Text size
Text Print Share Email
Nov 04, 2008

All over America, cities are becoming vast playgrounds for practitioners of parkour.

By Anna-Katarina Gravgaard

For those who practice parkour—an activity that combines aspects of martial arts, acrobatics and gymnastics and employs a variety of vaults, flips, rolls and leaps—any path is better than the path of least resistance.
Simply put, the objective of parkour is to get from point A to point B as quickly and effectively as possible, regardless of the obstacles in the way. This means going over walls and fences instead of around them, down railings instead of stairs and between buildings with death-defying bounds between rooftops. The more complicated and obstacle-ridden the path, the more breathtaking the run.
The result is a form of extreme gymnastics with a fluid aesthetic that recalls scenes from The Matrix or Spiderman, but without trick photography and CGI.

Check our FLYP’s exclusive documentary inside of the parkour scene, where obstacles both mental and physical are meant to be overcome.


Parkour takes its name from the French word parkours  (or “route”), which, in military jargon, means “obstacle course.” The creation of the practice and its philosophical underpinnings are credited to David Belle, who at age 35 is now a venerated figure among enthusiasts, known as “traceurs,” around the globe.
During an appearance at the 2007 New Yorker Festival, Belle summed up his philosophy this way: “Many people think that if there is some problem, this or that is what they would do. Parkour teaches you to be sure.“
Back in 1997, Belle and five friends founded Yamakasi, a Paris-based group of traceurs who began filming themselves as they practiced various moves.
Along with the physical activity, Belle and his followers work developed a philosophy of parkour. They saw it as a way to learn to overcome life’s obstacles by practicing the art of movement.
Since it was first featured in Luc Besson’s 1998 hit film, Taxi II, parkour has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity. Its appearances in dozens of films, music videos, commercials, coupled with the many parkour videos on YouTube, have led to the creation of groups around the globe.
In the U.S., almost every major city now has its own parkour scene, which is often initiated by group websites. Along with posting images and videos, traceurs use these as discussion forums and for scheduling “jam sessions” to practice.

Over the past decade, parkour’s popularity has led to the development of scenes across the U.S. With FLYP Media’s interactive map of the country, you can find out the details (and see video and photos) of parkour groups everywhere.

“Parkour is all about confidence,” says Mark Toorock, who goes by the name M2 and runs a website called American Parkour, which has 48,000 registered users.
Toorock is, perhaps, parkour’s most famous American adherent and is one of a new generation of traceurs who are popularizing the sport at home.
But for Toorock, parkour is more than a pastime—it’s a livelihood. Along with his website, he has also founded a show group, called The Tribe, which he runs as a small business with several full-time employees who travel around the country to do commercial shoots and performances.
Last month, Toorock and The Tribe traveled to Beirut for three days of performances and workshops during which they taught the basics of parkour to thousands of underprivileged Lebanese students.
The American Embassy sponsored the show after one of its staff members saw parkour moves being done as part of the choreography of Madonna’s 2006 “Confessions on a Dance Floor” tour.
“Parkour is something that is really happening in the U.S. right now,” says Edith Bitar from the American Embassy in Beirut. “It is not functioning anywhere like it is in the States. There really isn’t any competition.”

The first parkour association was founded in 1997. Since then, the activity’s presence in popular culture has boomed. FLYP’s interactive highlights some of the most memorable pop culture moments in parkour’s history.

Although most traceurs help each other out with training, traveling and even accommodation, there is a clear sense of rivalry between different scenes. Parkour North America, for example, was created by seven prominent members of the American parkour scene as a response to Toorock’s dominance and commercialization of parkour in the media.
But in general, the vibe among different groups and traceurs is supportive and positive. Francesco Caban, 23, a dance education student at Arizona University goes by the name MURG and is a prominent member of Arizona PK. She recently set up a small show group of traceurs and dreams of being able to make a living off of it.
“The parkour scene is having a really solid moment now,” says Caban. “Parkour is the new kind of stunt—kind of like what break dancing was when it came out. Everybody wants a part of it.”

From a “turn vault” to a “gap jump,” Tyson Cecka from Seattle shows off a few moves from parkour’s unofficial instruction manual. Watch him complete the moves here.

login or register to post a comment

Great e-zine. Great article. However on the Parkour Playground page (#44), the HIPK & SF Parkour links have pictures, but only the first picture is viewable. I get a blank screen for the rest. I love the implementation of Flash. Thanks.

Carl James
Apr 30, 2009

Get the latest look at the people, ideas and events that are shaping America. Sign up for the FREE FLYP newsletter.