by wjw on May 9, 2007

I’ve been transfixed by videos featuring le parkour, the French sport of freestyle urban climbing, also known as “free running.” Most people got their introduction to le parkour in the opening scene of the film Casino Royale, but that was a slick action film, and most parkour videos have a decidedly homemade quality.

Le parkour was founded fifteen or sixteen years ago by the Frenchman David Belle, inspired partly by Spider-Man comics. Though he’s achieved a modest amount of fame and appeared in a commercial or two and the odd action film (always playing a young man who does le parkour), he still lives with his mother and devotes himself to le sport. He turned down the chance to double Peter Parker in Spider-Man III, because he’d have to wear a mask and not be French. The videos show that he’s simply the best. (In fact, aficianados of the sport call themselves “traceurs,” meaning something like “followers,” in that they’re following David Belle.)

And he’s not an invincible James Bond. Occasionally he falls down.

(And by the way, who sez that the French are wimps?)

Le parkour is pure sport. It’s Zen. There are ethics, but no rules. There is a culture and an elaborate vocabulary, but no governing body. There is in intense physical training, repetition, spontaneity, and incredible danger, but no safety equipment.

Adding any of these elements would make the sport a lot less interesting.

Le parkour can be used to enhance your daily life. It can spice up your video games, enhance a simple game of tag, or aid you in escaping members of an Eastern cult .

If I were only forty again, I’d be so all over this.

Tracy Taylor May 9, 2007 at 3:18 pm

I had no idea that was a sport. I figured it was a combination of boredom, insanity, with a smidge of inbreeding to ensure a numbed sense of pain. Still, you gotta admire the guys that can do it. Wow.

And that fall just looked painful. Ouch!!

halojones-fan May 9, 2007 at 5:03 pm

It can also help you get across London in time to stop a madman from dispersing weaponized Ebola Zaire. (Global Frequency)

Maureen McHugh May 10, 2007 at 2:53 pm

Did you see the cool article about it in The New Yorker? If not, let me know and I’ll try to find it and bring it in June.

Anonymous May 10, 2007 at 4:07 pm

So the question is, was Terry Pratchett leading or following the trend for this sport?

” At least this was a bit of luck. The student lore said there were only half a dozen routes used during the test, and on summer nights they were alive with students tackling the roofs, towers, eaves and colls of the city. Edificing was a keen inter-house sport in its own right; it was one of the few things Teppic was sure he was good at – he’d been captain of the team that beat Scorpion House in the Wallgame finals. And this was one of the easier courses.

He dropped lightly over the edge of the roof, landed on a ridge, ran easily across the sleeping building, jumped a narrow gap on to the tiled roof of the Young Men’s Reformed-Cultists-of-the-Ichor-God-
Bel-Shamharoth Association gym, jogged gently over the grey slope, swarmed up a twelve foot wall without slowing down, and vaulted on to the wide flat roof of the Temple of Blind Io.”

From Pyramids by Terry Pratchett, (c) 1989, 1996, 2001

Mark Wise
a.k.a. Devlin du GEnie

dubjay May 10, 2007 at 8:22 pm

Maureen: I saw the New Yorker article, which inspired the web search, which inspired my post.

Dorothy Dunnett, in one of the Francis Crawford of Lymond books, also has a scene in which a group of mostly French nobles, for sport, are crossing a medieval city without touching the ground.

Of course that would be easier in a medieval city, where the houses overhung the street.

Steve May 21, 2007 at 1:38 am

It isn’t necessarily ‘pure’. That looks to me as if it would be good training for special-forces types and urban warfare generally.

dubjay May 21, 2007 at 3:52 am

Trust Steve to take a hitherto pleasurable activity and find a way to use it to kill people.

If it were used for urban warfare training, it would no longer be le parkour.

Aside from which, you’d see them carrying guns and about 80 pounds of gear

Anonymous May 29, 2008 at 12:22 pm

It’s a way of life. David Belle and his friends, who were born and raised in Lisses, France, discovered what most people deem ‘a sport’. DB’s father was his inspiration, and Georges Hébert was also one of the main links to Parkour even being formed. He discovered méthode naturelle, which was the basis to Parkour.

And Tracy, before you jump to conclusions about boredom, insanity and inbreeding, find out what it is your really talking about, and consider the effect your damaging assumptions can make on other people.


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