Mark Toorock, 47, teaches parkour, a kind of urban gymnastics, and is founder of the American Parkour Academy. He lives in Fort Valley in Shenandoah County, Va., but for 10 years lived in his gym, an old firehouse near Dunbar High School in Washington.
What made you want to do parkour?
I’ve had 38 different jobs in my life. I dropped out of high school twice and college four times. In 2002 I was working in London, in charge of technology for a global investment bank, and saw parkour for the first time. There was no YouTube. There were some very low-quality videos uploaded on the Internet, and there were some forums that were only in French. In the interim years I made the parkour gym. I don’t know if I even answered your question. Did I?
Well ... “What made you want to do parkour?” was the question.
Everybody wants to do parkour. Human beings are animals that love to move. If there’s anyone that doesn’t love to move, it’s because they’ve forgotten that they do.
Is there a verb “to parkour,” or is it that you practice parkour?
There is not. I like “train,” because we see parkour as a discipline. It can be fun, but really it needs to first be trained.
What’s the training like?
That’s the coolest part, and the part that’s least understood. People see all these YouTube videos, these amazing athletes leaping across buildings. That’s an end result of parkour training — that’s not what parkour training is at all. Training might start with jumping onto a two-by-four that’s sitting on the ground, or jumping up a curb.
What has surprised you about having a parkour academy?
The initial shock was that parkour people don’t come to a parkour academy; regular people come to a parkour academy. People working 60 hours a week in stressful, hectic jobs want a place where you can tell them how to get better at something. Most of our academy are young, urban professionals — is “yuppies” still an insult?
We’ll find out when this comes out.
We have a very high percentage of women, often as high as 60 or 70 percent in our classes. Parkour is something every human did at some point, and then we stopped. When we were kids we all crawled around exploring and tried to climb up the back of the couch.
What’s your favorite place in D.C. for parkour?
Out at Great Falls. Rock scrambling and jumping around in nature, where things aren’t so geometric.
Tell me about parkour in D.C. public schools.
Currently 27 D.C. middle schools use parkour as part of their phys ed curriculum. We have trained their teachers and helped develop a curriculum that meets national standards. One of my favorite classes I ever taught was when nobody showed up for Saturday morning young kids classes except one 4-year-old girl with her 83-year-old grandmother. I taught them both the same thing! That was a blast.
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