Christian Anderson — no relation to Hans — dragged two low-slung balance beams across the blue tumbling mat.
“We kind of have to build, since we don’t have anything concrete,” Anderson told me, arranging the beams in parallel lines about five feet apart in the upstairs practice space at Tumblebees Ultimate Gym in Greensboro. “But a lot of what we have works out, especially if you reinforce it with a wall or something.”
The kids’ parkour program at Tumblebees just started this summer and has steadily picked up nearly 30 students, but hasn’t been established long enough to warrant a stationary obstacle course.
Then again, parkour depends on improvisation.
For the uninitiated, parkour is basically street gymnastics: Free-runners use elements of the urban environment as obstacles over which they jump, vault and climb.
“We all kinda start doing it as kids,” Anderson laughed.
The discipline began in France in the late ’80s and broke into the mainstream over the past decade.
Anderson first heard it while in high school.
“I kept seeing all these videos like ‘Russian Climbing’ and David Belle’s chase scene in District B 13,” Anderson said. “Once I figured out it was an actual thing, I started training that day. I set up a laundry basket and started practicing jumps.
“Once I got to college, I took some people under my wing,” Anderson continued. “That’s what cultivated the teaching aspect.”
Four kids scampered in around 3:30 p.m., three boys and a girl. Anderson lined them up in pairs and had them rush their respective beams on all fours.
“One or two in each class, you can tell they know what they’re doing,” Anderson told me prior to the class. “Some are very aware and trying to decode and understand technique.”
When the kids were instructed to crawl sideways towards the beam, the girl, Chloe, asked Anderson, “We doing this on the beam, too?”
Anderson confirmed her hunch. She nodded and proceeded to beat the other kids forth and back.
While technique definitely plays into parkour, instinct and risk lie at the heart of the art.
One of the boys, Elijah, dressed in a light-green shirt, quite literally threw himself into the risky side of the discipline with manic abandon.
As the class proceeded, Anderson’s obstacles grew more complex, incorporating a jumping platform, a trapezoidal vault and a large, padded block serving as a makeshift wall. Elijah would wipe out with aplomb, throwing himself over the vault, scaling the wall with his knees.
Once, he took a swan dive off the large block, hitting the extra folding mat with a heavy smack.
Needless to say, it was hilarious to watch this kid at work.
“Some have a natural… I don’t know… primalness to let them attack an obstacle,” Anderson told me.
While Anderson does indulge the kids’ boundless energy, he believes that when teaching children to engage in potentially dangerous activity, it’s crucial for them to know safety and fundamentals.
“Because of the environment [in Tumblebees], kids can get used to throwing themselves at obstacles, where outside it might be dangerous,” Anderson said. “I teach them rolls and falls, and not to do anything you can’t. I emphasize baby steps, but also to keep pushing yourself while not doing anything where you might hurt yourself or others.”
Despite Elijah’s hijinks, Anderson’s safety-first protocols popped up plenty.
As the children performed vaults over the trapezoid, Anderson stated, “You’re leaning back so your hands help keep you safe.”
And when they started climbs, Anderson pointed out to them, “[The] thing about wall runs is you don’t need a huge run-up. Start your sprint pretty close, and maybe at arm’s reach, you jump into it. The more speed you have, the easier you stick to the wall. So slowly start going faster, if that makes sense.
“And this is a lot harder [to climb] than a normal brick wall,” he added.
“It is?” the kids asked, wide-eyed.
“Oh, yeah,” Anderson said. “It’s a lot more slick.”
By the end, Anderson had his students jump from a platform to the beam, then vault over the trapezoidal block and climb the block wall, finishing by jumping off the wall and rolling into the mat.
They finally started getting winded.
“You gassin’ out?” Anderson asked a tiny mop-haired boy. “I can feel you getting tired. Get some water.”
The kids still pushed themselves with friendly competition. Their times improved, with the best of five seconds coming from Derrick, a boy in a dark-green shirt.
“We’re outta time,” Anderson said at the hour’s end. “Gotta go home.”
Most of the tykes scrambled out before I could approach them, but Ali Marzouk, the mop-topped kid, hung back with his father.
“I was gonna do gymnastics and tumbling, because I’m into breakdancing, and I thought it could help with that,” Marzouk said. “The classes were all full, but I heard parkour was open, so I asked my mom, and she signed me up.”
That came as a surprise. Not only is this kid a breakdancer, he knowingly engages in interdisciplinary study.
With children like Ali involved, it might be interesting to see where parkour will go next.
“The instruction aspect is growing,” Anderson told me. “The heyday in TV and film’s been coming on, but schools and instruction is starting to grow.
“And it’ll always be in movies,” he added.