Parkour, also known as “free running”, has literally risen to the top of the extreme sports food chain. It is surprising because it was never really considered a sport until recently, and had never grown beyond small, inner-city groups. Luckily, a lot has changed and free running is now practiced by millions of people from every corner of the Earth…but what exactly is it?
Parkour is the “art of moving efficiently and effectively through an environment using only the human body”. Overcoming obstacles, maneuvering through tricky twists and turns, and getting from one point to the other as quickly as possible is the basis behind free running- but doing it all without getting killed is the real challenge. In urban cities, parkour is becoming very popular for the simple fact that this kind of environment is diverse in what it provides (fences, streets, walls, etc).
Unlike other extreme sports which only require the trust in the equipment, parkour is entirely different. In this sport, YOU are responsible for your well being. There is no safety net, no “special” equipment to keep you safe, and definitely nobody to save you should something go bad. How well you do depends entirely on your preparation.
What I’m trying to say is that free running requires a great deal of skill. First off, you need to be strong physically. Some of the techniques involved require tons of upper body strength. Secondly, you need to have cat-like balance…seriously. Imagine making your away across a metal beam no wider than your foot- only it is sitting about 30-feet above the ground. The slightest misstep and you could seriously hurt yourself.
Lastly, you need to be smart. Not book smart- but street smart. Understanding city layouts and discovering the most efficient way to get from point-A to point-B is definitely a plus. Think about it: if you accidentally gauge the distance of a gap, it could mean the difference between making the jump and falling to your doom.
The great thing about free running is that you don’t need any fancy equipment to get started- just you. Although you don’t need any equipment, there are some things you should consider wearing before going on a run.
- Elbow and Knee Pads: Chances are you’re going to fall. Especially as a beginner, you’ll miss more tricks than you land. In situations like these you want to keep your joints nice and safe!
- Comfortable Shoes: Make sure your shoes fit you nice and snug. The last thing you need is them falling off while getting some big air.
- Protective Gloves: So you don’t scrape up your hands. Also, some of the terrain you free run on might have some rusty metal sticking out. You don’t want to go to the hospital on your first day of training!
Getting a Coach
Hiring a coach is very beneficial for somebody who does have limited knowledge in conditioning and wants to prevent him or herself from getting injured. However, most parkour experts recommend that you should experiment by yourself to get used to the sport- nothing serious…just enough to get your feet wet. Remember, putting all of your trust in a complete stranger means that you are at risk of learning all the wrong things (unless the trainer is a highly recognized authority figure in free running).
Approach the selection process very cautiously. As free running is gaining more and more popularity throughout the world, people are going to want to cash in. Sometimes training services promise one thing but deliver something entirely different. If you are lucky, you can find coaches in your area who are willing to take a group of people and just work with them for free.
Good coaches will teach you all of the fundamentals. They won’t expect you to hit all of the advanced stuff early on in your career. A good coach will take his or her time in teaching you so that you don’t hurt yourself and you approach all of the techniques with the proper frame of mind. Keep in mind that ultimately, what you learn needs to be morphed into your own style- otherwise, you’ll just be a copycat.
Training With Groups
First off, start training with other people. This is the fastest way to better yourself. Why? Because you are watching people who are better than you perform. This automatically allows you to see what you are doing wrong and fix it. Don’t get discouraged, some free runners have been doing this a long, long time.
Secondly, try to bounce ideas off of one another. This is where collaboration comes into play. You may know something the others might might not be aware of and vice-versa. Always be open to receiving feedback and new ideas and don’t be hesitant to share any new techniques you may know- nobody likes a greedy parkour buddy.
Lastly, try to keep your practice groups small (between 3 and 5 people). More than that and there are simply too many people wanting to do their own thing. I’d rather have a few trusted parkour buddies who are dedicated and take the sport seriously than many who simply think it’s a game and distract others during practice sessions. Sometimes this may be out of your control but always try to keep the number of people down to a minimum.
Some More Things to Consider
Practice going from Point-A to Point-B as quickly as possible. Don’t force anything. If you feel hesitant in any way then you are forgetting what parkour is all about…FREE FLOWING. It is an art-form, not a science. Place two experts side by side and they’ll both see something entirely different. The same holds true for you. Always choose your own route and develop your own style.
Also, get involved and give back. Once you become an expert free runner (assuming that’s your goal), you have no right to keep that information all to yourself. You were in a situation once where you wanted to learn. Now you have the power to help others in the same situation.
Creative Commons photo by Jon Wade