Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Against gravity

Jumping off a roof, climbing up a building, flying over a rock — nothing stops parkour players from reaching their destination. To catch up with the Egyptian team, Ahmed Hamdi must become an acrobat

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Al-Ahram Weekly

You could have seen them performing on some show or in some movie. It could have captured your attention, their risky high-flying moves, but never got to know what it was all about.  Al-Ahram Weekly caught up with the Egyptian parkour team to reveal the secrets behind the risky sport.
Parkour, which is not listed under any sport, has no rules and doesn’t have a specific ground or field to be played on. It could be performed anywhere at any time and it’s not competitive. Parkour is simply a collection of moves in which the participants main goal is to get you from one point to another in the fastest and smoothest way possible. That is through using your physical fitness to get past all the obstacles that could be found on your way.  The discipline uses no equipment. A male practitioner is generally called a “traceur”, a female a “traceuse”.
Parkour was developed out of military obstacle course training. First to invent the sport was a French-Vietnamese man with the name of Raymond Belle in the 1940s. Being sent to a military orphanage at the age of seven, Belle took it upon himself to train better than others to never fall victim to anyone. He would train alone on the military obstacle course and even invent other trainings to increase his endurance, his strength, his flexibility. He would go for runs and climb trees as part of his extra trainings. He was crowned French military champion several times and later made a name for himself as a courageous fire-fighter, receiving many medals.
Belle would later pass the sport on to his son David. David, though, who was not gifted physically or even on the academic level, tried gymnastics and athletics during his school time but never succeeded.  It wasn’t until he got older and started to read about his father’s heroics in newspaper clippings that he got curious about what was behind his father’s accomplishments.
Getting curious, David started to converse with his father about his way of training which his father called “parcours”.  His father told him how he swung from branch to branch in the forest and how it was not just a game but it made him survive his harsh childhood and helped him save people. David thought it was just what he needed so he started training and later on he decided to drop his studies to give all his attention to parkour. The sport expanded later as David was joined by his cousins and others. But it wasn’t before 1990s that the popularity of parkour increased after David’s brother sent pictures and videos of the sport to a French TV programme.  
In Egypt, on the other hand, parkour wasn’t discovered until the new millennium. Through the Internet, several young men got to know parkour by watching videos of it on Youtube.  They created a group of fans on Facebook for the sport. Tempted to try it, the young men had no trainer which was the first obstacle they had to pass.
At that time there was a young man called Nasser Al-Refaei who had graduated from the faculty of physical education and had been watching parkour clips. Al-Refaei has always been in love with extreme sports as he told Al-Ahram Weekly. Impressed by the moves he watched on the clips, Al-Refaei decided to train himself to do them. “I started to analyse the moves based on my background studies and then applied that on myself,” said Al-Refaei. “Then I shot a small clip of my trainings and posted it on Youtube.”
Al-Refaei’s clip was watched by many who expressed their desire to train for the sport. “Then I found Parkour Egypt on Facebook which was looking for a coach and so I applied for the trainer they needed,” Al-Refaei explained. From that moment started the story of Parkour Egypt and on 31 March, the first ever official training for the parkour Egyptian team was held.
Mahmoud Kamelo had a different story. Though he also knew about parkour through the Internet and got to the group just like Al-Refaei, he had no sports background in his life. “It was my first time to practice a sport,” Kamelo said. “I used to watch gymnastics and really enjoyed it but I didn’t get a chance to practice and as I got older it became more difficult to start.”
Kamelo, who is now coaching after four years of practice, joined Parkour Egypt two months after it started becoming just the third member of the team and a co-founder. He joined at the age of 23, considered too old to start practicing a sport. “That’s what’s best about parkour,” said Kamelo. “It is not limited to age or weight; anyone can practice parkour with no conditions,” he explained.  Parkour Egypt had had trainees from the age of seven up to the mid-30s. Some parents would even join the trainings of their children as Kamelo told the Weekly. The Egyptian team has now expanded from the three founders to more than 200 players.
Kamelo was asked about the reasons behind parkour’s popularity. “Parkour is more of a philosophy and a sport for pleasure plus mental and physical health,” Kamelo said. He explained, “parkour practitioners usually learn to become quick thinkers and problem solvers that in addition to being healthy and taking care of their bodies.”
Kamelo talked about safety precautions as players flew around this reporter and their coach. “It is a risky sport but players can minimise the risk a lot by listening to their coaches’ instructions and not trying anything on their own,” Kamelo said. “From our side as coaches, we got them soft mats and we never allow a player to perform outdoors unless we are 100 per cent sure that he has perfected the moves.”
Parkour Egypt has participated in several shows and performed inside and outside of Egypt. One of these places was at the Pyramids at a marathon to raise awareness about cancer. Another was in Lebanon as they participated in the famous Arabs Got Talent show. The team also took part in several commercials, TV series, and movies in which they replaced actors in performing stunts.  
Joining Parkour Egypt for those who are interested is very easy, says Kamelo. All they have to do is visit the “Parkour Egypt” group on Facebook where they will find all the details about the training sites and times. The team holds trainings in various areas around Cairo and at different times to make it flexible for the players to train based on their personal schedule. “Regarding the fees, it depends on the place which we rent and it differs from area to area but at any rate it is not expensive at all,” Kamelo said.
“Our next step now is to have our own training ground.”

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