We meet at the entrance to a tube station and run to a local block of council flats. As a beginner taking a one on one parkour (free running) lesson from a pro, we start with basic but thorough stretches and monkey walking around the block.
We start with a few vaults – the theory is simple, but like most beginners I have a natural preference to which foot I want to launch from. Like many sports, when I’m doing it wrong, it just doesn’t click, doesn’t feel right. But when I master a particular vault that starts with a run, vault over a barrier and then back into a run, it just feels… right. No forward momentum wasted, my torso remains forward-facing throughout the execution of the run and the vault.
Next, we move on to walls. “Run fast at the wall”, he tells me. Now if I’ve learnt one thing and one thing only, it’s not to run at a brick wall. But the objective is to run fast and kick off the wall, using the momentum to propel your body upwards, then using your arms to support your weight once half your torso has cleared the top of the wall. The pro tells me that parkour is half physical, half mental, and as I’m soaked in sweat and absorbed in concentration, staring at the wall, I know what he means. Again, once executed well, getting up to the top of the wall is easy.
Next, rail work. Walking up along rails and beams without falling over. It feels a bit basic, but it’s an important skill. Rounded rails are noticeably harder to negotiate than flat ones. The final part of the lesson is “precisions”. A precision is when you run, leap off one foot and then land at the exact desired spot with both feet, without tumbling forward. The trick to landing without stumbling is to throw both your feet forward whilst in the air, so they land first, and the rest of your body follows. After some practicing on the ground, I’m able to take off from the bottom and land gracefully at the top of a flight of stairs – very Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon!
By the end of the hour I’m tired, sweaty, dirty, bruised and happy. It was a lot more involved than I had imagined. It would be great to live somewhere close to a parkour community that meets regularly, but I’m quite happy to take some of the skills I’ve picked up back to my trail running group and use it to vault fences and leap gracefully over obstacles. I’ll be back for more the next time I’m in London…
Keep trying new things!
Footnote: Before I published this post I went for my second lesson. A lot of jumping onto walls and from the top of one wall to another over alleyways. Turns out, misplacing your feet on the landing, feet sliding forward and body backwards headfirst off the wall is a bad thing! Ouch… At least I now have some war wounds to give me street cred!