I asked Brighton parkour coach, and lifetime martial artist Jai Battrick some of the questions I'd been dying to know about what it's like to train both activities simultaneously. A couple of illusions were shattered in the process!
The popularity of martial arts is on the rise. Between the growth of Mix Martial Arts and it's biggest promotion - the UFC, and as more and more people search for novel ways to stay healthy and in shape.
You're starting to see some fighters dipping their toes into the world of the boarder movement community, with some even hiring 'movement coaches' to augment their combat training. Like Conor McGregor working with Ido Portal, and Micheal Page working with Tim Shieff.
I decided to interview Jai Battrick, to try and get a martial artist and traceur's perspective on how well the skills of parkour and martial arts cross over. Jai is a very interesting guy, with a rare background in both combat and parkour. He coaches parkour in Brighton, and regularly trains with the likes of Callum Powell and Joe Henderson!
I hope you enjoy the interview!
What was the martial art you trained in, and how long did you do that for?
I trained Ninjitsu, from the age of about 6 to about 16 - so about 10 years. I did Karate 2 years before I started Ninjitsu, so from about the age of 4. I’ve done MMA since I stopped Ninjitsu.
So combat has always been a part of your life?
Yeah, for sure.
To people that wouldn’t know what Ninjitsu is, how would you describe it?
So ninjitsu is a japanese martial art which directly translates in english to the art of survival. It basically is the art of living your life in the most efficient way - so everything you do has efficiency to it, it isn’t just a martial art in the ‘art of war’ sense, it is also about how you think and how you do things.
So at what stage in your martial arts journey did you discover parkour?
I discovered parkour when I was about 11 or 12. And I had been doing Ninjutsu a few years before meeting Joe Henderson when I was about 9 or 10. We became good friends, we would hang out with each other. So he inevitably got into Ninjutsu as well… he would come down to the classes with me.
Part of ninjitsu is the skill of evasion, as well as offending. So we would learn how to climb, and run up walls and whatnot. So we ended up jumping around a lot. On the way to class we would climb on the walls and run around, and even on the playground after school.
A friend of my Dad saw us doing this, and handed down a DVD of this famous UK parkour documentary ‘Jump Britain’ to us. I instantly got into Parkour after watching it, and Joe ended up getting into it at the same time. And yeah, we were already doing something similar, but we instantly got along with this.
But yeah, to answer your question, it was around 6 years after starting martial arts that I got into parkour.
So you were already quite proficient at martial arts by the time you started - so do you think that background provided any interesting or specific benefits to your parkour training?
Yeah for sure. I always wanted to be like… a ‘hero’ or a soldier, or an Indiana Jones type character. So I always wanted an adventurous activity to do; whether that was fighting people or running away from people. So yeah I always trained parkour sort of like a martial art to start off with. Martial Arts had sort of wet my appetite for movement, and doing cool shit in the space around me.
It’s kind of not accepted to go down to the park and spar with your mates - I was always scrapping as a kid, getting into little scraps here and there, and that's kind of unaccepted. But comparatively, jumping around and climbing around trees and walls is a lot more accepted. So it became an easier pastime.
You didn’t have to pay anything, because there wasn’t any classes back when I started. You didn’t need a facility - with martial arts you need a soft a ground really. You didn’t have to wait for the next class or anything. I could just train all the time and get into that strong and disciplined frame of mind I loved so much from martial arts classes. I finally had something to focus my mind on outside of Ninjutsu class.
Ah so the two went hand in hand pretty much - it felt like a natural progression?
Exactly, yeah! I’m not pretentious… or maybe I am pretentious, but I’m not pretentious enough to say “Oh it’s all the same thing. Parkour is a martial art, and martial arts are Parkour, it's all just moving around” because I think that’s absolute wank. Like yeah, they’re both moving around but they’re completely different sports - it’s just the mindset that’s similar.
That was going to be my next question actually - in what ways are they similar? Is it fair to think of parkour as a bit like a martial art? Or vice-versa? Or is that not fair perhaps?
I think if you train Parkour like a Martial Art, if all you train is getting away from someone… Like if you warm up for a while then put yourself in some scenario like you do in Martial Arts. When I first started parkour I would actually do this, me and Joe would literally chase each other in order to force us to do things faster. That probably explains a lot of our style today, and explains why Joe is so quick, because we used to chase and run away from each other.
You would pretty much play Tag with each other?
Exactly, and I was a lot more physically developed than Joe at that stage. So I was taller and quicker, and he really had to pick up his training to get away from me. But yeah to answer the original question… if you train it like a martial art, it pretty much is a martial art, but I personally don’t think it is. At the moment I just train it because I think it’s fucking cool, there’s no like spiritual element to it for me, in my head the spirit behind it is totally different to martial arts.
You’re jumping off of walls, and seeing how far you can jump, and hanging out with friends, like a lot of people participate for the culture of it. Whereas martial arts are very individualistic in a sense, and focused; you turn up to class, you learn something because you need that skill for when it is needed in life. You’re learning how to defend yourself in a real life situation. I’m not training parkour in order than I can run away from someone per say, I’m just learning it because I find it enjoyable.
Right, yeah. So that’s the way you use it at least… which is not to say that it couldn’t be flipped for someone?
Exactly, yeah! So if someone wants to class parkour as a martial art I think that's totally acceptable. I think it just depends how you train it. If you train it like you’re trying to run away from someone, then it’s pretty much one half of Ninjutsu.
Do you think some people would benefit from treating their training a bit more like a Martial Arts discipline?
Yeah I feel it would. You kinda use your imagination… what helps me in martial arts training is to imagine walking down the street, and if someone were to attack me or I witness someone being attacked, I always like to feel like I’m primed and ready to protect myself, my girlfriend, my friends, or the people that I’m with, I never want to slump. I implemented that attitude in my martial arts training and it helped me progress a lot.
For some people the ‘It’s just jumping on walls’ attitude works, but I feel with some people, if they maybe use their imagination to think of someone chasing after them then it can make them commit to things and link them together. This is what I usually do when I coach kids, I get them to chase each other and it really motivates them to do the movements… like before they would half-ass do a wallrun, but with the competitive element you see them commit to punching up the wall as fast as they can. And it’s fun.
Are there any specific examples you can think of where you’ve been in a Parkour situation, and something you learned from your Martial Arts training actually helped that situation?
Maybe reactions. You can obviously learn fast reactions from Parkour but I feel like I have quite quick reactions - not sure if that’s just genetic or from the years of martial arts training, it’s hard to pin it exactly to martial arts. In a parkour situation it’s a bit hard to say.
But when I’m out doing parkour, I’ve been threatened a few times and found myself in situations where being proficient at martial arts has benefited the situation…. Or perhaps it escalated it, I’m not sure! Either way I had a fun time! (Laughs)
You didn’t feel in danger which is worth something - there’s something to be said for feeling comfortable in confrontations, especially in our sport.
Yeah, so like I’ll be happy to diffuse the situation and then go on with my training. It helps at a more zoomed out level of training, and gives confidence in social settings and whatnot. That’s the level at which it helps.
Are there any Martial Arts or combat situations you’ve been in where your Parkour training has definitely helped?
Again it’s hard to pinpoint, because the times where I’ve trained parkour have always been with martial arts as well. I grew together with them. Maybe some fast twitch and explosive power development came from Parkour. But in general I don’t think it helps that much.
Well the only reason I ask is I’m imagining some situation where some weird lateral movement training you’ve done could affect the fight - like you know how Conor McGregor had that ‘movement’ coach for a while?
Yeah I definitely think it helps you pick up new skills faster. So for example when I went into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I picked it up really quick. I think that was because I was used to rolling and spinning. So all these weird situations that would arise, I would know which way to roll out of it.
So like, spatial awareness basically?
Yeah! The spatial awareness you get from parkour transfers to that discipline of BJJ quite well.
Awesome, is there anything else you think is worth saying about this topic?
I think training MA and Parkour as separate things makes it easier to progress in them. They have such different goals; one is about knocking people out, breaking limbs, and defending yourself. Martial arts literally means the art of war. It’s about ending the situation as quickly as possible. After that I can turn to something very different, parkour and run away if I need to. They’re seperate things.
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So that was a quick incite into the mind of Jai Battrick. My main take away was the extent to which he separates martial arts and parkour philosophically. I'd always seen the two in terms of their similarities, but now I'm wondering what wisdom is there to be found in life by looking closely at the differences between things. Big up to Jai for the interview!
Photo Credits: Faye Fillingham, In Motion Academy, Sacha Powell