Devon Martinez is balancing on a wall some five feet in front of a series of openings in the concrete structure some 5 feet away from the UCLA Medical Center parking structure on a recent Sunday.
The lanky 15-year-old from Huntington Beach takes a deep breath and jumps across the void to the side of the parking structure.
His sneakers stick to the concrete surface of the wall as he reaches up, grabbing hold of a railing to prevent himself from falling. Martinez then swings himself into an opening in the parking garage.
It's the kind of triumph that traceurs — as those who practice the French import of Parkour are called — risk flesh and bone for — risk bodily injury for.
What's Parkour? Think
Brian Orosco of San Francisco leaps froma wall while practicing Parkour at UCLA. (Hans Gutknecht / Staff Photographer)
skateboarding without a skateboard, or Spider-Man working without a web.
A kind of urban gymnastics, Parkour challenges its practitioners — most of whom are young men — to overcome obstacles using only their bodies. You may have caught some of their videos over the Internet, or seen Parkour used in music videos, commercials, even Hollywood blockbusters.
But it's more than just an adrenaline-pumping pastime.
Parkour originated in the '80s in the Parisian suburb of Lisses
with David Belle. The now 33-year-old appeared last year in the film "District B13," vaulting over cars and bounding from balconies to rooftops.
Belle introduced Parkour to the masses in a BBC commercial in which he does spectacular stunts like jumping from one building to another, caroming off of walls and corkscrewing in midair high above gridlocked London streets.
The 2002 spot called "Rush Hour" landed with a splash overseas, creating a sensation in the U.K. that rippled into popular culture here as well.
It's popped up in TV ads for Nike and Toyota. Madonna choreographed it into two music videos and her Confessions Tour stage show last year.
Around the same time Belle catapulted into the theaters with "District B13" and the throaty Brittany Murphy scorched the dance floors with her Paul Oakenfold collaboration "Faster Kill Pussycat," whose video features local traceurs Cliff Kravit and Paul Darnell as parkouring club crashers.
Most recently, director Martin Campbell recruited the onscreen action star Sebastien Foucan to lead a chase through a construction site in the new Bond film "Casino Royale."
Foucan — who developed the similiar sport of Free Running, which shares moves with Parkour — is seen climbing up cranes, running across girders and performing one breathtaking stunt after another during the chase sequence.
"All the stuff on the cranes was bloody difficult," says Campbell. "There were nets and wires; we removed those digitally. But the idea was not to rely on digital as much as we could. It's all for real."
To the untrained eye, all that jumping around may look like Parkour, but some purists like to draw a distinction between the forms, describing Free Running — also featured in Anthony Minghella's film, "Breaking and Entering" — as a kind of jogging that involves spinning, flipping and other tricks.
Get a grip
Flash has no place in Parkour.
"There's a Parkour philosophy where anything in Parkour can be applied to normal life," says Alex "Ace" Scott, a senior at El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, where on most days he's spotted training on campus. "I can apply how am I going to get up this 10-foot wall to how am I going to work things out with my family."
Scott scrambles up a cement retaining wall, clutching his fingers at the top edge before pulling himself up and over.
"If I can overcome that obstacle, then there are other obstacles in life I can overcome," he says, flashing a smile as he sits on top of the wall.
Like most relative newcomers to the sport, Scott, a wiry teen with chiseled good looks and an Afro, discovered Parkour through videos online and a message board on which somebody had posted what locals now consider to be the first-ever meeting of California traceurs at California State University Northridge more than two years ago.
"In California there was no other group actively doing Parkour that we knew of," recalls local traceur Cliff Kravit, who was at the meeting.
It's because of people like Kravit — a 26-year-old computer support technician from Los Angeles with piercing blue eyes and long brown hair that he wears tied back in a ponytail — that traceurs have become so well-connected with others in the online Parkour community.
Kravit, a Parkour guru of sorts, spends most week nights at the L.A. School of Gymnastics in Culver City, leading training sessions for newcomers and for traceurs wanting to be drilled on new moves in an indoor padded environment. Information about these sessions can be found at PKCali.com, a Web site Kravit operates.
Since starting it up a year ago more than 550 people have registered with his site to chat, catch up on the latest Parkour news, watch videos and track group sessions like the one recently held at the UCLA Medical Center.
Group sessions like the one recently held at the UCLA Medical Center are always fun, but Kravit points out Parkour isn't a team sport. In fact most traceurs train alone — and for good reason.
"When you go out by yourself, it really tests your true abilities," Kravit says. "There's no one else but you to get yourself to do it, so it really tests your inner strength and your confidence."
Only then are the group outings beneficial.
"Everybody sees different things and so they can bring different aspects to the session," he says.
But traceurs admit that group meetings are a great way to meet new people, even though the majority of them happen to be guys.
Brian Lang, a clean-cut 20-something from Hollywood, offers an explanation.
"I think it's intimidating to do this kind of thing out in public," says Lang, as he tapes his hand before scaling a wall. "For a long time I was (intimidated) until I met these guys."
Look before you leap
Of course, most people are still unaware of Parkour.
During warm-up a security guard rousts Kravit and his friends along from the UCLA Medical Center.
Traceurs get this all the time.
"One of the things we deal with a lot in Southern California and especially in Los Angeles is security and police," Kravit says. "They see us jumping from one thing to another and so they stop us and start interrogating us. Generally their concern is less that we're committing a crime and more about the liability that if someone gets hurt on their property, they will be sued.
"So, you take it with a grain of salt and understand," he says. "Just be respectful and move on."
And UCLA is in no short supply of free-standing walls, stairwells and parking structures.
Grabbing their backpacks, the six traceurs amble up the street in search of other playgrounds.
Bob Strauss contributed to this article.
Sandra Barrera, (818) 713-3728 firstname.lastname@example.org