Light Body Skills

Many stories circulate about the rather fantastic abilities of internal experts of old, and one of the most common is running up walls and jumping onto rooftops. Anyone who has seen a kung-fu movie has seen this concept taken to excess. Tung Hai Ch'uan was reputed to have this kind of skill, and there are many stories about his ability to leap about like a gazelle, move silently and swiftly as if he had teleported himself from one spot to another, etc.

However, having just seen a television documentary about a group of French extreme sports fanatics in Paris whose idea of a good time is running along fences and rooftops at top speed, I have to rethink my complete cynicism.

The documentary showed some of their training. These young men, most of whom were experienced break dancers or extreme skate boarders who had decided that it was more challenging to do it at a run and without the use of wheels, were practising extreme "plyo-metrics"—as in hopping one-legged up all the bleachers at a soccer stadium as a warm-up for their runs through Paris. In fact, they called their sport free-running which about sums up the madness of running over cars to cross streets and along narrow railings high above street level.

At one point in the documentary, one of them jumped up from a stationary start and landed safely balanced on top of a high chain link fence. Another ran up the wall of a narrow alley in two bounds after a running start, twisted himself around in mid-air, took a step on the opposite wall then twisted back, and ended his mad climb on a roof. As I was finishing the edit for this book I started seeing a new car commercial, in which a couple of these free-runners are shown hurtling along beside the Scion car being advertised, and it is rather amazing to watch them in action.

So, if this kind of physical prowess is possible today, then maybe the Chinese historical reports of lightness skill may not be as fanciful as we might otherwise think. The human body is capable of extremes, at least in rare individuals.

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