From Academic Kids
Parkour (also called Le Parkour, PK, or free running) is a sport in which participants attempt to clear all obstacles in their path in the most fluid manner possible.
A traceur is a participant of parkour. The term free-runner has been commonly adopted by the media following the use of the term by Sebastien Foucan in Jump London. The same program led to the use of another term, free-running. The term free-running has been widely used by journalists to describe parkour-like activity, but which commonly features more emphasis on 'showy' moves than are a feature of genuine parkour.
The ultimate goal in parkour is to ‘flow’ along one’s path, for the entire journey to be as one fluid movement with no pauses or breaks. A principal rule of parkour is to never go backwards. Traceurs believe that there is path to every obstacle which is achieved through forward movement.
The magnitude and technicality of a move in parkour are secondary to the flow and beauty of it. Explains Jerome Ben Aoues, one of the traceurs featured in the acclaimed Channel 4 documentary Jump London, “The most important thing really is the harmony between you and the obstacle; the movement has to be elegant, that's what will make it prettier. Length and distance only add to the beauty of the move, if you manage to pass over the fence elegantly that's beautiful, rather than saying ‘I jumped the lot.’ What's the point in that?”
To many, parkour is an extreme sport, to others a discipline more comparable to martial arts, to others an art form akin to dance, a way to encapsulate human movement in its most beautiful form. Parkour also inspires freedom; being free in an urban environment designed to trap, not restricted by railings, staircases, even buildings. (See Situationist). It is for many people a way of life.
Arguably, the essence of parkour has no origins. Says Sebastien Foucan in Jump London, “Free running has always existed, free running has always been there, the thing is that no one gave it a name, we didn’t put it in a box.” He makes a comparison with prehistoric man, “to hunt, or to chase, or to move around, they had to practice the free run.”
The origins of recognisable parkour, though, lie primarily in the childhood games of the art’s founders. Growing up in Lisses, a Parisian suburb, the founders (most notably David Belle and Sebastien Foucan) would run and jump around and play at being ninja on their school’s rooftops.
“From then on we developed,” says Sebastien in Jump London, “And really the whole town was there for us; there for free running. You just have to look, you just have to think, like children.” This he describes as “the vision of parkour.”
Parkour was not an entirely independently developed discipline, though; inspiration came from many sources, not least the ‘Natural Method of Physical Culture’ developed by George Hébert in the early twentieth century. David Belle was introduced to this by his father, a Vietnam soldier who practiced it. The word parkour derives from “parcours du combatant”, the phrase referring to the obstacle courses of Hébert’s method.
According to Sebastien, the start of the “big jumps” was around age fifteen. The moves of top practitioners have continued to grow in magnitude, as building to building jumps and drops of over a storey became common media-fodder, often leaving people with a slanted view on what parkour is. Ground-based movement is just as important as that on the rooftops, most free runners would say more so.
The journey of parkour from the Parisian suburbs to its current status as perhaps the most promising new sport for years saw splits develop amongst the originators. The founders of parkour started out in a group named Yamakasi, but later split due to disagreements. The name 'Yamakasi' is taken from a Zairian word meaning 'strong spirit, strong body, strong man'.
In 2001 French filmmaker Luc Besson made a feature film, Yamakasi - Les samouraï des temps modernes  (http://www.luc-besson.com/fr/films/yamakasi/), featuring members of the original Yamakasi. The film tells the (fictional) tale of a group of young thieves who use their parkour skills to evade capture, while stealing money to fund the healthcare of a child that was injured copying their parkour training.
The first time the British public were made aware of parkour on a large scale was in the BBC station trailer Rush Hour  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2002/04_april/11/rush_hour.shtml). This depicted Belle leaping across London’s rooftops from his office to home, in an attempt to catch his favourite BBC program. This generated much discussion amongst those that learnt no special effects or wires were used.
The biggest interest surge to date was created by the documentary Jump London, which explained some of the background to parkour and culminated with Sebastien Foucan and two other French traceurs undertaking parkour at many famous London locations - HMS Belfast, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Somerset House and the Tate and Saatchi galleries amongst them. It is perhaps worth noting that David Belle received no mention in Jump London, despite often being accredited as the most important founder of parkour. Belle was the person to bring the basic ideas of le parkour to the suburb of Lisses, and was the person that brought Sebastien Foucan and the others to the idea of moving like this.
Some have likened parkour to the stunts and techniques of Hong Kong martial arts star Jackie Chan, whose fight and chase scenes take place in industrial or urban environments.
There are fewer predefined movements in parkour than with gymnastics, martial arts and other extreme sports, in that parkour is about unlimited movement over obstacles and the ability to improvise is as important as being able to replicate previously practiced moves.
Despite this, there are many standard ‘basic’ movements that many free runners practice. Most important are good jumping and landing techniques. The roll, used to limit impact after a drop and to flow easily into the next movement, is often stressed as the most important move to learn.
Vaults are used to clear solid obstacles and come in many forms. Some recognised types of vaults add only technical skill (and hence sometimes aesthetic value) to a move and often not functionality, even sacrificing functionality for a more impressive look. These tend to be looked down on. Many vaults are maximally functional to certain situations, but learning no number of vaults is as worthwhile as learning to improvise and adapt to differing situations.
For clearing gaps a number of methods are generally used; each is dependent on the particular obstacle in question, of course, and as with the vaults a good improvisation technique aids free runners far more than a pre-learned collection of techniques.
Tricks, such as flips, are a topic of much debate amongst traceurs. Many agree that since these disrupt the fluidity of a run they cannot be classed as parkour, others argue that parkour is about being free to move how one wishes and try to incorporate certain tricks into their style of movement.
Jumping over one gap is not parkour, but combining few jumps into one flow is parkour.
Common debates in parkour
Tricks and acrobatics - are they parkour?
Many traceurs are interested not only in movements that allow them to clear obstacles, but movements that create visual flair as well. Whether these could be called parkour or not is a common subject for disagreement in the parkour community due to the originating idealism of parkour was solely based on the speed and continuation of movement from point A to point B. You are creating art with your body rather than performing "hardcore" and dangerous movements.
The most commonly discussed movement is flipping, the basic move on others under question are based. As a flip tends to break flow rather than add to it, many would argue it is not parkour. Others suggest that a flip can be implemented into a run while remaining flowing and if this is done then it is parkour.
A common argument in favour of any movement being included under the banner of parkour is that since parkour is about being free to move how one wants, anything can be classed as parkour. This can be and has been applied to everything from acrobatics to stopping dead in a run - it is an argument that can fail when presented with ridiculous notions (if people can move how they wish and call it parkour, is hopping in a circle included?)
Many believe that although performing acrobatic tricks is an art form in its own right it is not parkour, parkour should be only optimal movements for clearing obstacles in a flowing manner.
The originators of the discipline have however both stated in interviews that although they do flips because they are fun they do not consider flips to be a part of parkour.
Purpose-built training areas
Parkour was created as a way of being free in one's environment, a method of flowing movement over whatever obstacles one encounters. As the aim is to be able to fluently move over any obstacle, not to perform certain tricks or movements, the idea of a place specifically built for parkour is one that is often disagreed upon.
One argument against parkour parks most commonly put forward is that one can't practice parkour in a park as one would not be true to (at least their take on) the philosophy behind parkour; that is, one would not be moving over obstacles designed to restrict or that restrict naturally. Another suggestion against such parks is that if a parkour park is built then officialdom may be less lenient of allowing people to practice in public places.
Those in favour of parks suggest that they would be excellent ways to practice movement in relative safety and security without the risk of getting in trouble for what they're doing. These parks would provide places where new free runners could learn techniques more safely than in the street, amongst more experienced practitioners of parkour. At a parkour park one could meet other free runners, adding to the social element many enjoy in parkour. They say that the park would be used for practicing their movement and improving their techniques, but not for the actual performance of parkour; this would remain in the usual outdoor environment.
Commercialisation and growth
The changing of parkour, particularly its continuing growth into a mainstream activity, evokes polar reactions amongst members of the parkour community. The two differing opinions are that this growth will either see parkour blossom, or result in the death of its true meaning at the hands of corporate exploitation. The most heated proponents tend to be those of the latter opinion; unsurprising, as they argue a case for defence and action and consider that the art they hold dear as being under attack.
Those wary of the popularisation of parkour also cite the idea that parkour becoming larger might destroy the community feel they attribute to being part of what separates parkour from other activities and makes it special. They also suggest that with increased growth there shall be increased numbers of posers that involve themselves with the art purely for the image to be gained from it.
It has happened that many times when the position against parkour's growth has been put forward the person expressing it is being more sensationalist than rational. Vague references to 'commercialisation' (often where this term isn't defined or discussed, simply used as a popular word carrying some negative connotations) are common, as are complaints about parkour 'becoming like skateboarding,' though these references are also often vague and supposed to carry their own argument without back up. Some of these attacks may be reasonably dismissed as an irrational rant, made by people with limited information who are following a popular and seemingly the righteous argument.
Equally, there may also be considered to be a segment who in 'following the crowd' support the commercial development of parkour, failing to reason the arguments or research the likely consequences for themselves. Many would argue that those in support of the commercial development of parkour tend to be those involved in the sport fleetingly, and who are concerned more with the image associated with parkour than the activity itself. There is an increasingly large population of traceurs with well reasoned arguments who consider that the development of parkour is proceeding too quickly and in a negative direction. David Belle himself is known to have expressed concern at the activities of those involved in the commercial development of parkour.
Some of those opposed suggest that large companies may attempt to make parkour-specific equipment, which might be fashionable amongst 'wannabe free runners'. They argue that since complying with trends (many people using the same equipment and clothing or trying to learn the latest cool moves or tricks, for example) actually detracts from the freedom from social expectations inspired by parkour, it is a negative thing.
The other side of the argument is that since no one is forced to comply with any societal pressures any trends in parkour won't affect those practicing for their own personal enjoyment or for the 'true' philosophy. In reality many of the participants in parkour are of teen-age, are very subject to peer and media pressures and are likely to be influenced to trade in their perfectly adequate existing footwear and clothing in favour of heavily branded 'PK trainers' and clothing merchandise.
Many comparisons for the growth of parkour are made with other extreme sports in the debate, most often skateboarding. These comparisons originate from both viewpoints, generally offering an alternative perspective on the same ideas. Those against growth often imply that skateboarding is bad for being commercialised, implying that corporations are interested only in money and not the sport itself. Those supportive of the growth counter-argue that increased money in a sport is actually positive and that large companies supply equipment that would otherwise be unavailable, while consumers retain the option of whether to buy it.
As parkour has a large teenage appeal base, it can be argued that societal pressures and interest in fashions and fads are very strong, thus profit will be gained from parkour. Almost every other sport and art, from football to music, has been exploited in this way. It could be argued that these still retain much of their special feeling for those that love them but few could argue that many such interests and pursuits have not been spoiled by commercialism.
The poser argument is also used in the skateboarding comparison. That there are many poser skaters is often repeated. The pro-growth argue that no number of posers trying to maintain a parkour image is going to have any affect on a true traceur practicing the art, thus this is irrelevant.
The counter-argument is that short-term traceurs are likley to be less passionate and less respectful of the art form. The significant increase in the number of traceurs would also be an issue. These two factors could easily combine to develop a poor reputation for the participants of parkour and lead to restrictions on parkour-like activity through widespread application of anti-climb paint, increased and increasingly restrictive security personnel and other similar measures (as is already being seen at some areas of London previously popular with traceurs, but over-exploited by a few).
Most recently, as featured in the sequel documentary to Jump London, Jump Britain, computer game developers Core Design have been in the process of creating a parkour video game. For many, this could be construed as the beginning of a frenzy of media exploitation of parkour, and indeed the concept of the game seems utterly opposed or oblivious to the actual principles and motives behind it. Whether one focuses on the influx of youngsters playing the game who either attempt the unrealistic movements involved, simply continue to re-enact the goings on of the game in a virtual world, or how the game will affect the actual practitioners of parkour, (possibly idolising them), one cannot escape the fact that this game will have a huge impact on Parkour.
General Parkour Links
- DavidBelle.com (http://www.davidbelle.com/) - The official website of David Belle, the recognised founder of parkour.
- Parkour.com (http://www.parkour.com/) - The official website of Sebastien Foucan, one of the co-founders of parkour.
- Parkour Worldwide Association (http://www.pawa.fr/) - The official association for the promotion of parkour worldwide. Headed up by the founder of parkour - David Belle.
- Art-Du-Deplacement.com (http://www.art-du-deplacement.com/) - International collective of traceurs, with an international and multilingual forum. New and experienced traceurs from all around the world.
- SpeedAirMan.com (http://www.SpeedAirMan.com/) - Parkour community often updated with a lot of videos, photos and links.
Regional Parkour Links
- Team Seishin (http://www.seishin-parkour.com/) - Homepage of Team-Seishin - one of the UK's top Parkour groups.
- UK Parkour Association (http://www.parkour.org.uk/) - Home of the UK Parkour Association. With an active community & traceur network.
- Levity - Parkour Community (http://www.screwgravity.com/) - UK forums (Levity are based in Devon), with extensive parkour tutorials and pictures. Regular, good quality updates.
- Parkour Life (http://www.bbc.co.uk/birmingham/features/2004/05/parkour/parkour_life.shtml) - A BBC article on parkour.
- parkour.de (http://www.parkour.de/) - Well organised German parkour-community and resource website.
- parkour.fi (http://www.parkour.fi/) - Finnish Parkour Association.
- parkour.no (http://www.parkour.no/) - Norwegian free-running community.
- parkour.at (http://www.parkour.at/) - Austrian Website on le parkour.
- parkour.pl (http://www.parkour.pl/) - Polish Website on le parkour.
- le-parkour.se (http://www.le-parkour.se/) - Swedish parkour community.
- Mind Over Matter Parkour (http://mindovermatter.le-parkour.net/) - The webpage of a UK parkour group based in Blackpool.
- Nottingham Parkour forum (http://www.cksiteoftreats.co.uk/nottspk/) - Nottingham Parkour forum.
- Northern Parkour (http://www.northernparkour.com/) - Parkour community (website and forum) in the North of England.
- Norwich Parkour (http://www.norwich-parkour.com/) - Norwich Parkour.
- umparkour.com (http://www.umparkour.com/) - Spanish website and forum dedicated to parkour.
- glasgowparkour.co.uk (http://www.glasgowparkour.co.uk/) - a Glasgow based parkour community
- ed-pkksyfgot .com (http://www.ed-pk.com/) - an Edinburgh based parkour community
- Parkour Portugal - parkourpt.com (http://www.parkourpt.com/) - Portuguese parkour community website.
- Silent Motion (http://www.silentmotion.co.uk/) - Local site for Berkshire and the surrounding area.
- PK London (http://www.pklondon.com/) Website and forum for the London parkour scene.
- p3-team.prv.pl (http://www.p3-team.prv.pl/) Parkour team from Poland.
- le-parkour.pl (http://www.le-parkour.pl/) Polish parkour forum.
- parkouros.com (http://www.parkouros.com/) - Parkour crew from Osijek @ Croatia.
- Overflux.com (http://www.Overflux.com/) - Parkour community for the south-eastern USA.
- Salt Lake City Parkour (http://www.slcpk.org/) - A group created to connect traceurs in the Salt Lake Valley area.
- Montreal Parkour Community (http://www.pk514.com/) - A forum for the parkour scene in Montreal and the surrounding area.
- Parkour Site for Ottawa (http://www.pkcc.ca/) - A site for the city and surrounding area of Canada's capital.
- Toronto Parkour Network (http://www.pkto.ca/) - Home of Toronto's Parkour Network.de:Parkour