In the past we’ve addressed the importance of natural movement but with modern day life shackling the majority of us to largely built-up urban areas, moving ‘naturally’ has become an incredibly hard task to embark upon. I have always been a city a girl (although not at heart) with a huge interest in calisthenics and Parkour just absolutely fascinates me. The ability to be able to move so naturally around our urban surroundings, being free with how we express that movement, whilst all at the same time being functional with that movement too, completely astonishes me.
In short Parkour is a practice to overcome obstacles with movement, developed from childhood games of a group of young French men notably, David Belle, Sebastien Foucan, and the group called The Yamakasi.
I follow various Parkour enthusiasts online and I sparked up a bit of a conversation with Brad Moss of Southend Parkour about how to get started and if he knew of any local Parkour coaches in my area. After finding Brad to be really helpful I started to think that there were probably a lot of other people out there, like me, asking the same questions and in need of a little bit of a nudge to take the plunge into Parkour. So, I decided to ask Brad if he would like to take part in an interview and being the nice guy that he is, he of course agreed.
Georgie: Hi Brad, thanks for taking part in this interview. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself – who you are and what your background is.
Brad: Absolutely! My name’s Brad, I’m a self employed Parkour coach running Southend Parkour delivering classes in the South East of Essex. I’m also currently a full-time mature student finishing my final year of a Sport Studies BSc degree focusing on health and fitness and I also work part-time for a local children’s charity (I’m busy).
I’ve grown up in sport throughout primary and secondary schools doing all the traditional sports until around 15 where I started skateboarding, I wasn’t particularly great at it but I enjoyed it with a small group of friends, especially the self directed challenge aspect and the freedom to create something from nothing. In 2004 I won a competition to meet the guys from Jump London, the documentary which kick started Parkour in the UK and the rest as they say, is history.
Georgie: There seems to be a common misconception that those practicing Parkour are putting themselves at risk – performing acrobatic tricks much like, let’s say, a stuntman would. Could you tell us a little about what Parkour entails for those who are unaware of its practices?
Brad: In short Parkour is a practice to overcome obstacles with movement, developed from childhood games of a group of young French men notably, David Belle, Sebastien Foucan, and the group called The Yamakasi. Parkour is a huge practice really, but common themes and aspects of training include self-improvement, play, and challenge. Naturally, media warps and pushes what sells so you see lots of high, risky stuff in the mainstream – but Parkour is an on-the-ground practice about managing risk and challenging for your own betterment. As I say to my students “If you’re hurt and on the floor, you’re not a very effective mover.”.
Stay safe and move smart!
Georgie: What’s the difference between Parkour and Freerunning?
Brad: Initially there wasn’t really a difference. Freerunning was the English translation of Parkour for the sake of the Jump London documentary which aired in the UK in 2003, however, as Sebastien Foucan and David Belle worked/developed their own training, Freerunning has emerged a little more into creative movement; which I will add in my opinion, is also a very useful aspect of learning Parkour and movement as a whole. Experiencing a wide range of movement is essential to learn about your own ability and find ways to adapt better to new situations.
Georgie: I know that it’s hard to pinpoint the exact origins of Parkour, due to its embodiment of such primal movements, but how and when would you say it was ‘born’ into western culture?
Brad: Through the 1980’s in particular Parkour was taking a more solid shape, originating from David Belle’s pursuit to embody the qualities and lessons his father and grandfathers taught him. Raymond Belle was brought up in Vietnam before and during the conflict and was trained to fight, hunt, and climb from an early age to survive in the jungles. He eventually moved to France and joined the French Fire Service where he was revered for his physicality and knowledge of his own ability. In an interview, David speaks of his father in his later life – in a field, wearing flip flops, trying to be pushed over by David and his friends, being more than stable as everyone fell down around him, failing in their attempts.
The original translation for Parkour comes from “Parcours du combattant” or obstacle coursing, which was an integral part of Raymond’s learning and training. This would was adapted by the young pioneers of Parkour, adding the “K” to replace the “C” in Parcours to make the work a little harder sounding. Parkour was more exposed in the UK as online video developed and from several small(ish) Parkour-based media, including “Rush Hour” a BBC ident around 2002 and Jump London in 2003/4. Parkour developed primarily on internet forums (pre-Facebook) due to the young nature of practitioners.
Georgie: What are the basic ‘core moves’ of Parkour and are they achievable for people of any age or fitness level?
Brad: I’ve said it quite a lot over my time practicing, anyone can “do” Parkour but Parkour isn’t always for everyone. Society is focused heavily on “sport” and so Parkour doesn’t make sense to everyone, alongside the fact that it is and should be challenging. Parkour forces you to change your mindset, your weaknesses, and that requires a lot of effort. You use your entire body, you have to have good levels of endurance, strength, flexibility, and sensitivity. I’m now 28, after 11-12 years of practicing, and the founders or 30-40 and still going. There are other organisations working with those who are 50/60+ encouraging exploration and movement.
Parkour works with individuals where they are at physically and mentally and encourages small, gradual progression to seek challenges to improve yourself.
Core movements include but aren’t really limited to; walking, running, crawling (quadrupedal movement), vaulting, climbing, swinging, rolling, and jumping. Although it really does depend on the situation you’re presented with and your own training preferences.
Georgie: What made you want to become a certified Parkour coach?
Brad: It was always an interest, as with anything you do, you think “It’d be great to be able to do more of what I love doing.”. For a little while I came away from training Parkour to the same level I used to. I got a bit fed up having been one of the “older/earlier” guys, with the way things were going the focus shifting a bit more to flips and spins over the practicalities and unique qualities of Parkour; being able to get places, escape, and reach. I spent a few years downhill skateboarding and taking part in roller-derby. Parkour and the “self-improvement” philosophy was still my approach – I still moved plenty, just not as much.
Freedom isn’t just the ability to “do as you please”. Unfortunately a lot of young people and new guys involved think this and use it as an excuse to trespass and to go places they probably shouldn’t. Freedom is a mindset, an ideal, an aspiration.
I had an opportunity through work to undergo the certification so I jumped on it, it’s been a hard few years going through the Parkour UK Level 1 and Level 2 certifications, which have a range of competencies which need to be met to prove to an extent your ability as a mover and a coach. Technically, I was still very able, just needed to fine-tune and refamiliarise certain movements/areas or training. Interestingly, I got into youth work 10 or so years ago to share what I do with others and a decade later I’ve finally got the opportunity to with the emergence of the NGB Parkour UK doing some great work with developing coaching certifications.
Georgie: It seems to me that a lot of people embrace Parkour in so many different ways – you have some becoming artistic and stylistic with it, almost using it as a form of self expression, and others going back to its primal roots using it as a way to connect with nature and move freely yet efficiently. Do you feel like its origins are becoming diluted?
Brad: It is a concern but even David Belle realises it’s a part of it’s evolution as a practice. I personally prefer to think “here to there” alongside other non-jumpy stuff, like carrying weight/people, reaching to and from places etc. I’d hate to find a situation where I had to do something and couldn’t do at least SOMETHING towards the goal. A lot of people get a bit too focused on “movement for the sake of movement” in my opinion, which is good in that they are gaining a good amount of experience but at the same time, the reasoning, the rationale is vital. Going bigger because you’ve “done” the smaller stuff is a really simplistic and limited approach to training. My question is how well can you do it? How consistently? 50 Times? 100 times? Things evolve and things change but I do feel it’s very important to hold onto to where it comes from, often it can be the saving grace in discovering a better way. Old doesn’t always mean bad or outdated, same as new doesn’t always mean better than. If you’re interested in this, here’s a great post written a few years back about Parkour “dilution” by Chris Rowat.
Georgie: Would you say that pop culture has spurred the current Parkour movement within the UK – it seemed that after the release of District B-13 (and subsequently the computer game Mirror’s Edge) that Parkour boomed. Or was the movement already strongly established?
Brad: It’s exposure ultimately, exposure means more people are aware, at least now people understand a bit more about what we’re doing. It used to be that London was the only place you could go and people would kind of “get it” but there was still a lack of guidance. Now, we have a lot more coaching organisation leading the communities which helps those getting into it thinking it’s about just “A and B” see “C through to Z” of the practice which make it whole understanding and concept.
Georgie: We live in a very calculated and structured world and have no freedom, nor control, over the flow of our lives. I love the idea that Parkour allows you to be free both physically and mentally. Would you say that your outlook on life has changed and do you feel more connected with yourself and your surroundings?
Brad: In short, yes. Freedom isn’t just the ability to “do as you please”. Unfortunately a lot of young people and new guys involved think this and use it as an excuse to trespass and to go places they probably shouldn’t. Freedom is a mindset, an ideal, an aspiration.
Personally, I attribute two main influences to my outlook on life, Parkour and its “adapt, overcome, and be strong and useful” ethos, alongside what I’ve read from Dan Millman – author of “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior”, and other novels and personal development books too. I believe in learning what’s useful to me and others.
The biggest thing is perspective I guess. As with any practice you start doing it and the more you get into it, you start to see the world through those ideals or views. Obviously I can look at a space and think “What a great place to move, but that’s a really small thing.”. Through training I’ve learned that I can learn new things and do things I never thought I could do – I’ve learned that I can be strong, I can move, and that others can do the same. If I can overcome challenges in movement, I can do the same in life. This is the quality I think that is strongest in people that really train Parkour to its fullest – through Parkour people become strong, optimistic, resourceful, and useful.
Life’s made up of movement, get better at it and understanding it and you improve your life.
Georgie: Why do you think we stop ‘playing’ in our natural surroundings when we ‘grow up’ and become adults?
Brad: I think comfort is a part of it. It’s easier to go along with what’s been told than it is to spend a little time and energy to do it or find out for yourself. We think ‘physical activity’ and we think ‘sport’, if sport is inaccessible due to resources then we don’t move. Walking, crouching, squatting, and lifting regularly is adequate for most. We need to remember what we can do, it’s actually quite simple, we all have a habit of over complicating things.
Nothing develops without challenge. If we learn the art of getting comfortable with discomfort, not only do we get physically stronger through challenge, but it toughens us up mentally to be more ready and hopefully able to face whatever is thrown at us.
Georgie: As a child I remember jumping, hanging, and swinging my way around my surroundings but today this no longer seems to be the case for many children. I fear for the kids of ‘Generation Z’ who are no longer being that active. Why do you think we have become such a sedentary nation?
Brad: Again, comfort. We strive towards comfort and in society, we have an abundance of resources (generally) which results in us going for the easy way and we mostly get it. Nothing develops without challenge. If we learn the art of getting comfortable with discomfort, not only do we get physically stronger through challenge, but it toughens us up mentally to be more ready and hopefully able to face whatever is thrown at us.
I think really it’s why OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) has taken off so massively, people deep down, know and feel the need for adventure, the need to be challenged and battling through discomfort together. I’m not knocking these types of events, they are fun, but it’s turning it into a “sport” (as is the western way). We don’t need sport and to externalise activity – we need to practice life and what it’s made of.
A Uni lecturer (that I know) once raised a good nutrition point which I think links quite rightly to movement and life – “Why wouldn’t you spend time focusing on something you are going to do everyday for the rest of your life?”.
Georgie: How do you think we can encourage the children of today to go back to their roots and get moving?
Brad: Play. Play is so important. We encourage it in pets and children as they grow, then we stop. Why? Do we move less now? Is movement any less important in our lives now we’re over 16?
Let kids do what they’re built to do; let them run, climb, jump, just ask them the questions they need to assess the risk. “What happens if you can’t get down. What options do you have? What’s your back-up plan?”.
The other cool thing which helps is the emergence of Parkour parks across the UK, there’s no “climb here and move like this here” which you see on most children’s play equipment. You have to use your imagination, see the possibilities, kids do this anyway, we just need to encourage rather than make them afraid of doing that.
I’ve got a little boy on the way and I’m thinking much more about this type of stuff. What’s the best way to guide without prescribing? It’s a big reason I prefer the word coaching over teaching, to me a coach guides people to help them find their way rather than say this is how it’s done.
Georgie: I know that you recently took part in Ninja Warrior – how was it practicing something that you are so passionate about in such a structured way?
Brad: Aha, I love Ninja Warrior, I grew up on Crystal Maze so was always interested in physical shows. To have the opportunity to put into practice everything I’ve been learning, in a semi-real, you’ve-got-one-shot opportunity was a good experience. The first heat if I’m honest was pretty easy, I even flew through the first ¾’s of the semi final course making good time, until for some reason I had no grip on the chain swings.
Georgie: Anymore future Ninja Warrior endeavours?
Brad: I had an audition date for season 2 (which has already been filmed), but had work commitments to uphold, maybe season 3. It’s really taken off in the UK now, it’s good to see people training more creatively and for the most part, practically – being able to climb rope, swing, and move better.
Georgie: Thanks Brad, and finally for those who would like to dip their toes into a bit of the Parkour water how would you recommend they get started?
Brad: Find a good coach, look for coaches who have completed their level 2 Parkour UK certificate in coaching Parkour/Freerunning. Unfortunately there are still gyms and gymnastics spaces blurring the lines and saying “come practice here”, but Parkour IS a separate practice, about to be recognised respectively by the UK sport councils as its own non-competitive sport in the UK.
Think about areas you are weak in and research, think about how you can introduce games and activities which will help use that area more. Having a good body of physical awareness, strength, and endurance is important. We aren’t built to land on concrete, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re doing things well to reduce the risk of injury. Ultimately, do some reading, do some research, find others in your area and start moving, slow, progressively, and of course – have fun!
Although I haven’t quite taken the plunge into Parkour yet, Brad’s outlook on life and the core beliefs of Parkour leave me feeling even more confident about doing so. I used to be pretty crazy a few years ago – I’d jump or throw myself off anything but after having my 3rd baby I seem to have developed a fear of doing anything that might even be considered as remotely dangerous – even, yes… a handstand. What I have realised though, and I think that many people may not, is that Parkour is about a slow progression that takes you out of your comfort zone in a safe and simple way, you’ll only ever be in danger if you put yourself in danger.
A few things also hit home in this interview, such as talking about allowing children to explore, climb, jump, and just generally be kids. I have to admit that whilst I’ve been out and about I’ve told my son to “Get down.” from whatever he was climbing on rather than encouraging him or maybe at least talking to him about why certain movements might be more dangerous than others and how he can execute them and get down safely, rather than just get down and do nothing.
If you’d like to follow Brad and Southend Parkour online just check out the links below: