KimJacobus - Parkour

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Kim Jacobus


AP Language

28 February 2011

                                          Leap of Faith

       His heart is racing, his adrenaline is pumping, his mind is completely focused. With

nimble footsteps hitting the ground at break-neck speed, he bends his knees, takes a leap of faith,

and braces for impact. Crossing the fifteen-foot gap between the two buildings with ease while

soaring through the air, he lands on both feet, bends his knees once again, rolls onto the ground,

and is up and running again in one fluid motion. There’s no stopping him now. Sliding down a

twenty-foot drainpipe and landing softly on the ground below, he takes off again. He runs up

stair railings, jumps from bench to bench amid various urban furniture, and scales walls as if he

were part animal. Is this man Spiderman? Is he an acrobat? Is this a form of entertainment? No,

no, and no. This man is an example of a parkour artist, otherwise known as a traceur.
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        The origin of the word “parkour” is much debated in the world of parkour, stemming

from multiple accounts of its beginning. Some believe that parkour translates from French to

English as “obstacle course,” “the way through,” “the path,” or “park running.” Others think that

the term derives from “parcours du combatant,” the classic obstacle course method of military

training coined by Georges Hérbert (Tobin 25). With no direct translation, the exact meaning of

the word is disputable. However, parkour itself is plentiful in meaning, more so than one might

think. One who practices parkour is referred to as a “traceur” (or “traceuse” for women). It is

commonly agreed upon that a “traceur” derives from the French word “tracer,” meaning to hurry

or move quickly (Tobin 25). More important, however, than the origins of the parkour lingo is

the origins of parkour itself.

        It is widely accepted in the realm of parkour that Frenchman David Belle is the founder

of Parkour.                                         Belle was born on April 29, 1973 in Fécamp,

France to a family living a comfortable suburb life. Throughout his life, Belle was interested in

many sports and had early athletic training such as climbing, gymnastics, and martial arts. As a

child, Belle admired his father’s strength and tenacity (Belle). Raymond Belle, David’s father,

was an elite firefighter whose military training in Vietnam and training in irefighting shaped his
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understanding of movement (Parkour Revolution). Essentially, David’s father was interested in

a form of parkour before David had even invented it. Granted, David reformed parkour into

what it is today, but his inspiration for the sport came from the training that his father had done

in Vietnam.

At the age of 15, Belle left school and moved to Lisses, Paris to begin national service. During

his time of service he became certified in French national First Aid and certified in gymnastics

leadership. Following his certifications, Belle followed his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps

and became a fireman. Belle went into the French army and was in the Marine Infantry,

constantly focusing on athleticism. His background in intense athleticism gave him the

foundations for the philosophy and physicality of parkour. Since inventing the sport, Belle has

appeared in movies as a stuntman and actor and has hosted many Parkour events throughout the

world. However, Belle does admit that “parkour is not the only thing in life,” stating that he is

interesting in other things, such as playing musical instruments and learning to cook. Being as

well-rounded as Belle is not a requirement for parkour, but understanding and following the

correct philosophy of parkour is necessary (Belle).
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       As David Belle likes to point out to every person who inquires about parkour, there is a

large difference between parkour and what is known as “freerunning.” There may only be one

major difference between the two, but it is quite vast regarding the philosophy of parkour (Belle).

Parkour is not a sport in which people “show off” how many flips and tricks they can do in the

air in an urban setting. This is a common misconception because of its similarities with

freerunning. The techniques used in parkour and freerunning are essentially the same, however

freerunning is a competition, while parkour is not (Tobin 25). Freerunning is a competition

between performers based on tricks done while performing. While freerunning is generally a

sport in which performers entertain spectators, parkour has a deeper, more philosophical

approach. (Parkour Revolution). Parkour is not meant to be flashy, parkour is not meant to be

purposely dangerous. Sure, scaling walls of buildings may be aesthetically pleasing in a

daredevil way, and sure jumping off of a ten-foot wall may seem dangerous and just begging for

injury, but the emphasis of parkour separates it from freerunning and from being quite dangerous.

Parkour relies on speed, directness, and efficiency (Tobin 25). The basic principle of parkour is

to travel from one point to another as quickly and as efficiently as possible. While freerunning

uses specific moves and stunts to impress spectators, parkour embraces simplicity in getting from

point A to point B. What most people do not understand about parkour is that it is not about

dangerous jumps, flips, and tricks, but about fine-tuning the mind and the body to overcome

obstacles and fear (Stephen 8). In order to overcome obstacles and fear, one must be confident

and one must understand a desire to be a part of parkour, mentally and physically (Parkour

Revolution). Angie Rupp, a 31-year-old treaceuse from Munich describes the meaning of

parkour and overcoming obstacles: “People shouldn’t just see this as hopping off walls, because

it is much more. Parkour requires conditioning and the use of the mind. It makes any risk a
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calculated risk, like driving a fast car. With parkour you are constantly assessing how far you

can go and pushing your limits just a wee bit further each time. It helps me to assess problems,

and I take the determination needed for parkour into my everyday life” (Stephen 8). Evidently,

the actual purpose and philosophy of parkour roots much deeper than simply transporting oneself

from one point to another, overcoming physical obstacles in the way.

       Although parkour’s basic philosophy centers around getting from point A to point B as

quickly and as efficiently as possible, there is a more implicit meaning. Parkour is not meant to

be a competition between people, but a collective activity, connecting traceurs and traceuses all

over the world (Parkour Revolution). As described by Belle: “The goal of Parkour is not to

make money or create a business. There is not financial goal behind it. Parkour should be taught

to people who want to learn. If they don’t have money it does not matter because you don’t need

any to do it, just a pair of good shoes and that’s all” (Belle). No matter the socioeconomic or

racial background, anyone can participate in parkour. Parkour is open to anyone willing to try it

and welcomes people of all ages and background. While connecting traceurs and traceuses,

parkour aims to improve strength, both mental and physical while developing one’s own

technique to overcome not only physical obstacles, but mental and emotional barriers as well

(Stephen 8). Chris Grant of Glasgow Parkour Coaching stresses finding a “solution” to any

obstacle through parkour: “[With parkour], nothing is a restriction and everything is a challenge.

It’s about finding a solution.” The philosophy of bringing people together and overcoming

mental obstacles through parkour sets it apart from many sports, even with its recent beginnings.

       Mentally, parkour can help shape a one’s outlook on life and can help one discipline

themselves. Because parkour is not only a physical discipline, but also a mental discipline,

parkour is “a never-ending search for ‘stillness of mind’” (Marion). Although parkour takes
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great physical strength, there is much mental strength involved as well. Mark Toorock, the

founder of states: “It’s mental. You practice phsycial movements to the

point where it’s all in your mind. Your body just does what it needs to get there. The state of

mind isn’t a matter of some instant transformation mid-technique, but rather a product of

diligently applying a state of mindfulness to all training, and eventually, all of your everyday life.

At that point we will truly understand the goal of parkour: to create endless opportunities for

progress where others see only obstacles” (Marion). Evidently, there is a vital mental aspect to

parkour, as well as the necessary physical aspect.

       “Traceurs want to go from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, no matter what

obstacles are in their way. They may have to leap off a roof, vault a handrail, jump a planter full

of pretty flower, but on they go, rolling with the environment, never stopping that forward

momentum. Pushing, pulling, climbing. Leaping, falling, sprinting, standing, sliding, still going”

(Marion). Physically, mastering the art of parkour is “about starting off very small and

practicing the basics and working within your limits” – Toorock (Marion). It is important to

know the rules and the necessary safety protocol of parkour. Minimizing impact is key. For

example, traceurs are taught to roll slightly to the side while landing on the ground in a

somersault in order to avoid spinal column contact with the ground. Bent knees, body strength,

and balance are all incorporated into the essential components of parkour (Marion). However,

practicing parkour safely does not always mean that it is easy: “you are going to cry, you are

going to bleed, and you are going to sweat like never before. If you want to be a real warrior you

have to go through hard times” – David Belle (Belle). Even professional traceurs experience

“hard times” while training for parkour, which is why physical discipline is so important. Going
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through these “hard times” and resisting the temptation to quit leads to success both mentally and


       Unlike competition freerunning, parkour is a street art that embraces continuous

movement over obstacles. There are no rules, no projected outcomes, one must “find [their] own

way” (Stephen 8). Because each obstacle presents a unique challenge, different traceurs have

different paths for overcoming obstacles. A traceur must use efficiency and speed in order to

take the most direct path through an obstacle. There is no certain clothing to be worn, although

athletic shoes are highly recommended, any part of the body can be used. There is no list of

movements and it is a noncompetitive sport. The only rule David Belle is concerned with is

“overcoming obstacles with both the mind and body” (Belle).

       Since parkour’s official foundation in the late 1990s, the popularity of parkour has

skyrocketed. Mark Toorock estimates that there are over 40,000 traceurs worldwide, most

between the ages of 13 and 26 (Marion). However, parkour is open to people of all backgrounds

and ages. Toorock believes that parkour is “innate” and is a sport that any person of any age can

attempt (Marion). In the early 2000s, David Belle’s brother began filming David’s parkour

stunts and putting them on video sharing sites, such as YouTube. After the media found out

about these “small videos,” David Belle was deemed the official founder of Parkour and has

since been featured in movies such as District 13, Prince of Persia, and Casino Royale. Belle

states that he is “happy to have brought parkour to the public and make it known” (Belle).

       As with any every craze, rising concern accompanies booming popularity. Since parkour

was introduced to the public, there has only been one official death attributed to parkour. A 14-

year-old male British skateboarder fell off of a roof one day while looking over the edge to

evaluate a jump (Marion). Safety officials across Europe condemned the sport, however, reports
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of the boy smoking marijuana raised questions instead about substance abuse rather than the

dangers of parkour. In fact, many reports have shown parkour to actually improve children’s

behavior. The Westminster Sports Unit in England has funded coaches at Parkour Generation to

provide lessons to 14 schools across the country. Other local councils are looking at teaching it

as well since it has been hailed as crime-busting and education-enhancing after being introduced

to the Quintin Kynaston School in Swiss Cottage London (Tobin 25). At Quintin Kynaston,

1,300 students receive free meals, 40% have learning disabilities or difficulties, three-fourths of

the students speak English as a second language, in 1995 a pupil stabbed headteacher Philip

Lawrence, and the school often deals with gang violence in the hallways (Tobin 25). Since

implementing a parkour program at the school in the early 2000s, the school has reported that

students who have started doing parkour are less likely to face trouble, as youth crime has since

fallen by 69% (Tobin 25). One student, Connor Bloomfield, 13, explains how parkour has

helped him: “I didn’t really believe I would be good at anything. But parkour changed that,

because it tested my body’s ability to do things. I have much more confidence and have learned

a lot about discipline. I can concentrate more in class now and believe in myself a bit.” The

Association for Physical Education reports: “parkour-related activity challenges a number of

fundamental safety principles” and recommends that the sport should be taught inside, to

discourage teenagers from replicating its moves in a less-safe environment (Tobin 25). Even if

taught inside rather than its traditional environment outside, parkour can still help people both

mentally and physically.

       Many people around the world feel that parkour has changed their lives for the better.

With parkour, more personal freedom is recognized: “I think that when you train parkour, you

realize a bit more about what freedom means especially concerning society. It really opened my
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mine,” states David Belle (Belle). Belle is not the only person who believes that an open mind

comes from parkour: “It’s our mind that holds us back. People are led by fear. Often it forces

(them) into inaction. By learning through physical action to overcome some of these obstacles,

maybe some of these fears that we have – these other things – can be overcome with our minds”

– Mark Toorock (Marion). The ability to overcome both physical and mental obstacles allows

people to instill more confidence and open-mindedness into every-day concerns. Tampa resident

Daniel Arroyo, 22, explains how parkour has helped him overcome physical and mental barriers:

“I think you can apply a lot of what parkour is to what you experience in life. Whenever you’re

about to do something in parkour, you generally have a fear – whether it’s trying parkour for the

first time or doing a difficult maneuver. You can either complete the maneuver right then, or

come back later, after the fear has subsided. The key is learning to overcome the fear” (Red 78).

Although overcoming obstacles, including fear, is essential to being a successful traceur, it is

important to understand self limitations and abilities (Marion). One who practices parkour must

be aware of their limitations and their environment in order to see success. In addition,

professional traceurs recommend training before anyone attempts parkour.

       Parkour is a rapidly-growing, philosophy-filled sport. Similar to freerunning in technique

but different in philosophy, parkour is a sport that brings communities together, challenges one’s

mind and body, and encourages one to overcome obstacles with a confident, open mind. While

there are concerns about the safety of traceurs and traceuses, parkour has proven to improve to

morale of communities and the morale of individuals when practiced and performed correctly.

Reports foresee parkour continuing to grow and to improve communities across the world,

uniting them with a single purpose: to overcome barriers. With this in mind, the traceur easily

jumps a gap bigger than ever before, opening his mind to a world of endless possibilities.
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                                         Works Cited

Belle, David. “Australian Parkour Association: Interview with David Belle.” Interview by

       Zachary Cohn. American Parkour. N.p., 21 Apr. 2009. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.

Handle. “David Belle’s Biography.” 3Run Parkour & Freerunning Forums. N.p., 4 Mar. 2007.

       Web. 27 Feb. 2011. <>.

Marion, Fred. “Don’t Try These Extreme Tricks at Home.” The Palm Beach Post. N.p., 12 Apr.

       2006. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.

“A Parkour Revolution on Moscow Streets.” The Moscow News [Moscow] 20 Sept. 2010: n. pag.

       LexisNexis Library Express. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.

Red, Christian. “By Leaps and Bounds Parkour is Taking off With International Following.”

       Daily News [New York] 26 July 2009, Sports Final ed.: 78. LexisNexis Library Express.

       Web. 7 Feb. 2011. <



Stephen, Kenneth. “Bouncing off the Walls.” The Herald [Glasgow] 25 Apr. 2009, Final ed.: 8.

       LexisNexis Library Express. Web. 7 Feb. 2011. <



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Tobin, Lucy. "Soaraway Success: Parkour - The Skill of Leaping in Urban Areas -

          is Engaging Young People. And It's Fun to Watch, Too." The Guardian [London]

          17 Mar. 2009, Final ed.: 25. LexisNexis Library Express. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.

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