Alex Pownall at the London Parkour Academy. Photograph: Eleonore de Bonneval
Alex Pownall at the London Parkour Academy. Photograph: Eleonore de Bonneval

As a kid, I used to climb trees, swinging from the branches and jumping off. Sometimes I’d fall, sometimes not. But after encountering parkour, I realise that such physical interactions with the environment can just as easily happen on the streets of London.

Parkour is an athletic activity in which practitioners traverse a usually urban environment in the most efficient way possible. Originating in France, this non-competitive ‘sport’ can include running, jumping, climbing or any other form of movement.

Walking out of Trinity Buoy Wharf’s newly opened London Parkour Academy, the UK’s first purpose-built indoor parkour and functional fitness facility, all perceptions of my direct environment changed drastically. Stairs and ramps became, in my imagination, something I could use to move in unique and challenging ways.

Apparently that is how you become a ‘freerunner’. Francois Mahop, alias Forrest, director of the academy, explains that with parkour “your perception starts to change and you realise that everywhere can be a potential spot to train. There are no more obstacles, only resources to help you move forward.”

With training, the brain of a freerunner becomes accustomed to look at the physical environment and question how it can optimise movement. The beauty is that you need only a few minutes of mind-mapping before being able to operate in the space in exactly the way you had imagined. It is all about problem-solving skills.

Parkour has a strong code of conduct. “It isn’t a chaotic sport,” says Forrest. “The first rule is to respect yourself, you need to be physically strong.”

For this reason the Parkour Academy has an area dedicated to fitness, strength and conditioning. Rule number two is “to respect your environment. It is your playground and you don’t want to damage it.” The final rule is to respect other people and to steer clear of private property.

That final instruction presents a challenge, for doesn’t the adrenaline gained from parkour not at least partially come from the ability to access unique places? On this point Forrest makes himself clear: “The real practitioners like the challenge of a new space but respect the environment and do not trespass,” he says.

This doesn’t make parkour any less interesting; I quickly realised that you don’t need the space to be particularly complex to push yourself hard both physically and mentally.

Parkour is a sport that develops your balance; you learn to be precise in your movements, take controlled risks and to be creative with the way you move. And crucially it forces you to be more observant of your surroundings.

Chainstore Parkour Academy, Trinity Buoy Wharf, 64 Orchard Place, E14 0JY


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  1. I was at the Chainstore last week and was very pleased to witness a 61 year old guy swinging from bars, balancing on rails and climbing a 9ft wall. – a massive inspiration and proof that Parkour is accessible to everyone. It’s not for adrenaline junkies, it’s a very natural set of movements that most people used to use as kids. Learn to be a kid again whilst developing strength, fitness and confidence.

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