Parkour is a movement philosophy which was developed in twentieth century France. It is a bit difficult to define parkour, since it integrates several disciplines; it could be said to be a sport, a hobby, and a philosophy. Essentially, parkour is about learning to navigate obstacles, and rethinking the use of one's body and the use of public spaces. Some practitioners of parkour believe that the techniques they learn in the practice of this sport also carry over into their daily lives, making them more courageous and confident with obstacles ranging from disagreements in the office to more personal emotional challenges.
The earliest form of parkour was developed by Georges Hebert, a French naval officer who served during the First and Second World Wars. As he served France, he also traveled, and he was struck by the efficient, flowing gymnastic movements of some of the African tribes he visited. When he returned to France, he started to develop a method of natural movement for members of the military, in which men and women were encouraged to move efficiently and effectively around a wide variety of obstacles. The méthode naturelle began to be regularly taught, setting the stage for the development of parkour.
One of the founding figures of parkour is David Belle, who was taught the méthode naturelle by his father in the 1980s. Belle coined the term “parkour,” which is derived from parcours du combattant, an obstacle course which is used to train members of the French military. Parkour is also known as l'art du déplacement, which translates as “the art of displacement,” and some people simply call it “PK.” Someone who practices parkour is known as a traceur, or a traceuse if she is female.
The art of parkour is about getting from place to place in the most efficient way possible. In theory, parkour is about learning to quickly navigate obstacles in an emergency situation. Training in parkour allows people to assess obstacles on an individual basis and decide on the best way for getting around them, based on the obstacle, the physical abilities of the practitioner, and the situation. There is an emphasis on smooth, limber movements, and training sometimes includes education in the martial arts.
This sport began to be popularized in the 1990s, when several films were made about parkour. Some traceurs have expressed unhappiness with the mainstreaming of the sport, especially since parkour can be dangerous when it is practiced by someone who has not received proper training. The art includes flying leaps, jumps, and other physically challenging moves which can look very showy, but also be hazardous.
If you are interested in seeing parkour in action, many major cities have groups which perform periodic demonstrations. These groups also offer training in parkour to people who are interested in learning more about the sport. Parkour is certainly an innovative and sometimes very enjoyable way to get active and change your relationship with your body and the space around you; why jog on the streets, for example, when you can navigate an obstacle course of your own devising through public spaces?