- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily Arts Writer
Published March 29, 2012
A group of eight to 10 students congregates in front of the School of Dentistry’s Kellogg Building on a bright Tuesday afternoon. Some of the guys (though a lone female will join them later in the day) wear tennis shoes, others are barefoot. They are all wearing baggy sweats, and though they may seem like just another group of students exercising outside and enjoying the warm weather, it soon becomes obvious that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill conditioning session. This is parkour.
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They begin with a warmup, following the leader of the club, LSA sophomore Sanda Mong, as he races around the building. Mong breaks up the cardio with various other exercises, including body props, in which they put their feet on a wall and their hands on the ground, resembling a pushup, and then use their arms to “walk” a set distance across the wall. The team stretches, and the warm-up is over. It’s time for the real fun to begin.
Though parkour is widely considered an extreme sport by those unfamiliar with it, there is no general consensus on exactly how to classify it: sport, discipline, philosophy, the list goes on.
TJ McKenzie, a parkour instructor who helps run Mymichiganparkour.com, said the Michigan Parkour & Freerunning Association defines the activity as the physical discipline of training to overcome obstacles while adapting to the environment.
“Parkour focuses on viewing the environment differently, seeing a path not typically traveled, and traversing through your environment, from point A to point B, as quickly and efficiently as possible,” McKenzie said.
Engineering junior Andrew Schumacher, a member of the University’s parkour club, described parkour as the art of movement, but added that it can mean different things to different people.
“For me, it’s seeing your surroundings in a different way (and) being able to focus in a different way, not on academics or anything like that,” Schumacher said. “It’s physical, and you can kind of push yourself to do things a little further than you thought you could.”
But the exact definition of parkour isn’t the only element of the activity up for debate. Who exactly founded parkour and when the practice arose are shrouded in mystery. Because parkour combines elements from so many different disciplines and inspirations, it’s nearly impossible to determine where it originated.
While parkour’s ancient origins are questionable, most people consider David Belle and eight other men from France, known as the Yamakasi, as its modern-day founders.
LSA senior William Leaf, a leader of the University’s club along with Mong, said the beginnings of the art can’t be pinpointed because people have always, in some way, been involved in the activity.
“There’s a famous guy, Ryan Doyle, who said that when people asked him when he started doing parkour, he said he never stopped,” Leaf said. “And he asked them back, ‘When did you stop doing parkour?’ When you look at little kids, everybody’s always jumping around on walls and things like that. That’s definitely true for me too. I was always playing around as a kid.”
Regardless of where or when it originated, the enthusiasm and tenacity displayed by the University’s parkour team as they glide effortlessly over the walls in front of the Kellogg Building indicate that parkour is a part of current campus life.
From point A to point B
After the warmup, the club members begin to work on various techniques. Normal activities include vaulting, rolling, wall runs and cat leaps. The club starts with wall runs, which involve propelling forward off a wall or other structures, using that momentum to climb easily up and over a small obstacle. Some members of the club struggle to grab hold of the wall, while others, such as Mong and Leaf, easily scale the wall and then assist the less-experienced members.
After a few trials, the members work on individual exercises.