety of the ocean. Those who had become sedentary were not so fortunate.

He was further impressed by the abilities of the indigenous that he’d encountered throughout the world, noting that “their bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skillful, enduring, resistant and yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature.” In conjunction with training in courage and altruism, Hebert created a philosophy that had a profound effect on both the military and the world as a whole.

The ability to be an effective, generalist mover has been the cornerstone of our species’ survival for its entire existence. Just as Hebert once had, I observed this on full display during my recent trip to Africa to live with the Hadza tribe, who demonstrated this ability to the utmost.

I had long wondered what the upper limits of this type of ability might be for an athlete that was not confined to the requisites of subsistence for movement, but rather could explore them from the sheer standpoint of athleticism. In order to explore this with a modern mover, I sought out an American Ninja Warrior. The trouble was, I didn’t know any offhand.

I was pleasantly surprised to find one local to New Jersey, and took a shot at reaching out on social media to see if she’d be interested in beginning to apply aspects of parkour to a wilderness setting, and even more pleasantly surprised at her response of resounding enthusiasm.

Mei had competed on multiple Ninja Warrior shows, and taught parkour for a variety of gyms. And despite that we’d only met that morning, it didn’t take long for us to find a groove tearing through the woods in search of anything that could be jumped, climbed, or scrambled up, over or through.

At the center of my fitness journey has long been the search for the intersection between the wisdom of our primitive ancestors due to their proximity to our natural settings, and the access and understanding afforded to the modern athlete. Somewhere in there, I’m convinced, lies the formula towards achieving what can appear to be superhuman, but in simple fact, is actually consistent refinement of what makes us human.

Images from Episode Seven