Also known as urban running - an innovative lesson in the art of movement. Check out our exclusive interview with two of SA’s most pro active supporters of the sport.
Quintessentially Parkour (pär’kôr) has been around since the dawn of time, fluidly moving through a terrain of obstacles has for thousands of years been a point of survival for the animal known as man. Whether it’s moving over and around boulders on a mountainside, or navigating a particularly intricate Jungle-Jim, the basic philosophy is the same; precision and unwavering confidence.
Parkour is best described as the movement of one’s body through, over and under a variety of obstacles and objects by an athlete within their urban environment. The emphasis is focused around performing the ’run’ as fluidly and interestingly as is possible. There have been countless television adverts which have featured runs over roof tops and through parks. There are tons of pics and documentaries out there if you’re still not sure what I mean.
Many prescribe the actual beginning or creation of Parkour to a group of young teenagers in 1980’s Paris, the two most famous of which -and media labeled fore-fathers of Parkour- are Sebastien Foucan and David Belle. Strangely though neither adopts the title willingly, in an interview with http://www.urbanfreeflow.com/articles/seb_interview.htm Sebastien stated,
" In reality, parkour was never invented by anyone."
The earlier forms of Parkour can be traced back to the turn of the 20 th century to a gentleman by the name of George Herbert who developed a method of training one’s body to move naturally and fluidly through an environment of objects. Many claim that the Jungle-Jim we see in children’s parks today can be attributed to Herbert’s method.
The media has played an integral role in the spread of world wide interest in the sport, the gift is however double edged. The media glamorisation of the sport has portrayed it as an extreme sport rather than being more akin to a martial art or discipline. Consequently there has been difficulty ensuring institutions surrounding Parkour’s publicity are focused on the advancement of the discipline rather than the commercial success of the sport.
"In my heart I would like to not prostitute the art, you know, I would like to, I would prefer to be somebody looking for us to develop our discipline." Sebastien Foucan http://www.urbanfreeflow.com/articles/seb_interview.htm
The sport has been doing particularly well in SA and more importantly in and around Cape Town . After much ado on our side we finally managed to secure an awesome Q&A session with two of SA’s influential gentlemen in growing the discipline on home grown turf. Enter Neil Craig and Dane Grant; please support not only parkour as a growing sport but the rising society around the sport by checking out SA’s leading urban running site www.highlanders.co.za
After much speculation on how to incorporate the interview, I realised it was pointless trying to say it better than they already had.
There has been a worldwide interest boost in Parkour, arguably beginning with jump London , when would you say Parkour really took off in South Africa ?
Parkour in South Africa started when Dane Grant returned to South Africa in 2003 after spending a year in the UK , where amongst other things; he saw the Jump London documentary. He brought back all the expertise and knowledge gained from practicing the sport alongside British traceurs and even got to train with Sebastien Foucan (star of the Jump London and Jump Britain programs).
From there, regular events (Jams) were held in Pretoria and Johannesburg and anyone interested could just turn up and learn the skills.
It took a while to get the momentum going as no-one in South Africa knew anything about Parkour. It was really only when the bigger media pieces came around like the Men’s Health article, the ETV piece and the various newspaper interviews that more and more people started recognising what we were doing. Then of course the Jump London program aired, albeit the French version, on Discovery Channel and the website traffic started to increase.
The media all around the world seems to perpetuate this idea of Parkour as an extreme sport with massive roof jumps etc. (movies and commercials alike) how dangerous has this been for a discipline with a philosophy based on precision and focus of technique rather than showmanship?
Media is known to glamorise everything, but what they do not glamorise is the behind-the-scenes training. Parkour is a disciplined sport where the individual needs to train in a disciplined manner, developing skills and confidence. Jumping from roof-top to roof-top is extremely dangerous, thus it requires that the traceur to be sufficiently trained and focused. If there is doubt in the mind that one cannot successfully perform a particular movement, then it should not be done.
It’s a double edged sword really. On the one hand without the media Parkour would not be as well known as it is today and then some of the finest traceurs that are currently training would never have "found" Parkour. On the other hand, as you say, there is this "plastic" version of Parkour where everything must be huge massive and death defying all at once. And THAT’s the shot that goes on the covers. This can be VERY dangerous for the development. It brings across the wrong message and people will think Parkour begins and ends with what is seen in the media.
Once you delve deeper into the history of Parkour, you start finding your own personal journey and then it becomes a lifestyle. A way of living.
There are certain figures (Sebastien and David for example) who have reached huge celebrity status within the discipline, how much do you think is related to the media and how much is them being celebrated as athletes?
David Belle, being the founder of Parkour, and Sebastien Foucan, who helped form and openly preached the philosophy, have been the first to define the discipline and its philosophies. There is no doubt that these traceurs are excellent athletes as they have been training the basics of Parkour since they were kids together. Thus the media turned to them most of the time to showcase the sport.
True, the media has been their voice and helped promote the cause, but it’s because of the fact that Parkour is such a strong athletic activity that the two go hand in hand. You cannot make it in the media if you don’t have the skill, and if you don’t have the skill you don’t make it in the media.
Sebastien is often quoted as being concerned about the fact that even if there are organisations for Parkour on paper there aren’t any formalised institutions that are committed to the advancement discipline over and above its commercial success. What is the situation here in South Africa?
It would be a dream to be able to run a formalised institution over here in South Africa , which is dedicated to promote and advance the discipline, and Parkour South Africa (PKSA) started out exactly for that reason. Of course there will always be costs that need to be covered like websites, training gyms etc, but it’s the passion for Parkour and the Will to see the right message passed onto those who are interested which supersedes the commercial gain.
Parkour is relatively new to South Africa and hardly anyone has benefited from Parkour financially, except for the marketing agencies that has used Parkour in adverts. I could also add that no traceur in South Africa has received any payment for practicing the sport.
Women have until recently played a minimal role in the evolution of Parkour, is it different in South Africa , if not are women becoming more involved at all?
Women have been interested in Parkour as long as the guys have, but it has to be said that the media has only portrayed the BIG jumps and the DANGEROUS movements, which do scare away most women who are keen to try. But given half a chance, the girls get right in there and practise along with the guys, and we have seen that with the local scene. Some of the girlfriends will join in and train with their boyfriend just to keep fit and get the adrenalines flowing.
Dane’s mother, wife and younger sister have all tried their hands (and feet) at Parkour and what we have seen is potentially a more elegant style of Parkour forming. Something akin to dancing, which will be very exciting to see develop in the future.
So girls, get your running shoes on and show the guys what it’s all about!!
Competition in the formalised sense of the word isn’t generally supported by Parkour founders; Sebastien is quoted as viewing competition with one’s own capabilities as the only relevant form of competition. Have there been any attempts to host competitions in South Africa?
I have to agree with Sebastien, Parkour is an individualist sport. The only competition can be the one between mind and body. I must also admit that the potential as a competitive sport does exist, but it won’t be exploited soon in the future.
Friendly competition does occur between traceurs on a normal practise day, but it’s not taken to any level other than in friendship, and if someone does manage to obtain a style to jump further, then it is always passed down to everyone else. It’s a community event which condones the attitude free policy of no discrimination of any kind.
PK Parks is a novel idea and there a few international sites, even though it is possible to train almost anywhere, are there any in South Africa ?
No, but we toyed with the idea. Using such a structure somewhat goes against the idea of the sport. The idea is that you make your own way, thus using your surroundings as obstacles. A PK Park limits one’s imagination and will only be useful at expos. However, having said that it is a great place to train people who are still new at the game.
Hopefully this can be something we could get built up and host official training days for all ages. It all costs money .
As a Cape Town site our readership will be interested in getting involved in and around the mother city, is there any support here or is it a case of surfing forums till you find someone to train with in your area?
We have plenty traceurs in Cape Town , but still the best place to hook up with them is in our forums at www.parkour.co.za . That is the concept behind the Parkour SA website, to unite all Traceurs across SA and act as a portal for all the smaller communities out there.
We have a section on the forums which is dedicated to setting up "Jams", where you can meet up with likeminded people in your area, regardless of where you are from, and then practise and share tips on training and fitness.
Any interesting events or jams coming up around Cape Town we should know about?
Currently nothing concrete, but the possibility exists that a Cape Townian will appear in a TV commercial to be made in the not too distant future. Small local jams are almost always being held in and around Cape Town Durbanville and Stellenbosch.
Is it possible to support the growth of the discipline in South Africa besides actually participating?
I’m an example; I run the SA governing body but hardly find the time to actually participate. But there are the budding photographers and cinema photographers that accompany traceurs to jams to capture the various movements they perform. These images then need to be placed onto a website to share with everyone else around the world and a moderator on the forums to discuss them, and this requires a webmaster and website designer, etc. There are many different areas involved in the Parkour community, so it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a huge athlete and prepared to go out on a limb... ;-) . although a large portion of the community does actively participate in their various degrees.
Special thanks to Neil and Dane! As well as Baxter for the images as well as www.highlanders.co.za for being so patient -we do appreciate your support.