Jump, vault and roll

Local "Parkour" classes teach all the right superhero moves
May. 06, 2014 @ 06:19 PM

Calling all daredevils: there’s a gravity-defying pastime sweeping the country, and although you don’t have to be an extraordinary athlete to master it, “Parkour” practitioners are learning to perform near-superhuman feats. Think a good guy trying to escape from the bad guys, scaling rooftops and imposing concrete barriers with the gritty Big City as a backdrop.

But what is Parkour, exactly? A sport? A fitness regimen?

The Daily Courier didn't have to go far to find out. Despite its origins in urban evasive tactics and French military exercises, Parkour’s techniques are taught right here in rural Rutherford County, at IGA Adventure Center’s “Freestyle” classes for boys.

Led by IGA co-owner and instructor Perry Hughes, the classes typically take students through an obstacle course they help build themselves on the gym’s sprawling padded floor. As the session progresses the course grows bigger and bolder, like the one Hughes and his students constructed on a recent spring evening with the same intense focus as if they were making an elaborate fort.

They began by dragging a six-foot stack of pads over to the edge of a pit filled with foam blocks. After a springboard platform was placed behind the stack, one by one each boy sprinted across the gym floor, bounced off the platform and vaulted over the padded stack. Depending on their individual inclinations, the boys landed in the pit via a range of twists and flips.

“How did that feel?” Hughes asked the aptly-named Capability Dickerson after his turn at soaring over the stack into the pit.

“A little scary,” he answered. But he also quickly secured a place in the line that was queuing for the next stunt.

A balance beam was soon added to the mix. Then another springboard platform. At this last addition, the boys placed a number of cushioned pads on both sides of the balance beam. But right after including these extra safety measures, new challenges were promptly added, including a padded wall to run up, a third springboard and more stacks.

The exits into the pit started to get more elaborate, too.

Jeremiah Gupton, who at just 15 is already an apprentice of Hughes at the gym, did a gainer. Capability chose to land in the pit by way of a back “tuck” or flip. And Jadon Hill impressed Hughes and his fellow students by executing a “full” - gymnastics parlance for a back tuck with a full twist.

What all of these moves are is powerful. Explosive, even. And fast. 

Like the moves of a superhero.

After each boy had a few turns at the pit, everyone switched to an activity Hughes referred to as “the muscles.” As in, working them. Hard.

“There you go, Cape. That’s strong.” Hughes said after the 14-year-old worked intensely through a set of sit-ups and power ball snatches.

Then it was time for The Flag, a seemingly impossible exercise in which a vertical bar is grabbed with both hands, one over the other, and used to pull the body into a perfectly horizontal angle. It’s a move that obviously requires considerable strength, and indeed, all the boys in the class were exceptionally well-developed. Yet none appeared to be much involved in other sports. “I’m on the golf team,” one boy offered.

He added it was his participation in Hughes’ Freestyle classes that made him one of the strongest boys in his class.

“I beat a huge football player arm wrestling,” the boy said matter-of-factly.

The other boys confirmed the benefits of the Freestyle classes. “It teaches me more of what I actually want to learn,” Gupton said.

Like those superhero moves. 

Asked if they ever use their Parkour skills to impress the opposite sex, the boys nervously laughed, refusing to say one way or the other. But in a later interview, Nancy Hughes, Perry Hughes' wife and IGA Adventure Center co-owner, noted that Parkour is definitely a coveted playground skill.

“Boys love to show off; we know this,” she said, a mother to three young boys herself, plus a 10-month-old daughter. “And Parkour is a great confidence builder.”

It’s also undeniably counter-cultural in an increasingly sedentary society.

“This is something that’s a little rowdy, a little dangerous and daring. Which is something kids naturally want to be,” Perry Hughes added.

And for adults? “It lets me be a little rowdy, too,” he admitted.

But what he loves the most is when a skill finally “clicks” with a kid after long hours of practicing, he said. Accordingly, the classes at IGA are specifically geared to reap such successes.

“One of our primary objectives is that any kid at any level can walk through the door and accomplish a goal here, including non-athletes who want to learn something new, and experienced athletes who want to push past existing limits,” Perry Hughes said.

Although Parkour has yet to be formally organized into a competitive activity, at least on a mass level, those who take it up continuously strive to better their last move. In the process, they build the body of an athlete.

And, as Nancy Hughes noted, the confidence. That teen who recently made the news for figuring out how to get to the top of the 1 World Trade Center? He didn't take the elevator all the way up. As he later stated, six of the stories he climbed - and he also cited his Parkour creds. 

So maybe Parkour is more than a sport or fitness fad. In a physical landscape increasingly populated with imposing barriers and "keep out" signs, it's a way for the young to reclaim their freedom of movement.  

Just the way a superhero would.

Check out the IGA Adventure Center online HERE

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