Are you terrible at team sports? Bored to tears by jogging but too intimidated to hit the gym? Well don’t worry, because the Oxford Parkour society are now to be found training in South Parks three times a week and absolutely everyone, from the curious novice to the experienced sportsman, is welcome.
For those of you thinking, “Park-what?” Parkour, also known as freerunning, was developed by teenagers in France around 20 years ago and is often categorised as an “urban sport.” In simple terms, it’s the art of jumping on, off, between and over things using fluid, natural and safe movements. In really simple terms, it’s like gymnastics (but using a city as a pommel-horse.)
There are a lot of misconceptions about Parkour. Firstly, it is often labelled as an extreme sport, which is not necessarily true. In fact the group’s amateur coach Alexander May doesn’t consider it a sport at all:“At its core it is simply a discipline of movement: learning to move more freely and efficiently in an urban environment, improving our ability to overcome different obstacles, and increasing our capabilities of what we can do both physically and mentally.”
Another common reaction to Parkour is to assume that it is incredibly dangerous. A quick scout around YouTube can leave you feeling awed and, frankly, terrified. The fact is that most of the freerunning you see in the media is expert level. May insists that it is actually safer than most conventional sports:
“Unlike team sports, such as rugby and football, in Parkour there aren’t any variable factors that you can’t control and could cause you injury: it’s just you and the environment…Our bodies are designed for most parts of it, they have just forgotten how due to the modern lifestyle. As children many of us will have moved and jumped around this way, but we grew out of it.”
Part of the group’s training is practicing ‘bails’; safe methods of aborting a move if it doesn’t quite go to plan. However, they are as yet unable to gain the status of an official university society due to concerns about safety:
“I talked to the Sports Federation about becoming a society, but we need insurance and qualified coaches…To get a full coaching qualification in Parkour you have to be of a certain physical standard: it is the only sporting qualification with a physical requirement.”
A further challenge facing May and his following is the lack of good Parkour locations within Oxford. South Parks, with its fallen trees, rocks and children’s play area is a useful environment for beginners, but otherwise choices in the city are limited, says May:
“Most of it is either college accommodation or university buildings. We’ve managed to find enough to get by though. The cemetery at St Giles is quite good for the high and low walls along the path. We can jump between them and practice vaulting on the high wall.”
Overall, although Parkour has accrued a bad reputation as a reckless and dangerous pastime thanks to a fearsome representation in the media, it seems that in reality you have nothing to lose by taking a literal leap of faith and trying out it out for yourself.