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Why We Think Parkour Is Cool

Daredevil and Spider-Man

Last time we spoke, I said I’d have more to say about Parkour at a later date. Well that date is now. Several weeks ago, the website reported that Parkour had been explicitly banned, in name, in the Battery Park area of NYC. This caused a flurry of Internet reaction from those connected to or concerned with practicing the art of Parkour, including yours truly (see picture at right *ahem*).

Fortunately, when they issued an update on the situation, it became clear that we were all over-reacting, and that the supposed “parkour ban,” was really just the same NYC Law 2008/042 (File Int 0721-2008), “prohibiting climbing, jumping or suspending of oneself from structures.” This is for the best, because it means that traceurs (a term for those who practice the art) are not specifically prohibited from doing Parkour, provided they are in or on spaces and structures that have been approved for Parkour. Ideally, this means that the door is still open for those in the NYC Parkour community to have a conversation with those in power, to start working to craft more Parkour-friendly legislation. This can have multiple benefits.

[ad#longpost]Now, for those of you who are, once again, just now joining us from deep space, Parkour is originally a French term for a sport which is also known as “l’art du déplacement,” or “The Art of Movement.” Parkour–the older cousin of freerunning–is about the most efficient exchange of kinetic energy in order to get from one place to the next. It employs techniques to facilitate the redistribution of momentum and force, and to apply just the right amount of pressure in just the right place, in order to leap long distances, fall from great heights, and scale seemingly insurmountable obstacles, all without doing yourself damage. Well. Lasting damage.

If you’ve been around the Internet for a while, then you’ll probably have seen this David Belle BBC commercial, by now:

Direct link for the feedreaders.

Which brings us to the fact that Parkour has obviously been floating through the collective unconscious for a little while, now. The sixth issue of Warren Ellis’ Global Frequency (see? It comes around) deals with a traceur who has to make a run across London, to stop a terror threat. William Gibson‘s Spook Country in part concerns a young man named Tito who engages in what he calls “Systema,” which is, essentially, passive combat Parkour; he tunes his body into the flow of the city and world around him, and find the easiest path to his goal, whatever that may be. Hell, even James Bond got into the action, in the most recent version of Casino Royale.

Direct link for the feedreaders.

The Authority‘s Jack Hawksmoor is a literal avatar of the Living Essence of Cities, genetically modified to allow him to climb walls, and find the flow and pattern of the urban landscape. In the two District B13 movies we get to watch some of the people who originated the practice (including the aforementioned David Belle) do some of their best work, in a near future ghetto nightmare of urban warfare and control, where parkour lets you move and be free in new ways. With Japan’s Ninja Warrior, we get to watch a combination of slow endurance-based climbing, considered and precise, and fast, agility-based maneuvers. From there, to the Jason Bourne series of films, in which a secret agent isn’t just suave and charming, but physically versatile, all the way around.

From this amazing scene in Chris Nolan‘s masterpiece Inception, to this parody piece in the American version of The Office, the fact of the matter is, Parkour isn’t just the “Internet sensation of 2004.” It’s become thoroughly embedded in our culture and it shapes our thoughts about what we consider to be realistic, so far as portrayals of action and chase sequences in film and television.

Think about it: now, when we see our highly trained operative hero chase some schmoe across the rooftops and the schmoe stumbles down the fire escape and into the building, we want that operative to do a gainer off the ledge, reverse off of the wall, grab the fire escape railing, slide down the ladder, wall-run through the alley to avoid obstacles, round the corner, burst through the building doors, and catch the schmoe as he comes down the stairs. Or when there’s a crowded construction site, and two spies are chasing each other, they should go over and through the obstacles, hoping to lose and catch each other, not around to avoid them. It’s about speed and efficiency, grace and creativity, balance, adaptability, and fluidity of motion, in all aspects of your life. That’s what parkour is for.

So take a minute to watch those clips, take some months to read those books, and then think about a world where your college or local gym offers parkour classes, from beginner to expert; where you can be trusted to know what you’re doing when you undertake to climb and then jump off the side of a building, and it’s not assumed that you’ll sue with frivolous and reckless abandon. If you’re interested in parkour, go ahead and find classes near you, get involved in the community (or start pulling one together). If and when you encounter local cops and federal officers, show them what you can do, and tell them to imagine a world where they’re trained to use the environment around them as an extension of themselves, and see if that doesn’t make them stop and think for a minute.

Because just Look at this stuff: It lets you ignore traffic, feel a city space under you, and get from one point to another, in the shortest, most efficient and creative manner possible. It basically shows you how to be Batman, Daredevil, Spider-Man and a ninja, all in one (yes, ninja is redundant to two of those), without the pesky vigilantism. It is ridiculously cool.


  • Good points. Since the explosion in popularity, many people aren’t looking at Parkour thru the lens of the urban flowing “eco-system”. It’s easy to be distracted by the sheer athleticism. Anyone interested in learning should drop by any local Gymnastic Gym. Many have open training periods were even non-members can use equipment (and the well padded walls and floors) for a small fee.

  • @NoTokenAzn:

    Very good point, and you’re very right. The more people get involved in trying to craft socially- and urban-ecologically-aware relationships, the easier it will be to convince people that you understand and can begin to address their concerns.

    In the neighbourhood in which you want to practice, it’s crucial to know the laws, the enforcement, and, most importantly, the People.

  • And I’d like to point out the whole padding thing is probably a good idea. I think David Belle’s entire back must be calloused.