Catherine discovers parkour, and it’s fun (if harder than it looks)

This week is my spring break, and since I’m not going anywhere warm, I decided to explore new-to-me activities around town in the Boston area. Monday was parkour day!

Me, sort of walking on a rail a few inches from the ground. It’s hard, but gets better with practice. A lot of practice, I think.

I had found Parkour Generations Boston, part of a larger company that has parkour classes all over the place. They offer classes indoors and outdoors, for adults and teens, for kids, tailored for all levels of parkouristas. And there’s also a 50+ parkour class. That’s the one I went to.

I’ve posted about parkour and my interest here: All I want for Christmas is: to fly…

Just a reminder about what parkour is, from this site:

Parkour can be defined as the practice of moving logically and creatively through a – typically – urban setting to get from a start point to an end point as quickly as possible. This involves physically overcoming barriers on any given route, creating inventive but practical ways in which from get from A to B as efficiently as possible.

I went to the 50+ parkour class in Somerville, MA at the Armory, a nice big space.  They have a great setup with rails low to the ground for balancing and walking, triangular barriers (some with steps, some not), and a bunch of piping enclosures for swinging, stepping on, through, etc.

I’m not sure what my expectations were for this class, but they certainly included me being the strongest fleetest, fastest, most graceful and catlike person in the room. Who knows why I thought this… I walked into the class space, telling the three very nice male instructors that I had been an athlete my whole life, blah blah blah, and maybe I should go to the regular non-50+ class, but am checking this out just in case. They were extremely gracious and said nothing to disabuse me of my views. I now know that they were being diplomatic, patiently waiting for me to discover for myself the reality of any parkour class for anyone who was doing it for the first time.

I started out with Lyan, one of the assistant instructors. He led me over to some rails that were on legs, a few inches from the ground. My job was to 1) walk on them; or 2) balance on them. He was very nice and took a bunch of photos of my attempts.

This was before class started. They encourage students to come a few minutes early to play around a little on the equipment. You can see the setup below.

After everyone arrived, Blake, the main instructor, got us started with the warmup. By the way, Blake is parkour-famous: he is the director and head coach of Parkour Generations Boston, a serious parkourista, and TEDx talker (you can see his talk here).

Remember how I came in thinking I would find this class easy? Well, this class kicked my butt! The conditioning practice–30 minutes– was super-strenuous for me. Starting with skipping across the room and jogging back, we moved on to grapevine footwork, lots of other moves, then got on hands and feet, as low as we could, for a whole bunch of exercises they call QMs, for quadripedal movements. Also, we jumped feet to hands into a crouch position, doing that across the room.  They call those Kongs, in honor of Donkey Kong. You can see a video of some of these moves here.

I ran completely out of steam from time to time, breathing very hard (okay, gasping a bit). I did okay, but definitely need to develop more stamina for this high-intensity workout. This is gettable by me in time through consistent repetition and continuing with yoga, cycling, weight training, etc.

The balance and obstacle course parts I had a lot of fun with– some parts were hard and some were easy, but I really enjoyed it. I also discovered that I have a good side for getting over barriers, and I have an impossible side. Gotta work on developing skills on that side, too.

The last activity of the class was for all 7 of us in the class to go along a course they set up, from start to finish, without touching the ground. This meant walking or jumping or balancing on rails, stepping on or vaulting over barriers, swinging under or over or through the pipe bar structures, and a few other things I am forgetting. I loved it– we got to use whatever skills we had, problem-solve in real time, help each other and work together, and celebrate when we made it to the high barrier (which they call the tank) at the end. And then do it again. Which we all did. Everyone did the course twice. The goal is to do it smoothly, which makes it faster and easier in the future. Assistant instructor Mike told me that they say start slow, which becomes smooth, which becomes fast.

Once we finished, I asked Blake if they could show us how they would traverse the course. He agreed. In what seemed like less than 10 seconds (and probably was), Blake had leaped and turned and twisted and transported himself to the tank. He took a different route because he had the skills to jump and land and balance and move on the high pipe structures.

Mike and Lyan also moved gracefully and quickly, each taking different routes. It was clear in that one demo that we develop different skills and preferences and speeds for moving through space. It was lovely and educational to watch each of them, finding their own way though.

This is what I want to do– find my own way through the world of obstacles and challenges, over some barriers, around others, maybe deciding to avoid yet others, which is my choice. I’m signing up for the next 10-sessions 50+ class, which starts in April. What I hope to get is better conditioning, a wider repertoire of movement and agility skills, and more knowledge about what my body can and likes to do, moving through space. I can’t wait, and of course will be reporting back as this plan unfolds.

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