The first time I tried a coward, or swing, in parkour, I fell flat on my stomach. Torn hands, bruised shins and bruised egos.
Three years ago, I spent the spring looking for an alternative fitness activity, something that would finally hook me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think the brief for me, in my head, was, “Like yoga, but incredibly tiring and outdoors. Or something other than the gym.” J tried crazy things from trampolining to krav maga (the ClassPass app is so wonderful!) Then I came across parkour. in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping and climbing”. I wanted to be a traceur!
These days I don’t usually need to explain what parkour is to my friends. What was for a long time a niche, even a corny hobby, has grown in popularity. As with most things that capture the collective imagination, its rise has been given a huge boost by movies. In 2004, the French film Banlieue 13 put parkour at the center of the story, but it was the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale that took it to the next level. Its popularity continues to rise, and parkour content regularly goes viral on TikTok.
But even then, I had a sense of sport and I wanted to try. Going back to that first session, I thought I needed to prove myself, to show that I could keep up. I misjudged it – the swing, but also the community around me. By the second lesson, I realized that parkour was not a sport exclusively for competitive, adrenaline-seeking youngsters, but an incredibly multi-generational, non-judgmental sport. I didn’t need to show myself. All I had to do was step back and learn from the amazing array of people out there.
It was the first of many lessons the sport taught me. We’re all obsessed with following young people, and that mindset germinated in me that day. But parkour reminded me that demographics don’t make sense. In fact, as digital creative director at strategic design agency Bulletproof, it’s something that comes up in our work. Demographics are increasingly pushed aside in branding, with more emphasis on personality and attitudes.
There are many lessons and parallels between parkour, life and work. Since that first faceplant, it has been incredibly helpful in shaping the creativity that I am today.
Take the agility of mind that the practice requires. Mapping your route is fundamental to parkour, especially as you leave the training ground for the outdoor urban environment. But once you start running, things can change in the air. Someone else might cross your path or the environment might change unexpectedly. It closely mirrors what it’s like to be a creative director in the digital space – you’re essentially building an airplane while flying it. As a project progresses, parameters change, technology changes overnight, platforms decline or take center stage. Thus, in my sport and my work, I train the same mental muscles, one benefiting the other. This mindset also helps me design for real people, the ones who will live the brand experiences we create. Some creatives only design for the “happy path”, assuming that life just goes like clockwork. Not me.
It’s also a perfect complement to the type of creative that I am. From day one, I was split in two. Taking fine arts and physics made perfect sense to me in school, and using both sides of my brain has always been my goal. Parkour lends itself perfectly to this. It takes the technical aspects of the sport, but also the frills. It’s not creative in the sense that you’re doing something, but it’s more like choreographing a dance – you’re manipulating something for an artistic result. As a digital creative director, I do the same. I present a journey of the digital and the physical, of the beautiful and the technical.
I am convinced that parkour also makes me more creative. The practice forces you to look at your surroundings in a different way. Instead of interacting and maneuvering through the world as an architect or urban planner would like, you do it your way. Stairs? No thanks! A small pedestrian bridge? I’m just gonna jump over that gap and swing under that rail. Every fence, wall or space becomes an opportunity to try a new move.
Most importantly, in a world where work-life balance is constantly weighed in, parkour is the perfect barometer of my well-being. I remember a week that had been particularly intense at work, and when I arrived at the parkour room, I had lost all confidence in my jumps. Parkour was like, “Man, you gotta slow down and reset.” Sure, parkour can hurt you physically, but you tend to get over it and it strengthens your spirit. But in this case, and a few times since, parkour has kept me from hurting myself in other ways – from wearing myself out or letting stress get the better of me.
I can still land prone from time to time, but these mistakes only make me stronger and braver. They also make me realize that while parkour might not be for everyone, it certainly shares some valuable universal lessons, which could inspire us all to take bigger steps.