Traceurs joyously engaged in a way of knowing…

From The New Yorker, Alec Wilkinson writes:  “A bracing parkour chase begins “Casino Royale,” the recent James Bond movie. It includes jumps from the boom of one tower crane to that of another, but parkour’s customary obstacles are walls, stairwells, fences, railings, and gaps between roofs—it is an urban rather than a pastoral pursuit. The movements are performed at a dead run. The more efficient and fluid the path they define, and the more difficult and harrowing the terrain they cross, the more elegant the performance is considered by the discipline’s practitioners.”  Watch what he’s talking about, especially the landings on the tops of railings — im-possibility in action: 

Wilkinson continues:  “Parkour has no explicit glossary, but traceurs typically describe the fundamental maneuvers as the cat leap, the precision jump, the roll, and the wall run. There is also the tic-tac, in which a nearly horizontal traceur takes at least one step and sometimes several steps along a wall and launches himself from it; and the underbar, in which a traceur dives feet first through a gap between fence rails, like a letter going through a slot, then grabs the upper rail as his shoulders pass under it. In addition, there are several vaults, including the lazy vault, the reverse vault, the turn vault, the speed vault, the dash vault, and the kong or monkey vault, in which a traceur runs straight at a wall or a railing, plants his hands on top, and brings his feet through his hands. All these moves link to one another, so that a traceur might say that he went cat to cat, or that he tic-taced a wall or konged it, then did a roll and a wall leap. The intention is to become so adept that the movements recede in one’s awareness and can be performed without reflection. Jazz musicians occasionally say that a novice needs to learn all about his instrument, then he needs to learn all about music, then he needs to forget everything and learn how to play, which is a paradigm that also fits parkour, especially because both activities at their most proficient are improvised. A jazz musician wants to be comfortable in any key. Similarly, a traceur wants to be sufficiently fluent so that he can cross any terrain in flight without compromise.”

           This new sport developed by David Belle in Paris and spreading across the globe illustrates all the features of a classical Greek -ike, a formal way of knowing. It has been (and will continue to be) formalized by its disciplinary community and as such may become an Olympic sport. I especially appreciated the comparison to jazz, which is, like dressage, another formal way of knowing from the perspective of the Greeks.  (See my Session One, especially part 7, at right.)

2 thoughts on “Traceurs joyously engaged in a way of knowing…

  1. Thanks for talking about this in the context of science and faith. It seems to me that these communal, impossible to trace, disciplines are vital for bringing us out of the dark age of athletics we’ve seemed to bring on ourselves, what with the drugs, and the hype, and the wardrobe malfunctions. But also to bring us into a renewed understanding of the relation between body and commune, state and fitness. . . not to mention a living city. How else will we get around the New Jerusalem is not via parcour? (and I wouldn’t complain if we spoke french as well) Quel reve!

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