In finding footprints where there should be none—on patio walls and safety railings—some of Bishan’s residents have found an accompanying sense of dismay. The town council has thus taken it upon itself to cover these footprints, with posters declaring ‘no parkour allowed’. This was a decision guided by concerns for safety, or in the eyes of a parkour practitioner, a false perception of risk. “The posters aren’t well-researched,” says Koh “CP” Chen Pin, known online as Denester. “They assume parkour is about rooftop jumping and climbing high ledges.”
Entering his 14th year of practice, CP has turned his passion into a full-time coaching profession. In doing so, he finds such misconceptions to be one of his more difficult obstacles yet. That’s saying something, coming from a man who has learned to navigate solid ground like a trampoline and concrete walls like stepladders. “People think it’s risky. They think we’re just climbing on stuff and creating a nuisance. I deal with a lot of parents concerned about parkour being dangerous.”
To be fair, it’s not a wholly unreasonable concern. CP, himself, has had a fair share of incidents—most notably, a two-storey fall while trying to cover the gap between two terraces. Thanks to a mix of luck and training, he walked away with only bruised heels and a back sprain, but the experience wasn’t easy to shake off. “It was very scary, mentally,” he recalls. “I’d already practised the jump twice and I wanted to get it on camera the third time. I committed to it knowing I couldn’t fall. But I still fell. If it’d been any higher, the story could’ve turned out a lot different.”
Still, CP maintains that parkour isn’t inherently dangerous—at least, no more than any other sport. “I won’t tell a student to do a jump if they aren’t comfortable. It’s completely their own decision. In combat and team sports, you can get hurt even if it’s not your fault. Here, you have more control over making the right choices and taking care of yourself.”
At its core, parkour is about being in sync with your body. “You build the awareness to change direction, to absorb your landing, to fall better,” CP says. For some, this may manifest into jumping off of rooftops or scaling high-rises, but by no means are those the prescribed end-goals. “It’s an individual sport. Everyone experiences it in their own way. Even with competitions, you aren’t there to prove that you’re the best. It’s just a way to test your skills. Sometimes, people who aren’t guided the right way focus solely on winning, and that can be very dangerous.”
Besides the physical benefits—improved strength, endurance, agility—parkour is a way to develop mental fortitude. “You can have the strength and technique down for every movement but if your mind isn’t there, if you don’t commit to the move, you won’t get it. I think that’s the hardest part. You have to push your mental barriers a lot if you want to improve.” There’s a delicate balance to be found between confidence and caution, and failure plays a natural role in getting there.
Failure in a controlled environment, of course—where the worst that could happen is a bruised elbow or a rolled ankle. There’s no need to jump down two-storeys to test whether it’s a poor decision. For aspiring traceurs, CP recommends starting with community events to meet and learn from others in the scene. “That’s what we’re trying to do more of [in Singapore],” he says. “I run events and free workshops to help make parkour more accessible. Those who are interested can join classes too.”
These options weren’t around back in 2007 when CP first started. “Back then, we just watched videos and tried to imitate them. Of course, that’s a great way to practise too, especially for those who don’t have much time. Learning from trial-and-error can help you pick up on things which you might miss if you’re being spoon-fed.”
Singapore’s still a long mindset shift away from parkour becoming commonplace, but the country seems to be headed in the right direction. “The newer generations tend to be more accepting. They care to hear us out and see things from our perspective,” CP says. “At the end of the day, we’re just trying to practise our sport. We mean no harm.”
For those willing to learn more about the art of parkour, visit denester.sg
This feature was originally published in the Summer 2021 edition of Esquire Singapore. Purchase your copy today.