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Develop Your Inner Ninja

Time. Most of us bemoan the fact that there never seems to be enough of it. Along with the job, we have families, pets, court and overtime. Trying to squeeze in a workout between commitments sometimes becomes darn near impossible.

As a long-time trainer and fitness aficionado, I’m always on the lookout for workouts that are not only physically challenging, but also germane to our job as cops. I recently discovered a unique way of training, one that is a bit unconventional, but one geared to what we do every day on the street. What is it? It’s called, Parkour.

David Belle developed Parkour in France. The discipline’s main goal is teaching individuals how to move easily and quickly through their environment, by any means possible. Movement includes running, jumping, climbing, rolling, changing direction and vaulting. During the 1920s, a man named Georges Hebert instructed the French military in Parkour training, and it soon became the standard.

Recently, I spoke with Jason Yusko, owner of a local business called, Polar Fitness. Jason conducts Parkour classes for both beginners and experienced Parkour practioners. He modeled his class after the popular TV show, American Ninja Warrior. Some of the obstacles used during the Ninja competition are in Jason’s studio: the devil’s ladder, vaults, rope climb and metal bars used for balance. But the main thrust of Jason’s six-week “Nothing to Ninja” course is to get participants fit, using their own skills as they work their way through their environment.

The environment can be a gym, a local park, a run through the woods, or even through a downtown area. The idea is to use whatever obstacles one encounters. That might mean vaulting planters, sets of stairs, or climbing the side of a wall and then leaping off. Parkour participants are taught how to jump, leap and roll, thus preventing injuries. As you might imagine, a Parkour workout involves the total body, as you run, jump, climb and leap through your surroundings.

Jason talked about the importance of balance, and how it plays a role in everything we do. Many of you are senior officers with a lot of time on the job. As we age, our ability to balance begins to decline unless we constantly work on it. Parkour will improve and increase your balance and stability. Think about when you were a child, or even now, when you are out with your own kids. The children may jump up on a three-foot wall and start walking the edge, that is until you tell them to get down. But that’s exactly what they should be doing—working their way through their surroundings and honing survival skills like jumping, balancing and climbing.

Kids choose to stay outside and would play all day if you allow them. They groan when called in, even when it’s time to eat. They would rather continue to ride their bike, play ball, explore and climb trees and obstacles; it’s what they do. You did the same things when you were a child. Then, as you grew older, you began to structure your workouts categorizing and specializing. You became runners or weightlifters, maybe bike riders or hikers. You abandoned the best workout one could ever have, that of a child having fun.

One of the many benefits of adapting Parkour workouts as part of your lifestyle is the mental aspect involved. When engaged in Parkour activity, one needs to stay focused and remain in the moment. Unlike running or pumping iron in the gym, where many people wear iPods and other entertainment devices to distract them, in Parkour you must think on your feet and listen to your body. Concentration on the movement at hand, and anticipation of the next move is imperative. Trust me, if you engage in Parkour you will begin to know your strengths and abilities like never before. You will know your limitations, but also gain self-confidence by knowing what you are capable of doing. This self-esteem transcends every aspect of your life, making you a better person.

So get ready to be a practioner. Perform exercises like pull-ups, handstands and squats. Run through parks and schoolyards, using whatever structures are available: swing sets, picnic tables, ropes and chains. Jump up or over fences, boulders, tables, etc. Every so often, stop and get into a plank position for as long as you can hold it. Then, do some exploding pushups, propelling yourself off the ground on each rep. Time will fly by because you’re actually playing, not doing specific sets and reps, but reading your body and challenging yourself with the same movements you will find yourself using on the job. Everything you do will involve your core, strengthening your entire body.

Parkour is an activity you should try, particularly if you have lost interest in your fitness program, reached a plateau and can’t get beyond it, or if you’re simply looking for a program to keep you fit and healthy. Ninjas are not gender specific. Parkour activity suits men and women equally as well. Proceed at your own pace, and if you’re out of shape, check with your doctor first. Get a training partner to make it interesting and challenging. The next time you have to chase a suspect over a fence and up a flight of stairs, you’ll thank me for turning you into a “Blue Ninja.”

Stay Safe, Brothers and Sisters!


John M. Wills is a former Chicago police officer and retired FBI agent. He is a freelance writer and award-winning author in a variety of genres, including novels, short stories and poetry. He has published more than 125 articles relating to officer training, street survival, fitness and ethics. John also writes book reviews for the New York Journal of Books and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. His new book, Women Warriors, is set for a September 11, 2012 release. Visit John at: