Standing on a narrow ledge high above the River Thames, one can’t help but begin to re-evaluate your entire existence. Most people begin this process after a near-death experience, but I was doing it because I was about to have one.
Passers-by were staring at me and the rest of the ‘traceurs’ (the fancy name given to us practitioners of Parkour) as if we were all mad.
“Come on, keep going, you’re almost there,” cheered Shirley, my Parkour instructor. I gave her a look of contempt. For one, she was lying through her teeth because the word ‘there’ implied I was moving, yet the opposite was happening.
I was frozen, my legs were shaking and she wanted me to walk across Vauxhall Bridge with a smile on my face. Let us bear in mind that this is a bridge built with a ledge on which you can only stand on with one leg and if you were to blink by mistake, chances are you’re welcoming death or some form of disability.
At this point it felt wise to ask myself as to why I chose this sport in the first place.
“I used to lack confidence, but once I master a certain move, it makes me feel like I can conquer anything. Parkour is a way of life not just a sport.”
Parkour is a military practice that has been transferred to urban surroundings. It is about getting from one place to another using only the body and is not restricted to towns and cities. In this age of technology and machines, most people have adapted to using the gym and exercise machines. Parkour allows us to interact with our environment.
Its founder is widely recognised to be Raymond Belle, who after being separated from his parents during the Indo-China War, ended up in a military orphanage where he trained his body day and night in order to survive the harsh regime.
Belle returned to France in 1954 and continued to develop Parkour. His son David, born in 1973, introduced it to his teenage friends and eventually became the guardian of the brand.
Using techniques like ‘wall spins,’ ‘vaults,’ ‘flips,’ and ‘jumps’, traceurs are able to overcome physical obstacles such as walls, fences, buildings and bridges. The thought of cart-wheeling or jumping off high buildings seems foolish and dangerous but the sport’s devotees are quick to defend it.
Ian Shore, 24, who has only recently took up the discipline, said: ‘No-one is encouraging people to jump off bridges. The techniques are taught by highly professional coaches but the individual must understand their capabilities and stop when it’s appropriate.’
For me this all started three months ago when a friend sent me a few YouTube videos that showed men and women doing wall spins and somersaults in strange and dangerous places.
Some further research showed that Parkour is becoming increasingly popular in Britain, and I felt I needed to witness it in person. So I tagged along with my friend, still thinking she was crazy.
The first thing I was told to do was run towards a wall and jump over it without using my hands. My eyes became dilated and I could feel my face flushing, but I didn’t want to seem like the weakling of the group.
“It encourages one to overcome hurdles, not only physically but also emotionally.”
So I closed my eyes, said a prayer and dashed towards the wall. Funnily enough I succeeded and it felt like an exhilarating experience. After that day, I was hooked.
However the problem when beginning this form of physical activity is trying to figure out what your limitations are, and Parkour makes one stretch beyond boundaries that are set in our minds.
It teaches us that we are stronger than we think we are. Every step of the way there is a constant battle between the head and the heart because of the uncertainty and risks involved, which is something we all face in other aspects of our lives.
Ashleigh Knight, an 18-year-old student at Kings College London, has been involved in Parkour for two years. She said: ‘It encourages one to overcome hurdles, not only physically but also emotionally. I used to lack confidence, but once I master a certain move, it makes me feel like I can conquer anything. Parkour is a way of life not just a sport.”
There is a rather poetic notion to this physical phenomenon because of the way traceurs look at their surroundings. Non practitioners will see a lamp post as a simple man-made object, but a practitioner of Parkour will look at it in different way. Either it will be used as a stepping stone to overcome an obstacle or it will be seen as an obstacle that must be tackled.
Parkour has come a long way since its inception, from a few French teenagers running wild in the streets to thousands of people being professionally trained worldwide.
After 10 minutes of mentally preparing myself, I opened my eyes, took three deep breaths and walked across the bridge. When I reached the end, I turned around and looked at what I had accomplished – I realised, anything is possible. One thing is certain; with Parkour you will definitely give you a new spin on life.