A Witsie has scaled his way up to the edge of a building four metres high and is about to jump.
He leans forward on the balls of his feet, knees poised for a leap. After a sharp intake of breath, he shoots off into the air. His “safety net” – the ledge of the balcony two metres opposite him.
Once he lands, he hoists himself onto the balustrade, and turns to jump back. Fellow Witsies gasp and watch, stunned. He is a traceur practising the fairly new art of parkour (PK).
Termed by critics as a daredevil sport, PK entails “moving through your environment as efficiently as possible, passing through, over or under obstacles”, says Irfaan Khan who “jams” with friends at Wits.
Like Khan, 2nd year chemical engineering student Robert Louw describes the sessions as a community without a leader, where everyone learns and teaches each other through practice and encouragement.
Unlike the picture painted of adrenaline junkies performing reckless jumps off tall buildings, these traceurs all agree that everyone starts slowly and carefully, progressing from small jumps and training your way up, literally.
“Parkour’s teaching me how to focus. You’re doing a series of movements in a matter of seconds. To get it right you have to change how you focus,” says Louw.
First year mechanical engineering student Ismail Patel started almost two years ago and says PK has allowed him to face mental challenges and conquer them easily.
“PK has changed the way I look at the environment around me; walls are not just walls and rails are not just rails anymore,” says Patel,
“The urban environment is now like a giant playground with endless possibilities.”
Parkour is yet to generate a greater interest among South African women. Wits occupational therapy applicant, Alicia dos Santos, says she thinks “not many girls do it because they are worried about getting hurt”.
Many of the guys present say they would love to see more girls taking an interest and that girls bring a sense of finesse and fluidity to the moves that the guys don’t.