Hello dear Reader/ Practitioner / Freerunner / Traceur / Mover,
you are probably here because you are either
– not sure if there is a difference between Parkour and Freerunning and would like to know better,
– or you’re already in a state of deep mental confusion, not knowing if you’re allowed to trow a flip during training with your Traceur friend, or if he will start killing kitties when you do,
– or you want to dive into the discussion head first, and make your well earned contribution to where the community is headed, after reading up every article ever written about Hébertism,
– or you’re here because you simply want to lean back and enjoy the catfight between the two opposing fronts. It’s only the latter who we have to disappoint. There will be no epic war between Traceurs and Freerunners today – we have just too much fun climbing these cranes together. GOOSHWA is real.
For the first kind of visitors, there are certain distinct definitions for both practices, which you can have a look at a few lines below. The current discussion evolves around the question “IF we are supposed to follow these distinctions, or if they are not really important and to be ignored.”
The topic is currently widely discussed on social media platforms since Dylan Baker released the Parkour Dojo Podcast with Max Henry on “Parkour / Freerunning: Why the Distinction Matters and How it Affects Our Future“, which you can listen to here.
Beyond making some great points why we might be talking about two fundamentally different practices, the two Pro-Parkour Athletes delve into the depths of meaning, origin and responsibility as a community towards Parkour.
Or you can have a look at this article Max wrote shortly after the podcast, where he recites the main points of the discussion.
I will be referring to and borrowing points from the podcast and Max’ article various times throughout this article – I apologise if I didn’t annotate each point – it’s worth listening to the Parkour Dojo Podcast anyways.
If you are interested in reading a contrasting opinion, about why Parkour and Freerunning should be coined under one term, have a look at Res’ article on the Originsparkour.com Blog which I found very interesting to read.
In the beginning of our culture was the word… Parkour.
Well, not at the very beginning maybe (it first appeared in the late 1980s apparently), but it’s the basis of the discussion today. It’s the term most of us use to describe what we’re doing, when we’re jumping around in our free-time, dressed as either homeless people or fashion nomads.
And then there was Freerunning…
Coined in 2003 by Sébastien Foucan, which he used to describe his take on ‘the art of movement’ for the 2003 TV documentary “Jump London”.
Today the average Traceur / Hybrid / Freerunner lives in the confused state of being torn between these two divergent definitions:
PARKOUR: Focuses On Usefulness And Efficiency:
“The art and discipline of learning how to overcome physical obstacles in the quickest and most efficient way.”
The inherent philosophy to Parkour is leading back to the two aphorisms: “To be strong to be useful.” And “To be and to last.” Strengthening the body through conditioning is integrated in this philosophy – because finally the practice it is meant for the physical and practical application in a real-life scenario.
FREERUNNING: Focuses On Self-Expression And Creativity:
“The art and discipline of moving creatively, expressing ones individual character, talents and strengths through aesthetic vaults, acrobatics and athletic movements, while moving from one point to another.”
But Why Does It Matter To Make A Distinction Between Parkour And Freerunning?
As Max states in the podcast, we as a community are not being clear where we want the sport to go, so in conclusion we’re letting the newspapers, television-shows and corporate brands define our sport.
Making a distinction may not change any persons individual training practice right now. But it will affect how future generations are introduced to the sport:
Parents may not allow their kids to join a Parkour class, because they believe it involves hanging off of high-buildings and landing the occasional double-backflip on the back of one’s head.
Kids may end up alienated in a Parkour class with an old-school hardcore Traceur, but they initially just wanted to learn how to do a backflip.
A strong community needs to agree on core-values – otherwise it will never be anything more than mashup of different athletes, to give an example:
If Sébastien is just training flips and movements for fun and believes that respect towards one another is of little importance, then he won’t get along very well with David, who believes in core values of truthfulness and humility. They might have a good movement-session together, but they won’t bond at a very deep level.
That means over time we could loose the initial bond that connected all Parkour practitioners world wide.
The philosophical aspect of Parkour doesn’t apply to Freerunning. If the two disciplines were coined as one, the core values of Parkour would be neglected and values of character, honesty, humility would be detached from a once meant to be altruistic method.
Parkour has the intention of practical application. To be strong to be useful. The Traceur is training with the intention to prepare his body and mind to be ready in any Reach (“I’ll get that thief who stole my granny’s purse”) or Escape (“I better get out of this burning building quickly”) situation.
Freerunning doesn’t have that intention and therefore has to be seen as something succinctly different.
So why is there a confusion anyways? Now it seems quite clear that the two disciplines are very different from each other – why not just call one thing the one name and the other thing the other?
The Confusion About Parkour And Freerunning Is legit
But it’s based on a faulty assumption as Dylan points out:
“The confusion is coming from the idea: we use the same environment, we use the same tools [our bodies] – and therefore we do the same thing.”
At least for someone looking from the outside it seems that way.
But why are we, inside the scene, practicing and talking about this sports / discipline / art for many many years, confused?
Because an alternative philosophy, “It’s All Just Movement“ became popular.
In 2006 Daniel Ilabaca states “It’s all movements – it’s all ways of being free and expressing yourself, through obstacles and through life. It’s all Parkour.”
I think many people around at that time were inspired by seeing a bigger picture presented to them.
The average Traceur was at a level, where he had already picked up one or two flips out of self-interest and wanted to understand more about his personal limits and capabilities.
After all, not being defined by one single practice is a natural part of the journey of finding ones own unique fingerprint. David Belle states in the 2014 Interview:
“The goal of Parkour is to create expression, so things can flourish in openness.
If you start to go towards an opening while closing off other paths, you’ll get lost. You need a maximum of openness. You need to flourish by trying all the different possibilities. And then make your choice.”
So more and more practitioners started breaking out of the boundaries of a practice purely oriented towards efficiency. Along with Danny’s videos, Russian Climbing and A Brothers Journey appeared in 2007, awing the international community with next level Freerunning moves coming outside of France.
Eventually, because David Belle wasn’t present at that time for reasons stated in the quote below, and because a few individuals were already doing high-level Freerunning without making clear distinctions between Parkour and Freerunning, the community started forming their own definitions.
“When I started seeing these accidents online, it made me feel bad. I felt Parkour was something that was done with love and with heart, and for others. So to see others hurting themselves so badly made me ask: “Why?” It was too much for me. Overwhelming. I didn’t understand and said to myself: “You have to stop.””
– David Belle in a 2014 interview for Flow
The Freerunners back then, just as the ones today, wanted to explore any type of movement. Movement means expression of self, and to limit the expression of self is contradictory to finding oneself. “We need a maximum of openness.” as David said.
So from a Freerunners point of view, to make a distinction between the two disciplines could mean to create a box that limits freedom, creativity, and exchange within the community. After all even David says we need to explore.
The Question Is: Are We Not Always Practicing Both disciplines At The Same Time?
The average Hybrid Freerunner / Traceur states –
“Parkour means overcoming obstacles efficiently. The movements are the practice through which we teach ourselves – but Parkour is the paradigm, the philosophy in which we think and walk through our everyday life.
In our practice we prepare our body and mind to be ready to overcome obstacles physically through breaking them down. And we then apply what we have learned to everyday life. Therefore I’m efficiently preparing myself for the challenges of everyday life, when overcoming my fear of backflips.”
This is a common philosophical misinterpretation, which intertwines the original intention of David Belle of overcoming obstacles efficiently, and preparing body and mind, while it ignores the intention of practical application of Parkour.
Again, it’s the intention that makes the difference.
Now I definitely don’t want to say what’s right or wrong, but I insist that some credit belongs to those responsible for the initial development of the movement.
David Belle himself gave some answers to some of the question in this interview in 2014:
“Parkour is a way of training, which allows us to confront obstacles. And it doesn’t matter wether the obstacles are urban or natural. […] In Parkour, there is this side based on efficiency, of moving forward, of overcoming the obstacle and advancing. […]
The real Parkour is without mobile phones, without cameras.
Acrobatic movements for me, are a reflection of joy, of happiness, of a desire to clown around and have fun. […]
I have nothing against acrobatic movements, I did gymnastics because I enjoy flips. I enjoy having fun and doing backflips. But things shouldn’t get mixed up.
It’s like in the martial arts, where you have the fight, the combat, and you have the kata, which is the artistic side, with kicking and tricks. But the kata is not the same as fighting.
You have the fight, which is direct. And you have the tricks, which are fun, freestyle, cool. In Parkour it’s the same.”
In the Interview he further states that he started out doing tricks and summersaults as well, joining the fun, expressing himself. But eventually he discovered it wasn’t the direction he wanted to take.
He wanted to give some sense to that and find an efficient side to it. I’m guessing that was when he was developing the deeper spirit and technical sides of Parkour. (Which was probably in 1989, when he left the Yamakasi) He further states in the 2014 Flow Interview:
“It was a new technique. And if you add things that are not essential to a technique that is based on usefulness, you get away from that technique. So I had to explain that there is simple, basic Parkour, which provides physical conditioning. And afterwards, there are extensions, which can go towards acrobatic, freestlye, and whatever anybody wants.
You’ll find that maybe you’ll try competitions but you might prefer something else. You might want to coach, to give classes, to teach children. You’ll find your own path.“
With these statements, David draws a pretty essential roadmap to what he understands Parkour is, and isn’t, which would look like that if transcribed
The Parkour Road Map
As I understand it, doing Parkour means acknowledging and practicing the metaphysical intentions and the practical foundations, in training and in everyday life (“To Be Strong To Be Useful”).
From there on, anything can follow. You are free to explore. You may be fulfilling some of the intentions of Parkour when doing a summersault, but only because there are similarities, it doesn’t mean what you are doing defines the original thing itself.
Just as in Karate the Kata (a show fight including showing off the various techniques) is part of the practice – but Karate still needs the combat application, otherwise it wouldn’t be qualified to be a martial art.
Karate is still Karate without the Kata, as long as it qualifies you to use the defined set of techniques to fight in combat. But the Kata alone doesn’t equal Karate. It then becomes a separate show-off discipline.
Flips and acrobatics without Parkour training and the intention to be efficient and useful, become a show-off discipline.
This is the message I understand David Belle wants to get across regarding the definition of Parkour.
But I believe,
There Is Something Far More Important Than The Definition Of Parkour
That what follows:
If we can keep the positive values of Parkour, which can form a character and influence an individual positively for a lifetime, such as
Respectfulness – Humility – Discipline – Helpfulness – Commitment – Courage
and the strong messages such as “To Be Strong To Be Useful” and “To Be And To Last” at the very core of our beings – at the core of anything that we are doing,
I want to ask you, what generation can we then help to grow up?
What kind warriors do we create if we give away our knowledge of decades, of how to bulletproof the human body, how to help a friend in need, and how to become the best human being?
David Belle says:
The Goal in life is to find yourself. To be in Harmony with yourself and to find your route. […] Then you can become yourself, not somebody else.
This might be true. But one single individual can only do so much.
Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves to finally give an answer to the long overdue debate of wether Parkour / Freerunning are the same thing or not is:
How can we be the best help for the future generations to get, where we wish to be already.
What kind of guidance did you wish for, when you were a 15-year old kid? What kind of role-models do you wish you could have looked up to? Let’s become those then!
What community would you have wanted to be supported by? Let’s make a choice to be this kind of community!
At the end of the day, I believe there has to be a decision about the matter, wether Parkour / Freerunning are the same or not. But that decision has to come from the core of the Parkour and Freerunning Community.
“Parkour is no longer my possession.
It’s fine for me to be here pointing in a direction, but the reality is that you are Parkour now. It’s not me anymore.” – David BelleWhat do you think? What is the best way to proceed in the future? Take part in the discussion below! Let us know what you think. We can only find a solution for this together.