Pushing on for parkour, a way of life

By Toh Xun Qiang

When 24-year-old Azhar Khidzer first watched a video of a man jumping over rooftops onto a spiral staircase in 2014, he decided that he would never try parkour in his life.

With its use of high jumps and long-distance leaps, the practice seemed like an extreme sport to the final-year School of Humanities student. He didn’t want to risk getting injured.

But 25-year-old Mr Soumya Brata Das begs to differ. Mr Soumya, who has been parkouring since 2014, sees the activity as a lifestyle instead of a sport like badminton or basketball. He is not alone — the increasing number of parkour practitioners in Singapore typically regard parkour as a lifestyle.

Mr Soumya Brata Das hangs effortlessly from a wall. Though he does not regard
parkour as a sport, Mr Soumya has become physically fitter and stronger ever
since he picked it up.

For Mr Soumya, it didn’t take him long to realise that parkour movements are similar to those he performs in his everyday life.

“Walking, jumping, and everything that I did during training was done everywhere outside of training. Just like how if a ground was wet, I would jump over it,” said Mr Soumya, who graduated from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences this year.

It’s my life

Parkour is an athletic activity that was created in the suburbs of France by David Belle and Sebastien Foucan in the late 1980s.

It translates to “obstacle course” from the French word parcourt. The main objective is for traceurs — parkour practitioners — to adapt to and overcome any obstacle in their environment.

Mr Soumya began parkouring when he attended a jam — a mass training session for traceurs, out of curiosity.

The jam, which still takes place monthly at various locations in Singapore, is organised by local parkour community Parkour Singapore.

Four years into parkour, Mr Soumya has now integrated it into his everyday life.

“The world is like a giant playground to me. I can visualise paths that can be used to make emergency exits in times of need that many people who are not trained in parkour cannot, simply because they will not be confident of clearing the obstacles that they might face,” he said.

Neelabh performs a parkour move, the Kong vault, as he jumps from a low wall to a railing.

Creativity in danger

Spurred by an interest in staying active, second-year Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) student Neelabh Gupta, 22, began parkouring in 2016.

While he recognises that parkour requires a high level of physical fitness like most sports, he regards it as a lifestyle as it has helped him understand how to adapt his own bodily movements to the environment.

He applies his parkour knowledge of breaking falls when he plays frisbee, to help him reduce the injuries that he may sustain.

“If I jump for the frisbee and am about to fall, I know how to break my fall and walk out of that situation without getting injured,” he said.

Neelabh also regards parkour as a form of art.

This is because traceurs can be creative in deciding what method to utilise when they face an obstacle.

“When people see a railing, they normally walk around it, but I can vault over it, do an underbar, balance on it, or jump over it,” he said.

“You can come up with whatever method you want because everyone has their own unique way of moving,” he added.

Parkouring in Singapore

In general, parkour can be practised anywhere in Singapore, as long as one does not trespass or disrupt public order.

According to Mr Soumya, most traceurs train at their own comfort levels, with a range of movements such as jumping or swinging across distances, walking along a balancing beam, as well as basic exercises to maintain their fitness.

Mr Soumya attempts to perform a high jump over a wall. PHOTOS: LEE YI HONG

There are also jams conducted by parkour training academies, which are led by experienced traceurs.

Mr Soumya added that for beginner traceurs, it is best to train with other experienced traceurs, and not alone.

Second-year MSE student Li Jia Yang, 20, started learning parkour with local parkour training academy A2 Movement shortly before entering university.

“There are a lot of things to keep you safe. We learn how to go slowly, from building strength to balancing on railings while standing, and also some rolling techniques to break falls, ” Li said.

Traceurs are also progressively trained to build their mental and physical endurance as they learn new moves.

For example, they start by familiarising themselves with the positioning of their arms and feet when learning a Kong vault, a parkour move to jump over long objects such as large barriers.

After determining the starting position, traceurs then learn the launch-off angle, before finally leaping over an obstacle with an actual Kong vault.

While it is inevitable that traceurs experience injuries such as scratches and abrasions, Li encourages people to try parkour, as everyone gets to train at their own pace.

“Don’t be scared to try. It’s fun and it gets addictive after a while,” she said.

Spreading their passion

Mr Soumya and Neelabh have plans to establish parkour as a constituent club in NTU.

They started a Facebook page called Momentum: Parkour at NTU Singapore in March to gather interested undergraduates and train together on campus.

However, the pair find it difficult to establish parkour as a formal club as it is still regarded as a dangerous sport by many.

“The reason parkour is deemed as dangerous is because of how the stunts look like. For example, people see someone jumping off from a height and find it unsafe. But what people don’t see is the time and effort spent training for (the jump). It’s normal to regard (parkour) as dangerous but you have to also see the hard work put into it — and with practice, you’ll get better eventually,” said Neelabh.

Though there are currently only a handful of students in NTU who parkour together on a regular basis, Li, the club’s likely chairperson, hopes that the club’s establishment would encourage more of her peers to try out parkour.

“Parkour can be a great way to look at our campus in a new light, and interact with the built environment differently. It’s great way to try out something new and to keep fit.,” she said.