Across Borders: A Parkour Generation

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Human motion need not be delimited by carefully-set sidewalks nor inhibited by obstacles. Leap over walls, swing from the rafters to get to your next destination via le method naturelle. The spectacle often leaves average pedestrians awestruck in the dust. Parkour enthusiasts, called traceurs, draw unique lines of approach to this sport of urban free-running and develop their philosophies from the spirit of it. The movements evoke practitioners’ primitive sides while the discipline places them vis-à-vis with moments of fear and truth about the psychological and physical limits. The conceptualization of parkour breaks down ideas of spatial and social confinement, which have restricted our harmony with our environment. As one enthusiast put it, “The idea that the only way to get to the second floor is from the inside of a building is preposterous.”

Nicola

The community’s consensus is that this adrenaline-pumped martial art was born in Lisses, France, where modern legends-in-the-making like Sébastien Foucan and Jérôme Ben Aoues expressed their free-flow style by jumping, flipping, scaling, leaping along their own paths with exceptionally acrobatic, and distinctly defiant, French flair since the 1990s. Here, skateboarding was not allowed and public playgrounds had rules against this type of play. They developed a sport that complemented surrounding architecture in creating alternate, and often impressive, routes of transit for the nonconformist traveler. The style quickly spread throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Americas. Parkour Generations America started in 2005 with a runabout rendezvous – here is their showreel: http://youtu.be/lD3_Fn0erPw

 

The most spectacular stunts are done among rooftops, but fundamentals should be learned at ground level. Today, online organizations like ParkourGenerations.com and Monkeyspirit.org seek to inspire young French traceurs by providing tips, tricks, and testimonials from those who have become proficient in the art of creative movement. The masters teach use of fundamental and natural motions, mental rehearsal, and hard work to become fluid in the art of manipulating your horizon, because after all, “the art of moving is about hard training.” Exercise regimes challenge cardiovascular systems, build core strength and improve muscular endurance. The essence is in the footwork, the hand placement, the unique flow of the individual in their route and how they assess obstacles. Uncontested sensei Sébastien Foucan explains that, in his experience, “practice is best done alone…to be focused in yourself. When you are alone you’re a little bit afraid and you need to find why and the solution.” And Monkeyspirit.org urges hopefuls in its introduction not to put the cart before the horse. “The flow comes from years of hard work. Even apes and monkeys practice all the day long during their childhood learning from their parents.”
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Groups like UrbanFreeFlow and Freemouv display skill at international competitions, most recently this July in the French Alps and in August in Wisconsin, USA. Their talents have also been displayed in such recent films as 007 James Bond: Casino Royale and Jump Britain. Foucan recently helped K-Swiss develop the Ariake, the first freerunning and parkour shoe. Nikon and GoPro have contests to sponsor amateurs in creating parkour videos for the web.

To date, the writer has personally adopted many movements of Animal Planet in conquest of free-running basics. Visualize me at 25, meditating at dawn and practicing throughout Missouri’s karst landscape during my frequent hiking trips. I still get the urge to climb to the top of the playground tower and every other imposing structure I come across. As a novice, I hurt my ankle while leaping between platforms last month and haven’t been as spry since. I should have been wary of encouraging instructions that included the phrase, “various opportunities to jump off the roof.”

 

Ultimately, parkour is for hard-chargers, fast runners, young kung fu masters, trapeze artists, and those kids who grew up having the most fun on the school playground. It continues to be rapidly embraced by a generation of unprecedented physicality and philosophy: a parkour generation.

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Encore! Parkour!

The art of forward motion in spite of obstacles.

Sound crazy?

Introducing the international discipline, sport and/or hobby known as Parkour [Paar-koor].

It’s a French phenomena that has made its way into quite a bit of American media lately. Parkour expert  Sebastian Foucan was recently featured in the 007 film Casino Royale, utilizing his skill to escape a pursuing agent.

NBC’s television show The Office, whose Michael, Dwight, and Andy characters are always quick to adopt the latest cultural fad, recently featured Parkour being practiced throughout the office to hilarious results.

Parkour is also featured in recent video games, including Mirror’s Edge.

If you’ve watched any of the above clips, you probably have a general idea of the concept of Parkour. But what really, is it?

If you’re one of the unlucky ones who don’t know about this specific type of French philosophy – or as Americans would like to call it, a sport – you’re missing out on all the high flying, wall-climbing, back-flipping, aerial madness of the French phenomenon that is Parkour.

Parkour, or l’art du deplacement, slowly developed in the late 1980s on the streets of Lisses, France when then 15-year-old David Belle began to draw inspiration from French physical education expert, Georges Herbert’s concept of the “Natural Method.”

The Natural Method believes in using only the body and its surroundings for physical development so that you can be a more useful member of society. This method was later utilized in military training and includes running, jumping, leaping, climbing and walking on all fours like an animal. Many of the future moves would even have animal names: The Kong Vault, the Monkey Vault, and the Cat Leap for instance.

Using what he learned from the Natural Method, Belle developed Parkour with a few friends. Although there is some debate about whether American Lawrence Halprin (a well-known architect of buildings created specifically for Parkour) or Belle is the true genius of the phenomenon, Belle’s agility and speed made him the leader of the movement. His talent was captured in the BBC promotional Parkour film, “Rush Hour.” A positive movement based around being a philosophy “that allow one to overcome their obstacles to get from point A to point B in the most efficient way using the possibility of human body,” Parkour slowly but surely jumped its way into the social consciousness.

Although there’s no real literature on the “How To’s” of Parkour, with Web sites like UrbanFreeflow.com and AmericanParkour.com, it hasn’t been too difficult for the philosophy/sport to cross country lines and pervade a multitude of cultures.

“The fact that no equipment other than a pair of trainers and an open mind are needed makes it [Parkour] all instantly accessible,” the director of Urban Freeflow said.

Parkour has especially been flooding into Russia and on the East Coast of the US, the Washington Examiner has highlighted its ever-increasing popularity in Maryland.

Official competitions have yet to be held, however – Parkour purists actually cringe at the idea of holding formal competitions. Many believe its unnecessary as true competition already exists within the free-running community: friends push and challenge one another naturally; and members of the same crew feed off each others energy.

But, it may not be long before official Parkour competitions begin… as the sport/discipline/hobby/philosophy continues to gain exposure through mass and alternative media, you can be sure its movement will perpetually continue forward.

The True/False Film Festival – one of the biggest event that goes on in Columbia, Missouri (the home of EuroKulture) – used Parkour in its promotion of the 2008 event.

Contributors: Michael Amantea and Victoria Uwumarogie