By Tim Tayag
Slightly disgruntled UNO contributor risks life and limb to bring you a first-hand account of the parkour experience.
I got the most entertaining workout in decades. And it beats those typical physical fitness programs like body combat, hip-hop abs, and Cindy Kurleto’s Sensual Aerobics. (Whatever happened to her?)
When my editor asked me to try out this thing called “parkour,” I asked 3 questions: “Isn’t that dangerous?,” “Are UNO writers insured?,” and “Does this mean I get a salary increase for hazard pay?” My editor answered with a resounding “NO!” to all my questions, not surprisingly since I still haven’t even received my complimentary copy of this magazine that I write and risk my limb for (better to have a dangling preposition than a dangling appendage). But because of my undying loyalty to my editor and this glossy, I agreed to do it with the condition that I be given time to spend with my family before the ordeal and a bag of morphine for the aftermath.
If you’re not familiar with parkour, watch the opening scene of Casino Royale, wherein James Bond chases this guy (Sebastian Foucan) across shanties, a jungle, buildings, scaffoldings, elevators and other imposing obstacles. Parkour, which originated in France (hence the French sounding name), is the art of moving from point A to point B in the most efficient and quickest way, without the use of cars, skateboards, a credit card, or a Batman utility belt. You just use your God-given body to clear walls, trees, ledges, stairs, rocks, buses, security guards, mothers-in-law, ex-girlfriends who still owe you money, real estate agents handing out flyers and whatever gets in your way.
As serendipity would have it, I happen to know one of the members of Parkour Philippines, which saved me a trip to France (once again, saving UNO from expenses). I set up an appointment with Alvin Teng, one of the more outspoken “traceurs” (the term for parkour practitioners), and he was more than willing to oblige since he owed me for some romantic favors (that’s another story I won’t get into at this time). So I met Alvin and the Chipmunks (I say that endearingly since they have the same leaping abilities and agility of these critters) on an early Saturday morning, at least by my standards. He introduced me to some of the members of Parkour Philippines—Bruno, Macky, Dead Zombie Guy, and the rest.
The first thing I noticed was how much the group emphasized the fundamentals and safety. The second thing I observed was the impressive number of joggers, Thai kickboxers, aerobicisers, and beauty pageant contestants at Quezon City Memorial Circle at such an ungodly hour. The group started out with a quick run followed by some stretching, which already broke me into a sweat and some internal cursing audible only to my supplemental cameraman Mihk, a fellow slightly disgruntled UNO contributor.
The initial parkour drill we executed was the quadrupedal movement, which is like horizontal wall climbing. Basically, you walk with your feet and hands while trying to keep your butt low to the ground so that your center of gravity is lower. This exercise is easier said than done as I felt the soreness of my hamstrings and butt for the next couple of days. This quadrupedal move is useful for balancing your body when you have to cross narrow paths such as ledges, bars, a successful comeback in showbiz, and prison fences.
The other fundamental movement we performed was the precision. Precision is a jump from one object to another precise spot, without falling. It may be executed either from a static position or while moving. We practiced jumping on the push-up bars, which were low enough so nobody would have to break any bones or egos. The trick here is to jump parabolically (like the golden arches and not in the biblical sense) to stop your momentum from pushing you over the edge when you land on the specified spot. This movement is used when one has to jump onto a very small spot, like from a building onto the top of a wall or windowsill.
The traceurs were so disciplined with the drills that they had a self-imposed punishment for every mistake they committed—twenty push-ups—which is still merciful compared to Singaporeans who resort to caning for the smallest infraction, like smuggling Chiclets in your luggage. The emphasis on the foundations is for the safety and the well-being of each individual. The misconception about parkour is that it’s all about glamour and flashiness. People only see the incredible jumps, fancy flips, and superhuman stunts, but what they don’t see are the years of training, practice, hardening of the bones, and crying in the locker room for not making the cut in “France’s Next Top Traceur.”
After teaching me a few of the fundamentals, the group showed me the fun part, the actual application of the movements. We started off at the Big Books, a playground made up of huge books made of cement and torment. As I impressed the group with my “cat leaps” and “muscle ups” on the gigantic concrete books, I felt that same sense of invincibility from when I was 12 and I could run like the wind and climb guava trees without worrying about my ankles and medical insurance. To the innocent onlookers, I probably looked more like a deranged monkey trying to imitate Spider-Man followed by a paparazzi of two.
We moved on to another part of the park, where the group could perform the other moves such as the “kongs” and the “vaults.” They jumped over tables and slid under handrails with the speed of Jet Li and the grace of Jackie Chan. This is when I switched from being a participant to an observer, which was a wise move since my spirit was willing but my 30(plus) year-old body wasn’t quite as able. I let the young ones enjoy their unbounded energy, incredible agility, and solid core muscles, while I kept a lookout for security guards that could foil our fun.
In the end, I managed to minimize my injuries to a banged right knee and overstrained hamstrings and self-esteem, but I still overcame the obstacles, both physical and mental. After the adrenaline and machismo wore off, reality and pain set in.
No, I will never be a David Belle. But it was still worth it because I got the most entertaining workout in decades. And it beats those typical physical fitness programs like body combat, hip-hop abs, and Cindy Kurleto’s Sensual Aerobics. (Whatever happened to her?)
The origin of parkour is largely credited to a French man named David Belle, who has a background in military training, gymnastics, climbing, and martial arts. The word “parkour” is derived from “parcours du combatant”, which is the obstacle course used in military training.
Parkour is different from freerunning. Parkour focuses more on efficiency, avoiding injuries, and traveling in the most direct route possible, while freerunning focuses more on free movement and creativity.
You can contact Parkour Philippines through their hotline at 583-4290. They have free workshops, just don’t call it free running. That’s a different animal altogether.
The author is not liable for any bodily injuries you may sustain during your parkour practice.
Originally published in UNO June 2009 issue
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