There's no shortage of physical activities for us to choose from these days - whether it's playing football with friends, hitting up the many gyms around town, or even having an impromptu badminton game in the middle of a soi like some residents enjoy doing. However, some athletes are finding ways to push boundaries and laugh in the face of gravity to create movements that are, simply put, awesome.
It isn’t so easy to crawl without letting your knees touch the ground
Parkour Generations is one such group that has recently set up their Asia branch in Bangkok. The experienced practitioners of parkour (also known as freerunning) promote an acrobatic skill set that may have you rubbing your eyes to make sure it's not Spider-Man that you're seeing climb, flip and leap through the city. However these real-life Spider-Men use the city as their obstacle course in the sport which was popularised in France in the early 1990s.
The basic philosophy of parkour involves working around whatever objects are surrounding you, whether it be jumping from rooftop to rooftop, or balancing yourself on top of a wall before leaping to another wall. It requires extreme strength, agility, speed and can be downright dangerous if not executed properly.
Mastering the bicycle rack like an Olympic gymnast
So that's why I visited the temple to make merit and loaded up on Buddhist amulets before I called Parkour Generations to set up a training session to find out what it really takes to partake in this extreme sport. At least I could relish in the fact that this group know what they're doing, as Parkour Generations is the largest collective of professional parkour practitioners in the world. They also provide a global teaching framework, offer live performance for events, and have consultation services for both media and professional projects such as film production, photography and advertising campaigns.
OK, enough rambling. I think I'm just trying to procrastinate telling you about my parkour experience because parts of it were downright embarrassing and somewhat shattered my delusions that I could be anything like Spider-Man, or even a Powerpuff Girl for that matter.
My training session was set up one super wet afternoon at Benjakiti Park next to Queen Sirikit Convention Centre. Everything was perfectly slippery for a beginner like me!
When did I realise I may have chosen the wrong activity for the kind of person I am? Right at the beginning during the warm-up session, I must say. Tilting your head back and forth, moving your shoulders in a circular motion, and loosening up various parts of your body are fairly easy. But what comes after is really tough. Yes, parkour is obviously dangerous if you happen to miss the wall you're trying to jump on, but when there's enough preparation and concentration, it is rarely so. That's why a lot of warming-up and building up of the body's strength is essential. And that's why I could finally jump from one building to another by the end of the session! (Just kidding. I wouldn't be here writing this if tried.)
Jump hard or get wet
To work up my strength and muscles, my trainer had me crawling on all fours, using my hands and feet, never letting my knees hit the ground for support. And as if that wasn't hard enough, my trainer asked (or kindly forced) me to move backward! And I had to do that up the stairs as well! It would have been more fun watching somebody else struggle to do that instead of doing it myself! But as much as I wanted to express my anger towards to person who brought parkour to the public, I started to feel my body become more flexible.
After the thorough warm-up, it was time to work on my balance. Walking from one end to the other on the public bicycle rack was a good start, as I didn't only get to learn where to position my feet, but also had to learn how to relax my legs and use a lot of focus so that I didn't fall. I had to make it to the other end of the bike rack using as few steps as possible, while staying on there as long as I could. Yeah, it's hard.
Just when I was about to give up and tell the coach that there were some children somewhere that needed to be rescued from a shark attack, my trainer was already charging ahead and stopped in front of a pond. I repeat, dear readers, in front of a pond. It was a huge pond surrounded by small and large, smooth and crude rocks here and there. I realised that our next movement had something to do with this darned pond. As I was trying to guess which type of friendly animal could be waiting for me under the water, my trainer was already jumping over two huge rocks, turning back to me with a broad smile on his face, beckoning me to come along (or fall right down) as if doing this was the most fun thing he has ever done in his life.
Leaping over a wall is all in a day’s work
This is where it became obvious how parkour is basically the way you go directly from one place to another by using as little time and few steps as possible. But it's not so much about the strength you need to jump from one place to another, as the ability to predict what kind of surface your feet are going to land onto. More importantly, it's the ability to conquer the challenge, overcoming the "I don't think I can do it" attitude. Remembering this philsophy, I stared at the rock I had to jump to that was so near to where I stood, yet the water in-between was making it seem so far.
I didn't fall into the pond, thankfully. But I have absolutely no intention in giving details of how each shaking leap scared the sh*t out of me. The next thing I learned was how to jump over the wall (just a small one, dear readers) and to be able to move forward to the next obstacle in a ready position. With a few more times practising moves that I had learned, I was able to leap more continuously, jumping to another spot and over the wall, and run to the next spot nonstop.
The session was only less than one hour, yet I was dripping with sweat within the first 15 minutes. That parkour can be dangerous is true, but so are many other sports. It takes years of training before one can jump buildings but the basic practise is fun and challenging for the old and young alike.
For those who are looking for adrenaline-seeking thrills, I would say to sign up and keep at it until you become great at it. Think how amazing it would be to leap over cars and get from building to building instead of sitting in Bangkok's rush hour! But as for myself, I'm still hoping for a radioactive spider that may be able to bestow these amazing skills upon me.G
Stephane Vigroux, also Parkour Generations Asia director
Chris Sotiriou, Parkour Generations Asia director, defies gravity
About the author
Writer: Kaona Pongpipat