Parkour: Free Running

‘Free running’ Parkour is a sport in which contestants try to pass obstacles in their surroundings as quickly and smoothly as possible. Founded by David Belle, its origins are in France and Sébastien Foucan gave it its English name. The game was inspired by the ‘Natural Method of Physical Culture’ developed by George Hébert in the early 20th century. Raymond Belle, a Vietnam soldier, introduced the game to his son David.

A group called Yamakasi was set up to establish the game, but the members fell out with each other because of disagreements. ‘Yamakasi’ is a Lingala word, spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo and it means ‘strong spirit, strong body, strong man.’ For many, Parkour is an extreme sport while others compare it to martial arts like karate. It is admired as an art of movement or, as the French prefer to call it, “l’art du déplacement”. It has a sense of freedom, the ability to overcome boundaries. You could jump from railings, staircases, jump over walls and any other thing that is in your way. Contestants would move from point A to B in a steady and continuous manner. The movements could be forward, over, under, around and through obstacles. These obstacles could be man-made or natural.

People who practice Parkour are called traceurs or free runners. They could be running, jumping, climbing and using any other complicated techniques. Essentially actions have to be adapted to the given circumstances, so that obstacles may be overcome with human capabilities. David Belle said the “spirit” of free running is directed somewhat by the concept of escaping and reaching. So the contestant has to be quick-thinking and agile to reach the goal, much like hunters of the primitive days. Another well-known traceur Sébastien Foucan remarks on its fluidity and beauty. Jerome Ben Aoues, an experienced traceur speaks about this in a documentary made on Parkour called Jump London. He speaks of the sheer elegance and beauty of the sport.

If one thinks about it, we are, naturally, free runners and have been so since our child hood. Have a look at children – they are always bursting out of their confines. As the commentary in Jump London says, “And really the whole town was there for us; there for free running.” Many purists do not agree with the outlandish techniques associated with free running.

A traceur would need good running and jumping techniques. Rolling to reduce impact and vaulting to clear barriers could be advantages. David Belle says that efficient movement is the key in Parkour, so flips and tricks wouldn’t really be part of the game.

Parkour seems to be getting more and more popular. The British public first saw it in all its beauty in 2002, in the BBC station trailer Rush Hour, as David Belle jumped across rooftops to go from his office to home, to see his favorite BBC program. The James Bond thriller, “Casino Royale” rooftop chase is considered a Parkour sequence. As are certain sequences in the Nike ads. Today the sport seems to be growing commercially and there is training available. But as it is a new concept, it is continuously evolving and changing.

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