Outside of more traditional Czech sports, such as hockey, football, and table football, there is another sport, an athletic epidemic that is growing more and more popular among many, that involves incredible acts of strength and agility – one that can test the human body to its very limit.
I’m not talking about drinking. I’m talking about Czech parkour. In small villages across this country, in Brno and in Prague, young kids are running up walls, jumping across buildings, doing backflips from tree branches onto concrete embankments, then finishing perhaps with a casual spin or two through the air to safely land on the sidewalk below.
Surprisingly, parkour (and with it, the associated sport of free running) has amassed a large underground following in the Czech Republic. Young kids are turning to the sport more and more, both for the ability to film their cool stunts and post them on YouTube, but also for the feelings of self-expression and confidence it gives them.
In the scene, a number of professional teams have emerged in the past several years, such as InMotion and Urban Sense in Prague, and Urban Chasers from Brno, which all host events and participate in competitions.
From Urban Sense, I spoke with Tomáš Taran, more commonly known by his nickname, Sahir. Sahir is 21 and currently training at a special university, the Gerlev Sports Academy in Denmark, that offers studies in free running, parkour, and acrobatics.
“For us, it’s more than just a sport; it’s a lifestyle,” says Sahir, one of the members of a professional parkour team from Prague.
What first was considered to be a nerdy, or even shady pastime, has evolved into something considered genuinely cool. The initial perception of parkour in the Czech Republic wasn’t so enthusiastic. “It’s interesting to see how people’s reactions change with time,” says Tomáš Dohnal (also known as ‘Tomcany’), one of the leading members of the InMotion parkour team in Prague. “In the beginning, they thought we were criminals or vandals, like the people who spray graffiti on buildings. And today, they usually say – oh wow, parkour! How cool!”
These days, Urban Sense is sponsored by none other than sports giant ADIDAS Originals, and also phone company, HTC. InMotion also features prominent sponsorships, such as Czech energy company, Big Shock.
What is parkour?
If you’re not familiar with it, parkour is a fairly recent sport, invented in France by David Belle during the late 1980s, which involves running, jumping, and climbing through spaces (often in an urban environment) to get from one point to the other, as efficiently as possible. Free running, developed by another French parkourist, Sébastien Foucan, was adapated from parkour but involves more self-expression, often including acrobatic stunts such as spins and flips (as an example, see this insane, kinetic opening chase scene from Casino Royale, which featured Foucan as a stunt actor ). Both parkour and free running are practiced by the Czech teams, but for the purposes of simplicity, I’ll generally label them here as parkour.
Where do they practice?
There are a number of hangout spots for free running and parkour. Perhaps the biggest in Prague is right at the Vltavská metro stop, by the river, above which is a strange outdoor area with plenty of columns, slopes, and walls – all of which facilitate the choreography of great stunts. While this spot is often used by vagrants and homeless people, every now and then, the Czech parkour community meets there to show each other their tricks.
“Homeless and parkour guys. We live in symbiosis.” Tomáš says jokingly. “There are many possibilities there. We get together sometimes for a “jam” [a term parkour practitioners use to refer to big meet-ups]. Many people come from all over the Czech Republic, and even Slovakia to these jams.” When they meet, Tomáš tells me there can often be over 100 people.
Aside from that, I’m told that Prague (and other large cities) are architecturally perfect for parkour purposes. The grey communist edifices of Prague’s not-too-distant communist past, once used to represent an orderly monochromatic society, are now repurposed for chaining together series of acrobatic stunts. As Tomáš told me, the blocky columns and constructions easily lend themselves to a wide variety of tricks.
But what about when it’s cold? “In winter, there is a gym to practice parkour,” says Tomáš. In fact, Tomáš is wearing his gear during our interview, heading to the gym to practice his technique once we finish.
Taking the leap
Tomáš, who plans to study film at FAMU (and filmed the video below of Sahir), remembers how he first was inspired to do parkour from watching videos online. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh parkour is about jumping and shooting videos. I could do that! But then I found that it was so much more.” .
For Sahir, it was watching a pair of British documentaries on parkour called Jump London and Jump Britain that inspired him and many others, as part of the first wave of Czech parkour. “We were moving with confidence, and overcoming obstacles, and I thought this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “Before parkour, I tried a lot of sports but I quit after some time. But with parkour, it was different. I could see the progression.”
“I think a special thing about Czech parkour is that we have real team spirit,” says Tomáš. If someone has some trouble with a jump or a trick, someone will always help him to make sure that he is okay.”
Once a year, Urban Sense organizes a parkour competition, for Czech and Slovak parkour athletes, called ArtMoving. However, for both Tomáš and Sahir, the competitive aspect is totally beside the point; what was more important was all of these people, with a shared passion for parkour, gathered in one place and enjoying their sport with mutual respect and admiration.
In the future, the teams plan on hosting workshops to work on parkour technique (see an example of a past workshop here. Contact InMotion for more details at email@example.com or visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/InMotionCZ.
For more information on the Prague parkour scene including videos and upcoming events, visit: http://www.parkour.cz/
Prague’s landscape is parkour perfect. Where do you hone your parkour moves?