Why take the elevator when you can take the stairs? Even better, why take the stairs when you can climb up the side of the building?
If this sounds like a good idea, Parkour might be for you.
For the uninitiated, Parkour is defined as the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment. It is also a recreational trend that has spawned dedicated groups of enthusiasts all over the world.
People who practice Parkour tend to enjoy training in groups so they can feed off each other’s energy. That is one of the reasons Ted Uhrich, a massage therapist from Roseville, founded NorCal Parkour.
Uhrich created the group using the online networking site Meetup.com. People who had been waiting years for a group with which to train jumped on board, including a UC Davis math professor.
“We were all kind of the same person just waiting around for Bruce Lee to show up and bless us with knowledge and discipline and motivation,” Uhrich said. “It’s just like everything else in Parkour, you just have to do it for yourself. Nobody picks you up but you when you fall down.”
NorCal Parkour welcomes people of all ages and any skill level to come and jam with them. The group is based out of Sacramento, but you can often find them running, jumping and climbing structures at the UC Davis campus. In Davis, Uhrich said, you can find something to play on in every direction you walk.
"Davis is built for us," he said. “Just the parking structures alone in Davis are great resources for distance jumps, distance falls, and amazing railings. Everywhere you go in Davis you can find something to train with.”
David Cherney, a math professor at UC Davis and regular attendee of NorCal Parkour meet ups, said Davis is one of their favorite places to meet.
"I have a theory that the valley is not a very good place for Parkour,” Cherney said. “The architecture that works in a very flat environment like this doesn’t demand any interesting features, but the UC Davis campus is willing to overspend here and there on architecture, and there’s a feeling in Davis that people can do whatever they enjoy doing. It’s not like that everywhere.”
Uhrich said the meet ups generally feel like hanging out with kids who are put in adult bodies. But Parkour is about more than just the physical. It is also a philosophy. Uhrich describes Parkour as a war of attrition against himself and his environment. It is a special type of freedom.
“We get these ideas in our heads about boundaries and railings and walls and fences. It doesn’t really mean anything,” Uhrich said. “All these things were built to teach our minds how to think we have to live in this environment.”
People who practice Parkour view their environment differently. Uhrich remembered a particular meet up which showcased exactly how much Parkour can change a person.
“We were in a business complex and there was a backyard where we obviously weren’t supposed to be,” Uhrich described. “David was back there. He had lazy vaulted over a short wall and was playing around.”
When the group tried to let David know he was somewhere he shouldn’t be, he replied, “If I’m not supposed to be here, there would be a wall to keep me out.”
“We all looked at the wall that he’d vaulted over, and he looked at the wall,” Uhrich said, “and you could see on his face that he really didn’t remember going over it.”
Uhrich realized that by practicing Parkour, David had changed the way his mind perceives the space that he lives in through autohypnosis.
“I like to say I don’t see obstacles,” Uhrich said. “David literally doesn’t see obstacles anymore. It was probably the most magical and transcendental moment in all of Parkour for me. It was beautiful.”
Along with gates and fences, security can be an obstacle for the group to work around. This is another reason Davis is a good place to train.
“In Davis there’s almost no security malice towards us. Whenever we encounter the police, they caution us to be very careful. We’re being stupid by taking risks,” Uhrich said. “But they can’t really stop us from being stupid. That’s not illegal.”
Although they haven’t had trouble with security in Davis, they have had issues elsewhere. During a Sacramento meet up, the group was followed by a security guard around an admin building, across a bridge, and to a parking structure. Knowing the lower level was closed for construction, they jumped a gap to a girder to escape.
"We were able to drop down knowing he wouldn’t be able to get to us,” Uhrich said. “So he’d have to walk all the way back by himself, contemplating the nature of real freedom.”
Although public property can be liable for damage if the Parkour enthusiasts get hurt, they prefer it because training in designated areas is contradictory to the philosophy of freedom. When asked by authorities to move along, they tend to oblige.
Uhrich explained how important it is to remember how badly one can get hurt doing Parkour. So far the group has only experienced minor injuries at meet ups, mostly from not scouting out areas ahead of time, showing off, and X factors like dirt, water, and other things you can’t see. They have been lucky so far, but are aware of the possibilities of major injuries.
“We all have a running deal,” Uhrich said. “First month in the hospital everyone will come and spoon feed you. After that, you’re on your own.”
The injuries are inevitable, but Uhrich feels it is worth it for the feeling of freedom obtained through practicing Parkour. He feels as though the space we live in is, for the most part, wasted.
“Virtually the first two floors of every building in the city can be climbed by and utilized by us,” Uhrich said. “The idea that the only way to get to the second floor is from the inside of a building is preposterous.”
Check out the group’s website.