Have you ever seen an exciting chase scene in an action movie? Perhaps a police officer is chasing a suspect through the streets of a large city. They weave in and out of traffic and alleys, leaping over obstacles with ease.
Are such chases real? Or are they just movie magic? Although movie chase scenes may be carefully staged, would you believe there are people who can do those things in real life? It’s true!
Parkour is a non-competitive sport that involves efficient movement around obstacles. Participants — called traceurs (males) and traceuses (females) — move through an environment, such as city streets, by vaulting, rolling, running, climbing and jumping on, over or around obstacles.
The basic moves of parkour got their start long ago in the Eastern martial arts, like ninjutsu. In the 1920s, Georges Hébert began to teach these moves as part of French military training. Frenchman David Belle expanded on this work in the late 1980s when he founded the Yamakasi group, which was the first group dedicated to parkour.
The name “parkour” came from “le parcours,” which was the term David Belle’s father, Raymond Belle, used to describe his French military training. The classic obstacle course training method used by the French was known as “parcours du combattant.”
Parkour developed from a training method into a sport focused on gracefully overcoming obstacles within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment. Parkour is as much art as it is sport, as creativity and vision are as important as physical conditioning and strength.
Although parkour moves may look like dangerous tricks, the discipline actually discourages reckless behavior and dangerous stunts. Instead, it focuses on safety and personal responsibility. The parkour moves that look so easy when performed by professionals are actually difficult moves that only come about successfully after lengthy training and practice.
Although its development largely occurred in France, parkour is now an international discipline with traceurs and traceuses practicing all over the world. In the English-speaking world, parkour was given another name: free-running.
Today, though, parkour and free-running are often considered two different disciplines. Parkour is more rigid in its focus on never moving backward and being practical and efficient. Free-running, on the other hand, allows moves in any direction purely for artistic purposes.
One of the primary goals of parkour remains self-improvement and freedom from obstacles—either physical or mental. Traceurs and traceuses train to improve both their physical and mental health, while learning to function independently in their environment without the constraints of society’s usual thinking.