Parkour is the practice of traversing obstacles in a man-made or natural environment through the use of running, vaulting, jumping, climbing, rolling, and other movements in order to travel from one point to another in the quickest and most efficient way possible without the use of equipment.
Parkour is practiced without traditional equipment, though items such as bars, walls, and boxes found in the environment in which the parkour is being practiced in, are utilised to better navigate the area. Practitioners normally train wearing light, non-restrictive casual clothing. Traceurs who wear gloves are rare—bare hands are considered better for grip and tactile feedback. Light running shoes with good grip and flexibility are encouraged because they allow for more natural and fluid movements.
The sport aims to build confidence, determination, self-discipline and self-reliance, and responsibility for one’s actions. It encourages humility, respect for others and for one’s environment, self-expression, community spirit, and the importance of play, discovery and safety at all times.
The practice of similar movements have existed in various communities around the world for centuries prior to the foundation of a parkour movement, which was influenced by these earlier traditions. Such athletic traditions had existed among various indigenous tribes in Africa for centuries. A similar discipline in Chinese culture is qinggong, a Chinese martial arts training technique that also dates back centuries
Writers on parkour trace its origins to the physical education and training methods developed beginning in the years before World War I by Georges Hébert and known as “la méthode naturelle.” The regimen involved training in running, jumping, climbing, balancing, swimming, and defending and the use of obstacle courses called “parcours du combattant.” Hébert’s system came to underpin French military training.
Later, during the 1940s and ’50s, Raymond Belle received instruction on Hébert’s methods while in the military, and he subsequently used that training to become an elite firefighter. He was known for his acrobatic athleticism and ability to safely and quickly move along ledges, to scale buildings without using a ladder, and to leap between building rooftops. His son David Belle is generally credited as being the father of parkour.
David Belle, was born in 1973. He experimented with gymnastics and athletics but became increasingly disaffected with both school and the sports clubs. As he got older, he learned of his father’s exploits and was increasingly curious about what had enabled his father to accomplish these feats. Through conversations with his father, he realised that what he really wanted was a means to develop skills that would be useful to him in life, rather than just training to kick a ball or perform moves in a padded, indoor environment.
David initially trained on his own, and after moving to Lisses, found other young men (including his cousins) who had similar desires, and they began to train together.The group drew inspiration from Asian culture and Asian martial arts, notably the acrobatics of Jackie Chan such as qinggong displays in his Hong Kong action films, and the training philosophy of Bruce Lee, considering the latter to be the “unofficial president” of their group.
Parkour has become a popular element in action sequences, with film directors hiring parkour practitioners as stunt performers. The first director to do so was Luc Besson, for the film Taxi 2 in 1998, followed by Yamakasi in 2001 featuring members of the original Yamakasi group, and its sequel Les fils du vent in 2004.
The parkour scene in “Casino Royale” is performed by a childhood friend of Belle’s named Sébastien Foucan, who has developed a parallel pursuit to parkour, called freerunning. Belle appears in two kinds of films, movies that show him performing parkour for its own sake, and movies and commercials in which he appears as an actor performing parkour. All of the films have the kind of vaudeville improbability of a video game.
Parkour is a made-up word, cousin to the French parcours, which means “route,” is a quasi commando system of leaps, vaults, rolls, and landings designed to help a person avoid or surmount whatever lies in his path—a vocabulary, that is, to be employed in finding one’s way among obstacles.
According to Williams Belle, the philosophies and theories behind parkour are an integral aspect of the art, one that many non-practitioners have never been exposed to. Belle says he trains people because he wants it “to be alive” and “for people to use it”. Châu Belle explains it is a “type of freedom” or “kind of expression”; that parkour is “only a state of mind”
rather than a set of actions, and that it is about overcoming and adapting to mental and emotional obstacles as well as physical barriers.