Like Spiderman, they defy gravity. They cling to the side of walls, and leap over railings and rooftops with catlike grace. They’re called “traceurs,” and they’re part of the French subculture called parkour — only in Hong Kong, they do things their own way.
In North America, parkour has had its moments in the sun over the past few years, appearing in big-budget advertising campaigns (Nike, VW and Coca Cola) and the film Casino Royale (where James Bond uses parkour in a killer chase scene).
Essentially, parkour is the art of movement. It’s travelling from point A to point B through city streets in the most efficient ways possible. Part sport, part acrobatics, it’s a hobby that turns urban space into a playground.
It seems fitting to me that Hong Kong — home to the late Bruce Lee, a legendary martial artist and paradigm of physical fitness — would be home to a group of parkour enthusiasts.
On my most recent trip to this vibrant city, I caught up with a few of the founding members of the Hong Kong Parkour Association. Established by six core members in 2006, the association gets together every Wednesday for a “street jam” in the Kowloon area.
Fung, a 22-year-old traceur who works part time at a youth community centre, defines parkour as a philosophy, a sport, a lifestyle.
Here, he explains, they view parkour through the yin-and-yang principles of Chinese philosophy — the hard lands are the yang and the soft and smooth movements are the yin.
“Learning how to jump over physical hurdles will make you fearless when comes time to jump over the hurdles of life,” says Fung.
He believes that climbing over railings, scrambling up steps, swinging from poles and scaling wall surfaces builds confidence.
Best thing is, it’s accessible to anyone — there’s no formal training or gear required. Though learning how to land, roll, jump and balance properly does take some practice.
I follow Fung and his friends to a popular park in Hong Kong where they impress me with their skills. They make leaping over ping pong tables and vaulting
over benches look easy.
As they do backflips, two unfriendly security guards approach. Though I don’t understand Cantonese, I can tell by their firm tone that we’re in trouble.
Parkour isn’t officially illegal, but it’s often stopped by security officers who are concerned the traceurs will hurt themselves on private property.
But as soon as the guards walk away, the boys are free-running and flipping once again.
Freelance writer Julia Dimon is editor of The Travel Junkie and co-host of the TV series Word Travels. Contact her at www.thetraveljunkie.ca.