Appeal of parkour is more than a mere leap of faith

During work hours, Bryan Jenks earns his living as a technician in the health care department at California's Mule Creek State Prison. Off the clock, the tall, tattooed 23-year-old runs through fields, jumps over metal railings and scales brick walls around the Sacramento region, all for fun and exercise.

Just don't call him Spiderman. He's a local champion of parkour, a training and movement discipline that aficionados use to move in the most efficient way possible through a variety of landscapes, without the help of equipment such as ropes and ladders.

Traceurs, as those who practise parkour are called, can be found on playgrounds, plazas and school grounds around Sacramento on weekend afternoons running up stair railings and crossing quad areas. Sometimes, they practice in the spaces of Old Sacramento before making their way through downtown to the Ninth Street courthouse.

A new soul for things

"It's not just jumping around," says Jenks, who is an administrator for the Northern Californian parkour community Facebook page, with close to 700 members. "You learn what you are capable of, you learn you can do a lot more than you thought you could. You gain a new soul for things."

Small communities throughout California make use of Facebook pages and forums to schedule jams, or meet-ups. Jenks said the Northern Californian parkour community meets once a month, and in June more than 100 local traceurs met with members of other parkour groups from Europe, Asia and South America. In 2011, the San Francisco parkour group hosted the San Francisco National Jam, with others attending satellite jams at UC Berkeley, Oakland and Pleasanton.

It's about shutting down your brain and letting your body do it.

Nate Davies

Elle Beyer, a co-founder of Free Flow Academy in Roseville, said the only requirement for a traceur is the right conditioning.

"It's a movement community, using parkour as a platform for fitness," Beyer says. "You don't have to be an Olympic athlete. Everyone works from the ground up."

Parkour's beginnings date back to France in the 1980s, when actor and stunt coordinator David Belle expanded on movements he learned while working in a fire brigade. The sport gained popularity in North America in the 2000s with exposure in movies such as District B13 and Tracers.

Physical and mental

Beyer says the benefits of the discipline include physical strength, flexibility and mental prowess. "Parkour will make you a better rock climber, backpacker and be able to move on diverse terrains," Beyer says.

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Nate Davies, another Free Flow co-founder, says parkour gives people more than an opportunity to exercise. "Instead of competing, it's your own expression," he says. "When you get scraped up, you have to push through and be willing to repeat the same movements. ... it's about shutting down your brain and letting your body do it."

A traceur learns to see the world through "the parkour lens" where "everything is a playground," whether it's a set of stairs or the roofs of buildings, Beyer says.

'Leave no trace'

Traceurs are known for a "leave no trace" attitude that prioritises respecting their surroundings, says Cliff Kravit, a Southern California-based parkour trainer and the US representative for the Parkour Worldwide Association. "We are respectful, we don't damage, and if we do, we fix it," Kravit says. "We have cleaned areas and even painted over spray paint."

When practising in public spaces such as Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks, Jenks says that as long as the group doesn't go on the roof, security has allowed them to jam there.

"We aren't doing anything wrong, just using the environment in a different way, Kravit says. "We don't grind on stuff and damage property."

For the many traceurs learning the sport, Jenks says, parkour's "true soul" can be summed up in the mantra commonly used among aficionados: "Strong to be useful."

"The only thing we have is our bodies," he said, "and once that vehicle dies, the rest of us goes with it."

SACRAMENTO BEE