Parkour, or free running, is an urban sport in which participants defy gravity while performing gymnastic maneuvers over obstacles and buildings. City Weekend sat down with members of the Beijing Parkour Club to find out more about this fearless bunch.
How did you first hear about Parkour?
Wang Bowen: I first saw it on the internet, but when I watched the movie District 13, I thought that it looked really impressive, but I didn’t dare to go and try it. Then I saw on the internet that there were people doing it, and I thought, “If they can do it, so can I!” Then I started trying it alone, teaching myself from videos.
Was it the same for you?
Zhang Chao: Pretty much. Most of us first saw it in District 13, or heard about it from friends, and just started doing it.
Was it easy to find Chinese people who were doing it?
WBW: There were some, but not very many. We’d mostly watch foreign videos online.
Cui Longlong: There were a lot of movies that had parkour in them, like the Thai film Ong Bak. Some of us used to do martial arts, and we’d watch a lot of that those types of films. We’d see the things they were doing in the movies and then slowly learn them for ourselves.
WBW: We loved all these things when we were young, we all loved Jackie Chan’s movies!
Had you all practiced kung fu? ?
WBW: We did all sorts of things, among us there are some who did kung fu, some who did san-da [martial art], and some who hadn’t practiced anything before parkour. I studied xiqu [Chinese opera], and learnt some basic flips, so then when I started learning the basics of parkour, I transferred the feeling of xiqu into it.
Can everyone do parkour?
WBW: It depends on the level of parkour you want to get to. I’d say that everyone can do the basics, and get fit from it, but if we’re talking about expert level, then it gets very hard.
CLL: But basically, it’s very cheap … all you need is clothes!
WBW: And shoes, that’s the most important thing!
How has parkour changed your mentality?
WBW: When you first start to learn a new move, you might feel scared and anxious, but with time, and after falling a few times, you get a very strong awareness of self-protection.
CLL: Now, we can flip off six-meter-high buildings … in the past, one meter was too much!
WBW: If I was going for something bigger, I used to get scared, but now I don’t feel it. If you’re confident, you won’t get scared, and you won’t make mistakes.
Can you use this confidence and bravery in other aspects of life?
ZC: Definitely! We’re always challenging ourselves.
CLL: If you get dumped or something, you can just say “Ah, never mind!” It strengthens your willpower, and if you’re strong-willed, you can overcome any problems you might encounter.
What’s the most dangerous move you’ve ever done?
WBW: Well, we’re working on a record-breaking attempt with CCTV at the moment, and we’re still discussing what we’re going to do. Also, our captain Zhang Lei worked on the movie Bodyguards and Assassins. Their requirements can be quite high, but we love doing it, we love the challenge. It pushes us to improve ourselves, to be unafraid, and to face any difficulties we encounter with bravery.
What do you want to achieve?
CLL: We want to popularize parkour. We want to make it big.
WBW: We want to let everyone in China know about parkour, and that it’s a workout not only for the body, but also for the mind.
Li Yan: It’s mostly about finding our original selves. Because life is so good and so safe these days, it’s not really challenging anymore. In the past, there was a lot of difficulty, but now, not many people really challenge their body and mind. In basic societies, everyone had to fight to survive, but now, life has lost a lot of that.
CLL: Before, people would get bashed and knocked around, and they’d get stronger for it. Now, people get coughs and colds really easily. But us, we can wear t-shirts in winter!
What sort of preparation should our readers do if they want to do parkour?
CLL: They should know how to deal with pain! Aside from that, they just need clothes and a good pair of shoes.
Zhang Lei: Also, they need a big heart. That’s where motivation comes from, a healthy heart. If you don’t love parkour, you won’t carry on with it. You first need to work out whether or not you want to keep it up, or if you just want to do it every so often.
When you’re on the street, are you always scoping out new places to do parkour?
WBW: Yes, parkour is in our subconscious. For example, if I’m on the bus, I’m always looking around at buildings and objects, thinking about what kind of move I could do on them.
LY: Of course, we only mean in legal places … we’re all law-abiding citizens!