Birmingham Free Running, Not Parkour

When I was younger…
…and the company I worked for was based in an old farmhouse, I often used to jump down the staircase from the 2nd floor to the ground. The stairs had corners and U-bends linking the flights and the old wooden banister had vertical wooden posts up to the ceiling in the corners between flights. From half way down a flight I would lean forward, wrap my right hand, or even elbow, around the post and jump with some forward momentum. Instead of landing on the bottom step though, I would rotate around the post I was anchored to, carrying that momentum around and landing halfway down the next flight. From this point, and with another flight to go, I would repeat the operation until I had bounded down to the ground floor.

I occasionally scared oncoming people with this tactic but no-one could get from the top of that building to the bottom faster than me. However, I’m not a gymnast or a circus act, I was in a hurry and the inefficiency of this age-old inter-floor transportation hub was merely a minor distraction that my brain didn’t have enough time to ponder on as it usually had other more pressing things to do.

Would Health & Safety have approved? No! This was my two-fingered salute to the nanny state getting in the way of my need to efficiently achieve something on a daily basis.

I was quick in the streets too…
…my mother is tall and walked rapidly everywhere, which is where I get it from. Of course, she’s 80 now, so I carry the torch of not hanging around in our family today. Often when going around a corner, rather than put inefficient strain on my legs (yes, it’s all relative), if I saw a strategically placed lamp-post I would wrap my arm around it and orbitally slingshot around to shave a few milliseconds off my journey time at a reduced cost to my physique and energy consumption. Possibly.

It was therefore with total wonder that in 2003 I witnessed the Mike Christie documentary Jump London on Channel 4. Seriously, if you want to know what I’m talking about for the rest of this article then just watch the first 60 seconds of this video.

I’m assuming that the first 60 seconds hooked you…
…and that you’re returning to this article 49 minutes later!

Had enough yet? No? Good, because in 2005 Mike Christie returned to this subject and filmed the excellent sequel, Jump Britain. If you want to watch people running all over some of Britain’s famous landmarks, including The Forth Bridge then watch this. For those of you that are Birmingham based, as I am, then hang in there (though you won’t need encouragement from me with these exhilarating films), as the action reaches the rooftop of Birmingham’s ICC and Symphony Hall.

To the purist, Parkour and Free Running…
…are not the same thing. Parkour, co-founded by David Belle, is essentially the ability to travel as quickly and safely as possible, across any landscape, on foot and hand through the most efficient usage of your body and momentum to reach your destination having expended the least amount of energy. Effectively carrying your momentum with you, not allowing obstacles in your way to slow or hamper your journey, indeed, using such objects to aid your progress. Parkour is an attitude of mind, a very clear discipline to achieve your ongoing goals with speed, agility, efficiency and safety.

Free Running however is an offshoot of Parkour that uses many similar techniques, but is not the ideal that the Parkour purists aspire to. Whilst the term may indicate rapid travel, Free Running is more about interacting with individual objects to traverse them, not necessarily for efficiency, often for show to demonstrate personal strength or careful balanced technique. However, in the English language, the term ‘Free Running’ has caught on and become interchangeable with Parkour due to it’s clearly descriptive nature of an aspect that links both disciplines.

In Jump London, we watch Sébastien Foucan
…and his colleagues running the rooftops of London, a skill I concede is most useful on a daily basis only to cat burglars. Whilst Foucan was a major proponent of the Parkour movement, his attitude changed to it and he began to advocate the offshoot discipline of Free Running as his main focus.

If you haven’t been tempted to click either of the video links yet, then Foucan went on to perform much of the opening scene stunts in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig. Foucan played the part of Mollaka who Bond chases through a construction site in Madagascar and jumps between buildings and eventually construction cranes in a breathtaking series of events surely enough to drag anyone into the film.

In Jump Britain, Foucan…
…leads a group of young Free Runners around various British Landmarks as they explore their discipline in a variety of exciting, though life threatening environments. Yes kids, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!

You can see more about Foucan at his website.

On many Saturday’s around Birmingham City Center…
…I come across groups of teenagers, all male, who are practicing in public the various skills and moves used in Free Running. I’ll often see someone standing alone, looking pensively at a large stone ball in Victoria Square, or a wall that’s a good 2 feet higher than them nearby, only to look further and find that they’re not alone, often discussing with peers how best to tackle the obstacle du jour, and occasionally with video cameras waiting to record the success, or otherwise, of the impending encounter.

One day in Chamberlain Square

Free Runner 1

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G AF-S VR @ 125mm, Exposure 1/1000 @ F11, ISO 200, Absolutely no idea at all why I was on F11. This was a very quick grabbed shot as the action on the monument in Chamberlain Square was happening which is why I didn't line up the shot well enough to show how high off the ground these 2 guys were. At least the fast shutter stopped any blur from the action or my old trembling wrists 😉

I’ve rarely yet been quick or brave enough to capture such antics and escapades on digital film, though I occasionally come across someone in the act of a manoeuvre that simply can’t be ignored. I have considered approaching these people to ask if I could photograph their stunts, but have so far been reticent to do it in case they attempted to play up for the camera, and the result of a possible desire to impress may be an accident that I do not wish to encourage.

My admiration goes out to these people though, and I know I have witnessed many stunts in my home town, in public spaces that filled me with awe as they were carried out. I have certainly missed many good shots if memory serves well.

Free Runner 2

Nikon D700 'FX', Nikkor 70-300mm F4.5-5.6G AF-S VR @ 300mm, Exposure 1/250 @ F5.6, ISO 200, Another situation where something was happening suddenly in front of me, though in this case some distance off across Birmingham's Victoria Square hence the 300mm. I didn't need a fast shutter speed here as he was not in full swing, in fact he was holding this position for a few seconds which takes a level of upper body strength I can only wonder at.

If there are any Birmingham based Parkour or Free Running Enthusiasts reading this…
…then please get in touch.

Have safe fun,

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(c) Nakedigit 2011


About nakedigit

I have legs and a camera. I also occasionally use a passport. The camera with my brightest lenses can almost (almost) see in the dark. So the only thing stopping me from putting it all together regardless of where and when i am is, well, me really! However, when i don't completely muck it up the results may end up here on this blog and also my Flickr page. I now Twitter and a website is coming... ND August 2010
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