A New Sport Grows By Leaps

Anyone who has seen the latest James Bond film, Casino Royale, could hardly forget the sequence where 007 chases a terrorist through windows and over roofs in an African town. This is parkour -- a craze that has swept across Europe over the past decade, fueled by Internet videos and a hip, alternative reputation.

Parkour is an activity that was founded and developed by David Belle in the suburbs of Paris in the late 1990s. It is a way of moving from point to point as efficiently as possible, using only the strength of the human body to get over or around obstacles such as walls and benches.

But it's not just a sport, said Dmitry Arsenev, a member of the Moscow-based parkour association Tracers. "It's a philosophy. It's about overcoming not only obstacles on the street, but also problems and burdens in everyday life."

Oleg Krasnyansky founded the Tracers six years ago. He had been to Lisses, a suburb of Paris, and met David Belle and his team. The group now has 11 members and not only practices parkour but also seeks to spread its message of self-improvement, and not only on a physical level.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Members of the Tracers, a Moscow parkour club, teach children some basic techniques of the sport, such as landing correctly.

Arsenev's belief in parkour's message comes from personal experience. "I got fired from my job [in Moscow] and I didn't know what to do." As a Ukrainian without a job, he didn't have the necessary papers and things were looking bleak.

But then he remembered some people he had met on a film set in 2006 -- members of the Tracers. "They let me join them because of my sports background in basketball. Three days after starting parkour, I found a job."

This experience convinced Arsenev that most problems exist only in the mind and can be overcome with the right attitude. And this attitude is a central part of what he and the members of Tracers are trying to instill in the teenagers who take part in their weekly training sessions.

"A lot of people come here having seen videos on YouTube and want to be able to do big jumps and show off," he said. "But that's not what we're about. We have seminars to explain moral values to the kids -- the difference between good and bad."

"We want to encourage them to think before they do something -- when practicing parkour, and in everyday life." Parkour is not about who can do the most impressive jumps or the most daring moves, said Arsenev. "Our philosophy is that everyone is equal -- there are no masters or beginners. If it becomes competitive, this idea becomes lost."

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Stretching is a necessary part of parkour.
In fact, the Internet videos that have been central to the spread of parkour's popularity are themselves dangerous, Arsenev said. "Parkour has a bad reputation as people see the videos and try to copy the moves. They often injure themselves, as they are not properly prepared."

This was one reason why the Tracers decided to start lessons for teenagers. "We want to teach them the basic techniques, such as landing correctly, so that they don't hurt themselves." The classes take place indoors and start with a half-hour warm-up, followed by instruction and practice in moves and techniques.

And it appears the tide is turning: Parents are grateful that their children are being taught to practice parkour safely. Furthermore, people in the areas where the Tracers train outdoors are starting to change their views.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Some people unfamiliar with parkour have mistaken its practitioners for hooligans.
"At first, they threatened to call the police. They thought we were hooligans. But once we explain what we are trying to do, people generally think it is a good thing."

The lessons are aimed at children 12 and up. "This means they're at an age where they understand our message."

The group currently receives no money from the authorities -- the only money they get is the 150 ruble entrance fee for the classes, which goes toward renting the hall. But the Tracers are hopeful of getting funding in the future, Arsenev said, and of spreading the message of parkour to a wider audience. "Eventually, we would like to offer classes in schools, too."


Training sessions take place at the Russian State University of Physical Education (RGUFK), 4 Sirenevy Bulvar, M. Cherkizovskaya, Friday 8 p.m.-10 p.m., Saturday 6 p.m.-8 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m.-2 p.m.

For more information, see the Tracers web site, www.tracers.ru, or contact them at 682-5295, info@tracers.ru