By Paul Lomax
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The opening sequence of the movie "Casino Royale" left fans mesmerized. Daniel Craig, as James Bond, ran, somersaulted and leapt his way through construction sites and across a high-rise crane to catch the bad guy.
But the acrobatics aren't limited to 007.
Uptown stunt junkies are practicing the freestyle running sport of Parkour at Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights.
Local youths — or traceurs as they're called in the sport's lingo — meet at Linden Terrace in Upper Manhattan every week to of scale nine foot walls, leap from ledge to ledge over 15 foot drops, and run at high speed to maintain their balance.
The group is part of NYParkour (NYPK), a community based organization that has helped spread the principles and popularity of the sport since its inception in 2005.
"Parkour is about training your mind and body to break the barriers of fear," said Jose Jimenez, 21, who lives in Washington Heights and has been an instructor with NYPK since 2006.
"Fear is always the biggest roadblock for beginners. But, if we take them step-by-step, a little at a time, practicing over and over again, we learn how to land and fall safely," Jimenez added.
Jimenez has expanded the local neighborhood group from two to 12 members in just two months. He warned beginners not to try the moves at home or without supervision from a skilled instructor.
"As a 'traceur,' you have to be disciplined, organized and know how to train your body and mind one step at a time before you can even take your first leap," he explained.
The gymnastics involved with the sport depend on the ability to quickly use your body weight, coupled with the intelligent use of momentum and timing to execute maneuvers with speed and agility, according to Jimenez.
As well as the physical aspects of the popular street sport, there is an underlying philosophy.
Students of the art form learn through overcoming physical challenges that they can also improve their self-confidence and create a more efficient decision making process in their everyday life, Jimemez said.
Arpel Villanueva, 22, of Washington Heights, said he has been a student of the sport for the last five years.
"After a few sessions I was really amazed at what my body could do," he said.
"Parkour pushes me as a person to the next level and more. It helps me achieve so much as a human being."
Jimenez said the next step for him is to expand his group to include more members, while also looking for a local neighborhood gymnasium that can provide a place for the group to practice through the winter months ahead.
"Ultimately, what I would love to do is to teach Parkour in the public schools of New York City. To me it unloads the true potential of the human body," Jimenez said.