Once you find out what parkour is, it’s easy to understand immediately why there are so many parkour fails. Parkour is a street sport that requires power, agility and balance since it involves performing acrobatic moves and tricks around obstacles and barriers while navigating an open environment. Parkour was developed from military obstacle course training with the goal to get from Point A to Point B in the most efficient way possible using only your body and momentum for propulsion. The only equipment needed are a good pair of althetic shoes. Parkour moves are reminiscent of Spiderman moves. They include running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, rolling and swinging as you move along a course that may or may not have obstacles. Parkour is practiced usually in an urban environment and can be done alone or with a team of others. The sport first became popular in the late 1990s and through commercials, films and documentaries, it’s popularity steadily grew and now, it’s practiced internationally. Parkour is not just a physical sport; it also encompasses the philosophy of respecting your environment. There are official parkour competitions, events and teams around the world. Parkour practitioners meditate about the most efficient way to move from one place to another. They first outline the route mentally, then physically practice the specific moves before they "trace" the route so people who practice parkour are called traceurs or traceuse for women. These come from the French verb “tracer” meaning to trace a path. Both male and females practice parkour which means everybody at some point, fails at it.
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WHO INVENTED PARKOUR?
Since parkour is based on military training, it’s been around for a long time. However, in terms of who popularized it, parkour as we know it today was started in France by David Belle who got the idea based on the training that both his father, Raymond Belle and his grandfather received as fire fighters. Raymond called this type of training that required repetitive moves, “parcours” and impressed upon David that parcours was not a game but enabled the practitioner to learn survival and life saving skills. David started training in parcour and developed the practice adding gymnastics, military training and martial arts techniques from his own background. Along with fellow countryman, Sébastien Foucan who specializes in freerunning (the ability to express one’s body without limitation of movement in a given environment), David evolved the sport into what it is today. David describes parkour as play with a purpose, using movements that are also useful skills. He popularized parkour internationally when he performed parkour stunts in a couple of Luc Besson films and changed the spelling from “parcour” to “parkour” when it was suggested to him by a fellow actor that the new spelling was more dynamic and stronger.
David Belle in the Luc Besson Film, B13-U
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PARKOUR FAILS?
More than just a game, parkour involves precise physical skills and practicing those skills over and over. Inevitably, there are going to fails and sometimes, there will be epic fails since parkour is not exactly easy to execute. You have to be in good shape, flexible, strong and smart enough to know your limitations. Sometimes, traceurs can build a false sense of confidence after mastering simple tricks and move on to more dangerous moves that they haven’t properly learned. A person may be physically capable but they’re not always wise enough to recognize that a certain move is beyond their skills. Of course, there’s also the valid argument that you’ll never improve unless you try, so the bottom line is to be aware of what your capabilities are and to be as safe as possible when practicing new moves.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON INJURIES FROM PARKOUR FAILS?
Bruises: Hands and feet are easily bruised because they are impact force injuries which means that one’s body is taking too much of an impact during a move. Many bruises occur on big landings and dive rolls. Experts advise tracers to make sure force is evenly distributed throughout the body when landing and to practice barefoot training and conditioning.
Knee Capitations and Sprains.
These injuries generally happen when you slam your knee on an obstacle during vaulting moves and improper landings. They are very painful since the person is running at full speed and the risks of these injuries increase 10 times when tracers incorporate twisting movements and flips off of obstacles.
The shin is extremely sensitive and has a sharp bone so these injuries are extremely painful. Shin injuries occur while slipping up on precision moves or falling while walking on a rail.
These are the most common parkour injuries especially for new practitioners. Ankle sprains happen frequently during wall runs and landings or whenever too much pressure or strain is put on the ankle joint. Any move with extra twisting and flipping always increases the chances of ankle sprains.
Since flipping and jumping is a major component in parkour, there is risk of landing on your head instead of your feet resulting in major head trauma that could lead to brain damage, coma or worse; death. There have been several incidents worldwide of parkour practitioners suffering serious head injuries. Some have even died.
HOW DOES ONE PREVENT PARKOUR INJURIES?
The main causes for parkour injuries are bad form, imbalances in the body, poor flexibility, lack of strength and poor conditioning. It’s important to learn parkour from professionals and to execute proper training techniques. Experts suggest several ways to cut down on injuries. One is to learn proper landing techniques so that when you land from a move, your joints are aligned and you are absorbing the impact evenly throughout your body. Another way is to properly warm up before training and then stretching properly after training. Equally as important is giving your body rest days in between training sessions so it has time to rebuild. Being in top physical conditioning is key to staying injury-free as well as improving your balance which improves one’s body awareness and strengthens the joints.
HAS ANYBODY EVER DIED FROM A PARKOUR FAIL?
Unfortunately yes. In Novemeber 2009 in Sacramento, California, a high school student, Kenneth Ta plunged to his death from an eight-story parking structure. An athlete, Ta was a member of his high school’s cross country and academic decathlon teams. His friends and father told the police that he was into parkour and that the fall was probably due to a parkour stunt. In June 2012, in St Petersburg, Russia, a 24-year-old woman fell 17 stories to her death after watching four men perform their parkour skills as they jumped from roof to roof. The men encouraged the woman who was watching along with her older sister to try it. The sister refused but the woman jumped and missed landing on the opposite building. The men ran away after the woman fell. In July 2013, Russian freerunner Pavel Kashin known for death-defying feats and superb agility, plummeted to his death when he attempted to backflip on the edge of a 16 story building in St. Petersburg. He lost his balance after landing and fell. Kashin’s last jump was captured in pictures photographed by his friends.
Then on October 3 2014, 25 year-old American stuntman Carlos Lopez whose credits include the Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fell to his death in Lisbon, Portugal. He was trying to leap from his hostel’s fifth floor window onto the balcony of an opposite building while his girlfriend watched. As you can see, the most parkour fatalities are a result of falls from tall buildings and they happen even to professionals proving that parkour can be dangerous.
HOW DO TRACEURS DEAL WITH PARKOUR FAILS?
Mark Toorock, one of the preeminent American traceurs says parkour only seems spontaneous but that’s because traceurs vigorously train to make the moves look easy. Traceurs practice, prepare and repeat their movements endlessly and their training is as important as the execution of a move. Toorock thinks that parkour fails are important to mastering the sport. He said, “The human body thrives on challenge. Adversity is the only way that a human body actually grows and survives.” However, practitioners at all levels need to emphasize safety above everything else and discourage fellow tracers from trying anything that is clearly beyond their skill level and confidence. Daniel Ilabaca,the co-founder of the World Parkour and Freerunning Federation said, "Thinking you’re going to fail at something gives you a higher risk of doing just that.” Experts also suggest practitioners create a culture of responsibility by recognizing well-executed movements that are safely done and refusing to congratulate risky stunts.
WHERE CAN I LEARN PARKOUR?
Check in your local area if there is a gym that offers parkour lessons, parkour workouts or search for a parkour club. There are various parkour training centers like AmericanParkour.com, located in large cities where you can learn parkour moves from experts. Parkour online communities are also popular since parkour philosophy encourages practitioners to support one another. Sometimes parkour clubs are located at universities made up of members of the school’s gymnastics and track team. There are various parkour teaching videos available on the web or for sale online, however it’s best to learn parkour in person from people who are experienced. They can also provide tips and advice specific to your skills and most importantly, teach you safety. Since parkour is practiced worldwide, there are online sites dedicated to the international parkour community. These sites list places on where to learn parkour as well as offer a plethora of information about the sport.
by Vicky Choy