Parkour: The new and exciting fitness mantra
Bored of monotonous fitness exercises? Is jogging too mainstream for you? Then perhaps you should try parkour, a new training discipline that takes its origins from obstacle courses used in the military.
What’s so special about parkour? For starters, you use your surroundings, not just your body, to move. Roll, vault, jump and climb your way to the destination. Parkour has been described as an innovative way for humans to interact with their physical environment and rediscover the fitness of prehistoric mankind.
Founding fathers: The men who trained differently
Parkour was born through Raymond Belle and later evolved through his son David. Raymond Belle was born in Vietnam in 1939 to a French doctor and a Vietnamese mother. During the first Indo-China war, Raymond was separated from his parents and sent to a French military orphanage while aged just seven. As the years went by, he used intensive physical training as a source of strength to get through his difficult childhood. Apart from using the obstacle courses present at the orphanage, Raymond would sneak out at night to run and climb trees to improve his endurance and flexibility.
Later on, his son David would pick up this intense ‘survival’ form of training. Growing up, David was dissatisfied with the sports in his school and the local athletics club. Discussions with his father led him to realize that he wanted to undergo a training program that would be useful in real life, rather than learn how to kick a ball or learn certain kind of movements in an indoor gym.
The term ‘parkour’ actually comes from the French phrase ‘Le parcours’ (from ‘parcours du combattant’, the classic obstacle-course method of military training) that was passed down to David from his father.
David dropped school and pursued parkour full time, and was joined by several friends along the way. In the late 1990s his brother sent videotapes of David’s training exercises to a local French TV channel and this sparked the visibility and popularity that parkour has today.
Philosophy and techniques
Parkour is essentially a free style art. There are no rules and it is usually non-competitive in nature. Parkour is more about personal freedom and expression and overcoming physical barriers. Instead of running laps around a track, you are navigating yourself through your city.
Parkour is often thought to have special significance in urban spaces. It’s a way of not being confined to the fixed ‘concreteness’ of the city with all its streets and buildings. With parkour you move any way you want; this provides an outlet for creative individualism.
Parkour involves using objects around to you to sustain your forward momentum. A good example is the use of rolling motion. When jumping down from a high location, instead of just trying to balance yourself on two feet while landing, parkour recommends that you roll as you hit the ground. The rolling motion helps to better sustain the impact or shock one feels as we land. And it also helps you to continue to move quickly, without the need to stop and start again.
Another instance of parkour is vaulting over an obstacle in your path rather than jumping over it or moving around it.
Sebastien Foucan was one of the people who practised parkour with David Belle at the onset. He then developed his own derivative of parkour called free running. Free running is more of a martial arts form, and involves movements which are more acrobatic than parkour.
The language of parkour
Parkour has developed its own interesting jargon. A person who practises it is called either a traceur or traceuse, both coming from the French word for ‘trace’. The idea behind this is that you’re basically tracing your own path. A meeting of traceurs is called a ‘jam’. It often involves trainers from different cities that come together and practise for a long period of time. This could range from several hours to a few days.
Parkour in popular culture
Parkour clearly has entertainment value in terms of drawing spectators and hence has been utilized in many action films and video games. David Belle was in fact hired to be one of the stunt coordinators in the film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Meanwhile, Sebastien Foucan utilized his free running skills when he acted in the opening chase sequence of Casino Royale. Interestingly, after Casino Royale, several military forces including the United States Marines and the British Royal Marines hired parkour specialists to train some of their troops.
Free running is also used for character movement in the popular Assassin’s Creed series of video games. Most recently, Belle demonstrated his parkour skills in the movie ‘Brick Mansions’, starring alongside the late Paul Walker.
Parkour near uou?
The global presence of parkour has been expanding. In Hyderabad, the Greater Hyderabad Adventure Club (GHAC) in association with a group called Team Karma offers parkour classes. The participants are taught strength building techniques needed for parkour as wells as the basic parkour movements like rolling, swinging and vaulting.
Parkour is clearly a changing art form and has proved to be a unique and interesting training regime that is gaining presence in places around the world. And the best part is that you define how you want to do it!