Getting a Grip – Shane Griffin

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At the beginning parkour was just a hobby for Shane: he never dreamt it would turn into a career for him. But with several blockbusters under his belt and countless appearances on Ninja Warrior, Shane is fast becoming the most sought-after parkour coach in Hollywood. We spoke to Shane to hear more about his story, “Getting a Grip”, to hear what life as a parkour athlete is really like.

It’s interesting to try and think about when I started doing parkour – it’s something I’ve always done so it’s hard to put an age on it! But I guess the terms ‘parkour’ and ‘freerunning’ were forged in about 2002, so I probably formally started the sports around then.

I was born before the internet had been invented, so the outside was the place to be. I remember going on adventures with my Grandma (Nanny’s adventures, we used to call them) and playing games after school with my cousins. The outside was always an escape for me, a place of freedom and I always enjoyed getting out. Even after so many years, it still acts as that for me. I think what attracted me to freerunning as a kid was the movement: there’s something primal and natural about it. I remember watching the Matrix and that starting scene with the wall running and all the slow mo – it just amazed me. And Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee just made me want to get up and move.

Although I’ve always loved freerunning and parkour, it wasn’t really until a couple of years ago that I started to take it really seriously. It was almost like a switch went off: a combination of getting older and wanting to see how good I could get. I think it suddenly hit me that I would hate to be in a position in the future where I was wondering how good I could have been if I’d trained properly, the way I know I can. So it was then that I started to get into TV and film. I was participating in a parkour competition before a chance encounter gave me the opportunity to audition for Marvel Studios. I had to do a 30-second showcase of my skills and read some dialogue to a camera. A month later I had a call from Marvel offering me the role of parkour consultant, helping train the actors and incorporating parkour elements into the film. It was more than I could ever have believed. A couple of months later and I was on set with Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams and Tilda Swinton. It’s certainly something I will never forget.

After that, I was offered the chance to become a course tester for Ninja Warrior UK. It’s a strange feeling being on set – I’d only ever performed in front of cameras my friends were holding before. This was much bigger. But I tried to embrace it – the 1000 strong crowd screaming before I went out on stage – almost like a gladiator – made me feel more alive than nervous. I really come to life for those moments.

Being given the opportunity to get involved in movies and TV has also kept the sport a bit fresher for me, as I have that variety. Climbing on buildings is where I started but it is very different to being on set. When you’re climbing a building or a wall or an obstacle like that, you have to have the absolute belief you’re going to make it. You can’t think you are going to grab that ledge, you have to know that you will. That comes with a lot of physical prep and a strong mindset. And that’s the thing that I sometimes find the hardest about the sport. Having to repeat climbs can be difficult for me as I put a lot of energy into them once I know all the pieces are in place: the route, my physicality and my mindset. So having to repeat them due to a missed camera shot or something like that can be difficult – to the point where I don’t want to do it again, especially if I’ve done the climb exactly how I wanted the first time. If my heart isn’t in it it’s tough, and I don’t really want to do things solely for the camera.

That’s one thing I’m particularly passionate about. My heart needs to be in a climb otherwise I think it gets to the point where it’s a bit too risky to be worth it. I have certain prep I do for most climbs to check that it’s all secure enough to hold me as I climb. There as one climb I remember when I’d done all the checks and it was go time. I could have got to the top but the ledge I got to was different to what I was expecting and been preparing for. So I decided to climb down and reassess the climb. I had a moment to reassess, then got going again and finished the climb. I do train to be reactive during my climbs but through that I learned to check everything really properly.

I think for me, parkour just gives me a sense of freedom. That’s why I still do it after all this time. I’m living the dream and fully aware of it – getting paid to do something I quite honestly would do for free! I’m excited to see what the future holds for me and for parkour – I’d love to do some more motion capture jobs. I would be interested in putting more of my movements in video games. I did have the guy who did the animations for the first Assassins Creed games tell me he would have loved to put my moves in the game back then – such a compliment!

There are many paths in life and I am glad to be on the one I’m on. I’m going to continue to be the best I can be and make the most of the opportunities I’m being given at the moment. And hopefully as I continue to coach freerunning I can pass on my experience to the next generation of athletes!

To read more about Shane’s experiences as professional parkour athlete, click here.