The members of the Michigan Parkour club could give Catwoman a run for her money.
Three nights a week, a group of students gathers in front of the Dental School to practice Parkour – an old French discipline, known to many Americans as “free running.”
They start with a typical athletic warm-up of jogging and stretching. But for the Parkour Club, that’s about as typical as it gets.
Soon, club members are jumping off railings onto concrete planters, and from walls onto sidewalks. Some take off their shoes to ensure they are properly executing their landings.
The goal of Parkour is to overcome the obstacles in one’s path by acclimating oneself to the environment instead of fighting it. Although it requires coordination, diligence and lots of practice, club leader Michael Metze said he would not classify Parkour as a sport.
“I don’t like to call it a sport because it implies competitiveness,” he said. “It’s more of a discipline really, like martial arts.”
Metze said he feels that Parkour sometimes gets a bad name because it seems reckless to the casual observer. In reality, he contends, it is not – so long as safety remains a priority.
“Kids see videos of it and try to imitate it without really knowing how,” he said. Metze stresses how important it is to start with the basics. “Landing and jumping is the first thing to learn because every time you go up, you have to land.”
Though Parkour may seem a bit out of the ordinary, it certainly has its benefits. For a lucky few, practicing Parkour leads to a job after graduation. A number of club alumni now work as professional stunt people, Metze said.
He said that it can also increase mental stamina.
“In day-to-day activities you don’t have to run away,” Metze said. “It’s more the mindset of overcoming obstacles. You can apply that to anything.”