Mention parkour to most people and they’ll have ideas of leaping from building to building, running along rooftops and general daredevil feats of fitness. These ideas stem from the marketing of the sport, which have included Jump London, a Discovery Channel documentary on the more extreme side of the sport and viral YouTube videos of young male and female practitioners of parkour – called traceurs and traceuses, respectively – flipping across skyscrapers, running up cranes with startling fluidity and grace.
Although the marketing has succeeded in spreading the word of parkour, it’s also led to a fair few misconceptions about the sport, says Chris Sotiriou, director at Parkour Generations, Asia.
“Doing lots of crazy things creates a buzz but parkour is much more than jumping buildings,’’ he says. ‘‘The training has a strong benefit for the whole body and mind. It’s a very complete workout using no equipment – just the environment around.”
His assurance that I won’t be jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper doesn’t stop me from being petrified when I go along to try out the discipline for myself.
Using the layout of Benjakiti Park for our obstacles, our instructor Johan leads us through a warm-up of stretching and planks and then some variations on crawling along the concrete. After 10 minutes, I’m soaked through with sweat and my quads burn with the effort.
“Well, that was the warm-up. Now on to something a little harder,” Johan says.
While parkour may be nothing new in Europe, it’s still finding its way here in Thailand. Two years ago, the non-competitive sport was little-known in Asia until Stephane Vigroux, who learnt his craft from original parkour founder, David Belle, introduced it 14 months ago. One of Parkour Generation Asia’s directors, he’s watched the sport develop an impressive following and attention from both the fitness and entertainment industries.
Parkour Generations Asia’s team of six full-time members offer accredited classes of both indoor and outdoor parkour, catering to all levels as well as ‘youth academy’ classes for 10-19 year olds.
The team has even begun teaching in local schools, proving parkour’s status as a safe and effective exercise for all. The four 90-minute weekly classes held in Bangkok are just the start of parkour’s part in Bangkok’s rapidly expanding fitness scene.
The timing couldn’t be better. Bangkok’s fitness scene is undergoing a revolution. Big, chain facilities are falling out of favour and smaller independent gyms and classes are filling the void by following the functional fitness trend. People don’t want to trudge along on treadmills when they could get the same lean bodies from climbing, jumping and generally having fun with their workouts.
Parkour’s obstacle-based workout makes use of the surrounding environment. Classes focus on developing running, jumping and balancing skills and Johan helps us hone these by getting us to jump, without a run up, over our partners, who are planking on the concrete, vault over medium-height brick walls, balance along high marble walls, leap from concrete bollard to concrete bollard and hang like a monkey from metal piping. Or, at least, try.
What sounds like a great sport for showing off actually has a very gentle ethos behind it: to work in harmony with the environment. In its most simple terms, it is a way to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.
With adequate training, this should look easy. However, during my class, I huff and puff and have no grace at all. We work on our fluidity with a silent walk through the park, which is an awful lot harder than it sounds. As we creep over walls, one behind the other, I can’t help but wonder what we must look like to passersby.
But there’s no denying the workouts are effective; just look at the physiques of those who’ve reached the top level of this sport. The levels of physical fitness needed to really make an impact may be intimidating but as well as being an extreme sport for adrenaline junkies with a level of fitness most of us can only dream about, Sotiriou insists it’s a sport for the rest of us as well.
“It’s a sport,” he says. “Everyone starts somewhere, and the fundamentals of jumping, running and climbing are a place everyone can start.”
Despite his assertions anyone can do it, I find it very challenging indeed, despite being fairly fit. After class, Johan explains to me that the secret is to really commit to doing your best rather than saying: ‘I can never make that jump’.
Although parkour is certainly gaining a more accessible reputation, Sotiriou is keen to point out that while anyone can attend classes, it will challenge your limits, so don’t expect an easy ride.
“You’ll get stronger and you’ll face challenges, but you’ll do it in a safe environment,” he says. “Nobody has ever been injured in any of our classes.”
But, as well as the obvious physical benefits to a workout that incorporates both power and strength training, traceurs are keen to point out the mental benefits. Learning your body’s limits and redefining your idea of what is and is not possible are often cited by traceurs as some of the mental shifts that occur with regular practice.
“Learning to run, climb and jump and improving on these basic skills helps to build confidence in your physical and mental abilities. It makes you feel as though more is achievable,” Sotiriou says.
I’m not sure I left the session feeling more empowered but perhaps that’s because I chickened out of, well, most of the jumps.
By Gaby Doman
Parkour Generation Asia
10/95-97 Sukhumvit Soi 13 | 086-041-3321 pkgasia.com | Classes Mon 7.30pm-9pm, Tues & Thurs, 7pm-9pm