Building an Academy: Parkour in Process
For the last two months the PKGen UK team has been ensconced in East London at a mysterious location, hammering, painting, designing, heaving, dragging, assembling, redesigning and generally working like never before – all to create the UK’s first dedicated Parkour Academy centre.
It’s known as The Chainstore, after the official name of the building it’s housed in – an ancient listed wharf warehouse, built of wood and stone, which was originally used to make and test massive ship chains for the seagoing vessels on the Thames. For decades it was home to tough, weathered individuals who knew first-hand of the meaning and the value of good old-fashioned manual labour, unafraid of hard work and with an iron discipline all of their own.
It seemed a fitting place for parkour to take root.
We’ve waited almost ten years to establish a facility like this. Oh, we’ve had offers before; potential sponsors and big brands wanting to buy our discipline by offering us prefabricated and sanitised soft play areas, covered with mats, sprung floors and foam pits. We weren’t interested. Those exist in their hundreds already: they’re called gymnastics centres. And they’re great – if you want to learn gymnastics. Parkour cannot be learnt in such places. It can barely be practised in such places. There’s a vital ingredient missing, and too many extraneous ingredients thrown in. Parkour was born outside, in streets and alleys, on rooftops and amidst trees and rocks. It has, and needs, a certain rawness. If it’s going to exist indoors you need to bring the outside, in. Concrete. Steel. Wood. The same feeling. The same focus. The same spirit.
So we waited and we searched. All the while continuing to teach and work every year on every continent, in dozens of countries, in scores of cities; building communities, sharing knowledge, seeking always to maintain and pass on that hidden gem at the heart of this amazing art. ‘Parkour gyms’ sprang up in a number of countries, most of them nothing more than renamed gymnastics halls covered with bouncy floors and soft blocks, sponsored by brands that are the very antithesis of health, with only a handful of venues holding true to the principles and methods that had birthed parkour in France all those years ago.
The danger to the discipline of this new trend was obvious to see and we always knew it was not something we would entertain. Diluting the concept of parkour and reducing it to a derivative of gymnastics/acrobatics meant missing the point of it entirely.
When we found The Chainstore, hidden away in plain sight of the iconic O2 Arena and just a kilometre from London’s central business district of Canary Wharf, we knew we had found a place that could house parkour without twisting it into something it isn’t. Not a gymnastics centre, nor just a sports centre or refurbished dance studio. It had thick concrete floors underfoot, towering wooden beams stretched out above, and cold, hard brickwork all around. Exposed on the wharf as it is, it gets battered by wind and rain on inclement days and bathed in brilliant sunshine on good ones. It’s neighbour to the unique and innovative Container City, and surrounded by an incredibly creative community of musicians, artisans, craftspeople and designers. It’s old, but as solid as the chains it once housed. Character. It’s got character.
And now reborn. With just under three months to prepare it for its Grand Opening on February 20, 2014, the team has had to overcome some major obstacles, take some considered risks, find elegant solutions to obstinate problems and adapt to entirely new challenges. It’s been parkour in its purest sense, in fact. And it’s worked. What’s more, this team of individuals did it alone: no big brands behind it, no energy drinks throwing money at it, no online casinos supporting it. Just discipline, teamwork, willpower and lots of effort. Again, pure parkour. It has been humbling to be a part of that, and to work alongside such iron-willed individuals towards a common goal, against all the odds.
We’ve been fortunate to have found such open-minded and progressive site managers as we have on the Wharf in Urban Space Management, an organiation run by Eric Reynolds who holds near-legendary status in the UK regeneration sector. Eric’s credits include the creation of Camden Lock Market, the revitalisation of the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, devising Gabriels’ Wharf, and breathing new life into Old Spitalfields Market. Eric and his team saw the enormous potential of parkour and have magnificently accommodated the quirks, oddities and unusual perspective that our art-form can bring.
Now, almost ready and with the opening fast approaching, it’s becoming a reality: the UK’s first dedicated indoor parkour training ground – conceived, built and run by traceurs. It’s more than a gym, it’s a warrior’s hall, a place to test yourself against that most stubborn of opponents – yourself. One particular hardened individual has dubbed it a ‘monster factory’; another, the ‘Gainstore’. To most of the PKGen Team it’s known simply as HQ. Home.
Doors open on February 20th, and by that we mean they open to all. We’ll be running all our well-known class types there – from Family Classes for toddlers and parents to Youth Classes, Beginner Classes, our mainstay Academy Classes for adults of all levels, Advanced Classes and more. We’ll be introducing Weightlifting Classes, Functional Fitness sessions, Martial Arts, Dance, Yoga and other disciplines which help us all to master our movement. The Chainstore will also house ADAPT coaching and personal trainer certification courses, as well as international parkour events, gatherings and conferences. Oh, and the London Chainstore Massacre… for those brave enough to give that one a try.
Importantly, all our existing classes and sessions will still continue to run all over London and the UK, the vast majority of those being outdoor classes held where parkour is most easily found – the urban playground all around us. The Chainstore is an addition to what has come before and been so successful for so many years. You’ll find the same training spirit, energy and passion there as you’ll find in any of our other sessions.
Because an academy isn’t found in any building or facility by itself: an academy is a body of knowledge and experience, transmitted by those who have trod the path and fought the battles, and who have lived and loved their discipline. It’s a community that comes together through the love of the art and stays together through friendship, shared progression and enjoyment.
If you want to train alongside those people and be part of that community, you’re welcome to join us.
Just be ready 😉
The Chainstore London Academy of Parkour / Freerunning opens on February 20th with a free access day from 12pm onwards, and will be open every day thereafter from 7am-10pm for classes, courses, drop-in training and more.
All details can be found at http://www.parkourgenerations.com/chainstore