There has bound to be one point in time in which you, the reader, have seen a commercial or a television spot in which an individual is jumping off of buildings, swinging on rafters, and doing crazy stunts that only a monkey was originally thought to have been able to pull off. When the practice was introduced to mainstream media outlets in the late 1990's-early 2000's, the term was called "freerunning," and art that grew in popularity in Europe and several regions in the United States. However, this term has been outrun over the past decade by the term "Parkour," the name of the main art developed in France. The art has a deep history, and the tactics used in this art have given a new leg to people interested in major sports and athletics such as martial arts and gymnastics.
Inspired by military training tactics from pre-World War I, the art was developed and crafted by a man named David Belle, who heard of stories of survival and skill from his grandfather. Since he was described as not being very good at popular sports or academics, he took his grandfather's stories and put them into action on his own. He trained and practiced different skills such as running, jumping, and climbing on various obstacle courses created. As time passed, friends and some family members gained interest in his activities, and they all began training together. Since the 1990's their acrobatics and daredevil-like antics have attracted fitness gurus and other athletic enthusiasts alike for their physical control and complete concentration over their actions.
|Photo from Huffington Post|
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This stuff is impressive.
While not officially recognized as a sport, it has easily become an extreme hobby in the same vein as surfing and rock climbing. Many freerunners have been featured on television such as the Japanese television show SASUKE (a.k.a. Ninja Warrior) displaying their extreme feats and have made a name for themselves. This activity isn't for the faint of heart nor is it really built for those stupid people who do stupid stuff and are featured on silly reality television shows. It isn't something where you are sitting on the couch on a Saturday afternoon and you say: "I'm bored. I'm gonna go vault over a few things on the street." It was created as an art and should rightfully be treated as one. The practitioners of parkour and freerunning have been training and practicing for a very long time and trust their bodies enough to perform stunts and push themselves to the limit. It is a discipline that is taken very seriously and could segue into the world of sports quite nicely. For example, it could be a great asset to learn if one is in competitive gymnastics. For example, training in events such as pommel horse and uneven parallel bars could be improved upon through training in parkour. When you think about it, vaulting could also fall into that training category as well.
It's a strong argument, yes?
With the increase in popularity, could this art be used as a tool to improve the ability of Olympic gymnasts?
Based on research, a number of training facilities around the country that teach gymnastics also teach parkour/freerunning as well. Since both require coordination and focus, it is a great marriage of acrobatics. Parkour could not be considered an Olympic sport in itself like other arts such as judo and taekwon-do since it isn't a standalone practice that can be used for competitive display. The art could be more or less seen as an art of enrichment and advancement in skill, almost like yoga. That is more than enough to help athletes with agility, body control, and even muscle toning if you want to get more technical.
Although I have mentioned these points, I haven't been able to pinpoint any major Olympic gymnasts who have used parkour in their training regimen. However, a former British gymnast is a heavy practitioner of the art. Although Damien Walters is no longer an Olympic gymnast, his skills have been shown on YouTube and through his work as a stuntman in films. You could even say that his career in gymnastics has evolved and shaped the career that he has immersed himself in now.
I've said previously that this is an art of enrichment similar to martial arts and yoga. It is a more extreme and physical form, and it requires a great deal of discipline and self-trust. As athletic as some people are, some might not be so trusting of themselves if they had to jump from a higher-than-usual distance and be able to balance body weight and roll out the impact correctly. I bet if I did it a few times I would get it, but I would also be dumb enough to screw up the first time and roll on my ankle. Again, there's a lot of focus and trust involved with the art and it should be taken as seriously as any other practice like in sports.
I'm completely fascinated with the art of parkour. The human body can do incredible things, and this is a testament to that. When I refer to it as a sport, it is a sport of the mind. I don't ever believe that Belle intended this to be something competitive; it was created for people who may not be as coordinated to do sports but it exists for people to be more in-touch with their bodies and push their limits to the maximum. Theorists claim that the key to true happiness can be reached by being one with your body and finding it's true potential. Trusting yourself to do extreme feats could be a huge start to that.