The sport of Parkour: Connecting with the city through physicality

Once regarded as a sort of urban curiosity, Parkour has been running, rolling and vaulting its way towards mainstream acceptance for a while now. The basic, textbook definition of Parkour is getting from A to B in the most efficient way possible, and achieving a flow with the objects and structures you encounter along the way. There are several different variations that fall under this umbrella term, like Freerunning which can be more expressive and flamboyant, incorporating aspects of modern dance, gymnastics and break-dance. This is the type typically seen on YouTube. Executing a difficult movement is known as ‘tricking’ and while this falls under the headline of Parkour also, its aims are very different, in that it rewards performing challenging stunt-like ‘tricks’. The easiest way to wrap your head around it is to think of Parkour and Freerunning as close relations, like Boxing is to MMA, while tricking is performing the more show-stopping movements from each of them.

Using the internet and shared-knowledge as resources, and the city as their playground, practitioners or ‘traceurs’ are becoming more skilled and ambitious, and the Irish community is working hard to get it the respect it deserves here. Parkour is on the verge of being recognised as a serious sport in Ireland, following close behind the UK who achieved this status only in recent years. So what’s the draw? Adam Kilbride (22) of Dublin-based collective Displacement Parkour describes himself as an advocate of the ‘old-school’ variety of Parkour, and strangely he discovered it after suffering an injury that left him unable to continue playing traditional sport;

“I first found out about Parkour in Transition Year. I had chipped my ankle bone playing Rugby and thought I should probably get into something less dangerous. My brother did gymnastics so I gave that a go, but I’m not great at following the rules. I didn’t like how restrictive it felt, so I took it outside. Parkour is great for building your strength. There’s a lot of conditioning involved. You’re bullet-proofing your body essentially, so it really helped with my injury.”

Finding a Parkour Community in Dublin

 

Adam soon became immersed in the small but burgeoning Dublin scene, attending workshops and practising at key training spots around the city such as Wood Quay, Busáras and Earlsfort Terrace;

“Eventually I met Brian (Kavanagh aka BCB, founder of Displacement Parkour) at the Kings of Concrete event where he was running a workshop. Brian has been involved in Parkour and Freerunning since its earliest days in Ireland. We started to train together. Eventually what I was doing mutated for me. It became less about gymnastics and developed into a kind of liberating thing. Cities often have that busy, big and grey vibe. I find doing this helps me engage with the city in a more real way. I can really tap into what the city feels because I’m being forced to look at it in a way that I wouldn’t normally. Its my way of preventing it from becoming boring and overbearing.You really have to consider your environment and engage with the space around you.”

You need to embrace the feeling of ‘flow’

 

As well as helping him rebuild his strength, Adam seems to have found his tribe in Parkour, “some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met do it. It’s a really inclusive community and very welcoming of newcomers”. It also seems to have given him a unique and very positive way of looking at things. However, it can still be a struggle for outsiders to understand the appeal of this unusual activity with the most common two questions put to people like Adam being ‘What is it?’ and ‘Why do you do it?’. It’s the idea of flow, one of core principles of Parkour, that he keeps circling back to;

“Flow is something we talk a lot about in Parkour. There’s a tangible feeling when you’re doing this. It’s not quite zen-like but when you’re moving you’re only thinking about what you’re doing and what you have to do next, nothing else. You are the master of your own fate. You could have had the worst week ever but as soon as you’re out on the concrete you get that feeling like you’re in control of everything. There’s an understanding and innate awareness about where your body is in space and time. The world is a playground all of a sudden. You don’t have obstacles anymore, you have challenges. That’s what we call ‘Parkour Vision’.
This idea of Parkour being simply a means of tapping into the natural rhythm of your surroundings, lends itself to something Adam is keen to emphasise, that you don’t necessarily need natural sporting ability to dabble in it;

“For me it’s the ultimate equaliser. We’re all designed with the same tools, we just forget how to use them. We ‘re built to be able to swim, climb, jump etc. our body allows us to do incredible things. It’s like when you can naturally see the most efficient way through a crowd, whether its hopping up on the kerb or weaving around a crowd – you’re tapping in to the natural flow of things. So Parkour is not far off the way we engage with our environment anyway. Its very accessible. You can fit it in around your schedule and all you need is a pair of shoes. Which makes it cheap too!”

Longford is the only place in Ireland with an indoor Parkour training facility

 

When the all important nod of approval from the traditional sporting world comes about in Ireland, what changes does he see taking place?

“The community in Ireland is already growing exponentially, with contingents popping up all over the country. Once its legitimised I’d hope it would draw more attention to Parkour as a whole. That could result in more devoted classes and safer places to train. I know a lot of people who can be a bit uncomfortable coming home from the places we train. It’s an urban environment after all, and we might be training until late.

The first Parkour park in Ireland (The Attic) actually opened in Longford recently which is great, but the big overarching dream is to have an indoor centre to train in. The Irish weather is the number one Parkour killer.
I’d also like to see it incorporated into the physical education system. We need to radically change how kids view physical fitness. Not all of them want to kick a ball into a net. We can engage those kids and give them new skills and something to work towards. Something with a bit more expression and freedom.

He’d love to see more women take up the sport

It would be great to see more girls getting involved too. I know a few female traceurs but its a relatively small contingent and I’m not really sure why that is. In the big competitions around the world men and women compete together, so it’s very equal.

I’m passionate about making Parkour as open and available to everyone, which I’d imagine will be helped when we do get that recognition. It can be a great confidence builder, for people with mental health difficulties for example. It gives them a way to take control back. It can also add great value to the skillsets of the Guards, the fire service and paramedics. Or even little things like teaching the elderly ways to minimise the damage to themselves when they fall.”

 

 

There is plenty of ways to get involved

 

Speaking of falling, does he ever worry about injuring himself again?
“Fear of injury is a big thing for a lot of people, but most of the time that’s actually fear of failure. For me fear is just an acronym. Its false evidence. You see might see traceurs on YouTube up on high rooftops doing front flips and back flips, but you don’t see the hours of preparation that went into that stunt. Like their time on the ground marking it up and counting it out. It’s all about repetition. It’s about letting yourself believe that this is something you can do. That takes the fear out of it – mitigation of risk through practice. There are no stupid risks in parkour. It’s all measured and planned to the finest detail. It also has significantly lower injury rates than most other traditional sports.”

So now that we know what it is, what’s the best way to get involved?
“Go find a class. Training on my own was great but once I started classes it was like night and day. I progressed much quicker around people who knew what they were doing. Just looking at other people can teach you a lot. Its inspiring too, and can be a humbling experience at times. Displacement Parkour runs classes every week. Our indoor classes are adult-based but we also do outdoor classes for all ages at 1pm-3pm or 4pm-5pm on Sundays covering everything from balance to specific moves. Also use YouTube as a resource to find out what other people are doing in the communities around the world. Break it down and figure out how to do the moves yourself, or just make up your own stuff.

One of my favourite moments in my time doing Parkour is this one day that I just decided to climb up on a big box in the middle of O Connell street. Everyone was like, ‘What’s he doing?’. I was eye level with people on the top of double decker buses. It’s those moments that I love. You have the city, it’s yours, to play with. You just have to get out there and take the leap, literally and figuratively.”

 

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