As part of this weekend’s New Yorker Festival, a parkour demonstration was held at Javits Plaza. Before the demonstration, Alex Wilkinson talked with David Belle, the inventor of parkour and the subject of Wilkinson’s NYer article about parkour from April. In the interview and the Q&A that followed the demonstration, Belle explained that parkour is not about competition or showing off or being reckless. It’s a test of self, of control, of deliberate practice. The journey is the point, not the sometimes spectacular results.
The demonstration consisted of a group of about 20-30 parkour practitioners, beginners and experts alike from all over the country. It seemed as though they included anyone with parkour experience who showed up and wanted to participate, and instead of a highly polished display of high skill (which is what I think the audience might have been expecting), we were treated to a more authenic look at the sport. The first five minutes were taken up with calisthenics and stretching in preparation of the jumps and vaults to come. After warming up properly, they began running through the course, each participant picking his way through the course according to desire and ability.
Experimentation was the rule of the day, not performance. With each pass, you could see the group learning the particulars of the course, where the good holds were, finding smoother combinations, and, much of the time, trying and failing. And then trying again until they got it. There was a single woman participant, one of several beginners in the group. When she had some trouble with an obstacle, Belle and his “lieutenant” stopped to show her some moves, a moment that revealed more about parkour than Belle’s jump across a ten-foot gap twenty feet off the ground. Belle himself didn’t do too much during the performance — a couple of high jumps — and had to be coaxed during the Q&A to perform one last big move for the audience. He shrugged off the applause and attention as he back-flipped down to the concrete, knowing that the true parkour had taken place earlier.