The Parkour Academy: An Insight
The Parkour Academy
“What’s going on?” Forrest beams at the class, raising his voice over the music that always accompanies the Academy sessions… Although grimacing from the latest in a long line of demanding warm-up exercises we all manage to smile back, perhaps the only response we can muster to his jest! Less than 10 minutes into the class and you are reminded as to why Forrest’s warm-ups are legendary…
But it’s not done like this simply to punish you; “it’s not a joke”, as Forrest himself would say. The gruelling combination of body-weight exercises and stretches are designed to prepare you thoroughly for what lies ahead. Muscles warmed and toned, joints lubricated, mind focused on the exercises to follow. The warm up finishes, you break for water, you pause for breath… and then the REAL work begins.
This is the Parkour Generations Academy and ‘preparing your body for what lies ahead’ is not just a concept limited to the warm-up; the Academy classes themselves are all about preparation. You are not here to ‘do’ Parkour; you are here to build the physical and mental platform to propel your Parkour to new heights. Take what you learn from here and with ardent practice you will progress beyond your expectations!
‘You are not here to ‘do’ Parkour; you are here to build the physical and mental platform to propel your Parkour to new heights.’
Forrest, Dan, Stephane and Chris, your accomplished instructors, have fused years of experience and dedicated training to create a dynamic training and learning environment for you. Taking inspiration from the movement of several physical disciplines ranging from athletics to yoga through to the quadrupedal movement of monkeys, the Academy exercises are devised to explore and expand your physical potential. As this potential becomes realised, you begin to free your mind within a safe environment to increasingly express the body’s creativity and potential.
Method and Structure
As a long-time student of physicality myself, it became very clear from the start that a great deal of research and Parkour experience has gone into the makeup of the Academy classes. They are well structured, busy, and run in a disciplined manner – but at the same time they are friendly, open, and flexible enough to cater for all levels of ability. So what exactly do the classes typically consist of?
- Half of each class is devoted to pure conditioning work revolving around a host of body-weight exercises, including the unique and taxing MonkeyWork programme created by the instructors.
- Original exercises borne from a seasoned understanding of Parkour’s effects on the body.
- Drills that cover all of the fundamental movements common to Parkour practice, including vaults, precision jumps, cat leaps (saut de bras for the purists amongst you!), underbars, tic-tacs, wall-runs and various combinations of all of these.
- A warm-up and warm-down at the beginning and end of each session to prepare and relax body and mind, finishing with some thorough stretching exercises to insure minimum soreness the following day..!
As you practise Parkour more and more the logic behind the values and exercises taught in the classes begin to reveal themselves – as your understanding of Parkour increases, so will your appreciation of what you are taught. The exercises and class format are deeply thought out and you soon discover that seemingly unrelated exercises are, in fact, integral to better Parkour.
For those who think Parkour is nothing but ‘leaping around’, the Academy will quickly dispel those illusions… Here you are constantly reminded that Parkour requires first and foremost a strong and resilient body, and a body that is complete in its fitness – not too specialised or weak in any one area. Parkour is a discipline, no less rigorous or detailed than any other physical practice out there, and demands that you be healthy, fit, and functional in both body and mind. This is what the Academy aims to encourage in its students: you may not start out that way, but keep training in this manner and you WILL end up that way…
Accordingly, like any true academy, there is a strong emphasis on laying down solid foundations – for you cannot hope to attain the ‘advanced’ when you don’t know the basics. The core values that are continually reinforced at the Academy are strength and endurance, skill, silent movement, and fun!
Strength leads to greater relaxation and confidence – which in turn gives rise to fluid movements and greater coordination. The word ‘strength’ in this sense refers to functional, whole-body strength – exactly what is required for developing one’s skills in Parkour. During any one Academy class you will have to repeat several different drills over and over again, until you are bone-weary and dripping with sweat… this is to promote muscular endurance as well as a greater level of cardio-vascular fitness, both of which are essential to good Parkour practise.
Students are continually reminded to move and land as quietly as possible at all times, always on the balls of the feet and always in control. Silence demonstrates muscular efficiency, which protects the joints from impact and other stresses, as Dan keeps pointing out! The ability to move quietly indicates a good level of skill, too; another value emphasized during every session. Technical knowledge is not the be-all and end-all in Parkour, but it’s important to be able to perform the basics very well at any given moment.
And, of course, it’s a damn good laugh! Students are encouraged to have fun but also to keep a level head – to train seriously and enjoy a well practised skill. There is no room for recklessness in these classes: Parkour can be dangerous, and bad practice and careless action can lead to injury or an ever-decreasing state of health. However, train with focus and an attention to perfect practice in everything you do, and Parkour becomes a way to nurture your body and will produce continual personal development.
‘Strength leads to greater relaxation and confidence – which in turn gives rise to fluid movements and greater coordination.’
Of course, the real learning begins when you reflect on what you are taught in the classes and apply it to the way you train outdoors. I believe that it is not enough to just go to the Academy and never train outside – this will only give you a superficial understanding of Parkour. For those who want to make a guided transition to training outdoors, Parkour Generations also runs weekly Outdoor Classes for a limited number of people. For those used to practising outside, the tools and attributes you develop within the safe environment of the Academy will be extremely beneficial to your regular training.
Similarly I don’t think that it is enough to do Parkour without training for strength, stamina, flexibility, etc. These ingredients are essential to moving beyond any plateau that you reach in your own development, but are so often neglected by practitioners
Body and Mind
No one is denying that you can achieve these complementary effects through individual training at home as well as through good, regular Parkour practice… but the benefits of the Academy, in my opinion, go far beyond the mere acquisition of technical knowledge. These benefits include:
- The energy of your peers and instructors urging you on to new levels of personal achievement – which builds your confidence to express your physical abilities.
- The experienced eyes of your instructors to guide you and give you vital feedback on your fluidity, safety and positioning.
- The sharing of the knowledge, observations and insight of your fellow practitioners
- Through the use of gymnastic equipment and matting an environment is created within which you can train different parts of your body and a range of techniques in relative safety.
- Strong values: Physical conditioning, proper technique, health and safety, serious fun, commitment, structure and progression.
And beyond these physical benefits, there are also several mental benefits to be gained from utilising such a training environment. The Academy, in my opinion, is an extremely progressive learning environment: a place where you will be accepted for who you are, whatever your level, and applauded for ‘having a go’ and for your achievements. It’s all about improvement relative to your starting point – that’s all that matters, not how far you can jump or how many types of vault you can demonstrate. The Academy will encourage you to go beyond your perceived limitations.
Of course, like any training course you will be expected to demonstrate what you have learned on a regular basis, so come prepared to move..!
I have been attending the Parkour Academy since its inception in 2005, and have seen vast improvements in my own Parkour as a result. Moreover, I have noticed huge leaps in the personal progression of many of the other students. However, I actually consider the greatest strength of the Academy to be its diversity: I have seen people from all walks of life join up over the months to then find the classes equally as enjoyable and challenging as everyone else. Watching men and women of all ages, of all levels of fitness and ability, throw themselves into the assigned tasks and exercises with great enthusiasm and determination is a real pleasure and highly refreshing.
Although why they all keep coming back after experiencing those damn warm-ups, I honestly have no idea..!