Rather than sitting at home playing video games, some young people in Washington Heights are learning to do the same acrobatics that video game characters do. Parkour is more than just a sport, it's a way of relating to your environment.
Every Monday through Thursday, a group of young people gathers at a spot in idyllic Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights to learn the art of parkour with their teacher, Vert.
Parkour is an iconoclastic sport that became popular in France, but has roots in West African traditions. It is strictly non-competitive. Where martial arts are the arts of fighting, parkour is like an art of fleeing, or moving. Practitioners are called traceurs. Traceurs train themselves to reject fear and to navigate the urban environment with every available human capability. With careful practice, a traceur can weave through any environment as quickly as possible.
This sometimes means scaling walls or leaping from the ledge of one rooftop to another… with one’s hands.
The aim of parkour is not perfection or form, but elegance and flow. For example, when jumping down from a higher platform to a lower one, a traceur would roll to preserve momentum and prevent injury.
In many ways, parkour is a sport of the mind. When Vert teaches his students the safest and most efficient ways of scaling walls or vaulting over obstacles, his instructions usually go beyond the physical.
“You need to let go of fear…”
“Your mind needs to be in the now…”
Most of the people that come to class are teenagers in the neighborhood, and Vert (neé José Jiminez) is only twenty. More men than women are interested in the sport, but all are certainly welcome. The class is free of charge (though donations are accepted).
… Oh, that’s gonna hurt a lot more when you stand up….
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20 .. fuck
The point in your hands by the way, is to balance yourself, that’s why I have them out.
So we don’t have to have our arms out?
I mean if you have the balance and you can do that, then yeah.
Oh my god, I’m sorry, I have a small attention span, but do you see those birds?? The red ones they’re awesome!
Push! Now push up! You got your chest on it.
NO! I’m NOT GIVING UP!
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…Come on climb up technique, yeah, right there, now push. Push push push, awww…
Ah what the fack?
Oh, are you alright?
Twist your hand. Exactly .
Oh crap, I’m slipping.
You got it you got it.
This guy, I just met him yesterday. He invited me to his class, and look now.
Let go of fear, let it go. Don’t be afraid.
Fear is a powerful thing! Nobody can get over fear just like that. But with this guy’s help, I think it will be gone in a few weeks, maybe a few days.
See, it’s not that hard.
What the fack, yo? You go under?
It’s like washing a plate and hanging your coat on a rack….
… What? What are you talking about?
…in an expanse of time. Then, out of nowhere, out of nowhere, you know how to do parkour.
That’s exactly what it is.
Yeah! Yes ! Exactly!
You’re like the Karate Kid.
I read about that, it’s like the Karate, the Karate Kid movie, the guy has to wash the car, right, in circles. And he’s like why am I doing this? I don’t know, I don’t know why, how this has anything to do with park… uh karate
Parkour, kung fu, parfu. Or Kungkour
Vert's profile on NYParkour.com: nyparkour.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=62:vert&catid=43:nypk-reps&Itemid=54
An NY Times Story about parkour in New York with a video about women's issues with the sport:
Urban Freeflow, publisher of Jump magazine and international forum for parkour enthusiasts: urbanfreeflow.com/get-your-head-together-2
A suitable article for parkour neophytes: urbanfreeflow.com/get-your-head-together-2
I found Vert because I was chatting with a friend about how I used to attempt to practice parkour moves in Yamashita Park in Yokohama. There was a crew that met there to hang out and play on the walls, bars and platforms on the bay. She said that her friend recently interviewed a guy that runs a donation-only class. At first, I thought, I wish I had the time to get in shape and go to the class and the lightbulb clicked.
I went to a Parkour Jam on the Lower East Side on Halloween and met with Vert and some real pros. I took video, but I wanted to focus on the class because that is where the real discussion about the philosophy of the sport took place. Rodney also met Vert for the first time at the jam and he came the next day. Rodney was having trouble that day because his former teacher didn't push him very hard. Though it was difficult at first, Rodney is pschyed to keep training, thanks to the supportive, non-competitive atmosphere.