“What famous film coined the term “Freerunning?””
“Is Yamakasi a film or a famous Parkour group?”
“What are the 10 essential movements of the “Méthode Naturelle?””
While Parkour is a new sport in the mainstream spotlight, its roots date back more than 100 years. Over that time, dozens of influential people helped to build the sport into what it is today. Some of them borrowed ideas from other cultures, while others looked deep inside their own minds.
When you put all their efforts together, you get the modern sport of Parkour. Here is a brief story about how the sport started.
Military BeginningsIn the late 1800s, a naval officer named Georges Hébert spent many years traveling to Africa on assignment. He noticed that the tribes there had remarkable fitness, agility, and athleticism.
However, he also noticed that none of these tribes had gymnastics tutors of any kind. Their only training was through exploring their natural environment. They gained all of their physical fitness through running, jumping, throwing, and climbing.
Later, in 1902, Hébert helped rescue victims from a volcano eruption in Saint-Pierre, Martinique. After the experience, he believed that all sports must include self-sacrifice and courage. He thought athletes must push themselves to become better people.
Hébert went on to become a gym teacher in France, where he spread his ideas further. He called his system the "méthode naturelle" (natural method).
There were 10 essential movements in the Natural Method: walking, running, climbing, jumping, quadrupedal movement, throwing, balancing, lifting, self-defense, and swimming.
During World War I and II, Hébert taught the French military his techniques. His teachings eventually led to the design of the "parcours," which is a type of French obstacle course still used today.
David BelleMost of you should already know who David Belle is. He is the founder of Parkour in its modern form. He has appeared in blockbuster films, and people throughout the world know about his talents. Parkour would not be where it is today without him.
When he was a young boy, David hated many of the sports teams he played for and his sports education at school. It wasn't until David learned about his own father's history that he discovered his calling.
David's father, Raymond Belle, lived in a military orphanage in Vietnam when he was a child. While living there, Raymond would train on the military obstacle course while the other kids were asleep. He did this to increase his strength to prevent himself from becoming a victim of abuse. This training discipline allowed Raymond to thrive in the military when we returned to France in 1954.
David learned about his father's history and started emulating his training. Raymond taught David that training was more than just exercise. In his mind, training was about becoming a better person and learning to survive.
David became fascinated with this idea and dedicated his life to training as his father did. He was so consumed by it that he quit school to train more.
Word of the Sport Begins to SpreadDavid continued training and found several other teenagers who shared his interest in this style of sport. They formed a group that would later be known as Yamakasi.
Many members of the group would go on to advance the sport significantly. One of them was Sébastien Foucan, who coined the term "freerunning" in the film Jump London. Foucan said freerunning was his evolution of Parkour because he wanted to be free to do flips and other movements.
The group, including David and Foucan, continued training Parkour as a means of self-discipline. In 1997, they made a film featuring Belle titled “Speed Air Man.”
The film eventually made its way to a French TV station. The station did a news feature about the group and the popularity of the sport spread.
However, Yamakasi eventually split up over personal differences, and the group went their separate ways.
Parkour Hits the MainstreamBy the time 2001 rolled around, Parkour was spreading across the globe. David Belle had started his career as an actor and had appeared in a BBC commercial showing off his skills.
Parkour also started making its way into the cinema. In 2001, Luc Besson made Yamakasi, a film based loosely on Belle's original Parkour group. The famous Jump London documentary in 2003, and a sequel in 2005 helped to launch the sport further.
In 2004, Parkour made its big screen debut in District 13. The film featured a scene with David Belle showing impressive Parkour skills while evading attackers.
Belle's Parkour scene in District 13 was such a hit that he performed a similar scene in the film's sequel, District 13 Ultimatum.
By then, the floodgates were open, and Parkour had arrived. In 2006, the film Casino Royale featured Sébastien Foucan showing off his skills in the opening scene. Foucan and Daniel Craig (playing James Bond) engaged in a thrilling chase shown here:
Casino Royale and The Bourne Ultimatum were the first blockbuster Hollywood films to show Parkour. These films helped to introduce a wave of Parkour stunts in Western film.
Parkour also started appearing in video games like Assassin's Creed and Mirror's Edge.
Social Media and the Modern SportAfter reaching mainstream recognition, social media carried Parkour to where it is today. Parkour’s lack of rules and regulations meant it spread across cultures with ease. Traceurs were only limited by their imaginations and dreams.
The New York Times documented three young traceurs in the Gaza Strip who dedicated their lives to the sport:
From the Gaza strip, to young Thais in Bangkok, the sport has truly stretched across the globe:
Social media brings us to the modern age of the sport. Where Parkour goes from here will depend on the young traceurs that carry it across the globe.
The beginning of the sport was sculpted by a handful of kids. The next phase of the sport will be crafted by the rest of the world.