Overcoming all obstacles
Strolling passed St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast recently, my eyes were drawn to la set of sculptures (turns out they were actually repainted navigational buoys, but that’s another a story). They were huge, abstract and colourful, and worth a second look in and of themselves. But that was not what grabbed my attention. Leaping and bouncing around, over and against these structures – and the park benches and walls beside them – was a group of teenage kids.
Clad in T-shirts, hoodies and baggy jeans and tracksuits, they looked the kind you’d normally see sitting on a kerb somewhere, sulking emo-style at the world, too bored to be bothered. But these guys were the opposite of that: Sailing through the air, propelling themselves skyward, twisting, springing and back-flipping, their athleticism had a ballet-like precision, and all the while they whooped and laughed and clapped each other on the back. They fizzed with life.
They were practising ‘Parkour’, or free running. It’s a discipline that’s taken the world (well, its young and flexible residents, anyway) by storm, and it’s arrived here in Mayo. Adrian Ilków (21), is a free runner living in Westport. Like many practitioners – known as ‘traceurs’ if they’re male, or ‘traceuses’ if they’re female – the former Rice College student is passionate about Parkour, viewing it as ‘a way of life’.
Proponents explain Parkour as an art of movement – running, jumping, balancing, vaulting, climbing – used to overcome everyday obstacles on the streets, in parks, on beaches, wherever. The world is their gym. An ‘obstacle’ could be a branch, a wall, a post, a handrail, a bench, a boulder, a fence – you name it.
The idea is to get from one point to another as creatively and efficiently as possible. So, rather than going around these obstacles, you go over them, under them, you scale them, you use them as springboards.
Adrian maintains this perspective is useful because it teaches you not only to overcome physical obstacles, but mental ones too. “It’s a life lesson,” he says, “about how to become more positive.” He also believes it’s a healthy, drug-free alternative pastime for young people.
Parkour was founded in France in the 1980s by David Belle, who went on to found the first group dedicated to the discipline, the Yamakasi. Six years ago, when he was 15 years old, Adrian watched a French film, ‘Yamakasi’, which featured members of the group, and he was inspired.
“I was just a kid that was impressed by the movie and went with friends jumping in the park. That’s how it started. We didn’t know the name of what were were doing, were were just jumping and climbing,” he explains. “After some training I realised that my body was capable of more than I thought … I’m still discovering my skills and abilities.”
Adrian is adamant that Parkour should not be described as a sport. “Definitely not! it’s a non-competitive discipline. I mean of course there are competitions like Red Bull Art of Motion but it’s not a competition between free runners, its between style and environment. It’s like we are all sizes and shapes, it’s not gymnastics [where people conform to a] text book example. We do every move in a different way … gymnasts do their moves the same way every time.”
Looking to the future, Adrian wants to keep practising, keep improving. “I definitely want to improve my abilities and learn more about my body and fear borders … I also want to spread the message to a younger generation to get out there and start practising. We can all move like that, we just need to believe in ourselves.”
To find out more about Parkour in Co Mayo, get in touch with Adrian Ilków through his Facebook page. Pic of Adrian in action taken by Lorna Heneghan, Westport, who is studying Graphic Design/Photography at Limerick School of Art and Design.