Ninjas walk among us. For the members of the Columbia University Parkour Club, New York City is a jungle gym with endless opportunities for death-defying jumps, leaps and tumbles. Parkour combines philosophy with physicality; traceurs, those who practice the extreme sport, aim to travel from one point to another as efficiently as possible. After all, why take the elevator when you can scale a wall?
A derivative of parcours, French for ‘course,’ the term originally referred to the obstacle course style of military training created by naval officer Georges Hebert. But, David Belle, another Frenchman, is credited with founding the urban sport. Thrill seekers all around the world soon embraced the extreme display of efficiency. Parkour YouTube videos amassed millions of views; even The Office parodied the international obsession.
For Columbia’s traceurs, Parkour is no passing trend. One club member, Hussein, displayed Tarzan-like abilities even before arriving on campus. “I’ve been lost in the Tanzanian jungle three times,” he revealed in an opening getting-to-know- you circle game. Parkour club co-head Chris Jordan, CC ’13, grew up climbing around New York’s concrete jungle. He enjoys leaping between the connected roofs of Brooklyn brownstones. Chris has even climbed a multiple story building along the outside. Applying physics to his daring stunts, Chris takes calculated risks. Amazingly, he’s never broken a bone— only once taken a bad tumble. “I was running off the side of one structure then jumping and trying to land on a bridge, but I missed and fell on my back.” No, Chris didn’t watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid. “I grew up surrounded by circus people,” he explains. Gypsies babysat young Chris. “They bent spoons with their minds.”
Chris co-heads the team with his former RA, Phillip Dupree, SEAS ’11. They both train with professional Parkour practitioners and teach Columbia’s traceurs. Unsurprisingly, the Parkour club attracts a motley crew of daredevils.
Practice started with intensive conditioning: walking planks along Low steps, sashays around Alma Mater and “explosive” Parkour crunches.Warmed up, we jumped walls. A basic wall jump involves running to the wall, kicking up off it, and grabbing for the top ledge to push yourself over. It’s counter-intuitive to run at a 10 foot concrete wall, but a well-executed wall jump is fluid and elegant. Eventually, Public Safety asked us to move. (This just added to the Ninja factor). We headed to Uris, where tourists marveled at our monkey-like maneuvers.
But what goes up must come down. Properly dismounting from a wall is as fundamental a skill as getting to the top. The proper Parkour roll absorbs the impact of the fall, while protecting the neck and head. Plus, practicing this crucial landing is a fun excuse to roll around in the grass.
So what’s the ultimate Parkour goal? Getting on the roof of Low.