Wednesday 25 July 2018

What is Parkour

A pastime that I always wanted to get into and eventually did was the art of Parkour. We have all seen at least one instance of someone wall jumping and doing crazy acrobatic moves, and who can fail to be inspired by the Parkour themed video for David Guetta vs The Egg's "Love Don't Let Me Go"? Or by Parkour legend Sébastian Foucan's Parkour chase in Casino Royale.

So good I just had to embed it!

Parkour is also often called Free Running, however there is a difference and whilst both are heavily interrelated with a shared history this post will focus on Parkour specifically.

Table of contents


Parkour is an often misunderstood form of physical activity where people automatically assume it is all about jumping from roof to roof and performing acrobatic leaps and bounds. Indeed a lot of this seems to stem from what helped shoot Parkour into the spotlight: Channel 4's Jump London documentary back in 2003, and follow up Jump Britain in 2005.

The reality however is this has little to do with what Parkour actually means and focuses on, rather being what its derivative form Free Running is built around.

As the terms Parkour and Free Running are commonly used interchangeably it is important to know what exactly both terms actually mean:

  • Parkour in its strictest sense is the art of efficient movement, in which the practitioner, also known as a "traceur" (to trace), transverses a path in the quickest and most efficient way by performing movements with control and flow
  • Free Running, also commonly called Parkour, whilst based on its foundations involves moving one's body and interacting with your surroundings in a creative and expressive manner.

For an example of who you could call a true master of Parkour without actually being a practitioner of it, all I need to do is name one person who we all know and love: Jackie Chan. Indeed he most likely inspired some elements of Parkour. His moves also follow the principle of efficient movement in regards to traversing a path as he dodges attacks and escapes away from or chases after people.

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A Quick Evolutionary Overview

Its roots stretch all the way back to French naval-officer Georges Hébert's early 20th-century work Méthode Naturalle. From Hébert's work its protoform developed amongst members of the French army during the Indochina War between France and Vietnam (1945-1954) as a means of honing escape techniques in the Vietnamese jungle.

Parkour would have its nascence with David Belle, the French born son of one of those soldiers, receiving the name "le parcours" in 1989, and later on the synonym "l'art du déplacement" (the art of deplacement). David Belle would later rename it Parkour whilst his friend Sébastian Foucan would found Free Running.

An amazing early video purportedly from the 1930s showing "Parkour" being performed, though in reality it is an amalgamation of clips of two different people, one a circus performer and the other a stuntman who vied for the spotlight in the 1940s and 1950s, but they have have physical and mental attributes that Parkour shares.

Along with Jackie Chan who has been performing what can be classified as typical Parkour moves long before the 80s, and the abilities of stuntmen going back long before that, it is highly likely that Parkour is inspired by these individuals.

A great Jackie Chan compilation YouTube clip.

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So what is it?

As already noted above Parkour is the art of efficient movement, but what does this mean? With roots in escape techniques over obstacles, it is the most efficient way to move through both natural and urban terrain using one's own physical and mental abilities.

Parkours scaling a wall efficiently
Scaling a wall efficiently. Picture borrowed from Workout Labs.

As each terrain is different with different obstacles it requires a mental acuity to adapt to differing situations, some of which may come at you unawares. It requires physical control, skill, speed, endurance and self-confidence to tackle obstacles as you meet them. Amongst other attributes it is a holistic (everything  interconnected) system that challenges the entire body.

David Belle also advocates that modesty, perseverance, respect and willpower are virtues that people must have or learn. He also and quite rightly too, advocates constant vigilance when practicing, as accidents can happen and Parkour can be very dangerous especially when certain moves are performed by novices who have developed the skills needed to perform them safely.

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Closing thoughts

That's it for this post. As can be seen there is far more background to what Parkour is than simply youths jumping from rooftop to rooftop, but an exciting and challenging system based on survival techniques and efficiency of movement.

My post Parkour Examples and Caution focuses on examples of efficient movement, Parkour moves, and how important it is to heed caution in the practice of this sport.

Any questions then feel to comment below or send me an email!

Lyle Richardson,
Gym Pal - Your Friend In Fitness


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