Stroll around the ruins of Gaza on a late afternoon and you may catch sight of airborne young men, jumping off mountains of rubble and rolling from rooftops. Their extraordinarily athletic running and climbing, swinging and vaulting makes for an urban ballet. This is parkour and free running and this is the best crew in the Arab world.
The sport of parkour developed in the late 1980s from military obstacle course training wherein practitioners aim to get from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible using only their bodies and surrounding infrastructure for propulsion. Sometimes practiced solo, but more often with others – as much for ensuring safety as for inspiring innovation in new moves.
Free running involves fluid and unrestricted movement through space, based on the act of running. It’s considered a simpler and more inclusive form of parkour.
In 2005, after Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza, two men created Palestine’s very first parkour crew in the southern city of Khan Younis. The aerial antics of Mohamed Algakhbeer and Abdallah Enshasy quickly attracted new followers and the team steadily grew. Today there are 18 official members in PK Gaza ranging from age 17 to 25; parkour demands young, agile bodies.
The athletes use parkour as a positive expression of joy and independence in a war-devastated place. Their interaction with their ruined surrounding results in an incongruous beauty. It usually takes place in urban settings, but these guys work it on the beach and in construction sites.
Parkour has also got practical application, providing young men with a rigorous physical workout in neighborhoods where there are no ball fields, soccer pitches, or gymnasiums. Says blogger Moa Dickmark, “They might not have much, but what they do have is the choice to not let anyone take their dreams and goals away. By practicing parkour on a daily basis and doing shows for various audiences, they spread power in a way that no outside organization or person could ever do.”
The group is seeking a dedicated place to safely practice where they can also teach others about the sport and its underlying philosophy.
Parkour is becoming a recognized sport with events involving established teams from around the world. Currently, PK Gaza stages events in Gaza City and smaller communities. They would like an opportunity to leave Gaza to perform with international athletes, learn, and demonstrate what is happening with the sport in their slice of the world. Until they can leave, the world can come to them through the magic of YouTube.
PK Gaza is showing the world that parkour builds more than strong bodies; it brings positive attention to war-ravaged youth and is an accessible agent for change.
Images from Moa Dickmark taken by Yasser Fathi Quidh and Vycheclav Guz