Ninja in training? Parkour fans leap, flip for sport

Fri Aug 27, 2010 10:19am EDT
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By Zach Toombs

COLUMBIA, Missouri (Reuters Life!) - For student Mike Heaviland a picnic table presents a unique challenge -- should he try a monkey vault to a precision landing, or an advanced kong vault, lunging over it head first?

The dilemma for Heaviland is part of practicing parkour, a gritty urban sport in which the city is the gym, which has gained popularity on U.S. college campuses.

For parkour enthusiasts balconies become balance beams, handrails double as high wires and rooftops become launching pads.

With college campuses back in full swing this autumn, parkour's appeal to students is adding to the ranks of followers, but there are growing concerns about the dangers of the sport.

Devotees say parkour strengthens the body and the mind, training both in efficient ways to overcome obstacles.

"There's no winning and losing," said Heaviland, who founded the parkour group at the University of Missouri in January. "It's more about self-improvement than anything else."

The sport, which was imported from France, now has clubs in California, New York and other states. The five-year-old American Parkour organization counts 65,000 registered users.

It evolved from an obstacle course for the French military and was devised by Georges Herbert, a French naval officer in World War One. Parkour gained fame among urban French youths before crossing the Atlantic.   Continued...

<p>A parkour practitioner jumps from a bridge in the town of Divnogorsk, some 38 km (23.6 miles) from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, January 9, 2009. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin</p>