What is Parkour?
The World Freerunning Parkour Federation, or WFPF, breaks down what parkour is:
According to the strictest definition, Parkour is the act of moving from point “a” to point “b” using the obstacles in your path to increase your efficiency. Sounds like a fun game, right?
A basic repertoire of moves developed over the years, like the “tic-tac”, the “kong vault” and the “gap jump” that make Parkour immediately recognizable to most people who see it, even if they don’t know what it’s called!
But a funny thing happened on the way to Point B.
The cool, super-creative moves that the Yamakazi came up with started morphing, and since there was no one chasing them (most of the time) the efficiency part got less and less important to some of the Yamakazi, who decided they wanted to start throwing flips and stuff, and just generally expressing themselves through movement.
The leader of that splinter group was named Sebastian Foucan, the guy from the beginning of CASINO ROYALE.
David Belle decided he wanted to stick with the efficiency program, so he and Sebastian kind of went their separate ways, and the “two” sports started developing along separate but parallel paths.
For a long time, people argued about which was which (and which was better!) but while they were busy doing that a whole bunch of new guys (and some girls) came along and just started training, together or separately, picking up the skills they saw on YouTube, coming up with their own that played to their unique strengths and interests, and then sharing them through their own vids. Some liked to time themselves, some were just out to express.
History of Parkour
The website Parkourpedia details the origins of Parkour to the mid-20th century.
David Belle credits the primary development of Parkour from time spent with his father, Raymond Belle. David’s father was a child soldier in Vietnam. As part of his training he had to complete obstacle courses called ‘Parcours’.
David’s father was determined to excel, to protect himself from abuse and to survive. Later on Raymond was removed from this training and found himself in France. He fathered David and two other sons. But due to his traumatic childhood struggled to maintain his marriage and take on responsibilities as a father.
David ended up being raised by his grandfather. But as David grew older he wanted to know, and to understand, his father. So he would seek him out and ask him about his experiences, and his father would spend time with him, training David and talking to him about life and about what David was doing and why he did things.
It was through this relationship that Parkour was, over time, developed.
David Belles grandfather taught him about the principles of Hebertism, as David was learning from his father about what his father did in Vietnam he found many parallels with Hebertism.
As David grew and learnt he adapted what he needed from what his grandfather and his father taught him to create something unique to him, something that allowed him to pursue his own needs and goals.
Misconceptions about Parkour
Parkourpedia delves into the misconceptions and misinformation about parkour.
Parkour and Freerunning
These are not the same thing. They are not interchangeable terms. They are quite different from each other in their purpose and goals. Practitioners of Parkour are called Traceurs, Freerunning practitioners are called Freerunners, the terms Freerunner and Traceur are not interchangeable. Be sure to educate yourself on the differences so you don’t get confused!
There is no such thing as performing a Parkour show. If you see any presentations of Parkour purely for the sake of entertainment it cannot be defined as Parkour, simply because you are not following the principles of what Parkour is. You can take the movement from Parkour and use it to entertain, but the end result cannot ethically be called Parkour as it doesn’t follow the principles of the discipline.
Many people get confused when they see someone who calls themselves a Traceur doing flips and spins. Just because someone does these things does not mean the actions constitute Parkour, it just means that the traceur trains in other aspects of movement as well as Parkour.
If you are unsure simply ask yourself, if you were running for your life what would you do?
Tyler Lewis practices Parkour as the sun sets over the downtown area of Seattle, Washington on November 10, 2014. Parkour which originated from France in the 1980’s was developed as a military obstacle course training and is becoming a recognized sport with competitions and events around the world. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTONMARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Parkour is an Urban sport
Parkour was developed and practiced in the trees and forests of France just as much as in the cities. It is practised to great effect in the natural environments that have been shaped by time and the elements, and can be rough and jagged as opposed to the smoothed and usually symmetrical man made urban environment.
American Parkour shares some anecdotes on people who make parkour a real passion in their everyday lives. First is Cody Robinson, who discovered his love for Parkour in 2006 at Auburn University.
“As I sit here in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, waiting on a flight to Los Angeles, I laugh a little inside.
Not the laugh of someone watching a funny video, not the kind of laugh that you have when you are laughing at yourself, and definitely not the laugh that you might have when telling someone “I told you so!”
No, the laugh I’m having is the laugh you had as a kid when you can’t believe that Santa showed up on Christmas AGAIN (I mean, this is even a thing?!) I found myself having a lot of these moments over the past two years.
It’s still pretty surreal that I get paid to do my absolute favorite thing in life. I’m a stuntman.
For me, it all started in 2006 at Auburn University in Alabama. I saw Oleg Vorslav’s “Russian Climbing” on Yahoo Video, and convinced my roommates, Alex and Michael, to go try this Parkour thing.
So off we went, at night so no one would see us, to the university to try it out. One year passed and we were training in public in the middle of the day. By 2008, I was running an unofficial club on campus and recruiting new members.
My friend through Parkour, Max, had made a visit to Auburn and talked to me about how he was trying his hand at stunt work. It was honestly unbelievable to me, and not in a good way. You see, I had been raised to believe that the movie business was lucrative but impossible to get into. You had to be talented, and more than that, extremely lucky.”
Read more here.
American Parkour points out some of the benefits of learning and mastering parkour.
- Improved physical health thanks to a high level of movement and activity
- Massive amounts of body control: agility, balance, and power
- Mental strength through problem solving, repetition, and increased confidence
- Self-respect from accomplishing the seemingly impossible and “superhuman”
- Be a part of the community of incredibly supportive, fun, and respectful people: friendship with other traceurs!
Are There Parkour Gyms And Training Centers?
There are parkour gyms but they are still difficult to find. Google search a to find parkour gyms or programs in your area.
The American Parkour Academy is based in Washington, DC there there are affiliate gyms in Minnesota, Florida and Hawaii. American Parkour advises what else you can do.
If you can’t find a gym, don’t worry. Parkour was born outside and it will always be practiced outside. In fact a lot traceurs prefer to practice outside. There are hotspots everywhere. You can train in the woods, at local parks and playgrounds, or on the curb outside your house.
If you’re interested in training outside in the natural environment, our friend Rafe Kelley has some great outdoor tutorials and inspirational videos on his Youtube channel.
Thinking outside of the box: you could head to your local gymnastics facility and visit them during their open gym hours. Call the gym and explain what you want to do and see if they’ll let you visit to practice parkour.
This is a great way to practice some of the more advanced parkour and freerunning movements with mats and trampolines in a safe and controlled environment. It’s also a great way meet other “movement” enthusiasts and maybe a few other traceurs!
Another option would be to visit a CrossFit gym and ask if you could bring in Parkour equipment (precision trainers, small railings, vault boxes) to train natural movement there.
These gyms are all about promoting natural movement and typically have a lot of open space in which you could train during their open gym times.
What to Expect When You First Learn
American Parkour breaks down what happens when you first dive in:
If it’s your first time, you’re in for a treat. Everyone trains at their own pace and level, so you don’t need to worry about killing yourself through a workout. You should check out our guide on what to wear, and what to bring.
When people get together to practice parkour, it’s called a jam. It’s not this intense thing where you’ll be running for 2 hours straight. It’s much more relaxed. Usually jams are centered around hotspots.
A hotspot is a place packed with obstacles that make for fun training. In a typical jam, people start at one hotspot and train until they get bored or want to move on. Then they walk to the next hotspot.
Experienced traceurs have built up a catalog of their favorite hotspots in the areas where they train, so follow along and get to know your spots!
Another common jam is a conditioning session.
These are jams focused on training. There is usually a workout planned, and people come together to work-out with others.
It’s much more fun to train with other people, and you get to push yourself as you follow the group. You also get to learn new techniques for conditioning your body.
Will I Get Hurt?
It’s natural to expect some cuts, scrapes and bruises. You won’t notice them until you’re done with your training session for the most part. It’s prudent to keep a first-aid kit on hand for more all sorts of injuries however.
As you become more advanced, the risk of danger increases.
Parkour is a fun activity with risks just like any other physical activity. There are a wide variety of resources at your fingertips to help you get started.