From a 72-year-old to a four-year-old, Chennai’s parkour enthusiasts are testimony that the sport is all about movement, strength and patience
(DISCLAIMER: If you are looking to get a taste of an adrenaline pumping, nerve-racking, adventure sport experience, allow me to burst your bubble. Parkour is an acquired fitness sport/ martial art/ discipline; and is all about patience. Read on, but not with the belief of springing over a three-storey building with impeccable style; body still in one piece.)
Nageshwara Rao Park in Mylapore, is wide awake, unlike me; I am struggling to hold my eyes open. The sights and sounds at 6 am are far from what I expected. On the paths, winding through the park are joggers; puffing and panting their way; in the central portico, are B-boys engrossed in their morning routine: sprawled on the floor as they conjure up different poses. Clustered around the poles and benches is a motley group, along with trainer Vishvaa Dayakaran of Chennai Parkour, well into its warm-up session. Half asleep, I join them. Jogs and basic stretches follow.
Cut to five minutes later, I am squatting — I have just landed on my toes after a basic jump. “We need to see how you balance, it’s different for different people,” he tells me. As I struggle to hold the pose, I can see one of Vishvaa’s trainees effortlessly pulling off the ‘human flag’. There’s a 67-year-old, sporting a harness around him; he is running against its force — he is admirably fast. Before long, he moves on to casually leaping over poles and bars, and doing monkey jumps. I am envious now.
Change in perception
This is a recurring scene, every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at the park where eight-year-old Chennai Parkour’s (founded by Vishvaa, Vishal Kumar and Vignesh Raghavan) trainers guide their classes. Similar scenes unfold at the Anna Nagar Tower park and Bamboola campus, on other days. “When we started out, people in the park used to come and warn us. They would ask us to stop, since it is dangerous,” says Vishvaa. This was six to eight years back, when parkour was relatively unknown in the city: “people only knew parkour through the videos that popped up on YouTube,” he continues. Years down the line, this perception seems to have shifted. Vishvaa says, “Now, if we don’t show up for a day, people come and ask us why we weren’t around.” It’s not only about movement, it’s about strength and flexibility as well. “Movement is a major part of it, yes. But the background work that goes behind it, is of prime importance,” Vignesh adds.
Vishvaa, Vishal and Vignesh have similar stories to narrate, when it comes to what led them to parkour. For Vishal, the word ‘parkour’ struck a chord while scrolling through YouTube in pursuit of Jackie Chan videos and as for Vishwa and Vignesh, the French movie District B13 (which starred French actor, David Belle, deemed as one of the pioneers of parkour as a physical discipline), proved as an inspiration. Soon, an Orkut group took form, where Chennai’s parkour enthusiasts met virtually.
- The philosophy is not about competing. The philosophy is about how you find your own ways to do something that someone might do, another way. It’s about understanding what you call an obstacle, and how you overcome it. The inner instincts of a person work that way, and they will be able to use their physical system to the best of its capacity. In that sense, it’s a novel way of doing fitness. But how fit are we to do it, matters. It’s more of a discipline than a sport. When they make the jump and land from a height, muscles tend to contract as well as expand which makes the muscular tissue stronger. You are up against your own body, and are connecting every part of the body to your brain, and integrating the entire system thus. In that way, strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, speed and power are taken care of. The elderly population will benefit on the neuroplastic component, where they are constantly thinking about how to do it.
- — Dr Kannan Pugazhendi
“It is a very young art form that started out in the 80s. David’s father, was a fire fighter. So, in fire fighting, a lot of techniques to negotiate obstacles within a short time, were used. This skill was passed on to his son, who in turn coined the term parkour,” Vishal speaks of the genesis of the activity. With District B13, the global audience came to know of this form. But how exactly can we define parkour? “People call it an activity sometimes, a sport or a fitness method. Some are also exploring the competitive aspect of the sport,” says Vishal.
Chennai Parkour has people from four and a half to 72 years old, training under it. Though the demographic is wide, children and teenagers are the most in number. And, by keeping in mind that each body (of different age groups) responds to exercise in a different way, they have devised a curriculum. “The basic training usually lasts for three to six months. Depending on how they progress, we move on to other movements,” says Vignesh. Mobility and flexibility are key when it comes to parkour.
“The idea is to use one’s skills and apply them in specific situations as creatively as possible. We are lifting our own weight, there are no external weights involved while moving,” says Vishal, adding that the form can be treated as a stepping stone to practise any form of fitness or performing arts. In 2018, they had opened Parkour Pod, a curated facility, replete with safety mats, harnesses, imported bars and poles that serves as a safer practice space for trainees. Located in Ekkattuthangal, sessions in this facility are open during the weekends.
Parkour is also considered a huge stress buster. A perfect leap, or a somersault in an advanced level, is food for the brain, especially for those who are not competing. “There is no one to certify whether you are good or bad. This is one element that is very positive about the sport,” says Dr Kannan Pugazhendi, sports physician and fitness consultant.
In this column, we hunt for adventurous activities in and around the city
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