What exactly is it?
Parkour is a sport where you use your body to move around wherever it is that you are. You can learn to be fast, to be fluid, to learn 'pretty' movements', or all of the above. Most practitioners train in urban areas as the challenges that it presents. Concrete and metal has a certain solidness that humans seem eager to defeat.
What is the history of parkour?
Parkour as a sport began in the suburbs of Paris in the 1980's. A group of young men who were looking for a way to become stronger, faster, more agile. Above all they wanted to be able to help people and help their families, both in everyday situations and in emergencies. Their fathers had been in various military forces around the world and they combined military physical training with childlike play and sought out pre-existing obstacles to pit themselves against in the town in which they lived. They originally called it 'L'art du Deplacement' which literally means 'The Art of Movement'. Later, other practitioners coined the terms 'Parkour' due to its similarity to obstacle coursing (in some cases) and 'Freerunning', due to the incredibly creative aesthetic potential of the discipline. One thing that has been cemented by all of the founders is that these names all denote the same practice. Not three separate sports.
How young can you start?
There is NO age-limit to starting Parkour! I have personally taught children who have only just learned to walk. Granted, the teaching style is different to that of an older child or an adult, but the discipline remains as interesting and challenging to all. Younger children generally prefer to 'play' with Parkour; to discover their love of moving by simply moving, not being 'taught' to move. Adults require instruction as they have developed a lifetime of preconceptions and we must strive to dispel those as efficiently as possible. Often by teaching them how to play with their environment.
What do you do in parkour lessons?
That depends entirely on the coach and the student. A coach will always seek to provide ample mental and physical challenges to the student/s while still remaining true to the essence of Parkour. The opportunities are endless, but most (if not all) Parkour lessons often contain at least one of the following: running, jumping, vaulting, sliding, swinging, balancing, crawling, climbing, rolling and lastly, somersaulting. Flips often come last because to do them outside without having a strong body before hand can be a little tough on the body. A good coach will make sure you have the basics down before any fancy stuff.
If you are a beginner, what methods of training could you use to improve yourself outside of the lessons?
Simply going out and exploring will lead to improvement. You see a wall; try to run up it. You see a rail; try to balance on it. Get rid of your fear of dirt by walking on all fours. Teach yourself to land silently on the balls of your feet! These seem like very simple things, but honestly, balance, landing sensitivity and fear of getting your hands dirty are the 3 most common things I see in beginners.
What are the benefits in every day life?
For starters, being able to run super fast, jump super high, climb, vault and roll over things....how would that NOT help you? You can look great, feel even better and on top of that, you get to play around your city/town like a child in a ball-pit and at the end of it, you're super strong and fit? You'll never miss the bus, get locked out or need to take breaks while carrying those 8 shopping bags your mum just handed you.
With overcoming the mental challenges of Parkour, you gain what is inarguably it's greatest prize: mental control. Once you have the technique and the strength/speed/mobility to do a jump perfectly, you OWN that jump. It's a great feeling. By repeating things and constantly trying to improve you will learn self-confidence, how to calm yourself instantly, how to get fired up simply by deciding to and how to move at incredible speed with almost no effort, no noise and without thinking at all. The possibilities are endless.
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