Parkour as a Martial Art

Written by Nick Faircloth
Published on Monday, 23 November 2009

I have heard parkour compared to martial arts, and I often make the comparison myself because I see several parallels. Both are physical disciplines that promote a different way of thinking. Both are geared toward becoming an abler person. You even drill certain movements repeatedly to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances in both disciplines. However, there is one very distinct difference between the two. The martial arts are inherently about interpersonal interaction: they were created for self-defense against other people. Alternatively, parkour is about self-sufficiency. It requires nobody but yourself to practice and learn. You are your own teacher, and there is no other way to gain experience than through hard work and practice.
For quite a while, I couldn’t roll on concrete without pain, and I didn’t understand why the bone in my hip kept hitting the ground. Everyone I asked to take a look at my roll said the same thing: twist your hips more. I tried that and it didn’t work. Finally, I can roll on concrete. The solution? I wasn’t twisting my hips enough. Go figure. No matter how many times I had heard that before, it took me really thinking about the problem and working out my own solution to be able to fix it. My point is this: that no matter how good someone else is at assessing what is wrong with your technique, there is not one person who can really help you fix it. You have to do it yourself, through trial and error. I can sit here and look at your kong vault and tell you to tuck your head more or plant further out all day, but until you do it once, you won’t understand why it works, even if I explain it. You have to feel it for yourself. This is in contrast to martial arts, where it is easy to isolate individual movements for ease of learning; it is easier to demonstrate a punch step-by-step than a dash vault, because you can’t really do a dash vault in slow motion. Still, there is one major advantage to parkour that is not so for most martial arts: it is still a new discipline, and the movements themselves are straightforward rather than interpretive. There aren’t that many movements, and while there is more than one “right” way to do them, there can only be one fastest way; speed is a measurable thing. This is in contrast to some of the older martial arts in which the movements themselves and the ideas behind each of them are preserved in forms. If something is lost in the passage from generation to generation, it can be very hard to retrieve because a miniscule movement of the hand in a form can be interpreted a dozen different ways. With parkour, if you do something wrong it simply isn’t going to feel right. We don’t really have to worry about movements being lost- they’ve already been around for thousands of years anyway. This eliminates most of the demand for teachers, which the martial arts still do and always will rely on.

Lastly, you can’t learn to fight without someone to fight. You need a sparring partner to really understand the application of anything you learn about combat. In contrast, you can train parkour completely alone for years and still have the same level of experience as others who train in groups. So parkour is very similar to a martial art, but is easier to understand and practice in my opinion. There are NO secrets in parkour, just things you aren’t prepared for yet. In martial arts, if someone teaches you, it is possible to learn a very complex aerial kick before you have a good form sidekick. But you can’t learn 12 foot wall runs until you can do them on a shorter wall. There’s no way around it. To me, that’s why I get such a feeling of accomplishment whenever I do something new in parkour- I know I could not have done it without all the training that has built up to it. I don’t get exactly the same feeling in martial arts; sometimes you get lucky with your sparring partner- they’re tired, or they trip or something. People are unreliable so it’s harder to test your skills against them than against solid inanimate objects.

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