How Parkour is finding its ground in Mumbai

Apr 01, 2014, 08:20 IST | Soma Das

An art based on French army training techniques, Parkour emphasises on liberty and creativity and helps you stay fit with its mix of gymnastics and acrobatics. Soma Das speaks to its loyal fan following to find out what keeps them off the ground

Flinging yourself onto walls, doing flips and rolling on the ground may seem risky but they are part of a Parkour buff's daily life. Come April 25, this ilk will get a chance to watch their passion on the big screen with the release of Brick Mansions, a Hollywood film centered on the sport. It stars the late Paul Walker (who gained fame with 'The Fast and the Furious' franchise) and David Belle, founder of Parkour.

Mohammed Al Attar (right) and a participant doing flips
Mohammed Al Attar (right) and a participant doing flips

Mumbai and Parkour
Parkour developed in France and is practiced in urban spaces globally. It became popular in the 1990s. It has fans in Mumbai who have formed Parkour groups. One such group is Parkour Mumbai. Its founder (also the retired founder-head of Parkour India) likes to be known as NOS.

He was one of the first practitioners in the city (from 2006) and runs Parkour classes these days. Describing Parkour as "the art of human locomotion", he states that it teaches you to overcome obstacles in one's path using one's body. "It's the 'flight' aspect of the fight or flight response — the ability to move your body through any kind of surroundings without being overwhelmed," he informs.

He emphasises that many practitioners are in the city, and they don't belong to a target demographic. "Parkour is for everyone, and anyone of any gender or age can practice this (given proper training)."

A still from Brick Mansions
A still from Brick Mansions  

NOS adds that any location in the city can be apt for practice and traceurs (parkour practitioners) develop "Parkour vision" to identify sites. "Stick to public places, which are preferably not crowded. We do not encourage trespassing on private property, being a nuisance or rooftop antics."

Nirmit Gire, member of Free Souls, another Parkour group states that the form is all about fluidity and creativity. "It is more of a philosophy, almost a religion," he states. Gire admits that Internet videos played a significant role in creating awareness about the form.

Today, there is a new practitioner in the city every day. "Some continue practicing, some lose focus, mostly due to lack of knowledge. Practitioners in India range between 12-48 years of age," he says.

On a world arena
Parkour also got a boost thanks to events such as the Red Bull Indus Trail, an all-India hunt for Parkour athletes, held in November last year. The eight shortlisted participants were trained and judged by Mohammed Al Attar, a freerunner (similar to Parkour with more flips and spins) and Parkour athlete from Kuwait.

Members of Free Souls practising by the sea in Mumbai
Members of Free Souls practising by the sea in Mumbai. Pic courtesy/Trisha Sarang 

Attar admits that while touring in Mumbai, he was intrigued to notice athletes who have skills without having training facilities. "It's something I've experienced too," he says. Attar was introduced to Parkour by High School friends; he quit Karate to focus on Parkour. "I got attached because as much as you learn, you still don't know the maximum of your body's abilities. Be ready mentally, and you will be ready physically," he maintains.

The winner of the hunt was 21-year-old Delhi-based Mujahid Habib, an architecture student who learned Parkour via movies and videos. Today, he practices with his 10-member group, Leonine, and is gearing up for the Red Bull Art of Motion (October 4, Greece) where he will compete against 18 of the world's best freerunners.

Passion, above all
Habib explains his fixation: "It allows you to learn something every day and involves a lot of creativity. It helps you exercise completely, stay healthy, strong and be physically and mentally confident. It can be practiced anywhere, I practice in my room and on the grounds. Ensure you go step-by-step, be patient and control your fear."

Rebel without a cause?
Of late, the discipline has gained ground in strife-torn Iraq, Libya and even Iran, where women are taking to it. The form has been associated with rebellion, but how far is it warranted?

Says NOS, "The correct association is with 'not conforming to societal rules'. It's different from rebellion. If you place a set of railings and a stairway to guide my movement, I might not be inclined to follow your set path.

I may wish to bypass those 'obstacles' in favour of a 'straighter path." Gire admits that the art gives complete freedom, physically and mentally, which is often mistaken to be rebelliousness. "But Parkour and rebellion are poles apart," he concludes.

Breaking boundaries
An Iranian woman practices Parkour in Tehran. A group of Iranian women have discovered Parkour which has become their outlet for evading social constraints and dealing with stress. It's also catching on in Iraq and Libya. Pic/ AFP
An Iranian woman practices Parkour in Tehran. A group of Iranian women have discovered Parkour which has become their outlet for evading social constraints and dealing with stress. It's also catching on in Iraq and Libya. Pic/ AFP 

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How Parkour happened
"Parkour is everything for me; it's an art I'm devoted to because it comes from my father. My dad gave me a meaning to movement. Before, I did athletics or gymnastics, and I was moving to stay fit.

When he told me about "parcours" (French army training), I understood why we are moving, why we have arms and legs. Parkour is an art where you learn to be careful, and then with experience, you see people having fun doing flips, etc.

The beauty of the movement shows the love you give to the sport. Don't do the movement to do it beautifully; the movement will be beautiful with experience and hard work."
— David Belle, founder, Parkour

Play safe, for life

> Follow safety rules.
> Be trained in a structured manner. Be patient and take it slow.
> Stay away from the roofs. It takes years of training to get as good as the people you like to emulate from videos.
> As the Parkour saying goes: 'Pk for Life'. The aim is to practice for life and you don't want to lose the ability to move as you grow older.
> Always land on the balls of your feet.
> Strength, flexibility and agility develop as you practice.

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