If you’ve seen District B13, Casino Royale, or Brick Mansions, then you’ve seen Parkour. Sometimes also termed freerunning, this world-famous extreme sport is thrilling to perform and awe-inspiring to witness, and I’ve witnessed it first-hand here in Lebanon: Young Lebanese men and women jumping across rooftops, running up walls, and landing 15-foot drops like it’s nothing!
Being an avid follower of the sport, I was surprised when I found out that it has an official practicing team and gym in our country. The original members formed and trained themselves from scratch without having anyone around to guide them or teach them the basic skills and movements of Parkour.
Now they are considered world-class professionals, and they are spreading their passion in Lebanon and teaching it to others. So, I hear you asking, what in the world is Parkour?
To put it simply, Parkour is a training discipline using movement that was initially developed in the 1980s by the French for military obstacle course training. It was later transformed by French stunt actor and coordinator David Belle, who is considered the founder of modern Parkour, to become accessible to the average civilian.
Practitioners of the discipline, who are referred to as traceurs, aim to get from one point to another in the fastest and most efficient way possible using no equipment other than their own limbs; flips and flashy moves are added as a form of self-expression.
It consists of an arsenal of simple, as well as complex, movements that range from running, climbing, jumping and rolling, to crawling and swinging, along with endless other move combinations. It’s a good workout and having tried it myself, it’s very safe and fun if one follows the criteria which are used for training.
Coach Jo Zgheib, the founder of the Lebanese Parkour Academy (or LPK), discovered Parkour when it was still a relatively unknown hobby. He used to do Wushu Kung Fu growing up and was such a big fan of Jackie Chan that he tried to imitate his movie stunts. Later on, he saw Parkour for the first time in movies and instantly knew that it would become his passion.
Jo gathered whatever Parkour videos and tutorials he could find back then, and began teaching himself the basics of Parkour and freerunning. After he mastered the basics, he passed them to his friends and helped them understand the discipline.
When he was confident enough of his Parkour skills, he was motivated to start giving Parkour sessions to small groups, so he did, and Lebanese people were thrilled with this new sport! Jo later founded the -then humble- Lebanese Parkour Academy in 2010, and now it is considered a world-class Parkour academy.
The World Freerunning and Parkour Federation (WFPF) has recognized LPK and has been its official sponsor since 2017, thus making it the first WFPF Parkour Academy in the MENA region.
Jo has also become one of the federation’s Parkour ambassadors to the region, meaning that he would be developing Parkour education and special initiatives in the Middle East.
Today, although not as widely spread as other sports, Parkour is much more recognizable in Lebanon than ever before. A lot of Lebanese children, adolescents, as well as adults have adopted the Parkour philosophy and the traceur mindset: “The world is your gym, your life is a workout.”
They have seen in it a new and unique way of expressing themselves to society while nourishing their physical health and having a good time. So don’t feel bewildered if you pass a public place in Beirut and see a grownup playing and jumping around rails and walls. Know that that person is (probably) practicing Parkour!