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News > Feature - Parkour growing by leaps and bounds
Parkour growing by leaps and bounds

Posted 6/2/2008   Updated 5/30/2008 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Don Branum
50th Space Wing Public Affairs

6/2/2008 - DENVER -- Maybe you've seen them on streaming-video Web sites: young men and women hurdling over, under and around walls, handrails, staircases and other urban terrain with moves that look like they're straight from "The Matrix." It's an urban sport called parkour, and it's gaining popularity with the 18-to-25 crowd. 

"I've been jumping over things since I was a kid," said Noah Mittman, a student at Colorado College-Denver Metro. "I just didn't have a name for it." 

Mittman began training in parkour and its cousin sport, free running, in January when he saw a parkour video on the Web. 

"I taught myself how to front flip in my high school gym and just went with it," he said. 

"You find what you've been doing your whole life and discover there's a name for it," said Jake Smith, a telecommunications technician for Premise Distribution Services and parkour student. 

The term "parkour" derives from the French "parcours," an obstacle course form of military physical training. The American Parkour Web site defines the sport as "the art of moving through your environment using only your body and the surroundings to propel yourself," without extraneous movement. 

The goal of parkour is to get from one point to another as efficiently as possible. As parkour founder David Belle explained during a meeting with practitioners in California in 2007: "You want to move in such a way, with any movement, as to help you gain the most ground on someone or something, whether escaping from it or chasing toward it." 

At the 5280 Sport and Fitness Center near Kipling Street and Interstate 70, a group of parkour practitioners - called traceurs and traceuses for male and female participants, respectively - gather in an oasis of blue foam mats and rubber-padded flooring. They vault 4-foot-high walls, somersault off ledges and tumble into a monkey roll as they meet the mat. Leading them safely through the makeshift course is Brian Taylor, an art director for Denver-based Go Fast Sports who also discovered parkour through the Web. 

"I was a break dancer for about nine years, and I was looking for a particular move," he said, "I came across a video of a guy doing parkour, and he was just ripping it."
Taylor, a self-professed comic book enthusiast, said he was hooked the first time he tried parkour. 

"I've always loved the way people moved in comic books," he said. "When I saw parkour and did it, that was the closest I'd been to moving like that ... the ease of movement and the ability to move like other people couldn't." 

Taylor taught parkour privately for about two years before he started teaching classes at 5280. 

"Anyone can do this," he said, "but you have to believe in yourself. You have to have confidence to start." 

Taylor's class focuses on the basics of effective movement. He stressed that parkour is not about competition or hierarchy of any sort. 

"There's no belt, no certificate you can get in parkour," he said. "It's not about ego - we want everybody to be good. But you have to learn the basics ... you don't just pick up an (M-16 rifle) and start hitting bull's-eyes. You have to learn the basics. 

"Don't try to learn everything at once," Taylor said. "Take small steps. Once you get one move down, learn the next move." 

Would-be traceurs should know that even if they take ample safety precautions, they can still get hurt. 

"We stress safety, but parkour's as dangerous as any other urban sport like skateboarding or BMX bicycling," he said. "Accept that it's going to happen, and you won't be as shocked when it does." 

However, learning under a competent instructor and practicing in a safe environment can reduce the risk of injury. People who are interested in learning parkour should seek out a class or online tutorial, Taylor said. Classes are available in two gyms, one in Denver and one in Boulder, according to the Colorado Parkour Web site. The American Parkour site hosts tutorial videos - visitors must register to see the content, but registration is free. 

Traceurs should also shop around before they commit to a class. No single authority dictates who can teach and who cannot; information about instructors is passed mostly by word of mouth. 

"Go and watch a class," Taylor recommended. "Do the instructors appear to know the material? Can they break down the movements? Ask about the instructors in online forums and listen to the general consensus. Watch the online tutorials, and see if the class matches the tutorials." 

Taylor also suggested a few ways not to get into the sport. 

"Don't try big jumps first," he said. "That a bad idea, and you're setting yourself up for injury. Big jumps are for advanced traceurs, not people at the beginner or intermediate levels. It's more an adrenaline rush than a necessity, and there's a very real risk that it will hurt you. 

"Second, don't trespass. That gets real expensive, real quick," he said. Instead, seek out local classes, gymnasiums or public areas. 

Third, Taylor strongly advises people to avoid rooftops and roof gaps. Unlike stunt actors in "The Matrix," traceurs don't have the benefit of wires or safety cushions in an urban environment. 

"If you fall in a big roof gap, you don't get back up," Taylor said. 

But if people practice parkour safely, it can build both good physical fitness and higher self-confidence. 

"The only thing that limits you is yourself," Taylor said. "If you can dream it, then drill it, and drill it, and drill it - and you can do it."

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