If you remember watching action-packed cartoons as a kid, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dragon Ball Z, you might also remember feeling that you wish you could do the stunts that the characters performed so effortlessly. Parkour enthusiasts Kyle Turner and Matt Jian agree that their love for the physical art form stems from an early childhood desire to watch cartoons and climb around their environments.
“When I was younger, I never really stopped climbing on stuff. So it’s like a continuation of what children do naturally,” first-year biomedical engineering major Turner said. “Then one day, a few of my friends went online and found a video of people doing parkour and I thought, ‘Wow, so this has an actual name.’”
Parkour is a physical discipline that emphasizes the ability to efficiently move around obstacles in an environment. In recent years, parkour swept the nation via an internet craze. Turner describes parkour as “the art of movement.”
“I wouldn’t really call it a sport; it’s more of an art form and discipline,” Turner said. “People think you’re only doing parkour if you’re doing crazy flips and stunts. It’s whatever you make it. Vaulting or even just climbing a tree can be parkour. As long as you’re moving.”
Turner also said that the major misconception about parkour is the amount of risk that the activity poses. As a seasoned parkour athlete, Turner says that parkour is much more calculated and logical than spectators believe.
“People who practice parkour have an internal gauge on exactly what they can and can’t do. You begin to know exactly how far you can jump or what your body can handle. You’re essentially training to be careful,” Turner said. “When I’m trying to learn a new move, I repeat it hundreds of times in my head, figuring out the precise movement, visualizing which muscles I will use. Then I practice the motions leading up to it. If I’m still afraid to do it after that, I won’t do it.”
While parkour is traditionally non-competitive, television shows like American Ninja Warrior add a competitive aspect to some stunts that are similar to parkour. Additionally, Olympic gymnasts often incorporate comparable physical elements.
Sophomore civil engineering major Matt Jian said that for him, parkour will strictly remain a hobby, as it is a community effort and not something that he sees as a competition.
“I see parkour as something that you learn and teach each other. If you’re better in one aspect and someone else in another, you try to help each other to improve in both areas respectively,” Jian said.
Jian also agreed that parkour enthusiasts think their stunts through before attempting them.
“It takes time. I’ve been doing this for a year and when I think back to when I just started, I realize how much I have improved,” Jian said. “You have to know the limitation of your body and assess the situation. Ask yourself ‘Can I do this?’ and ‘Who is around to help me if I get hurt?’”
Both training partners agree that parkour has influenced and has been influenced by other areas of their lives. Jian said that the perseverance he picked up from being a runner in high school has evolved into the discipline he applies when practicing parkour. Turner said that parkour has supplied him with myriad tools for life.
“It has taught me to think differently, to be creative, and to be careful and aware. You learn to see obstacles in life as things to get over or around with perseverance,” Turner said.
Senior community and regional development major Camille Mack said that she has seen people doing parkour around Davis and almost always stops to take a picture.
“It’s really amazing what they can do. And they’re just using their bodies and whatever is around them. They look very skilled,” Mack said.
Jian and Turner both occasionally practice their skills with an organization of parkour enthusiasts called NorCal Parkour. While they both say their schedules don’t allow for frequent meetings, Jian and Turner each say that NorCal Parkour is a group of skilled and welcoming athletes.
“Whenever I make it out to a weekly jam, it’s awesome. The parkour community is like a family,” Turner said. “If one person learns a new move, they will immediately turn around and try to teach it to someone else.”
Turner hopes to somehow be able to incorporate his love of parkour into his future career, and commits to always practicing parkour as a hobby.
“I guess I could be a stunt double, but that’s not really what I want to do. I want to do something that could make a major difference in someone’s life. Through engineering, I could design prosthetics,” Turner said. “As far as parkour is concerned, I will continue to do it as long as I’m capable.”
KELSEY SMOOT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.