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Eugene Weekly : 5.3.07

OUTDOORS

PLAYING, CAMPING AND ECO-TRAVELING

Parkour | 7 Natural Wonders of Lane County | Let's Get Primitive | Eco Travels in Nicaragua

THE WORLD IS THEIR JUNGLE GYM

Parkour in Eugene

By Deanna Uutela • Photos by Zac Goodwin

Dallas Branum stands on the grass in the courtyard of Lawrence Hall, home of the UO's architecture program. He stretches, focusing on his legs, back and shoulders. After loosening up, he does some standing vertical power leaps to get his body used to jumping and taking the shock of landing. Then the real fun begins.

He runs, leaps over a concrete barrier, positions his hands around a pipe that's secured to Lawrence and climbs until he reaches a ledge. From there, he swings one arm up, releases and grabs another ledge with his other hand. Once he reaches the adjoining wall, he pulls himself onto the roof. The next destination: the adjacent rooftop. He dives forward, lands feet first and tucks his body into a vertical roll. Run completed.

Like children playing at a park, traceurs – parkour enthusiasts – play on structures in their urban surroundings. They climb, jump over, swing on and dangle off of everything. You name it; they'll conquer it. The basic goal is to move from point A to point B as efficiently and quickly as possible, using only the human body. Parkour focuses on uninterrupted, efficient forward motion over, under, around and through obstacles in an environment, using skills such as running, jumping, swinging and vaulting. It has been compared to martial arts, dance forms, gymnastics — even skateboarding minus the skateboard.

Some people consider parkour a game, some a discipline, but for the truly dedicated, it's a way of life. For Branum, 24, parkour is about having fun and teaching his mind and body to run free. "I see parkour as modern day gymnastics combined with urban climbing," Branum says. "Instead of feeling like you are in a cage, you go where you want to go. There are no limitations."

Branum has a strong physique, thanks to his hobby. "Parkour is an intense workout," Branum says. "It requires you to utilize every body part."

Branum enjoys parkour because he can do it individually and in a natural environment. Unlike most physical activities, parkour doesn't require any equipment, specific locations, team members or even money to practice it. The only thing you need is a big imagination and the willingness to let go of your fears and allow yourself to be a kid again. "I went through a phase as a teenager where I felt like I couldn't climb anything because it wasn't cool, and I thought I was too old to be doing things like that," says Branum. "Parkour makes me view my surroundings as I did when I was a kid. I look around and want to play on everything."

 

From war games to child's play

Parkour is now practiced for fun, but its origins are based on military structure. The inspiration for parkour stems from the "Natural Method of Physical Culture" developed by George Hébert in the early 20th century. Hébert travelled extensively throughout the world and was impressed by the physical development and movement skills of indigenous peoples in Africa and elsewhere. He described their movements as splendid, flexible, nimble, skillful and enduring, yet he noticed they had no tutor in gymnastics other than their lives in nature. Upon his return to France, Hébert created a method of physical training patterned on the abilities of the indigenous people he had encountered. He created obstacle courses that became the standard system of French military physical education.

French soldiers in Vietnam, impressed by Hébert's work, started what morphed into modern day parkour. David Belle, co-founder of the sport along with his friend Sebastian Foucan, learned Hébert's methods from his father Raymond, a French soldier who practiced the discipline. The word parkour derives from parcours du combattant, the obstacle courses of Hébert's method and a classic form of military training. The younger Belle first participated in martial arts and gymnastics, and he sought to apply his athletic prowess in a manner that would have practical uses in life. Belle says the spirit of parkour is guided in part by the notions of "escape" and "reach" — that is, using physical agility and quick thinking to get out of difficult situations and to go anywhere at all.

Hébert's natural system rejected the regimented physical systems of that time. He believed that competitive sports diverted physical sports both from its physiological ends and its ability to foster sound moral values. Parkour doesn't involve any competition. Traceurs do parkour because of their desire to play, free of rules and boundaries. Watching traceurs perform this relatively new activity – at least new to the U.S. – is like watching a child play on the monkey bars or jungle gym at a playground.

French traceur Foucan hopes that the sense of play remains. "I don't want competition for parkour because in my heart I want to be free," says Foucan in an interview with Urban Flow.

With recent media recognition increasing interest in parkour, there is pressure for parkour to become competitive, and enthusiasts fear that the spirit of parkour might change. Branum feels that too much media exposure will turn the sport mainstream with full-blown endorsements and athletes that have competitive, money-driven attitudes. He would rather the sport remain underground.

 

Leaping in

Parkour teaches adults how to play. A computer, the Internet and an instructional parkour video decked out with training tips and parkour moves are all you need to begin. Branum started practicing parkour about a year and a half ago, after a friend emailed him some online clips. As Branum watched people fluidly climb buildings and leap from rooftops, he thought, "These guys look like superheroes straight from the comics." Most importantly, as he watched them, he thought, "I could do that."

Branum had no trouble finding places to practice parkour because Eugene has a plethora of parks, bike trails, parking structures, buildings and playgrounds. He started practicing at Amazon Park because it provides a large area to run around on, soft grass to practice landing and rolling and lots of structures to stretch on. Now, Branum prefers to practice at the university and the old City Hall building. "Universities are the best place to go," Branum says. "They have unique architecture to climb on, a cluster of buildings grouped together and multiple levels to maneuver through." He recommends doing any major stunts at night to avoid crowds and angry onlookers.

Branum also recommends that anyone interested in parkour read a lot about the practice and take it slow in the beginning. He says that the following exercises can help you thwart problems: Skip or run everywhere you go. Practice jumping rope. Stop walking on designated paths, and start making your own — in order to practice parkour, you will need to tackle obstacles, not go around them. Watch Spiderman, Jackie Chan movies, Casino Royale and parkour videos on YouTube for inspiration and a visualization of extreme play. Practice visualization techniques. If you can visualize yourself jumping over the obstacle before it happens, then your body is more likely to respond accordingly. Most importantly, find a tree and climb it.

Foucan, in the film Jump London, describes "the vision of parkour" as looking and thinking like a child. Branum doesn't feel that he has adopted the parkour lifestyle as strictly as many parkour enthusiasts, but he has what Foucan considers "parkour vision."

"It has definitely made me see my surroundings differently," Branum says. "I can't look at a building for the first time without thinking about how I would conquer it."