Parkour: Fact versus Fiction

Posted by Justin Deffner on May 15, 2013 in TW Parkour |

Parkour In The Woodlands

By Guest Author: Justin Deffner

I’d like to start this off by saying that I mean no disrespect to anybody in this post. If anything comes off as disrespectful, I apologize. I’m simply trying to clear up any misconceptions about something I’m passionate about. I have full respect for park rangers, officers of the law, and the people of The Woodlands.

In the film industry, it isn’t uncommon to see people doing flips off of walls and action stars climbing buildings as if they posed no problem. What is rarer, however, is seeing these things happen in real life. A new discipline called parkour is starting to make a breakthrough in America, and it is being misunderstood by those who do not practice it. As a result, many authority figures are casting practitioners out of public areas around The Woodlands, such as parks, The Waterway, and sports fields. They claim that parkour is dangerous, that the athletes are criminals, and that they disturb the people around them. The art of parkour is greatly misrepresented and should not be restricted.

In order to understand why parkour deserves to be recognized instead of looked down upon, it is important to understand what it truly is and how it started. Parkour is the discipline of overcoming obstacles by going over, under, or through them using only the human body. It originated from the French military as a way for soldiers to move from one point to another quickly and efficiently without getting hurt. A French man named David Belle brought it from the military to his hometown, and started training with his friends. Soon after, the discipline spread all over Europe, and it is just now starting to become recognized in the United States. Common movements include vaulting obstacles, scaling walls, and jumping from rail to rail. Some practitioners, called traceurs, have started adding creativity into the discipline, as a way of expressing themselves through movement. It is not rare to see flips, twists, and spins added to the art; and due to this, some people immediately assume parkour is a dangerous activity.

parkour on the railsParkour is not as dangerous as some would have the public believe. Traceurs spend years working on basic movements and body conditioning in order to avoid injuries. These athletes do not enjoy getting hurt, and injuries only set them back in their training. Due to the sheer amount of time spent working on basic training and safety measures, injury statistics are incredibly low compared to many popular sports. According to a study done by a renowned parkour academy Parkour Visions, parkour-related injury rates “came out to two injuries per thousand hours training time.” This is relatively safe, considering “indoor rock climbing averages around three, gymnastics (training) around four, soccer (training) is 7.6 and American football (training) is 16… concussion rate alone for MMA competition is 15 per thousand hours.” Another parkour organization, Texas Parkour, states, “emphasis has always been on safety and community.” Texas Parkour is the single largest parkour organization in Texas, and is known throughout America. With such a huge group saying “Jumping off buildings, roofs or bridges is not encouraged,” it is clear that dangerous activity is frowned upon by those who participate in parkour.

Almost every traceur, whether they started training with an experienced group or by themselves, starts off by learning what to do in situations gone wrong. Traceurs learn through muscle memory what to do and how to stay safe – in case they are over-balanced, falling backwards, or even fall ten feet or more to the ground. Experienced traceurs become almost animalistic in their training; I myself was nicknamed “Creature” by a crowd that was watching me train. I once vaulted a wall and landed on a tiny ledge, but lost my balance and started to fall off. By instinct I jumped to the closest wall, grabbed the edge, and pulled myself up all in one fluid motion. When training, we don’t have to think about what to do if something goes wrong; muscle memory and instinct take over, and we find the most efficient way to stay safe.

While some authority figures will claim that parkour practitioners are vandals and criminals, this stems from misinformed stereotyping and couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, traceurs will often wear baggy sweatpants and hoodies, because the material flows and is comfortable during training; but authorities will sometimes stereotype the athletes and start harassing them based on their appearance. Many authorities will stop me from training by claiming that I’m “disturbing the people” around me. This is a very common reason given by authorities for traceurs being told to leave, but often it is a misguided reason. Traceurs are very respectable as a whole, and if anybody, whether it be an officer, a business owner, a parent – even a child – asks me or almost any other traceur to leave, we will do so quickly and quietly.

But more often than not, the people that are around us are more entertained that frightened or disturbed. There are thousands of videos of parkour online that show the looks of awe and enjoyment that people express while watching traceurs training. I was told by a bystander that watching me was like “watching an artist paint a picture. Except, you were using your body and environment instead of pen and paper. It was really inspiring.” Another time I was training with my brother, and I was getting ready to do a back-flip on a narrow ledge. While my brother was working the camera and I jumped for the back-flip, my brother saw two police officers walking towards us. In the video, his groan is audible and he mumbles “time to pack up.” however, the officers simply walked up to me, shook my hand and said “that was really awesome. You could probably charge people to watch you. Keep up the good work!”

Justin Deffner practicing parkour in Town Green Park The Woodlands

Unfortunately, not all officers are this understanding. I myself have been verbally abused and lied to by officers (who I will not name) who patrol The Woodlands Waterway. Just a few weeks ago, I had two friends from Houston come up to visit and take pictures of The Waterway with me. Within a few short minutes of us being at the stairwell where Six Pines Drive crosses over The Waterway – a beautiful spot right by the Marriott – an officer approached us and said he had gotten calls “fifteen minutes ago about some kids jumping around.” When I tried to explain to him that we had just arrived, and that we hadn’t done anything more than taken pictures, he became extremely angry and told me to stop lying to him. We had to listen to him tell us how he “knew” what we were doing, and we agreed to leave the Waterway immediately. My friends and I realize the officers are just doing their jobs, but we end up having to leave a beautiful, public place – all because of a misunderstanding. In the three years I’ve been training, I’ve only been asked by a civilian bystander to leave an area once. Other than that, most people are sorry to see me and my group walk away.

Now obviously, private property is another matter. Especially here in The Woodlands. I, along with the people who train with me here, know that climbing buildings, hopping over certain fences, and jumping around right outside a building is extremely disrespectful, and could be considered trespassing. One of the guidelines among those training here is that trespassing is an absolute “do not,” and that if anybody tells us we are on private property and asks us to leave, we MUST leave immediately, without causing any problems whatsoever – no ifs, ands, or buts. Statistics show parkour is also not as destructive as some claim it to be. Traceurs are respectful, and will not destroy any property. Doing so is reckless, needless, disrespectful, and destroys things to train on.

In a recent debate about opening a parkour-based park in Live Oak, Texas (just outside San Antonio), fliers were posted in opposition, asking “Do you want a haven for heroin addicts in your backyard? Do you support nefarious activity?” and even going so far as to say “Bikers break bones, skaters smoke pot, and parkour kills.” That is taking things to the extreme. Parkour is anything but nefarious and full of drug addicts. In fact, the art of parkour commonly pulls people away from drugs and into a better life. World-famous traceur Daniel Ilabaca, who has been in many commercials including a 5 RPM Gum commercial (where he is shown doing a variety of flips), shared his story in a video “Choose Not to Fall.” Ilabaca states “I used to do drugs, I used to do all those things. Then one day I saw a guy do a wall-flip in the streets… It was that individual and the way he looked at life! I never knew then, but I… know now, that’s what it was. It was a way for me to break out of this mold, this uncontrollable system I was in.” (full transcript here) The art and discipline of parkour pulled Ilabaca out of a hard, crime-filled life, and turned him into a respectable role model for many young people.

Ilabaca isn’t the only man to have his life change for the better through this beautiful art. My good friend Stephen Laster, also known as “Viking” for his tall stature and long hair, is one of the most well-known traceurs in Texas. He has performed in live shows, is constantly being interviewed, and is sponsored by Take Flight Apparel, one of the biggest names in parkour. However, he didn’t get this recognition due to any incredible skills; it was his story and his journey that sparks inspiration. In an interview with AmericanParkour.com, Stephen says, “Parkour literally changed my life. Before I had a bunch of problems, I was on probation, I was a smoker, a drinker, and I was overweight. Parkour and the [parkour] community have really helped me straighten everything out and get my life back on track.” Viking started off training when he was over 300 pounds. Needless to say, that isn’t really your typical athlete body structure. However, in just four years, he has completely turned his life around, and is always seeking to help others do the same.

Parkour is no less of a discipline than the martial arts (I would know, I teach martial arts as well!), and should not be restricted. The parkour community is a respectable lot, and the only problems people have with us is through misunderstanding. With law enforcement in Europe practicing the discipline, it should be accepted, even applauded for people to learn. The best thing to do is find some middle ground where this miscommunication can be cleared up.

A little bit about me: My name is Justin, and I’ve been doing parkour for just over three years. I am one of eleven athletes in Texas sponsored by Texas Parkour, and I currently teach gymnastics and tumbling at ASI Gymnastics, and martial arts at Cox ATA Martial Arts. I do stunt work and acting for indie films around the Houston area, and have fielded requests to do things such as dress up like Spider-Man for children’s birthday parties, be a “ninja” for videos, and perform for events for Plato’s Closet. I graduated from TWHS in 2011, and currently take classes for acting and film editing. I love living here in The Woodlands – I’ve been here for 18 years, and never once regretted it – and I hope to make parkour an acceptable discipline here before I move away! If you would like to discuss parkour with me, or have any thoughts about this, feel free to email me at XMAparkour@yahoo.com.



  • Robert Rage says:

    This is going to be amazing! Many years I would “illegally” do parkour only to have mall cops and security guards harass me for doing what made me content, instead of getting the people that were smoking weed, and doing drugs or actually causing problems.so I am so blown away by this.

  • I’m glad to see there’s other traceurs out there that feel the same way! I’m 100% confident that the only reason this is happening is because of a misunderstanding on what parkour truly is. I’m doing everything I can to get our art accepted with law enforcement here. Here’s to hoping that between these articles and talking to some of the people in charge, we can change the way things are seen.

  • Chris says:

    The police at The Waterway harass pretty much anyone out of the ordinary. I’ve heard numerous stories of them harassing photographers as well.

  • Abi says:

    Do they realize parkour is a very physically demanding sport? A junkie or drug user would never be able to par take in something that requires you to be so fit and healthy. It is no different to working out or going for a run. Junkies dont exercise let alone do parkour!

  • Spencer S. says:

    If you do a flip in front of a lot of people in “public” and you break your neck(which happens all the time)for example. Then you have three problems. One is that nobody wants to see something like that and two, which is the most important, is the city’s resources wasted on something that should of been prevented by practicing in a safe facility.

    • Justin Deffner says:

      Spencer, I’m not sure how you came to these conclusions, but allow me to address them one at a time.
      1: If you do a front flip in public and break your neck, you have no idea what you’re doing and shouldn’t be doing front flips. Everything in parkour is based off progressions. You don’t do X unless you’ve mastered Y.
      2: I have had no reports of traceurs breaking their necks in public. Can you provide proof as to who is doing this “all the time”?
      3: All but one of my injuries has happened in a “safe facility”: a gymnastics academy. The worst thing I’ve done outside the gym was twist my ankle. In the gym, I’ve broken two toes, torn tendons in my knee, and cracked my foot. By no means is an indoor gym a safe facility.
      4: Again, I know of only one person who broke his neck doing parkour. That was inside a gym.

      • Spencer says:

        There are more parkour fails on YouTube then there are grains of rice in a rice factory.

        • There are more gymnastics, skateboarding, BMXing, car driving, jogging, nature-related, crime-related, and every other kind of fail on Youtube than there are grains of rice in a rice factory. Parkour is a physical discipline, and as such, people WILL fall. What you don’t see in those stolen videos (I’m actually on TruTV for one such fall) is the hundreds of times the traceur has stuck the landing, or cleared the jump. You don’t see the countless hours put into the practice. And usually what you don’t see in those videos, is the fact that the athlete gets up laughs it off. You can’t logically hate on parkour for being so “dangerous” (when it’s not), and be okay with gymnastics, martial arts, rock climbing, and ESPECIALLY cheerleading.
          Something you may have missed when you read the article:
          “parkour-related injury rates “came out to two injuries per thousand hours training time.” This is relatively safe, considering “indoor rock climbing averages around three, gymnastics (training) around four, soccer (training) is 7.6 and American football (training) is 16… concussion rate alone for MMA competition is 15 per thousand hours.” ”

          I advise you to look at parkour with an open mind. I’ve been doing this for five years and know hundreds of people who have been doing it longer with no injuries.

  • Spencer S. says:

    The third is you broke your neck.

  • Spencer says:

    It doesn’t matter if they noobs, they are still practicing parkour.

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