What is Parkour?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Parkour is a movement philosophy which was developed in twentieth century France.
Parkour is a movement philosophy which was developed in twentieth century France.

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.

In theory, parkour is about learning to quickly navigate obstacles in an emergency situation.
In theory, parkour is about learning to quickly navigate obstacles in an emergency situation.

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?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@helene: Parkour is very easy to learn and understand and the easiest way to get involved would be (A) search facebook or google for local Parkour communities or even better, (B) approach these people you see training and talk with them about it. Trust me, all traceurs (practitioners of Parkour) will always be happy to spread a positive image of Parkour and get new people involved. When you say it looks like they make it up as they go, that is exactly what they are doing. Parkour is not about planning and structure. It is the opposite. It is all about going outside the norm. It's about thinking outside the box and making adjustments and adaptions to better your goal.

@Watson: The one fatal flaw in your comment is that you included "in my experience". To truly understand Parkour, one must research or become a traceur and become involved with Parkour rather than just becoming another heckler passing by. While Parkour has been always compared to skateboarding, it is vastly different in its underlying philosophies.

Skating has always been about being the best. It is an openly competitive sport and has always been that way. It is about who can get the most air, the best trick and the fastest ride. It is about getting better for other people. Parkour is about bettering yourself. It is about being better to prove to yourself that you can jump further than you did last week, or vault that bar that you always doubted yourself on. Parkour is one of the most philosophical disciplines in the world. It has taught people self respect, given people skills and fitness, and it's pretty cool to watch.

P.S. We very rarely actually climb buildings.


I've been doing parkour for two years and yes, I am young but it's changed my outlook on how I view the world around me today. I used to just see as most did -- not much to really look at, but since I've been doing it I now see it all as an obstacle course and I am but a mere player running through it.


It's not a sport. It's an art, a discipline. When you do a gainer it is a sport, an extreme sport. the 1st important rule in the art of movement is safety. L'art du deplacement (Parkour and freerunning) are the same but are used in different ways. Parkour is a discipline that helps to overcome any obstacle by finding the most efficient and fastest way to get from point A to point B using only facilities of our body and freerunning is the beauty of movement, how beautifully we overcome an obstacle, using facilities of our body.


I would be interested to "learn" parkour, but there does not seem to be a very easy way to do this. Most people who do it are young and seem to be making it up as they go along; that, and sometimes it is technically not allowed in the places that people do it. If there is a real technique, though, I wish it were easier to learn it.


This article makes Parkour sound very philosophical; in my experience, though, it is mostly goofy teenage boys who are bored with skateboards and like to climb buildings.

I'm not knocking it, because some people do really interesting things with it, but I just don't believe that most people who "practice" parkour are doing it to be deep.

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