Innate Movement Parkour: Taking Mind and Body to New Heights (Literally)
Locals are adopting these French ninja-style street moves by leaps and bounds
Bar hopping: Parkour students negotiate the outdoor equipment at the Rosendale Recreation Center
Photograph by Christina Seti
Maybe you saw it in fast-paced action movies — like the James Bond caper Casino Royale or The Bourne Ultimatum — but didn’t know it had a name. It’s called parkour, an exhilarating athletic discipline in which participants move fluidly around obstacles like walls and railings with acrobatic panache. It originated in early 20th-century France; the name is short for “parcours du combattant” (loosely, “obstacle course” in French).
“A lot of people have an idea of it from seeing extreme YouTube videos of people jumping between buildings or doing backflips while drinking Red Bull,” says Dylan Johanson, the 31-year-old owner of Innate Movement Parkour which offers group and private classes in Ulster County. But parkour can be done by anyone, says Johanson, who was introduced to this addictive pastime online but couldn’t find a local place where he could learn it. Instead, he sought certification in 2014 through Parkour Generations America; last August, he opened his own gym in Kingston. The space includes obstacles like scaffolding, an eight-foot-high tower, railings, and boxes. Students also train outdoors in parks and public spaces as far afield as Rosendale.
“The wonderful thing about parkour is that it starts where you are, and you progress,” says Johanson. “You only compare yourself to where you were yesterday and improve slowly. It’s a movement discipline. If an obstacle that’s challenging for you is stepping over a long rail, that’s fine. You find whatever level is appropriate to challenge yourself.”
Students, usually in groups of about seven to 10, learn basic (and not-so-basic) parkour moves with descriptive names like the Monkey Vault (in which you spring up and push off an obstacle with both hands while facing forward and pulling your knees up to your chest). While daredevils might use a picnic table, less adventurous beginners might try their luck on a belly-button-high railing instead. Students jump horizontally to clear long objects and vertically to clear tall objects. And they learn to roll, which is an important landing skill. Sure, scrapes and bangs are inevitable, but in the one-hour classes, things stay relatively tame. Johanson’s personal outdoor sessions, by contrast, can go on for hours, as he loses track of time and finds joy in the discipline. (Uptown Kingston, especially on Sundays “when it’s shut down,” is a favorite stomping ground, as is the SUNY New Paltz campus.)
Lest you think his clients are a mass of reckless 16-year-old boys, visit a class and you’ll see that it’s not such a rough crowd after all. Out-of-towners with local weekend homes, and groups from Poughkeepsie and Woodstock are all discovering parkour, which requires no fancy clothing (you can do it barefoot) or superfit body type. It’s not unusual to see older students in Johanson’s classes; one 63-year-old male client who couldn’t climb stairs when he started now claims to be as fit as he was in his 30s.
And it’s not just about the moves. Parkour practitioners talk about how it makes them better people. “It becomes a physical metaphor for life,” says Johanson. “You don’t look at challenges and obstacles the same way. It gives you a belief in yourself.”