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A traceur performing a vault
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Parkour (French pronunciation: [paʁˈkuʁ]) (abbreviated PK) is a holistic training discipline using movement that developed out of military obstacle course training. Practitioners aim to move quickly and efficiently through their environment using only their bodies and their surroundings to propel themselves, negotiating obstacles in between. They try to maintain as much momentum as possible without being unsafe. Parkour can include running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, rolling, quadrupedal movement and more, if they are the most suitable movements for the situation.
Parkour is non-competitive. It may be performed on an obstacle course, but is usually practiced in a creative (and sometimes playful) reinterpretation or subversion of urban spaces. Parkour involves 'seeing' one's environment in a new way, and imagining the potentialities for movement around it.
Developed by Raymond Belle, David Belle, Sébastien Foucan and others in the late 1980s, Parkour became popular in the late 1990s and 2000s through films, documentaries and advertisements featuring these practitioners and others.
Parkour has inspired a range of other activities including Freerunning and l'art du déplacement. Although their creators define them as separate activities, practitioners and non-practitioners alike often find it hard to discern the differences.
"Le parcours" was the original French phrase passed down to David Belle from his father Raymond Belle. This was the term Raymond used when speaking to David about the training he had done. The term derives from "parcours du combattant", the classic obstacle-course method of military training proposed by Georges Hébert, but the term "le parcours" was used by Raymond to encompass all of his training including climbing, jumping, running, balancing, and the other methods he undertook in his personal athletic advancement. One day when David Belle was on a film set, he showed his 'Speed Air Man' video to Hubert Koundé, who suggested to change the "c" of "parcours" to a "k" because it was more dynamic and stronger, and to remove the silent "s" for the same reason. Belle liked the idea and officially changed the name of his discipline to "Parkour".
A practitioner of Parkour is often called a "traceur", with the optional feminine form being "traceuse". They are nouns derived from the French verb "tracer", which normally means "to trace", as in "tracing a path", in reference to drawing. The term "traceur" was originally the name of a Parkour group headed by David Belle which included Sébastien Foucan and Stephane Vigroux.
In Western Europe, a forerunner of Parkour was French naval officer Georges Hébert, who before World War I promoted athletic skill based on the models of indigenous tribes he had met in Africa. He noted, "their bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skillful, enduring, and resistant but yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature." His rescue efforts during the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée on Saint-Pierre, Martinique, reinforced his belief that athletic skill must be combined with courage and altruism. Hébert became a physical education tutor at the college of Reims in France. Hébert set up a "méthode naturelle" (natural method) session consisting of ten fundamental groups: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, balancing, throwing, lifting, self-defense, swimming, which are part of three main forces: During World War I and World War II, Hébert's teaching continued to expand, becoming the standard system of French military education and training. Thus, Hébert was one of the proponents of "parcours", an obstacle course, which is now standard in military training and which led to the development of civilian fitness trails and confidence courses.
Born in 1939 in what is now Vietnam, Raymond Belle was the son of a French doctor and Vietnamese mother. He was cut off from his parents by the struggle for independence and sent to a military orphanage at the age of 7. Isolated there, he had to become stronger in order to survive. He took it upon himself to train harder and longer than everyone else in order to never be a victim. He would do extra training at night when everyone else was asleep, go for runs, climb trees. He would use the military obstacle courses in secret, but he also created courses of his own that tested his endurance, his strength, his flexibility. Doing this enabled him not only to survive the hardships he experienced during his childhood, but also eventually to thrive. In 1954, he returned to France and remained in military education until 1958, when someone who was impressed by his abilities suggested that he join the Paris fire-fighters.
In the fire fighters, he made a name for himself as someone who would always go first, always volunteer for the dangerous assignments. When others were still hesitating, he would act. He was involved in many rescues, some dangerous and daring, and received both citations and medals. He also involved himself in athletic pursuits throughout his career and was a French military champion several times in more than one event. After leaving the fire-fighters in 1975, he worked in the private sector, and continued to impress people with his efficiency.
David Belle was born in 1973. He was raised by his grandfather, but remained in contact with his father. As a young boy, David was not gifted either physically or academically. He experimented with gymnastics and athletics, but became increasingly disaffected with both school and the sports clubs. As he got older though, he started to read the newspaper clippings that told of his father's exploits and got more and more 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 become truly useful, developing 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.
Eventually, through conversations with his father, he learned about this way of training that his father called 'parcours'. He learned of the hours spent on obstacle courses, and of moving from branch to branch in the forest. He heard his father talk of the hundreds and thousands of repetitions he had done in order to find the best way of doing things. What he learned too was that for his father, training was not a game but something vital, something that enabled him to survive and to protect the people he cared about. David realised that this was what he had been searching for and so he began training in that way too. After a time, he realised it was far more important to him than schooling and he gave up his other commitments to focus all his time on his training.
Initially David trained on his own, however later he found other people (including his cousins) who had similar desires and they began to train together. The group at that time included David Belle, Sébastien Foucan, Châu Belle Dinh, Williams Belle, Yann Hnautra, Laurent Pietmontesi, Guylain N'Guba Boyeke, Malik Diouf, and Charles Perriére, amongst others. Gradually, the training ideas were passed on to others who came to learn and the number of practitioners expanded slowly, but as the practising became more like a discipline than a pastime, many people would leave the group.
In the late 1990s, after David's brother sent some pictures and video to a French TV programme, Parkour's recognition and popularity began to increase. A series of television programmes in various countries subsequently featured video footage of the group, and as the popularity increased, they began to get more and more offers. Eventually, the original group split apart to pursue different goals, some staying with the discipline and others leaving. The number of practitioners in total though kept on increasing and Parkour's popularity began to spread around the globe through television, feature film and increasing use of online video-sharing methods.
Philosophy and theories
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 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.
A newer convention of Parkour philosophy has been the idea of "human reclamation". Andy (Animus of Parkour North America) clarifies it as "a means of reclaiming what it means to be a human being. It teaches us to move using the natural methods that we should have learned from infancy. It teaches us to touch the world and interact with it, instead of being sheltered by it.""It is as much as a part of truly learning the physical art as well as being able to master the movements, it gives you the ability to overcome your fears and pains and reapply this to life as you must be able to control your mind in order to master the art of Parkour."
A point has been made about the similarities between the martial arts philosophy of Bruce Lee and Parkour. In an interview with The New Yorker, David Belle acknowledges the influence of Lee's thinking: "There's a quote by Bruce Lee that's my motto: 'There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. A man must constantly exceed his level.' If you're not better than you were the day before, then what are you doing—what's the point?".
Traceur Dylan Baker says "Parkour also influences one's thought processes by enhancing self-confidence and critical thinking skills that allow one to overcome everyday physical and mental obstacles". A study by Neuropsychiatrie de l'Enfance et de l'Adolescence (Neuropsychiatry of Childhood and Adolescence) in France reflects that traceurs seek more excitement and leadership situations than do gymnastic practitioners.
A campaign was started on 1 May 2007 by the Parkour.NET portal to preserve Parkour's philosophy against sport competition and rivalry. In the words of Erwan LeCorre: "Competition pushes people to fight against others for the satisfaction of a crowd and/or the benefits of a few business people by changing its mindset. Parkour is unique and cannot be a competitive sport unless it ignores its altruistic core of self development. If Parkour becomes a sport, it will be hard to seriously teach and spread Parkour as a non-competitive activity. And a new sport will be spread that may be called Parkour, but that won't hold its philosophical essence anymore." According to LeCorre, those who truly practice Parkour have the same mind aspect of each other, therefore it brings people to work together rather than compete, it allows them to be united internationally and forget the social and economical problems which separated them globally, ultimately leading one giant community working and growing together.
In an interview with the press, David Belle explains that Parkour is a training method for warriors. "So many people try to train easy 'Come do Parkour! It's really cool!' But if tomorrow I made you do real training, you would end up crying. That's what you need to know: you are going to cry, you are going to bleed and you are going to sweat like never before." 
- running towards a high wall and then jumping and pushing off the wall with a foot to reach the top of the wall
- moving from a position hanging from a wall-top or ledge, to standing on the top or vaulting over to the other side
- leaping before an obstacle and pushing off the top of the obstacle with the arms, before landing with the feet on the other side
- jumping and landing accurately with the feet on small or narrow obstacles
- jumping and catching a ledge with the hands while the feet land on the vertical surface below.
- using a rolling motion to help absorb large impacts
Parkour is not widely practiced in dedicated public facilities. Although efforts are being made to create places for it, some traceurs do not like the idea as it is contradictory to Parkour's value of freedom. Traceurs practice Parkour in both rural and urban areas such as gyms, parks, playgrounds, offices, and abandoned structures. Concerns have been raised regarding trespassing, damage of property, and the practice in inappropriate places. However, most traceurs will take care of their training spots and will remove themselves quickly and quietly from a public place if asked. One of Parkour's values is to respect people and places as well as helping others. One of the first campaigns to preserve this sort of philosophy is the 'Leave No Trace' project, stressing the importance of training safe, respecting the environment and the people around you.
Concerns have also been raised by law enforcement and fire and rescue teams of the risk in jumping off high buildings. They argue that practitioners are needlessly risking damage to both themselves and rooftops by practicing at height, with police forces calling for practitioners to stay off the rooftops. Some figures within the Parkour community agree that this sort of behaviour is not to be encouraged.
American traceur Mark Toorock says that injuries are rare "because participants rely not on what they can't control – wheels or the icy surfaces of snowboarding and skiing – but their own hands and feet," but Lanier Johnson, executive director of the American Sports Medicine Institute, notes that many of the injuries are not reported. When injuries do occur, many members in the Parkour community encourage pursuing the most scientifically sound method to recovery and future prevention.
- Light upper body garment such as T-shirt, sleeveless shirt or crop top if anything is worn on the upper body;
- Light lower body garment such as sweatpants, some wear tracksuit bottoms or shorts.
Comfortable running shoes, ones that are generally light, with good grip and flexibility are encouraged. Various sport-shoes manufacturers, such as Nike, with its "Free run" shoes, have developed shoes specifically for Parkour and Freerunning; and many other companies around the world have started offering Parkour-specific products. Some practitioners use thin athletic gloves to protect the hands; most do not, preferring the increased grip and tactile feedback. Since Parkour is closely related to méthode naturelle, practitioners sometimes train barefooted to be able to move efficiently without depending on their gear. Some traceurs also like the feiyue martial arts shoes for their light weight, thin sole, and flexibility. David Belle notes: "bare feet are the best shoes!"
There have been a few documentaries about Parkour on major television networks. Jump London is a 2003 documentary which explains some of the background to Parkour and culminated with Sébastien Foucan, Johann Vigroux, and Jérôme Ben Aoues demonstrating their Parkour skills. Jump London was followed by Jump Britain in 2005, which featured Foucan and Ben Aoeus. My Playground, a documentary film by Kaspar Astrup Schröder, explores the way Parkour and Freerunning are changing the perception of urban space and how the spaces and buildings they are moving on are changing them. The Australian TV program 60 Minutes broadcast a segment about Parkour on 16 September 2007, featuring Foucan and Stephane Vigroux.
There have also been a number of films featuring elements of Parkour; after including Parkour practitioners in a chase sequence in the film Taxi 2, French director/producer Luc Besson produced a feature film, Yamakasi, featuring members of the original Yamakasi group. In 2004, Besson wrote Banlieue 13, another feature film involving advanced chase sequences, starring David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli; English-dubbed and -subtitled versions were released in 2006 as District B-13 in North America and the UK. The film Casino Royale features Sébastien Foucan in a chase taking place early in the movie. Casino Royale's release sparked a renewed media interest in Parkour and related disciplines and a large amount of recent mainstream Parkour coverage dates to around Casino Royale's release. Along with The Bourne Ultimatum, Casino Royale is credited with starting a new wave of Parkour-inspired stunts in Western film and television. Parkour practitioners also feature prominently in the film Breaking and Entering, in which two of the characters climb buildings and run over rooftops to burgle an office in Kings Cross, London. Parkour was also involved in the film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, where David Belle was hired as choreographer for some scenes in the film and appears in the DVD and Blu-ray featurettes. Aamir Khan learned Parkour for his role in the 2013 movie Dhoom 3.
The webcomic Schlock Mercenary makes frequent reference to "Parkata Urbatsu" which is said to have grown "out of the ancient disciplines of Parkour, urbobatics, and youtubing. It is a martial art that focuses on both pursuit and escape in developed environments, with an eye towards the aesthetic."
A number of video games include aspects of Parkour as major gameplay elements. In the Assassin's Creed series of games, Altaïr, Ezio and Connor make heavy use of Parkour-inspired movement, though it is named Freerunning in the game. Crackdown and Crackdown 2 include an emphasis on gripping and vaulting from ledges and protruding objects, which are designed to make players feel fully in control of their own movement, and by extension fully in control of their environment. Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto series" makes evident use of Parkour and Freerunning in some situations, especially in more recent games, in which the player's avatar can run, vault over obstacles, make long jumps, and even roll upon landing from high jumps. Tony Hawk's American Wasteland allows the character to use several movement techniques while not on the skateboard. In this game as well, it is referred to as Freerunning. Mirror's Edge is a game heavily inspired by Parkour - the core gameplay consists of efficiently moving around buildings, rooftops, and other obstacles, and made movement itself the goal. Tron Evolution's basic movements and combat were based on parkour and capoeira.
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Although Parkour itself grew out of military obstacle-course training, it has since developed separately. After the attention that Parkour received following the 2006 film Casino Royale, military forces around the world began looking for ways to incorporate elements from Parkour into military training. The British Royal Marines hired Parkour athletes to train their members. Colorado Parkour began a project to introduce elements from Parkour into the U.S. military and some members of the United States Marine Corps have tried Parkour.
Derivative terminologies and disciplines
In 1997, David Belle's brother Jean Francois asked the group if they wanted to perform for the public in a firefighter show in Paris. The group decided to name themselves "Yamakasi" (meaning "strong man, strong spirit") for the performance. For the purposes of that performance, Sébastien Foucan came up with a name for what they were doing: "L'art du déplacement" (French for "the art of movement") The firefighter performance caused both positive and negative attention. Some members in the group were later concerned how the public would view their discipline since the performance did not demonstrate all the aspects of it, such as their hard training, and their values and ethics. During this time there was also an interest conflict within the group. Sébastien Foucan wanted to teach more rather than to train more, and David Belle had the ambition to become an actor (and he would later release his showreel SpeedAirMan for the 2002 film Spider-Man). This caused the group to break up as David and Sébastien chose to leave the group. David Belle's friend Hubert Kunde suggested that he should replace the 'c' in "parcours" with a 'k', and drop the 's'. From this moment on, David's method of training and practicing became known as "Parkour". The seven remaining Yamakasi members would keep using the term "l'art du déplacement". Sébastien Foucan would keep using the term "Parkour" for several years.
In September, 2003, the documentary Jump London, starring Sébastien Foucan, was released. In the documentary, the term "Freerunning" was used as an attempt to translate "Parkour", in order to make it more appealing to the English-speaking audience. Foucan decided to keep using the term "Freerunning" because he didn't want to associate it too closely with David's "Parkour" for personal reasons, not because it was entirely different. However, at times, Sébastien would use both terms interchangeably.
According to Sébastien, "Freerunning" was used to refer to something that was more focused on creativity, and a more accessible approach, adapting it to each person's strengths and weaknesses.
The remaining seven Yamakasi members kept using the term "l'art du déplacement", also not wanting to associate it to closely with Parkour. Similar to Sébastien's Freerunning, l'art du déplacement was also a more participatory approach that was not hardcore but also focused on making the teaching more accessible. David Belle kept the term "Parkour," and stated that the group contributed to the development of it, but that his father was the source of his motivation and that he verbally communicated this method to only him.
Both Parkour and Freerunning encompass the ideas of overcoming obstacles and self-expression, however, in Freerunning, the greater emphasis is on self-expression. Although the differences between the disciplines are often hard to discern, practitioners tend to aspire to Parkour and describe themselves as traceurs rather than as freerunners.
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