Thousands across the globe are attracted to parkour and want to learn it and master it. While there is a growing attraction towards this sport, the fact is that very little is known about how this art of movement came into existence and how people define it in their own ways.
The definition of parkour certainly is different for different people because some take it as an exercise, some take it as an inspiration to cross over stumbling blocks and for some parkour is the fastest and most efficient way to get from point A to point B.
History of Parkour
If we jump back in time, there is no single date or year to pinpoint the origins of this classic obstacle course training. Parkour was developed primarily by David Belle in the late 1980s.
The word ‘parkour’ comes from a French word ‘parcours du combattant’ which was initially proposed by Georges Herbert, a French naval officer who promoted this skill after he saw several local tribes in Africa practicing it. Georges Herbert served in the army during the World War I and World War II and he decided to use and incorporate this technique in the military to move efficiently and swiftly using the environment provided to beat the obstacles.
Later on Raymond Belle, born to a French doctor and Vietnamese mother decided to learn this technique to escape warlike situations and learnt the techniques to test his own flexibility, strength and endurance levels.
However, David Belle is considered to the founder of parkour in the true sense as it was him who not just brought this art forward, but also popularized globally making it a worldwide phenomenon that we know today.
He termed this technique as parkour and there was no stopping to this freestyle art of movement which allows the traceur to move quickly using the environment provided. It was also Belle’s love for martial art movies that gave rise to his passion for parkour. Although, David Belle was inspired by Bruce Lee’s martial art, his approach to martial arts was a complete contrast to that of Lee’s.
Using the swift movements, Belle thought of movements that were more focused on pursuit, escape and rescue. Hence, parkour movements are adaptable and always evolving provided on the environment, and never set to any predefined rules and regulations. Belle started performing parkour movements on urban terrain that caught public’s attention and imagination which eventually lead to sudden rise in the number of budding traceurs across the globe and the trend is still on the rise.
Parkour in Media and Popular Culture
In the early 2000s, David Belle did an advertisement campaign called ‘Rush Hour’ that showed him jumping and crossing over the rooftops of London while most commuters are stuck in a bad traffic jam below. Showcasing a series of rooftop stunts without any computer graphics in a natural and urban setting made David Belle popular across the UK and soon many youngsters wanted to know more and learn parkour. Soon after that documentary makers decided to make several documentaries covering different aspects of parkour including Jump London in 2003.
This documentary inspired many traceurs across the globe spreading the word about parkour and the technique behind it. The success of Jump London gave rise to another documentary called Jump Britain in 2005 which was a sequel to Jump London and featured traceurs jumping over Edinburgh Castle, Forth Bridge in Scotland, the Millennium Bridge in Cardiff and Tyne Bridge in Newcastle. Australian’s followed the pattern with a documentary called 60 Minutes in 2007 spreading parkour across Australia.
While there were many documentaries being made, many feature films decided to incorporate parkour in the action. Taxi 2, a French film incorporated a chase sequence in the movie which included various parkour stunts done by parkour practitioners. However, Banlieue 13 or B13 became the first notable movie that incorporate parkour movements in a major way attracting audience from across the world towards action that was done without computer effects and use of wires.
David Belle, the founding father of parkour plays the main protagonist in the film. The same movie was also made in English as Brick Mansions in 2014. James Bond movies always have larger than life depiction and action and in 2006 Casino Royale came up with an opening chase scene featuring Sebastian Foucan that took the image of parkour to other countries across the globe. Few other movies that brought the art of parkour under limelight are The Bourne Ultimatum, Breaking and Entering and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Taking cue from the mainstream films, video games decided to include the elements of parkour in the gameplay allowing gamers to immerse themselves in the game in a better way.
Some of the top games that introduced parkour movements in the game play are The Assassin’s Creed, Mirror’s Edge, Prince of Persia, Parkour Everyday and Brink. Apart from all the movies and video games, the rise of YouTube allowed many people to shoot their own videos and upload it on YouTube and other channels where users can watch parkour videos to train and learn more about it.
The Vision behind the Movement
Parkour is generally defined as ‘the art to pass through the obstacles in the fastest and most efficient way possible and getting from Point A to Point B’. However, this extreme sport is just more than that. This technique is not just about getting from one building to the other and jumping across the terrain, but to adapt, be dynamic, be resilient and to be mentally prepared for anything that comes your way. Hence, parkour also focuses on your mental strength and determination rather than just physical fitness and discipline.
Those who are trained parkour professionals have a completely different view of the urban settings and environment around them compared to regular people who are just about to learn about this art of movement. While regular people see walls, buildings, railings and other structures as obstacles, parkour practitioners see it as a part of the environment that can be exploited and provides an endless playground for them. This is a revolutionary shift of perception which allows parkour practitioners to make their parkour moves so efficiently and easily.
With the kind of vision that parkour brings forward, traceurs develop a wider vision that can help them to practice and master the art of parkour. They visualize every element available in the environment as a step forward to continue their momentum. Hence, parkour practitioners make use of every single option to their advantage. However, while it seems that parkour is more about physicality and jump dynamics, it is also about envisioning it and taking the leap of faith and pushing fears aside.
One cannot learn parkour theoretically in a classroom and therefore it requires mental preparation for the learners to understand the structures of urban environment and measure the distances in their mind before they jump. It also requires the learners to cultivate their thought process and be mentally focused and prepared and know how their actions will be based on the urban environment before them. The vision of parkour also includes adaptability and flexibility which traceurs believe is the greatest attribute of all. Parkour also infuses the method of overcoming fears and self-imposed limitations that restrain us from jumping and running.
Focusing on the Art of Movement
So much has been already spoken and written about the art of movement and how parkour moves are derived from the physical and mental strength of the individual. However, movement only comes through when combined together and put to test in the real world. Like any language in the world, one can only learn a language when we put it to test in the real world, when we speak with people and interact and get responses which we try to comprehend and then try to answer it in the best possible way. Similarly, parkour is a kind of body movement language that can be tested and tried only in the real world scenario.
Hence, parkour is also about exploring your own body strengths and weaknesses and using it to the advantage. Parkour training will push your physicality and mental readiness and help you understand your weakest point. Once you identify it, you need to work on it in your own way and ensure that you’re able to make better moves. Parkour training provides you with all the means to help you find the right balance before you make the jumps and parkour moves to conquer the urban environment before you.
Pushing the Human Potential
We usually denote people as superhumans when they perform something that looks beyond the limits of human capacity. However, there is nothing really superhuman, because all the feats that look superhuman are very much inside the parameters of human potential, its just that we don’t believe it because we ‘think’ we cannot do it.
Parkour in a way pushes the human potential and develops it in a positive way just like yoga and meditation does. However, to achieve that potential, individuals have to take upon themselves the challenges to beat their own self. In parkour there is no competition, there are no rules and no records.
Parkour also does not have any equipment or accessories that individuals can use to bridge the gap. Most traceurs wear regular parkour shoes and casual clothing that can provide them with comfort and ease to move freely. The only thing that remains in focus in continuous progress. Traceurs and learners have to push their own limits everyday on their own pace and limitations. It is this concept of progress that provides space and freedom to the learners to grow gradually and master what seems initially as ‘impossible’.
A lot of that human potential also starts from the fact that running is an important element that needs to be improved. Every individual can walk, but it takes a lot of skill to refine the art of running correctly. Individuals have to focus on the posture, distribution of their body weight, motion and above all the right balance. While most learners believe that they’re running correctly, but the fact is that they need to enhance their art of running over a period of time by putting the right amount of energy to it.
Is Parkour for You?
Those who are new to the world of parkour usually focus on forums and websites that can provide them with more knowledge about how to improve parkour skills and what precautions they need to take. However, the single most common question that comes up is this: Is parkour right for me?
Honestly, no one can provide you with an apt answer for this because they don’t know if you really have it in you to take up the challenges that parkour training will bring to the table. Parkour is basically for anybody for who wants to be fit and want to have fun without focusing on creating records or false titles. It is for those who want to overcome their fears and self-imposed limitations and push their will even further.
Parkour is not based on age or gender and therefore you will find women and even aged trying out parkour moves because they ‘enjoy’ it and more than that the health benefits that they gain from it. It is a transformative practice and something in your mind. Of course, there are things to keep in mind before training for parkour, but eventually it is the physical and mental strength of an individual that comes into application.
To conclude, to understand the art of movement called parkour, you need to understand yourself more than anything else. For learners, it is all about their perception of the urban environment, their focus, their physical strength and mental fitness that combines together into a movement. This skill is then nurtured and refined with daily practice until it becomes a part of ‘You‘.