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Students on campus are mastering Parkour, an art of self-awareness and body control

Published: Monday, April 14, 2008

Updated: Saturday, June 20, 2009 23:06

Sometimes, the thrill of the chase is nothing compared to the experience gained at the end of a long journey.

Parkour, the refinement of one's body movements from one point to another, is a training discipline focused on overcoming obstacles. While it is commonly miscategorized as a sport, the activity more closely resembles yoga or martial arts as a means of training to better oneself.

"It's just a way to test myself," said Nick Kelly, a sophomore in English. "The end goal of my training is to become as strong as I can in every way possible."

One of the main purposes of parkour is to move as efficiently and swiftly as possible through the environment. Practitioners, or traceurs, master their bodies by fluidly traversing across any barriers they meet. Through lots of practice, traceurs learn to improve their mobility and agility and adapt to their surroundings.

"It's a sense of self-awareness that 'yeah, it doesn't matter what the obstacle is, you can overcome it,'" said Joseph Torchia, a sophomore in political science.

Torchia is just one of several traceurs at Ohio State. Initially attraced to the discipline after watching some videos on YouTube, he has now been practicing parkour for two years. Torchia and others spend five or six days a week training.

"I think a lot of people want instant gratification," said Brad Duncan, a freshman in engineering. "Parkour is a very long process that you have to be dedicated to."

Besides the physical hurdles parkour aims at overcoming, it deals with mental obstacles as well. Torchia says the discipline helps develop the mind by changing the way one looks at everyday challenges. It increases self-confidence and critical-thinking skills are sharpened. Torchia said it has helped him in school and life, and given him a better understanding of things.

"You practice overcoming physical obstacles," Torchia said. "Internally and mentally that mirrors exactly overcoming obstacles in life. For a lot of people, it lends them a sense of self-worth because it espouses values of hard work, humility and altruism. They look at it as a life lesson."

While this art of displacement has been slow in making its way overseas, it is slowly gaining a following here in America. Popularized in the 1980s in France, parkour is being noticed more and more in today's culture. Yet despite recent publicity in films and on TV, there still remain many misconceptions about the art.

"It's a discipline," Torchia said. "It's not about going out and just jumping on stuff. It's about lots of training, a lot of hard work."

The common thought that parkour is an extreme sport is far from the truth. Traceurs say the art is noncompetitive by nature and experienced practitioners sometimes train as many as 20 years before being able to efficiently perform the advanced movements. Those who see the death-defying leaps off buildings or jumps across rooftops might assume it is about being flashy, but in reality it is all about practicality. When faced with a dangerous situation, parkour can train traceurs for flight and allow them to effectively flee from their pursuers.

"There's a sense of personal awareness of your body and what you can do," said Ryan Everett, a freshmen in biochemistry.

The goals and benefits that come with practicing parkour differ for every individual, as each has his or her own reasons for training in the discipline. Whether it is to strengthen the mind, body or spirit, the activity offers an opportunity to live outside the box. For Torchia and countless others, all the hard work has been worthwhile.

"You're a stronger person... mentally. The internal developments are a huge reward," he said.

Jeffy Mai can be reached at mai.9@osu.edu.

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