Who are you, what do you do, and what’s your connection to the world of parkour?
I’m Chris Grant. I live in Glasgow, Scotland with amazing wife Roo and my cool dog Hutton. I’ve been doing Parkour since about 2004, starting not long after Jump London came out. I was in that first wave of practitioners in the UK back in the Urban Freeflow forum and parkour.net days.
I developed my practice by coaching more than 5000 students, artists, educators and practitioners on 3 continents. My parkour work is now under the banner of Parkour Generations Glasgow and focused on ‘top down’ initiatives that empower other educators and artists to use the discipline in their own projects. I do this when I can – not as a full time career. At the moment this work centres around the JUMP programme in the Caribbean, Parkour for Schools, and other projects exploring city design and use of public space.
Parkour practice has completely changed and directed my life, leading me now into a full time career in community development and youth work. I’m currently Education Officer for See Me Scotland Scotland’s campaign to end mental health stigma and discrimination.
What’s your background? What was your professional training?
Before parkour I had no athletic background and it’s fair to say health, training, travelling and meeting new people wasn’t on my priority list. I studied Music, Arts & Media Informatics at university and was a cocktail bartender and musician. Parkour was really the first time I had engaged with my body in any athletic way other than rollerblading and it had a huge impact. (I also lost 14 kilos…!)
I had never coached anything, or worked with young people, or did any of the things that seem totally second nature to me now.
Parkour gave me a set of principles and a confidence about challenge that led me to go carefully head first into any idea that I had. In the early days of Glasgow Parkour Coaching I was completely out of my depth and I had a few mentors and amazing people who really helped me to shape the skills I have now. But honestly, in those first few years it was just a case of asking a lot of questions and saying yes to a lot of things I was unsure about and working it out.
As I realised that I enjoyed coaching, workshopping and working with young people, I then slowly accessed professional and informal training opportunities inside and outside of parkour that I thought would help me ‘formalise’ some of what I was doing, such as ADAPT, first aid, qualifications in youth work and adult education, mental health, suicide prevention, and safeguarding. I took workshops in physical theatre, dance, business development, data and strategic visualisation, web design, went on artist retreats even though I wasn’t an artist and really just said yes to anything I could.
Looking back, I’ve ended up equipped and qualified in lots of different ways to help people – but it still centres around those parkour principles. Anyone can do what I’ve done in terms of professional development and I am 100% positive that any good parkour coach would take to any other career working with people.
Who is Hutton?
Hutton is my 45kg dog. If you want to know about Hutton, check out @theprofessorhutton on Instagram and ask him anything – he’ll reply himself.
You’ve been involved with parkour since 2004, mostly in Glasgow. What did you achieve and why did you decide to step back from it? How has your approach to parkour changed in that time?
From 2005-2016 I started various parkour websites, communities and initiatives including founding Glasgow Parkour Coaching in 2008, and Roots of Movement in 2010. Most of GPC’s work outside of regular coaching was working around the UK and internationally with artistic companies – National Theatre of Scotland, DanceGB and others. Most of this work was about meeting challenged communities who were usually experiencing poverty and deprivation, and working to give them a voice to tell their stories and build their capacity to get to positive destinations.
I was also involved in the early testing of ADAPT and I coached at most of the early Rendezvous events. I guess have been around the block and got a bit old.
In 2014, I moved to Shetland with my partner for about 2 ½ years. There I became a high school youth worker – at the time with no formal youth work training but a whole host of borrowed good practice from my parkour career. This was where my full time parkour ‘career’ changed and I stopped managing Glasgow Parkour Coaching. I am super pleased to see that even now, my amazing GPC team are still training and having an influence. I’d like to use this interview as a chance to acknowledge that it’s that team who are really responsible for GPC’s success and a lot of my own personal success. Thanks folks.
Every new project over the last 15 years has changed my practice and I like to think I’m a very successful borrower, bringing elements of physical theatre, youth work, entrepreneurship, community learning and a whole host of other things into my practice and teaching. Hopefully I’ve had an impact on some of the people I met and worked with along the way and have some practice I can share back to my peers.
What I realised in doing youth work is that it stems from the same parkour ethics that I love: seeing challenges and adversity as opportunity; understanding patience and long term development (etre et durer); starting together and finishing together; and being strong to be useful (or being an effective contributor).
I don’t in any way consider what I do now as having ‘stepped back’ from parkour because I train parkour less or don’t coach full time. That’s an idea in our professional community I’d really like to challenge.
Leaving a full-time parkour career behind was a very difficult decision, but at some point I realised that a lot of that was about a perceived accountability and impression that it would have on my peers. Our professional community has some absolutely incredible people making a huge impact – but I worry that they feel under pressure to do it full-time to remain credible.
For me, that stress caused my parkour work to suffer so I took the principles and my will to change others and directed it somewhere else. It is entirely possible to have an impact through parkour without choosing it as a full-time career which might be unstable or not financially viable.
I think it’s important to be able to engage with the discipline as a professional on your own terms. Anyone making any impact on others is a good practitioner in my eyes, and if any amazing parkour professionals reading this are feeling the strain of their career is too much, that’s cool – do what parkour has taught you to do: step back, reassess, change something, and move forward in a new way.
What did you do in Jamaica? What role did parkour play? What did you learn from the experience?
In Jamaica – along with National Theatre of Scotland, Simon Sharkey of The Necessary Space and the British Council – we took a project we had developed in Scotland called JUMP to local artists and organisations to run there. JUMP was a programme that used parkour, physical theatre and local art forms to engage with young people in deprived challenged communities. It was renamed RUNFree by the local community in Kingston.
Parkour played a central role in the project, not only from a physical perspective but in embedding a set of principles for the young people involved on which they could base their growth and goals.
We then took the principles of the discipline, the language of movement and the narrative of The Hero Journey (or the Monomyth) to allow the young people to tell their own stories back to their communities and their country. This was a 4-year journey involving some pretty hard circumstances including two of the local team members – Squidly and Chaddy – being lost to gun violence.
The project culminated in a really challenging piece of theatre telling the story of the boys facing this loss and the piece has been put on across Jamaica and at an international festival in Scotland.
The local organisation Manifesto|Jamaica and local Parkour coaches Kamari, Geordonn and Jerome were absolutely central to the project and they are still developing youth projects and mentoring programmes from the foundations of RUNFree.
We have also now started JUMP in Trinidad & Tobago and have an ambition to keep making an impact across the Caribbean.
What I learned from the project was reinforcing something I already knew: the principles of parkour are much wider than the movement practice and they exist elsewhere. If you can get people to harness this, they can grow, improve and transform. What I didn’t know was how this would translate to other cultures and I now know the key to this is to put the local community leaders and voices at the centre of designing the project and have them lead on it. I now make sure I consider this in ANY work that I do – parkour or otherwise.
What does CrossFit give you that parkour doesn’t?
Before I answer this I’m going to say if you are reading the word CrossFit and thinking ‘they don’t do pull-ups properly’ – please acknowledge that’s the parkour equivalent of ‘can you do a backflip?’ Take the time to respect all other sports on their own merits in the way you would like people to do with ours. ☺
The Glasgow Parkour community have had a longstanding relationship with our local CrossFit gym – Crossfit Glasgow. About 2 years ago, mainly down to trying to find time to train alongside my job, I joined CrossFit Glasgow and decided to commit to training 5-6 times a week and really understand what it’s all about. I was blown away by how hard it could be.
First of all, what I found were those parkour principles again. There’s an absolutely awesome community who create a culture of effort. They are so welcoming and incredibly diverse – I can have elite level weightlifters, runners and 65-year-old mums training with me and we all go through the same experience.
Secondly, the sheer variety of training within CrossFit, again similar to parkour, made me feel like a total beginner again and that was really difficult and exciting.
Thirdly – and this is one of the more ‘contrasting’ elements to Parkour – I like how incredibly precise and measurable it all is. You can follow trends in the training and you’re constantly logging numbers, reps, scores and times – each workout is like a little puzzle to solve where you have to judge your own ability and past experiences before you start and make an educated guess on how to approach the work. I’ve taken the measuring and benchmarking back to my parkour practice which has been great.
I’m now two years into Crossfit and I really believe it’s a great partner to parkour – they both kind of fill ‘holes’ that each of the disciplines have and the core principles of how they train are very similar.
If you were to give one piece of advice on how to take lessons from parkour and work on a community-driven project, what would it be?
Don’t forget to directly involve the voices of the people that you plan to work with. Do you work with them and not for them.
Finally, what’s going on with your hair?
You would have to ask my hair – which seems to be in a constant identity crisis.
Interview by Andy Day.