A traceur performing a speed vault
|Also known as|||
|Country of origin||France|
Parkour (French pronunciation: [paʁkuʁ]) is a training discipline using movement 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 is an activity that can be practiced alone or with others, and is usually—but not exclusively—carried out in urban spaces. Parkour involves seeing one's environment in a new way, and imagining the potentialities for navigating it by movement around, across, through, over and under its features.
Parkour was developed in France, primarily by Raymond Belle, and further by his son David Belle and his group of friends, the self-styled Yamakasi, during the late 1980s. The discipline was popularized in the late 1990s and 2000s through films, documentaries, and advertisements featuring the Yamakasi.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Philosophy and theories
- 4 Movement
- 5 Risks
- 6 Equipment
- 7 Popular culture
- 8 Military training
- 9 International spread
- 10 Derivative terminologies and disciplines
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Sources
- 14 External links
The term derives from "parcours du combattant", the classic obstacle-course method of military training proposed by Georges Hébert. Raymond Belle used the term "le parcours" to encompass all of his training including climbing, jumping, running, balancing, and the other methods he undertook in his personal athletic advancement. His son, David, further developed his father's methods and achieved success as a stuntman, and one day on a film set showed his 'Speed Air Man' video to Hubert Koundé. Koundé suggested he change the "c" of "parcours" to a "k" because it was stronger and more dynamic, and to remove the silent "s" for the same reason, forming "parkour".
A practitioner of parkour is often called a traceur, with the 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 verb tracer used familiarly means: "to buck up". The term traceur was originally the name of a parkour group headed by David Belle which included Sébastien Foucan and Stephane Vigroux.
A jam refers to a meeting of traceurs, involving training lasting anywhere from hours to several days, often with people from different cities. The first parkour jam was organized in July 2002 by Romain Drouet, with a dozen people including 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. These were intended to develop "the three main forces": energetic (willpower, courage, coolness, and firmness), moral (benevolence, assistance, honor, and honesty) and physical (muscles and breath). During World War I and World War II teaching continued to expand, becoming the standard system of French military education and training. Inspired by Hébert, a Swiss architect developed a "parcours du combattant"—military obstacle course—the first of the courses that are now standard in military training and which led to the development of civilian fitness trails and confidence courses.
Raymond and David Belle
Born in 1939 in Vietnam, Raymond Belle was the son of a French doctor and Vietnamese mother. During the First Indochina War his father died and he was separated from his mother, and he was sent to a military orphanage in Da Lat at the age of 7. He took it upon himself to train harder and longer than everyone else in order to never be a victim. At night, when everyone else was asleep, he would be outside running or climbing trees. He would use the military obstacle courses in secret, and also created courses of his own that tested his endurance, strength and flexibility. Doing this enabled him not only to survive the hardships he experienced during his childhood, but also eventually to thrive. After the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, he returned to France and remained in military education until the age of 19, when he joined the Paris Fire Brigade, a French Army unit.
Raymond's son, 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 started to read the newspaper clippings that told 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 realized 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.
Through conversations with his father, David learned about this way of training that his father called "parcours". He heard his father talk of the many repetitions he had done in order to find the best way of doing things. He learned that for his father, training was not a game but something vital which enabled him to survive and to protect the people he cared about. David realized that this was what he had been searching for, and so he began training in the same way. After a time, he found it far more important to him than schooling and he gave up his other commitments to focus all his time on his training.
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 at that time included David Belle, Sébastien Foucan, Châu Belle Dinh, Williams Belle, Yann Hnautra, Laurent Piemontesi, Guylain N'Guba Boyeke, Malik Diouf, and Charles Perriére. The group put themselves through challenges that forced them to find physical and mental strength to succeed. Examples included training without food or water, or sleeping on the floor without a blanket, to learn to endure the cold.
The group began calling themselves the Yamakasi—Congolese Lingala ya makási, meaning strong in one's person. They called their activity l'art du déplacement ("the art of movement"). To join the group, new members had to be recommended by an existing member and then pass tests to evaluate their motivation for joining. The group complemented their training with values and principles shared with all members, such as honesty, respect, humility, sacrifice and hard work.
For example, no one in the group was permitted to be late for training, as it would hold back the whole group. If any member completed a challenge, everyone else had to do the same thing. During their training no one was allowed to be negative or to complain. Few excuses were allowed. For instance, if someone claimed that his shoes were too worn out in order to make a jump, he had to do it anyway, even if it meant doing the jump barefoot. At the same time, everyone was required to have knowledge of their own limits.
Respecting one's health and physical well-being was one of the foundations of the group. If any member hurt himself during or after the execution of a movement, the movement was deemed a failure. A movement executed only once was not considered an achievement; only with repetition was the challenge complete. Every movement had to be repeated at least ten times in a row without the traceur having to push his limits or sustaining any injury. If any mistake was made by any traceur in the group everyone had to start all over again.
Humility was an important principle. No traceur was allowed to feel superior over someone else, for example by executing a movement only to show off in front of someone who could not perform the movement. If any traceur in the group claimed that he had completed a difficult and dangerous challenge that should not be attempted unaided, he had to prove his claims by doing the challenge again. Anyone who lied violated the principle of humility.
Despite the huge emphasis on the collective, each traceur had to progress and develop independently, and there was a complete trust within the group. Every traceur was to encourage the others and show confidence through their behaviour. If a member violated the principles, the group could meet without the offending person to discuss various punishments. Anyone deemed unsuitable could be temporarily or even permanently banned from the group in order to uphold the disciplines, values, and principles. Despite the huge emphasis on the collective and the principles, everyone was trying to find their own way in Parkour to fulfill their personal development. The aim of parkour was to create the means to be yourself.
In the late 1990s, after David's brother sent pictures and video to a French TV programme, the popularity of parkour 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 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."
Academic research on parkour has tended to describe how parkour provides a novel way of interacting with the (urban) environment, that challenges the use and meaning of urban space, metropolitan life, and embodiment.
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 Le Corre: "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." Red Bull's sponsored athlete for parkour, Ryan Doyle, has said, "Sometimes people ask, 'Who is the best at parkour?' and it is because they don't understand what Parkour is; 'Who is the best?' is what you would say to a sport, and Parkour is not a sport, it is an art, it's a discipline. That's like saying, 'What's the best song in the world?'" This seems to be a highly consensual opinion of many professional traceurs who view parkour as a style of life more than a set of tricks, as has been popularized by YouTube and most media exposure.
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." Belle is an influential proponent of discipline and control in parkour, saying, "Precision is all about being measured," and going on to describe parkour as an art that requires huge amounts of repetition and practice to master. Parkour to Belle is a method of self refinement and is to be used for learning to control and focus oneself.
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?".
"If two roads open up before you, always take the most difficult one. Because you know you can travel the easy one." ―Raymond Belle
"With parkour, I often say, 'Once is never'. In other words, someone can manage a jump one time but it does not mean anything. It can be luck or chance. When you make a jump, you have to do it at least three times to be sure you can actually do it. It's an unavoidable rule. Do it the hard way and stop lying to yourself. When you come for training, you have to train. Even if it means doing the same jump fifty or a hundred times." ―David Belle
In his book, David Belle made a point that the most important aspect of Parkour is not the physical movements, but rather the practitioner's mentality and understanding of Parkour's principles.
"When young trainees come to see me and give me videos telling me to check out what they are doing, I just take the tape and throw it away. What I'm interested in is what the guy's got in his head, if he has self-confidence, if he masters the technique, if he has understood the principles of Parkour. I just can't deal with guys who do Parkour because they saw videos on the internet and thought it was kinda cool and want to do even better." ―David Belle
Further, he states the importance of being aware of your abilities and limitations and to be true to yourself. "When a young person asks me: 'Can you show me how to do this?' I simply answer: "No, I am going to show you how I do it. Then, you'll have to learn with your own technique, your own way of moving, your style, your abilities and your limitations. You are going to learn to be yourself, not someone else." ―David Belle
- 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 over to the other side
- Vaulting over obstacles
- 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 forward flip to increase distance jumped.
- 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, many traceurs do not like the idea as it is contradictory to parkour's values of adaptation, creativity and 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 use of inappropriate places such as cemeteries. A few city councils have even posted notices banning parkour in some areas — although the legal enforceability of notices like these have yet to be tested. However, most traceurs will take care of their training spots and will remove themselves quickly and quietly from a public place if asked. Along with helping others, another value of parkour is to respect people and places. One of the first campaigns to preserve this sort of philosophy is the 'Leave No Trace' project, promoting to traceurs the importance of training safe, respecting the environment and the people around them. In most countries the law does not automatically condemn passage on private land or climbing enclosures, and it is often a civil offense rather than a criminal offense. Additionally, many countries have freedom to roam laws giving the right to passage on private property, within limits.
Injuries and deaths
Concerns have 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 practitioners of Parkour agree that such behaviour should be discouraged.
Because parkour philosophy is about learning to control oneself in interaction with the environment, leading parkour experts tend to view physical injury as a deviation from true parkour. Daniel Ilabaca, co-founder of the World Parkour and Freerunning Federation, is quoted as saying, "Thinking you're going to fail at something gives you a higher risk of doing just that. Committing to something you're thinking or knowing you will land gives you a higher chance of landing or completing the task."
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.
On 30 October 2014 a thirteen-year-old boy fell though a glass skylight on a 7th floor apartment rooftop in Thessaloniki and died, while jumping between rooftops with friends, trying to do parkour.
Parkour is practised without equipment of any kind. Practitioners normally train wearing light, non restrictive casual clothing. Traceurs who wear gloves are the exception—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. Barefoot training is done by some for movement competency without gear—as David Belle noted, "bare feet are the best shoes." Various sport-shoes manufacturers have developed shoes specifically for parkour and freerunning. Many other companies around the world have started offering products targeted at parkour.
Several documentaries about parkour have been shown 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 changed the presence of parkour in the UK almost overnight and is widely credited for inspiring a new generation of traceurs. It was followed by Jump Britain in 2005. The Australian version of 60 Minutes broadcast a segment about parkour on 16 September 2007, featuring Foucan and Stephane Vigroux.
There have been many films featuring elements of parkour. After including parkour practitioners in a chase sequence in the film Taxi 2 in 1998, French director/producer Luc Besson produced the 2001 film, Yamakasi, featuring members of the original Yamakasi group, and its sequel Les fils du vent in 2004. Also in 2004, Besson wrote Banlieue 13, another feature film involving advanced chase sequences, starring David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli, followed by the sequel District 13: Ultimatum in 2009 and remade in English as Brick Mansions in 2014. In 2006 the film Casino Royale featured Sébastien Foucan in a chase taking place early in the movie, sparking renewed media interest in parkour. Along with The Bourne Ultimatum, Casino Royale is credited with starting a new wave of Parkour-inspired stunts in Western film and television. Parkour features 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 displayed in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, where David Belle was hired as choreographer for 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 2015 film Tracers is about a group who use parkour to conduct heists.
Modern video games frequently include aspects of parkour as major game-play elements. The Assassin's Creed series makes heavy use of parkour movement, though it is named freerunning in the game. The Mirror's Edge games are heavily inspired by parkour, consisting entirely of efficiently moving around buildings, rooftops, and other obstacles. Other games with a central parkour mechanic include the Prince of Persia series, Dying Light, Brink, inMomentum, Free Running, Zombie Parkour Runner, Parkour Everyday; parkour has become a minor game subgenre in itself. Crackdown and Crackdown 2 include an emphasis on gripping and vaulting from ledges and protruding objects. Tony Hawk's American Wasteland allows the character to use several freerunning techniques while not on the skateboard. Tron Evolution 's basic movements and combat were based on parkour and capoeira.
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."
In the opening passages of Skin Game, the 15th novel in The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, the protagonist Harry Dresden repeatedly exclaims "Parkour!" when vaulting over magical obstacles in the form of imprisoned demons. Various feats of similar athleticism throughout the book are also labeled parkour, and Dresden humorously assumes the term as his battle cry.
Although parkour itself grew out of military obstacle-course training, it has become a separate discipline. 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.
Videos shared on the Internet allowed parkour to become known worldwide. Parkour is not defined by a set of rules or guidelines, which has allowed youth to explore and engage in the sport. It can be easily accepted by all cultures as a means for art expression and for the purpose of sport recreation.
In 2010, The New York Times published a short video featuring three young men from the Gaza Strip who are active participants in the parkour community. In 2014, The British Broadcasting Corporation traveled to Indian administered Kashmir  to highlight the youth partaking in the art of parkour as a way to express a sense of freedom. Curfews and restrictions are part of daily life for Kashmiri youth who want freedom from India and often clash with the security forces. Twenty-two-year old Zahid Shah says violence isn't the answer. Inspired by the free runners of Gaza, he founded the Kashmir Freerunning and Parkour Federation and spoke about growing up where protests and clashes happen often. Through visual media, these widely resourced news sites have made global the efforts that these parkour activists in the Middle East and Southeast Asia have made in their communities.
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" or "the art of displacement) 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. 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" to describe his own separate discipline.
The remaining seven Yamakasi members kept using the term "l'art du déplacement", also not wanting to associate it too closely with parkour. Similar to Sébastien's freerunning, l'art du déplacement was also a more participatory approach that was not all 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 only to him.
Both parkour and freerunning encompass the ideas of overcoming obstacles and self-expression; 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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