MANILA (Reuters Life!) - Jumping across rooftops is not just for stuntmen or action heroes nowadays as dozens of Filipinos take to parkour, a discipline combining sports and martial arts, to get into shape.
Parkour, French slang for the art of moving, is a physical activity that maximizes the body's efficiency with the aim of overcoming obstacles such as buildings, rails, and even people.
Mimicking monkeys jumping from branch to branch or cats leaping over walls, parkour movements are smooth and swift and rely on the strength and agility of the body.
Parkour, which featured in James Bond movie "Casino Royale" and a music video by Madonna, is also known as free running and has a following in many European cities.
It's also become the latest fitness trend in Manila, with scores of people, from teens to older office workers, taking to the practice instead of going to regular gym sessions.
"The philosophy is going from point A to point B with the least energy and as efficiently as possible," said Nas Solar, founder of the Philippine Parkour and FreeRunning Association.
"Parkour requires mental strength so the practitioner can adapt constantly to his surroundings."
Instead of using the treadmill or lifting weights, parkour practitioners build strength by using their own body weight.
Solar said when parkour was first introduced in the Philippines, teens would get injured because they were copying moves from online videos without proper training.
Now he conducts practice sessions in an indoor gym, using obstacle blocks made of foam and padded mats. An 8-day course costs 1,300 pesos ($27).
Alfred Remillo, 18, said his parkour training helps him think more clearly in difficult situations. "There's a difference between running away in desperation and running away efficiently. Running away efficiently, it lets your mind think," he said.
Parkour was popularized in France in the 1990s by David Belle, who combined obstacle course training techniques passed down by his army-trained father with his own martial arts and gymnastics training.
Misconceptions about the practice still abound, especially among traditionalists who sneer at parkour as a sport.
"Parkour could be an advantage if you're planning a crime," Ernesto Beren, a 64-year-old former Olympian, said sarcastically.
"If you get caught and imprisoned, it'll be easy to escape," said the gymnastics coach who runs classes in the same gym frequented by parkour enthusiasts.
But most practitioners say the discipline enhances self-confidence, allowing them to overcome mental obstacles too.
"At the end of the day, I want to see myself improving. I jump higher, move faster, move more efficiently," said 23-year-old Sunday Ong.
Writing by Michaela Cabrera, editing by Miral Fahmy