Beginners Guide to Parkour
I’m eager to find out more - and there’s no better way to start than at the, where the doors opened for the first time last week in London’s Docklands. The -owned Academy is Europe’s first ever dedicated parkour centre and co-founded by Forrest.
Originally from France, and at six foot two, with an athletic build many men might envy, 40-year old Forrest has the appearance of a sprinter or a football player. He's been both of these things, as well as a national level swimmer and 400m hurdler. He's also a martial arts expert, and has worked as a professional dancer. And he doesn’t look a day over 30.
Having run the UK’s first ever indoor parkour class back in 2005, Forrest is known in the industry is one of the very best in terms of fitness and athleticism. Knowing I’m in the extremely capable hands of such a skilled athlete, I’m ready to take a deep breath and test out this challenging new discipline.
The large warehouse-style building that houses the recently opened Academy is full of metal scaffolding, freestanding concrete walls, wooden boxes tractor tyres and ropes - the surfaces most often found when doing parkour. For Forrest and the hundreds of parkour athletes in London, it’s a playground where you can not only learn, but also train and teach in a purpose-built environment.
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So, facing this amazing array of possibilities, where does a novice parkour athlete begin?
Modestly, with a two-minute warm up - and a brief caution from Forrest. He points out the need to be healthy and train sensibly, so that our bodies are capable of taking the shock and impact as we jump and land.
Diet, too, is important. “None of us, ” says Forrest, “drink, smoke, or take drugs. We try to eat normally, but we don’t eat fast food.” And he adds, “It’s not a good idea to do parkour if you’re emotionally tired or distracted.”
Moving from the warm-up into the moves is a gradual process with each obstacle carefully demonstrated. The build-up to an elementary parkour routine is taken in careful stages, so your mind and your body become well co-ordinated and work in harmony.
On my first leap from a two-foot wall, I land with a thump. Forrest is encouraging but says, ”Now try to land without making a noise, ” and shows me again, landing with silent, ninja-like dexterity. He insists you do all the manoevres three times before moving on to another obstacle.
“By repeating each of these movements, you become functionally stronger, ” he points out. “You must remain focused if you’re going to make better connections between your brain and muscles, and understand how to deal with your surroundings.”
With a little more practice I soon found myself becoming less heavy footed, and much to my delight, more nimble - a feeling I’d not experienced since I was a kid. “Actually, it’s something all of us have always done, " Forrest says, as he demonstrates the next move. “People grow up and forget how to use these skills. By doing parkour, you’ll naturally develop your confidence and strength.”
Having practiced each of the obstacles independently, it was now time to put them all together with a small route Forrest had created for me. When I’d been practicing each manoevre, I had the natural tendency to stop before moving on to the next, although each time I went round, I was feeling stronger and more confident. As I slowly moved from one obstacle to another, I soon realised the only thing that might stop me from becoming a parkour athlete was the fear in my own mind; a little voice saying, ”This is difficult.”
The route began with clinging onto and then climbing up the edge of a six-foot concrete wall, doing what can only be described as a one-legged squat before then leaping over a gap. Two more steps and I reach the hardest part - toa nine-foot wall and cling onto the other side before traversing onto a lower wall. To finish the route, I did a quick take off and vault of a box.
The object of parkour is not to complete a route quickly, but to do it with grace and fluidity. I tried desperately to remember Forrest’s instructions and managed to complete the course with no pauses, and was greeted with cheering words from my coach.
By the end of our session, I was a convert. By the last time I turn-vaulted that nine-foot concrete wall, I experienced a very satisfying sense of achievement. A whole new confidence, you might say.
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Now try it for yourself
is the UK’s first and only dedicated parkour/freerunning centre. Based at Trinity Buoy Wharf, in East London, it’s open seven days a week.
Daily drop-in fee is £8. (parkour's largest profressional organisation) annual membership is £35 and gives you 10% of drop-in fees. If you want to take it more seriously, classes in packs of 5 or 10 range from £45 to £85.