The name might be unfamiliar, but you’ve definitely seen it before. In the Bourne trilogy. In the opening sequence of Casino Royale. In Luc Besson’s District 13. Not to mention in video games, on YouTube and in the music video to Madonna’s ‘Jump’. Parkour has been slowly seeping into popular culture for years. But this is changing as it begins to break into the mainstream, and crosses over from being a predominantly male-dominated fad to an everybody-welcome bona fide sport.
Traceurs (free runners) describe themselves as part-ninja, part-spider monkey, part-gymnast and part kung fu star – practitioners of a sport that’s all about agility, grace and efficiency of movement. Ashton Law, one of the leaders of the local parkour movement, explains that it is ‘a way of life’.
To Oliver Hall of Total Sport & Entertainment, the company behind the recent parkour-inspired event StarHub Urban Freestyle, the sport is ‘the most efficient form of movement from one place to the next’. In layman’s terms, this involves climbing, vaulting and flipping from one spot to the next using ledges, walls, other concrete structures and the human body to move as swiftly from one position to another.
Law first became interested in parkour nine years ago after watching it on TV. The 24-year-old is one of over 200 enthusiasts in the local parkour community, which has gradually increased in number since its inception in 2003. Made up of both genders and a surprising range of ages, from as young as 15 to those in their mid-thirties, Law elaborates that the island’s concrete-jungle planning, spacious HDB void deck areas, and open areas such as Clarke Quay and Bishan, make Singapore one of the most parkour-friendly cities in Asia.
While its death-defying nature is an immediate draw, the thrill-seeking element is just one aspect of a sport that, like many others, has evolved to become a discipline, a way of thinking. Training is well monitored, focusing on safety, personal responsibility and self-improvement, and discourages reckless behaviour. And while watching a parkour enthusiast strutting his/her stuff is a real treat – vaulting, climbing and leaping like a freefall gymnast – Law says that becoming a traceur isn’t as daunting as it may appear. ‘Anyone can do it,’ he says – all that’s needed is basic conditioning and a lot of push-ups and sit-ups. However, Law does caution that one should ‘first learn from experienced people and do some research’.
So while parkour seems to be the pastime of adrenaline junkies and those with Spiderman fantasies, it is infinitely more accessible than it appears. And with the movement sweeping across the island, don’t be surprised to see it coming to a void deck near you.
This story first appeared as 'A leap of faith' (TOS Apr 2010).