See and be Scene

We first noticed the mind-blowing potential of parkour during the opening chase scene in the recent remake of the James Bond classic, Casino Royale. Daniel Craig’s 007 chases a suspected terrorist through a construction site, staying as close as he can while leaping from ledges, fences, and cranes as high as 200 feet off the ground. The pursuit is one of the most exciting on the big screen in recent years. But ask a real parkour enthusiast and he’ll point to the master — and to France. “In my opinion, the best parkour in a movie would be the chase scene at the beginning of District B13,” says Glenn. “The actor, David Belle, is absolutely amazing to watch.” He should be. A 30-something Frenchman, Belle is considered by most to be the father of parkour, which he developed in the 1990s. (It turns out that the Casino Royale traceur, Sébastien Foucan, learned from the best: he practiced parkour with Belle while growing up in Paris). District B13 (originally released in France in 2004 as Banlieue 13) was produced by Luc Besson, who recommended Belle for the role. In another chase scene, Belle escapes from an apartment building with a squad of gunmen following him. But while Bruce Willis might just shoot his way out, Belle slides though cracks, scales walls, and bounces down the sides in his effort to get away.

Banlieue 13 (District B13)

Hip to be (in the) Square

By its nature, parkour is an urban activity. After all, walls and rails and other boundaries are a lot easier to find in the city than in the great outdoors. (If you think of parkour, in one sense, as skateboarding without the board, you can understand why Tony Hawk — or guys like Glenn — might not find much to shred in the woods.) So what’s the best spot in Boston? Ask Glenn and he’ll send you down the Red Line and over the river. “My favorite spot [for parkour] is Harvard Square in Cambridge,” he says. “It has a lot of fascinating architecture that offers plenty of exciting and challenging locations for parkour.”

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Jump Start

Parkour isn’t learned, it’s lived. So what’s the best way for aspiring traceurs to make their first jump? “By far the best way to get into parkour is to go outside and do it!” says Glenn. “While reading articles online and watching videos definitely help to give an idea of possible movements, there is no comparison to experiencing it first-hand.” Indeed, there are plenty of jaw-dropping parkour clips online, and Glenn says the New England Parkour site is an excellent resource for anything related to local parkour. “It offers helpful FAQ’s and media articles,” he says, “as well as forums where people can ask questions, chat about parkour, and find out about upcoming training sessions.” And equipment? Chances are you’ve got that taken care of already. “The only required equipment for parkour is a pair of shoes — any pair of shoes, in fact,” Glenn says. “While supportive and durable shoes are certainly preferred, nothing exotic or expensive is required.”

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Son of Superman

There's a lot of ways to look at the world. It's a glass half-filled. It's your oyster. It's a giant, bad-ass jungle gym.

That's a new one for ya? Meet Glenn Black - if you can catch the guy. Which is unlikely because he's probably hurling over a chain link fence. Right. This. Minute.

Black is the parkour kid. If you don’t know what parkour is, run out and rent Casino Royale, the last James Bond flick, and watch the first scene over and over again. You’ll see grown men scale cranes, hop roofs and swing from rigging in one of the most compelling action sequences in a long, long time. That’s parkour and it’s what Mr. Black here does every Sunday around these parts. For fun.

Black is wrapping up his junior year at Northeastern University, interning as an electrical engineer during the day and “hitting a gap” off-hours. The two disciplines are crazy disconnected—both are about problem solving, in a way, except one can leave you a bundle of bones on the pavement. But Glenn says that’s never happened to him or the pack of parkour paratroopers he runs with sizing up the world—the slant of a staircase, the angle of a guardrail—and flashing through it like it’s one big superhero, speed-demon action movie. Jumping! Flying! Running! Walking? That’s for wussies.

Glenn started out slowly. Naturally agile as a kid in Portland, Maine, he gravitated toward the sports that tested his balance—skateboarding, mainly, until he saw a story about parkour on TV. The sport, which gained attention in the 1990s when two Frenchmen formalized the practice, blends martial arts with yoga: to be a good traceur means to draw intelligently, instinctively from a reservoir of moves—cat leaps, pop-vaults and precision jumps—to get from point A to point B. Glenn’s first challenge was vaulting over a wall near his house in Cambridge. It took him two months before he nailed it. The next object was a little higher, a little steeper. Same with the next one. That’s how it goes in parkour: baby steps, group jams and, Glenn says, very few injuries. No one has ever been killed doing parkour, Glenn is quick to point out, but many have been kicked out by nervous property owners scared of getting sued. That’s not going to happen either, Glenn says. It’s not the parkour way, rooted in respect, patience and performing your personal best. And off he goes, his mop of blonde hair seconds away from standing straight at its ends. Glenn Black is about to monkey vault over a mailbox, taking on life one challenge at a time, with a glass very full.