The one-armed man who somersaults on rooftops

James performing a parkour jump over a metal barrier Image copyright James Rudge

James Rudge was born with one arm and is earning a reputation online doing parkour around Bristol, the city he loves.

Rudge is not intimidated when it comes to skirting walls or somersaulting off them.

He works in customer services as a day job but spends his spare time in Stokes Croft, where the parkour artists of Bristol congregate to find new and exciting environments to jump around.

The 21-year-old became passionate about parkour, an urban sport that mixes acrobatics and athletics, and the similar discipline of free running, in 2005, aged just 12, after he watched a Channel 4 documentary about the activity, called Jump Britain.

Not intimidated by the apparent physicality of the discipline, Rudge quickly immersed himself in parkour, regularly travelling from Bath to Bristol to join the growing numbers of parkour enthusiasts, before moving there permanently.

The holistic training practice, as it is described by most who do it, requires excellent strength and balance, and practitioners have often been compared to cats or described as ninjas for their fluid and graceful movements.

At the heart of it is a desire to get from A to B in a quick and stylish way. Eugene Minogue, from Parkour UK, says that they are always looking for new routes to get them where they want to go more efficiently.

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Media captionThe one-armed man who somersaults on rooftops

For Rudge, who was born with his lower forearm missing, navigating environments is not new to him.

"I have always been climbing things," he says. "Even as a kid I'd be scaling trees and running around."

He says he has never had reason to consider how having one arm affects him physically, and even in parkour he only focuses on what he can do.

"It would be different if I had lost it because of some accident or trauma," he says, "but I have only ever known my body in this way so for me there isn't anything I can't do.

Image copyright James Rudge

"Climbing is probably harder than if I had both hands," he says, "but it just means I have to try and be stronger in my right arm."

He is currently trying to get strong enough to do handstands on one arm, and says it is tough as he still needs more strength to hold himself steady.

But his balance has always been as good as his peers because he has learnt to move, run and jump with one arm.

Minogue says that this kind of continuous practice and repetition of movements is an integral part of parkour and isn't any different if you have a disability.

"We have a thing called 'breaking jumps', which is when you have mastered a movement you have never done before," he says.

"At the heart of parkour is a mindset of getting to know and challenging the movement of your body, so it may be that Rudge has a stronger core or strength in another part of his body and this is actually something that others around him could learn from."

It is about overcoming fear and perception as much as it is about becoming adept at a particular skill, he says.

As with all who do parkour, Rudge has entered into this learning process to become better, but he doesn't have anybody in the same group who he can look to for advice in the best ways to move with one arm.


What is parkour?

Image copyright Getty Images
  • Started in France in the 1990s and now practised all over the world
  • Pioneered by Frenchman David Belle, a former soldier and fireman, who was inspired by his father's teachings
  • Parkour is similar to free running but the two sports have different philosophies
  • Parkour is about getting from one place to another as quickly as possible - free running emphasises freedom of movement
  • Parkour is non-competitive and requires no equipment
  • A male practitioner is often called a "traceur" - a female a "traceuse"

YouTube helped here, he explains. When he was first becoming interested in the practice, he searched the internet and came across another free runner, Max Runham, based in London.

Runham used a prosthetic arm in many of his videos, and Rudge tried the same for a while.

"I tried to use it to give me extra support in getting up high walls and especially for handstands to give me balance, but I found I was putting pressure more on my right arm and it was very cumbersome," he says.

He moves more freely without it on, and can use his stump much more productively to pull himself up onto ledges.

Parkour has been adapted for disabled people before, with experts citing its inclusivity as one of its most attractive features.

In Houston, Texas, parkour is used to teach people with a number of different disabilities ways to move their bodies, and James Gallion who has cerebral palsy does parkour to experience movement and a feeling of confidence he doesn't get in his day-to-day life.

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