I THOUGHT I might be in trouble when my very fit parkour teacher, Ben, told us he loved parkour because something always scares him.
Then he announced the day’s theme: “High to low.” I started to sweat. I visualized crazy flips from a tall wall to the floor and wondered if they should have a test at the front door for scaredy-cats.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Before the parkour basics class started, I watched people leap, flip and roll from low to high places and back again on the various obstacles and bars around the Parkour Visions gym in north Queen Anne. At least the gym had crash pads.
Parkour is the art of forward movement, on or around obstacles of many types, often on buildings or in the street. It’s fluid and graceful to watch.
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It’s also inspiring. Until you have to do it.
Parkour requires some fearlessness, a love of heights (or a passing interest in them), and a willingness to jump up and fall down from those heights, which are not on my list of strengths.
Ben started with warm-ups that challenged our balance and accuracy, such as cartwheels with our hands and feet landing on a narrow line. We practiced how to fall slowly and roll to the side to cushion ourselves. I felt clumsy, but could tell learning to fall was key, so I kept working on it.
The first obstacle, a big platform, was straightforward. We hopped up and practiced different exits, from a straight hop down, to a reverse spin down combined with a parkour roll, similar to a somersault. We also worked at an overhead bar, grabbing it and moving across, muscling ourselves up over the bar, then balancing on a bar for our landing.
Our next skill was a wall pass, running at a wall and exploding up to grab the top and vault over. We had a route to come down if we made it up; I was more concerned about getting up.
We practiced a wall step, running at the wall, stepping with one foot, jumping up and landing softly. Soon, some people started to grab the top of the wall.
I was sure I was too short and was content to practice the wall step.
Ben watched me, and said, “You can reach the top. You just have to believe you can.”
Yes, they practice Jedi mind-tricks on you at Parkour Visions.
For our last skill set, we worked on hopping up and floating over a bar. Easier said than done. We also did a “skin the cat,” grabbing the bar, bringing our legs between our arms and spinning down.
The grand finale was “scary,” Ben said. Get up on a bar, sit, lean back and flip down onto two thick mats. With Ben’s help, of course.
If you loved playing on a jungle gym as a kid, you will love parkour. It’s downright fun; it’s also physically taxing. I used every muscle in my body to hang from bars, to jump and to somersault. I saw how I needed to develop more explosive muscles in my legs and more strength in my upper body. I admired the incredible athleticism in the gym. I’d probably do it again, despite my nerves.
At the end of class, Ben coached another woman on a move, telling her it was not difficult, and it was all in her head. If you say so.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.