It’s Wednesday evening… for most people in the Northern Life office it’s time to go home, put their feet up and celebrate getting through the ‘hump day’ by watching the latest Netflix hit… but not me! I’m heading off to Manchester to vault, jump, climb and balance my way through the city’s landscape under the watchful eye of my local parkour coach, Harry Murden. He’s got me jumping over and onto things I wouldn’t have dreamt of when I tentatively stepped foot into my first class back in January and so, when Karen asked me to write a feature on my new sporting addiction, who better to enlist to help than Harry and fellow classmate Millie
When I mention the fact I do parkour to most people they seem to think I’m jumping off buildings, putting myself in grave danger and causing a nuisance but that couldn’t be further from the truth, so what is it? Harry explains that describing parkour isn’t always easy.
“When you see it online it’s the classic thing of jumping from roof top to roof top.” Harry smiles, “but it’s all about overcoming obstacles – it’s finding a challenge and finding a way to get around that. That manifests itself mostly in movement – a classic scenario is getting from one place to another as quickly as possible but as you progress with it as a practice it becomes something you apply to more than just the movement. There are different opinions on how parkour is defined but it’s simply about overcoming obstacles.”
Parkour was officially recognised as a sport by Sport England in January 2017 – the first new sport to be added in over twenty years. However, it may surprise some to find out that parkour’s origins are much more humble! Originating in the suburbs of Paris, parkour was started by a group of friends headed up by David Bell, who simply wanted something to do. Bell’s family had fled Vietnam during the war and found themselves in a deprived area of Paris.
“There was a lot of crime and they didn’t want to get involved in that but needed something to do,” Harry explains. “So they started with simple challenges like ‘I bet I can do more pushups than you’ and it progressed into them challenging each other to do things and the movements came out of that. It was never meant to be the creation of something big.”
From its simple beginnings parkour has certainly exploded and is now practiced all around the world by ‘traceurs’ – but if after reading the history you’re worried because you can’t do a single pushup, worry not! Parkour is for everyone and is the perfect way to build strength, lose weight and gain fitness – no matter what age you are.
“It has a huge following with young people but there are many parkour groups which are specialised for people over the age of 55 which focus on special awareness and building up bone density. Parkour is also used in youth work and for people with disabilities. It has a huge effect on people’s confidence and most of us are far more capable of movements than we initially think and that has a great effect on things outside of parkour too. Parkour is built on a progressive nature… it’s about finding simple things that are challenging for you initially.”
Whilst Youtube has helped parkour to grow it is also responsible for the perception that parkour is all about jumping from building to building and while Harry believes that is accessible to everyone, it’s important to remember the years of training required to get to that level.
The movements can be scary and part of what we do is have a new relationship with fear and realise how important it is
“You can’t deny the thrill factor of seeing someone do a big jump but you have to remember that these people have trained for a very long time and build up progressively to that level. On day one you can’t expect yourself to jump from a small railing to another railing a storey up off the ground, it’s out of the question.”
You’re probably wondering by now what do you do at your first parkour session and while I clearly remember walking into my first session, seeing (what seemed like) a huge vault box and deftly thinking I had made a mistake, I soon realised that that couldn’t be further from the truth and by the end of the session I was happily vaulting over it. But what is Harry’s take on that all important first day?
“I give you a low obstacle below your hip height and we think about how you can overcome that. You will never be expected to do anything that’s going to put you at risk. You don’t have to be fit to start but the hardest part of taking up anything is the first day.”
Parkour is built on community and support and Mille admits that the welcoming atmosphere is one of the things she loves the most.
“Everyone is so friendly and willing to help. They’ve not been phased at all by my clunkiness!” Millie laughs, “But I like it because it’s so different from anything I’ve ever done. With parkour the progress is made by you pushing yourself mentally.”
Harry who came from a dancing background where competition is fierce was also drawn to the welcoming nature of parkour.
“Everyone aids everyone else in their progress – whether that’s helping to point out a new challenge or consoling someone. The movements can be scary and part of what we do is have a new relationship with fear and realise how important it is. We don’t want to be fearless, as that’s when we become reckless, but when you approach something new you’re
going to experience fear. You essentially leave yourself very vulnerable as you’re experiencing something emotional and to be able to do that with a group of people you need trust – and that’s what makes the parkour community so amazing – it’s what builds it. You will always meet open minded and accepting people.
“You try to push your boundaries, experience new things and you have to confront yourself. You come to know your limits and understand what really scares you.” Harry adds, “If you can do a jump that scares you then walking into a meeting suddenly becomes less scary!”
While parkour does inevitably help with overcoming mental obstacles, the sport is rooted in overcoming physical obstacles, traditionally those outdoors which makes it a great sport for exploring your local environment. Since starting parkour, I’ve started taking much more notice of the world around me and Millie admits that she feels the same way.
“You’ll look around at everything thinking I could jump from that to that. Life doesn’t have to be linear. It can be fun and playful – why shouldn’t it be?”
While Harry is all about exploring, Millie has other ideas about how parkour could change people’s lives.
“Imagine if people did parkour on their commute! That would be so cool!”
Well I could certainly get behind that! It’s clear parkour is an upcoming sport and a great way to explore your local area and get fit. If we’ve managed to persuade you to give it a go, Harry suggests going to Parkour UK and searching for a class local to you. Of if you’re in or near Manchester, search for pkgenmanchester on Instagram and Facebook or visit parkourgenerations/Manchester.
Still need persuading? I asked Millie why she thinks everyone should give parkour a go.
“I was the kid who didn’t want to do PE at school as I was always rubbish at everything, but parkour has never been like that for me. Everyone is lovely and if it’s not the fear holding you back…. what is?” “It’s grown fast for a reason and if you want to know why, come and give it a go!” Harry adds. Well I can’t argue with that!