Parkour in Pop Culture: A Step by Step Walkthrough (Baby Driver, Donnie Yen, Assassin’s Creed)
In this series, we explore identifying Parkour in Pop Culture, in the first 3 posts. And in the following 6 posts, step by step walkthroughs for each techniques that are featured.
Over the years, Parkour & Free Running has become a staple in films and TV. With it’s dynamic and aesthetic nature, it’s an easy choice for spicing up scenes.
Here I hope to be able to provide an entry/access point for the the general audience, and draw relevance between Parkour techniques, and the popular culture media that they know and love.
Parkour in Pop Culture A: Baby Driver by Edgar Wright
- Thief Vault
- Kong Vault
Although Baby Driver is a movie about getaway car driving, it features a small handful of actual Parkour techniques. And while there are plenty of other western movies that features Parkour, I selected Baby Driver as the representative for Hollywood movies.
And the reason for that is that in this movie, they are portrayed practically and naturally without too much hype up. It’s a common habit for Hollywood films to either misrepresent Parkour’s nature as either overly risky or unrealistically super-human, and shoe-horn in some completely over the top near-death moments.
Hence, I really enjoyed how casual it’s feature in Baby Driver was. It’s almost matter-of-fact.
P.S. As @plotarkis spotted, the vault I labelled as Thief Vault is actually a Lazy Vault upon a closer look!
The difference is the take off leg. Lazy takes off jumping from the further foot and swinging the closer leg. And Thief the opposite.
The shot in Baby Driver was a side scroll and it partially obscure the view of the feet, so nice spotting dude! I saw the weight shift of his arms and automatically assumed it was a Thief Vault, my bad!
Parkour in Pop Culture B: Donnie Yen Movies
- Speed Vault
- Double Kong Vault
- Reverse Vault
This segment is my choice for Parkour representation for eastern movies. Although technically Donnie Yen is totally international for the past 2 decades already and hence not strictly considered eastern. However I felt that the way in which he portrayed Free Running beats any other Hong Kong or China films by far, and hence he is the obvious choice.
I know what you are thinking, Jackie Chan films. But the thing about Jackie Chan is that while the stunts he performs can be considered Parkour, at the same time it isn’t really. He comes up with his own original movements tailored to each obstacle and plot.
Meanwhile Parkour as it is understood now, has a rather rigid set of vocabulary that he doesn’t fall into. And that isn’t meant as a criticism, I love his creativity. However it just means that his movies wouldn’t be the best medium to represent Parkour through.
And plus Donnie Yen does not only feature Parkour in just this movie either! His other movie that feature it very naturally is in Flashpoint(2007), Bodyguard & Assassins(2009) and Dragon(2011). Those are only the ones right off the top of my head, there could have been more in the other movies that I didn’t spot or remember!
Parkour in Pop Culture C: Assassin’s Creed Franchise
- Wall Pass
- Cat Leap/Hang
- Cat to Cat
The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one of the popular media that can be most credited with helping spread and promote the prevalence of Parkour in the gaming community. The series has been so iconic in the generation that I doubt there’s anyone even outside of the gaming circle that hasn’t at least heard of it.
There’s also Mirror’s Edge of course, which is even more faithful in portraying Parkour techniques. However as that game is in first-person, it makes it hard to be used in these Parkour In Pop Culture Series, as the audience wouldn’t be able to see what’s happening.
In this post I focused mainly on ascending-type movements, which is also the bread-and-butter feature of the gaming mechanics of Assassin’s Creed.
P.S. Remember not to leave stains on the walls you climb if they are public property. And if you do, a simple wipe up will help! Train responsibly and leave no traces!
Parkour Tutorial A: Speed Vault
- Step/safety Vault
- Speed Vault
Personally, this is one of my favorite technique out of all the major vaults. The Speed Vault juggles a great balance between looking aesthetic while staying practical at the same time.
When executing this vault, one detail I try to keep in mind is the height of the movement. You want to try and jump only as much as is absolutely required, and use the sideward body tilt to clear the obstacles with your legs. That way you achieve more efficiency in the movement by wasting less energy, while keeping the forward momentum as undisrupted as possible.
Parkour Tutorial B: Thief / Dash Vault
- Lazy Vault
- Thief Vault
- Dash Vault
I made the decision to group this 3 techniques together as I feel they have similar elements that makes learning them one after another mutually beneficial.
Starting with lazy vault to learn the hand placement and weight shift with the easiest foot set up of the 3 techniques.
Second, simply switch up the set up foot, while using the exact same arm techniques as before. It should barely be a learning curve at all.
Lastly, taking the technique and confidence from the Thief Vault, and adapt the technique to a frontal run up. Use the tapping foot as a progression bridge, the risk of injuries would be drastically reduced.
Parkour Tutorial C: Kong / Double Kong Vault
- Kong Vault
- Double Kong Vault
Originally named the Cat Pass or Saut De Chat by the pioneering founders. Eventually, the term Kong became equally if not more popular presumably due to how much it resembles a gorilla’s natural gait bringing his legs past his arms.
This vault is one of the most physically powerful techniques in the vocabulary, when executed correctly can utilize the entire body’s strength. Continuing the momentum generated by the sprint, the traceur matches the timing and pumps off the obstacle with both arms. Consequently, the resulting inertia is enough to send his entire body soaring forward up to 10 foot before landing.
Beginners often worry about either clipping their knees going up, or tripping their foot coming down. However, it’s a coordination and timing matter. The leap and push with the arms is more than enough to cleanly clear the obstacles with zero issues.
The Double Kong on the other hand, requires quite a strong upper body power. I would recommend that a practitioner be able to do at least 6 consecutive assisted hand-stand pushups before attempting this movement. It is vital to have sufficient muscular strength to support the impact received by the arms in order to absorb the second Kong.
Parkour Tutorial D: Wall Pass
- Wall Pass
- Cat Hang
- Climb Ups
- Cat Leap
- Cat to Cat
Surprisingly, I had ended up cramping the entire Assassin’s Creed featured movement list into this one post.
When it comes to techniques involving climb ups, it’s often 50% technique, but 50% physical strength and conditioning. There’s no way to cheat your way out of having to build muscles in order to execute these movements.
As a result, if a practitioner is starting these techniques while being decently competent at basic pull ups already, it may take a while to pick these up.
Hence, I had included a slide containing several upper body conditioning exercises.
Parkour Tutorial E: Precisions / Strides
- Running Precisions
Undoubtedly one of the most crucial bread and butter technique in Parkour. And yet, one of the most neglected. Admittedly, by myself included.
Although it can be considered a technique, in my experience of learning and coaching it in the past; I would classify it more as an attitude, a process or an approach instead.
And what I mean by that is explained in the above post. It is the approach of working up to it with comparative progressions. And attitude of reinforcing to your mind that you can make the distance so that you can circumvent your fear. And an attitude of gradually pursuing further and higher gaps. Consequently, progressively smaller and more precise landing surface areas.
This is something I need to work on greatly myself too.
Parkour Tutorial F: Reverse Vault
- Reverse Vault
Technically considered Free Running by contemporary definitions. The idea that efficient movements are Parkour, and fancy flashy movements are Free Running. I personally can’t be bothered about the definitions myself, but I’m obliged to state it at least.
The Reverse Vault does have some applications that makes them practical in my eyes. For example the reverse after a wall pass requires lesser core strength, as compared to doing the hip bump into precision and stride over.
And that same application can be utilized when you do a running precision that doesn’t quite make the height, landing in a crane position, executing the reverse there allows for a smooth dismount.
And in the case where you need to turn a corner after an obstacle, this vault can be executed in such a way where you land facing a 90° to 45° degrees orientation. This way the vault becomes instrumental in you changing running directions quickly. Tada, it’s now practical and efficient now ain’t it.
- You know of other movies that features amazing Parkour chase scenes that I missed out? Please tell me, I would love to watch them!
- There are other Parkour techniques you are curious about that isn’t in this list that you want to see? Drop me a message below!
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Peps Goh is a Singapore based Fight Designer, providing Action Choreography & Coordination services for both screen and stage.
He also holds screen-combat & stunt seminars annually for actors & performers. Private coaching sessions up to a group of 4 are available. For business inquiries, you can reach him at PepsGoh@Gmail.com
1 thought on “Parkour in Pop Culture: A Step by Step Walkthrough”
Of all those that you’ve featured, which one would you recommend a beginner with zero background in Parkour to start with?
Can you help to line them up in the order of difficulty too?