Parkour, the practice of traversing obstacles in a man-made or natural environment through the use of running, vaulting, jumping, climbing, rolling, and other movements in order to travel from one point to another in the quickest and most efficient way possible without the use of equipment. The discipline, developed in France beginning in the late 1980s, was popularized through Internet videos, television commercials, and documentary and feature films, including the James Bond movie Casino Royale.
Writers on parkour trace its origins to the physical education and training methods developed beginning in the years before World War I by Georges Hébert and known as “la méthode naturelle.” The regimen involved training in running, jumping, climbing, balancing, swimming, and defending and the use of obstacle courses called “parcours du combattant.” Hébert’s system came to underpin French military training. Later, during the 1940s and ’50s, Raymond Belle received instruction on Hébert’s methods while in the military, and he subsequently used that training to become an elite firefighter. He was known for his acrobatic athleticism and ability to safely and quickly move along ledges, to scale buildings without using a ladder, and to leap between building rooftops. His son David Belle is generally credited as being the father of parkour.
David trained with his father, and he and a group of friends began practicing parkour on their own, adding their own challenges and movements and calling themselves the Yamakasi. By the late 1990s the Yamakasi were giving public performances. With increasing visibility, Belle and another leading member of the group, Sébastien Foucan, began to disagree about the direction the new discipline should take, and they both left the group. Foucan introduced the movement in Britain, where it was called freerunning.
Parkour spread to dozens of other countries, where national and local organizations were formed, mostly for the purpose of providing training and education. While some theorists opposed the idea of competition in parkour, the international organizations World Freerunning Parkour Federation (2008), Fédération Internationale des Arts du Déplacement (FIADD; 2012), and Mouvement International du Parkour, Freerunning et l’Art du Déplacement (founded by Belle, Foucan, and others in 2014) were established, each aimed at creating a structure for worldwide parkour competitions. In late 2016 Britain became the first country to officially recognize parkour as a sport.