Parkour and Freerunning

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People like to look at something that catches their attention: movement, fall, shine, smile and a lot of other things. One of the greatest pleasures one feels when he or she examines different movements: how small children make first steps, the way people dance, walk or run. Very popular types of movement nowadays are Freerunning and Parkour. The world is not standing in one position,it develops and influences the appearance of new ideas, “the generations evolve, Parkour develops, but the basis of Parkour stays the same” (Gerling 12). People are living in a fuss of the needs, work, different problems, and they do not have a lot of time for enjoying the life they live or thinking about their inner world. In this work, we will pay attention to the new movements such as Parkour and Freerunning and will research their meaning for the present day world. 

Introduction

Parkour is a sport the aim of which is to move from point A to  point B as quickly as it is possible by jumping, running, and climbing through, around and under things. Furthermore, a lot of people determine it as a method to find freedom that one is searching for. This term comes from the French “parcours”, which means “the way through” or “course”. Later this word underwent some changes and reappeared as “Parkour” with a “k”, which came from the “Parcours du combatant”. This combination is widely used in military training and means ‘The Path of the Warrior’ from French. David Belle, the inventor of   the present-day “Parkour”, was the only one, who changed “c” to “k”. Later, David Belle and his friends, the Yamakazi, started worldwide movement parkour, which also includes Freerunning (“What is Parkour?”). The main idea of parkour sounds like ‘There are no boundaries, there are obstacles that should be overcome ’.

Freerunning is a discipline which evolves body and mind in order to manage and interact with different obstacles in the urban territories and natural environments in the physically challenging but intelligent manner. According to the inventor of Freerunning, Sebastien Foucan, it is not just a physical state, but a spiritual beingand. In one interview, he claims that:

It can be helpful for life because it gives you tools based on experiences of physical practice. I tried to put down on paper a method and some guidance for those people who are lost like I felt I was.  Freerunning can be seen as conceptual and a method rather than a fixed discipline. It is really concerned with teaching something for life (Angel and Edwardes).

Freerunning came from Parkour and, as a result, there are many movements and abilities which traceurs use. The difference is in the nature. The main difference is that freerunners show tricks and flips when they move through the obstacles in the space, and this represents sport activities. They may use jumping, climbing and vaulting as traceurs, mixing it with acrobatics and gymnastics, especially if there is an audience. Foucan says that Parkour was founded for one’s escape. So far, running from someone there is no necessity to show tricks when it is easier just jump.

Historical Background

The ideological roots of parkour go back to the beginning of 20th century, when French naval officer, Jorge Hebert, helped rescue nearly 700 people from a volcanic eruption on the Caribbean island of Martinique. This made him realize that athletic skills should be joined with bravery and unselfishness. Later, Herbert stated, “Be strong to be useful”.  As he traveled a lot, he was surprised by the physical abilities and skills of the people from Africa and elsewhere and later created a discipline that would develop physical skills of people. He called it “methode naturelle” (a natural method).  When Hebert returned to France, he taught at the University of Reims, where he was using his physical lifestyle for teaching. In his training he used swimming, running, climbing, jumping, throwing and self-defense together with a 5-10-kilometer run, organizing all these in the natural territory.

He believed that training the movement in such surrounding would provide his students with an opportunity to use and train these skills in any other situation and on every territory. Furthermore, he thought that competition distracts attention from the certain philosophy of training principles. As a result, Hebert developed the set of equipment and drills that supplemented natural conditions. He was almost first, who made courses of physical training and the training of movement techniques on obstacle for non-military purposes popular.

The methode naturelle as a training method had a great effect on the military training of soldiers in the 1960s. During the Vietnam war, French soldiers were under the influence of this method and philosophy, the main ideas of which were physical, emotional, and mental development. Furthermore, soldiers used it to improve their escape techniques in the jungle. 

One of the soldiers was Raymond Belle.  When he came back home to the town Lisses on the outskirts of Paris, Raymond showed his son the principles of le parcours du combattant and Hebert’s teaching. As a result, his son, David Belle, combined all these methods with those principles of martial art and gymnastics that he knew, and Parkour appeared.

David Belle, Yann Hnautra and 7 other friends of theirs made a group of people who practiced parkour and called themselves ‘traceurs’. Sometime later, this group transformed in the Yamakasi, the movement that became much spread in France. The quick fame of parkour in France became a result of the influence of Luc Besson’s film, called “The Yamakasi”. “Yamakasi” from the Lingala language, spoken in the northwestern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, means 'Strong man, strong spirit'. They practiced this discipline nearly a decade, experiencing the influence of the authority and people who was them as an evil. The important point that should be remembered is that Belle  together with Sebastian Foucan, David Malgogne, Frederic Hnautra, Stephane Vigroux, Chau Belle-Dinh, and Yahn Hnautra thansformed the set of movements into an art. Moreover, all of them add something to the art at the beginning of its development. Yann Hnautra, for instance, brought strict training methodology and discipline to the group; Stephane Vigroux, at the same time, was one of the first who developed and practiced the movement Saut de Chat, which we know as the King Kong vault.

 At the beginning, parkour resembled a childhood game that acquired real circumstances and grew together with its representatives, but after a few decades, it became a global movement. The Yamakasi members developed from children to teenagers who had certain goals and purposes in their mind. The examples they wanted to follow were acrobatic movements from the films with Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee’s works, and the creator of Paris urban shamanism Don Jean Haberey.

Stephane Vigroux, one of the practitioners, said, “Also it was to be like a superhero! Most of the influence was to challenge and challenge and dream about, yeah superhero. Maybe we wanted to be just apart, did not fit in the same box with everybody else. In the beginning, it was a bit rebellious to express yourself differently. Furthermore, parkour gives practitioners back something, and they use this thing to influence life and achieve things”.

When boys started practicing the ‘big jumps’ using ordinary movements, such as jumps, vaults, climbs, they learned to be athletes who move to a new environment that had not been seen in the urban areas. These ‘jumps’ played a significant role in the progress of parkour, because they attracted a lot of attention of mass media and different audiences, and, afterwards, a great number of people came to join the group: some to develop their physical skills, others  to make some money out of this movement.

Time to Show

Some time later, with the explosion of popularity, the group underwent some changes and divided into two parts: those who stayed together and those, who decided to take their own way like David Belle. In 2001, Luck Besson’s film Yamakasi: Les samouraïs des temps modernes, revealed an amazing reaction on this movement and many people got  interested not only in the film, but also in this art of movements. Sebastien Foucan has said about the interest of many people after the film, ‘After Yamakasi it’s another kind of people, it’s just “I jump I jump I jump, just like the movie, I’m on the roof, just like the movie”.’

After the split, one group of practitioners like Stephane Vigroux, David Belle, Johann Vigroux and Kazuma while speaking about themselves founded the new term traceur. which means ‘bullet’. The term was selected to emphasize all those achievements that were made to attain efficient, quick and direct movements over the territory. They did not take those who joint seriously, because of the adrenaline rush and just the interest, but they welcomed those who were interested in what members were doing.     

Despite the negative effect of the split of Yamakasi in consequence of the film, it stayed in people’s minds. Firstly, the movement was represented to British public by a BBC advertisement in 2001, later strengthened by “Rush Hour” where Belle starred and found the alternative way home over the roofs of London to avoid people’s crush on the streets. As a result of this, Belle has been involved in numerous projects, demonstrating his skills to the public and shooting in the blockbusters. Eventually, he even played the main role in District 13 by Luc Besson. 

Parkour had reached a new stage in the world media. A lot of people started to use it, but not everyone truly understood what it meant. There were people who wrongly named ‘Yamakasi’ as a discipline. However, people were so excited about the desire to enjoy the life which that parkour showed that people started practice it as saw and understood.

This situation lasted until 2003, when the UK’s Channel 4 casted light on this situation and produced a documentary film Jump London, where the Vigroux brothers and Foucan, showed their skills on the London cityscape. Johann Vigroux, Sebastian Foucan, Jerome Ben-Aoues, and Stephane Vigroux openly showed parkour’s philosophical aspects for wide publicity, like a handle on the discipline. The reaction was not dragged. A lot of newly created crews were spread around the UK’s capital city, and the term ‘freerunning’ started to acquire the wider use. As a result, capital city became a center of Freerunning community.

The successful documentation continuance was shown in January 2005 and called Jump Britain. It was the breaking point for parkour, as the documentary showed it as useful and recognized art and sport in the modern age. With the help of Jump series, parkour became the center of attention.  

The Re-Birth of the Movement

As it can be understand, parkour is not something that can be easily categorized. The number of people, who practiced parkour, was numerous, and attempts to classify and determine what parkour actually were colossal, but no one could give a proper definition. It was difficult to form a structured system which includes all approaches that were used by practitioners. Another difficulty was that one of the founders of Parkour was David Belle, who decided not to give a proper and brief definition to others to use, and this developed another wave of debates.

It included a lot of different information, for instance, what parkour involves. Does it embody acrobatics or this contradicts to the Belle’s theory? Is it a discipline that should be done for fun and making ones feel free, or is it a practical discipline that should be used for studying like martial art? According to Parkour Generations, at the beginning, parkour was used to make people free from the conventional methods of travel and movement, and it is only the term. At the same time, communication needs the use of certain terminology, which is widely used, and it is more valuable than any label or name. Movement is a movement, and it is made by one person, and includes the development of one’s mind and body that should be done by the practice of parkour. 

Parkour is not a scholarly discipline that requires the exact calculations or proofs. It is reborn from generation to generation, causes some changes and develops how the practitioners see it. The discipline experience unique and totally new ways of expressing itself. The main point is that parkour is always natural and healthy.  

Furthermore, it can be said that parkour is not an extreme sport, because it requires some risk as any athletic discipline. One of traceurs once said that parkour has one difference from other risky sports - it is aimed at improvement of spiritual and mental well-being, but not just physical. The experienced traucers do not practice parkour in order to feel some adrenalin. They rather see it as an opportunity to deal with their fears and restrictions, and test them to overcome limitations. To achieve something, one should conquer and face the challenges that are important in parkour training. This training helps to learn and behave in a difficult situation without any panic attacks.   

According to Sebastien Foucan “I do not know about the other disciplines, but as far I'm concerned, freerunning is an unfinished discipline, ever evolving” (Angel and Edwardes).

Outlook

Freerunning and Parkour underwent a quick spreading from France to the USA, Britain, and Europe, and to the whole world. The media promoted these movements through the reports, videos and movies, such as Casino Royale, Madonna’s “Jump” and “Hung up”. Besides, Internet and YouTube, in particular, played a significant role, because there traceurs could freely and without any problems upload videos of their performances and present Freerunning and Parkour all over the world without visiting this or that country. As a result, a lot of people decided to practice these movements and first agents and teams were created, suggesting workshops and training. This growth caused a desire in practitioners to show themselves and compete with others. According to this, first competitions were organized, not only on the local level, but also on the international level.  

The first competition of such level was held on July 9-10, 2007 in Munich, Germany, called the Parcouring World Championships. The competition included timed obstacle course with Parkour images and provoked a debate whether Parkour competitions are done in a proper way. As a result of the debate, the organization “Pro Parkour, against competition” appeared. Besides, Sébastien Foucan confirmed that he was against competitive Freerunning. In October 2007, Red Bull organized in Vienna the first Freerunning Moves Contest called “Art of Motion”. The purpose of this contest was to find the best freerunners who would show one-minute “run show”. 

Moreover, in 2008, the Parcouring World Championships were forced to include a style contest for the freerunning community. In September 2008, a third international competition called the Barlaycard World Freerun Campionships, was organized in London by Urban Free Flow. Athlete Gabe Nunez won the first place. Second place were taken by Tim “Livewire” Shieff and the third one by Ben “Jenx” Jenkin. In 2009, three competitions were held.  

In addition, since 2009, Parkour and Freerunning air Park in Copenhagen, Denmark,  has been opened as well as an indoor training hall in Cologne, German and Saint Petersburg, Russia, and many others are still being building.

Freerunning and Parkour as a School Discipline (in Education)

 Parkour and Freerunning have reached worldwide popularity very quickly. As a result, people started thinking about introducing these movements into a school system. These disciplines include jumping, climbing, and running and a lot of other movements that can help develop movement skills and make it desirable addition to such school sports as track and field. Furthermore, it can motivate children, because Freerunning and Parkour are not competitive sports.  

At the beginning of 2006, Westminster Council together with two parkour practitioners and instructors Dan Edwardes and Francois “Forrest” Mahop from Parkour Generation come to an agreement about teaching Parkour in some community sports centers and inner-city schools. This project had a great success and almost all schools in the country tried to introduce the course in their establishments. One of the largest and serious educational institutions for freerunning and parkour  is the Parkour Generations Academy. Parkour Generations together with the Yamakasi founders in 2008 created the A.D.A.P.T. Qualification program for those people who cannot see their future without coaching of Parkour or simply parkour and wanted to be recognized for it (Parkour History). It became only recognized coaching qualification for Parkour in the world. It has been accepted and accomplished by Parkour UK, the UK's National Governing Body and approved by the London Olympics Inspire Mark Programme and Sport England. This movement can no longer be depicted as a simple activity.

Basic Moves

Important point that should be remembered is that there is no any determined list of the movements used by practitioners. Tracers deal with every obstacle in a unique way, and there are no strict requirements how to maintain it. Many techniques need quick power, control and focus in order to be effective and require physical organization of forces while landing. There is a list of some widely used Parkour movements:

  

 Term in French

 

English meaning

 

Definition

Saut de Bras

Arm Jump

Jump from standing or moving position with a landing on the face of the object. Hands are to be kept in gripping the top edge position and feet forward of the body while crouching.  

Saut de Chat

Cat pass

Stepping a little bit back from the obstacle, take up the push with the feet and later the arms grab the top of the wall.

Franchissement

Underbar

Jump or break through the gap between barriers.

Saut de Précision

Precision jump

Jump from standing or moving position, landing in the exact position with balance and control. Knees should be bent, and arms swing should balance on legs while landing.

Passe Muraille

Wall run

While jumping put the foot on the wall in order to pass the barrier or just turn.

Saut de Détente

Stretching jump

Jumping from one point to another over the gap. This jump often includes a roll.

Roulade

Roll

In most cases it is a roll over the arm and shoulder. When the shoulder contacts the ground one should tuck the heel to the backside. It is used to minimize the impact after the jump.

Tic-Tac

Tic-Tac

It uses an obstacle to reach another point. It is very often used to get over gap or low objects, to jump over high objects.

Passement

Vault

A lazy vault is when a person jumps over the obstacle from an angle, using a hand and foot lifts first.

A reverse vault is when the hand is on the obstacle and the body turns outside the handwhen the back comes first. Moreover, one should rotate 180 degrees at first and then 180 degrees while taking the hands off. 

Demi-Tour

Turn Vault

One turns over the railing or obstacle while the hands are on the top of the object. Then, shaking around 180 degrees, put the feet over the object and then on the ground.

Passement

Pass

Move over the object with the help of the hands.. Hands very often help in pushing to perform an easier movement. 

 

In addition to this, there are some common movements that are widely used by freerunners. Now we would observe some of them:

  • The side-flip is almost the easiest acrobatic movement that can be learned and performed. First of all, one’s should make a big step in order to prepare himself or herself for the jump. It is required to have a little sprint, then make a high skip and go upward. Wait for few seconds while being upward, make the low rotation and land. Stand on the balls of the feet. Firstly, put one leg and in a few seconds put the second one.
  • The Butterfly Twist. Jog forward, then put one foot forward, for instance, it would be right. Later, relax slightly the left leg and take it out. Raise the arms. Curtsey down to the right leg and across to the left knee. Then jump off the left leg and put the right leg upwards behind you. Stop and take a look over the left shoulder while folding on arms. Stay tight during the twist, and finally, put the left leg on the land and free the arm.
  • Aerial is an unsupported sideward somersault with a 360-degree rotation. The peculiarity of this movement is that person rotates around 3 axes of the body: around the lateral axis, the longitudinal axis, and, finally, the lateral axis again. Bring the base leg forward and then raise the arms diagonally forward. Bend the base leg slightly, followed by an active, fast and powerful lowering of the upper body to support the center of gravity.The arms swing down and the upper body and things are at a 55 angle to each other. Swing the free leg up and back vigorously, make a quarter turn with the upper body and reduce the angle between the upper body and the thing to 45 degrees. The arms swing farther down and back and into the sides next to the body. Then give a push to your legs and, as a result, the gravity shifts vertically, which helps rotate the body.Pull one leg slightly backward, and later upward. The somersault is made as your legs are on the ground again (Parkour Aerial Tutorial Video).
  • Palm Spin is one of the simplest movements in case one knows and practices its main principles. First of all, the center of the gravity should be kept on the closest object that is near the jumper. Second, traceur should not go far from the obstacle. The only efforts that should be done is to jump up, tight legs and rotate around the heel with the hand bound.

Women in Parkour and Freerunning

Parkour spreads all over the world and develops with an enormous speed. A lot of people has become addicted to it after being introduced to the movement. Many women were among the new practitioners. For many of them, the nature of parkour is still unclear as well as there is no certainty in the strength to deal with it.

 In her article Parkour: A Woman’s Perspective, Lauren Stokes shows that a lot of women experience almost the same feelings while doing Parkour. One of the most popular fears is a lack of confidence, because when women see people doing Parkour, almost everyone thinks that it is easy, but after trying several times, they understand that doing it perfectly from the first time is unreal and very hard. However, a lot of those who tried it for the first time continue working on themselves and develop their skills and abilities.

According to Nikkie Zanevsky, the traceur, women feel safer in the gym than on the streets, because they are much concentrated on what people would say and how they would accept women-traceurs. Nikkie prefers being outside and practicing in the parks to staying all the time in the gym. She says that for her it is a little bit difficult to do parkour with nearly 100 men, but she has got used to it and, furthermore, is not afraid of showing her technique, because Zanevsky likes to be herself. She claims, “What’s good about the sport is, it is all about confronting yourself and seeing what you are capable of” (Gerstenzang).

 As it can be understood, a lot of people are afraid of making mistakes and they think that it is better to do nothing then try and succeed. However, some people have strong believes and inspirations in doing something, so that spending some time with them makes everything seem possible and easy. Moreover, except mental limitations there are also physical ones. It is natural that men and women have different limitations and physiology, since men are said to be stronger and women are weaker. In addition to this, it is obvious that not all women can do Parkour the same way as men do. This does not mean that women are worse than men. It means that very often female have different manner of interpreting or doing things. It also means that they use Parkour in an absolutely different way, freely, as it is supposed to be used.

 There is a great amount of women whose “path” of development stays incomprehensible, because they have strongly built bodies and a lot of their male counterparts do not understand such changes. Female have to behave differently in order to achieve something. Some male traceurs are waiting impatiently to see the ways in which women would achieve success.

Couetdic Thomas pointed out some things with which traceuses have some problems in decision making. Firstly, he says that female forget to trust their feelings and think too much. Couetdic claims that it is very important to trust own instincts, because even Parkour is based on the human movements that are adjusted for Parkour training. Moreover, it is essential to listen to our own body, because only in such a way person could know whether it is ready to make a new movement or not. Secondly, women very often are seized by emotions. This prevents them from doing different exercises or Parkour training, because they can lose their temper at any moment. Parkour is an emotional discipline, and it helps people face their problems and wishes, because it is directed at a person’s mental development.

Finally, female are afraid of trusting themselves and, as a result, they undervalue their own abilities. Couetdic says that each person should observe the inner problems and see things as they are, but not to create new in their consciousness. Besides, not every problem should be solved straight away. Sometimes, person needs some time to cope with this problem.

Conclusion

Parkour and Freerunning continue developing and spreading all over the world. To my mind, the trend will continue for more than five decades, because it allows people to show themselves in their movements and no one blames them for this. Nowadays, it affects many lives of those who are interested in these movements and may contribute to a lot of social changes. Parkour helps to be conscious about environment, self and body.    

At the same time, Freerunning takes into consideration strength, tenacity, critical thinking, physical health, personal responsibility, creativity, flexibility, self-improvement and balance. It repeals dangerous stunts, imprudent behavior and showing off.           

The main point of these arts is not to develop the society around us, but to evolve ourselves and our inner world. It helps us become better people, who can live peacefully in the world, in which everyone  gets pleasure and happiness.

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