Parkour in South KoreaWe have met Traceur Jiho from South Korea during the Lion City Gathering in Singapore. He started training Parkour in 2004 after watching the movie “Yamakasi“.  Being fascinated by his story, and the challenges he had to face establishing Parkour in South Korea, I couldn’t help but take him aside, switch on the memo-function of my iPhone and record our conversation.

My favourite quote of the conversation is the following one. It has got that Zen feel to it coming from Jiho, the calm, warrior soul:

Usually, when someone is doing something for a very long time, it happens easily that he closes his mind to other things. But when we’re training Parkour, we always keep an open mind to other things, to other arts or types of movements.

If you know all about the Philosophy behind Parkour and are now curious to see someone move who trained for over a decade, have a look at Jiho’s movements at the bottom of this post.

Hi Jiho! Let’s get right to it. You were amongst the first few People training Parkour in South Korea, is that right?

Yes, I started training back in 2004 – and just a few people had started a bit earlier. A small online community called “Yamakasi Korea” had already existed.
But the problem at that time was, we didn’t have any information about “What is Parkour? What is the history?” It was just a bunch of guys who met up every weekend, to train and to watch videos together.
A lot of accidents, injuries were happening.
In my case, I had a lot of fear back then and was scared. I was observing a lot. I thought: “It’s exercise, right? It has to be good for my health and for my psyche.” But in reality, in Korea at that time, people started – and just disappeared over time. I felt that “It’s not right that way”, so I started searching Google for more information about Parkour.

Back then, when you were training and pedestrians would pass by, they would say: “Oh, Yamakasi! You’re doing Yamakasi!”

At that time in Korea, not much information about Parkour was accessible, because no-one could speak english.

But I had studied english for myself, so that I could learn and read more about  the background of Parkour.
My english kept improving, because regularly people from overseas who found me over were traveling to Seoul, and I trained and conversed with them.

Parkour in South Korea

You helped he Parkour Scene in South Korea learning a lot about the roots of Parkour, because you were translating articles the existing articles from the founders at that time, is that right?

Yes, I started translating the first articles in winter 2006.  Back then I had troubles with the Yamakasi Korea. They insisted that the sports was called “Yamakasi”, not Parkour, and communicated it to the media in that way.

Back then, when you were training and pedestrians would pass by, they would say: “Oh, Yamakasi! You’re doing Yamakasi!”

As I was translating articles to show the community what Parkour actually was, I received a lot of negative feedback, because it was splitting the community into two opposing sides. “Korea Parkour” and the “Yamakasi Korea”.

Every time someone else would give out wrong information, I would speak up and make a point for what I understood was truth.

2004 you started training, in late 2006 you started blogging – when would you say, the “Hype” around Parkour caught momentum?

The turning point for Parkour in Korea was in December 2010. As I finished my army service [which is obligatory for at least 21 months in Korea] I founded an online community. In the beginning, just a few people would register online. Every weekend, I would teach them. I didn’t have a qualification, I didn’t have a coaching method – I was just teaching from my training knowledge.
Every weekend I would teach, and then also update the information online. Mostly translating the articles and contents from Dan Edwardes, Stephane Vigroux, David Belle and the other long-term practitioners.

When I was watching the movie “Yamakasi” with my friends back in 2003, I felt that sense of freedom, that made me want to change something about my life. So I began to start training.

The community (Korea Parkour) became bigger and bigger – and has now reached 30.000 online registrants.

Once a month we’re doing a Korea Parkour Grand-Jam in Seoul.
Regularly between 70-100 practitioners are training together – while the “Yamakasi Korea” started collapsing and have now disappeared.

Parkour in South Korea

What’s the most profound thing that you have learned from Parkour.
And what do you feel is not really addressed yet?

Before I started training Parkour, I was really shy. I was addicted to computer games and was really tired about the whole education system in Korea. Friends, Family and the rest of Society just tells you to “study, study, study.”
It’s a very competitive system – with losers and winners. A lot of separation happening.

My whole life was controlled by external environment and other people.
But I couldn’t live life like that, in that kind of system.

When I was watching the movie “Yamakasi” with my friends back in 2003, I felt that sense of freedom, that made me want to change something about my life. So I began to start training.

“My first move was a turn-vault. It really scared me a lot, because on the other side there was a big drop. For a newbie, it’s quite a difficult move.
But the important thing was, I was feeling alive for once. I felt my heart beating.”

Through the training, and more and more Parkour Jams, I met a lot of people. There was no pressure to compete. Everyone was just helping each other, growing together.
Just like during the Lion City Gathering. Good friendships are formed.
Even though we are from different countries, of different colours, shapes, have different heights and are eating different foods – all the different cultures: we share the same values and thinking, we are welcoming and we’re open-minded together.

So I was really comfortable around the scene.
At that time, I felt like “this is my way of life.”
Parkour in South Korea

When we compete in life, often times we’re in a Win/Lose mindset. What we have to develop, is a Win/Win mindset. It happens almost automatically when we train together. 1+1 suddenly equals 3. Both of us get further, than we could have by just being on our own. It seems to be part of the magic, when during a jam (or even a competition) people start helping out each other, instead of training for themselves or for the camera.

Competition isn’t necessarily a bad factor, because of that. Do you agree?

Yes, I would say it’s about the journey of becoming yourself. It’s a very personal journey. Everyone has to find what his side of training is. How he wants to move.

For me, when I started in 2004, I saw my idol David Belle jumping the Manpower Gap. So my training was mainly focused on that jump. Until I flew to France in 2008 an jumped the Manpower Gap.

After that I felt really empty inside, reaching the goal I had set for my training. At that time I realised, David Belle and Me, we are not the same.
We have a different body shape. At first I wanted to be exactly like him, until I realised that I can’t be the same like David Belle.

That was the turning point of my training.
Since then I was focusing on “who am I? What are my movements? What movements are good for me?”

Yeah! It’s amazing, that we can really find ourselves through Parkour / Freerunning. For someone it might be, that in his training he finds himself being really passionate about connecting the different vaults and moves. He enjoys the “in betweens” more than the actual big moves.
Then he finds out that he moves with much more energy, when listening to music while training – and finally ends up discovering that he’s actually a born Dancer.

Parkour is self-exploratory, and doesn’t have the regular boundaries, or definite goals most other sports have, because the goal is really to become the best, strongest, most efficient version of yourself.
There is less of “you can’t do this” and “you can’t do that”.
That leaves a lot of space to find yourself.

Yes, it’s very interesting that we see ourselves as Parkour practitioners, but when we see someone else becoming the best of his/her field, being himself, then we see that similarity and that person becomes very interesting to us.

Usually, when someone is doing something for a very long time, it happens easily that he closes his mind to other things. But when we’re training Parkour, we always keep an open mind to other things, to other arts or types of movements.

It’s almost like we train Parkour to attain more openness. We learn to enjoy falling, because we have learned it’s the only way we can truly learn. But when you’re really good at something, you fall less often. So we throw ourselves into new situations. And those don’t even have to be sport-related situation. It could be anything.

(Laughes) I love how we always end up speaking about life, when speaking about Parkour.

Many people today start training Parkour, because they think it’s “cool movements”. What do you want to give to them?

I think it’s a natural phenomenon. Think about other arts: Taekwondo, Acrobatics or Dance. The beginners just come because of the cool movements. But once the beginners train for two years, three years, four years, their mindset begins to change and they realise something.

In my case too. I trained because I was watching the movie Yamakasi. It was “cool movements”. So I was the same like today’s beginners (Laughes).
So yeah, the important thing, in my point of view, is to give them various experiences. Don’t teach them just one way, the one thing. Just briefly guide them in what they do.

Parkour in South Korea

For me to understand this real quick, what are the different ways one could teach?

Yes, I don’t like the teacher that just teaches one thing. Who specialises in one thing and only gives that away. It’s easy to disappoint the students then. And the student’s mindsets will be limited too.
It’s like educating children in a school. You don’t just teach them just one subject. You introduce them to various subjects and then let them choose in what field they want to progress. At least in school systems like in Sweden. Not in South Korea so much. 

Parkour is more than just movement, right? Parkour is finding out. It’s exploring. It’s understanding who you are. It’s to carry that uprightness, that honesty towards yourself that you live your life with.

I believe, that the Parkour practitioners can be the warriors and ninjas of the 21st century. Because we don’t need people fighting on the front. We need people who show other people, that one single way can never fit all. We need people who stand up, and acknowledge that they can never be “everything”, but that we all can stand up for something!

You for example, you were spreading knowledge about Parkour in South Korea by translating articles that other practitioners couldn’t have read otherwise. No one told you to do so. But it was an expression of your self.

Yes, I wanted to tell the truth. I want to organise a better community in Korea. I didn’t want to follow wrong ways. I wanted longevity for the practitioners. 
That’s why I do it. You see, a person’s life is limited. We will die one day. But information and knowledge keeps growing. And can help the next generation.

Parkour gave me a lot of value. That’s what I want to give to the next generation. That’s why I dedicate the classes and the Parkour academy to the students.

That’s awesome Jiho. Thank you for this interview. We’re so curious what is to come and what we see and hear next from Korea Parkour.

I want to apologise, that I was taking so much space during the latter part. I got carried away by the flow of our conversation – I enjoyed talking to you a lot. Next time I promise to give you more space, my friend.

Do you have a question you want to ask Jiho? Whom should we interview next? Let us know in the comments!