An ultimate challenge

[attach]6052[/attach]Conquering fears.

Remembering what it is like to be a kid again.

Gaining self-awareness.

These are some of the reasons people are attracted to parkour, also known as free running.

“Parkour is all about overcoming obstacles,” said Dan Iaboni, who studied parkour in France under David Belle, one of the sports’ founders. Today, Iaboni is owner of The Monkey Vault on Geary Avenue in the Davenport area.

Parkour uses the body to surmount obstacles in the environment. The sport requires no equipment except for a pair of comfortable running shoes. But beginners are encouraged to wear helmets.

Practitioners move from one point to another employing skills such as jumping, spinning, climbing, running, and scaling walls. More advanced free runners incorporate gymnastics and flips into their routines. Once a person masters the basic steps, the moves are stitched together to form a fluid routine.

Contrary to popular belief, parkour is not an extreme sport. Even though some of its moves appear surreal to those new to the sport, most of the routines require serious dedication, precision and considerable practice, said Iaboni.

“It’s a discipline just like karate,” Iaboni said. “You’ll do a million small jumps before you do the actual jump.”

Most of the false perceptions originate in social media. The role of Youtube has been a double-edged sword. While it contributed to parkour’s success, some of the videos depict a misleading image of the sport. Iaboni explains that someone attempting a back flip off the ledge of a three-storey building is no longer practising the sport, but performing a stunt. He adds that these types of stunts have always existed.

Erik Maxim, 20, of North York said his grandmother recoiled at the thought of him performing on concrete. Although injuries are not uncommon, Iaboni said most of the injuries are minor. He said in his experience as both a free runner and as an instructor the most common injuries are sprained ankles, bruises and cuts.

Nonetheless, Maxim said he’d never attempt something that puts his life at risk. He was first exposed to parkour at a party when a guest, who he said appeared to be drunk, climbed up a telephone pole and then proceeded to do a flip off it. He ended up befriending the guy, who eventually became his trainer. For Maxim, the movements that make up parkour are inherent to humans.

“These are movements our body is programmed to do,” he said. “These are natural movements you do as a kid … but as you get older there’s the fear factor.”

The fear factor may explain why the majority of Iaboni’s students are between the ages of 15 and 19. Iaboni said he himself started learning parkour at the age of 24 and it took him some time to overcome his fears. It’s a lot easier when you’re a kid, he said.

Still, the great thing about parkour is that anyone can do it. He had 50 year olds attend his lessons because they wanted to be kids again.

Thirteen-year-old Andrew Zelenjak, whose been practising free running for nearly a year, said it’s very different from any other sport he’s ever played.

“This sport needs more bravery,” he said. “This sport is all about risk and technique.”

Matthew Longphee, who also plays soccer, said soccer is a team sport with a clear objective, whereas parkour is an individual sport with more leeway.

“Parkour is more challenging,” he said. “It gives you variety and you can make up Convincing his parents to allow him to join the Monkey Vault was easy. He said he impressed his parents after showing them a cat jump by jumping from a floor to a pole.

Many of the students at the club first heard of the sport either through word of mouth or through social media. Parkour is one of the few viral sports out there. In terms of popularity, the sport gained widespread attention because of people uploading and sharing videos on Youtube.

“It was created because of Youtube,” said Iaboni. “If there were no Youtube, there would be no parkour.”

Iaboni acknowledged parkour’s current spike is largely due to recent TV shows covering the sport. One such show was MTV’s Ultimate Parkour Challenge.

But Iaboni said these types of shows also lead to a distorted image of the sport.

“Parkour can’t be packaged,” he said. “These shows try to glamourize it.”

Parkour was also never meant to be a competitive sport, he said.

“Parkour is about creativity and self-expression. You choose your path just like in life.”

Besides, followers point out that too many variations and steps exist to actually organize it into an official competition. Iaboni said it’s impossible to compare a person adept at wall scaling to one who is skillful at using rails. It’s impossible to fully master all moves and steps simply because there are too many, he said.

Three rules of free running

• Always train within your limits.
• Respect the property of others and leave it in the same condition as you received it.
• Assist your fellow free runners.