Safety, First and Last
Mon, 2010-11-15 14:02
All life entails risk. No matter how much we try to pad the world with cotton-wool, the harsh reality is that danger is never far away. Every time you cross a road you take a risk. People slip and fall in their bathrooms, sometimes sustaining serious injuries or worse. Currently about thirty to sixty people are struck by lightning each year in Britain alone, of whom on average three are killed. Risk is ever-present; we cannot avoid it. But what we can do is learn to manage it correctly and, therefore, to minimise it.
In relation to the practice of parkour, this means, primarily, understanding what the art is about. By doing so, one also comes to understand what it is not about. Despite the sensationalism and glamourising (principally by the media) of ‘gap jumps’ and height training, parkour is not about running across roofs and other death-defying stunts. Anyone who thinks it is has simply missed the point.
Parkour is concerned with the refinement of one’s own movement, with grace, control, efficiency and self-expression. These goals can be achieved in any environment – so why pick a dangerous place to train, like a rooftop, when the more expansive and varied terrain is almost always to be found at ground level? The height you train at is irrelevant, and most rooftops actually offer very little in the way of helping the individual develop as a traceur.
Our art is also based on developing and improving the body, making it strong, fast, effective: in a word, healthy. This means one must have the goal in mind of being physically capable for as long as possible, which, after all, is the true litmus test of health. We are seeking longevity, not only of our own training but also of our own lives; to be as healthy and vigorous for years, even decades, to come. Thus, to receive an injury while training – in other words, for an art that promotes health to damage one’s health – is not only counterproductive but also counter to the art’s very purpose. Much like with martial art practitioners who carry several incapacitating injuries, one is justified in questioning exactly how effective this training is? The answer would seem to be that their training has, in effect, produced the very results they were trying so hard to avoid…
So we must look closely at our own training. Take stock. Evaluate the hazards. Are you taking unnecessary risks when you could just as effectively gain the same skills by a safer method? How much of your practise if geared towards exposing yourself to danger for no purpose other than to impress, or to prove a point? Be honest with yourself, for such actions are not justified within the philosophy of parkour, nor ever have been.
This is not to say, however, that parkour cannot be practised on high levels. The aim of all practitioners is to be able to move freely and effectively – whatever they may view ‘effective’ to mean – within any environment, be it high or low, confined or spacious, urban or rural. The point is that the environment is not the focus; mastery of one’s body in relation to the environment is. Roofs are not important – you are important. So focus on yourself.
How do you do this ?
Firstly, and most importantly, see the truth of the art beyond the mere spectacle and showmanship. Do not be deluded by what you see in movies or on television: in almost all those scenarios, extensive security and safety measures are in place and the actions are always performed by professionals while other professionals ensure that nothing is left to chance. Research, delve deeper – you will find that mastery comes from rigorous practise and continuous refinement of the fundamentals. There are no short-cuts, and no secrets.
Secondly, seek out proper instruction where possible. Attend workshops and seminars, train with the more experienced in your area as often as possible, and constantly feed yourself with good information and advice found on these, and other, forums.
Thirdly, stop and think. Evaluate the safety measures you employ in your own training. Examine carefully the surfaces and materials your commonly practise on, check their structural integrity and stability and be particularly careful in the wet. Be aware of your own limitations and do not push yourself too far for any reason. If you are not one hundred percent sure of your ability to complete the manoeuvre safely, simply walk away from it. Practise more, and come back to it when you know you are capable.
Sadly, accidents are inevitable in every walk of life. Statistics tell us that many of the everyday sports that society takes for granted, such as football or sailing, put your life more at risk than do the seemingly more dangerous sports such as parachuting or parkour. A recent sports council survey showed that rugby tops the dangerous sports list with 95.7 injuries per 1,000 players, with football scoring 64.4 per 1,000: yet compare this to alpine skiing which has only 2.6 injuries per 1,000, and it is clear that you don’t have to climb mountains to be more at risk. And the fact is that in the many years parkour has been practised as a discipline in its own right, serious injuries have been few and far between, even since its explosion onto the global stage.
All life does entail risk, obviously. And there is no doubt that a discipline as dynamic and energetic as parkour does involve certain hazards. But the reverse is also true; due to having a better understanding and control of one’s body and capabilities, the practitioner can improve his ability to safeguard himself from physical harm. One who trains sincerely will become less clumsy in everyday life, less prone to accident, and more aware of one’s surroundings. By practising parkour carefully and prudently, and with proper instruction, one should actually be safer. The training should in fact prepare practitioners for the few rare and unavoidable times in life when one has to use one’s body to remove oneself from harm’s way.
So practise safely, and in turn your practise will keep you safe.