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The Cork Zero Equation with Josh Malone

Josh Malone is an athlete who needs no introduction. Through the undeniable steeze of his performances at Art of Motion and NAPC, Josh has made a name for himself as an ingenious master of proprioception. Nearly two years ago now, Josh landed the now infamous cork zero, a skill years in the making across multiple movement practices. The cork zero encompasses a series of other skills and principles, and requires a nuanced understanding of the physics of rotation, from applying different axes, to twisting and untwisting. Josh and I had a long, in-depth conversation about the journey to cork zero, the fundamental concepts necessary, as well as the delightfully confusing math that makes cork zero and other skills like it possible in the first place.  

ME: To put things in perspective, how long have you been training, and at what point did you start to experiment with skills from other disciplines?

JM: It’s so hard to remember the years, I’m so bad at it. But I’m in year nine of training now, I started when I was 12. I remember going to Tempest on my 12th birthday and that was it. I was really set on the idea that I love parkour and I only love parkour, and any other sport isn’t parkour, so I don’t need to look at it at all. I always think back to when I was 2-3 years into parkour, and my parents were trying to milk this love for parkour, a “useless sport,” into something useful. They tried to sign me up for a bunch of shit. One thing I remember is ballet, my mom really wanted me to do ballet. Not even to be a professional, but to cross train. And I was just so off, I wasn’t about the idea at all. I look back now and really regret that. Ever since I started blading in 2020, I’ve been so hooked on abusing the power of taking what other sports have and bringing it to parkour. I’ve been loving rollerblading and skiing mostly, and I got into rollerblading because of skiing. I was like, “Aw shit, I live in a desert and I can’t afford a park pass, so I need to buy some blades.”

ME: Talking about your parents signing you up for shit, can you imagine your ankle strength if you had taken ballet? 

JM: Parkour is really cool and I was lucky to do it around people who are fairly smart and take decent care of their bodies, but man, if only I’d taken ballet that young. I’m dealing with a flat foot issue now, and I’m only now taking care of it. 

ME: Were you put in any gymnastics? You obviously have a good handle on gymnastic-style flips and tricks as well.

JM: Yeah, I signed up for tramp and tumbling at one point. I love the double mini, it’s so awesome. I did TNT for about a year-and-a-half, and most of that time, I already had all of the skills that I was allowed to do. It was like, yeah I could double backflip, but I wasn’t allowed to until I could do the backflip with perfect gymnastics form. I was not about it, but out of the hour a week that I was at that gym, I usually got at least five minutes to run around and do whatever I wanted on the double mini, and that was worth it to me hahaha. Rod floor was really fun too, and I have such a soft spot for the trampoline. Really it wasn’t bad, and it was time on the trampoline, but I just didn’t feel like I wanted to continue with TNT. 

ME: It’s interesting that you mention the trampoline, it’s one of my favorite things in the entire world. I once used your Art of Motion 2021 run in an article about trampoline specifically referencing your gainer-full-cat twist. I saw that and immediately was like, “The cat twist! This motherfucker does trampoline!”

JM: Yes hahaha! I was gonna talk about cat twist later, it’s so necessary for cork zero, learning the hip wobble and… just twist like a cat, it’s so important hahaha. 

ME: So in that vein, what’s your process when taking a skill from conceptual to ground ready? Is there a lot of trampoline work in there?

JM: I really love the trampoline, and since I’m so comfortable on it, it’s probably the best spot for me to learn anything. I was really lucky having a trampoline in the backyard, and gyms that were close by. Especially taking shit from the ski realm, it’s super helpful to have the air time that a trampoline provides. In parkour, the largest air we get is maybe one second. Everything is performed relatively close to the ground. In skiing they can get up to three or four seconds in the air, easy. Easy! Like it’s nothing! So yeah I rely on the trampoline a lot. 

 

 

ME: Do  you find it necessary to learn flips and twists on a more “conventional” axis before expanding your rotational catalog?

JM: Honestly, I’m not sure. I had that dilemma when I first started playing around with these ideas, and I was coaching. Most of the time I was coaching day care, but every once in a while I’d come across something like, a macaco for instance: should you teach them to go straight over as much as they can? I don’t know, some kids have the problem that they can only go straight over, and other kids, if they start tilting one way, won’t be able to correct that. That’s just kids obviously. I feel like if you’re fairly smart about movement, you can go about it either way. 

ME: That makes sense. 

JM: Yeah, and I’m gonna talk a lot about “fighting that flip,” which is something that skiers don’t have to worry about when moving from skiing rotation to gymnastics. You’re already kind of flipping, and then you just flip. While, if you’re like me, you’ve been flipping for seven years, that’s what your brain does, and now I’m gonna try this not-flip. That was most of the battle was fighting this thing that’s become natural. The feeling that, “If I start to go over my head I need to finish, or I’ll die,” you know. Whereas with cork zero, you kind of have to set it like you’re gonna die. 

ME: That’s sick haha. One thing that I wanted to say, and that I personally appreciate of all of the Beans, is while the movement is always really high level, the group as a whole doesn’t shy away from skills for the sake of expression. What is it like balancing really high level movement with more contemporary exploratory movements that some in the community have deemed “not parkour?”

JM: It’s a really interesting line, and I’m in a cool spot to be walking it. I don’t know, I’m in a cool place. No matter what I do and no matter what other people think about it, I’m excited for what’s about to come. Not many people are mixing like, “high end and low end,” you could say. I still find myself battling a lot with, “If I post this on Instagram I want it to do well, so at the end of this it has to have a dub.” It’s so silly and it’s a silly way to train. I have such a love for hard tricks, but mixing in the contemporary, I think, makes them shine even more. Everyone’s gotta find a balance. At the end of the day, no matter what “side” you’re on, we all just want everyone to move however they want to move. That’s why parkour is so great, there are no rules. What the fuck is a parkour? I can finger-walk, and fuckin that’s parkour. (Josh throws down a sick finger-walking line.) I could talk about that forever, anything is parkour. I don’t know if Egg talked about that with you or not, but they’re the one who really put me on this wave of really, anything is parkour. If you try to constrict it at all it gets so confusing and silly. Whereas, you expand parkour into this thing where you can say, skateboarding is parkour. That’s not to take anything away from skateboarding, I’m not saying that because I can do parkour I can skate. But parkour can capture everything. If I can take a skateboarding trick and perform it without the skateboard, it’s a “new parkour trick” and now I’m creative. I feel that some other people in the community are having the same thoughts I used to have, that if it’s not parkour it’s not worth their time. Now I’m just like, “Fuck how do I bring football into parkour?”  

ME: That’s fucking sweet, like parkour as a movement philosophy, not a sport. What are the main sources of inspiration that you draw from? I’ve heard you watch a significant number of ski videos, any in particular that stand out?

JM: Let me think. There’s two Magma videos, any video by Child Labor, or The Bunch, ZOOTSPACE is a fucking insane video, I might just have to stop there, I’m gassed I got that many off the top hahaha. X Games has a cool competition called “Real (whatever the sport is)” so there’s Real Ski, and they pick 10 people to film a minute to minute-and-a-half video part and those are amazing. You can look up X Games Real Ski from any year and watch Alex Heckle, or any of those guys, and they’re only a minute long. We gotta get X Games to do that for parkour eventually. Getting excited about skiing got me excited about rollerblading, Basement is a good brand, they’re brothers who were pros back in the 90’s. They’re still doing crazy hard shit, but their emphasis is on the bang, the style, the aesthetic, and everything but the trick. These guys are always talking about how they can go out and do the hardest down-rail, the hardest grind, but doing something with a lot of style and technicality is what they prefer after doing their sport for 25 years. There’s so much inspiration parkour can pull from rollerblading and other sports. Right now, parkour has this trend where everyone wants to do bangers, and that’s the same place where rollerblading was in the 90’s. People pushed and pushed, and eventually the public stopped caring. Like everything is huge, so nothing is huge. And if you’re not in the top 1% who can do the hardest shit, then you’re irrelevant. Rollerblading was so toxic back then, and it still can be. Like there are so many rules to tricks, and you can’t do it this way, if you grind on one foot you have to grab it, or you’ll get called a word. Now, rollerblading is having this renaissance of people returning to it for fun, if they are going hard, it’s all style and technicality. 

Me: The combination of tricking, parkour, and ski/alternative rotation, has the potential for tons of variability. What is your current favorite skill or combo to perform, and which is your favorite aesthetically, if they’re different?

JM: Ooh… um.. One realm I’ve been thinking a lot about is ski rotation with parkour interaction. Cork zero is really cool, and at the same time I was chasing cork zero, so was this skier Birk Ruud. He landed it in comp like a month after I landed mine, it was cool, crazy timing. But it’s like, I’m doing the same thing the skiers are doing, just without skis. There’s a huge, untapped area of ski rotations, done lower to the ground so that you can do more touches, maybe kick the wall; you know, skiers do be dragging their hands sometimes, it’s just so much harder taking things so low, it’s fucked. When I think about tricks, I’m thinking about hand drags, and trying to rotate to the middle of an off axis rotation, so you’re not upside down, you’re sideways, but touching something and then flipping over. As far as aesthetics go, I’m so in love with grabs right now. Anyone who reaches down and grabs their toes gets the biggest heart from me hahaha. Gotta grab your toes though, no ankles. That’s my one rule, I’m all about no rules in parkour, but that’s the one. If you’re going for a grab, you gotta get the foot, the toes, no ankle. It’s so much more aesthetic. Also if you grab the foot you have an entire extra joint, and the toes even more joints, to pull and flex and tweak. It’s one thing to grab your foot, but the cool thing about these grabs is that they help you pull into a really interesting position. When we’re doing flips in parkour we’re always tucking, but with grabs they let you get all twisted and turned, and as you pull them you get even crazier. Maybe I just love gatekeeping hahaha. My biggest tip for anyone who wants to learn to pull ski tricks, is talk to a skier. You could talk to me forever, but I’m just some wannabe, go talk to Birk Ruud, he’s the man!

 


 

ME: That makes total sense too. Anyone who wants to improve at anything should surround themselves with people who are better than they are. It makes sense that if you want to start pulling ski tricks, reach out to a skier. 

JM: Yeah, everything I’ve learned that hasn’t come from a skier in person, has just been a skier online. There’s a ton of forums and stuff, Newschoolers is a really good one. There are tons of forums on there like, “Hey I’m getting into skiing, how do I do such and such rotation?” It’s also still active enough that you can post something yourself and probably get responses. 

Me: Talking about rotations now, I’ve heard that ski trick naming conventions are more descriptive than the names that pop up in parkour, due to ski skills being quantified as a certain degree of flipping rotation, and a certain degree of twist. Can you talk about that, and help the rest of us understand the differences?

JM: It’s really interesting because I’d say it’s more distinct, and at the same time way less distinct. That creates this math problem, where a lot of them don’t have one answer, they have a thousand answers. It all starts with spinning. We don’t do any spinning in parkour, nobody’s out here doing 360’s, that’s lame. But, that’s what skiers do first. You go off of the jump and twist 180, then 360, 540 and so on. Then you think, “Okay I’ve got all this weight on my feet, and this jump that throws me up at an angle, and I’m landing at an opposing angle coming down.” So it makes more sense to let my feet loop around off axis. Then you start to take your twist off axis, and you get the math problem. Depending on your axis you’re doing all kinds of things, Rodeo 540, Cork 540, Misty 540, etc. What’s cool about that is that each one means something, but it isn’t exact. As opposed to, if I say backflip, it’s always a backflip on a straight over axis. If I say cork 3, then there’s all of this hypothetical space that I can be in, and all of it’s cork 3. It lets you get away with no names, or something else entirely. Let’s use cork 540, or cork 5 for example: you drop your left shoulder, your feet are coming up, and if you were to twist to 900, cancel your spin back to 540, it’s still a cork 540. So sometimes you get these tricks that are technically cork 3, but really it’s a cork 3, set like a 7, that untwists back to three. It can be very distinct, but also very “oh this is closest to whatever skill, so we’ll call it that.” There’s no reason to come up with a whole new name for a skill when the only difference is three degrees of axis. 

ME: So the sideflip vs. the frisbee. In my opinion the sideflip is a twist, there’s no actual flip, whereas the frisbee is a flat spin. Hypothetically this person twists to their left, and is pulling a full twist from both sideflip and frisbee. It’s my opinion that this person should sideflip on their right side, and frisbee on their left side, for the sake of twisting continuity. What’s your opinion?

JM: Yeah, I agree. That distinction between spinning left both times, but dropping one shoulder instead of the other is so important for not only rodeo rotations, but cork zero as well. As I talk about rodeo vs. cork, that’s the same big difference. Both of them start off as a vert spin, then you’re dropping one shoulder, either the right or left. When that clicked in my mind, it was like a bomb went off. I think that’s something a lot of people have trouble with on rodeo, is getting the distinction between shoulder drops. Even just to get there you have to fight the flip, like I said earlier, and think about the spin first. You have to learn patience! Especially as we think about rotations lower than 360, think about the energy you put in to do a 180, it’s very little. So if we’re trying to do a rodeo 180, and we’re throwing it with all the power we have, it’s probably not going to work, it’s only a 180 at its core. You have to set for the trick really slowly and softly. I really try to put myself in the perspective of a skier, like I’m going down this hill, my equipment makes my feet 10 pounds heavier, I takes me two full seconds to rise into the air, and all of that being insanely slow, and only just starting to think about spinning, because my skis would still be on the ground behind me and I can’t spin yet, you’re just going up, and then finally drop the right shoulder. Compared to parkour, where everyone has like the back full technique, which turns you 180 the second you take off; which works for a full, or for a corkscrew, but won’t work for a rodeo. 

ME: That’s really interesting. I’ve never heard the difference between cork and rodeo described as being as simple as dropping the opposite shoulder, but it makes complete sense.

JM: Yeah, and rodeo is weird too, because all skiers agree on cork, but some people think rodeo is more inverted, some say it should be less. The way I think about it, is left spin, right shoulder drop, leaning backwards. If your butt is the lowest point in your rotation, that’s what I consider rodeo, but if you get your head and hips flat at horizontal, then I would call it flatspin. But parkour has this different understanding, where something like a b-kick would be flatspin. I go back and forth on what parkour needs to do as far as naming tricks, because we need an easy way for beginners to learn, but also because there are so few rules or set ways to do things, it puts us in a box if you decide to put those boundaries up. I’m not calling anything a trapdoor though hahaha, we’ve got some crazy names. 

ME: I wanted to touch on airform, grabs, stalls, touches, and what I affectionately call janklegs™. What does messing with airform bring to skills for you personally?

JM: Especially with the different axes, it really helps me dive deeper into making this axis look even more different from a backflip than it already is. Creating that shape just helps you pull into the axis better. I don’t know why skiers started to do this, but it’s like their rotations were caused by their grabs. That’s how I’ve thought about getting into the rotations, like setting a vertical spin with no flip rotation at all, and then once you’re off the ground, dropping your shoulders into your hips, and pulling your foot up to the side, now you have this slanted position. You’re still doing a vertical spin, but now your foot is over your head. Grabs are cool. 

Josh Malone’s 5 tips for CORK ZERO:

1. Understand the trick:

“Cork zero is a math problem. Just saying cork in this sense doesn’t mean anything, it’s just the idea of an axis, you need to put rotation on it. So I first started watching skiing and was looking for links between tricks that are almost interchangeable from skiing to parkour. One of those is the gymnastic back full, and the cork 7. Cork 7 can look like back full, and vice versa. Both of them have two parts. A back full has your 360 degree backflip rotation, and 360 degree twisting rotation. Cork 7 has two 360 degree rotations that aren’t necessarily separate, but aren’t necessarily together, you still perform them in the same space. The biggest difference between them is the idea of backflip then spin vs. spin and then drop a shoulder, tilting off axis. If you can understand that, then let’s talk about cork 3, which in parkour is closest to a corner flyaway, where you have one hand on a vertical bar, one hand on the high bar, and you swing your feet through the corner. So again, you have this 360, you’re corking, which means you’re leaning backwards, and dropping that shoulder you’re spinning with. So if you have your cork 360, the math problems start to come in. What if you take away 180 degrees? If you look at parkour, we don’t have any flips that are strictly 180 degrees of rotation. We have the front half, but that’s 360 degrees flipping, plus 180 degrees twisting, so technically 540 in ski terms. If you think about doing a backflip that’s only a 180, you end up upside down on your head. So how do we unlock 180 flips? The most popular option is rod 1, or rodeo 180. Shoutout Spence and Egg for making the rod 1 tutorial. In that video (below) they talk about setting your rodeo, learning rodeo 360, bringing it back a bit, and getting that roundabout rodeo rotation. Then you can start to cheat, and do some math. You hop into this realm of numbers, so if our goal is a 180, and you start with a rodeo which by its definition is a 360, then it takes 180 degrees of anti-twist to turn a 360 into 180. That’s another thing I want to touch on– there’s the zero, and then there’s all these things in between 360 minus 360, and what that means to you. I was chasing the idea of “zero” or absolutely nothing, versus the idea of 360 minus 360. But there’s obviously way more going on than “nothing.” So I want to do this nothing flip, if I want to get onto an axis and do nothing, what does that look like? Probably the easiest cork zero anyone can do right now, is the heel click. Super silly, not a real cork zero, but there is no real cork zero. But it’s a good way to start thinking about this idea, you’re getting on axis and going back without any of the spin we’re trying to fight.”


“I think it’s really important to touch on how skiers count these things, and it’s based heavily on where your chest is at. If I’m standing still and I spin in a circle, it’s easy to tell that I twisted 360 degrees. Using backflip as an example, you’re forward until you’re upside down, at which point you’ve completed a 180, your chest is facing backwards. With cork 7 and back full, it’s hard to tell, but your chest actually goes around twice. As it comes around the second time, it’s either the last half of both the twist and flip, or it’s just the end of your backflip. And that’s how I think about cork zero, it’s all about where my chest is at. Then you’ve got this impossible problem. You know what a cork is, you know what a rodeo is, and rodeo 180, how do I bring this all together? So you need to find this point of inverting enough to make it look cool, but not enough to reach 180. So the biggest tip is that you have this axis you’re trying to get onto without actually rotating, and it’s important to understand the axis of cork, and the idea of zero being ‘absolutely nothing.’”

2. Setting the Zero like a Backdrop:

“My second tip is that it needs to be set like a zero. If I jump straight up in the air, I’m not using any of my upper body to pull in any direction or anything, it’s very little energy. I see a lot of people trying cork zero with all of their power, and it’s mostly technique. So if you’re practicing 180’s try doing it with the power of a 180. That might be really hard, and so many people who do parkour experience the feeling that, “if I set this I need to finish it so I don’t land on my head.” Really if you can find a pad, foam pit, airbag, river, or some sand, being in a spot where you aren’t afraid to fall is really helpful. When I think about doing it, I think about setting like I’m gonna do a backdrop. If I’m on top of the wall where I did cork zero, and think about jumping to my back, my brain won’t let me, it’s natural to want to rotate around. You want to jump up there with some energy, but the goal isn’t to cause any flip.” 

 

 

3. The Cat Twist:

“This trick is all about putting yourself in a bad spot, and then getting yourself out of it, and you need the cat twist to do that. When I think about zero, I think about jumping as high as I can with no flip, then I think about the skier’s perspective. I have all this weight on my feet, so I’m going to pull it up in front of my face to get me onto an axis, and then I’m going to throw that weight out to the side and back around to cancel the rotation. In my cork zero, my toes are above my head, but my back is almost flat before cat twisting. If you can do that and have your back not move, only your toes, that’s the goal. You can practice this motion on a pull up bar, taking your legs and swinging them up in front of your face, and around to the other side. Shawn Higgins (@higgz_boson) is a great example. He does cork zero from flyaway, and from there his toes are up, and chest is back just like it would be on the slope if he had skis on. You can see when he does it, he uses so little power, and it’s all about using the little bits of power in the right spot. It’s a lot of hip wiggle, especially at the end, where I’ve started pulling the skill one way, but have to counteract that movement to come to front facing for the landing.”

 

 

4. Eyes Forward:

“So my fourth tip, as you’re doing all of this, you have to actively keep your chest and eyes forward. If you set a perfect cork zero, and your eyes go anywhere but forward, your body is going to follow your eyes. That’s intrinsic to parkour, but it’s easy to forget. I think about cork zero as counting with my chest. But as a thought experiment, if we count rotations with our chest, what if we counted rotations with our toes? What if we count with other appendages, what other zero skills could be possible? None of these things are wrong, but I also like the idea of holding the idea of true cork zero to a higher standard. The possibilities out there for 180 minus 180, or 360 minus 360, are huge. Can we 540 minus 540? It’s probably not super possible, but we’ll see. It’s interesting, applying the same counting method to double flips. If a double backflip is 720 degrees, how do we double backflip but only 540, or 360? I remember after landing cork zero, someone asked me if I was going to double cork zero, and I thought to myself, “You don't know what’s actually going on here hahaha.” That was two years ago already, and I think Jake Hlad has come really close, so has Egg. In the pursuit of double cork zero, or even just perfect cork zero, people are going to end up doing crazy shit. There’s still so much to do.”

 

 

5. Conceptualizing Cork Zero:

My last tip is a couple ways to think about the skill, and how I think about it. I think about cork zero as setting as high as I can, leaning like a backdrop, once I’m there, I’m thinking about pulling my toes up and around, and being insanely patient. If you drop one shoulder too much, you’ll flip too much, and if you twist that right shoulder too much then you’ll have to cancel way more momentum. Really use your hips and cat twisting abilities to pull your feet back to landing. If you can rodeo 180, start by standing 90 degrees negative from front (to the opposite of your twisting side). Set your rodeo 180, now you’re landing at 90 degrees positive from front. You’re cheating by starting 90 degrees off, but then you’re landing 90, and can subtract that 90 at the end. Then you more or less have a zero. All you have to do from there is take off facing forward, instead of cheating 90 degrees. That’s what I see a lot of people going for, and that’s really good technique. In the same realm, there are so many other ways to think about it. You could complete rodeo 180, then at the end, turn back around, with nothing at the beginning. Alternatively you could do all of that movement at the beginning, and try to turn 180 degrees without inverting, then invert and bring it around, throwing it down like pshhh (literally throwing his hands). If you’re like me, searching for the closest impossible answer, it’s all about finding that balance of how inverted your set is, and how soon you start the cat twist to bring it around. The heart of zero is doing nothing while doing something, and making ‘nothing’ cool.”

This conversation has given me a much more definitive understanding of not only cork zero, but the entire catalog of hypothetical movement provided by skiing and rollerblading. It feels as though the philosophy of parkour continues to swell and gobble everything in its path, and the gullet of parkour is open wide to innovative ideas. Cork zero is a thought experiment that only continues to unfold, and Josh Malone is the grizzled professor trying to write, explain, and prove the equation, while more equations sprout up around him. The potential variety of skills is endless, and thus begs the question, what next?