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.
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
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
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).
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
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
great physical strength, there is much mental strength involved as well. Mark Toorock, the
founder of AmericanParkour.com 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
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
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
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.
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. <http://www.3run.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=7787>.
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. <http://www.lexisnexis.com/us/lnlib/results/docview/
Stephen, Kenneth. “Bouncing off the Walls.” The Herald [Glasgow] 25 Apr. 2009, Final ed.: 8.
LexisNexis Library Express. Web. 7 Feb. 2011. <http://www.lexisnexis.com/us/lnlib/
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.