Running, leaping, and vaulting across a landscape, parkour is a high impact sport but it is all about the training ALIX NORMAN learns

Paris Hadjisoteriou is a traceur. He flies through the air, tumbles, twists, turns and rolls, and leaps from roof to roof. But he wasn’t born with these cat-like skills. Instead the 29-year-old has practised and mastered his craft over a period of 15 years. Making him, today, the island’s best-known coach of parkour.

photo shoot in brooklynBorn in 1988 from the mind of stunt coordinator David Belle, parkour derives from the French for obstacle course, or ‘parcours du combattant’. Its exponents – an ever-growing breed – are known as ‘traceurs’.

“Parkour is about getting from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible,” explains Paris. “It’s a constant physical and mental challenge with huge benefits in terms of balance, strength, coordination, flexibility, proprioception and overall physique. And because you’re always being faced with new challenges, it can also bolster your confidence and self-efficacy: you’re judging your own ability to tackle those challenges all the time.”

Sounds like a sport for the young, right? And yet “Everyone possesses the ability to do parkour,” Paris reveals. “Nobody needs to teach you how to jump or climb; it’s something innate. I have pupils who are two years old and students who are 50 and above. It’s never too early or too late to start learning, and it’s really amazing and heart-warming to see people accomplish feats they couldn’t have imagined!”

The key, he explains, is continuous learning. Parkour incorporates elements from many different sports, the main three being climbing, gymnastics and martial arts. But the skills, Paris adds, are fairly simple. “Just like any discipline, you start with the fundamentals and drill them to a point where you feel you can take it a step higher (quite literally). And though this may be an impact sport, there are so many types of movement that it definitely ticks the longevity box: even in your later years you can still be working on low-impact movement such as flowy vaults in order to feel that sense of pleasure from progression.”

Paris has been an exponent of parkour for 15 years. “I vividly remember seeing a video on parkour, and thinking that’s what I want to do with my life. So I did!” he enthuses. Originally, he studied Business Management at Kingston. But such was his talent for parkour, that he passed on a scholarship to do a Masters in sports management at Loughborough, and instead headed out into the world to bring his passion to the public.

Headhunted by a well-known sports agency to co-launch the first Parkour Academy in Saudi Arabia, Paris spent the next few years teaching his chosen sport in the UK, the States, and the Middle East. But in 2019, he moved back to Cyprus to “put down roots, build something real.

“I’m half-English, half-Cypriot,” he continues. “But Cyprus has always been home for me. I’m not on the corporate ladder or in the business world. And rather than moving from place to place, I felt it was time to establish a more stable career…

“At that time,” he adds, “parkour was still in its infancy in Cyprus. So I was the first person on the island to teach parkour, and it’s great to see how well it’s been taking off: it’s such a simple sport, but has the potential to be massive.”

feature 3 2Exponents of parkour require no equipment, no set location, and enjoy a freedom you just don’t get with other sports, Paris suggests. Consisting of six main pillars (running, jumping, climbing, swinging, vaulting, and quadrupedal movement), it can be practised anywhere: city, country or suburb! Paris, who is based in Nicosia, most frequently teaches in local parks – “not only an aesthetically pleasing environment, but also safer due to the impact-absorbent grass. But in the event that a client wants to learn harder or more challenging skills such as a front flip, we might take it indoors to a gym with safe matting.”

The majority of Paris’ clients are aged from 7 to 27 years. “Parkour is a natural fit for youngsters as they are still in a phase where learning new skills and movements is easy; I find that kids can pick up movement twice as quickly (if not faster!) than adults. It also teaches children to develop a sense of mental discipline and express themselves without boundaries: parkour allows you to do something that doesn’t have a giant list of rules or limitations, and younger students find this particularly refreshing.

“Also, kids are less susceptible to the biggest obstacle to progress: fear,” Paris proposes. “Parkour is considered an extreme sport for obvious reasons: my wildest outdoor move is a ‘roll bomb’ which is basically rolling off an obstacle and then doing another flip while still in the air. But learning to assess risk is a crucial component of the sport, and an area I constantly highlight in teaching all ages: ego should not be involved; you need to learn when a challenge is beyond your current capabilities.

“I think people get a little excited when they see parkour on the internet,” he adds. “They tend to want to replicate the stunts they see almost immediately. But without a strong foundation and a disciplined mind, you will get hurt. I always tell my students ‘if you don’t respect parkour, it will disrespect you back, and injury is inevitable!’”

Instead, proper coaching and guidance is the key to attaining the sense of freedom that comes from running, leaping, and vaulting across a landscape. And though Paris is one of the better-known parkour coaches in the region – his own parkour academy will open in February next year, in Kaimakli – even he admits to being on a lifelong journey of learning.

“People sometimes believe I’m mad or insane because of the stunts I do,” he concludes. “But they’re just seeing the final product as it appears on social media, not the behind-the-scenes training. A true traceur has committed days, weeks, months – or perhaps even 15 years and counting! – to the sport of parkour!”

For more information on parkour in Cyprus, email [email protected] or visit @parishadpk on Instagram