The Modern Sport of Free Running
Parkour was founded in France in the early 1990s by David Belle; since then parkour has gained its footing in every country around the world. Many people have the misconceived notion that parkour, a.k.a free running, is a sport of well coordinated stunt people, flipping off walls and leaping effortlessly between buildings. To prove that any person, regardless of their ability level, can practice parkour, the instructor of the Columbia County Parkour group put together a two hour free running boot camp for volunteer, Gabby O’Grady.
“I didn’t know what to expect going into this,” said O’Grady, a Bloomsburg University sophomore. She believed that she was going to be doing all the intense tricks that are commonly associated with this sport. O’Grady received a surprise when her muscles began to exhaust only a few short minutes into the opening exercises, but her determination to finish strong did not.
John Douglas George, a junior computer science major at Bloomsburg University and instructor of the Columbia County Parkour group, set the theme of balance for O’Grady’s first experience with Parkour. The group met up on a particularly sunny and warm Friday afternoon. George walked the group to a handicap rail and began with squats, sixty-one squats.
“Balance involves the legs heavily, so we began with a warm-up for the knees and ankles that doubled as conditioning,” remarked George on his lesson plan for that afternoon. The group was very supportive of O’Grady from the start. They encouraged her to keep going with the squats, even though some on the members that have been involved from the beginning group found it hard to keep up with George’s ambitious warm-ups.
One thing about parkour that makes it such a great sport is that all that is needed is a pair of sneakers and an observant eye. George’s observant eye led the group to the wooden boards that outline the playground outside of Schuylkill Hall. It was there that the group of about ten traceurs began carefully walking on them forwards and backwards. Tracuers are people who practice the disciple of parkour. They practiced precision jumps between the boards and the lip of the slide. “Precision jumps are exactly what they sound like. It is a precise jump where the target location is something small,” explained George.
Then they moved onto a 7-foot high wall where O’Grady was the first of the group to walk with her eyes closed on top. This is where some of the more experienced members of the group began back flipping from the top and bouncing between the walls. The session ended with stretches, and the group’s tradition of going out for a bite to eat. O’Grady remarked that her muscles were still sore two days later.
Parkour is a physical discipline that focuses one’s efficiency of movement around obstacles in their environment. Developed by David Belle, the purpose of the fairly new sport is to teach people how to maneuver through a variety of spaces by vaulting, balancing, rolling, running, climbing, and jumping. One cannot achieve the highflying fun thought of when people think of Parkour without conditioning. “Even though it was hard work, it was actually really fun,” said O’Grady on her first encounter with Parkour, “I liked it so much I am going back for the next meet up.”
A Passion for Action
David Belle, pioneer of parkour, grew a passion for anything involving action at young age from hearing his grandfather’s tales of heroism. Belle’s grandfather, Gilbert Kitten, was a Regimental Sergeant-Major of the Parisian sapeurs-pompiers military fire service, in Normandy, where Kitten raised Belle.
Belle’s family is, in fact, a very long line of military service. Belle’s father served in the French Army in Vietnam. Many who knew Belle’s father called him a “force of nature.” So it not too far of a stretch the Belle himself grew up to be a sportsman to be reckoned with when you consider that he became adept at a youthful age to action-oriented sports such as athletics, gymnastics, climbing and martial arts.
At age fifteen Belle left school to better harness his passion for sport. To him sport had to be useful above all else. Just as Belle’s father advised him many a times, the strength and agility obtained thru the practice of sport must also be useful in life. Running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, hanging, keeping his balance, became an obsession to Belle in order to be able to release himself from obstacles, constraints and fears, so he would be able to go wherever he wanted.
Belle moved to Paris and found a group of friends who followed him. It was in Paris that the first images of the modern sport of parkour were exhibited. Belle edited a few artistically cut videos set to music the showed the nimble, light-footed athletes he had come to train.
Gradually more films were released and Belle became more active in the cinematic society as well as the athletic society. As the films spread so did the interest and practice of Parkour.