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).
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.