Syrian youth bring parkour to Idlib

Tafani team members during their parkour training – July 13, 2022 (Tafani team/Facebook)

Tafani team members during their parkour training – July 13, 2022 (Tafani team/Facebook)


Enab Baladi – Reem Hamoud

The difficulty and inherent risks of the sport, particularly amidst the rubble of destroyed buildings, have not stopped Syrian youth from practicing parkour in the northwest regions of Syria, driven by widely shared goals.

Parkour, known in Arabic as “Wathaaba,” is classified as a martial art and relies on moving quickly and efficiently from one point to another using the simplest and fastest routes possible. It involves a series of complex movements that require years of practice to master, with the fundamental move known as the monkey vault, or kong leap.

Growing interest

In recent years, parkour teams have emerged in northwest Syria, despite the scarcity of resources and opportunities in the region. The sport faces challenges in terms of player readiness, training locations, and societal backlash leading to limited initial participation. However, interest has gradually been on the rise.

Ahmed al-Sawas, a parkour coach for team “Al-Wathban,” told Enab Baladi that the turnout for the sport was not wide because it is completely different from other sports popular in the region.

Sharing his experience, founder and coach of team “Tafani,” Obadah Jabbara, said that the team was established with the help of a young man named Amer Samsoum, and initially, only those who trained alone showed interest. However, the numbers increased after the announcement of the team’s training courses for those wanting to join.

Jabbara added that with the continued spread of the sport, the rate of joining has improved. Training courses for females between 5 and 12 years old have been organized.

The game does not require a specific number of players for friendly challenges or tournaments, but more players enhance the aesthetic and enjoyment of the performance, according to the coach of team Tafani. 

Despite the average interest in the sport and the gradual acceptance by society, leading to the establishment of teams including children and youth, the players have still not received opportunities to showcase their skills or participate in tournaments outside the country. However, their ambition to do so persists, as confirmed by the coaches to Enab Baladi.

Potential risks

Parkour carries significant risks, and the injury rate among its practitioners in northern Syria is high, due to the lack of proper equipment and facilities for practicing movements, compelling players to train on the rooftops of buildings destroyed by bombings from the Syrian regime and its Russian ally.

The dangers of building collapses are high and numerous, especially since parkour relies on natural elements like iron bars, trees, walls, and jumping from heights, and injuries can have long-term effects, says al-Sawas.

The sport requires specialized equipment like high-pressure sponge gymnastics mats for protection, various height wooden barriers, and precision sticks (which accelerate learning movements), but the high costs of these items in the region hinder the ability of team Al-Wathban to acquire them, according to al-Sawas.

He continued that the absence of adequate protective gear during movement execution without fear or terror of injury led them to practice on the rooftops of destroyed buildings despite their dangers, as they provide a suitable space that feels more comfortable than the limited area of a gym or the impossibility of training in public parks or residential buildings.

However, team Tafani’s coach Obadah Jabbara has a different view from al-Sawas. He believes that the risks of the sport are not different from other sports and that proper attention reduces injury accidents, especially after following safety measures, improving physical fitness, inspecting the area before starting, and mastering the movement to be practiced.

Beginner players in the sport of parkour are commonly trained in safe rolling to protect themselves from harming their backs, shoulders, and feet in case of falls, and jumping for long distances. Everyone can perform these two moves while learning the basics of the sport, according to the coach of team Tafani.

Following the required safety steps does not mean that some members of team Tafani have not suffered minor injuries, such as bruises and tendonitis, Jabbara confirms.

As for training on buildings destroyed by the war in Syria, its dangers increased after the earthquake that struck four Syrian governorates and southern Turkey in February 2023, which forced them to move to other options.

Unrestricted by a certain age

Coach Ahmed al-Sawas told Enab Baladi that parkour is not age-restricted for joining and starting practice, as it is a free sport, but he prefers starting at a young age. He added that joining early is important because mastery takes about three years of uninterrupted training. Obadah Jabbara, on the other hand, believes that professionalism requires at least about four years of continuous practice.

Those who wish to practice parkour cannot join after reaching approximately 30 years of age, but if they were previous players, they could continue practicing lightly, as intensive joint injuries may occur during practice. After reaching the age of 30, one can continue as a sports coach for the coming generations, according to al-Sawas.

Both teams have specific conditions for accepting new members, the most important of which is seeing the player’s potential to improve if he joins the team, in addition to undergoing practical tests that qualify him for joining.

A look at parkour

The inception of parkour, also known as “Wathaaba,” dates back to the 1980s. The word “parkour” is derived from a French term used in traditional military training in the French army. Soldier David Belle added to what he learned from combative skills and gymnastics and took the training out of its military context to create the sport. Britain was the first country to officially recognize parkour as a sport by the end of 2016.

Some of the most famous movements in parkour include the landing (bending the knees upon touching the ground), precision jump (jumping from one point to another), cat balance (balanced walking on a barrier using all four limbs), monkey vault (placing hands on the barrier and then jumping with the body tucked, passing the feet and torso between the hands planted on the barrier until the body passes), and the 360 precision jump (rotating the body 360 degrees around its axis and landing on the other side of the barrier).


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