Remember the carefree days of youth, when climbing around on the jungle gym was the most exhilarating part of a trip to the local park? Imagine being able to relive that excitement to an even greater degree.
Parkour, or freerunning, is the French martial art of momentum and has been steadily rising in popularity around Toronto over the past several years. Practitioners consist of martial artists, daredevils, adrenaline junkies, and those who simply want to move without restriction.
It is the art of getting from one point to another in the quickest or most efficient way possible — with some flashy flips thrown in every now and then. There are several basic methods of movement in parkour: rolls, vaults, jumps, and drops.
Below the surface, parkour can also be considered an art form and mode of expression. Chris Taylor, a gymnastics instructor and parkour practitioner at U of T, believes that parkour has the power to be used as a means of self-expression.
It allows one to move their body rhythmically with a flow that encompasses a feeling of weightlessness, while still offering a wide range of choice in how one tackles a particular obstacle. There are no strict rules as to how one should practice and no set objectives to follow.
An individual’s experience is tailored exclusively to them, based on what they want to do and how far they are willing to push themselves physically. If you want to perform flashy stunts, develop a skill-set that can help prevent injury, or experience the closest thing to unassisted human flight, parkour has you covered.
It is also an activity that almost anyone can get involved with to some capacity. Taylor mentioned having a 70-year-old student who, after adjusting his movements, was able to practice parkour-like motions in a way that complimented his physical abilities. Given parkour’s free-flowing nature, the only barriers in parkour are the ones that are self-imposed.
In Toronto, you may see people training around Queen’s Park or in the city’s largest indoor gym, The Monkey Vault, which is located at St.Clair Avenue and Symes Road.
The Monkey Vault was the brain child of Dan Iaboni, who opened the massive indoor park “dedicated to movement.” His purpose was to give Toronto’s parkour community a place to train and to teach those who are interested but not necessarily ready or willing to train on the streets.
It may seem daunting to leap across tall buildings or climb around in the potentially dangerous and highly industrialized downtown core. Toronto’s parkour community is actually very accepting of beginners, and most of the basics can be drilled and practiced in a controlled environment. The Monkey Vault offers beginner classes for anyone with an itch to try something new.
The Monkey Vault’s goal is to help people “reach further and higher levels” of personal development, which transcends above the martial art itself. They aim to recapture the spirit of childlike freedom, a sentiment with which parkour practitioners can readily agree.
Whether you see it as a martial art, a creative outlet, or something in between, it’s clear that parkour has become an exciting niche pastime with an expanding community in Toronto and U of T.
Spring is around the corner, so now is the perfect time to get involved in Toronto’s parkour scene. If you are cautious and practice, it can be a very rewarding experience.