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Just What In The Heck Is Parkour, And How Can I Do It In Texas?

Aug 17, 2007
Parkour. You may have seen it performed in the latest James Bond movie, "Casino Royale," and in the futuristic French movie, "District B-13." Young, athletic men moving from rooftop to rooftop, room-to-room, sidewalk to balcony, using a variety of fantastic leaps, bounds and landings.

According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, "Parkour or art du d'placement (English: art of displacement) is a physical art of French origin, the aim of which is to move from point A to point B as efficiently and quickly as possible, using principally the possibilities of the human body. It is meant to help one overcome obstacles, which can be anything in the surrounding environment -- from branches and rocks to rails and concrete walls -- so parkour can be practiced in both rural and urban areas. Male parkour practitioners are recognized as traceurs and female as traceuses."

It's not quite an extreme sport, but more of a martial art that's now practiced by thousands of individuals on university and college campuses in Dallas, Houston, elsewhere in Texas and throughout the country. According to parkour founder David Belle, "The spirit of parkour is guided in part by the notions of 'escape' and 'reach,' that is, the idea of using quick thinking with dexterity to get out of difficult situations, and to be able to go anywhere one desires."

According to Belle, when you're in a hostile confrontation with an individual, you'll be able to speak, fight or flee. And since martial arts train for the fight, parkour trains for the escape.

An important characteristic of parkour is efficiency. This means that a traceur must not merely move as fast as he can, but move in a way that is the least energy-consuming, while simultaneously the most direct. And because parkour's unofficial motto is tre et durer (to be, or to exist, and to last), the quick efficiency also involves avoiding injuries, both in the short and long-term.

Parkour got its start in Paris twenty years ago when two teens began devising moves to swiftly get from one point to another to rescue someone or escape in an emergency. The sport, also sometimes called free running, has been creeping into U.S. culture in recent years through YouTube clips.

For all its risks, parkour encourages good habits and pushes discipline and self-improvement. True traceurs aren't smokers, because it would hurt their endurance. Nor do they drink or take drugs while running, because it would hurt their balance and agility. Parkour web sites post daily exercises such as push-ups and other calisthenics that focus on strength and flexibility. Veteran traceurs often urge newbies not to show up for training sessions until they can finish a hard three-mile run.

When it comes to performing parkour, there are fewer predefined movements than in gymnastics and other extreme sports. Parkour is not a sport that's made up of a list of appropriate "moves".

Every obstacle a traceur faces presents a unique challenge on how they address it and overcome it effectively and efficiently. This will depend on an individual's body type, speed and angle of approach, the physical make-up of the obstacle, etc.

Parkour is actually primarily about training the body and mind to be able to react to obstacles appropriately with a technique that works. But many times the technique used defies classification and is not given a name. In many cases, effective parkour techniques depend upon rapid redistribution of body weight and by incorporating the body's momentum to perform seemingly impossible or difficult body maneuvers quickly.

The adsorption and redistribution of energy is also important, because as body rolls during a landing, it needs to reduce impact forces on the legs and spinal column. This allows a traceur to jump from greater heights than those often considered sensible in other forms of acrobatics and gymnastics. According to David Belle, you want to move in such a way that will help you gain the most ground as if escaping or chasing toward someone or something. Despite this, there are many basic techniques that are emphasized to beginners for their versatility and effectiveness.

Most important are good jumping and landing techniques. The roll, used to limit impact after a drop and to carry an individual's momentum onward, is often stressed as the most important technique to learn. Many traceurs develop joint problems from too many large drops and rolling incorrectly.

Unusual and physically demanding sports such as parkour can be a great way to exercise to maintain good health.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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