Time Out takes a look at the acrobatic parkour scene in Bahrain
Time Out Bahrain staff
‘Let me clarify the blurry image that people have about parkour,’ says Mohammed ‘Blingz’ Saad, one of the founders of the Bahrain Parkour Association, which he runs in conjunction with his friend and fellow enthusiast, Osama Faiz Al Safah. ‘It’s not a sport. Parkour is a discipline; it’s a way of life. Parkour is about overcoming obstacles in your environment and in your mind. When it was established 25 years ago in France, they did it to overcome obstacles in the fastest way possible, and they also did it in order to reach or escape from something.’
The main elements of parkour are running, jumping, vaulting and rolling, with an emphasis on speed and efficiency. The idea is to get from one point to another using whatever physical means possible, with urban landscapes proving to be the most popular. And what does a person need to take part? ‘Nothing but confidence, a brave heart and motivated spirit,’ Mohammed tells us, before admitting he originally got into it by watching videos on Youtube. ‘It’s about setting goals and attaining them in the training. Stay safe, train in the right conditions and in a safe environment. But train with someone that knows parkour already and can supervise, because it’s an extreme activity.’
Mohammed and Osama both started learning parkour moves themselves in the summer of 2009, before launching the group officially in February 2010. ‘We’re all official and certified,’ Mohammed reveals. ‘We found on the internet that there are many groups around the world, and one in Kuwait told me about Parkour Generations, who are the global regulators. We took a few pictures, put them on our Facebook page and called ourselves Bahrain Parkour. After that, the regulators certified us. We now run courses and are part of this huge global network.’
In Bahrain the group has 20 members, who all meet up three times a week. And which areas of Bahrain do they find the best to train in? ‘The more obstacles there are, the better it is for someone who is a professional,’ says Mohammed. ‘But parkour doesn’t need a particular obstacle – you can make do with anything. Even a chair, you can train with that. It depends on how you’re seeing the obstacle to do your movement. But specifically around town, or where I like to go, Andalus is one, also Riffa and Bahrain Fort, and we’ve even tried it at the Formula One track.’
But surely people might have an issue if you starting running and jumping over their property? ‘Well, we don’t usually need permission in public areas or parks where we practice,’ says Mohammed, ‘but we have learned from experience. Once we tried to practice at Bahrain City Centre without permission, and we got in trouble, but the manager was very understanding, and after explaining everything and seeing that we were serious about it, he offered us the chance to do a show. That was an awesome day, and we will never forget it, we were running, jumping and flipping all over the mall, and everyone was filming us. But it taught us not to be careless, and now we always ask permission.’
It sounds like the group has put in a lot of practice. So how do the members rate each other? ‘Everyone has their own style of parkour, so you won’t look at someone and say that person is the best,’ explains Mohammed. ‘Overcoming an obstacle depends on how you see it. So it’s not a case of, like, “He’s good and he’s bad.” But the most important thing is to have speed, flow and precision.’
But surely some members must be able to perform more outrageous moves than others, to which Mohammed gives a wry smile. ‘It depends on my mood,’ he says. ‘Sometimes I want to do a big jump, other times not. But I remember on one occasion when Osama was about to jump from a bridge. And I was looking at him thinking, “There are rocks on the ground, this will hurt him so much.” But he jumped and rolled off and it was fine. I think this was one of the most extreme stunts.’
With all of the rolling and jumping, not to mention landing from great heights, isn’t it easy to get injured? ‘It depends on how you practice,’ Mohammed argues. ‘Sometimes when you land, you can hurt yourself if you land in a wrong way. The most important thing we always tell people is that you have to practice safely. Safety is the No 1 priority in parkour, and you should always check out an obstacle first before you try it. But it happens. The worst thing that happened to me was when I fell down and hit the back of my head on some concrete. I was unconscious for a few seconds, and when I opened my eyes, my body was so stiff. I had to go to hospital and have a neck brace for a few days. I’ve hurt my ankles and my knees a few times too.’
While the injury factory does limit the appeal somewhat, what encourages it is the spectacle of seeing Mohammed and his crew move quickly and imaginatively before our eyes. At least when we observed, no injuries were recorded. Or in the various Youtube videos the group likes to post of themselves. ‘We’ve had a lot of feedback from those, lots of comments and ideas,’ Mohammed tells us, before adding that Bahrain Parkour has followers in Europe, Asia and Australia.
So does that mean they are temtped to try obstacles abroad? ‘I’ve done it in Saudi Arabia,’ says Mohammed. ‘We’re thinking of travelling to Kuwait and practising with one of the groups there – Kuwait actually has the biggest parkour community. There are a couple in Saudi Arabia, also the UAE, and I know of one in Jordan. It would be nice to meet up with some of them. Until now, we haven’t travelled together and practiced as a group, but one of our guys did try it in Malaysia.’
The group say they are open to all, with both expats and Bahrainis in their ranks. And if you want to try it, how do you sign up? ‘Anyone can just call us or post a message on Facebook, and we will tell them everything,’ says Mohammed, and he adds that if you just want to learn more about parkour first, then by all means come along and watch. More info from Bahrain Parkour Association (33 341 761). Cost is BD20 per month, meets held every Saturday, Monday and Wednesday, 7.30pm-9.30pm, taking place at Al Shams Taekwondo Academy. Also see www.bahrainparkour.com.