Sunday 29 December 2013

Michaelmas term in review

Training at Westgate, picture taken by Mu'adib 'Keymore' Shakir

With the first term of this academic year over, I wanted to give a huge thanks to everyone who made it what it was! It's been great to be able to train with so many different people this term, and it's a good time to look back over the year and remind ourselves what we have been up to.

Last term, our aim was to really inject some more variety to how we train and what we can train in Oxford.
Our sessions were organised every week and mostly ran on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Compared to last year, we've had more coaches, each with their own unique take on the discipline and their own eyes for movements. We have also scoured Oxford to find more interesting, varied locations, which has meant that the people training have got more choice of where to go.

Finally, we made a push towards encouraging non-structured sessions. As the name suggests, these sessions have been more about getting people directly into the spirit of training without the strict guidance that tends to come with the structured sessions. The ability to find movements and routes for yourself is a vital skill for a Traceur, used to progress your training in the direction that interests you.

Its been also been fantastic to have had some of you guys organising your own sessions and training on your own as well! I am hoping that more of these impromptu sessions keep happening next term, as it not only means that you guys are able to train more, but it also helps visibly spread parkour to others, meaning that our community is able to grow.

Talking of next term, you can expect more of the same to keep happening, but with one small addition: we will be putting on trips to visit other parkour communities in the UK. Nothing injects a spark of enthusiasm and inspiration as training with new people, be it in their local environments, learning to move through a new space, or getting another community to visit our home turf and cast fresh eyes on our now familiar obstacles.

Looking forwards to training with you all again in the New year! As ever, follow us on the Facebook group to see what you get up to!

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Cat Balance

I have a new respect for cat-balance.

For those who don't know what it is, it's quadrupedie (crawling, but hands and feet, not knees) on a rail (or railing, as I'm told it's more properly called). It's called cat-balance presumably because this is how cats walk along the top of fences. You should move your hands and feet in same order as a cat - left hand and foot in the middle, right hand and foot front and back (or vice versa) and then alternate moving the back foot or the back hand. The reason for this is something to do with balance and making yourself closer into the middle and/or diamond shaped instead of parallelogram shaped to be more stable (I think), but try it for yourself and you should see.

Not the best photo but hopefully you get the ideaalso

I haven't done this drill properly for at least a year, despite knowing it's theoretical benefits, but with a minor ankle injury from a precision (very minor, it's barely noticeable only three days on but I'm giving it until next weekend) and a wrist weakness from a few months ago I thought it was an ideal movement to practice today. I was right.

The first suitable rail I found was about 60m long going up a hillside path at the side of a road, the incline was noticeable but not huge. After testing it out and finding it harder than I'd anticipated, I set myself the challenge of getting from one end to the other, with a checkpoint on each 2.5m section for when I fell off. I probably fell off somewhere between fifteen and twenty times overall.

From halfway, sweat started dripping off my face and my breathing was heavy. Then my wrists because sore, my arms started to shake, it became painful round the back of my shoulders and, right at the end, one of my quads started to cramp up. I would guess it took me around twenty-fine minutes to complete, but I wasn't timing and could have been longer (or maybe it just felt like longer!).

It's a pretty good all round exercise! It works wrist strength, the general core (front and, I think, back too), and general upper body; it also works endurance for the quads (hence the cramping) and around the ankle, though maybe not quite as much; and last but not least, balance and coordination. It's also useful because it is non-impact (apart from when you fall off), so if you have some sort of wrist or ankle injury then this drill should be possible sooner than other movements (running or weight on hands). It can be done in all weather and all light conditions, so it's a pretty flexible drill.

From this glowing feedback, you probably won't be surprised that I would recommend that you include cat-balance more in your training than it probably already is (if mine was anything to go by). If it's too easy, crawl downhill or backwards (or upwill-backwards). If that's too easy, also blindfold yourself.

I remember being asked during a session (by Harry, I think) whether there's any practical application (in movement) outside of being a drill. Initially I was unable to answer, though it is definitely a drill worth practising anway, but I have since thought of one: climbing up (or down) something that's around a 45-degree angle. It's too steep to comfortably walk on, but not vertical enough that it can be climbed, so crawling works best. This isn't particularly common and this drill is more than worth doing just for the drill's sake, but it does at least have some possible application!

Thursday 17 October 2013

Parkour: Be Useful

I've recently read the (out-of-copyright) translation of David Belle's book about parkour. It's definitely worth a read - tells you more about parkour, in a way, but also isn't about physical parkour and is more a discussion of his life and life philosophy, meaning that even if you don't care for parkour it's still very interesting. I also saw a couple of interview transcripts from David earlier today, which were also quite interesting.

I don't want to talk about what parkour is or isn't. But I will talk about a part of it. 

One saying that David and the French guys had (they had quite a few little slogans) was "ĂȘtre fort pour ĂȘtre utile". They actually got this from George Herbert, the guy who developed Methode Naturelle*, and I hadn't realised the extent to which Parkour developed out of that. At one point David even says that people should do two years of methode naturelle training before starting parkour.

Anyway, this saying has been taken on by parkour too. Be strong to be useful. I'm going to talk about it a bit and say what it means for us in actual application.

The first meaning I see is that we should be strong. Strong is good for a number of reasons (I'll take it as given that you agree that 'strong is good'). For parkour especially, when we're bouncing around concrete, strength is useful. We don't want to damage our bodies from this training (on the whole, we're making them better, but there can be damage as part of this whole), both through normal training and when we fall. Lots of experienced parkour people can fall quite spectacularly but still be fine - for example, David Belle here - which is quite incredible. Watch it and marvel. Another of the parkour sayings is 'etre et durer' - to do and to last - which I won't go into in more detail (this post is long enough already), but thought worth mentioning.
A few of us doing some strength training. It's also 'functional'!
The second meaning I see is that it means that the strength we want is useful strength. It isn't enough to be able to bench 100kg, what's more important is whether you can get on top of a wall you've grabbed with one hand, onto a bar you're dangling from, or how far you can carry somebody, or all of these other useful things. In this sense, what we want is functional strength. It's not about bodybuilding but your physical ability to actually do, not just muscles which look good and have some statistical strength. This also means strengthening the tendons and ligaments and bones, which some gym training doesn't really do.

'Functional strength' is a phrase thrown about a lot among people who exercise. I think it's commonly used to mean exercises which aren't isolated liner muscle movements (like bicep curl or leg press) but instead ones with a chain of muscles doing something, as typically these have some actual use (function) to them. But there's more to it than that. Not only does the body part of us have to be strong enough to do something, but we have to be able to mentally do it too. Obviously we need the technique for it, but we also need to be able to do it. This sometimes means overcoming fear: you aren't able to use your ability and be useful if your fear stops you (or inhibits you, as it's usually harder to do things well while scared). This is true function: what the limits of your ability are. Sometimes these are physical (I can jump so far, so precisely, I can do this much weight, I can pull myself onto a wall this many times, I can get up a wall this high). Also to take into account is consistency: being able to grab a 14ft wall one time in ten doesn't help if you're being chased by a dog and need to make it, for example. And third, as I said, is the mental limits. "Yes, I can make this jump, but only if I prepare myself for it." Or, "I can do a cat-leap 10ft, but if there was a drop beneath my I'd be too scared to do it". 
Rail precisions are scary
Until recently, that's all I thought this phrase meant. Be strong, and have useful strength. Turns out there's more to it than that.

"Be strong to be useful" doesn't just mean we're being strong so that we're able to be useful (like functional strength); it also means that with our strength we should be useful. It's a call to actually be useful. This the same idea as "with great power comes great responsibility": do something with your strength. Carry someone's shopping, or a suitcase up the stairs, or whatever.

Interestingly, David Belle seems to think that a key purpose (if not the main one) of his parkour training was so that he could rescue his family if need be - his family had a past of being fire fighters (good ones, in the Paris squad which apparently has a great reputation). Blane (Chris Rowat, now with PKGen in London, very inspirational) has said a similar thing in the past.They train for other reasons too (or at least get other benefits from parkour), but this is a focus for them. This is probably utility fully realised, the ability to save someone's life. Both physically and mentally (especially not being overwhelmed by fear and being able to focus and do). This is why, for example, height training is good, as that gives us fear, and practising with fear helps you to learn to deal with it. Similarly with any jump that needs breaking or a movement that makes you scared. 
Moving over a wall quickly
 "Ok, great!", I imagine you saying, "you talked in a philosophical way about the discipline of parkour.". How about some application of all this to training.

In parkour, we must train to be useful. There's the obvious stuff: improve what you can do, get stronger, overcome fear and other barriers. That's what we do in parkour training most of the time (aesthetics are kind-of irrelevant, and showing off is not the point and is bad for parkour). Then there's the active step of actually being useful. But here's some suggestions for how to train to be more useful.

1. Train in all conditions. Not reluctantly, but embrace it. When it rains, you've got this whole new environment to try out and challenge yourself in (I've written about this before on the Oxford Parkour blog). But you also need to become capable of moving in the rain, not being scared, and knowing how the rain affects the environment for what you can and can't do. Train in the cold, train in the heat, train in the wet and the icy. If you have to use real parkour (instead of artificial training) by running for the bus, escaping from something, or saving a life, you can't choose the conditions, so get used to it.

2.  Train in a more realistic way. I've noticed this when I've had to run for the train this week: there's no warm-up and you need to be ready. Try doing some training without doing a warm-up and wearing the clothes you usually wear, and see what you can do. Go straight for the difficult stuff (for you) and with speed, because when it comes to it you have to get it right first time. 

3. You should always be ready. Physically, this means looking after it with stretches/mobility/massage (lacrosse ball!) and nutrition. Mentally, pay attention: be aware as you walk. Don't listen to music too loud or get distracted by your smartphone; instead be aware of what's going on and the environment you're in. When I'm out at night or in a dodgy area or get a bad vibe, I pay more attention. But I do it at normal times too: seeing where cars are, what other people are doing, etc. (This has its own merit instead of being incase something bad happens, it means I have fewer accidents and can do things like cross roads at efficient times and wait less at traffic lights). Be always ready, always alert, and ready to act without hesitation if you need to, as if something happens you probably won't have time: for example if somebody starts a fight, tries to steal from you, or a car is going to crash into you.

So there are some thoughts of mine about parkour philosophy and training style!

*Methode Naturelle (natural method) is a style of training meant to be all-round and natural, including running/swimming/fighting/climbing/lifting heavy things like rocks and logs/other things. It's modern reincarnation is the MovNat franchise (not sure if franchise is the right word), which is also great.

(This post is written by Alex, also at, my blog which also includes non-parkour things)

Sunday 13 October 2013

Parkour Begins!

Training at one of our regular spots, Saint Giles

2013's Term time is finally upon us!

This week we have had a very successful 3 days at the University Freshers Fair. If we met you over there, then here's a big "Hello!" and a warm welcome to our little community! We have manage to coerce enthuse over 200 of you guys to take a peek at what we get up to, so without further ado - here is a message from Olly with regards to our plan for Week 1 of the 2013 term!

Hi - and welcome to the most funnest and cooliest club in Oxford! 
It was great to meet all you guys at the Freshers' Fair last week. Seriously pleased that so many of you are ready to give Parkour a go for the first time - I know you're going to love it! 
Here, as promised, is the timetable for next week. Normally this info would only be on our FB page ( - do join us right now!) but we'd like to keep things really easy this week.
  • Tuesday 15th October: 4pmSt Giles Monument with Olly (me)
  • Thursday 17th October: 6pm, St Giles with Nikolay
  • Saturday 19th October: 11am, St Giles with Josh (VP)

These first sessions at St Giles (click for a google map of where it is located) are going to be focused on beginners. The hope is that more experienced practitioners will be on hand to assist the official coach and offer any additional tips. All sessions are free to everyone in the whole club next week. Also, all first-timers are free whenever they make their first appearance,whichever week that might be.
We can, by the way, introduce you to the sport at any time (even in week 7) so don't feel you've missed the boat if your all-consuming new interest in yodelling means you don't have time to meet us this first week. You can come to one, none or all of the sessions, no probs. 
There is no joining fee or special equipment needed to Join OXPK; just good trainers (flexible and grippy) and weather-appropriate clothing. From week two onwards though there will be a small charge (a few shekles) per session which will cover various costs that the club must bear, so make the most of week one to save your pennies! 
The times and places will certainly vary a bit each week, (Hopefully that will mean that there's always one or more timings that suit you.) Come and join our FB page and you'll always know what's happening. Even the above info is subject to change! 
We're looking forward to welcoming all you new members to the club, so please scribble your first parkour meet in your diary now! 

Olly ~ OXPK President

Thursday 3 October 2013

Alex's Parkour Video

Parkour Video Blog Post

Hey guys, Alex here. I made a parkour video - see - and this blog post is to go with it. I've been doing parkour for a bit over three years, I think, though never training particularly intensely for it it's been the sort of training I've been doing. I also started up a group in Oxford, which I coached for a year.


1. “This is not a typical show-off video”. Lots of parkour videos are people showing how skilful they are and how impressive what they can do is. I don't have anything against those videos as such (although they can often corrupt the training and make people train to make videos and show off, this isn't always the case), but that isn't what I'm trying to do here. I'm not trying to show off and showcase what I can do as such - I train for myself – rather, I want to use the video with this post as a commentary to explain what parkour is. I actually got the idea from talking to my grandparents and other relatives and parkour is often hard to explain, but I also want to use it to try to help friends (and anybody else who sees this, if it gets shared) understand what parkour is, as parkour properly isn't about “jumping off buildings and doing flips”. If you watch it and think, “that doesn't look too hard”, then maybe that'll encourage you to give it a go. I want to show stuff that I actually practise in training, as show-off videos often just show a small part of it (the more impressive stuff).

Along this theme, I also tried to make everything as realistic as possible and not do lots of reshoots and show it perfectly for the camera. Most of the clips shown are the first or second attempt at that time, unless something went wrong with the filming, as I wanted to show what is actually me instead of a polished version I put forward (it was quite hard to resist that corruption). There isn't much in it that is particularly new, but that's the point of having done training in the past: so that when you come to doing something for the first time that time, it's better than otherwise would have been.

2. I think it's best to read the blog and the video at the same time, as the post will be a commentary on the video, explaining what I am doing and why. I don't know how easy this will actually be, but I'll put in time references so you can do that.

3. This is the first video I've ever made, so the editing isn't great. A lot of this is me, though sometimes the software did something wrong (like mashing a fade or speeding up footage). I also didn't manage to edit the sound out a bit. It was filmed over three days while I was in Oxford to coach parkour, and many of the ideas and filming came from Brendan Riley (coach with EMP Parkour in the West Midlands).

4. I'm not going to try and give a definition of parkour as such, and a coherent one is quite hard to find. Some describe it as efficient movement (which is only a part of it), but it's more like a discipline of training or exercise, the idea as a whole of improving your own capabilities and movement, including the mental side of it. This video talks more about the different physical movements which are a part of this. The physical training is all about movement: instead of going to a gym and lifting weights to get muscle and look big, it's about moving round the environment to train yourself to be strong and useful (able to do things, instead of just lift weight). It's good all-round training, working pretty much all of the body and in different ways (strength and stamina), lots of variety in the movement, and because there's lots of moving it's good for flexibility and mobility too. As well as this, it's great mentally to for challenging yourself, fighting fears, gaining discipline, etc.

The Video

Introduction (0:00 – 0:31). I had two ideas for an introduction, the backflip with backdrop and me running into shot. For the backflip, I originally wanted with the Radcliff Camera in the background, as that's the typical Oxford picture, but it was covered in scaffolding, so All Souls college (I think) is the backdrop. The actual flip I put in too much power and staggered backwards, but I like the shot with the backdrop.

People argue that a backflip isn't strictly parkour, but I don't want to get into that here. Parkour is movement training with a certain philosophy, and I think a backflip can fit into that as being useful for training. It means a lot to me as learning to backflip helped massively with confidence and dealing with fear, and it took me a long time to learn it (initially, even trying with two people to help me round I was completely scared of doing it to me, and it's a massive leap that I'm able to do them almost without thinking now).

The second shot was just a nice entrance in nice scenery, the point was just to get the Oxford Parkour logo in there. It's a group for parkour in Oxford (!) which I started last year, and it's been great to bring together a small community to train together.

With the text sequence, in editing I managed to mix up the order a bit (as you can obviously see). That's my fault, I left it to the last minute to finish the video (late at night when I was flying to Venice the following morning) and didn't check it through and didn't have time to redo it.

0:31-0:41. This was just a little movement sequence in New College cloisters to go in and out of the arches. A vault through an arch, a spin on the wall, then a bigger vault out to clear the table.

0:45-1:05. These just show different possible combinations of vaults going at different angles. This is just to show a range of movements to get over something, and the point is to move from one point to another through the obstacle in as easy a way as possible. When practising this sort of movement, it's important to practice all manner of approaches and combinations and repeating them so it becomes instinctive. There's not really a limit to the number of different 'moves' to use to get over something, just depends on the situation and the person which work.

1:06-1:13. Again just a short movement sequence to show moving through something. Took awhile to film as we had to wait for a gap in pavement-traffic.

1:14-1:16. This is called a cat-pass-precision: the cat-pass is the vault going over the first wall, the precision means landing on a particular thing (the little step). It just shows a vault being used to continue moving forward. I find it quite a weird movement to do, as you have to gauge how much power to put into the vault to get the landing right, and I hadn't done much of this combination until relatively recently (Easter or so).

1:17-1.28. Another cat-pass-precision, this one going upwards. I think this is the best (fastest/most efficient) of getting between the obstacles if I removed the pause at the top. This was my second attempt at this, and I didn't have enough skill to 'stick' the jump to the mill-stone ('stick' meaning land and stay on the spot instead of shuffling or falling forwards).

1.35-1.39. The parkour roll is probably one of the most famous parkour moves, the obvious purpose being to take a height drop without damaging the body. It's necessary when there is downwards and directional movement as the legs alone are only really useful for landing directly downwards (the knees don't like having to stop you fall forwards/sideways), though there are other ways such as landing like a monkey and using your hands to help too. This was the first time I had actually jumped from the top of the monument, having only done it from the penultimate step before. It's great to have steps so that you can practise different heights and work your way up – beginners, start at the bottom! It's surprisingly effective at dissipating the momentum from the drop, but you have to learn the technique pretty well to do it safely; mine isn't good enough that I can do it onto concrete without it hurting, though I could do it fine if I needed to.

1:40-1:54. The clips are in reverse chronological order, but I changed it because I like the way that the guy in white points at what I'm going to do. I did the jump as filmed earlier, and he was explaining to his friends what I had done. I later had a chat with them about it and a couple of them tried a few jumps themselves. This jump I've practised lots of times, it's a bread-and-butter sort of movement.

This spot (the area between St Giles cemetery and war memorial) with the two walls and the monument is probably the standard Oxford parkour location, and is often the meeting point. I've spent many hours jumping around these walls, which aren't much, and a couple of the other places in the video are just round the corner from it.

1.55-2:10. A classic standing jump, called a 'precision' because it's onto a 'precise' point. The important part is to land with balls of the feet on the corner of the object at whatever angle you're coming in at – your feet must be on the line between your centre of mass and the part of the object, otherwise you slip forwards or backwards or cannot stop yourself from moving forwards. The jump down is trickier for the angle of it, to land on the corner correctly, and in this one I'm a little bit too far forward (you can see me tip a bit).

2:11-2:19. This shows me jumping into a wall and bouncing off it, obviously. The point is so that you can jump into a flat surface and bounce off it – sometimes it's a useful way to get somewhere, for example if you want to drop down into an alleyway or as a way to slow you down, but it's also useful for practice incase you're trying to grab the top of a wall and miss.

2:20-2:30. These are just a couple of routes around the rails, just being about fluid movement. The Bruce Lee quote “flow like water” is what we're aiming for. This isn't about finding the most direct way through the obstacle, being instead a way of practising foot placement, co-ordination and a connecting different movements fluidly.

2:35-3:18. This is just balance training with a couple of jumps. Jumping onto a rail ('rail-precisions') is obviously harder than jumping onto a wall and there is less margin for error, plus the mental challenge, but that's why it's useful to practice. When filming this, I made both the jumps the first and second time, though previously I had stuck it less than a third of the time I attempted it (the others with overshoot or undershoot I would just bounce off).

3:19-3:35. Running up a wall is another parkour fundamental: getting over something. You can probably see that reaching the top of this wall isn't too tricky for me, I think the highest I can do is around 13ft – typical walls can't stop us! It's all about practice, power and foot placement. The shimmy along is a method of moving and one that should be trained by repetition, as sometimes it might be necessary to do it at height! It toughens the hands as well as strengthening. I finish with a “climb-up” onto the wall, though if I was trying to go over the wall to begin with I'd do this with the wall-run to get on top.

3:40-3:50. This just shows a couple of precision-jumps from one thing to another. Thinking about how many of these I've done in my three years of parkour, it would probably be a few thousand, as in one session you can do hundreds if that's what you're practising. As I said before, it's about landing on the corner of the object (or if it's rounded, the bit you land on has to be a straight line from your centre of mass to the centre of the curve), otherwise you slip forwards or backwards. It's important to start small and get good technique, as well as practising getting it wrong on purpose – what happens if you put in too much or not enough power or a foot slips – so that if something does go wrong you know how to react to it. Especially if you're doing a jump with a drop on one side, you don't want that to happen!

3:50-4:01. Just showing some different ways of moving in these obstacles.

4:03-4:08. Another cat-pass-precision, going over the first trunk and landing on the second. I think this is where I did my first ever cat-pass-precision.

4:08-4:27. I'm attempting another cat-pass-precision but further along the tree, so the bit I'm landing on is higher (meaning I have to have more height on the jump to make it). I think this was the third occasion I'd done this on, I find them quite scary! I've included some of the mental preparation in the clip to show how that works, as that's often pretty significant. If a jump is mentally challenging, we call it 'breaking the jump' – beating your fear and doing it. This is only done when you know that you can attempt the jump safely, but for some reason you're uncomfortable with it and get a mental block or some fear; if you aren't sure you can do it, it's daredevil stupidity, which is not what parkour is about!

I think it took me two or three minutes to actually do the jump once I decided I was going to do it – sometimes it's about actually checking things like the slippyness of the shoes, others things are just mental tics to go over to get yourself into the right frame of mind to make the jump. I also visualise the jump and run through it in my head – what I will see when I'm in the air, for example – to help me concentrate on it. Sometimes this is useful and necessary, but it's often just a waste of time and one should just get one with it and let instinct deal with it (definitely something I can improve).

4:27-5:22. This clip shows me doing some balancing with a bit of height. You can almost never train balance well enough – when you can run or walk briskly backwards at height with a blindfold, maybe you're there. At height you have to deal with the stress and fear of height too (which actually makes balance worse and impairs you) which is quite useful as mental training too. I do a couple of squats facing forwards, which are good for balance as well as strength (and as Forrest point out to me, good practice for landing rail-precisions), as well as single-leg (pistol) squats, which are better for working strength and also the stabilising muscles around the knee and ankle with the balance. This clip was my first time up on the bar this day (though I've done balance at height a fair amount previously) and I was up there for a few minutes. The kid beneath me was watching and I spoke to him afterwards – I'm sure some people will say that it was dangerous for me to jump and I could have hit him, but I knew that he was far enough away that it was fine, and if I thought there was a chance I would hit him when I fell than I would've grabbed the bar instead of landing on the ground and rolling towards him (falling from lack of balance is usually pretty controlled, and you'll only slip and wipe out if you aren't concentrating or you're trying to run or something).

5:18-5:30. Unfortunately there aren't many overhead bars in Oxford so I don't get to practice swinging on them much, but here's a couple of fun things on them.

5:30-5:40. This shows some movement which is more directly applicable to getting from one place to another. Yay for jumps!

5:40-5:45. This precision was a big deal for me. The clip was the second occasion I've done it, and the first time I did it it took me twenty minutes to 'break' as I was really scared. Physically it was pretty easy, just about technically getting the right angle, but because there was a 1m drop on the other side it gave me loads of fear.

5:45-5:50. Backflip in Christ Church college. I went there to show Brendan as it's in Harry Potter (the first one, the entrance to the great hall, where McGonnagal tells them all to go into the hall to be sorted), but I also wanted to get a clip there. We got up a bit earlier than usual to make sure we were the first tourists there. I just think it's a nice clip for the surroundings!

5:50-5:54. These were a bit scary, but that was the challenge! We thoroughly checked all of the logs beforehand to see if they were stable and slippy – as I do with everything I do, every wall I jump to, I test out the grip and stability. It looks a bit odd when I walk up to a wall and stroke it, but it's useful to do so th

at you don't slip unexpectedly and know how to treat the surface.

5:54-6:08. This is the same cat-pass-precision as earlier, except this time I 'stick' it. This was the first time I'd ever 'stuck' it, and up until this I had made about thirty attempts. To get the right angle and land on the corner you have to reduce the power of the jump a bit to actually get the corner, and mid-air it can be quite scary as you might not think you can make it.

The guy in red at the end is Brendan. Big thanks to him for filming lots of this for me (also thanks Vicky for filming other parts of it!)! He's done parkour for eight years or so and is a coach and performer around the West Midlands area – I owe a lot of my parkour-doing to him, as attending classes he runs was how I started parkour and he teaches me a lot.

I hope you've enjoyed watching this and have a better understanding of what parkour training is. If you think it looks fun (it is!) then maybe you should try it out! It's a great way to keep fit for reasons I said earlier, and is also much much less dangerous than everyone assumes it is (silly prejudices and misunderstandings). If you have any questions, feel free to ask, or just to let me know what you thought =)

A snap from Vienna

Tuesday 1 October 2013

A summer recap

With summer pretty much over, I thought I'd update you all on what's been happening lately!

What? Who is this guy?

First of all, hello! I'm Nikolay with newly wrangled blogging privileges, ready to be abused! I first started training parkour back in 2005 and by trade, I am a software engineer. I've joined this happy family in May '13 following a bit of a hiatus from parkour, which I allowed to last far longer than it should have.

As Oxford is a University town, a large portion of its population tend to live here only during term time and return home during the holidays. Thus, many of our regular traceurs have not been around lately, meaning that numbers have been down.

What's been happening?

What, you mean other than FreeMove visiting Oxford, the new committee being voted in, The Pump House Project setting up shop down the road in Faringdon and the humbling experience that was Rendezvous 2013?

Lots of training, that's what! I've carried on training over the summer, what with the glorious weather we have been having. Apparently it's not gone unnoticed either as we have had quite a number of people join us for our training sessions, some with previous parkour experience, others completely new to the discipline and it's been amazing training with each and every one of you and watching you guys develop!

On the subject of training sessions, during the holidays we switched over to a much more free-form, collaborative format of training. As such, until the start of term in October, all sessions have been organised on a drop-in drop-out basis, and as such have been completely free.

I've added structure to sessions where it seemed appropriate and/or useful to, but for the most part it's been a case of getting traceurs together in one place and sharing experiences. Learning together the old fashioned way, in short!

Anyone wanting to get involved, jump in on Facebook!

Monday 9 September 2013

New Committee!

As you may or may not know, Alex's studies are taking him to Germany for a year.

Argh! PANIC!

Alex has pretty much single handedly created the current incarnation of the Oxford Parkour community and done a damn fine job of it, going above and far beyond the call of duty! It's probably thanks to his work that many people are training in Oxford today!

It would be a crime to allow all this work to be undone, but also a tall order to do as much as he was able to. Luckily, our new committee now 3 whole times bigger than it once was! At the start of June, public voting was held in order to pick the new committee, so I proudly introduce to you the Triforce that will now be carrying the torch!

President: Oliver Selway
Oliver is a true generalist. He has experience in a huge range of sports, martial arts and other activities. He is also a certified instructor in Parkour's broader cousin, MovNat and a professional trainer at his company, Woodland Workouts. In addition to this, he has written the book "Instinctive Fitness", which outlines a very 'hunter-gatherer' approach to both diet, and exercise. Oliver has a fresh take on parkour and has a deep knowledge of bio mechanics, dietary impacts and fitness in general.
Vice President: Josh Peaker
Josh has been one of the most active traceurs during the last academic year and his passion and energy for movement has always been a great boost to everyone's motivation! He is also a Salsa Dancer and a 3rd year student of Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Oxford.

Treasurer: Jonathan Han
Having spent his childhood running around woods, pretending to be a ninja (haven't we all!), Jonathan joined Oxford Parkour from it's very inception and has been diligently training ever since! In addition to parkour, he enjoys weightlifting and is looking at getting back into swimming and martial arts. Out in the real world, he is currently a 3rd Year Medical Student at Pembroke College.

Monday 19 August 2013

Rendezvous 2013

Large gathering of about 200 traceurs, with the Rendezvous 2013 logo above them.
Group shot at the end of Rendezvous 2013, Day 1.
Levels of awesome in this photo are too damn high!

Alex, Oliver and I had the pleasure of going to Rendezvous 2013 this year. It is an annual event hosted by Parkour Generations, who are also joined by other coaches from around the world, to one spot with the aims of spreading the knowledge. Joining the coaches (and the reason the event is called what it is) were two members of the Yamakasi (this year it was Chau Belle and Williams Belle) also come along for the ride, offering their knowledge and experience.

As you can see from the photo above, the turnout was huge. It was a two-day event and each day had a different location:

- Day 1 was hosted at the LEAP Park in Westminster.
- Day 2 was held at various sports in the Canada Water area.

We were all split into five groups based on experience/ability and moved around different locations; in each we would be further split into smaller groups for the size of each location or exercise. It was fairly knackering and I think we all had to pace ourselves so that we could keep on going at the end. It was great to be training with so many other people and with such a great collection of coaches, and I'm sure we all learnt and progressed because of it.

Alex's thoughts: "Initially I didn't think I'd learned loads from the event, but thinking back on it I did. I'd never tried cat-to-cat (hanging on a wall, jumping 180 to another wall) before, but at the event threw myself in without thinking too much and found I could do it, which would not otherwise have happened. I also really enjoyed a 30-minute rail-balance exercise with a 2m drop into a canal on one side - really challenged you mentally to stay calm and focussed."

More images of the event can be found here:

Friday 26 July 2013

Faringdon Pump House Project

Photo of equipment and traceurs, taken at the Pump House in Farringdon
More photos of the space and equipment can be found in their Gallery

Almost out of the blue, regular parkour coaching has become available at the Faringdon Pump House, courtesy of The Pump House Project.

The Pump House Project story is a great one - a community project started by the parents of two young traceurs to give them somewhere local to train parkour, they gained charity funding from the community (including from Lord Faringdon himself) and help from the council in converting a disused theatre into a usable hall. Along the way, they also got parkour added to the PE curriculum of the local school, which is quite rare!

It's great to have a community get behind parkour when so often it gets really negative treatment, and hopefully it'll grow well in the future. Previously, the parents were having to drive to Basingstoke or Abingdon for parkour training (though the focus there was more on learning tricks than parkour essentials!) or, once we established ourselves, across to Oxford.

It's right in the middle of the town of town and has a great community feel to it: the space is also used to host other youth activities such as Slacklining, Dance, Media, Radio and a Tuck Shop, with more activities being added and supported all the time!

Dale Wood is a Parkour Generations developing athlete and incredible traceur in his own right. He is currently providing parkour coaching on Fridays and Saturdays, and teaches on dedicated parkour-specific equipment (built by FreeMove), which some of you may have got to play with during the FreeMove event.

All in all, grab the chance to train with these guys while you can as spaces are limited and come term time, preference will be given to the youth, that this charity aims to support!

Public transport between Faringdon and Oxford is limited to a single bus route 66 (link and timetable), but that just means that getting there is possible :)

For more information, visit their site:
Keep track of them on Facebook:

Saturday 11 May 2013

Freemove Event

Hey everyone,

There's a great parkour event happening next Tuesday 21st May/5th Week). The summary is:
  • one-day parkour park with great equipment and coaching
  • 1400-1500 talks; 1500-2000 parkour
  • It's at the Oxford United Football Club's Kassam stadium. 15 minute bus ride + 5 minute walk
  • You have to register (link at bottom)
  • You should definitely come, it will be awesome

Here's the more detailed explanation; alternatively, watch the video linked at the bottom for what it looked like last time.

The company Freemove makes parkour equipment, probably the best in the world, and is doing a roadshow/tour for publicity. They're rocking up in Oxford with some low-loaders and setting up a parkour park for the day. There will be an outdoor park and also indoor equipment set up, and there will be coached sessions run every hour (and the option of just doing your own thing, I think).

If you haven't done parkour, that's no reason not to come. Trying new things is generally good and you have nothing to lose. It's basically just a playground but for adults. You can climb on things, swing on things, jump between things, etc – in part, that's all parkour is. It's also good exercise as it uses your whole body in different ways, and the idea is to move in a natural way. There's no such thing as “not being any good” (unless also as a child you never went to a play area) because the idea isn't that we stand around judging you on how good you are, it's that you have fun and join in. Enthusiasm is all you need. It's also not dangerous like everybody thinks it is – yes, if you try and jump off a 10ft wall or do a backflip you will hurt yourself, but beginners start with the basics and they are pretty safe. Nobody's forcing you to do anything so whatever you do is controlled by you – it's only dangerous if you do silly things.

If you're interest in coming to talks by the national governing body, the coaching group Parkour Generations, and the company, then they start at 1400. If you just want to jump around on things, that's from 1500-2000. I don't mean you have to come for the whole thing, just that the event is during those times, so come any time during that period. To make the most of it I'd say come for a couple of hours, but longer is good too (I'll be there the whole day). There's some bus routes which go from Oxford to quite nearby (link at the bottom) taking around 15 minutes, which really isn't much. The event is free but you have to register (link at end).

It's going to be really good and everybody should definitely come and bring their friends/ family/tutors/etc. If you have a tutorial/lecture/class in the afternoon, get on the bus afterwards (bring food with you, don't wait for dinner); if you have work to do, get it done in advance or do it afterwards. If you're a finalist, then it's a shame you'll miss it and best of luck.

Here's a video from the roadshow they did 2 years ago:

The link to the event:
How to get there:

Friday 26 April 2013

One step at a time

Hey all,

Few things to say in this post. I'm really happy with how parkour is going so far this term, it's great to have 12 people at each session when 6 was the average last term, and it seems that some of the newcomers are going to stick around, which is great! I've also found a couple of new locations for sessions so we can increase the variety so we don't get bored now that we're doing 3 sessions each week. Also the OxStu is writing an article about us which I'm told will be in print on Thursday, so we might even get more people joining us after that!

This does give the problem that it's harder to coach a larger group (the recommended ratio and limit for insurance is 8:1, not that it matters because I'm not a proper coach or insured), but that's a fairly nice problem to have and I'll do my best with it and split the group up and/or give more freedom and less structure.

Second thing I've got to say is a couple of announcements. Firstly, the Freemove tour is hopefully coming to Oxford – they're a company which make parkour equipment and they're doing a national tour for publicity and want to come to Oxford. They turn up with some low-loaders and vans and make a parkour park for one day, I went to one a couple of years ago and it was great. It's on the 20th May 2pm-8pm and there will be sessions coached by proper coaches as well as freedom to play – hopefully we can introduce a load of new people to parkour there too! Still waiting on confirmation of a venue for that though, Oxford is a hard place to find space in!

The second announcement is regarding a parkour project in Faringdon. Called “PumpHouseParkour”, a group consisting of a couple of teenage practitioners parents has managed to find funding and got a lease to turn an old theatre into an indoor parkour venue. It won't be completed until our summer term finishes, but hopefully we'll be able to use it sometime next year - it's a ~40 minute bus ride or drive away but sounds like it's going to be pretty good! This also means that there is a parkour coach not too far away who we might be able to get to come to Oxford, but that's just an idea at the moment.

Apart from that, I just thought I'd share a reflection I've had the last couple of weeks. Over the Easter break I managed to learn a couple of new tricks which I've now managed to do outside, and looking back on it, I've realised that I've got to a level of parkour that I'm quite happy with. I can remember when I started out with parkour I had massive mental blocks with doing flips and a few times was considering giving up (I took a half-year break at one point) and saw some of the things I can now do as really difficult and scary, but without noticing I've brought myself up to that level I looked up to. I'm not claiming to be great, but I've got to a stage that I had doubts I would get to, which makes it encouraging looking to the future about what else I'll find myself able to do.

With this, I had the thought that although it's nice to have a vision of where we want to get to, that can often limit us by making it seem too far away. Instead, what's important is that we keep improving ourselves and making continuable progress. Often we don't notice the change as it's gradual, until we go back somewhere and have vague memories of something which is now done with ease being difficult at some point – I know that's what's happened with me. It's also important not to get stuck in a rut – focussing on one particular thing or movement might get us stuck, but forgetting about it and coming back to it after doing some other things often helps. I tried learning backflips for three to six months, then gave up on them for half a year, and when I tried again, the first one I did was the best one I had ever done!

A journey of a thousand miles always starts with a single step – and you're only ever getting one more step further from when you started.

Monday 1 April 2013

Using time and training smart(ly)

Aged 15, I spent one two-week school holiday doing nothing apart from playing computer games. At the end of it, I felt pretty terrible: I looked back and realised I had wasted two weeks and got nothing out of it. I resolved to do better next holiday, and the following holiday I ran 3 miles every day for two weeks. To begin with, it felt like a chore, but towards the end I was enjoying it. That was definitely better than the wasted holiday, but looking back I could've done better. The point of this post is firstly, to encourage you to use holiday time to train, and secondly, to try to give some tips on how to train well.

I'm sure if you sat and thought about it, you'd agree that it would be beneficial to exercise - it probably isn't too much of an exaggeration to say that during holidays we waste a lot of time, and I know I could easily fit in a lot more than I currently do. So what are you waiting for - do it! A couple of weeks of decent conditioning will mean that when it comes to parkour next term, you can spend more time learning and improving and less being tired. So use your will power. Don't procrastinate - if you're watching TV or on your computer and have nothing better to do, do something right now! Or put it as part of your schedule in the morning, either before or straight after breakfast.

So, now that you've got off your bum to do something, what do you do? Whatever it is, make sure you're training smart (or smartly, for those who follow rules of grammar) - at this point my example of running 3 miles each day was not such a good one. Firstly, mix it up: don't repeat the same thing, as while it will be beneficial, the benefits are limited, and without variety it's harder to continue improvement once you reach your first plateau. If you want to get fitter, don't just do continuous running: do interval running, vary your speeds, etc. This applies both to speed work and endurance work (there's more variety than that, but we'll keep it simple). So an example of different sessions that a distance runner might use: 30 minute continuous run, 20 minute fast run, 5 x 2 minute runs (2 minutes break between), 15 x 200m runs (but break it up, so 3 lots of 5 or 5 lots of 3, with a certain time between each 200m - can be 30 seconds or 2 minutes depending on the speed you want to run!), and so on. The same is true for speed stuff: sprinters do sessions which range from 20m to 600m with a variety of recovery.

But we don't simply want to get good at putting one foot in front of the other: this is true for all exercises. For press-ups (for example, a staple upper-body exercise), don't just do as many as you can every day in one sitting - yes, this will help, but a smarter workout would help more. Mix it up between explosive press-ups (for example clap press-ups, but if that's too hard then just try and get a bit of airtime) and slow ones (taking 10 seconds per press up). Make it so that on some variations the most you can do in one go is 3, and on others go up to 15. Also repeat it - don't just do one lot, but give yourself a few minutes rest and go again. So, an example: three sets of press-ups with 5 minutes inbetween, in each set do as many of a certain type as you can. Another way of making press-ups harder is by raising your feet (incline press-ups) so that more bodyweight goes through your arms.

Make sure you're working towards a certain target too. If you want to be explosive, do exercises that work muscles explosively. If you want improve your endurance, do exercises that work that, remembering that what you're working is endurance at a particular strength. For example, if you want to improve your strength, don't do 20 press-ups, as this works the endurance more (it will improve your strength, but not as effectively as something targeted). Instead, find an exercise where your maximum is around 5.

Mix up your exercises too. Don't do standard press-ups all the time - I can think of around 15 different variations on press-up that work the same areas of muscles, but in different ways. Wider or lower hand placement or uneven hand placement, for example. Doing panthers/dive monkeys (same thing, two names - google it!) are also good for this.

As well as mixing up your exercises, make sure you're working the whole body - legs, core (both abs and back), chest, arms, and upper back.

I'm not going to list exercises or plans - there's plenty of information out there - but if you are stuck feel free to ask me anything.

Aside from standard conditioning, get out there and practice parkour! I improved my balance a lot simply by using the road sign at the end of my street - every time I went past it I would jump on it. Either two-footed facing it, taking off one foot facing it (alternating feet), or running from behind it and trying to jump on and carry on running. Once you're on it, walk up and down, turn around, try standing still facing forwards, or even do squats (or one-legged squats!) to practice balancing. Similarly, there's a lot to be done on a simple kerb or wall. Doing ten minutes regularly will make a noticeable difference! Again, if you're out of ideas, search the internet or ask me.

This has dragged on a bit, but hopefully you can see there's a lot you can and should do!

Monday 25 March 2013

Next Term

Hi everyone,

It's been awhile since any update to the blog and despite my earlier enthusiasm, I don't think that'll change much. But today I've been doing a bit of admin stuff for the group and thought I would write one about next term.

The group started small in Michaelmas, but we persevered and we got to a nicer size in Hilary. Despite needing to train in the snow and the rain, we still had an average of 6 people per session, double the previous term. The people who've been around since the start have really improved and that's really nice to see. The sessions were hopefully enjoyable - I tried to keep the normal ones to a decent standard of variation and fun (as well as hard work!) but we also had a couple of jam sessions, a trip to london, and a games session.

Next term it's going to be more of the same, but increased to 3 sessions a week. I'll try and do a poll closer to the time to decide when they are but it should be a variety of times - weekend and weekday, morning, afternoon and evening, and may change each time. Also, hopefully nicer weather and longer light will improve this. I've also been thinking about what the sessions will be and with 3 sessions there's more scope for improvement and variation.

There will be more conditioning - and this isn't a bad thing! I've been reading a couple of blogs which reminded me of the importance of this, and a phrase often heard is "to be and to last"; also on the London trip, the guys who came remarked that the session run for us by Steve, one of the PKGen coaches in London, was much tougher than our usual ones and that we needed to step up!
Given that we are throwing our bodies into and off hard things in movements they may not be used to we need to make sure they're up to the challenge. It also helps to strengthen our minds to deal with pain and fatigue and give us more resolve. Whether I designate a certain session to have lots of conditioning or just add in bits to each session, I'll try and make sure there's more.

I'll also try and involve more games in our sessions. We had a games session towards the end of last term where we played tag, capture the flag, chase and last man standing. I've used some of the group funds to buy some bandanas which we can use as tags (like tag rugby) or to designate teams for games, so we'll be putting these to good use!

The other minor things is that there's now a membership form which I'll be pushing next term; I'll try and actually get us a committee sorted to help with the admin stuff and prepare to continue the group next year when I'm not around; website update hopefully to be done in the next few weeks; and I'm trying a publicity drive through some newspapers (again) and I'll hit the email newsletters when term starts.

Hope you're all managing to keep moving over the vacation!

Sunday 20 January 2013

Snow need for an awful pun about the fact we kept training in the snow

It snowed. We still trained. Rugby was cancelled, athletics was cancelled, the libraries shut early (fair enough, they do need to get home), and I'm sure many other sports were cancelled, but parkour was not! And why should we? It's only a bit of snow.

Admittedly in the days before it I was considering not running a session, but then I remembered that we just don't do that. Part of parkour is about adapting to your environment, and weather is just a part of that. I saw a blog post awhile ago about treating different weather as a blessing: you can go to the places that you usually go to, but it's different. The environment has changed. The same way that we shouldn't seek out an easier obstacle for a certain move, we shouldn't expect certain weather. It makes a lot of things more difficult, and we should be glad for the challenge. It helps it to stop being boring when there aren't many good places to train in Oxford.

It also forces you to be technically better. In the dry, you might be able to get away with a poorly angled landing with the grip on your feet, but when it's wet you can't. It's a good way to improve the precision of your movements, and there's also the added mental challenge to go with it. In addition to this, I felt a bit smug about the fact that we were still going when other sports had given up - surely that shows we're better?

Anyway, sessions will continue to be twice-weekly this term. There was talk at yesterday's session of maybe having extra sessions now and then, including possibly a trip a London class (only 1 hour's drive and definitely worth it), an early-morning conditioning session, and a potential social.

Sessions also now cost £2 each, up from £1. This is so that we can start looking a bit more long-term and have a bit of funding to play with, as well as paying off the cost of the website. It could be used for buying a bit of equipment or paying for a coach from london to come and run a session for us. But I'll make it accountable: we currently have £44, and at some point I'll try to sort something out so that we have an actual 'membership' (though it won't exclude anyone, it will mean we have a core of people who are regular) and some elected positions (president, etc). This is all stuff I've said before and I'm repeating it, whoops.

I'm also going on a little publicity drive (email notices and asking Cherwell/OxStu if they want to write about us), so feel free to share the website on your facebook or invite friends individually. Though we haven't got too much space to grow (it starts getting difficult if more than 8 turn up to each session), there's still ample space for more people.

Train safe/see you soon,

Monday 7 January 2013

New Term and Training

Yesterday I went to Winterval, which is a day of parkour training and coaching with the ParkourGenerations group in London - there was six hours of exercise with only a lunch break in the middle and today almost every part of my body is aching (including the underside of my mouth, which is odd) held at an outdoor parkour training structure.

I'm back in Oxford this Wednesday so I'll start organising training sessions for the following week at some point. I've had a few people get in touch with me over the holidays saying that they do parkour but aren't interested in coming to coached sessions. I've also realised that having entirely structured sessions means that you only practice things which I tell you to practice, so you don't get to do your own thing as much.

When I started the group I wasn't intending it to be me coaching sessions all the time, I was more expecting to find a couple of people (including some experienced people) to train with (instead of people for me to train). But as it happened, there were beginners wanting to learn, so that's what I did. Maybe I've got slightly too caught up in this and was focusing too much, if not entirely, on this type of training.

I have always been running things based on what people want though - if people want something different that's fine with me, I'm only doing anything based on what other people want. So it's up to you!

Instead of structured sessions where I'm telling you what to do all the time, we could instead do more open sessions (maybe where I run a warm-up but then you're free to do whatever you want, but we stay as a group in a location) or have a 'jam' format (jams are just unstructured where everybody trains however they want). In the more structured sessions I'll also be varying it more so that there are 'open' parts to it where you do you own thing.

There is a caveat though: less structure means more individual responsibility, and for beginners it's often hard to know what to do given less experience and less understanding of the discipline. Lots of people start off thinking it's all about doing more difficult, bigger or stylistic moves and with more open sessions people may end up training in a way which will mean that is more dangerous or progresses and improves more slowly. It's much more important to get really good at the basics before trying to push yourself and equally as important to make sure your body is strong enough too. I've been reading "The Parkour and Freerunning Handbook" by Dan Edwardes (PKGen founder, he was one of the first Brits to start parkour so has loads of experience) and he stresses this, pointing out that tendons and ligaments strengthen a lot more slowly than muscles and pushing yourself too quickly too soon makes you much more likely to get injured in the following months and years. There's also a blog put up by one of the PKGen team ( - give it a read!) talking about the importance of stressing the basics and he's observed a lack of understanding by a lot of the parkour community.

Anyway: next term, hopefully more variety in sessions, training with some more experienced people, and also more conditioning! See you in a week or so =)