Parkour is a training discipline using movements that developed from military obstacle course training. Practitioners aim to get from one point to another in a complex environment, without assistive equipment and in the fastest and most efficient way possible. Parkour includes running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, rolling, quadrupedal movement, and other movements as deemed most suitable for the situation.Parkour’s development from military training gives it some aspects of a non-combative martial art.
Parkour was developed in France, primarily by Raymond Belle and further by his son David and the latter’s group of friends, the self-styled Yamakasi, during the late 1980s. The discipline was popularised in the late 1990s and 2000s through films, documentaries, and advertisements featuring the Yamakasi.
The word comes from the French “parcours”, which literally means, “the way through”, or “the path”. What we now all know as “Parkour” with a “k” had its origins in a training program for French Special Forces known as “Parcours du combattant”, or “The Path of the Warrior”. It was David Belle, a French man, son of a Parcours Warrior and the “inventor” of Parkour, who changed the “c” to a “k” and along with his comrades, the Yamakazi, began the worldwide movement which also includes the phenomenon known as Freerunning.
Practicing parkour requires a participant, called a traceur(male) or traceuse(female), to see obstacles and overcome them as quickly as possible using only his/her body and no other tools, according to the Pacific Northwest Parkour Association. The most common movements in the practice of parkour include running, sprinting, jumping, vaulting and climbing over, under and around the obstacles. As a participant practices parkour, he/she will increase his/her speed, flexibility, stamina and endurance. Many traceurs practice alone, as part of a class or with a one-on-one personal trainer. The method you choose depends on your ability level and how serious you are about improving your parkour skills.
A traceur or traceuse vaults an obstacle.
Parkour is practiced without equipment of any kind. Practitioners normally train wearing light, non-restrictive casual clothing. Traceurs who wear gloves are very rare—bare hands are considered better for grip and tactile feedback. Light running shoes with good grip and flexibility are encouraged. Practitioners often use minimalist shoes, sometimes as a progression to bare feet, for better sensitivity and balance, while others prefer more cushioning for better absorption of impacts from large jumps. Barefoot training is done by some for movement competency without gear—as David Belle noted, “bare feet are the best shoes. Various sneaker manufacturers have developed shoes specifically for parkour and freerunning. Many other companies around the world have started offering clothing targeted at parkour.
National parkour organisations include
Apex School of Movement (United States)
Fédération de Parkour (France)
Jump freerun (Netherlands)
Parkour and Tricking Sweden
Australian Parkour Association
New Zealand Parkour Association.
A brief History of Parkour
In 1902, a catastrophic volcanic eruption obliterated the town of St. Pierre on the Caribbean island of Martinique, killing some 28,000 individuals in a flash. A young, French naval lieutenant, George Hebert valiantly coordinated the evacuation of over 700 people, both indigenous and European, from the outskirts of the town. The experience had a profound effect on him. For as he watched people move in those crucial first moments, it seemed that the indigenous people overcame the obstacles in their path with grace and creativity, while the Europeans moved badly, searching for familiar pathways, which now no longer existed. It was clear to him that “modern man” had lost the ability to move efficiently and effectively in all but the most routine environments. In addition, the heroism and tragedy he witnessed on that day reinforced his belief that, to be of real value, athletic skill and physical conditioning must be joined with courage and altruism, an epiphany which gave rise to the original motto of parkour, “Etre fort pour être utile” – “Be strong to be useful.”
Traveling extensively, Hebert continued to be impressed by the physical development and movement skills of indigenous peoples in Africa and elsewhere. Based on these observations, Hebert formulated a physical training discipline that he called “the natural method” using climbing, running, swimming and man-made obstacle courses to recreate the natural environment.
The ‘Natural’ Method
Hebert’s “Natural Method” soon became the basis for all French military training, and the first organized obstacle course training in the modern era. Inspired by his work, units of the French Special Forces in the 1950’s further developed Hebert’s work into what came to be known as, “parcours du combattant.”, or “the path of the warrior”.
Years later, Raymond Belle, a fireman and veteran of the French Special Forces, returned to his hometown of Lisses on the outskirts of Paris, where he introduced the discipline of parcours du combattant and the teachings of Hebert to his young son David and a group of David’s close friends, who then set out to adapt Raymond’s teachings to their “natural setting”, giving birth to what we now know as “Parkour.”
Belle and then best friend, Sebastian Foucan along with other childhood friends and family members established a group of “traceurs” (the original term for parkour practitioners), which they named the “Yamikazi”, after a tribe of warriors in Africa. As the first organized group of traceurs, the Yamikazi began to develop a following in France that included filmmaker Luc Besson. “The Yamikazi”, Besson’s film about the group accelerated the growth of Parkour.
It was around this time that a personal split began to develop between Belle and Foucan, with Foucan ultimately going his own way. Proficient in English, Foucan brought the discipline to the UK where he chose to call it “Freerunning” rather than “Parkour”. This became a source of both confusion and conflict as people came to define Belle’s “Parkour” as the most efficient way from point A to point B (no flips or acrobatics), and Foucan’s “Freerunning” as the most creative way from A to B, embracing influences from other movement disciplines such as break dancing, martial arts tricking and capoeira. This controversy continues to this day amongst a small community of purists, although Belle himself is known to have used flips in his own practice.