By Raph Sangiovanni
Imagine if Spider-Man was real and he soared across city rooftops, but without his web. Or imagine if the acrobatic character from the video game Prince of Persia came to life and dashed over obstacles fluidly and artistically. Then you’d have a snapshot of a day in the world of Free Running, an amazing extreme sport that’s wowing audiences all over the world.
Free Running, also known as Parkour, is far from the average sport, especially in that it’s not really a sport. It’s about the art of movement and training the mind and body to overcome obstacles in swift, elegant motions.
On the one hand, the artistic aspect of free running is in its deceptive simplicity. Sometimes traceurs (those who practice free running) climb and jump between buildings while other times they simply hop over railings. There is also a separate school of free running called freestyle parkour that is more sensational, incorporating flips and other vaults. Nonetheless, the purpose is to hone one’s skills to be quick and responsive when dealing with obstacles.
“Training is physical, but also reflects a moral philosophy with its own values,” proclaim the authors of the site www.le-parkour.com. “More than a sport, [free running is] an art, an everyday philosophy.”
While it’s all the rage in the UK after impressing audiences with its fantastic display of human dexterity, it’s not new by any means. Founders David Belle and Sebastien Foucan have been conceptualizing free running since the 80s, and it has since acquired a loyal community. While there is no official free running organization, many traceurs form crews like Adrenaline, Urban Freeflow and Yamakasi. They meet and practice, often filming videos that are scattered on the Internet. A simple YouTube search for “parkour” returned about 25,200 results of people, both trained and untrained, trying their hand at the swift sport.
Free running has also made its way into mainstream media. The BBC ran a documentary about it called “Jump London.” Nike put out a couple of commercials for its Presto campaign, including a hysterical short about a traceur who is being chased throughout a city by an angry chicken. The two free running founders have been featured in popular films: Foucan in the opening sequence for Casino Royaleand Belle in Luc Besson’s Banlieue 13. Even the previously mentioned video game Prince of Persiaimplements some of the principles of free running.
Websites about free running assure people that anyone can learn it, but with the understanding that it’s a much deeper art form than it appears. And of course there’s the fact that running, jumping and climbing combined are inherently dangerous.
“It is not just a game,” Foucan said in an article printed on worldwidewords.org. “It is a discipline because it is a way of facing our fears and demons that you can apply to the rest of your life.”