Parkour Workshop with Parkour Philippines: My Pseudo-Training to Become a Hollywood Action Superstar
When In Manila and fleeing from gangsters, cops, or super villians, you may wish to enroll in a parkour workshop first.
I wish I could say that after my two-day Roots: Foundations on Parkour Workshop with Parkour Philippines (PKPH), I can now move through the streets like David Belle in Brick Mansions. But alas, it is not to be.
I was quite ambitious at the beginning of the Parkour Philippines parkour workshop, expecting to do a back flip by the end of the weekend. I withdrew those expectations immediately. As my mentors told me and the rest of the workshop class, “There are no magic bullets in parkour (PK) and it would take years of diligent practice to move through an urban space like a ninja.”
So, I told myself that I would take in as much as I can because, as ambitious as this may sound, I do dream of running away from a policeman or a freaky stalker a la David Belle. Don’t you think it would be cool to jump from a 12-foot wall gracefully and unscathed? I think it would, and I’ve categorized it as a skill that will help me survive this beautiful albeit dangerous world, so that if I’m in a situation where I have to choose between fight or flight, I can choose flight with flair.
RJ Calumpang, Ian Sy, and Gerard Castro of Parkour Philippines. (Photo courtesy of Justin Helton)
Day 1: Parkour Foundations
The workshop by Parkour Philippines began with me silently reprimanding myself for not staying physically active. I knew that parkour will be demanding on my body, and I was already dreading the aches I would feel the next morning for my lack of exercise. However, I am not the type of person who easily backs out of situations. Plus, I figured my two years of gymnastics training (from two decades ago) would help.
First, we ran around the Rafael Cortina Sports Center in Xavier School to warm up. When we passed by a five-foot-high rail, we were given the option to hop over it, which I chose not to take because I thought it was a little too early to make a fool of myself. I was sure that would come later; I was in no hurry to humiliate myself.
Then, we learned the different kinds of jumping: on the ground, on the stairs, and on to a precise point. (Tip: always land on the balls of your feet. That will save you from a world of pain.)
While we were learning how to go up the stairs like a ninja, I developed an effective way to make myself somehow skillfully carry out some parkour moves: I would imagine a specific scenario where a PK move would be useful. As we were running and jumping up and down the stairs, I imagined a madman who thinks I am his long-lost bride chasing me. That did the trick.
After assimilating how to jump in three different locations (floor, stairs, and precise points), we were taught how to do a cat leap. A cat leap basically involves jumping towards a wall and holding onto the top with your knees bent towards your chest and the balls of your feet pressed against the wall. This is a popular parkour move mostly seen when practitioners are climbing a wall.
That’s me cat leaping. Photo courtesy of Justin Helton.
I felt fear the first time I came face-to-face with the wall. What if I jumped a little too hard and hit my head against the wall? What if I jumped too hard and fell backward straight to the ground and consequently cracked my head open? This was when I was introduced to spotting, to which I was heavily dependent on throughout the workshop.
It was my security blanket, and knowing someone else would take the fall was a great relief. Well, our mentors were happy to do so, and they demonstrated it when I hit Ian’s forehead with my elbow after a failed cat leap.
Ian Sy is one of our program leads who has been practicing parkour for five years now. He’s merciless at times, but an awfully nice guy. He won’t let you give up on yourself if he can see that you can still push yourself. Ken Tan, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, also mentors us. He can be strict, but exceptional when it comes to explaining in detail how to do a particular parkour move.
To set the record straightL parkour is a safe sport. According to Ken, it’s safer than basketball. In parkour, you only need to trust and know yourself and there’s no one else who can hurt you. In contact and team sports, there are other people involved, which brings added danger into the mix. Just make sure you don’t go full retard and try a bunch of stunts and moves that you’ve never tried before or that your body is not ready for. Remember: parkour takes years to master.
After learning the cat leap, we were ready to move onto the top of the wall. Climbing was strenuous. My upper body strength was simply MIA. So I was just thanking God above for my spotters below who helped me get a little closer to Him.
My biggest takeaway from the parkour workshop is the holistic approach in caring for the body. It does not matter how hard you train in parkour; if your body is not healthy and strong enough, it just won’t work.
So, when we were served a healthy complimentary lunch from Happy Diet courtesy of Parkour Philippines, I took on the challenge. Yes, it’s a challenge since vegetables are mostly decorative for me. But since I’m serious about learning parkour and moving like David Belle, lifestyle changes are in order.
After lunch break, we played a game called The Floor is Lava. Basically, you need to get from point A to Point B without touching the floor. Since we were beginners, though, they were nicer to us and restricted us only from touching the grass.
I am taller than the average Filipina at five feet and six inches tall. So, instead of parkouring my way through the obstacle course, I used the reach of my arms and legs to move from one point to the other. Well, I didn’t hear anyone complain.
RJ Calumpang of Parkour Philippines jumping a distance of about six feet from the red concrete to the blue five-inch wide concrete. Photo courtesy of Justin Helton.
It was in this obstacle course that I saw how amazing parkour can be. After my classmates and I finished the course, our mentors and the rest of the Parkour Philippines family tried the course and showed us how it’s supposed to be done. I had to pick up my jaw from the floor.
They were jumping distances that were longer than their height and landing in precision on a five-inch wide landing. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, they decided to challenge the building by climbing to the third floor.
Photo courtesy of Justin Helton.
While watching this, Justin Helton, my photographer friend who tagged along for the workshop joked, “I live on the 18th floor of my building, but I don’t feel as safe anymore.”
We did vaults afterwards,which was my favorite part of that day, maybe because it’s familiar and similar to gymnastics. I felt most competent in it since gymnastics trained me to jump over vaults when I was but three feet tall.
They taught us two basic vault jumps: the Safety and the Lazy (I love how reassuring the names are). Safety is holding the rail with one hand and planting the opposite foot on the other side before needling your inner leg through. Lazy is holding the rail with one hand then jumping sideward over the rail, with the leg nearest to the rail leading the jump.
We did a series of more vaults for muscle memory, and it worked; I finally felt like I was getting close to doing some real parkour and started feeling pretty good about myself (I hope that when my lovely classmates read this, they wouldn’t think, “Oh, she thought she was doing pretty good at this point? Poor girl”).
The Lazy Vault is my favorite parkour move. Photo courtesy of Halo Halo Project.
Well, that was until we moved to the next event, which was the Safety Roll, a move that cushions the impact from landing from a height. I ended up bumping my head, my shoulder, and landing on my back instead of rolling to standing. Thank God we were practicing on a mattress. Sometimes I’d be able to roll perfectly, but then lose it right after. While Ian was spotting me during safety roll, I honestly felt the tip of my shoes drift a few centimeters away from his face.
I asked Justin to take a photo of me while doing a safety roll, and after taking a few shots; he was honest enough to tell me that I look like someone who just fell on the floor.
Photo courtesy of Justin Helton.
As we became more adept in safety roll (more of my classmates than me), we moved to the children’s playground. The floor was no longer cushioned by a mattress, but it was softer than concrete by some degrees. After I did my first roll, I hit my head again. So I stopped and watched most of my classmates master the art of rolling while I dawdled behind.
They were rolling from a standing position (I can only roll from a squat) and rolling after jumping off an elevated object. Man, I was growing jealous by the minute that I wasn’t getting to the level they were at.
To make myself feel better, I told myself that they are mostly serious athletes: three are members of Manila Dragons, a rowing team in the Philippines; two are serious cross-fit trainees; one is a firefighter; and one is a professional pole dance instructor.
We concluded the day with what I would call a Parkour Relay. Using everything that we learned from the nine-hour parkour workshop, we had to run through the parking lot, jump over a five-foot metal gate and cat leap to the second floor. Challenge accepted!
I passed through the parking lot smoothly, jumping on and off the four-foot island easily. Then came my Everest. My muscles were starting to fail me, and I couldn’t find the strength to lift myself over the gate. After a few tries, Ken told me to take a rest and try again later.
I succeeded after my second try, although Ken had to teach me a little trick. As I was approaching the wall for a cat leap, I tried to gain momentum as much as I could. I knew that it will help me get to the top easier and faster. My spotter was on alert, and pushed me hard so I can lift myself to the top. Kudos to me! I just did some real, albeit assisted, parkour.