Parkour. What Is It?

“Our aim is to take our art to the world and make people understand what it is to move” – David Belle.

Anyone who has seen Casino Royale (the latest of the James Bond series) remembers the spectacular chase scene in the beginning that has Bond chasing a man who moves with the grace, power, and ease of a jaguar. The man easily leaps off of and over obstacles, rolls away from multiple story jumps unharmed, and runs on all fours, making his escape look effortless and impressive, although calling it impressive still doesn’t do it justice. Anyone in the know knows that this style of movement is referred to as parkour, and is a fully-functioning community of skilled individuals capable of moving as if unrestricted by their own bodies. Unfortunately, the group in the know is still small. Parkour is something that either you are involved in, or you have never heard of. If you are like most people, myself included, you see the amazing display of athleticism in Casino Royale and think, “wow, that guy can do some cool stuff” or, “they must have enhanced that footage someone”, never knowing that you are watching a master at work. So what exactly is parkour, and where did it come from?

The term parkour was defined by David Belle, the founder of parkour, and his friend Hubert Koundé. It derives from parcours du combattant, the classic obstacle course method of military training proposed by Georges Hébert. Koundé took the word parcours, replaced the “c” with a “k” to suggest aggressiveness, and removed the silent “s” as it opposed parkour’s philosophy about efficiency. Parkour’s focus is on moving as efficiently and quickly as possible from one point to another, using the abilities of the human body. It is meant to help one overcome obstacles, which can be anything in the surrounding environment, from branches and rocks to rails and concrete walls, and can be practiced in both rural and urban areas. Male parkour practitioners are recognized as traceurs and female as traceuses. An important characteristic of parkour is efficiency. A traceur moves not merely as fast as he can, but also in the least energy-consuming and most direct way possible. Going further in that path, efficiency also involves avoiding injuries, short and long-term, part of why parkour’s unofficial motto is être et durer (to be and to last).

Due to the athleticism involved with parkour, many are quick to call it a sport, but a traceur, or traceuse will quickly correct you. Parkour is not a sport. Not an activity. Not a hobby. Parkour is a lifestyle. “I don’t say ‘I do parkour’, but ‘I live parkour’, because its philosophy has become my life, my way to do everything”, explains Andreas Kalteis, a professional traceur. It is also known to have an influence on practitioner’s thought process. Traceurs and traceuses experience a change in their critical thinking skills to help them overcome obstacles in everyday life, whether they be physical or mental boundaries. According to Kalteis, “to understand the philosophy of parkour takes quite a while, because you have to get used to it first. While you still have to try to actually do the movements, you will not feel much about the philosophy. But when you’re able to move in your own way, then you start to see how parkour changes other things in your life; and you approach problems – for example in your job – differently, because you have been trained to overcome obstacles”. Moving freely and thinking clearly, who wouldn’t want this lifestyle? Despite parkour’s popularity growth as of late, with the help of many traceurs being featured in films and television, it is still a relatively unknown art. But now you can help spread the word. You are now in the know.

So the next time you see parkour in a movie, or that crazy Russian climber video on YouTube, and the person next to you says “that must be fake, no one can move like that” you can set them straight.

Copyright (c) 2007 Luke Burgis