Parkour: jumping into the unknown

Posted: April 9, 2014 by kirisyko in Balance, Free Running, Parkour
Tags: ,

Killian Gallagher-Mundy tries parkour, an urban sport that trains the body and mind

Young men practising parkour at Canary Wharf, London

Up, up and away: budding superheroes show off their parkour moves  Photo: Andy Day

It’s eight o’clock in the evening and I feel like I have just confirmed my place in the animal kingdom. I am surrounded by creatures crouched, 10ft up, as if in the trees, and more perched even higher, ready to leap into action.

This is not the jungle, but a converted shipment yard in east London – the first purpose-built parkour centre in the UK. I have been invited to have a go at this dynamic, non-competitive “urban sport”, also called ‘free running’ which is the art of training your body to move freely across any terrain.

You may recall the opening scene of Casino Royale, the James Bond film, where a man is being chased across a building site, running up cranes that are 50ft off the ground, using walls as a springboard. This is my only reference point, too, so I have tried to prepare mentally for what is ahead.

When I arrive at the session, led by Parkour Generations, the yard smells of adrenalin and rubber. I see 10ft-high concrete blocks and a child back-flipping, as if he had just rolled out of circus training. I gulp at the prospect.

“Anyone can do it – I’ve trained a 69-year-old and a four-year-old,” says Parkour Generations’ Alex Pownall, who has been teaching for five years. Parkour improves flexibility, stamina and agility while harnessing the natural “spatial awareness, endurance and power of the human body,” he tells me.

Standing around me, there are children as young as five launching themselves about; a father is flexing his legs in preparation.

A hundred people attended the new London centre in its first week – and I can see why. Seeing the glee in people’s eyes as they combat a 10ft jump (after swinging round a pole which resembles a climbing frame) I understand that it’s all about pushing the boundaries, but enjoying yourself too. Although a sobering moment presents itself, when I watch a boy of eight balance on a pole because, well… he can. His father, Matt Clarke, is pleased that his sons Coleman, eight, and Jack, 10, discovered the sport. “If he was as good at maths as he was at parkour, I’d be overjoyed,” he jokes. Jack is about to front flip his way into glory, when his father points him out: “This is what humans should be doing, it’s a natural learning process of edge and discomfort.”

However, fitness is incredibly important too. Sessions include intensive exercise drills, because leaping off a concrete block and landing safely on a tyre 5ft away is no easy feat. A 20-minute workout involves squatting, flexing every muscle – and lots of lactic acid.

Chris Rowat, who is in his 10th year of teaching, has seen people on their first session “crying their eyes out in fear” to leaping off great heights in a matter of weeks.

I hold myself on a steel bar, pretending I have bird’s feet to grasp it. I fail, but I’m determined. Next we try a full rotation on the beam. I manage a 170-degree revolution. In a group, we attempt jumping off a giant tyre, concrete block and then completing a swing and turn under a pole. It takes me more than four attempts, but I feel on top of the world at my achievement. I may need to give my superhero name some serious thought.

Leap in: Parkour exercises

Leg precision jumps: standing jumps from a stationary position, to help you attain control and balance.

Step-vaults: place both hands on the obstacle, then the outside foot, release the inside arm, while the outside foot pushes off.

Arm jumps: Jumping on to a surface using only your hands to cling on.

*For classes:

see more:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s