Zach McIver doesn’t play video games. Instead, he uses the world as his playground.
As I arrived at my first parkour session, led by 16-year-old Kingston native Zach McIver, the playful attitudes of the group were clear. Watching the warm ups and conditioning, I couldn’t decide if the practitioners reminded me more of monkeys or ninjas.
“Parkour is a form of staying active and a way of improving yourself physically, mentally and spiritually,” McIver said. “It requires a lot of physical strength, but mentally it can help you to apply that idea of overcoming obstacles and being creative and finding new ways to tackle problems … to other places in life.”
McIver began practicing parkour five years ago and has been primarily self-taught in the discipline, although he said he’s been doing it all his life.
“I think everyone does parkour when they’re a kid, all kids jump and climb, so it’s kind of like thinking ‘why do people stop playing?’” he said. “They start taking themselves too seriously … so the idea is to kind of keep that childlike idea in your head.”
However, not everyone has lost their sense of play.
As I observed McIver and his fellow traceurs, or parkour practitioners, complete a course of jumping and wall climbing, a woman passing by in business dress and a pencil skirt took off her shoes and attempted to join them.
After her unpremeditated attempt to jump up a wall, she continued on her way.
However, most passersby stared at the group, questioning what they were doing in hushed tones.
“I find it harder to relate to people who don’t practice, ’cause it’s such a big part of my life, but I can understand that people are different,” McIver said. “To a lot of people I’m still that weird kid who goes and jumps off stuff, which is fine with me, I’m not doing it to impress anyone.”
While McIver prepared to do a side flip over a set of concrete stairs, I found it hard to suppress my sense of concern.
“With parkour you don’t try something unless you’re 100 per cent sure you can make it. That fear is there to help you and to keep you safe,” McIver said. “Overcoming the fear is necessary but it doesn’t mean you don’t know you’re ready.”
As I walked through campus with McIver, he instructed me to follow a path where he’d meet me at the other end. He jumped and climbed his way through the concrete structures and levels outside of Mackintosh-Corry Hall.
When I asked if he often finds himself flipping and jumping through his daily transit, he said, “I can’t help it. Some people tell me to stop, that it’s weird, but I just have to do it. It’s a part of me.”
Brandon Beauchesne-Hébert, a recent graduate from the police foundations program at St. Lawrence College, began practicing gymnastics a year ago as a way to learn to flip and help improve his parkour.
“One of the biggest things with people doing [parkour] is they don’t want to be seen doing it,” he said. “You’re afraid of what people are going to say and then slowly you start not caring.”
He said that the most important thing is to enjoy what it is you do, no matter what that may be for each individual.
“You want to be the person that you would look up to if you were a kid,” he said.
Beauchesne-Hébert, who works as a security guard, said he thinks it’s odd that people in security condemn parkour, “almost seeing it as a way to be a thief.”
“It does make it difficult to find new places to practice,” 16-year-old Benjamin Barrett said, who has been practicing parkour for the past five years with McIver.
Barrett said that liability becomes an issue when finding locations to practice parkour, particularly in downtown Kingston, as property owners don’t want to be responsible for any injuries.
“I do [parkour] in the woods; trees are amazing,” Barrett said. “Since I was a kid I’ve loved to climb trees, even before parkour, so then you just do stuff in trees … swinging from branch to branch, using the tree as a unique and creative set of monkey bars.”
Eric Ji Wei Li, ArtSci ’13, who has been practicing parkour for four years, said that traceurs should never find working with a single location or obstacle boring.
“As your skills advance, you will develop something called ‘Parkour Vision.’ You will start to see different ways to tackle an obstacle, some harder than the others,” he said in an email to the Journal. “You will also spot places to train that you have never thought of before.”
Li said he set out to explore his physical and mental limits, as the self-challenging aspects of parkour are important.
“I have witnessed some pretty bad falls and wall-slams,” he said. “Parkour is scary and your innate nature will try to hold you back from performing actions outside of your comfort zone. As your skills improve, your comfort zone also increases.”
However, safety concerns arise when it comes to competitive attitudes in the sport.
“Within the community, we highly frown upon competitions for the sport of parkour, as it is viewed sacred, for oneself only,” Li said.
While parkour has given McIver and his friends the opportunity to travel to parkour meets around North America, they err on the side of caution when it comes to competitions.
“There’s a problem with [parkour competitions] because they can get dangerous with kind of pushing yourself, and the problem with parkour is if you push yourself on something big ’cause someone else did something bigger, you can hurt yourself,” 15-year-old Connor Bankuti said.
For Bankuti, parkour became a way to make friends after moving to Kingston a year ago.
“I’m kind of anti-social ’cause in public school I got bullied a lot, so when it came to friends I wasn’t sure what to do when I moved away from my old friends,” he said. “[Parkour] was kind of like a great blessing because I could hang out with these guys and I won’t feel weird around them, so I can just have fun doing this sport.”
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