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Train Like Spiderman: An Introduction to Parkour

By Edited Apr 24, 2014 1 3

How to scale tall buildings, jump like a human pogo stick and look really, really cool

What is Parkour?

To an outsider, parkour may appear as an insane, nonsensical jumping, flipping, acrobatic expression of physical fitness or as an irresponsible act of teenagers. To those that love and appreciate it, however, parkour is a training method that pushes practitioners or “traceurs” to overcome obstacles, both mental and physical, by training the athlete to always move forward no matter what hurdle may be in the way.

Parkour is dynamic. It's exciting. And, it's taking the world by storm.

Origins of Parkour

Parkour was founded in the mid-1990s by Frenchman David Belle whose father was a proponent of classic French military style training techniques called “parcours du combattant.” Inspired by his father, Belle adopted the training method with a unique twist, transforming the pure physical exercise into an expression a philosophy.

Parkour Philosophy

According to Belle, Parkour is about overcoming obstacles, physical and mental, with a focus on speed and efficiency. It's about confidence, readiness and never giving up or going backward.

“We train and when one day we encounter a problem we know that we are able to use it. It can be the art of flight, of the chase, of helping someone with a problem, or something ordinary.

“Parkour is firstly about the useful side, to teach people how to trust themselves, to learn to be careful. The philosophy is always to advance, never to stop. If some time you have problems, like in life, if you have an obstacle you must always continue forward.”

The crux of the philosophy is making parkour accessible and useful to everyone in an open environment without competition, rivalry or commercialism. Ironically, that sentiment prompted a split between Belle and early traceurs, some of whom broke off from Belle's parkour to create a sub-discipline called freerunning.

Freerunning Legend Sebastian Foucan

Credited by many as the father of freerunning, Sebastian Foucan was an early practitioner of parkour who broke from Belle during the filming of the English film Jump London.

According to Foucan, freerunning is his “parkour evolution.” Foucan's evolution is about using parkour as a physical art-form or self-expression that allows him the freedom to incorporate other influences, such as breakdancing or capoiera, into his more acrobatic technique. Foucan contends that parkour in its original sense is too limiting artistically because it requires the traceur to maintain simple, efficient movements.

While many do not see a significant difference between Foucan's freerunning and Belle's parkour, the freerunning and parkour communities generally identify with either Belle's or Foucan's style.

Parkour in Popular Media

You may have not known its name but if you own a television, you've certainly been exposed to parkour and freerunning in mass media. Its dynamic, acrobatic style has earned Belle and Foucan careers in film and choreography.

Given their history, many traceurs and fans of parkour find opportunities to compare and rate Belle against Foucan. This hilarious YouTube parkour video shows popular television commercials featuring the two athletes.

(Hint: The first half of the video starts in French but quickly moves to English. Be patient - it's worth it!)

Their work in bringing freerunning and parkour to the mainstream has also opened doors for other talented traceurs in the entertainment industry.

Jumping, climbing, scrambling action scenes in our favorite films, television shows and commercials are oftentimes inspired by parkour techniques. This video shows a pretty interesting sampling of known parkour artists who were highlighted in mass media.

Compilation of Traceurs in Popular Media

Women of Parkour

While this subculture is primarily dominated by men, women (called “traceuses”) are a growing part of the parkour community. Because of the inherent differences between male and female altheticism and center of gravity, many traceuses find that their expression of parkour requires them to jump and flip differently than their male counterparts.

Carolynn Grigsby, traceuse from Colorado and member of the APEX Movement team, shows what a talented female practitioner of parkour can do.

Parkour Is Truly for Everyone

Think that parkour is an extreme sport just for adults? Think again.

6 year old Keagan Gransbery shows off his parkour skills in this video with an amazing show of control, balance and altheticism.

Before you try this at home (or at the skate park)

Parkour and freerunning are inherently risky activities. Before getting out there and jumping off a bridge or scaling a building, keep in mind that it is possible to get seriously hurt. Train small and work your way up, hopefully with an experienced traceur or traceuse.

Epic Freerunning and Parkour Fails

Getting Started with Parkour

With enthusiasts all over the world, chances are that there is a parkour community in a city near you. Gatherings of traceurs are called “jams.” These events tend to happen at gymnastic or martial arts studios or in public parks.

In the US, you'll find that most groups identify with the term “parkour” as opposed to freerunning. To find a group near you, I would suggest a simple Google search with your city's name and the word parkour.

Parkour Workouts for Beginners

Incorporating parkour techniques into your workout can spice up an otherwise dull run in the park. This video, for example, gives some basic exercises that helps you to incorporate body weight resistance training with a simple rail that you'd find in any public park.

Parkour and freerunning are elegant, beautiful, and extreme. They represent something both edgy and entertaining, something that goes way beyond the comfort level of many athletes.

Because it is absolutely mind-blowing and visually stunning, it's easy to lose sight of what parkour was intended to be. More than a set of physical techniques or a training system, it's a philosophy meant to inspire and empower.

Even if you can't physically pull a “double kong” (e.g. leap over two walls at once), you can do something. My parkour challenge to you is simple, start thinking of and really seeing the obstacles ahead of you. Either scale them or use them. Never let them be a barrier.

 

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Comments

Mar 3, 2012 1:08pm
Senterprises
Awesome article Samantha! I've been thinking about getting into parkour myself. Looks like an excellent form of exercise and definitely one that won't bore you while you're doing it.
Mar 3, 2012 1:18pm
miravu
Thanks Senterprises! I came across parkour while looking up photos for martial arts tricking on Wikimedia and was completely blown away by it. The kind of grace and power these athletes have is just phenomenal. It's this week's addition to the bucket list for me...hopefully I don't end up on the "epic fail" bloopers reel.
Apr 10, 2012 12:34am
Prosperity
I love this sport!!!
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