Those Who Discover Parkour Get More Than a Good Workout
TACOMA, Wash. (MCT) - Carol Zolnowsky is perched on a 5-inch-wide log. She is focused on a parallel log about two feet away. She swings her arms and, with both feet together, hops to a soft landing on the next log.
It might sound easy, hopping from log to log. It's only a short distance, and the logs aren't high off the soft dirt ground at Tacoma's Titlow Park.
"It's a lot scarier than it looks," the 23-year-old said. "It took me nine months to even get comfortable with the distance."
There's a point to all the bunny hopping. Zolnowsky practices a form of movement called Parkour, which is, at least ostensibly, about getting from one point to the next in the most efficient manner.
So instead of walking around a rail, traceurs - as Parkour practitioners are called - jump over it. And they don't walk around walls. Why would you walk around something if you could scale it in half the time?
Zolnowsky grew up watching Jackie Chan movies, so she relishes the chance to cat-leap over walls. But she and fellow traceurs are doing more than learning action-film stunts - they're practicing a philosophy that uses movement to teach them to overcome all of life's obstacles gracefully.
In the words of traceur, Andreas Kalteis, in the documentary Parkour Journeys, "you approach problems - for example, in your job - differently, because you have been trained to overcome obstacles."
Unlike many sports, Parkour bans competitiveness. There are no specific moves. It does not involve any extraneous artistic flourishes. And it's something you can never "win."
Instead, traceurs strive for their personal best and develop skills based on their physiology and abilities. In that sense, it might not even be called a sport, but a philosophy that incorporates movement.
"It has an attitude of no attitude," said Chris Pascual, 29, who organizes the Tacoma Parkour practices at Titlow Park.
During a recent practice, Pascual, Zolnowsky and fellow traceurs encouraged each other but were careful not to pressure. The focus, instead, was on each person using the best possible form, learned through repetition and self-examination.
Despite the lack of competitiveness, the bar is high. "If you aren't challenging yourself, you'll fail", Pascual said. In that sense, traceurs compete with themselves. "A lot of Parkour is mental," the Lakewood resident said. "It's risky. But a lot of sports are risky, so you train yourself."
The origins of Parkour provide some insight into the philosophy. "Parcours du combatant," which translates to "course of combat," is thought to have originated in Vietnam by French soldiers fleeing the enemy in unknown territory.
In the '90s, Raymond Belle, a French veteran of the Vietnam War, taught his son David the discipline. From there, David Belle practiced in the streets of suburban France with friends, where they jumped from one building to the next and ran up walls. From there, it took off.
As Belle and his friends developed a following, he dropped the silent "s" for efficiency sake and replaced the "c" with a "k" to distinguish the practice.
Now, it can be seen in action-movie chases, from Die Hard to James Bond films, and all over sites such as YouTube, where seemingly fearless traceurs leap, roll and sprint over obstacles.
While Parkour was developed as a means to flee enemies, modern traceurs rarely use it for that purpose. And, while it's often visually exciting, the philosophy behind Parkour prohibits showboating.
Like many traceurs, Pascual picked up Parkour after he saw a video on YouTube. "I grabbed a friend and said, "you're going to come out and practice,'" he said.
But it wasn't just the seemingly gravity-defying feats that attracted Pascual. He'd taken martial arts classes, and the utilitarian connection between Parkour and martial arts piqued his interest.
Eventually Pascual formed a network with the Washington Parkour Association.
Its members meet in Seattle and Tacoma to practice on urban architecture and in parks.
The Tacoma group meets weekly at Titlow Park, where members run through "parcours" obstacles set up in the park. The hour-long workout includes a mile of running and an array of exercises using their own body weight and creativity: push-ups, squats, pull-ups, sit-ups, crawling, sprinting, hopping and vaulting.
While the "parcours" trail contains more than a dozen challenging exercises, it's never enough for the group.
"We always find a way to make things more challenging," said Charles Dorner, a 26-year-old math teacher.
"We almost always come up with new exercises," he said. That included a variation on pull-ups that required balance and upper-body strength and a moving push-up on varied terrain that tested stamina and skills.
But, while the exercises get harder, it isn't gratuitous. "You shouldn't be doing it to show off," Pascual said. He described the focus needed to excel in Parkour. "It's about getting into your zone."
Which is why the group was doing so much hopping, or precision jumping, which Dorner discovered a talent for. Precision jumping is a cornerstone of Parkour, because a guaranteed landing is often required when jumping from, say, one rooftop to the next.
Standing on a 5-inch-square post about three feet off the ground, it didn't seem to bother Dorner that not even the balls of his feet fit comfortably on the post.
He slightly crouched, then, with feet stuck firmly together, hopped about three feet to the top of another tiny post with a soft landing. He repeated the motion down the line, until he'd jumped on a handful of posts.
Dorner likes Parkour so much he recruited friends, including Alvin Quicho, a fellow math teacher who attended his first practice recently.
"I never even had heard of it. (Charles) told me about people jumping onto buildings. I thought it sounded pretty fun," Quicho said.
But the novelty of jumping on buildings led to a practical realization.
"It's a good full-body workout. You can go to the gym, but it's not efficient," he said.
Zolnowsky heard about Parkour while writing her master's thesis and looking for distraction. Her Google page had a link that tempted her: "How to jump over a wall." She followed it to a Parkour Web site and was hooked.
"All you really need is a willingness and some basic athletic ability," she said.
Pascual shared Zolnowsky's sentiments. He practices martial arts and Parkour, in part, to get into shape, but it's taught him about the philosophy. Explaining types of vaults to some newcomers to the group, Pascual mirrored Kalteis' words. "There are a lot of vaults that aren't named," he explained, "but they get you over obstacles - that's what it's all about."
© 2007, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.