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Saturday, April 22, 2006

INside outside, upside down

Urban jungle gym

For 'parkour' acrobats, the challenges are everywhere

By Johnny Diaz, Globe Staff | April 22, 2006

To Eric Moore and Devin Platts, Northeastern University isn't just a college campus. It's a concrete jungle gym.

On a recent Saturday morning, the pair sprinted toward Snell Library, swung over two sets of handrails at the library, hit the ground, scurried up the side of a stairwell, and skipped over another rail. Then they charged down a walkway outside Kariotis Hall, leaped at a wall about 8 feet high, grabbed the ledge, and hoisted themselves up and over it.

Bostonians may be new to the term ''parkourist," but the fledgling breed of urban acrobats can be seen training around Northeastern, at Government Center, and outside the MBTA Alewife stop in Cambridge.

Parkour started in Lisses, France, 15 years ago, when friends Sebastien Foucan and David Belle came up with the sport, which combines running with gymnastics and martial arts moves to scale walls, fences, and roofs. On his website,, Foucan describes the sport as a metaphor for life: ''Life is made of obstacles and challenges. To overcome them is to progress."

The name ''parkour" comes from ''parcours d'obstacles," or obstacle course. The idea is to get from point A to point B quickly, by using physical and mental strength to overcome obstacles with uninterrupted, graceful motion. There is no equipment, and the courses are improvised: Parkourists look at everyday things such as stairs, walls, and benches and see opportunities for climbing, jumping, and running. It is not about competition; parkour, like skateboarding or rock climbing, is about challenging yourself.

''A lot of parkour is delving into the philosophy and training your body into doing something that it can't do," says Moore, 25, who began parkouring in his hometown of Rockville, Md., three years ago and now lives in the Symphony Hall neighborhood. ''It's learning what your body can do and [taking] what you do to heart."

Documentary films such as ''Jump London," which showed parkourists performing on London landmarks, have helped fuel the buzz, as have commercials from Toyota and Nike that show people, including one of the sport's founders, performing moves. Sites such as have become resources for information about the sport.

Parkour even figures in the new James Bond movie, ''Casino Royale" -- Foucan plays a villain in the film, and actor Daniel Craig, who plays 007, has been training with him for the parkour scenes.

While the number of parkourists in the United States is still small, interest has been growing among teens and 20-somethings, particularly in big cities. Because parkourists can practice their sport whenever and wherever they want, alone or with their friends, the scene tends to be fragmented, though enthusiasts meet up via the Internet.

posted by Steve @ 10:01:00 AM

10:01:00 AM

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