A biting wind picks up across the exposed grounds of Rishon Lezion’s Gan Ha’ir
park. A bright sun counteracts its effect, but you can still see afternoon
strollers pulling their coats just a little bit tighter. Three young men,
however, are stripping down, throwing top layers aside as they put themselves
through a pre-workout warm up.
“There are a few parts of the body that
are very important to warm up,” explains Yan Shopin, 18, of Rishon Lezion. “As
in soccer, we use our legs a lot so you need to focus on joints – especially
knees and ankles.”
Shopin, Jerry Yanikov, 18, of Haifa, and Ido Feldbaum,
17, of Holon, are traceurs, athletes who practice the French-originated sport of
Their training sessions are spent running, leaping, jumping and
sometimes flipping and rolling. Anything and everything it takes to get past
obstacles and make it from point A to point B in as little time as
Unlike free-running, which incorporates more self-expression and
aesthetic aspects in its execution, parkour is less about show and more focused
on efficiency. Says Shopin, “Both contain similar movements but for different
goals – in parkour, you try to pass the obstacle as fast as you can. In
free-running, you are not trying to pass the obstacle as quickly or effectively
as possible, but to do it in the way that you want. If I have a high wall in
parkour, I run at it and climb onto it. In free-running, maybe I will flip from
the wall or do another movement.”
The crossover between parkour and
free-running is sometimes hard to discern.
As Yanikov explains, “parkour
comes in many different styles.” Like Shopin, he says that while some people try
to get from point A to B as fast as they can, “there are people who like to do
it in the nicest way possible, and to add as much style as possible along the
way.” It is much like art, Yanikov says. “There are artists who like to paint
things that look more realistic and there are artists who like to draw all sorts
of objects and to express them in the picture.”
Dressed in baggy sweats
and oversized T-shirts, Shopin, Yanikov and Feldbaum look like regular teenagers
– kids you would see walking around the mall or hanging out at the
Shopin sports highlighted hair, Feldbaum has ear piercings and
Yanikov is clean-cut. But unlike most of their peers, these three view the urban
landscape in a different light.
“I see more potential in things in the
environment around me that I wouldn’t think of that way if I didn’t train,”
Shopin says. “I would see a regular place as every person sees it – just the
building that they built.”
Yanikov nods in agreement, then adds, “We
search for a place that will give us as much creativity as possible.
we see things like, for example, a pole, we imagine how many things we can do
Not all training is done on the streets; at times it is done in
gymnasiums at places like the Wingate Institute, Israel’s National Center for
Physical Education and Sport, in Netanya, or at the Hadar Yosef Sports Center in
Tel Aviv. Both house facilities where flips and new techniques can be practiced
in relative safety, against mats and padded walls.
THE GROUP has gathered
around a strategically located stairwell at one end of the city hall courtyard.
They climb up the side of a wall to check it out. Feldbaum does a flip off the
side. Shopin jumps next and takes a tumble. “You see,” he says, as he sits on
the ground rotating his ankle, “we’re supposed to begin [each training session]
with simple things so that we do not get injured, and I did too big a jump right
at the start.” He grins somewhat sheepishly as he gets back up.
watch the group of traceurs as they walk by the stairwell.
No one seems
especially bothered by what they are doing, but people do appear to give them
“Sometimes people do tell us, ‘not here,’” Feldbaum
“Yeah, it’s probably just a matter of time before someone tells us
to move,” Shopin adds. Sure enough, several minutes later, a security guard
comes out of the front doors of city hall. He approaches the
“Guys,” he says humorlessly, and gives them a look as he makes a
shooing gesture with his arms.
The group gathers its things and walks off
in search of another spot.
“We never come in the mind-set of vandalism,”
Yanikov adds. “We always respect the environment we are in and leave everything
exactly as we found it.” But the bottom line, according to all three, is that
people do not understand what it is they are doing.
The group stops at a
small fountain halfway across the park, where a street vendor selling an
assortment of trinkets has set up temporary shop nearby. The man watches the
three intently, especially once they begin to leap and jump.
misses a beat when I see this, but what can I say, in my nature nothing bothers
me,” the whitehaired man says when asked what he thinks. “I’ll tell you
something,” he adds. “I have a friend, and he has a child just like this who
jumps from roofs at night and at school he jumps from the tables, and the
principal is always running after him because the boy turns it into a circus…”
Shopin notices the conversation and walks over. “What was the reaction?” he
The vendor’s statement is typical, and all three traceurs
admit to having come across similar remarks. As Feldbaum says, “There are people
who see us in the street when we train and they say, ‘ahh, that’s parkour – it’s
jumping from roofs, right?’ And they are wrong.”
And it is not only the
public who carry this misconception; parents also seem to have a hard time
understanding what parkour is – at least at the beginning.
“At first my
parents thought that parkour was jumping from roofs and they were against it,”
remembers Feldbaum, who began training at age 13. “They thought it was
But with time, I showed them it is not jumps from roofs. I
explained to them that every jump we do, we first check that we are safe. Today,
they are okay with it, they have gotten used to it.
Still, sometimes they
are afraid that something will happen.”
Jane Krepostnoy, 16, of Karmiel,
is one of the few female traceurs in Israel. She has been training in the sport
since the age of 11. “Friends call me Parkour Girl,” she says, when asked how
she is accepted in a sport that, in Israel, is mostly
“Girls ask me to train them sometimes, and boys ask me to
train with them sometimes.” Krepostnoy says she considers both reactions to be
Just like the others, Krepostnoy says her parents initially
struggled to understand what parkour was.
“At first, they were kind of
against it because they didn’t know what it was,” she says. “But I slowly
explained to them and invited them to my training.
Now they support me
because they see it is a sport, but they worry for me and say to be
Dvir Rozen is the founder of Street Art Production (S-A-P), a
production and management company promoting events in areas such as parkour,
breakdance, hip hop, rap and beatboxing.
At age 30, he is what would be
considered a grizzled veteran of the parkour arena. “From a young age, I would
walk on the path and jump on walls and all sorts of obstacles along the way,” he
says. “I liked to climb on things, climb on trees. I did parkour but I didn’t
know it was called parkour.”
A similar story is told by
“As a kid, I loved to climb and jump.
I always went with
this friend – we would climb on roofs. One day he told me he saw this film,
Yamakasi, an action film [by Luc Besson] and the people in it practice
Shopin and his friend began watching parkour videos on YouTube
and going out to practice what they saw.
Speaking with traceurs in
Israel, it becomes apparent that in addition to Yamakasi – which nearly all of
them mention – YouTube and the Web have been major facilitators in the spread of
the sport. “One day I saw parkour on the Internet, and I started to watch videos
and read about it,” Krepostnoy says, when asked how she got
Denis Rizikov, 25, is one of the Israeli parkour community’s
leaders and founder of the Israel Parkour Team (IPT), which operates under the
umbrella of S-A-P. Rizikov says he was already a trained gymnast when a friend
brought up Yamakasi.
“Someone told me about this film with guys climbing
on buildings, so I watched it. I realized it was a group of guys who really did
it as a sport, and I said ‘that’s mine!’ Then I called a friend and we went out
and started training.”
In addition to giving the sport its local start,
the Web has also kept it going globally. “Our community is based on YouTube,”
Yanikov explains. “Every traceur in the world knows the others, and many try to
help each other through forums and the Web.”
Yanikov is founder of Mental
Motion, a group that works in cooperation with S-A-P and whose focus is parkour
training and education. He says things have changed drastically since he first
got into the sport.
“When we started, there was no one on a professional
level in Israel, there was no one to show us what to do,” he explains. Today, he
notes, there is “a big community” base whose members are there to help and
support one another.
And while those who do not understand may continue
to look askance at this urban sport, athletes say it provides them with many
positive lessons that carry over into life. “If I climb on a roof, I’m on the
top of the world, but then you look at the world and realize you need to train
and practice or you won’t get anywhere,” Rizikov says. “I can get stuck on one
wall and jump wall to wall for hours, until I succeed in overcoming the
“It is more than just a sport,” Krepostnoy emphasizes. “It is
a way of life.” She tells of a certain forward flip that she had only attempted
in a matted gymnasium. Then someone suggested she try it in sand at the beach.
“Before that, I didn’t think I would even try it outside, but then I did. The
landing wasn’t perfect. But it was more that I had the courage to do
Rozen says this unwavering determination to succeed is part of
parkour’s positive effect on youth. “It is both a physical discipline and a
mental discipline,” he explains. “It strengthens the body and it lets you do
things that you didn’t think you could do in the past. Through parkour, you
learn about the body, mind and soul. You work them together. You realize you can
overcome any obstacle.”
THE LATE afternoon sun is making its curtain
Local children have come out with their parents to catch a few
final moments at the neighborhood playground. And Shopin, Yanikov and Feldbaum
are making a special appearance themselves, one that seems to be leaving a big
impression on a few young minds.
“Ohhh, wow!” one boy yells, as he
watches Shopin launch himself airborne into a flip from a standing position atop
the swing set. A small crowd of tiny people has gathered.
take a break and the boy, seven-year-old Shahar Shaked, runs to
climb atop a tube slide. He straddles it as he talks. “I like to do sports and I
like to ride without training wheels,” he announces. ”Watch, I can jump,” he
says, but Shahar stays put. “‘One day I will do what they do.” He climbs down
and skips away, but not before doing a series of cartwheels off to the
Then Shahar comes running back.
“Can you do more things?” he
asks Yanikov. “It’s just so cool!” Yanikov smiles. “Keep practicing and when you
get to be our age, you will be much better than us.”
It is getting cold
and dark. The traceurs once again gather up their things before heading for the
central bus station. Yanikov talks about Shahar. “That boy is an excellent
example of what I said before: that as kids, we are running and jumping,” he
“When people tell us, ‘parkour is not natural,’ I usually
reply, ‘You have forgotten how to have fun, to run and to be free. Look at your
children when you are parents.
They run and jump as you once did.’ Well,
that’s what we do. We are enjoying this again.”