At first glance, 17-year-old Michael “Ninja Mike” Avery seems like a typical teenager. The MacArthur High School junior has a part-time job at a restaurant, a MySpace page, and a consuming hobby.
Avery’s hobby, however, is not so typical. It entails scaling walls, balancing on rails, and performing running back flips, and is known as the French discipline of parkour or free running. The Phoenix native has been practicing parkour as a traceur since 2005, and was recently one of five Americans selected to join the PKFR (Parkour/Freerun) international team.
The term parkour was created by Frenchman Hubert Kounde in 1988 to describe the movement invented by his friend David Belle. Another colleague named Sebastien Foucan later dubbed the physical activity free running in an effort to better market the pseudo-sport to international audiences. The origins of parkour stretch back to military obstacle courses — called “parcours du combattant” — that were used to train French marines. Also referred to as the “art of displacement,” the sport mixes elements of gymnastics for the purpose of passing obstacles in the most efficient possible manner. Traceurs, or tracers, use running, jumping, climbing, and specific parkour moves to achive this goal, often in urban areas where rails and walls are ample.
“It can’t really compare to any other sports,” Avery says. “People try to compare it to skateboarding, but parkour is all about doing it yourself. It’s how far you can push yourself. I would most compare it to urban gymnastics.”
Among the moves Ninja Mike has mastered are the monkey vault (diving onto an obstacle and landing with your hands while following through with your legs to reach a vertical position), the tic tac (kicking off one obstacle to vault over another), and a unique move best described as a running wall flip. He has plenty of other moves in his repertoire, including the cat jump, speed vault, and a no-footed wall flip where he incredibly uses only his hands to facilitate the flip.
Avery practices downtown at least once a week and has some simple advice for prospective free runners. “You need to be in pretty good shape, have a pair of good running shoes, and need to have control of your body,” he says. “You can’t be clumsy.”
Avery’s new crew, PKFR, was founded in 2003 by Drew Eustice, James Phillips, and Sam Magiske. The group lists its purpose this way: “Our goal isn’t for it to be spectacular, to show off, or to gain respect. We merely do this for self gain and to help each other grow mentally and physically, to break our limits, and to be able to flow; just as the water does.”
The group is currently putting the finishing touches on a DVD to promote the still-obscure sport and its young stars, including Ninja Mike. Until the final product arrives this summer, Avery will continue training with Texas Parkour and his high-school club on the streets of the Alamo City.
Indie hip-hop heavyweight Ian Bavitz, aka Aesop Rock, may not have had parkour in mind when he crafted his latest sound collage, but he was certainly thinking of runners. Bavitz recently joined the likes of LCD Soundsystem and The Crystal Method in teaming up with the folks at Nike and Apple for the third installment of the “Nike + Original Run” series. His composition, entitled “All Day: Nike + Original Run,” is a flowing blend of beats, rhymes, and guitar riffs designed specifically for the personal running experience.
“I wanted to create something that evolved enough that the sound was constantly fresh and attractive, as if the runner were moving through a set of different cities or landscapes,” Bavitz says, via Biz 3 Publicity.”
Throughout the 45-minute mix, Bavitz is careful to let the buoyant beats carry the load and uses his voice sparingly for hooks, percussion, and marking transitions. Although “All Day” was intended primarily for running workouts, it offers an inspired, atmospheric example of the alt-hip-hop music RJD2 and Buck 65 are currently putting out, and is appropriate for almost any setting.