Traversing UCSD’s Concrete Jungle

    How many people walked out of the theater after “Spider-Man” or “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and tried at least one little test leap off a wall? Frenchmen Sébastien Foucan and David Belle invented an entire sport based on making those little post-movie flights of fancy into reality.

    Hydie Cheung/Guardian
    Michel Barrett demonstrates a maneuver called a “tall cat leap” in Earl Warren College at one of the UCSD Parkour group’s jams, while fellow traceurs observe.

    When the duo came up with the idea about 20 years ago, Foucan and Belle intended Parkour, the name of the sport, to be a lifestyle as well as a discipline to combat negative energy. Someone who practices Parkour is called a traceur, and his objective is to move as efficiently as possible from point A to point B.

    UCSD has its own group of students and local residents who come to campus every weekend to practice Parkour, which loosely translates to “free running.” The free running isn’t on treadmills or around a track, though. Instead, it’s done in areas with little free space and a lot of obstacles. The traceur’s goal is to achieve fluidity of movement in the less-than-optimal environment.

    Athletes at Parkour practices, referred to as jams, work on aligning fitness of body and mind. Concentration and strength are critical, since scaling buildings and practicing moves against concrete backdrops necessarily entails risk. The men on the team ensure their own safety by strength training beforehand and exercising within their limits.

    HYDIE CHEUNG/Guardian
    Parkour practitioner Adam Martin practices his moves on one wall of the Main Gym. The practices attempt to translate mental concentration into smooth kinesthetics.

    “If you don’t become stronger before you do this, then you’re just going to screw yourself over, injure yourself, and not be able to practice anymore,” Revelle College senior and Parkour member Silverton Nguyen said. “You’d have to take, like, four months off because of a twisted ankle or something.”

    Parkour groups are remarkably laid-back and lack hierarchy, adhering to a philosophy expressed by co-creator Foucan: “no violence, no competition, no groups, no chiefs.”

    “There really is no reason to try to outdo each other because that can lead to dangerous stuff,” Nguyen said.

    Thurgood Marshall College sophomore Michael Barrett added his own rationale for not turning the sport into a competition: “There’s always someone on the Internet who can do way more than you can.”

    The most interesting aspect of this discipline, however, is that new members learn by watching; nobody teaches them. Nguyen, who started the UCSD Parkour team with his friend, says that the most he’ll ever do is make suggestions.

    “I don’t train anyone at all; I just give people tips on what to do and what not to do,” Nguyen said. “People just learn on their own. Anyone that’s interested, they just come and join us. We don’t really try to recruit anyone.”

    The group does not have an established roster, either. “People come and go whenever they want,” Nguyen said. “It’s the beginning of the year, so if people come more than twice I guess you could call that the core.”

    Although Parkour requires high levels of concentration, strength and agility, practicioners consider the rewards well worth the effort.

    “It is one of the best workouts I ever did; that’s probably why I keep doing it,” Nguyen said.

    Barrett commented along similar lines. “I’ve done a lot of sports in my life, so this is kind of the culmination of it,” Barrett said. “All the muscles are used here, and you get cardio, and you get strength training. I mainly did rock climbing and swimming and stuff. This puts them together.”

    Keegan Gahbra, a freshman at Torrey Pines High School who comes to the UCSD jams, enjoys Parkour as a release. “If I’m having a bad day or something, I’ll go out and do Parkour and it’ll be my freedom,” Gahbra said.

    Freedom seems to be the operating word in Parkour. The discipline’s rules encourage the men to take advantage of every opportunity to develop their skills. Practice for Parkour members at times means doing things like jumping over the walls at Center Hall just to reach the drinking fountain.

    “It’s fun to me,” said Juan Casiano, a sophomore at Mesa College who also attends jams. “I’ve always liked to come around and the way I see some of these guys move around anything, that gets me going. It’s really inspirational.”

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