It's an odd sight — energetic young men doing double back flips, climbing 12 feet-high walls unaided or walking down the stairs on their hands on weekends at Lodhi Gardens and India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, Thiru Vi Ka Park in Chennai and Sports Authority of India Stadium in Mumbai. Watching them, few can guess that they are the city's Parkour enthusiasts. The only thing these enthusiasts – aged 5 to 60 years — have in common is the love of Parkour
What is parkour?
An athletic discipline, Parkour is a sport with two objectives — a source and a destination. You can use nothing but your body to overcome obstacles to reach your destination. So you run, jump, drop, leap and crawl, instead of choosing a longer but safer route.
The physically exhausting challenges and mental workout the game offers are feeding its popularity. The psychological battle starts long before a traceur — men practitioner of the parkour, women are called traceuse — takes his first stride. "You have to attend rigorous conditioning camps, drills and technique training before the first attempt at an ambitious jump," says traceur and guide Susheel Chandradhas from Chennai.
Intensive training for six months or more is needed to tackle the force of a free fall. He adds, "Only the resolute remain, the ones who're willing to push themselves further. Slowly with time, along with bones, cartilages and tendons, character solidifies."
Win those mind games
The sport also teaches you to think on your feet, to be prepared for the unexpected. "First and foremost, it teaches you to overcome your fears, no matter how rational. You learn how to overcome obstacles, not just physical ones when out training, but real obstacles you face in your life, in your mind," says traceur NOS — he spells his name this way — has made a name in national and international parkour circuits and now trains people in Mumbai.
To conceptualise the physical and mental grooming involved, imagine leaping between two walls, six feet across and ten feet high or climbing a 12 feet-high flat wall without support.
The adrenaline rush hits through the roof, the fear of failing has to be overcome and over-confidence has to be checked. You have to be strong enough to deal with failures and attempt it again and again till you succeed. "The greatest victory is in these personal psychological battles," says NOS.
Each step brings innumerable threats, surprises and possibilities and decisions have to be made at the spur of a moment. "There is no time to think, decisions are made in a split-second," says Gunjan Kumar, a 27-year-old Delhi based traceur and fitness expert. Agrees Dr Dherandra Kumar, consultant clinical psychologist at Jamia Millia Islamia, "Outdoor sports such as this one help in improving decision making skills and crisis handling in individuals."
Fitness as a Career
There are people who have taken their passion as step further. While some practice parkour in their spare time, some have chosen it as a career. Anshuman Kumar, 24, an engineer doing his MBA, now teaches parkour full time. He's also a black belt in karate and taekwondo. Vikas Sharma, 25, quit his job as a passenger-service supervisor with Swiss Air to teach parkour full time. Shusheel Chandradhas is a web designer when he's not guiding his juniors in the art of movement.
With Jump London, parkour jumped out of exclusive circles into the masses. Subsequent exposure by Video games (Xbox's critically acclaimed Mirror's Edge), Music Videos (Bon Jovi's ‘It's my life'), Television (commercials by professional stunt woman Luci Romberg) and the Internet (americanparkour.com) has helped in advancing this sport.
Dedicated communities and forums meanwhile are trying their best to shatter myths and misconceptions related to it, and to promote this healthy and uncompetitive art of movement, upholding parkour's unofficial motto être et durer — to be and to last.