NOTE: This is B.A.S.E. Fitness’ history of Parkour as researched by members of our Board and learned from Parkour Generations studies and experience.
Parkour as we know it today originated in France and was popularized by a traceur named David Belle. Arguably though, Parkour history goes back as far as that of human beings. Sebastien Foucan, one of the elite French traceurs, and recently featured in the movie Casino Royale, has stated that when our ancestors chased game or were chased by predators they were practicing Parkour. This emphasis on the utility of Parkour is a common theme amongst the French traceurs.
More recently Parkour can trace its roots to one George Hebert. A French soldier and philosopher of physical culture, he was inspired by the athletic qualities of natives he encountered while serving in the army in Africa. He developed a philosophy of physical culture from his observations called Le Methode Naturelle (“Natural Method”). Methode Naturelle was based on the idea that humans had ten essential movement capacities to walk, run, jump, climb, move on all fours, swim, balance, lift, throw, and engage in self-defense. One of the main methods Hebert proposed to train these capacities was obstacle courses. These courses, known as Parcours Du Combat, have become part of military training systems throughout the world. Part of Hebert’s philosophy was that physical training should strengthen one’s moral fabric. His motto was “Être fort pour être utile,” (“be strong to be useful”). As any traceur can tell you, this is an important foundation of the Parkour philosophy.
One follower of Hebert’s Natural Method was Raymond Belle, a French national born in Vietnam in 1939. Belle lost his father during the Vietnamese uprising against the French and was taken in as a teenager by the French army. He was trained as a soldier and seems to have been part of a group of people who adapted Hebert’s Natural Method to train for combat in the jungle. He later went on to become an athletic hero in the French army and a member of the elite French military fire fighters.
Raymond’s son David Belle would inherit the knowledge of movement that his father developed as well as the athletic talent. As a teenager David Belle and 8 others – William Belle and Chau Belle Dinh, Frederic and Yann Hnautra, Laurent Piemontesi, Charles Perriere and Malik Diouf – would take their childhood games and influences from their cultural history, Methode Naturelle, action films and video games, and turn them into a discipline of developing their physical and mental capacities through finding ways to overcome obstacles around them. Early on this whole group called themselves Yamakasi and called what they did either Parcours or L’art Du Deplacement. More recently they have gone their separate ways. David calls his art Parkour and stresses utility, while Foucan uses the term “Free Running” and stresses freedom of movement and finding your own way. Remaining members of the Yamakasi use the term “L’art Du Deplacement” and focus on the development of courage and strength through training. All are a part of the training that traceurs do and the first generation traceurs stress that it does not matter what you call it, only why you personally train the way you do.
As time passed the original traceurs inspired many others to join them, first in the small French suburbs of Lisses and Evry and then further afield in France. In 2002 David appeared in a British TV commerical called “Rush Hour” after which a UK scene initiatively consisting of just a few traceurs formed. The London Parkour scene grew and in 2003 a documentary called Jump London was produced, followed by another called Jump Britain. Many local websites all around the world sprung up after that, and the sport has been growing ever since.