Rise of Modern Parkour

One of the Storror members clears a roof gap while filming Roof Culture Asia.

Storror

One of the Storror members clears a roof gap while filming Roof Culture Asia.

Parkour originated in France, on the outskirts of Paris in the 1990’s and has matured into a vibrant street culture that flourishes in certain parts of the world today. The Pioneer of Parkour, David Bell, began by running, jumping and climbing over obstacles in the streets of Paris, developing the art of moving.

These original developers of parkour called themselves traceurs and tackled the streets of France to develop new methods of moving as well as new ways of using the objects around them. Not much is know about this era of parkour as the sport was still underground and had not yet come into the mainstream, which it still hasn’t fully assimilated into.

Their original Yamikazi group developed the original parkour style, a brute force form of movement that praises heavy impacts and pure power. This style has since been refined so that athletes do not take as much of a beating, limiting injury. Since the early years of parkour the movement has continued to evolve and the sport now cherishes smoothness and complexity over mere force and power.

Parkour really began to blow up when it hit the big screen with the film Yamazaki, the first parkour movie. Prior to that, parkour technique had been featured in films through the likes of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, but had never come to the public in its pure form. Even today, the reality of parkour is unknown to the public. Freerunners will post movies and montages of their work, but those videos have rarely hit the mainstream, with Storror’s Roof Culture Asia being a major exception.

Chan and Lee performed in an era of parkour that was incredibly hard on the body. The safety roll had not been invented yet and the parkour movement consisted of many heavy movements. Due to this fact, freerunners had to be tough to sustain heavy impacts on the daily over the course of their careers.

As the sport of parkour has matured, its publicity and skill level increased drastically. Now athletes are attempting movements that were never considered possible before. This shift has been due to a revolution of safety in parkour as well as the younger generation of athletes bringing their own perspective to the parkour community.

The 2000’s were a time of major innovation for the sport as the safety roll came into use. Runners improved their climb ups and new skills were constantly being discovered. However, the 2010’s have proved to be the most incredible decade for the sport as these innovations have been taken to the highest level by athletes across the sport.

Alongside the growth of parkour techniques, a variety of factors have started to push the culture and movement of parkour into the mainstream. Still, the community is split in their view of parkour coming into the societal view.

In an exchange I had with Sacha Powell from the Storror group, he explained to me that “the Parkour community is very diverse – On one end of the spectrum the culture is very gritty and underground – similar to skateboarding. On the other side, there’s a lot of people pushing the online mainstream side of things – sometimes to a cringy level.”

Parkour embodies both the counterculture of skating and the mainstream street scene at the same time. Different groups influence certain aspects of the culture, with the Storror group being one that has taken Parkour into the mainstream.

Parkour originally took on the counterculture of the time with oversized tees and baggy pants but has evolved into a much more sophisticated style over the years. Groups have launched their own parkour clothing lines, but the distinct parkour style still remains variable and fresh.

On a deeper level, Parkour represents a rejection of the rules of the world. Freerunners do not listen to what they are told they can and can’t do, and as a result they are often confronted by the authorities. Parkour athletes simply do not see things the same way as the average person, but rather see lines and patterns of movement through certain scenes.

Our back alley or ramp complex is their playground, a place where they take what is given and take it beyond its intended purpose, simply not doing what they are told to do.

Locations such as IMax or a subway exit in the heart of London have become iconic spots for parkour due to how their architecture lends itself to the sport.

Unfortunately, some “holy sites” for Parkour such as the famous Vauxhall location have been destroyed or remodeled in recent years, making parkour an ever evolving scene.

The most famous parkour spot of the era was the manpower gap in Jean Juares, France. The name of the jump is fitting because although it is only a 10 ft gap the drop is 15 ft, which takes a toll on the body.

The gap is a testament to the durability of freerunners as it is not the distance but the drop that makes this jump so scary. Moreover, spots such as these are testaments to the ability of the people who courageously took them on.

Some of the biggest innovators in the Parkour world are the Storror group which burst onto the scene of October 10th, 2010. Before this, the groups, members: Max and Benj Cave, Toby Segar, Drew Taylor, Callum and Sacha Powell and Josh Burnett-Blake had been training parkour for years under various titles.

Beginning with their North Point Group and later evolving into Team Agility the boys gradually came together to form Storror. The North Point Group formed in 2006 after Max and his brother Benj had watched the Jump Britain parkour film which inspired them to hit the streets and start practicing.

The team’s name came from Max and Benj’s middle name: Storror, which they thought sounded cool. Since their inception, the group has been at the forefront of the parkour community, stretching its bounds and innovating style, and breaking the rules.

Each member of the group developed their skills across their parkour journey which began in 2005. From a young age each member showed their talent in both videography and parkour, putting together videos which were quite impressive for their age.

Despite their obvious focus on parkour, the team highly values aesthetics in their videos, and have created a parkour culture around that style.

The Storror group played on these ideas  in their documentaries: Roof Culture Asia and SuperTramps Thailand. These films brought their parkour abilities on the ground to new heights as they would jump between skyscrapers and run and flip along walls hundreds of feet in the air.

During these features the group was constantly on the run from the local authorities who often arrested them for trespassing, however due to the honor system of law in Asia, no group member was detained.

Out of these experiences the group crafted a film that dove into the culture of parkour while capturing the beautiful scenery of the Asian cities: Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Seoul. The film represents the reclaiming of parkour for the community after it had lost much of its meaning due to Instagram or Twitter.

Callum Powell recognized that “there are people that are just going on roofs for Instagram just to, like, shock people that have no experience with height. It would be arrogant to say that we’re reclaiming it, but we wanna show that it’s not about posing.”

The aim of the documentary was to show the world that rooftop parkour was not just performed by people who want social media fame for doing something dangerous. They wanted to prove that rooftop parkour is calculated and is not meant to be sensational, but rather just a way of taking one’s abilities, formed through ground training, to the highest level.

Roof Culture puts rooftop parkour into context, highlighting the years of training and hours of preparation that go into each jump at height. Storror recognizes that the stunts that they perform on rooftops are often taken out of context, so they wanted to share the whole story behind their famous jumps.

Benj Cave broke down the process for the viewers, explaining that the group is “not taking that leap of faith that everyone thinks that it is. it’s so calculated, you break everything down into chunks.”

Despite what is often perceived there are hours of preparation that go into each jump. The group checks every surface to make sure it is safe. If their takeoff is too slippery or the landing is too fragile or if there are a variety of other variables that lower their ability to do the stunt, they know how to walk away from it. Yet, even before the moment of the jump, they are not solely relying on their few hours of prep work, but rather are leaning on years of training and experience.

Youtuber and freerunner Jimmy the Giant explains that “for every two second clip you see on Instagram there’s probably like 10 years of actual parkour training that’s got them to that point”. A freerunner would never try a trick, especially a dangerous one, that he/she felt that they could not do.

A key part of parkour is mental, battling fear. When faced with a scary challenge freerunners always check themselves and calm themselves down, working through the process in their head and analyzing a fix for every possible risk.

By analyzing the risks and recognizing the limits of their own abilities, freerunners always work within a relatively safe boundary. While many may still argue that free runners are just adrenaline junkies, Jimmy argues that “when you are doing parkour the last thing you want is adrenaline. If you’ve ever been nervous before … you’re erratic, you’re not in control”

Parkour is always done within one’s abilities, therefore, serious injury or death rarely occurs. Although others may perceive parkour to be a very dangerous sport, they miss the fact that the athletes who perform these stunts have been training for years and only work within their limits.

Beyond clarification of the nature of rooftop parkour, the group also chose to highlight the anti-establishment vibe of parkour and the social barriers that they face. The feature showed the group constantly on the run from authorities as they would have been charged for trespassing to get to their spots, which was an arrestable offense.

The film perfectly encapsulates the skater-esque attitude of the parkour community as they showed pure disregard for certain laws in order to perform for their stunts. While some may equate the actions of skaters to those of the parkour athletes, the two communities live in different worlds.

The parkour community has always been much quieter in their communication with the police, which has allowed them to keep returning to different spots where they know they are not allowed to be. From their perspective, as long as they are not hurting anyone or damaging any property, they are fine, and most of the community is innocent of these accusations.

So in many ways the group is misunderstood, but also recognizes that they are stepping outside of many societal rules. Callum explains that part of Parkour is to “question things that are told to be absolute and 100% true.” This open defiance often lands them in conflict with the authorities.

In many ways, parkour athletes, especially those who train outdoors and not in a gym, are feared by the outside community. This is not due to displays of aggression or violence, but rather because people do not trust them to take care of themselves.

For many, the natural instinct when seeing someone run and jump across a rooftop is to fear for that person’s safety, but Roof Culture highlights that freerunners do not just run across roofs in an uncontrolled manner but rather weigh the potential consequences of every step before deciding whether or not to commit.

By its very nature parkour is a dangerous sport especially when performed at heights. Youtube, recognizing the potentially dangerous impact such content could have on its young viewers, decided to demonetize a variety of Parkour channels due to their content. Storror was one of the most vocal parties in reaction to their demonetization.

In 2019 the group was demonetized without warning just as they had quit their jobs due to the success of their channel. Toby Segar reported that YouTube did a “Blanket wipe of all advertising on our channel six months ago … now we rely solely on our clothing and the bonus jobs that we do”.

The Storror group has taken this idea of parkour culture and have translated it into fashion as well. The group has created their own style of street clothing, even making their own pair of shoes: The Storror 10s. This was the saving grace for Storror as YouTube revenue, their sole source of income had been taken away.

This demonetization was not limited to Storror and also spread across a variety of other parkour channels as well, affecting each group differently depending on their financial situation.

Many videos from these channels such as Storror’s infamous powerline cable crossing were age-restricted by YouTube because their disclaimers were not enough.

While it is true that Storror’s videos, as well as the content of many other parkour creators, does inspire many young people to explore the sport, YouTube recognized that this may also have some adverse effects. Most notably, YouTube is afraid that children and teens, after seeing such content, may try to do it for themselves and hurt themselves.

There is a definite fear within the community of the effect that parkour may have on their children, and as parkour becomes less and less a part of the underground, it comes more and more into conflict with societal norms. There is a disconnect between the mind of a freerunner and that of your average person, the two groups see the world around them in a drastically different way.

While the freerunner sees the city as his playground, most still see it as a place of order and organization that is not to be messed with. Parkour thinks out of the box and freerunners will break the rules to carry out their visions as to what they could do with a certain piece of architecture.

To counter the growth of parkour, cities have implemented deterrents such as anti-climb paint and anti-parkour spikes which make parkour nearly impossible in some areas. However, some workarounds have been found for these measures, but the conflict between the authorities and freerunning will continue to grow.

However, during my exchange with Sacha Powell he noted that “I believe the more people learn about what Parkour is, the more accepting they get towards it. These days it’s common for a member of the public to see people training and not feel the urge to call the police because they know it’s just people training their sport rather than assuming it’s some sort of criminal activity.”

So while it is becoming more and more difficult to practice freerunning in some areas, more people are becoming more understanding of the lifestyle.

Parkour will remain invincible against all these societal pressures because it is not based in feelings of discontent and disagreement with societal systems, but is more often than not, a form of expression. The main aim of parkour was never to rub society the wrong way but rather to push oneself to the limits, physically and mentally and to display one’s movement as an art form.

Although parkour has taken on certain connotations over the years, its true message can be distilled into a small set of feelings. Storror’s Josh Burnett-Blake explains that “if you got parkour, you got–you’ve got fear, you’ve got freedom, you’ve got expression, all of those feelings, emotions, and disciplines, get rounded off into one form, and that is roof culture.”