During my twenties, I spent a great deal of time jogging. At the time it was a perfect form of exercise for I had long legs and a lean torso. I weighed practically nothing. So it was rather easy to put on a pair of running shoes and step out the door.
Most of my runs consisted of jumping on a smooth path that circled one of the local lakes in south Minneapolis. Although it was a great way to relieve some stress and clear my mind, I always found myself craving something more. Sometimes on my way to the lake I would divert onto a homeowner’s front lawn to scale a retaining wall, leap over a small hedge, hop-scotch down a flight of steps or propel myself over a metal railing. Once I jumped over a post office mail box. My right foot barely reached the top of the bin, but it was enough to carry the rest of my body.
I don’t know why I did any of this. I think deep down I was bored with jogging. I think dashing across a homeowner’s front yard was an attempt to break up the monotony that would soon greet me when I reached the lake. What I didn’t know at the time was a restless teenager living in a suburb of Paris was creating a new discipline called parkour, a word taken from the French word parcours, meaning “route.” His name was also David and he was developing a system of techniques to help overcome any obstacle in his urban environment.
Think of parkour as gymnastics meets urban running with a splash of ninja spirit. So instead of vaults, rings and pommel horses, there are walls, fences, buildings and stairs to overcome.
David Belle not only created parkour, he is also its greatest practitioner. When I first saw one of his grainy video clips, I was slackjaw in how confidently he guided his body through his urban environment as he scaled, flipped, bounded, leapt, flew, rolled and continued. If only I would have seen this clip when I was still in my twenties, it was almost assured I would have damaged my body at an even quicker rate.
But what was the purpose of this activity? Everybody needs a reason. For Belle, he saw his new discipline as a form of self defense or as American traceur (name of Parkour disciple) Ryan Ford explains:
My fantasy is to be walking late at night on the street in New York City and have some guys try to rob me, and I use parkour to get away from them. And once I lose them, I go catch a Broadway show and later if there’s time I’ll go out for ice cream.
A good example of parkour can be found in the opening sequence of James Bond’s Casino Royale as Sebastien Foucan (Mollaka) tries to elude Daniel Craig (Bond) by jumping over a table saw, bounding down an elevator shaft and leaping from one construction crane to another. A bad example of parkour is Craig trying to follow Foucan by falling off a building, running through a wall and pretty much destroying everything along the way.
The problem with parkour is in order to truly accomplish it you really have to have someone willing to chase you. When you are young, a game of tag is a blast. But when you become an adult, running away from someone takes on a whole different meaning. If someone is running after you, you have to ask yourself what poor life choice put you in the circumstance. What is the point of parkour for those who wish not to lead a life of crime?