When Omar Zaki first laid eyes on a parkour video on YouTube when he was in high school, he never considered that one day one of those videos would be his own; especially one that would earn over 45 thousand views.
“Just like anybody else, I saw the videos when I was younger and thought ‘That’s crazy, I could never do that, forget it’ and put it to the back of my mind,” Zaki said.
The skills he showcases in the video, which follows him running, jumping and flipping across Mason’s Fairfax campus, has been nearly two years in the making.
“It started when I met my best friend Adam, and he and I were talking about wanting to try it,” Zaki said. “Coincidentally, around the same time, my step dad was at work and one of his co-workers gave him the name of a parkour gym called Urban Evolution.”
Urban Evolution is one of several parkour gyms in the Washington D.C., Virginia and Maryland area that allows for individuals to be trained in the skills of parkour, freerunning, gymnastics, break dancing aerial acrobatics and more.
“The first thing I say to anyone learning parkour is this: you learn how to fall before you learn how to fly,” said Omar Zaki, freshman music major at Mason, who has had his own share of falls while participating in the growing sport of parkour.
Parkour is the fast movement of efficiency from one point to another. Zaki includes free running with his definition of parkour, which involves adding your own style into parkour like flips, spins or acrobatics.
“We got an intro lesson where they teach you really basic stuff; how to jump properly, how to roll properly, how to do a wall climb,” Zaki said.
It was that first lesson that got Zaki hooked on parkour. For the next year, Zaki spent a couple hours every weekend teaching himself using YouTube videos and online tutorials. The more time he spent doing it, the better he got and the more he was able to pull his friends into the sport. Eventually, Zaki and his friends began filming their hobby and ended up landing jobs because of it.
“We went back to Urban Evolution a year later and we showed them one of our videos and they said ‘Wow, you guys are really good’ and they offered us jobs there,” Zaki said.
Zaki’s job at Urban Evolution has provided several opportunities, including performing shows at universities and half time shows. Zaki has also taken to teaching.
“People see the videos and they think, ‘That’s impossible, I could never do that’”, Zaki said. “That is exactly what I thought, but now I’m an instructor, and I teach anyone from five year olds to our oldest customer, who is sixty-seven.”
Zaki admits that people use their age, weight and the possibility of injury as excuses for not participating in the sport, but insists that those things have nothing to do with parkour.
“Not everyone starts with the big crazy stuff, but in six months, people have lost weight and are getting fit and are able to do more,” Zaki said.
In fact, parkour can actually aid participants in being more conscious of the way they use their bodies.
“Once you start doing parkour, you become very aware of how loud everyone else is when they are walking. They are landing very heavily,” Zaki said. “If you become aware of that, you can control it.”
Zaki’s most recent YouTube video, released only two weeks ago at the start of the semester, has already been viewed over 45 thousand times, forcing him to look to his future in parkour. He already has plans to try to solidify his own style within the parkour community.
“You want to make your own style, and make yourself different than everyone else,” Zaki said. “I’m a guitar player, and I have started to work on doing techniques while holding a guitar. I will be walking on a rail playing a guitar, and then I’ll swing the guitar onto my side, flip off the rail, land on my feet, and pull my guitar back and keep playing. I have never seen anyone do that.”
With his newfound online attention, Zaki also hopes to grow popularity in the sport while he is at Mason. As a freshman, he has the opportunity to help foster and encourage the growth of a parkour community. Currently, there is no Mason affiliated parkour group on campus, but Zaki and his friends consistently meet up on Friday afternoons.
Ultimately, Zaki is a big advocate for parkour. He emphasizes the importance of testing the environment of the areas he uses and not pushing himself beyond his limits but at the same time he looks to find new ways to make the sport exciting.